Newsday Story on DNC Bloggers

Here’s the Newsday story that I wrote about being interviewed for.

As an exercise in seeing how stories like this get edited down from the original interview (which in this case was conducted by email), here’s a comparison of what I said vs. what got printed.

Note that I’m not presented this as some sort of “hey, they misrepresented me!” complaint, simply as an demonstration of how interviews, of necessity, get distilled down into print. I’ve boldfaced the sections of my original responses that made it into print.

In response to the question “What is your general strategy for covering the convention? Where and how will you spend your time?” I wrote:

I’m interested in four things:
(a) How the convention is covered by the “mainstream” media. I’d like to get a sense of, and report about, the mechanisms “behind the curtain,” and how they relate to what I hear/read/watch at home.
(b) The convention as a giant piece of political theatre. As a Canadian, I am fascinated with the pomp and circumstance of U.S. politics (it makes what we do here in Canada appear very, very sedate by comparison). I got a taste of this when I blogged the New Hampshire primary in January; I’m interested in seeing more, and trying to get a handle of how the theatricality relates to the real world of politics, elections, and public policy.
(c) As a dual-national (I was born in New York state in 1966, but have been a Canadian resident most of my life), I’m entitled to vote in the election. But, as a Canadian, my only real exposure to the election, my only mechanism for learning about candidates and policy, is through the media. So I have a very real, if selfish interest in the convention as a sort of extended, full-on civics course.
(d) As a weblogger, I’m interesting in learning more about how webloggers can provide an alternative, supplementary view of events like the convention. I truly don’t know whether it will be useful (lots of diverse views from lots of diverse perspectives) or whether it all boils down to rather mundane amateur journalism without the editorial oversight and ethical guidelines of “real” reporting. And the best way of finding that out is to jump right in a do it.
Put that all together, and perhaps you don’t get a “general strategy,” but you get some idea of what I’ll be there to do.

The responses to that question weren’t included in the article, although some of my response was incorporated into the answer to the next question.

In response to the question “Is there a particular gap that you are trying to fill with your coverage?” I responded:

No. “I’m there mostly as a producer, not as a consumer. In other words, I’m filling in my own gaps (as above); whether or not this of use or interest to others, while not insignificant, isn’t front and center, and it’s not how I’m making plans.

And the article printed:

I’m filling in my own gaps. I am interested in how the convention is covered by the media; the convention as a giant piece of political theater; and I have a very real, if selfish, interest in the convention as a sort of extended, full-on civics course. Whether this is of use or interest to others, while not insignificant, isn’t front and center, and it’s not how I’m making plans.

They combined my answer to their first question with my answer to the second, but they didn’t print what I thought was the most important point: I’m there mostly as a producer, not as a consumer.

For the question “What will you do at the convention that a mainstream journalist would not do?” I responded:

1. I won’t get paid.
2. I won’t have deadlines.
3. I won’t have anyone to tell me what/where/when to cover.
4. I won’t be responsible to anyone but myself.
As such, I’ll be able to write as much or as little as I like, about whatever I like, whenever I like.

And the article printed that verbatim.

Finally, I responded to the question “Are there any ethical rules that you plan to follow?” simply “Only to tell the truth.” They printed this verbatim as well.

There were several other questions that weren’t printed in the article.

For the question “Please list five questions you would like to have answered in your coverage of the convention, in order of importance.” I [honestly] responded:

I have absolutely no idea.

To the question “Who is your readership?” I responded:

I have just a little more than absolutely no idea.
Many readers are people who live within a mile or two of my house, here in rural Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. If I have a “responsibility” to any chunk of my readership, it’s probably to them — a motely collection of friends, family, acquaintances and strangers. So on one level I’m simply a sort of “personal reporter” for my local community.
I’m also a de facto participant in what’s loosely known as the “blogosphere” — what I write will get syndicated and linked and otherwise worked into the web. So I feel, to some extent, like I’m working together with a decentralized group of other bloggers (none of whom I actually know) on a sort of “group project” to cover the convention.

For the question “Will your blog be reviewed by anyone before it goes out? If so, how will that process work?” I answered:

No review at all. I generally post live immediately after writing, then re-read and make spelling, grammar and factual edits as required. Thus I’m sort of editing “live” in front of the audience, if you will.

