Wednesday, September 22, 2010

‘Objectivity' vs POV: Sorry, it’s more complicated than you think

Scott Rosenberg’s recent post (Journalists follow their voices, vote with their feet) introduces an important, oft-neglected perspective to the continuing debate about journalistic credibility and accountability. And as he suggests, it isn't really a binary question of “dull and mushy" versus "opinionated and exciting." 

Journalists have always longed for greater freedom, and the great ones have gotten it. You can read journalism from the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights struggle or Nixon era that proves it. Jay Rosen's aptly named "view from nowhere" represents laziness more than imposed restriction. It's simply easier to adopt the gambit Peter Goodman admits to: call and quote an expert you know will say what you want. (There are many variations on this technique; this is only one).

I am absolutely all for transparency and clear voice. I advocated it as the “manifesto” for a weekly I helped start in 1976 and I have known ever since that it’s essential. But the cure for the "view from nowhere" syndrome isn't as simple as declaring “here’s where I'm coming from.” The test of journalism’s worth and value must be, "OK, that's where you're coming from — but what did you bring me?" Simply having and declaring bias is itself mildly useful but it’s hardly determinative. If proffered as a license for dishonest reporting (“If I hadn’t believed this with my own mind, I never would have seen it”) then it’s worse that doing nothing.

Passionate advocacy journalism is altogether consistent with the accuracy, honesty and fairness the discredited “objectivity” standard claimed to advance. In simplest terms, the question is whether the writer starts by searching fearlessly for all the evidence and then comes to a conclusion, or sets out with a conclusion and gathers selected facts to advance it.

Many good journalists can honestly say that where they're coming from is a disciplined, ethical posture that tries to build truth out of evidence, regardless of the outcome. That's a POV, but not an opinion.

Likewise, nobody is coming from just one place, either. I have shades and degrees of passion and opinion and expertise on different subjects; my reporting on them will have to filtered through several lenses. We do no good by pretending that this is an easy journey from “nowhere” to nirvana.

Albert Einstein famously advised that everything should be made as simple as possible — but not simpler. 

Just so.

Posted via email from edge & flow

Monday, September 13, 2010

Two simple tools to make online reading a pleasure

Paul Simon thought we lived in “days of miracle and wonder” back in 1986. We can only imagine what he thinks now.

Yet even amidst contemporary marvels — my iPad, my featherweight mifi hub, an HD video camera that’s incidental to my phone — I’m finding a rather low-tech marriage of two distinctly Gutenbergish web services are among the info-systems I use most.

To wit: the indispensable Instapaper and

Probably most folks who reads this blog are already established Instapaper devotees; if you by chance are not, stop now and go sign up. You’ll start using it almost immediately, and soon find you can’t live without it. What started as a simple web bookmarking service (the main command —“Read Later” — is also its raison d’etre) has evolved into an information tool so sophisticated that it still seems simple and transparent.

In its initial iteration, Instapaper served to organize links to web articles you wanted to read later (typically, for me, because they were long and I needed to keep moving at the time). After free registration, you’ll have a spot online to save the reminders and links you used to email to yourself or write down on scratch paper to lose later. Now it’s all available on a personalized, elegant page of headlines and links.

Instapaper reaches its apex these days as an iPad app. Many apps for Twitter and other services now include “Send to Instapaper” as an option alongside “copy,” “email” or what-have-you and the original bookmarklet is also useable. Once saved to Instapaper, the reading interface on iPad is the best there is right now for reading long articles found online.

Which brings us to the aptly named, a curation service that both selects suggested articles and makes it trivially easy to add them to your Instapaper que. It’s only as good as the quality of the recommendations, of course, but for me the signal to noise ratio is high — I’m interested enough to try perhaps a quarter of what they recommend. I assume other recommendation engines will soon provide similar service from different points of view.

As a result, I’m reading more from the web now than ever: all the sites and stories I would have flagged for myself before n addition to an eclectic, serendipitous selection drawn from longform.

There’s nothing very flashy about either service (thank goodness) but the combination is potent. You owe it to yourself to give this a try.

Posted via email from edge & flow

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

'Thank God for Title IX' — my American River Adventure

Since nearly all human experience is disintermediated nowadays, there is of course a YouTube video of just the site of my adventure on Labor Day. 
As nearly as I can reconstruct, we crashed into the large rock at the end of the Parallel Parking chute; the rock is very briefly visible in the near right foreground at 1:27 of this video. Barb and I were thrown out the left side of the raft, which then bumped the Parking Garage wall and continued through Catapult Rapid, without us.
Barb surfaced and swam to the left bank, away from Catapult. I am not nearly as strong a swimmer and so was washed through Catapult, roughly down the chute seen at 1:42. I was underwater for some time (surely less than it seemed) and distinctly remember the strange quality of the green, filtered light and the cloud of bubbles that surrounded us. I tried to push Barb upward (she remembers only being touched, or restrained) but we quickly separated. I broke the surface for one breath but was then caught in the waves and couldn't predict when my head would surface. It did now and then and I gulped air (and some water). I was trying, with limited success, to float as we'd been instructed, feet downstream and head up. Judging from the large contusion on my upper left thigh and various other scrapes, I did encounter some rocks, though I don't remember that. 
Somewhere at the end of Catapult Rapids (after the spot where the crew "high fives" in this video) I swept past our number two raft, unable to reach them. Shortly thereafter I caught up with my own raft, which was waiting. I missed the first paddle extended toward me but was able to grab Maureen's longer guide's paddle. She pulled me up to the boat, grabbed my life jacket and yanked me into the raft like I was a little kid.
She's not a big girl. I'd peg her in her late 20s, a classic California blonde with braided pigtails and a frequent smile. 
You go, Mo. She flexed her biceps for me later on the bus back; thank God for Title IX. 

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