Public Journalationism

That was the best portmanteau of “public relations” and “journalism” I could invent. No, it’s not very good. Maybe you can think of a better one. Doesn’t matter.

What does matter (OK, not in the cosmic sense, but still) is that Jay Rosen has a fascinating interview over at PressThink with Tracy Schmidt. I highly recommend the entire thing, if you’re in either PR or marketing or journalism or just interested in the changing world of information. Yes, it’s a bit long but it is worth your while.

What really struck me about the interview is the overlap between journalism and public relations. Those two industries have always been tied because both, ultimately, are about the dissemination of information. Journalists might argue that their profession is a bit more “pure” because it adheres to some sort of “objectivity” and standards but that all went out the window when those damn bloggers arrived but that’s never really been true and everyone who works in journalism knows it. Look at this passage, though:

Schmidt: Yes. So Bill asked me to move over to 435 Digital in October 2010 to work on its marketing campaign. He wanted me to write a blog about best practices for small business in the areas of SEO and social media. The blog was rolling along great. Meanwhile, I had been teaching several graduate classes at DePaul University on the intersection of social media and journalism. And on occasion, I would do a workshop for business people about understanding and using social media. So Bill asked me to test the concept of holding a class at Tribune Tower for our clients. Well, the classes started selling out.

PressThink: At how much a pop?

Schmidt: I started with very basic classes–like Intro to Facebook and Intro to Twitter. At the beginning, it was $50 for a 2 hour class held in a conference room at Tribune Tower. I literally brought the coffee in from Starbucks across the street and plugged my computer into a projector and put up Facebook and we walked through the site. Attendees asked for more classes on advanced topics– specifically using it for their businesses. We had no idea if it would work, or what it was, but by May, two months after I started, I was teaching two or three classes a week.

That sounds exactly like the sort of tasks we young, tech-savvy PR people are supposed to be doing. It’s a pretty good description of the way that I’ve talked with some people for whom I’ve done social media work, although I wasn’t officially giving lessons.

Reading that passage, I’d assume Schmidt was a PR or marketing professional. That’s understandable, though, given how social technology is making these two already-symbiotic industries even more similar. Both journalism and public relations deal in narratives, and by extent, depend on pieces of information. And good information can come from anywhere. Good info has always been able to come from anywhere, but nowadays, it really can come from anywhere and it can do so damn fast.

News institutions and journalism need public input for better advertising info, editorial direction and, most importantly, credibility with their customers. Public relations practitioners need public input to raise awareness, determine the efficacy of their campaigns and, again most importantly, establish credibility with their clients’ customers. The similarity between what Schmidt is doing with journalism and how college public relations students are being instructed underscores the convergence between the two industries in a world where information is cheaper, more widely available and easier to broadcast than ever before.

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The paradox of converted Republicans

Jay Rosen has an interesting post up that contains a bit of rare (for him) political analysis. To sum it up, parts of today’s Republican Party are still somewhat moored in reality and for other parts the horses have left the barn. Rosen cites David Frum as an example of a Republican who is fighting for a more factual approach to politics, describing him thus:

For a representative figure among reality-based Republicans I would go with David Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a conservative who cannot stomach what has happened to his party. But rather than become a Democrat or claim some sort of ideological conversion, Frum has taken up his pen, as with: When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality?

Rosen then quotes Frum diagnosing the problems in today’s GOP, noting that Frum writes:

Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves. Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know—canny investors, erudite authors—sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond conventional American liberalism and is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism. No counterevidence will dissuade them from this belief: not record-high corporate profits, not almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, not the lowest tax rates since the Truman administration. It is not easy to fit this belief alongside the equally strongly held belief that the president is a pitiful, bumbling amateur, dazed and overwhelmed by a job too big for him—and yet that is done too.

[…]

Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat.

Frum’s diagnosis is eloquent and succinct. I could hardly write a better critique of the current conservative movement myself.And herein, for many progressives OK, for at least one progressive, lies a dilemma. Seeing this from David Frum, whom Charlie Pierce has appropriately referred to as former war propagandist David Frum, produces two very strong, very divergent emotions.