And finally, to the question “How long will your dispatches be? How will you decide that?” I responded:

No idea at that point; the digital page has no boundaries, so I don’t really need to figure that out.


oliver's picture
oliver on July 25, 2004 - 16:22 Permalink

Peter, I suspect “producer and not a consumer” didn’t show up in part b/c it’s cryptic and (I’m not sure) may also be idiosyncratic in the way you mean us to understand “producer” and “consumer” to be understood—or counterintuitve in the context of this story’s subject. I’m guessing what you meant is that you are producing interpretations to fill in gaps in your perspective, and you are contrasting this action with consuming raw data for the assembly of a perfectly objective picture. If that’s what you mean, then I would say 90% of the conceptual weight of your sentence, at least with regard to how it’s liable to land in the heads of most newspaper readers, is beneath the surface. It seems to say implicitly “there is a conventional view of what journalists do that is wrong, which I don’t buy into.” If you’d said that explicitly, then the reporter might well have put it front and center. But you didn’t and, as a reporter, if I think many of my readers either won’t get a quote or that they’ll stumble on it, I won’t use it. If I have time to be creative and if I feel confident that I have really understood this person I just met and interviewed for 5 minutes, then I’ll write a pithy paraphrase (which BTW I won’t put between quotation marks, but I’ll write that the person “says”). For a short story on deadline—especially on a subject that’s new to me—often my only reasonable choice is to assemble whatever story I can from a selection of a person’s own words. If the story is about something bigger than that one person, I can still do justice to it and bring in the big idea I didn’t report him or her saying by attributing the idea to another person, who happened to utter it in a pithy way.

oliver's picture
oliver on July 25, 2004 - 19:28 Permalink

That wasn’t really a news story—at least according to the distinctions professional journalists make. You can see it carries the heading “opinion,” and the URL contains the word “viewpoints,” which suggests that the ink and paper edition of Newsday put this article in a special section so that readers—one hopes—would read it more skeptically. It’s an “opinion piece” or “op-ed” or maybe you could even call it a blog—since its author writes a blog. I’d say that when an article is clearly labelled as a piece of advocacy for a particular viewpoint (i.e. the author’s), then you can expect that the author is not quoting people at random or in way that he or she has chosen to best encapsulate them or the world but is doing so in a way to serve his or her argument. The author of this piece is a professor of journalism and someone who blogs a lot about blogging and the media—as the paper has attempted to tell its readers up front with the blurb below the byline. As readers we are supposed to understand that the paper sought this author out because he already had an opinion about this topic even before he went to collect material specifically for it. Unfortunately, many people are not nearly so clued in and attentive as the media wants to the various cues for interpretation they provide. News consumption should be taught in school.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on July 25, 2004 - 20:43 Permalink

I liked what you had to say Peter.

I also enjoyed some of the comments made by the author of the NewsDay story. It’s too bad he had to edit down what you wrote. I’d like to comment on what the guy said about the differences between blogs and journalism though. He said: “Although we’re told that “bloggers wear their politics on their sleeves,” and things like that, politics is a personal matter for most of them — not a professional interest. Their communication style is citizen-to-citizen, rather than expert-to-layman or media to “mass.”“

Now I know that a lot of people claim that it isn’t possible to be objective and they usually go on to say that everyone is necessarily biased and that they themselves are advocates of this or that opinion and that the only honest thing to do is to just own up to that fact et cetera and blah blah blah…but frankly I’d like to see coverage of major events wrested from people who really have for all intents and purposes lost touch with reality. I call these people the ‘Marie Antoinette Set’ because often it’s their privilege that prevents them from grasping the everyday existence of more ordinary folk. Currently, these people own the media and the people who work for them are, let’s face it, their minions. Okay, not all of them are shills. Oliver, you seem like a nice guy. But many who aren’t shills, are willfully blind or stupid. Maybe I am alone in this, but I want more nuance, more depth, more detail and more shades of grey, especially when it comes to TV. Every time I watch TV news I lose track of the story — what little there is of it. If there were a subtitle to interpret the thoughts of people while they were watching TV, mine would be saying: shiny bobble shiny bobble, hair, what the hell is he talking about? image. image. image. what’s that girl doing in the background. wouldn’t it be nice to live in Bangladesh? shiny bobble. If a tenth of the energy that goes into calculating where to place the story so that the reader or viewer sees it and frames it in the way that you want them to (i.e. into the form), went instead into content, then we’d have something. To be honest, when it comes to TV, I’m completely distracted by the visuals. In fact, it would be nice to have news without all the info-tainment, the disneyfication, the whipped cream and the froth. Personally, I think it would also be nice to see just a smidge more objectivity in the coverage of major events and I think it’s ironic that I’m more likely to get it by reading online blogs like this one whose main difference is supposed to be that they are the ‘personal’ (i.e. subjective) scribblings of ordinary people.

Dreda's picture
Dreda on July 26, 2004 - 08:08 Permalink

Though I don’t live in Canada, I enjoy reading your blogs every day. They have a way of sparking eclectic conversation, enlightening and drawing me into a small part of your wonderful island community. Hit a homer in Boston!

oliver's picture
oliver on July 26, 2004 - 13:45 Permalink

Lisa, I’ve met a lot of reporters who are “nice guys” and “nice gals.” I think Al Franken hits the nail on the head when he explains “media bias”…

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on July 26, 2004 - 14:11 Permalink

Oliver, maybe you and your friends are the exceptions. Maybe the exceptions prove the rule. On the other hand, both my parents were journalists until they retired. Adn both of them are very nice and pretty darned honest. Did I mention they’re retired? I still think the mainstream press has become very lazy and pretty darned sloppy. And that Fox News stuff is just surreal, isn’t it? Good piece by Al Franken, by the way.

oliver's picture
oliver on July 26, 2004 - 17:44 Permalink

Lisa, you’re sounding a little like a Republican in the weight that you seem to give implicitly to “personal responsibility” and the idea of bad apples spoiling the lot. I would say that in “the media” we’ve got some bad apples, but more to the point we have a system that encourages “bad appling” while obstructing or disincentivizing “good appling.” Furthermore, even bad journalism is, for the people playing the foremost roles in manufacturing it, stressfull and intense work for long hours, which pays a lot more in glory and social cache than it does in salary. It would be more accurate for us to call unemployed crack addicts “lazy,” but I bet you’d agree that that too would be missing an important point.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on July 26, 2004 - 18:23 Permalink

Oliver, was it a Republican who said: “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country?” I agree, actually, with most of what you said. But I also think that there is laziness and a lot of self interest in there too. Anyway,that’s not Republican-ism talking, that’s just knowing a little about human nature. I am of course a longtime liberal, from a family of Canadian liberals even. I’d also like to add that there’s some good stuff out there in Journalism-land. There’s the New Yorker, which seems to be breaking some important stories lately. There’s the CBC, which has sadly fallen on hard times in the last few years. The Globe has some good columnists. Harpers obviously does some good stuff. But I still think many of you could use a kick in the pants now and then to keep you honest.

About the Convention:
My husband who reads blogs all night tells me that one of the main charges against Kerry is that he is not in touch with the common man. Now I was a Dean supporter at the beginning as I think many Canadians were. I think Dean is our kind of guy. I think he seems normal to us. But I realise now that Kerry is probably their (i.e. the Americans’s) kind of guy and so may be a good candidate too. It’s something about the hair. Anyway, I’d just like to make it clear that I think Kerry has all the good qualities that privilege can confer on a person without the contempt and the cynicism that can come with it. That is, the guy is both well educated (he speaks French which should interest a Canadian) and is not afraid to get his hands dirty or to risk his life for someone else (as is evidenced by his Vietnam record). I think he might even be a good guy. I also think he’s got to be better than Bush. My husband says that a stick of wood would be better than Bush. If I were an American, I would have no trouble voting for him.

Lisa Howard's picture
Lisa Howard on July 26, 2004 - 19:21 Permalink

OH and incidentally Kerry is not less privileged or more out of touch with the common man than Bush. In any case none of this seems like a particularly relevant charge against Kerry… I mean, do you want the guy to know how to barbecue with the best of them, or do you want him to be able to run the ship of state? Sure the two are related in some ways, but frankly I think the barbecuing is over-rated in this context.