"Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors."

-Jonas Salk

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Willard on the Meta-Journalism Meta-Thread

willard: you did stumble, you know
and made three posts in one
it's not a sin to post incomplete posts

me: yes, it meanders a bit, you are right

willard: more than a bit
we're talking about a 300-400% inflation!

me: I need to write fewer pieces like that and polish them better

willard: yup

me: well, a thread runs through it
and it did kick off this last bout of the coven starting a conversation wherein they refuse to sensibly account for themselves
I wonder why they bother

willard: a thread runs through your life

me: motifs
that Czech novel, what was it called...
Unbearable Lightness of Being
he says each life has its motifs

willard: that rings a bell

me: patterns that keep coming back in a life the way they repeat themselves in a building

willard: yup

me: did you see Kloor's latest?

willard: i never read Keith
i only read Gilligan

me: Gilligan is good
but Keith is bizarre

willard: not at all
not for me

me: he says he doesn't want to talk about it and then keeps bringing it up

willard: it's a ringtone
a theme

me: motif

willard: keith knows how to set up a feisty mood
he's secondary
you are not
he steps back and looks
you jump into fights

me: I need to stop that

willard: indeed
more so that it kills your brand
you even react to Tom
you saw me calling him a meme machine?

me: yeah

willard: Tom is an easy pick for me
he usually goes away from where i enter

me: he is such a phony.

willard: he's good at what he does

me: which is to keep me away from Kloor's?

willard: but he's fluff
to spot memes
he learns his lines
and then he repeats them
ad nauseam
copycat strategy
here is a skeptic blog
let's go tell them about green stuff
oh look, a warmist blog, let's try hockeysticks
behind his character
there is a loyalty to the contrarians
he took the whip away from jeff id at Bart's
he derails you

me: yes

willard: the trick is that what he says has no importance whatsoever
it's what he does that counts

me: I need to write a defullerator plugin if I am going to take on Kloor

willard: just ask yourself what he's doing
greasemonkey can do that
why take on Kloor?

me: that is a good question

willard: Keith is mocking you and your kind
just let him be
you have more to provide than a fight with keith

me: true

willard: love saves lots of time

me: but he will probably provide publicity when I go live

willard: there is a pragmatic problem with all this

me: this is the problem. I like them, Kloor, Fleck, Yulsman, Revkin
They are part of the problem but they are also role models
they make a living thinking about the big problems
I don't
I like them. I admire them. And I hate it when they screw up.
It makes me scream.

willard: they don't think about big problems
they think about staging

me: "staging"?

willard: they stage scenes

me: yes, "set pieces"
"In film production, a setpiece is a scene or sequence of scenes the execution of which requires serious logistical planning and considerable expenditure of money. The term setpiece is often used more broadly to describe any important dramatic or comedic highpoint in a film or story, particularly those that provide some kind of dramatic payoff, resolution, or transition."

willard: exactly

me: they tell "stories"
I want them to relentlessly tell *the* story

willard: in any case
there is a pragmatic problem with all of this
there is no conversation
only conversation about conversation

me: aha
well said indeed sir!
you justify the whole conversation about conversation about conversation thereby... (oddly)

willard: the basic argument is this:
1, look at person X
2. X is speaking about p
3. p is not what we should talk about
so everyone is arguing about what we should talk about
after it gets personal
everyone is arguing about how we should talk

me: !

willard: then someone says: why are we talking about that?
then comes another blog post

me: and another day passes, and the lemmings get that much closer to the precipice

willard: a miraculous leap in evolution
to sit and talk about talking, without really talking much
everyone getting frustrated, cynical, powerless


the conversation with Keith is portrayed like a fight, whereas it's a race
you are showing yourself
junior, fleck, gilligan, keith
when we think fight, it gets polarized
when we think debate, it gets how it should be
you all have an interesting voice
some more congenial to me than others
it's a contest where you are sales-pitching your voice
of course, a fight is good for the blood
but too much fight is bad
as what matters is the race
for credibility


Paul Daniel Ash said...

+1 willard

Less Chauncey Gardiner than Jiminy Cricket.

Aaron said...

Some art is finished without polish.

Tom Yulsman said...

Since you mention me in this soliloquy, perhaps you can tell me just how I "screwed up," "staged scenes," and was "part of the problem" in the following sample of stories and posts I've written about climate change since 1983:

* "In The Curve: Monitoring Rising Carbon Emissions": http://www.climatecentral.org/news/in-the-curve-monitoring-rising-carbon-emissions/

* "How Will We Know if 2010 Was the Warmest Year on Record?": http://www.climatecentral.org/news/how-will-we-know-if-2010-was-the-warmest-year-on-record/

* "Running Toward Empty Part 1": http://www.climatecentral.org/news/running-toward-empty/

* "Running Toward Empty Part 2": http://www.climatecentral.org/news/running-toward-empty-part-two/

* "Sobering News from Greenland and Antarctica": http://www.cejournal.net/?p=5066

* "The Open Notebook Project": http://www.cejournal.net/?page_id=598

* "No Serious Energy Policy in Sight": http://www.cejournal.net/?p=5041

* "Graphics Tell the Story of Record Melting in Greenland": http://www.cejournal.net/?p=4978

I don't deny that I do "screw up" from time to time. When I do, I try to learn from my mistakes.