On one level, I’m happy. It’s good to have more people criticizing the conservative movement for all of the stuff that Frum outlines. Having that critique come from someone who is a Republican, or at least used to be, is useful as well because that argument may carry more currency than one from a person who has been opposed to the Republican Party for their entire life.

That said, an equally strong emotion (and maybe stronger depending on your view on politics, personal makeup, sociology, etc) is wanting to grab David Frum and shake him very hard and demand to know what took him so goddam long to figure this out. David Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. He coined the term ‘Axis of Evil.’ He backed Bush’s policies to the hilt, with devastating effects on our image abroad (Iraq) and our national treasury (Bush tax cuts, Medicare Part D, Iraq again).

It’s all well and good that David Frum has discovered that the conservative movement and Republican Party is to a large extent ‘epistemically closed,’ but it would have been a helluva lot better if Frum had realized that before the 2000 election sent GWB to the White House and changed the world. And as Bush passed those shit policies, often with Democratic help, was David Frum a prominent, righteous voice demanding review and reservedness? Please. Let’s not kid ourselves: Frum might have been booted from FNC and AEI but he now gets to blog for the Daily Beast (along with another animal of similar stripes) and appear on other cable news channels as that coveted dissonant conservative.

One more note on Rosen’s piece. This line really jumped out to me:

So I’m not saying that the Democrats and progressives are the ones who are in touch with reality, while conservatives and Republicans are not. (But I guarantee you some will read it that way.) I’m saying that the tendency toward wish fulfillment, selective memory, ideological blindness, truth-busting demagoguery and denial of the inconvenient fact remains within normal trouble-making bounds for the Democratic coalition. But it has broken through the normal limits on the Republican side, an historical development that we don’t understand very well. That is, we don’t know the reasons for it, why it happened when it did, or what might reverse it. (We also need to know the degree to which it is a global phenomenon among conservative parties in mature democracies, or an American thing.) Political scientists: help!

Part of what is so potentially damaging about Frum and Sully and the rest of our recent conservative converts is that they implicitly present a false history. Frum was all cool with being employed by the movement that he now criticizes until a few years ago. But the concept that conservatism has just now gone ’round the bend is risible.

Like Jay, no, I don’t really know when this “happened” to conservatism. But here are a few guesses: you wanna know why conservatives won’t take incredibly good deals on policy proposal because said proposals might contain a teensy bit of revenue? Ask Grover (he got his start in the ’80s). You wanna know why Dick Lugar is gonna face a primary opponent in his next Senate race despite his status as a sane Republican statesman? Read about how Tom Delay turned the word “primary” into a verb (as in, “We’ll primary you”). You wanna know why the interests of the wealthy are as well represented by the Republican Party today as they have been during any time in history? Have a look at Jack Abramoff and the K Street Project.

I do know this: the change that Frum describes has been happening for quite some time. It has been steady, cumulative and forseeable. This is not a recent development. It did not just happen overnight. And David Frum, like his compatriot at the Daily Beast, voiced full-throat support for these policies and inadequacies for pretty much his entire adult life, including when it mattered most. And that remains important.

AUSSIE AUSSIE AUSSIE

In about ten hours, Djokovic and Nadal will take the court down under and decide who takes the first major of the year. SI has a nice breakdown here. Their poll is deadlocked, not that that really means anything, but I still found it interesting. I won’t get to see that match live, because I’d have to be awake (likely) and willing to be awake for another three or four hours (not likely).

I wanna pick Rafa to win the match, and I’ll be pulling for him as I sleep, but I just don’t see it. I haven’t gotten to see much of Rafa’s game at the Aussie Open because most of his matches have been on at 3:30 AM, but I read that his triumph over Federer came from terrific shot-making. He’ll need that in spades to hang with Nole.

I’m still not too much of a Djokovic fan but I don’t think he’ll lose this one. The match against Murray was absolutely epic but he’s had a day to recover from that. He had Rafa’s number in every final they played last year and Djokovic has excelled in the biggest points (which is what tennis is really about) for the past fourteen months. Federer is a tougher matchup for Djokovic, although Rafa obviously has the game to beat him. As is always the case in these matches, it depends which form the players show up in. In light of Djokovic’s previous success and consequent mental strength, though, Rafa’s gonna have to be on fire to win.

I’ve been wrong a bunch this tournament (had Roger beating Rafa, had Tsonga challenging Murray) and I’d be happy to be wrong again. But that’s up to Rafa. Djokovic in four.

Kewl

I like this idea a lot. The NYT is using some of their money to play around with a feature that allows you to zero in on a story and then follow along subsequent articles on similar topics. From Nieman:

The task (or, more accurately, one of the tasks) for beta620, the Times experimental projects group, is to find a better way to make the newspaper’s information more readily available — both to readers and to the Times itself. Their latest stab at the problem is something they’re calling Deep Dive, a project that aims to give readers a richer, more nuanced understanding of stories.

Deep Dive uses the Times’ massive cache of metadata from stories to go, as the name suggests, deeper into a news event by pulling together related articles. So instead of performing a search yourself within the Times and weeding out off-topic results, Deep Dive would provides readers a collection of stories relating to a topic, based on whatever person, place, event or topic of their choosing. So let’s say you’re interested in protests in Yemen, with Deep Dive you could use an article from nytimes.com as a seed and let the system collect a history of previous items relating to news from the region.

Cool stuff. Sorta makes me think about a Twitter-like structure for consuming news, where you can subscribe to different topic streams and follow along. For what it’s worth, if the NYT were to segment their reporting, so that I could directly donate to a part of the organization that followed union activity, environmental reporting, financial malfeasance cases and other stuff that piques my interest, I’d pony up. And as long as I knew that money was in no way going towards the salaries and travel charges of Tom Friedman, Bobo, Gail Collins and the rest of the clowns, I’d be happy to do so.

Last time, I swear

Really, though. Andrew Sullivan’s reaction to Obama’s SOTU and the response given by Mitch Daniels last night (via):

It was that rare event when the GOP response surpassed the actual State of the Union. It was what a sane Republican critique of this presidency would be. It began with a grace note on Obama’s courageous assault on bin Laden and the quiet dignity of his family life – avoiding the personal demonization of a well-liked president. There were several shrewd and helpful criticisms of his own side. And there were only a couple of off-notes. I don’t believe the administration has divided Americans or sought to. I don’t think it’s fair to describe a stimulus in a potential depression as wasteful or irresponsible.

But by reminding us of the debt, and the deep need to tackle it, he reminded us that conservatism at its best is about bringing us back to reality. And the president’s maddening refusal to tackle the long-term debt and entitlement insolvency in the Bowles-Simpson opening – and his decision to keep  these themes buried under a wave of new tax breaks in his speech tonight – gave Daniels an opening, where he outclassed the man who just left the stage.

Here’s the video of Daniels’ response (via):

I’m going to forgo my usual snark, although I’m tempted, and just go by the transcript (via):

In three short years, an unprecedented explosion of spending, with borrowed money, has added trillions to an already unaffordable national debt. And yet the president has put us on a course to make it radically worse in the years ahead.

No.

In our economic stagnation and indebtedness, we’re only a short distance behind Greece, Spain, and other European countries now facing economic catastrophe. But ours is a fortunate land. Because the world uses our dollar for trade, we have a short grace period to deal with our dangers. But time is running out if we’re to avoid the fate of Europe and those once-great nations of history that fell from the position of world leadership.

No.

The routes back to an America of promise and to a solvent America that can pay its bills and protect its vulnerable start in the same place. The only way up for those suffering tonight, and the only way out of the dead end of debt into which we’ve driven, is a private economy that begins to grow and create jobs, real jobs, at a much faster rate than today. Contrary to the president’s constant disparagement of people in business, it’s one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs — what a fitting name he had — created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the president borrowed and blew.

No.

There’s a second item on our national must-do list: We must unite to save the safety net. Medicare and Social Security have served us well, and that must continue. But after half and three- quarters of a century, respectively, it’s not surprising they need some repairs. We can preserve them unchanged and untouched for those now in or near retirement, but we must fashion a new, affordable safety net so future Americans are protected, too.

Social Security, with extremely small tweaks, is fine. Medicare is cheaper than private health care alternatives. So, no.

It’s not too hard to pick apart any political speech. Were I to go through Obama’s SOTU, I could find plenty to disagree with, especially in the realm of foreign policy. Some parts of Daniels’ response are not too bad and Andrew Sullivan does disagree with certain elements, which you can see if you read his entire post. The big difference lies in the policies the two parties recommend.

Republicans, with the Ryan plan and any of the candidates‘ economic plans, are right where they’ve been for the past 30 years: tax cuts for the wealthy and less spending on programs for people who need it.

Mitch Daniels, in his response, makes no mention of the Bush tax cuts, passed in ’01 and ’03, that have done so much to create the debt which Daniels criticizes. Those tax cuts will do ever more to ensure such debt if the tax cuts are extended, as Republicans want.

Daniels was GWB’s OMB director, by the way. The Indiana governor, did to his credit, get right the fact that the Super Bowl is in Indy this year (go Pats!).

At day’s end, it really is like Atrios said, in a post titled “It’s Just Tone:”

For Villagers, Republicans are “moderates” if they’re reasonable dinner party guests.

Much as Andrew Sullivan might like to detach Republicans on whom he casts his hopes and dreams from their party and its orthodoxy, he can’t. That he continues to ignore this fact, as in the case of Paul Ryan and Mitch Daniels, is about as good evidence that you can ask for to indicate that Sullivan is not an honest arbiter.

 

Sullivan on Colbert

Andrew Sullivan was on Colbert last night, discussing his much-ballyhooed cover story in Newsweek. For much of the interview, Sullivan criticized the lunacy of movement conservatism in this country, which I thought was pretty much on target. I also didn’t know he’d been on Colbert eight times (huge amount for someone who’s been blacklisted, eh?) but there was an exchange at the end that perfectly sums up what I was bitching about the other day.

I can’t figure out how to embed Comedy Central’s videos right now and I’m a bit squeezed for time, so the clip is here.

Our fun begins at the 4:30 mark. When Colbert prompts him about the criticism raised against Obama from the left, Sullivan exclaims “They’re as deluded as the right…. He’s also passed universal health care.”

At the 5:15 mark, Sullivan references the National Health Service, the UK’s fee-for-service (or single-payer) health care system as a model for Obama’s reforms. From the video, I can’t see how anyone can argue that Sullivan references the NHS in a less-than-admiring fashion.

For those who did not follow the flaming arguments on the progressive blogosphere during the past few years (and, in many ways, you are better off for not doing so), there were huge screaming tantrums that Obama’s reforms did not go far enough to make the U.S. health care system more like that of the UK or France or Germany or anywhere else. That was the critique. And yet, when Sully reaches for an accomplishment for which to laud Obama and display the immaturity of his lefty critics, he picks health care! Sullivan, by comparing the health care legislation to the superior system in England, is agreeing with us the the goal should be a single-payer system (most progressive agree with this) and that the Affordable Care Act was a good start (again, most progressive agree with this).

See that happen? Less than a minute after chiding those ridiculous liberals, Sullivan’s cites an example that shows how those ridiculous liberals… were agitating for good reforms! But that’s how the game is played. Liberals voice concerns that Obama’s reforms don’t go far enough towards a goal that Andrew Sullivan himself implicitly admits is a far better option and the the right-wing calls it socialism, a government takeover of the economy, the inception of death panels and seeks to return us to a system in which we pay twice as much money for equal (at best) or poorer (much more often) coverage than any other “advanced” country on the planet. But, of course, both sides are equally “deluded.”

Keep shoveling it, Andrew. Hasn’t hurt your career thus far.

Yes and NO

Mean to title this post as “Yes and No,” but the typo better sums up my feelings. Todd Defren, whose name I will not idiotically misspell this time, has a post up about the pace of news, new technology and Andrew Sullivan. If you’re too lazy to read it in full, which you should do because it’s not too long, here’s the main point:

Those of you who follow me on other social nets like Twitter or Facebookknow that I am pretty opinionated when it comes to politics.  Suffice to say that I am a card-carrying member of the “Liberal Coastal Elites.”  (I try not to over-indulge or bore folks with it; and I certainly can play nice with my right-leaning friends.)

I bring it all up only as a segue to the fact that I am a big fan of Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog.  Sullivan’s one of the big dogs in blogging; he’s been freshly-empowered by his move to the Daily Beast to experiment with new technologies; thus I increasingly look to The Dish not just for political musings but as a pioneer exploring the future of the medium.

I agree entirely about the impact of technology, the importance of generating new content (a point Todd makes in the comments) and the preeminence of the Dish as a content-producing machine. That said, I am puzzled as to how and why liberal people have any use for Andrew Sullivan.

Sully’s entire ouvre, as Driftglass often notes, is that he agrees (or comes to agree) with liberals about everything and refuses to acknowledge it. Sullivan gets trotted out constantly as an iconoclastic “conservative” because there are so few conservatives (former Republicans, really) who are willing to criticize the GOP that the ones who are willing to do so get special status. For evidence of this, look no further than David Frum, who will soon be taking his show to the Beast as well, something that is quite fitting*.

This is all well and good except for the fact that there’ve been liberal people (check through my blogroll) that have been screaming their heads off for decades about the stuff that Sully, David Frum and any of the rest of them are just now realizing. Wow, David Frum thinks that the Republican Party has gone all radical and epistemically closed and intolerant? Fantastic, except for the fact that HE WAS ADVOCATING FOR GOP POLICIES LESS THAN FIVE YEARS AGO. Andrew Sullivan has realized that the invasion of Iraq was a catastrophic, disgusting mistake? That’s terrific. If only he hadn’t been calling liberals “traitors” in real time. The recent timing of the defections of Sullivan and Frum imply that the Republican Party’s intransigence, total intellectual inconsistency and increasing radicalism is some sort of revelatory apparition, an immediate transformation and, more than anything, a recent event. That could not be further from the truth. What is true, though, is that these gents were full-throttle behind this movement until a few years ago. David Frum wrote the Axis of Evil speech, for chrissakes.

Some people might be inclined to say this is all water under the bridge. We all make mistakes (not all of our mistakes enable, in a small but not insignificant way, the launching of a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, blew trillions of dollars and left a perhaps-permanent stain on the reputation of the U.S., but there you go). If Sully has embraced liberal points of view and is advocating for those we’re better off, aren’t we?

No. We aren’t. Because no. He hasn’t. Witness the reaction to Paul Ryan’s health care plan. Sullivan praised it as brave and serious and a conversation starter and on and on and then spent a coupla weeks walking it back, prompting a truly righteous rant from John Cole. Details about the Ryan plan here.

I’ll give him a modicum of credit for publishing lots of countering arguments dissent but that doesn’t diminish the fact that several of Sully’s own posts are idiotic in the first place. This is one respect where the instantaneous pace of the Intertrons does damage because Sully will hurtle along and write something moronic only to spend the next three weeks carefully climbing back from the ledge while non-apologizing for spouting off. Of course, if he’d taken the time to think in the first place, he wouldn’t have written something so dumb.

And here’s the reason that it really, truly isn’t water under the bridge and still pisses me off: this is all a way, implicit or intended, to include people who disagree with the current conservative orthodoxy (which, despite the party affiliations of many Americans, is plainly grotesque to millions of people) while excluding the group of people who disagreed with said orthodoxy from day one. And it still matters today. It limits the debate to those who think the Simpson-Bowles co-heads’ proposal is heroicbraveSerious and those who think Simpson-Bowles is too liberal. What about the people who think Simpson-Bowles is too favorable to the wealthy, people whose taxes haven’t been this low in fifty years? What about people who discuss ending the protectionism for drug producers, who make billions in profits, rather than cutting social safety net programs? But no. No one need hear from them. Just like no one needed to before our grand adventure in 2003.

It’s nice that Sully has realized that the Republican Party has gone ’round the bend and it took him long enough having anyone with as large a platform as Sullivan being less partial to the Republicans is a good thing. But Sully was one of the leading cheerleaders (and no, that is not hyperbolic) for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. When the chips were down, he was on the wrong side. Like his fellow Reasonable Conservative™ David Brooks, Sully got where he is by failing upward. I’ll look elsewhere for my political reading.

*Bruce Bartlett is one of the very few former Republicans who criticizes the GOP for it’s decades-long failures, something for which he deserves great credit.