But accusing me of "staging scenes" and being "part of the problem" — those are fighting words Michael. You'd better be prepared to back them up.

Michael Tobis said...

Tom Y, it's not a soliloquy. I am not Willard.

I'd be harder pressed to call John on any of these items than you. In your case I am referring to the article I discussed here.

Tom Yulsman said...

So let's see... Since 1983 I've written literally thousands of articles and posts involving climate change, and based on just one of those thousands of articles and posts, you accuse me of being "part of the problem" and "staging scenes." You've made these rather biting accusations based on one data point out of thousands. Just for the record and the benefit of your readers Michael, do I understand you correctly?

But even more important, you've accused me of making things up — of "staging scenes." That is potentially libelous Michael, and I want you to know that I'm taking it very seriously. You are making a statement of fact that directly harms my reputation as a journalist. So you'd better back it up right now with hard evidence, or explain how you didn't mean it in the way that I am interpreting it, or retract it.

Michael Tobis said...

I like and admire (and am somewhat envious of) all four of you gentlemen that I mentioned. I don't say that about people whose reputation I am smearing. So I hope there is some misunderstanding that I can clear up.

Let me start by saying that there is no implication of dishonesty expressed or implied. I am not speaking of "staging" in the sense of fiction, but in the sense of storytelling. If anyone saw such an implication I apologize.

The point here is how journalism treats each piece as a "story" rather than as part of a larger conversation.

Little context is expected of the reader, and the concept of a progressing social consensus is pretty much absent. And therein lies the problem as I see it: journalism does not really provide for collective learning, and there is no other institution on the horizon to pick up the pieces.

But your individual pieces are often very good (though the first one I noticed was, in my opinion, not). I don't think anything I said should be interpreted as remotely libelous in intent or import.

John Fleck said...

Michael -

If I can reiterate here what I suggested over at Keith's, can I suggest that you stop complaining about the journalism we do and go do some yourself? Write a real story about this week's congressional hearing, communicating its essential elements, what was important and what was not, to your target audience. Show us how it's done.

I've spent 30 years learning how to do this, building the skills and insinuating myself into an environment where I can use them to maximum advantage in carrying out the very difficult task of communicating with the general public about complicated topics that I think are important.

You've been singularly unsuccessful in persuading us to change what we do, which suggests that the continued conversation is a waste of time. So if you don't like how Revkin or Kloor or Yulsman or I are doing it, go do it yourself. Thanks to the new technologies, the opportunities to do so are exploding. Identify the audience you think is unserved by us and serve it yourself. Get a job at your local paper. Start a web site. Pitch op-eds to regional papers.

This is a really hard problem, and I think you'd learn a lot about its dimensions by trying to do it for yourself. Lord knows my efforts to explain those dimensions to you, hard learned over my own thirty years at the job, have been a failure.

Or get a job on a congressional staff, or run for city council, or school board, or become a registered lobbyist. Do something. Your meta-whining seems a waste of your considerable talents.

Tom Yulsman said...

Thank you for the clarification. I appreciate it, and I understand now.

There seems to be something about story telling that you find problematical. Yet story telling has been an effective way to communicate since our species started doing it however many thousands of years ago. What do you propose to replace this form and why do you think it would be more effective in communicating the increasing risks we face from climate change?

I also think I'm entitled to an explanation for how you think I am "part of the problem." What "problem" specifically? And how, on balance, do I contribute to it?

Michael Tobis said...

Day job. Will respond later...

manuel moe g said...

[Part 1 of 2]

I have always been a big supporter of MT, because I cannot think of many places other than right here where morality, policy, and science are discussed about a topic involving our species' survival. Without tackling all three at the same time, you end up with only an insubstantial shell instead of the real thing.

And I see the pattern of journalists that are clearly competent, well-meaning, and sincere feeling particularly abused by MT's criticism, because - _especially_ because - it carries weight with people of reputation.

[Happily, I have no positive reputation, so I feel free to ask stupid questions and say silly things. As is evident in this very comment.]

It is plainly seen that there is absolutely no position a journalist can take to avoid attacks from all sides, because the import of the issue only grows, and extremists are being constantly born in every direction.

I guess MT goes after these fine and worthy men (Kloor, Fleck, Yulsman, Revkin) because so dang *few* journalists are wrestling with these issues - which follows from so dang *few* people considering these issues.

If I may fault MT, I would say he takes the easier route of criticizing the men already interested in the issue, instead of the harder route of increasing serious and sober interest in the issue. If I may partially forgive MT, I would say nobody has any good answers about how to increase serious and sober interest in the issue to a large enough degree to change the outcome.

manuel moe g said...

[Part 2 of 2]

I have not always been impressed with Kloor and Revkin - the two I have best knowledge of - but I cannot deny the difficulty of the beat the four have chosen, and I cannot deny the importance of their work to discuss the topic as a very serious issue to a general audience.

The issue of MT's intemperance... The passion behind the intensity of expression is that "business as usual" behavior allows staggering amounts of short-term consumption that has damaging results that last hundreds of years - so this current generation can cause decimation of dozens of future generations, each generation facing their own round of decimation, possibly grinding down all large mammal populations to zero.

Not to mention the real possibility of runaway feedback, which would cook off all large mammals from the surface in a single generation.

[Personally, I am a pessimist. I have half a mind to mail a six-pack to a random Inuit Canadian, as the only way to toast the last small chance for human continuity past the ecological "eye of the needle" caused by reckless (in hindsight) consumption. There was no possible "juking and jiving" by those of foresight to prevent the collapse of the Roman empire, and there is no recourse here either to prevent our species-wide collapse.]

If there is any established fact that contradicts anything I have said, I would very much wish to have somebody tell me.

EliRabett said...

Once upon a time, because everybunny knows that when you talk to a churnalist you have to tell a story, to follow up on a conversation that Eli is having with Paul Kelly on Stoat, if churnalism is so pure, why the hell does everyone who talks with a churnalist have to act like some inane public relations suit?

And to make MTs point for him, a bit of introspection among the journalists, would go a far way to clearing this up.

As Martin Vermeer said over at RR

This is the problem isn't it? Journalists as a community not clearly speaking on the junk in their midst, so the public doesn't know what to make of it. As contrasted to the way scientists will put a conspicuous distance between them and their 'junky' colleagues. See the Climategate emails: what has been misrepresented as trying to keep 'dissent' out of the literature, was precisely that, community-internal quality assurance.

...and what is the least appropriate in this situation is blaming the victims, be they the scientists that get misrepresented or borderline libeled, or the public that gets misinformed. Hey, this is your profession.

EliRabett said...

Another reason all the bunnies respect the churnalists

Michael Tobis said...

Look, this is the problem. (An example not directly related to climate, but very much of the same flavor.)

Do you guys see this behavior as problematic or not? Because I am not alone in thinking this question is being ducked.

If there is a controversy in which one side is plainly factually wrong, whether out of ignorance or malice, is it or is it not the responsibility of the press to prevent that view of the controversy from gaining purchase with the public?

If it is your responsibility, why do you, not as individuals but as a profession, so consistently fail?

If it is not your responsibility, whose responsibility is it? How do we fix it?

It will not be easy. The failure has been so massive that great groups of people adamantly believe whole swaths of things that cannot possibly be true. But this should not be happening!

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Some people think that means carrying firearms and scowling from ridgetops while thinking of eagles. I think the original meaning is more about not being taken in by snake oil salesman. When the public swallows too many lies, freedom disappears.

Deech56 said...

It's been said that journalism is the first draft of history. Scientists tell us that by mid to late century climate changes will lead to real and noticeable effects.

How will historians judge the leading journalistic voices of today? Will the conversations recorded in stolen e-mails be worth a hill of beans? Will inaction and the influence of corporate and ideological interests be a subject of study?

Anonymous said...

> If it is not your responsibility, whose responsibility is it?

It is the responsibility of the ones who know these facts and have read the news to report an error.

It is the responsibility of the ones who writes the news to correct it.

It is an opportunity for its competitors to take advantage of the fumble. The immediate competition might not be tempted to correct it, for fear of reprisal, lack of interest, lack of time, or what not.

It is an opportunity for the emerging media to shine, among which we have the blogosphere. For instance:


> How do we fix it?

This question meanders from the descriptive to the normative. But if we stick to describing how things work, there are outlets like:


My own answer, in a nutshell, would be that the critical mechanism that Michael and Eli and other scientists here are asking for journalism to adopt is called science.


Oh, and speaking of Politico:



Let's not coatrack every question about news reporting news, shall we?

Paul Daniel Ash said...

Advocatus diaboli: is the Politico post representative of media coverage as a whole? It's an inside-baseball Beltway publication, kind of a scandal sheet for Capitol Hill insiders... Wonkette without the buttsecks, if you will.

Not accusing, just questioning: to what extent is it cherry-picking to call out one or a few articles for their flaws? Is the entire corpus of journalistic work taken as a whole better than these examples? I don't think so, but I don't know so.

It's not an exact parallel, of course, but the reaction of journalists to this reminds me of the reaction of climate scientists to "auditors:" you can't use one (study/article) to invalidate the whole, this stuff is harder than you give it credit for, you're viewing everything through a lens of preconception, und so weiter.

I bring this up because I'm genuinely unsure.

manuel moe g said...

On the comments thread of the March 9, 2011 Tom Yulsman post, "L. Carey" makes very thoughtful contributions and moves the dialog further: