For Laughs: Omidyar Media Advisor Jay Rosen in His Own Words

On news last night that NYU Journalism Professor and ‘media critic’ Jay Rosen was the latest pick up for the Omidyar/Greenwald News thingy, ‘left’ journalisty Twitter erupted in the usual orgy of sycophancy that lately so characterizes this whole affair.  Still there were some discouraging words, like this from NSFWCorp boss Paul Carr.

It’s axiomatic now that in any part of the left where there is even meagre influence, there will be, at most, two sides to each question and both of them will be mostly wrong. So Carr’s quaint idea that Rosen would have been more critical as Omidyar’s ombud, or that Omidyar and Greenwald are buying Rosen’s silence, is every bit as ridiculous as the many virtues with which careerist sycophants now ostentatiously imbue him.

Where the establishment ‘left’ is concerned — that is that huge range of professional opinion-shaping between the partisan shillery of, say, MSNBC and the declinist reformism of Greenwald’s frothy showboating — Rosen is distinguished less by savvy criticism than prolonged acts of sycophancy and elitism. I went over this ground before, here, in my piece on Rosen’s ‘Snowden Effect’:

Rosen will happily tweet out some shit written by a shill of shills like Josh Marshall, and even have robust friendly discussions with him online, without once mentioning that Marshall literally gets his talking points straight from the White House.

Or he’ll look at Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger’s trivializing, weird confession of acquiescence to government repression, without even a hint of mystification, let alone disparagement, at how long Rusbridger suppressed this story. To the contrary, in Rosen’s piece about it, Rusbridger’s capitulation to government thugs and his failure to immediately disclose it to his readers, metamorphoses into heroism and prudence, as Rosen extols the overwhelming importance of knowledgeable, responsible journalism elites like Rusbridger to opposing mass surveillance.

Here he is acting as Omidyar’s mouthpiece, a day after announcement of the new unnamed venture, which Rosen christened NewCo with his customary flair. With or without pay, he is the perfect complement to Greenwald, for whom sycophancy is clearly like blood to a wounded vampire, and who unsurprisingly considers him “one of the best advisers any new media organization could have.”

Happily,  Rosen is so irredeemably awful to anyone whose ass he’s not kissing — or who’s not kissing his — that his words speak entirely for themselves.  There is no better demonstration of that than Rosen’s risible ‘Late Night with PressThink’ videos, in which he drinks whiskey and makes soul-crushingly banal observations with the clueless self-importance of the privileged grind who has been rewarded all his life for deference and assumed the whole time it was for brains.

The video he did on Maddow, in which he imparts insights that would be right at home in an MSNBC press packet, belongs in a time capsule to demonstrate to future enlightened societies how things like stupid and smart, sycophancy and critique become inverted in societies characterized by one hundred flavors of inequality.

I’ve embedded the video at the end of this post,  which is best viewed in small doses. This remark from a friend encapsulates the effect: ‘I started off laughing, but slowly it began to weigh on me.’ Because I love my readers, I have transcribed most of the video, so that you can get the full benefit of Rosen’s insights, with minimal time and effort, though you will miss out on some grim amusement if you don’t sample the video at least a little.

“This is the third of my late night with PressThink videos. The first one was powered by Johnny Walker Black, the second by Macallan 12.  Tonight I’ve gone downmarket and it’s Dewar’s on the rocks. [takes drink]. My subject tonight is why I loooove watching Rachel Maddow.

“When I say I love Rachel Maddow I love her performance, her presentation on television as one of the masters of political television which I really think she is.

“Rachel’s a nerd. She has a serious interest in public policy and politics as problem-solving and Truth, Justice and the American Way as she sees it. She was a public policy major at Stanford, she studied for a PhD in political science at Oxford, she was an activist before she got involved in the media at all. It’s this interest in politics and policy and the consequences of American policy that saves her from another kind of interest which is very common among people who do what she does and that is a fascination with the game of politics the way Chris Mathews or Chuck Todd exhibit it.

“And of course she’s fortunate because MSNBC allows her political commitments to show and it’s precisely the fact that she can declare herself and take a stand and have a stake that she doesn’t have to resort to this minute fascination with who’s up and who’s down, who won and who lost, how they’re trying to manipulate us.

“She has no interest in seeing things in politics from the same angle as the professional operatives and manipulators, which is what Chuck Todd is so good at. And this alone endears me to her.  She has no interest in the game, even though she is realistic about how the game is played.

“There’s plenty of information in her show. She’s very interested in what happened. She wants to inform her listeners, her viewers, but she does that by first engaging in passionate argument and she constructs her arguments with care and that style is just a very different style than what had come to dominate in political television which you might see in somebody like Candy Crowley or John King on CNN, who never tell you what they think but who are more than willing to assess in a savvy way the state of the game or who’s up or who’s down.

“Rachel Maddow has an apartment in The Village in New York and I have an apartment in the Village in New York and she wears goofy sneakers and she loves cities and she’s a cosmopolitan person and all those things endear her to me.

[lengthy, tedious description of Overton Window]

“Maddow is just about the only one I can count on to notice when the Overton Window is in play and to point it out,  and to draw attention to it today, this week! She’ll say Did you see that??? Did you see what just happened???

“I also love the fact that perhaps like comics, Maddow believes that the way to succeed on television is in great writing. Until she has the writing right, until every word counts and is the right word she’s not ready to do her show. This idea that the key to succeeding on television is actually the written word, not visual presentation or being chummy on the air, or smoothness of manner or being a classically sort of cool, perfectly put-together anchor person but writing, that really impresses me.

“I also love the way when she has somebody on who she wants to argue with or with whom there might be some tension, she will prepare a lead-in, a report to introduce this person and then say first question ‘Did I get anything wrong?’ ‘Is there anything you would like to correct?’ Which is not only an act of fairness but an act of confidence because you would only do that if you think you’ve really nailed the facts as well as the arguments in your presentation. Maybe there’s other people in television who do that but I can’t recall seeing it.

“Another thing I love about Maddow is she seems to understand that if I know how you think because I’ve really studied your mind but you don’t really know how I think, because you haven’t been playing close attention I have the advantage over you. And I love watching her work that advantage on the air. Maybe, intuitively a lot of her guests from the opposite party…maybe they intuitively grasp this and this is why they’re reluctant to go on the air but she’s constantly inviting people who disagree with her on, and I think she’s genuine that she really wants them to come on and she has a sense of fairness that coexists with her sense of passionate commitment to arguments and positions and that takes a certain talent as well.

“Rachel Maddow is an obsessive, like all good bloggers are obsessives, in fact even though she’s never distinguished herself as a blogger, and we don’t know her as that, I think it’s more or less correct  to say she is the first blogger type who ever got her own show on television. who ever got to anchor and host a show on network television. For that matter she is the first openly gay person to have her own show and she’s the first intellectual to be a host of political television and all of those things are important milestones in commercial tv.

“Finally the thing that I love the most about Rachel Maddow is deep down she’s a dork who learned how to be graceful not because it came naturally to her or she was born for it..but .simply through hard work and determination and tremendous focus. There’s something extremely inspiring about that.”

—-

There you have it, folks, media criticism in 2013, now informing the journalist/billionaire alliance that’s going to change everything.

Related

No, Pierre Omidyar Does Not Want to Topple The Government

Dr. Rosen and The Snowden Effect

A Harbinger of Journalism Saved

Glenn Greenwald Still Covering for Omidyar on PayPal

Viva The New Journalism

A Heat Vampire in Search of a Movie Deal

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132 Responses to For Laughs: Omidyar Media Advisor Jay Rosen in His Own Words

  1. thedoctorisindahaus says:

    Even his blog title is lame, “pressthink”. A safe title you’d slap on a term paper, afraid your own prof wouldn’t enjoy…anything.
    Can’t wait for people to start linking to the NewCo articles. It’ll be so lame, like linking to theDailyBeast or Sullivan.
    “Now I know this article is really lame but it has a little hint of a Snowden story you all should be aware of”
    “I don’t Nawhrmally link to NewCo…but this Snowden factoid is important”

    It’s too bad you can’t be an editor at NewCo and just post the juiciest bits of all their articles for a howl, red-lining the serious filler.

    • Tarzie says:

      To me what this hire demonstrates is how much Greenwald loves having his ass kissed. Rosen is the perfect Yes man.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        This is him drunk, too. So you know before you buy that there won’t even be uncomfortable office parties.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think the awkwardness will be created by various junior staffers pressing their loins to the screen by which Greenwald will be Skyping in his holiday wishes.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        Now..jesh..jesh lemme tell ya what i reeeeally think ofya gawhrrd DAMNIT!!!

        Ya seems to understand that if I know how Ya think because I’ve really studied Yar mind but Ya don’t really know how I think, because Ya haven’t been playing close attention I have the advantage over Ya. and I love watching Ya work that advantage on the air.

      • Tarzie says:

        *wraps arm around Greenwald Skype screen*

        ‘I love you man…’

      • Tarzie says:

        Ya seems to understand that if I know how Ya think because I’ve really studied Yar mind but Ya don’t really know how I think

        I think the best bit is when he calls Maddow the first non-blogging blogger to have her own show.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        If you can’t think of something nice to sycophant, make up anything at all.

        That really threw me. It’s actually Barney Fife fumbling for a metaphorical brassière.
        I’m embarrassed to even cut and paste those words. Like, look away out of regard for the ill, it’s not right to mock them.

      • Tarzie says:

        It’s actually Barney Fife fumbling for a metaphorical brassière.

        That’s priceless.

      • Tarzie says:

        I’m embarrassed to even cut and paste those words. Like, look away out of regard for the ill, it’s not right to mock them.

        If he weren’t wildly successful I would never be this mean. I would be more inclined to pity. But he totally deserves it by virtue of his stature.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        Even drunk he’s cautiously trying to keep out of trouble.

        “blogger….gosh..er..[some horrible tepid middle class safety words here]…I mean…the first blogger type”

        Greenwald really likes his staff ‘Beta’. NO CHALLENGES!!

      • anonnnnn says:

        He’s the pseudo-left’s answer to David Brooks.

    • thedoctorisindahaus says:

      Should just call it the Omidyar/Greenwald Plantation.

      And in a less fake PC world it could be. But Joan Walsh would lead the rescue from racism on that meme.

  2. Pingback: Dr. Rosen and The Snowden Effect | The Rancid Honeytrap

  3. Trish says:

    Are you kidding me. I knew the guy was a complete prat, but the Maddow piece is scary. Who can read that and not think this guy is a complete tool, and seriously brain damaged. I had no doubt that he would be joining GG network, but had no idea just how awful he is.

    What a joke. People like Arthur are struggling to make ends meet, and this creep gets given a new gig.

  4. Thomas Lord says:

    Oh, be sure not to miss his early scoop on Omidyar’s play. He’s been part of this thing all along. The post I’m linking to reads like a barely-paraphrased press release from Omidyar.

    http://pressthink.org/2013/10/why-pierre-omidyar-decided-to-join-forces-with-glenn-greenwald-for-a-new-venture-in-news/

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I know that, though perhaps I should work a link into that somehow. Thanks.

    • Hooker Jay says:

      The post I’m linking to reads like a barely-paraphrased press release from Omidyar.

      It reads like a rejected script for an episode of “White Collar” where Mozzie expresses much trepidation in Neal’s pleas to jump into the sack with “The Suit” again to help catch a criminal — replete with the usual overwrought Mozzieisms — and snarkity-snark about how badly its gonna backfire and how much he’ll regret it and all. But, for Neal’s sake (and for the sake of being goodie goodie) does it anyway. And he has no much fun in the process catching the “Bad Guys” until something monumental, diabolic, terrible, and “typical government conspiracy” crap happens … and the next thing we see is Mozzie in Neal’s apartment sipping wine and soaking himself in a bathtub of mineral spirits, gasoline, turpentine, and non-acetone break clean trying to delouse himself of the experience while whining and kvetching that he’ll never ever get in bed with “The Suit” ever again … wait … did I say “rejected script” up there?!?

  5. diane says:

    funny thing about that NSFWCorp and Paul Carr (‘Good Cop’), for those unaware, is that his organization was funded (at the very least, ‘bootstrapped’ by) by the same Silicon Valley ilk as Omidyar, particularly his buddy, Esquire Michael Arrington (Wilson Sonsini ….. TechCrunch, …etcetera) …..

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I know that. Doesn’t make anything they write less true. Also, they have multiple funders, not one, including what looks like a fair amount of subscription support which makes a little difference. Their funders didn’t buy the Valley’s secrets the way Omidyar did. Nor are Carr and co making as much of themselves as disruptors of traditional power as Greenwald and co.

      I don’t like NSFWCorp, but this charge is a non-starter from top to bottom and as far as i know, no one around here is calling Carr ‘good cop.’ I favor tactical alliances over religion, so I am quite content to see Carr, Ames and Co bash Greenwald and Pierre in an environment where everyone else is too sickeningly chickenshit to even tweet about it, regardless of what their motives are or how much hypocrisy there is in it.

      • diane says:

        don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed that Ames piece quite a bit myself (and I’m a much fonder fan of Yasha Levine’s writings), I was just noting where the butter came from (and most of those NSFW corp funders, last time I looked, were of the same, homogenous, Silicon Valley ilk).

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, there’s no clean money, really. That’s why people need to look at all these outfits with a good deal of skepticism. Everything in public life is about alliances and everyone’s a bit of a shitbag.

  6. Jeff Nguyen says:

    Here’s a stunning takedown of Omidyar, worth the read.

    The takeaway…beware of billionaires bearing gifts.

    • Tarzie says:

      Yeah, I’ve seen it. The stuff on microfinancing and DeSoto is good. Less thrilled with their obligatory genuflection to state power, and the usual nonsense about the Great Libertarian Conspiracy.

      • Jay23 says:

        Tarzie could you point me to the genuflection? Didn’t notice any. Thought it was a very strong conclusion (probably should’ve come with a h/t to you.)

      • Tarzie says:

        Genuflection may have been an imprecise way to put it.

        A better way to put it is that the piece was infected with NSFWCorp’s customary false state power/corporate power binary, where state power is conceived as a tempering influence on corporate power and where people like Omidyar and scary libertarians are the enemies of that power. I tend to see state power and corporate power as intertwined and so I find the conception of someone like Omidyar — who benefits hugely from state power — as an enemy of the state ridiculous. What Ames and Co never seem to realize is that people like Milton Friedman and DeSoto couldn’t get any of their awful programs implemented without state authority. This is why privatization and shock treatments go so well with tyranny. Hence, I thought the hyperbolic last paragraph was the worst part of the whole piece and would have been better off omitted, though you’re right about that h/t. That stuff about the monopoly on leaks and Omidyar’s purchase of same sounded very familiar. They hate me so it’s funny that they’re flatteringly pilfering my blog.

        Increasingly I think the potential influence of this enterprise on journalism is being vastly overstated by both enthusiasts and detractors. My biggest problem is the decaying effect the meta-narrative is having on what it means to be ‘left.’ I find the sneering that people like Scahill and Segura are doing in relation to concerns about Omidyar’s toxic dealings really deplorable and decadent, in the same way Greenwald’s sneering at radicals over his conservative, top-down leaking was deplorable and decadent. I’m content to write these people off once I’m done blogging about them. I’ve already written off Greenwald as a journalist. He’s a total waste of time.

      • Jay23 says:

        Thanks for the clarification. Actually have never heard of nsfwcorp before so didn’t have my eyes peeled for the false corporate/state binary.

      • Tarzie says:

        It was much less conspicuous in the Omidyar article than it normally is.

  7. Goldfish Training Institute says:

    I’m guessing Greenwald won’t be allowing these journalists (sorry, “journalists”) coming on board to wade through the Snowden docs. He’ll be like that smarmy little kid in the sandbox who throws sand in your face if you even ask to play with his plastic shovel and bucket.

    • Tarzie says:

      I’m guessing Greenwald won’t be allowing these journalists (sorry, “journalists”) coming on board to wade through the Snowden docs.

      Status of the docs seems a great unknown now that Omidyar bought Greenwald and Poitras.

  8. Happy Jack says:

    This guy needs to read a Daily Howler piece on Maddow for some insight into media criticism. Somerby has his obsessions, but he’s willing to take jabs at his team.

    Oh, and what exactly does he bring to a new company? Wiki doesn’t show any relevant experience beyond perfesser.

  9. poppsikle says:

    I said it on your other post about Rosen, he does what he’s told, doesn’t cross lines he is told not to cross. I came on to Twitter to expose a huge, International media scandal, and quickly saw Rosen was this figure on Twitter that supposedly stood up for media ethics and journalism to the new media goons/tools (example – Mathew Ingram) trashing it, but in reality, was so compliant and almost as unwilling to rock the boat as they were.

    I do think he has some good ideas and I have liked some of his writing. I just wish he would stand up for his convictions, and profession for that matter.

    There is way too much cronyism going on, and so many of the participants want more than anything to be a part of the “clique”, personal conscience being the first thing thrown out of the window in order to get the coveted “membership”. You bet it has “rules” too, the first one being, shut your mouth when you are told to, and don’t talk about that which the clique doesn’t want you to talk about.

    This is shutting out major, important news that is affecting the lives of millions of people. Its so wrong, tragic.

    I always keep an open mind though, and hope to see some spine and conviction at some point, I am more than tired of the media circus, its not helping get the truth out and the most important function of media, is to protect the People, the people are not safe when the media is dysfunctional.

    • Tarzie says:

      I do think he has some good ideas and I have liked some of his writing. I just wish he would stand up for his convictions, and profession for that matter.

      Whatever the fuck that is. I guess we see him differently. I see an unprincipled conformist and brownnoser.

  10. I actually spent a year or so working a desk away from Jay Rosen. Despite having exactly zero, nada, experience as a journalist, he managed to wrangle himself into being head of the NYU Dept. of Journalism by picking powerful mentors and leveraging those connections. His career is a testament to the power of schmooze. He is the quintessential feather merchant: his theories are vague, wispy, and, upon examination, proof positive that he has, yes, zero, nada, experience as a journalist. He literally has no idea of what he’s talking about. This is the depraved recipe for success in journalism today. What he brings to “NewCo” is credibility, but only among people who respect Jay Rosen, apparently including Greenwald, who has, ta-da, zero, nada, experience as a journalist.

    • Tarzie says:

      Well said. Love the inside angle. Inclined to think calling what he does ‘theories’ is being far too kind. Calling them ‘vague and wispy’ also implies too much substance. Looking at the excuse-making for Rusbridger, the press release for Omidyar and the rambling recitation of MSNBC publicity points for Maddow, schmoozing seems to sum up the whole nine yards. I don’t see much else. I don’t think he’s gone near any real media criticism. No evidence of having even read Chomsky/Herman, for instance.

    • poppsikle says:

      That is what I noticed about him, in his relationships with new media figures on Twitter. He was playing this role of Defender of Journalism and Media Ethics, but would not stick his neck out in the slightest for controversial issues on the subject. I could not understand why he would be so spineless in defending his own profession, one which has earned him a comfortable living, but I think the actions on his part were all about acceptance, not rocking the boat, ensuring his seat on it.

  11. Guillermo says:

    I fail to see any of the things your lead-in led me to expect about how this scotch drinking tv host would be so excruciatingly awful.

    In fact I agree with most of what he says about Rachel Maddow and I think he describes her qualities in a way id never thought about but which ring true and actually make me like her more.

    I have no idea who this person you despise so much is (subject of tweet or blog post). I do know about Glenn greenwald and have mixed feelings. But regardless your vitriol seems strangely too personal. It’s exactly what makes everything I read and see make me stomach (literally) churn.

    You’re probably a decent guy. You ought to try to convert that negative energy into something that makes people feel good, or helps them or makes YOU feel good.

    Cuz this spewing isn’t doing much to make anything better.

    • Tarzie says:

      In fact I agree with most of what he says about Rachel Maddow and I think he describes her qualities in a way id never thought about but which ring true and actually make me like her more.

      I wondered if there would be at least one person too clueless to see what’s wrong with Rosen by way of being too clueless to see what’s wrong with Maddow. Sorry, this blog is for advanced students. I can’t help you.

      But regardless your vitriol seems strangely too personal. It’s exactly what makes everything I read and see make me stomach (literally) churn.

      That’s funny, for me it’s operators like Rosen, Greenwald and Maddow that make my stomach churn, because, you know, they have actual influence and I think they’re toxic. It is kind of personal. I loathe these people and I have also come to seriously dislike the nitwits who troll on their behalf, so I am very glad I make you feel shitty.

      You’re probably a decent guy. You ought to try to convert that negative energy into something that makes people feel good, or helps them or makes YOU feel good.

      I am a decent guy and thanks for the advice, but talk of ‘negative energy’ gives me hives, not least because only really shitty people ever talk that way. Arrogant little people who want to put their words and thoughts in other people’s mouths. My thing is mocking and criticizing people who deserve it. Yours is being dull and preachy to people who don’t give a shit what you think. To each his own, k? Vive la différence and all that.

    • “I like Rachel Maddow”

      lol. you can stop right there dude.

    • darrenrussert says:

      Just in case you’re the rare person willing to change their mind when presented with contrary facts/opinions, I highly recommend checking out the Daily Howler. Rachel Maddow is a celebrity clown getting paid big bucks to rile up the rube left.

      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2013/11/rachel-unloads-on-beltway-press.html
      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2013/03/rachel-maddow-keeps-keeping-it-up.html
      http://dailyhowler.blogspot.com/2013/03/rachel-maddow-keeps-keeping-it-up.html

  12. pupisunnamed says:

    I’m just waiting for the Jay Rosen directed glossy Hollywood biopic to be produced where the transformative montage shows a young Rachel Maddow learning grace through “hard work and determination and tremendous focus”. A Kenny Loggins backed montage replete with shots of her taking a night class in Grace 101 at NYU, eyebrows furrowed while vigorously scribbling notes, learning after much trial-and-error how to select the most tastefully goofy shoes, and finally giving casual yet tactful waves to all her fans walking down the street (Jay Rosen’s Hitchcock cameo). All leading to the “extremely inspiring” ending where Rachel Maddow, the first non-blogging blogger is led onto a heavenly-lit MSNBC studio stage by geniuses Chris Matthews and Chuck Todd.

  13. Jay23 says:

    “…which is what Chuck Todd is so good at.” He’s trolling right?

  14. availablealias says:

    Let’s name it before they do. MyLeftWingNut.

  15. haptic says:

    With Rosen’s addition I suddenly get it, I get the gag, and I start trying to think of comical extremes – laughing stocks – so that I can say “Imagine they hired….!”

    But try as I might, I cannot think of anyone quite as pathetic as Jay Rosen is.

    The best joke has already been made.

    The Omidyar Onanism

  16. haptic says:

    Actually what pisses me off most of all about this whole thing is a bit more basic than the billionaire thing, or the banality of it all, or the organized sterilization of criticism, etc.

    It’s that I just feel, not another one! Not another pestilent media organisation! Not another little gang of entitled jerks who see themselves as smarter than everyone else and perceive that the rest of us need them to make sense of the world for us because we just wouldn’t understand what is going on without them to fucking explain it to us.

    While sagely explaining “Why Glenn Greenwald’s new media venture is a big deal,” Henry Farrell – another acadebrity who seems to have very little to say but a great deal of praise for saying it – expounded this “ape-masses need philosopher-elites to decide what is important” doctrine as if it was a law of the universe he had just discovered:

    Wikileaks had a very frustrating time trying to get anyone except bloggers to pay attention to their early revelations. No one seemed to care.

    The reason why is important. There’s too much information out there for most people to pay attention to, let alone figure out whether they believe it or not. Hence, most people rely on other institutions such as media organizations to tell them which information is worth caring about. Not only do people not pay much attention to information until it gets the stamp of approval from some authoritative institution, but this information is transformed, because everybody knows that everybody else is paying attention to it. It stops being mere information, and becomes knowledge — generally accepted facts that people use to build their understanding of what everybody knows about politics.

    Established newspapers like the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Financial Times play a crucial sociological role in deciding which information is important and trustworthy, and which is not. When one of these newspapers publishes information, it is legitimated as knowledge — which people are not only more likely to take seriously themselves, but may have to take seriously, because they know that other people are taking it seriously. European Union governments knew perfectly well that the U.S. had been tapping communications in their building (and if you read specialist sources, you knew about this, too). However, these governments found it more politically convenient to ignore U.S. spying than to make a big fuss. When this information became knowledge — when it was published and treated as authoritative by major newspapers — it became impossible to ignore any longer.

    Established newspapers like the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Financial Times play a crucial sociological role in deciding which information is important and trustworthy, and which is not. When one of these newspapers publishes information, it is legitimated as knowledge — which people are not only more likely to take seriously themselves, but may have to take seriously, because they know that other people are taking it seriously.

    “crucial sociological role.” Crucial, as in, indispensable. As in, everything would fall apart if we lost it. I am sure it all looks like that from his blogger-perch in the Washington Post.

    Do we really, really need another one? I don’t. I never used to read news, and these days the only reason I read it is to loathe it. It is intolerable that we have to put up with these people curating our literature. How is it not objectionable in itself that a small group of elites curate our historical output and self-understanding? How can it make things any better to add yet another institution to this mix?

    I want to see more newspapers dying, not more newspapers being made. I don’t care whether that is “disruptive” or not. How tired I am of people dissecting the genius of “upsetting” the “news market” to “drive innovation.” Ugh.

    I just know that I want to see journalists out of jobs. Less people should be paid for this harmful, unnecessary trash called “journalism.” “News” isn’t a natural kind term. It is not a useful synonym for “information.” “News” is a historically contingent genre, a product of information commerce in a bygone historical moment. It’s going obsolete. There are other, more efficient, more democratic ways for a society to understand itself than this.

    “Journalists” do not have a natural monopoly on the production of general knowledge, or the trafficking of current intelligence on the state of the world. “Journalist” is only the name for the profession that has historically enjoyed that monopoly. Among alternatives, the “journalist” is an anachronistic, inelegant, otiose solution to the problem of social epistemology. I see these people like so many self-important priests – an entire caste of them – diligently explaining to us all why we need them as every other social role they ever filled is being filled better by something else.

    There are universes where there are no “journalists” and no “news” and everyone gets along fine and remains informed. Let’s live in one of those.

    And what really depresses me is that it is clear that when they hire people like Rosen they are hiring people who love all of this historically contingent bullshit as if it justified itself. Moreso than the somewhat blind automatons in, say, the WaPo’s press corps. Those people just get on with things and assume they are necessary. They don’t really have the self awareness to love and obsess on the genre itself. The Rosens are different. They love the irrelevant minutiae of this stuff with a pathetic intensity. The Rosens are the fanboys of journalism. The Rosens would like nothing more than to see it in perpetuity, like a favourite spectator sport. These are the people who are enthusiasts of news-as-genre. They are not the people who ask “do we really need a monarchy?” they are the people who ask “which is your favourite royal outfit? What is the optimal width of a royal lapel? Do you really think that? Wow! Controversial!”

    Rosen is a critic of journalism the way Perez Hilton is a critic of celebrity.

    They are erecting another pillar of the status quo and they are loving it. The fanboys elevated to professionals. They’ll show us how it is done! This is the journalism equivalent of X-Factor.

    When the whole thing is a mediocre success or a failure, I can’t wait to remind people like Farrell how certain they were that it was going to alter the laws of physics, like the media equivalent of the apotheosis of Heracles.

    If this works, it is likely to change the relationship between information, knowledge and politics in some very interesting ways.

    They should just go full Rosen and call the thing “PressThink.” It is suitably redolent of “groupthink.”

    • Tarzie says:

      Actually what pisses me off most of all about this whole thing is a bit more basic than the billionaire thing, or the banality of it all, or the organized sterilization of criticism, etc.

      It’s that I just feel, not another one! Not another pestilent media organisation! Not another little gang of entitled jerks who see themselves as smarter than everyone else and perceive that the rest of us need them to make sense of the world for us because we just wouldn’t understand what is going on without them to fucking explain it to us.

      Great stuff. I have been thinking about this too. That Farrell quote is a find. Beautifully embodies the elitism at the heart of this bullshit. There is also the rather frank implication that journalists are propagandist and that that’s a good thing. The idea that Wikileaks struggled because they overwhelmed the world with unmediated information has become pervasive. It’s such bullshit.

      There are other, more efficient, more democratic ways for a society to understand itself than this.

      I find this very tantalizing, and would love to hear more. I’m not ready to concede that journalism as a whole is a bad thing. I make a distinction between a self-obsessed celebrity like Greenwald, for instance, and relative unknowns doing their best in, say, the business and tech press, and doing work that I personally find useful. I do think alternatives and supplements to journalism are needed. I have been thinking a lot about crowd sourced databases, for instance. Am curious to know what alternatives to journalism you suggest or if you reject the underlying attempt to get to grips with world events altogether?

      • haptic says:

        (For newcomers, this discussion started here. I recommend reading the whole thing, though this stands well on its own. — Tarzie)

        There is also the rather frank implication that journalists are propagandists and that that’s a good thing.

        Right. Journalists have to be propagandists because people are not smart enough to make up their own minds.

        He seems oblivious that his argument actually undermines his conclusion.

        There is something seriously wrong with a society that waited until the Times got on board to stop dismissing credible reports of internet surveillance as “conspiracy theories.”

        People are so used to deferring responsibility for making up their own minds to elite institutions that they fail to see what is right in front of their eyes until elites tell them to see it?

        That’s an argument for getting rid of this pervasive, lazy reliance on status, validation and authority. It is not an argument – as he thinks – for why institutions like the New York Times are “crucial”.

        Farrell’s argument is almost circular!

        Am curious to know what alternatives to journalism you suggest or if you reject the underlying attempt to get to grips with world events altogether?

        No, I do not reject the underlying attempt to get to grips with world events altogether. I think it’s fundamentally important. I just don’t think “journalism” actually serves that function.

        When you ask what it would be like, I have to say, I don’t know exactly, but it has to happen somehow. And I think the desolation of the mainstream press is part of the process of finding it.

        The more acquainted I am with contemporary journalism as it is practiced, the more I get this feeling I get when I look at the constitutional architecture of extant monarchies. The whole thing seems quaint and curious, as if it was lifted straight out of the middle ages. “Journalism” is full of vestigial features and behaviors. The UK’s “constitutional” (for it is anything but constitutional) system is a system of control and subjugation, and that is what it does, even if they are trying to use it to administer a liberal democracy. “Journalism” is not designed to give us information about the world, even if that is what they are trying to use it for.

        Even the words and concepts they are using seem doomed to misfire. “News” suggests that what is important about the information is its novelty. At a stretch, its currency. This infects the nature of the enterprise all the way down. Obsession with scoops and competition. The orthodoxies about how a “news article” is structured. The “story.” The amnesia. “Journalism” seems to imprint the thing with episodism, and the idea that what is important is that something is written every day, not that what is written is of any great import. They have invented a term “investigative journalism” to distinguish the people who feel as if they should research from this other thing. This is the enterprise that is supposed to help us understand the world. Half of it seems intrinsically designed to fabricate, the other half to produce filler. The whole vocabulary is so fucked.

        I remember when I started college everyone my age was starting a band. What do you do if you are in a band? Rehearse/write music? Well, not necessarily. The first thing – at the time – that you had to do when you started a band, apparently, was create a Myspace page for your band, and take a monochrome photo of the lot of you standing in a field somewhere all with your hands in pockets and your heads pitched at awkward angles staring studiously in different directions. Pout. List your “influences.” Write a short bio of each member.

        Most of these people never produced music. What had happened was that the “Myspace page” had become such a discrete, final ontological manifestation of “a band” that these people felt the band exists as long as there is a Myspace page of it. Everything else was optional. Suddenly all they had to do to have a band was tick all the boxes, and fill in all the fields, in a Myspace page. It was easy! The page then became the reference mechanism for social climbing. Hey baby. Check out my band.

        I feel the same when I visit yet another media personality’s fucking Twitter page and see the same form replicated everywhere in their Twitter bios. “Gonzo television addict, foreign policy reporter, dad, pervert, not necessarily in that order. Views always of my employer (haha NOT!).” I don’t know why it annoys me so much.

        This is part of the same thing as the “journalism” problem. I don’t really have my head fully around it, but there is something off with all of this. “Journalism” is an ontologically troubled enterprise. I feel that, whatever the intentions of people who set out to discover the world, the enterprise of journalism distorts and perverts those intentions and those energies, so that they only ever slenderly accomplish what they set out to do. The rest of the time they are conforming to genre, aimlessly copying form, ticking the boxes, filling in forms, assuming that’s enough to accomplish what it’s supposed to.

        When you look at what the elite groups actually use to understand the world, the comparison is interesting. It seems to me that the concept of the genre role “intelligence analyst” is a lot closer to the goal of understanding events and the world than “journalist.” If two identical people were to emerge green from high school and drift into these two professions, the “intelligence analyst” would i think in time understand more clearly that her role is to understand the world and crystallize that understanding so as to enable more effective action on it. The “journalist” would get distracted with genre features and professional peculiarities. I feel if we were only to get rid of the concepts of “journalism” and “news” and replace them with “intelligence gathering” for the general public, we’d be better able to distinguish between good and bad practice. I actually think we need to do that. We need to get rid of the constellation of conventions and assumptions that orbit the idea of “news” entirely. We need to eliminate “news” as a genre.

        I remember reading this thing by William Polk and seeing how the journalists on the Atlantic and elsewhere who mentioned it kept referring to it as if it wasn’t actually journalism, but part of a different genre, of “intelligence” or “foreign policy assessment” and reading it and thinking, I don’t give a fuck what it is, this is infinitely more informative and direct than anything being written on Syria in the commercial media. And yes it feels different because all of the genre conventions are different, but damn it if that doesn’t make me resent “journalism” all the more.

        Take another comparison. I feel safer in the hands of nameless generations of Wikipedia editors than I do in the hands of bylined and decorated “journalists.” When I visit the Wikipedia page of the Syria conflict, and when I read the Syria report in the Times, I am motivated by the same desire to learn about Syria. But I know I’ll fare better on Wikipedia than in the Times. I’m not scared of reading false information. I can handle it when I read it in the Times so why shouldn’t I be able to handle it in Wikipedia? I’m not saying that Wikipedia isn’t awful sometimes, it’s just comparative. When you mention crowdsourced databases, I wonder if you mean something related to this?

        Wikipedia isn’t commercially motivated. As soon as you introduce commerce into the “understanding the world” enterprise, you have to start making concessions to the logic of “incentives” and structuring it in ways to bring out the good journalism and get rid of the bad. I think it’s a lost cause. I think people, socially, want to come together to understand the world, often independently of a desire to be wealthy or famous. They are not always good at it, but Wikipedia is still better than reading Kevin fucking Drum. So, I think whatever replaces journalism needs to have no money in it whatsoever. That’s not necessarily perniciously elitist if you consider that I am proposing that “news” is eliminated, perhaps leaving space for more participative work. Most of the people who are paid to write “journalism” are terrible, and at the moment the only counterpoint we have to that, it seems to me, is unpaid bloggers trying to bring the fight to them. If we stopped paying them maybe they would fuck off and do something less harmful.

        Similarly, I would like to eliminate the social climber incentives from the enterprise. I start to wonder if there are any people who identify as “writers” or “journalists” who are not intensely status conscious and who are not doing it just to network, gain influence, status and prestige for themselves. I read in this Hans Ulrich Obrist interview about WikiLeaks being originally modelled on Bourbaki. I thought that was interesting. Where do the status incentives go if you get rid of reputation altogether? I like the idea of telling people like Molly Crabapple that the personal brand rockstar as journalist shit has to stop. I’d like to see more experiments with anonymity and collaborative editing to produce intelligence about the world for general consumption.

        I also think the so-called scientific and academic communities have some useful norms for communal epistemology. Yes, those are elite communities, but interestingly it is assumed in those communities that most readers are participants in the same community, rather than a small group of elites assuming they are writing for a larger group of passive recipients. I think everyone who tries to inform themselves of the world needs to realize that even just by doing that they make themselves a participant in the same enterprise the writer is in, and that they should actualize that status as a participant.

        People can be literate, and yet still have no literacy in the skills necessary to assess the reliability of a piece of information. They fall back on authority, status, personality, loyalty and other heuristics. Those skills of literacy are at least partially developed when you are inducted into one of these elite communities, although people who are inducted tend to be ritually harmed too, taught how to suck up and arrange themselves in schools and how to advance their careers. Academics are the worst kind of sycophants imaginable. Learning how to think and argue and reference other works improves that literacy. How can we minimize the role of “authority”, and cultivate the skills of epistemological literacy? I used to read Alvin Goldman and Philip Kitcher on “social epistemology” and wonder how this could be bootstrapped into a “better journalism.” Much of the features of academic communities are also extremely harmful, like the belief that blind peer review is in any way a desireable feature of a system that is supposed to favour insight and criticism. Nothing we have at the moment comes close to what we need. As an epistemic community, we have never learned to walk, and we dearly need to.

        Yes, a lot of this is high minded. I could even be accused of privilege for imagining that these are solutions you could apply to the world. But I feel I had genuine benefits from my education. I remember being completely lost in the world before I had it, and though I still feel lost, I don’t feel quite as much at the mercy of people who tell me they know how the world is going on and I should listen to them. I don’t feel any more entitled to being able to think well than anyone else. Literacy of any kind is a survival skill. These may be rareified skills as the species goes, but they are skills for everybody, not just for Henry fucking Farrell. We need to work out how to democratise this literacy, so that people don’t feel as much as if they have to wait for the New York Times to tell them it’s ok to care that the government is spying on them.

        relative unknowns doing their best in, say, the business and tech press, and doing work that I personally find useful.

        I am not sure you mean the same thing I think of when I hear “the tech press.” Most tech writing is hopeless consumerist fandom masquerading as “journalism.” Breathless expository writing on the latest Apple convention, the slavish repitition of every banal utterance of a Mark Zuckerberg or a Larry Page, the unveiling of the new iPhone, Windows 8 apologism, Windows 8 is shit, the iPhone vs the Samsung, and intolerable shit like this.

        There’s been some investigative work on recent mass events on the internet in publications like WIRED and Forbes. It is somewhat tech literate, but I think its merits derive mostly from the fact that writers in this little corner of the internet cut their teeth on blogging, and research is a pastime for them, and writing is a side effect. There is then some spillover into mags like the New Yorker, where the genre conventions match up a bit.

        Otherwise, I feel safer with bloggers on tech activist sites for tech, social climbers though they be all.

      • haptic says:

        Ugh. Reading back, much of what I have written seems banal and obvious, and overly longwinded. I feel like I have over-Rosened.

        Please excuse.

      • Tarzie says:

        No, not at all. I was feeling grateful that you came back. It’s great stuff, a striking contrast to Rosen’s empty blathering, among other things.

        I love the ‘intelligence gathering’ idea, both the seizure of the term from the state and as a model for how to investigate and write things up. The Polk thing is a great example. Journalism seems so muddled by comparison.

        By crowd-sourced databases, I was thinking simply of repositories of structured information on particular topics, like, say, police brutality incidents. But crowd-sourced ‘intelligence-gathering’ more like Wikipedia, but which kept apace of events in the way news does, seems like a good idea also.

      • Thomas Lord says:

        Having dabbled in small town journalism in Berkeley, CA (almost but not entirely unpaid), I’d like to throw in some scattered observations.

        1) The journal in journalism is invaluable.

        A news periodical seems to deal in a lot of ephemeral randomness. A local paper might cover, for example, crime reports, society events, local press releases, banal government meetings, ribbon cuttings, letters to the editor and op eds, and so on. This is, of course, peppered with more immediately consequential stuff.

        Two big “wins”:

        (a) Over time, this journal accumulates and becomes an invaluable, unique archive of detailed history. Understanding current events is often greatly enhanced by this archive. For example, it can be used to discover patterns of behavior of powerful people. It can be used in cases where, during current political struggles, some players are straight up lying about the history of an issue.

        I don’t know anything other than a reporter staff that can build that kind of archive. Bloggers don’t do it. The Internet Archives (wayback machine) isn’t useful for this.

        The archive largely comes from reporters doing a boring and thankless job of going to boring commission meetings, taking snapshots of ribbon cuttings and dutifully recording names for the caption, assembling a weekly crime report from the official ledger and tips from friendly cops, typing up the school lunch menus and high school sports scores, etc.

        When it first gets published its mostly filler. A few years later, accumulated in an archive, it’s a very powerful resource.

        (b) People help generate news for the journal because they like seeing themselves and their friends in the paper.

        People used to read good local papers mostly for entertainment, even if they told themselves and others it was to stay informed. Somebody wants to see if their kid’s name made the story about the high school baseball game. Somebody wants to see if their public comment got mentioned from the obscure planning commission meeting about painting the curbs. People want to read what that eccentric neighbor down the street did at the rally outside city hall.

        It’s all very trivial and mostly just entertainment but it’s trivial entertainment people want to participate in. They write their letters to the editor, naming names and signing their own. They write op-eds. They talk to the reporters after the meeting.

        As a result, the archive picks up a lot of details that might not mean much at the time but that, as the years go by, and as these details accumulate — become really valuable for understanding why and how things are as they are.

        The local paper I wrote for is gone now. The on-line “hyper-local news blog” that replaces it is doing a shitty, shitty job at being a journal. It’s painful. Berkeley is now in the first few years of what, in the future, will be remembered as a long period of blackout. We’ll collectively “wake up” in 5 years and realize we can’t collectively remember much at all about what the hell we were doing back here in 2013.

        (So that I’m not misudnerstood: I don’t regard this as a defense of Omidyar’s thing. I also don’t think that the big national papers are doing a good job at this. The journal-function of news outlets is languishing badly under current conditions. I’m only saying that I think it would be desirable to restore it.)

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t know anything other than a reporter staff that can build that kind of archive. Bloggers don’t do it. The Internet Archives (wayback machine) isn’t useful for this.

        This is a painfully trivializing and unpersuasive dismissal, especially considering that, to this point, you haven’t shown how all these benefits of journalism you see can’t be produced other ways. Generally, I don’t think you have refuted anything haptic said, though all the virtues of journalism you mention would be wise to keep in mind when formulating alternatives.

        I think the well-earned antipathy some of us feel toward journalism in these parts could be resulting in a false dichotomy. Journalism is in no danger of going away immediately or altogether, so the only point in defending it, as far as I can see, is identifying the bits you want to see preserved in anything succeeding it or creating leverage against it in parallel.

      • Thomas Lord says:

        2) Yes, a good newsroom is an intelligence agency. The romantic model of CIA “HUMINT” and the romantic ideal of a classical newsroom are very similar, for good reason.

        A lot of figuring out what the hell is going on is relational. It requires people who can spend a lot of time developing and maintaining personal relations.

        There is a lot of truth to various literary tropes: the reporter who drinks a lot and spends a lot of time at the local dive bar yet still manages to turn in a lot of surprisingly good copy; the reporter who’s pals with a lot of the cops; the reporter who’s pals with a lot of local criminals; the stringers; the informants; the charmer who can always get a free peak at some sensitive county records without going through the front door;….

        All those are real, or at least they used to be real. One of its main functions was that all those big social networks made it a lot easier for anonymous everyone’s to bring issues to light. Why is the chief of police *really* doing this or that? Well, if the paper has enough social ties to rank and file they might be able to find out. What *really* happened the night of the protest? Some of the local petty criminals may have some off record insight for a reporter or stringer they trust.

        I think this is relevant to the question of whether there should be news institutions and what they should look like.

        I don’t see how a HUMINT organization can function without a decent budget for poorly-audited expense accounts, petty cash for pay-offs and “finders fees”, and so on.

        I don’t see how a HUMINT organization can function without being able to cultivate a few characters over years while they build up a social network of sources.

        (Again, I think this is not something currently being done well by any outlet that I’m aware of. I’ve seen some vestiges of it locally and you can see evidence of it in literature and history.)

      • Thomas Lord says:

        And, just to relate the HUMINT angle to current events: if we had functioning HUMINT journalism we’d probably have far better insight into things like “fusion centers” or what’s really going on inside Google re data security.

      • Tarzie says:

        Right, but doesn’t the fact that we don’t have that owe somewhat to contraints inherent to journalism?

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        thomas lord is suggesting that a local paper would do a specifically good job of covering the nitty gritty of corruption as it manifests in smaller branches of a national monster (here, for example, Fusion Centers), than a national paper, which can not cultivate leakers as widely, leakers who have no whistleblowing desire to come to them on their own initiative.

        Since only national papers have the ad revenue to survive, this ability is not being reproduced since bloggers don’t blog locally with the budget that local news used to command.

        This is due in part to national papers acquiring and then destroying local paper competition, in order to supplant them and achieve a more credible high price for their one-size-fits-all model of distribution. That’s a story for another time.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        The argument about budgeting in the internet age is at least an open question. Just look at Huffington Post Hawaii for an example of phoning it in on a 300 million dollar budget.

      • Tarzie says:

        Is it my imagination or have you and Thomas completely steered this question in the direction of whys and wherefores of commercial journalism?

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        Also, your condemnation of tone is perhaps the classic being at a loss for an argument.

        This modelling thus far focuses on authority and trust. There are multiple purposes to journalism. 1. Getting information and 2. Getting it out there honestly. And maybe a bunch more that I don’t know to give credibility to my “multiple purposes” claim.

        Making sense of things and making sense of them correctly are two different goals. I wonder how we’ll ever get away from trusting a reporter (regardless of professional status). The comments about trusting wikipedia or at least being on easy terms judging it, while being reflexively skeptical and over dependent on a professional journalist’s ethics and competence, speaks volumes to the problem of journalism beyond the current corruptions.

        There is no reason to find any big city reporter, blogger, wikipedia commenter trustworthy, objectively. Though their vested interests will be different.

      • Tarzie says:

        Also, your condemnation of tone is perhaps the classic being at a loss for an argument.

        Not sure what you mean here, but I think ‘tough shit’ suffices for all possibilities. And my objection was to tone + content. I sure hope you don’t think I’m at a loss to dispute a series of assertions that at times doesn’t rise too far above “That’s the way things are. That’s how they must be.” My interest in commercial journalism isn’t the extent of its inevitability. It’s about how do we who are not satisfied with it get something else and I think haptic did a good job of describing everything that’s wrong with it. I prefer engagement with that to journalism vs. something else either/or-ing.

      • Tarzie says:

        There is no reason to find any big city reporter, blogger, wikipedia commenter trustworthy, objectively.

        I completely agree. I don’t think commercial journalism has set a very high bar for a successor. Overall, I think crowd-sourcing has more likelihood of being accurate but that’s just a hunch. Depends on the crowd certainly and whether the work in question has become a target of disinformers.

      • Thomas Lord says:

        Tarzie I don’t think I’m trying to “refute” haptic or stand up in defense of commercial journalism as we know it. I know and have worked a little bit with some senior citizen old school journalists. This experience has made me sad. I’m just trying to describe some of what is being lost that I happen to think was pretty valuable and has no replacement in sight.

        This article from Gawker describes the slow painful death of some aspects of the kind of journalism I’m talking about: The De-Watergating of American Journalism.

        It does not talk about, but ought to, the corrupting influence that advertising had on that business model for journalism. The article talks about the post-Watergate “professionalizing” of journalism, but it doesn’t try to answer what drove that. I believe that the political constraints implied by relying on big money advertisers was the main point of leverage. (Part of what drove under the local paper I wrote for in more recent years was the quiet withdrawal of key advertisers who were being shaken down by a local group of thugs the paper had crossed. All our editor would have had to do to bring back those advertisers was grit her teeth and issue an apology. She didn’t and that’s half of what killed the paper.)

        Two years earlier Gawker also published this article which I think is related and relevant: Journalism Schools May Die. Good. It’s ugly description of modern J-schools is a great description of the J-school at UC Berkeley. Also related are ugly rich-people-vanity-and-power-projects like the Center for Investigative Journalism.

        Commercial journalism as we see it around us is failing and corrupt and neutered and horrible. Wasn’t always bad in quite those ways — had some really interesting good properties. One thing is that the stuff it did well, it did well by burning a pretty decent amount of cash, pretty loosely, all the time to grease and weave a web of social relations. I don’t see how to “crowd source” that or anything nearly as powerful but if you think of something I’m all ears.

      • Tarzie says:

        I don’t see how to “crowd source” that or anything nearly as powerful but if you think of something I’m all ears.

        Powerful as what?

        Ultimately, what do we want from information?

        Having decided what we want, how do more democratic means of producing and exchanging information not deliver what we want?

        While I certainly agree that journalism is in decline, I think its golden past is wildly overstated. Chomsky/Herman wrote Manufacturing Consent in the 80s and I believe used data from well before that to make their case.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        i wrote a comment last night, that was sort of on-topic.but i was too drunk to tell whether it made sense or not. i scanned and it seems to be ok, but apologies if its hard to follow, or waffly:

        i was talking before about dispersed networks,and how the last thing people should be doing is creating more huge top-down centralized structures. they’re not just authoritarian, they’re also inefficient and expensive. there are already nascent networks all over the world that just lack money and technology to fully blossom. a couple of million invested here and there could make such a massive difference. for example, there are a lot of syrians stuck in refugee camps that are educated and literate. why not just give a bunch of them a couple of grand apiece to write about their own and others experiences? give them the tools to record people’s lives and struggles and the infrastructure to store and distribute it. the more these decentralized digital storehouses exist the less need there is for people to spend months digging up data or slogging around the world. and it also (in a small way) redistributes wealth. the marginal utility of a couple of grand in a refugee camp (or a lot of the third world) is far greater than in NYC or London. also, it harnesses the collective knowledge and ideas of an entire people many of whom would have invaluable insights and solutions, not just to their own problems, but to the problems of people round the world. this is the sort of thing i meant when i mentioned archivists as people who would be worth funding, and this kind of fits in with what Thomas Lord was saying, that in much of the world we’re entering a sort of information deadzone. languages, customs, whole communities are disappearing and leaving nothing for posterity. all this has to be reversed, not just for for sentimental or anthropological reasons, all this information is vital to our survival. every person silenced is a loss to the sum total of human ingenuity. every culture that disappears marks the end of an alternative way of living or thinking, at a time when we need them most. David Graeber said something like “Neoliberalism finally managed to convince the world there was no alternative to it at precisely the moment that it collapsed.” (can’t remember the exact quote, can’t find it online, it was in a talk he gave somewhere), but it struck me at the time as being quite profound. how can we change things if we can no longer imagine anything else? seems to me that its even more vital now to try and reclaim or rediscover old alternatives or invent new ones.

    • haptic says:

      Firstly, (I saw a brief exchange on Twitter) I am not saying that “going pro” is the arbiter of the worth of people who started bands.

      I am just drawing attention to the practice of becoming more transfixed with the trappings of a “genre” than with the substance of the practice which gives rise to it.

      Secondly, HUMINT is not – as I see it – the basis of the “intelligence analysis” idea. The Polk article I referred to doesn’t seem to rely on current HUMINT at all. HUMINT is intelligence acquired by using human relationships. The guy is a former State Department adviser. He is using open source “intelligence” to write the piece he writes. Information that has already been reported, or information that is already general knowledge. He just puts it together in a form that is instantly more informative. You might describe the form of “intelligence production” he is involved in more as “objective oriented research.” The extent to which his writing is “intelligence” rather than “journalism” owes to the differences of convention: the assumptions about what the purpose of the piece he is writing he takes, and the form this forces on the material he produces. I don’t think what he wrote is the be all and end all. I just think it is surprisingly more informative than most of what we read in commercial journalism. I wish there was more of it. I wish there was a place you could go to reliably find it frequently produced.

      More to come when I can…

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        That polk article had an interesting point about not knowing anything about what really happened on the ground in Syria. The entire reason for that was a lack of useful HUMINT on the ground. To have more information that the open source and it’s gaps, those gaps could be filled in by a budget allowing investigative reporters to be there.

      • Tarzie says:

        If you and Thomas are going to continue to extol the virtues of commercial journalism could you do it perhaps with a little less splainy self-certainty? My interest is in alternatives, regardless of whether or not they can replace journalism or exist alongside it. Yes, perhaps there are certain things that can never be done without concentrated wealth and authority. These things don’t interest me. With respect to getting Humint on the ground in Syria, it is theoretically possible to get that on the cheap from Syrians also by harvesting from local news/intelligence.

      • Thomas Lord says:

        The kind of open sourced, analytic writing Polk did in that piece reminds me of what my older journalist friends refer to as the paradigm of I.F. Stone (in I.F. Stone’s Weekly). It also reminds me of some good blogging.

        The Polk piece illustrates a limitation of that format. He reasons (at the time) that the Assad regime had nothing to gain from a gas attack. He gets there using what I regard as a very non-journalistic, non-objective move. He writes (emphasis added):

        […] I have made it a rule when trying to get at the “truth” in any contentious issue to ask a series of questions among which are who benefits from a given action and what would I have done in a given situation?

        With hindsight we can see, contra-Polk, that Assad had everything to gain from a gas attack. The fact that the attack occurred, regardless of who did it, enabled the Russians to intervene, crush support for a US led military strike, and guarantee that the Assad regime would survive. For all intents and purposes, the gas attack won the war for Assad, or at least gave him a huge boost.

        I think it’s interesting (but purely circumstantial) evidence that Kerry’s famous gaffe saying that if Assad gave up his weapons, the US would back down, occurred shortly after private talks with the Russians. Subsequently he has visited Israel warning of the risk of a new Intifada. It will be interesting to see how the public face of the sudden new sweetness and light in nuclear talks with Iran will evolve.

        To me this circumstantial evidence starts to look like the US gov’t is having its ass handed to it by powerful entities that don’t want the US gov’t to lose face at home — but there just isn’t enough information that’s open source to really tell.

        The information I feel I’d really need to piece together a more certain interpretation is better insight — even if only on deep background — into what’s going on in the State Dept. and the Pentagon. Can we suss out from sources what kind of factionalization is going on? How decisions are getting made? What’s the mood in various parts of these institutions?

        That kind of information is more than just interesting: it would be empowering because it helps people not only to understand what’s really going on but where pressure can be best applied to have influence.

        Idealized old-school newsrooms, a HUMINT orientation, all that stuff … I’m just trying to say I’m interested in structures that can develop that kind of information and that those are some paradigms that come closer than any other approach I’ve seen. It feels very important to me how relational old-school journalism was, and how ethically edgy from time to time. The institutional memory of a newsroom seems very important to me (there’s always someone that at least half remembers the old dirt on just about everyone). The credibility an old-style newsroom can build, over time, by pissing off the powerful without collapsing under an avalanche of libel suits.

        I’m not trying to say we have to bring back, preserve, or re-enact the old institutional models. Ad-based models are ridiculously corrupt. Vanity news outlets by rich people are horrible. I know all that. I’m just trying to point out desiderata for models going forward.

      • Tarzie says:

        You’re essentially saying that journalism, operating without any of the constraints it can’t possibly operate without, wouldn’t have made an error like Polk’s. In other words, you are holding the intelligence analysis to a higher standard than anyone could possibly hold journalism in any age, based on an idealized form of journalism that doesn’t and can’t exist.

        I think it is possible that an intelligence briefing like Polk’s, using already existing open source intelligence, might have drawn different conclusions. Saying wrong therefore not as useful as journalism is not particularly compelling.

        Perhaps you can try to imagine all the things you love about your idealized, probably-never-existed journalism and conceive of it in terms that get us out from under a system reliant on concentrated wealth and influence? For instance, it seems to me your dream of official insiders disclosing all the info that would credibly point the finger at Assad is more likely to happen under a model of anonymized crowd sourcing than under commercial journalism’s auspices.

        I think it might also be useful to think in terms of what kind of information is high priority. Since I am entirely shut out of US foreign policy decisions, I’m not convinced issues like Syria are the best use case. It may sound parochial, but with things in the state they’re in, I think the idea of ‘actionable’ intelligence as the main concern of non/less-monetized alternatives is worth thinking about.

      • Thomas Lord says:

        You’re essentially saying that journalism, operating without any of the constraints it can’t possibly operate without, wouldn’t have made an error like Polk’s. In other words, you are holding the intelligence analysis to a higher standard than anyone could possibly hold journalism in any age,

        No. I’m saying that doing the analytic style well requires avoiding a bogus universalization like “what would I do”. Polk erred and gave us a flawed example of the analytic style. His mistake highlights something that an analytic reporter should try not to do.

        As I see it there are two mistakes: One is that he anthropomorphized an institution (the Assad regime). The other is that he universalized his own psychology to project it onto that anthropomorphized institution. I think that approach does poorly at predicting or interpreting the behavior of institutions. For example, it’s possible that the Assad regime produced a decision to make the CW attack without Assad having much to do with that decision.

        Saying wrong therefore not as useful as journalism is just silly.

        Am I really being that unclear? I don’t think that’s at all what I said.

        in terms that get us out from under a system reliant on concentrated wealth and influence?

        Ok. My first question, though, is are you opposed to any ideas involving firms with revenues, payrolls, and assets like a morgue? I consider these things potentially severable from the corrupting influences of vanity ownership and ad-based revenues but maybe you don’t.

        It seems to me your dream of official insiders disclosing all the info that would credibly point the finger at Assad is more likely to happen under a model of anonymized crowd sourcing than under commercial journalism’s auspices.

        I wouldn’t expect anyone to disclose “all the info that would credibly point the finger at Assad”. That kind of thing has happened (e.g. Pentagon Papers) but it’s rare. I’m not sure anyone in the US gov’t knows who ordered the attack or exactly why (I’d rather doubt it, actually).

        If I may illustrate with a fictional scenario, I’m thinking of something like a reporter who has a buddy reasonably well situated in State who, just between friends – strictly so-called “deep background” – let’s loose with something like “Ever since he got back from Russia, Kerry’s walking around like he’s got a stick up his ass.”

        That’s enough to get a reporter or a newsroom looking very carefully at what Russia does next, for example.

        I don’t know how you would pass an observation like that through “anonymized crowd-sourcing”.

        Part of how it works is that the report knows his buddy well enough from past experience to know how many grains of salt to apply. Maybe this particular source is unreliable whenever he says something that might make Kerry look bad, but great on other matters.

        Also, part of how this works is that the buddy is sharing this partly because its good human fun to gossip with his reporter friend (or maybe the buddy is reliably chatty when a little bit drunk at the BBQ).

        Maybe the reporter takes this under advisement directly or maybe he mentions it to a reporter in the newsroom who’s working stories in this area. Either way, it helps guide the search for citable sources — it can help guide the kind of analysis that Polk is doing. It can help guide what kind of open source information to look for.

        The example trope from Watergate was “follow the money”. “Follow the money” isn’t a leak and if it came from a crowd-sourced Anonymouse it wouldn’t mean much. It’s a hint and figuring out if it amounts to anything requires a lot of human-on-human relational context.

        The idealized traditional newsroom was a machine for generating those kinds of leads, developing an institutional memory, etc. Hence my “first question”, above.

      • haptic says:

        As I see it there are two mistakes: One is that he anthropomorphized an institution (the Assad regime). The other is that he universalized his own psychology to project it onto that anthropomorphized institution. I think that approach does poorly at predicting or interpreting the behavior of institutions. For example, it’s possible that the Assad regime produced a decision to make the CW attack without Assad having much to do with that decision.

        That’s a fair criticism of the Polk piece. But

        a) I think the mainstream institutional press is far more likely to make mistakes like this. Polk’s article was refreshingly lacking in it.

        b) Part of the reason you were able to make this criticism is that Polk puts all of his inferences on display. He tries to explicate the entire chain of reasoning he is using, rather than hiding assumptions, sources and logical inferences. There is a norm at work here that is rarely at work in commercial journalism. He doesn’t want to cover his tracks.

        c) I don’t think pointing out a debatable conclusion in any way challenges the idea that there is something more healthy in the genre conventions of this piece of “intelligence” than there is in the genre conventions of “journalism.” So you disagree with his first order conclusions… The first order conclusions seem to me irrelevant. The point I was making about the piece was the way it is contructed, phrased, and the apparent assumptions about what it is he is doing which we can intuit by reading it. The stylistic merits of the Polk piece survive any criticism, I think, of the Polk piece itself.

        If I may illustrate with a fictional scenario, I’m thinking of something like a reporter who has a buddy reasonably well situated in State who, just between friends – strictly so-called “deep background” – let’s loose with something like “Ever since he got back from Russia, Kerry’s walking around like he’s got a stick up his ass.”

        That’s enough to get a reporter or a newsroom looking very carefully at what Russia does next, for example.

        I don’t know how you would pass an observation like that through “anonymized crowd-sourcing”.

        Part of how it works is that the report knows his buddy well enough from past experience to know how many grains of salt to apply. Maybe this particular source is unreliable whenever he says something that might make Kerry look bad, but great on other matters.

        If any of this indeed does happen, that makes things all the worse really for the institution as a whole, seeing as, even with this sort of acumen and human intelligence network, it does such a fatally woeful job at presenting any legitimate counterpoint to the distorting effect of established power. My problem is with the entire enterprise, and its visible effects. I tend to feel that micro-analysis of the good intentions and neat tricks of the profession, so long as on a global scale they make little difference, are of limited value. It starts to look as if, for the explainer, acquaintance with the minutiae of “the way things are” starts to seem like a justification for “the way things are.” In other words, fandom. Much like:

        “I also love the fact that perhaps like comics, Maddow believes that the way to succeed on television is in great writing.”

    • thedoctorisindahaus says:

      What I’d really like to know is how come the blog lets you comment directly to everyone no matter the thread level but the rest of us have to make do with commenting at the bottom of every thread once it won’t expand replies any deeper.

      • Tarzie says:

        I wish it weren’t so, but it’s because the administrative commenting interface allows it but the public facing interface doesn’t.

    • Steven Bloom says:

      haptic, really interesting comment(s). it articulates a lot of my problems with journalists. i’m just so sick of the claim that things don’t mean anything if someone doesn’t explain them. as if we’ll all stare slack-jawed and drooling at the world, bemused by all the indecipherable colours and shapes and noises until someone clever with a newspaper column tells us what’s going on. this is obviously ridiculous, why should anyone believe that someone like Greenwald would be in a position to tell me about my life, or about the world in general?
      people don’t need elites to explain things, they usually have a fairly good grasp of what’s going on (even if they don’t have the knowledge to see the bigger picture). the reason so many people feel ashamed or unable to speak for themselves is they’ve spent their whole lives being told that they’re stupid and they should shut up and listen to someone more important. they need the tools and resources to articulate their own agendas and experiences, they need encouragement and support, not condescension and silencing. like you said, people like Henry Farrell see this timidity and lack of self-confidence as some sort of immutable law of the universe, but perhaps if people were given a little space to explain themselves without being shat on or told to shut up we’d find that they had a lot to contribute. probably more than Greenwald to be honest. we give journalists far more leeway to be idiots or pricks than anyone else. i used to like Greenwald precisely because it was refreshing to see someone with reasonably eclectic and thoughtful views in the mainstream, but in any other context i wouldn’t be impressed. he was sometimes a source of interesting info, but i usually found that when he talked about stuff i was familiar with he missed the mark more often than not. the playing field is so tilted against us we’re willing to give someone a pass if they’re on our side even 30% of the time. its just the soft bigotry of low expectations. if i met Greenwald on a picket line, or a political meeting or even in the pub i’d probably find his opinions banal or annoying, but seeing it in a newspaper, suddenly its Important, and Worth Defending because he’s On Our Side. i think all these internalised assumptions and constant apologetics have really destructive psychological effects. when you constantly try and apologize for or cover up someone’s mistakes and stupid opinions you end up falsifying your own experience and unconsciously draw away from your own opinions and beliefs.

      • Tarzie says:

        I do think there is a layer to journalism that maybe some of these criticisms aren’t getting at. For instance, I hate Greenwald’s paternalism with regard to the Snowden leaks, but that doesn’t mean I want to look at the leaks raw myself, though I think I should have the opportunity to. I think I just might want to have someone I trust and respect more than Greenwald looking at them and reporting their findings. Preferably multiple people.

        we give journalists far more leeway to be idiots or pricks than anyone else. i used to like Greenwald precisely because it was refreshing to see someone with reasonably eclectic and thoughtful views in the mainstream, but in any other context i wouldn’t be impressed.

        Same here. He always made my eyes roll with all his Rule of Law/Constitution bullshit. He is stunningly ill-informed on some things, but blusters his way through hoping you’re as ill-informed as he is. He once completely mischaracterized 1st Amendment case history while lecturing me on free speech. Parallels to politics abound in this realm. I think generally our expectations of elites are way lower than for people we know and work with. Greenwald is Obama 2008 for a certain social layer.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        there will always be people who will do it though, even if they don’t get massive rewards. i think the basis of Greenwald’s criticism of the idea of dumping was “no-one would ever bother to do this sort of shit if they weren’t making money off it.” this is obviously bollocks. its the typical judgement of a selfish greedy middle class douche assuming that everyone else has exactly the same values as he does. i think anyone that’s been involved in activism at the grassroots level (which i think excludes Greenwald) understands that people will often put massive amounts of energy into things that have no material rewards. in fact considering the negative effects of left-wing activism (possible arrest, criminal record, getting the shit kicked out of you, losing your job, etc. etc.) its surprising that people ever get involved at all.

        i don’t mean that we should be complacent about stuff, and just say “well, someone will do that so i don’t have to bother.” what we need to do is find those people who are competent and willing to do various crap tiresome jobs and give them the means to do so. i think funding is important because just the day-to-day grind and stress of making ends meet has a deleterious effect on people. the model i suggested before, of using a kickstarter campaign to fund people to do the grunt work would help. people would be paid (not a lot, but enough to prevent them worrying about mortgages or bills) and the only stipulation would be that everything they discovered would be public and free for anyone to use. if something they uncovered became big news i’d have no problem with them using their resultant fame to get additional funding or solicit donations or whatever. the only important thing should be that the initial discoveries are open to everyone.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I completely agree. I was just saying that having a proxy who looks into things without us is not always about being told what to think, though that’s clearly how a lot of them see it.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        there is a lot of potential money out there, its just that people spend it on the wrong things. a lot of people i know buy the Guardian out of some some vague idea that the have to support left-wing journalism. they know its shit but they’re terrified that if they don’t give it money somehow things’ll get worse (my dad’s exactly like this). it just seems obvious to me that if you want to support left-wing journalism give money to a left-wing journalist. don’t filter it through some horrible blairite rag that’s happy to piss away its money on paid Republican Party activists like Josh Trevino or outright fascists like Julie Burchill. its the same in the USA people feel almost compelled to buy crap like the Nation even though they don’t like it. i don’t mean the sort of hoity-toity liberal idiots that think its proper journalism, i mean the people that buy it with a heavy heart and the sinking feeling that it isn’t worth it. if they could break out of their sad little elitist prisons, they could spend all that money on something worthwhile.

      • Tarzie says:

        I think this discussion also raises the question of information-gathering/sharing as a proportion of left attention/expenditure/involvement. It seems to me that people may be disproportionately focused on news, where the acquisition of information is just considered good, without any tactical consideration of what use that information will be put to. I think this was one of the barriers to having a serious discussion about the Snowden Leaks. The disclosures were seen as an unalloyed good and anyone criticizing the conduct of the people disclosing was seen as the enemy of the disclosures themselves. This provided a lot of cover for Greenwald’s shameless monetizing. Meanwhile I don’t think most of the people who have been fetishing the Leaks and the trumped up tale of journalistic heroism going along with them are primarily interested in ending mass surveillance or particularly optimistic about it’s ending. I certainly don’t think they’re indifferent to mass surveillance, but they seem to find the meta-narrative a lot more compelling.

        Generally I get the feeling from Twitter that a lot of people get a false sense of agency from contemplating bad news and publicly wringing their hands about it, as if, if we all know certain things and feel a certain way about them, change will just become manifest in the world. I think that’s why people are constantly browbeating people to change their opinions and why they invest Greenwald and Co with such importance. I find it striking generally how much responsibility even radicals give to ordinary people for the state of things. I found the underlying theory of the leaks, which really came from Snowden’s bizarre silliness about secrecy about surveillance being worse than surveillance, and which made the overarching goal breaking the secrecy and having a debate, rooted in this kind of starry-eyed view of rank and file agency. I was shocked at how uncritically the very conservative understanding/use of leaks was taken up by people I would have expected to want more.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        that’s a really good point. there’s always an obsessive focus on the media, and ironically, the people who’re most obsessed are the ones with the least understanding of how the media actually operates. the NSA story is a good example. people become so obsessed with the presentation. the issue becomes “can we get the NYT to give us sympathetic coverage?” not “Can we destroy the NSA?” but the wider left is infected with it from top-to-bottom. when people plan direct action or any sort of political protest there’s always the same tedious discussion. 1) will it make the news? 2) how will the media report it? and the inevitable assumption: if the media reports an action that makes it a success, regardless of whether the objectives were achieved. this sort of crap seems to be based on a twofold assumption: things that don’t get reported might as well not have happened, because the only way to influence people is via the media, and the media is a more-or-less neutral purveyor of information and if you present your radical demands in the right way they’ll give you unbiased coverage. hence the transformation of direct action into empty spectacle and the endless, idiotic discussions about tactics – will being too confrontational alienate the media? will people being arrested distract from the wider story? should we police our own ranks to prevent any trouble? because heaven forfend we wouldn’t want the press to get the wrong idea. i got so sick of this shit. having to have long pointless discussions with numpties who claim in all seriousness that negative media coverage of a big demo was solely caused by a few people defending themselves against police violence, or that a media blackout of an important event was due to “news cycles” or bad timing. the idea that a media blackout or negative coverage might be a sign that you’re doing the right thing is so beyond these peoples’ comprehension.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        also, yeah, it’s the sign of an absolutely irredeemable prick to blame “ordinary people” and their supposed apathy for all this. as far as cost-benefit analyses go, people at the bottom have far more to lose from speaking up than those in the middle or the top. but we’re supposed to salute Greenwald’s bravery because in his own head he’s taking terrible risks, while excoriating Joe Public for not rioting in the streets (and getting shot). i guess its a division of labour thing, middle class radicals expect poor people to do all the heavy lifting and risk-taking in the revolution, same as in everything else.

      • Tarzie says:

        while excoriating Joe Public for not rioting in the streets

        Well to Greenwald’s credit, he doesn’t seem to lard up the little people with responsibility the way I see others do. I think he’s fairly muddle-headed about tactics, and shares the middle class tactics-free fetishing of information for its own sake, but generally is resigned to incrementalist solutions produced almost entirely by elites in the legislative sphere and through the court system. In other words, he’s paternalist straight down the line. That’s just the way it seems to me, but one can only guess. Apart from his Constitutionalism, his politics are a bit of a black box. I think he’s content to make an extremely nice living being admired for beating his gums about how fucked up things are without any thorough-going analysis.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        that comment wasn’t aimed at Greenwald, but at some of his supporters. Greenwald as far as i know has been fairly circumspect re: issues of his safety. he just tells everyone how brave he is while making subtle comparisons to Snowden, and leaves it to his more excitable monkeys to fantasize about espionage prosecutions or USG hitsquads or whatever. generally the nature of the alleged threat is kept comfortably vague.

        i’m pretty sure that Greenwald & co would be terrified at the idea of riots, or any sort of genuinely revolutionary situation, but its the logical corollary to narratives that blame the masses for being too lazy to get engaged. after all how else could they influence policy or change society?

      • Tarzie says:

        he just tells everyone how brave he is while making subtle comparisons to Snowden

        I actually saw him dress someone down yesterday for insisting that leaking is riskier than reporting, something which is indisputably true in the US. He tweeted some nonsense about journalists languishing in jails all over the world who would beg to differ. He’s always hijacking other people’s courage/persecution on the way to self-mythologizing. So gross. He honestly seems pathological to me. The level of self-absorption.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        The self policing about the leaks was inline with self policing about protests breaking windows.
        The little people are unempowered in 2 ways (i’m all about two’s 2day), one is right and one is wrong.

        I don’t think ppl have to go and lose an eye getting batoned. their apathy in time wasting protests is admirable. Some of the middle class calls to mass action, I’ve assumed, are a call for literally 300 million people marching. I could be very wrong about this.

        The regular joe’s are however wrong, by definition, when they say they have nothing to hide. That kind of rationalization allows informational ignorance to flourish. Information alone is not emancipation (full communism) but it allows you to minimize damage and risk where you can, which is quite a lot compared to what real bumbling, government trusting dopes will do.

        Do people still buy TheNation? This is very sad. How much actual information does one miss by reading establishment journals with their meager opinions and factoids than by trawling wikipedia and more substantial books.
        But the ‘news’ is a constant need. It’s like a substitute for life. All my sensual information intake is ‘news’, happening right now: what I eat, where I turn my car on the road, what my company insurance policy is, what work I assignments I have to prepare for.

        The extra whipping cream + cherry is the news I don’t need. So the more centralized it is, the more I think it’s also going to be on everyone’s minds. Centralized news is a way to connect to my neighbor’s mind, intimately, without having to ask them what they think.
        A new type of news should try and fulfill this role. Most people hardly follow the news because gossip is enough for them.

      • Tarzie says:

        Do people still buy TheNation? This is very sad.

        I think it’s generally bought as a gift by an older person for a younger person.

        Most people hardly follow the news because gossip is enough for them.

        Yeah, true, and increasingly it’s in a similar spirit that the ones who do like news consume news, I think. They breathe the fumes of news off of social networks, rarely pausing to skim an actual article.

      • Tarzie says:

        Information alone is not emancipation (full communism) but it allows you to minimize damage and risk where you can, which is quite a lot compared to what real bumbling, government trusting dopes will do.

        I think this is a really good benchmark for where people should put their energies in both the production and consumption of information. It may seem almost callous, because it means writing off, or at least de-prioritizing, whole categories of information that might seriously affect others, but if one’s only response to that information is to wring one’s hands and feel horrible, it’s not doing any good for any one.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        I think it’s generally bought as a gift by an older person for a younger person.

        You have a wide variety of human relations to know this offhand. Now I see why you have trouble understanding why people make media stars into surrogate family&friends.

      • Tarzie says:

        Ha ha. It’s a generalization based on some experience but not much plus what I think I know about Nation reader demographics.

      • Steven Bloom says:

        yeah, Greenwald keeps ranting at anyone who wants him to be a bit more open about the leaks, claiming they’re irresponsible and want him to put himself at risk, which is a fairly blatant admission that one of the reasons he was so circumspect was he was scared of the consequences of going further. its one thing to use someone’s bravery to shut down a debate, but i don’t think i’ve ever seen someone use their openly expressed cowardice to do the same thing.

        the very fact that journalists suffer around the world suggests that there are people willing to stick their necks out for truth, in which case perhaps Greenwald could hand everything over to one of them and fuck off back to obscurity.

        of course, if Greenwald wants to use the “journalists get killed and imprisoned” thing to justify his own shitty behaviour, then presumably every other journalist gets to as well. perhaps Jeffrey Toobin was sucking up to the NSA because he was worried he’d be murdered. was Eli Lake merely being mindful of the risks of dissenting when he did…whatever it is he does?

      • haptic says:

        @Stephen

        people don’t need elites to explain things, they usually have a fairly good grasp of what’s going on (even if they don’t have the knowledge to see the bigger picture). the reason so many people feel ashamed or unable to speak for themselves is they’ve spent their whole lives being told that they’re stupid and they should shut up and listen to someone more important. they need the tools and resources to articulate their own agendas and experiences, they need encouragement and support, not condescension and silencing. like you said, people like Henry Farrell see this timidity and lack of self-confidence as some sort of immutable law of the universe, but perhaps if people were given a little space to explain themselves without being shat on or told to shut up we’d find that they had a lot to contribute.

        Yes. I think it’s more than the way most people are treated though.

        We have managed to banalize the following critique into terms like “access to education” so that they can be subverted by electoral policy plans etc, but I think this is pretty fundamental actually.

        We are unable to think straight because of the effect of mass media. The endless banality, the verbiage, the cliche, the mundanity, the propaganda, the leveraging of assumption and prejudice, the suborning of every fallacy possible, every day, all day for a whole life. It damages your ability to think in such a way as to act in your own and others interests in the world. The government does not slip tranquilizers in the water supply, but the system does seem to autonomously arrange for the general communicative outcomes of the mass media to cripple the popular capacity for critical thought. The effect is the same. As such, we are disorganized, while power and capital in its many forms exceeds us in organizational and cognitive capacity.

        I am no idealist about the academy. I think it is a system for the control of elites through patronage. The academy sucks up people who have managed to make it through secondary education without their brains being completely destroyed. These are the people who might otherwise be dangerous. It then sanitizes them of any revolutionary potential. They are taught to suck up to get ahead, worn out by ridiculous Sisyphusian career incentives, and shaped to prop up existing power structures. Opportunists and operators rise to the top. The others do the heavy lifting.

        None of this is very novel. Nevertheless, I do feel that the toys academics get to play with – the collective intellectual heritage of our species – are important. They get to play with them because these toys are dangerous. God forbid more people than neutered academics should have a rich understanding of the critical literature of the left. There is even a whole literature called “criticism” which started off vital and world-facing and active and bright, and then was captured by generations of well-meaning trainee bureaucrats looking for something to write their doctorate on. These people get to play with this stuff because they have shown they are not going to do anything dangerous with it. It is a controlled environment. There are fire extinguishers on every wall, and nobody will shout at the conference dinner.

        I tend to feel that in that vast stash of intellectual work held captive by this system would serve popular self-understanding better than what we have. But it is all private property now. Vast troves of it lie behind copyright, behind corporate paywalls surmountable only by university subscription fees.

        Who produces this stuff? Taxpayer funded academics produce academic work. They are not paid for it. It is done “to advance your career.” “Nobody without a few well placed publications in respected journals gets hired anymore.” So the wisdom goes. So it’s the cost of living, churning their best research into academic work they give away for free…. to a corporate owned publisher. The journal is normally administered by… again taxpayer funded academics, doing it for nothing. The blind peer reviewers are normally… taxpayer funded academics, doing it for nothing. When the issue is put together, everyone signs a contract handing over copyright to the corporate publisher. It goes out into JSTOR or some other operation, and is then sold back to the university on an annual subscription basis for the prince of a kingdom, so that only people who attend that university can access it, and the public, which is subsidizing this parasitic corporate monopoly on intellectual product, can’t.

        It’s in this context that I support the actions of people like Aaron Swartz and Greg Maxwell.

        The liberal dissemination of knowledge is essential to scientific
        inquiry. More than in any other area, the application of restrictive
        copyright is inappropriate for academic works: there is no sticky question
        of how to pay authors or reviewers, as the publishers are already not
        paying them. And unlike ‘mere’ works of entertainment, liberal access
        to scientific work impacts the well-being of all mankind. Our continued
        survival may even depend on it.

        If I can remove even one dollar of ill-gained income from a poisonous
        industry which acts to suppress scientific and historic understanding,
        then whatever personal cost I suffer will be justified. It will be one
        less dollar spent in the war against knowledge. One less dollar spent
        lobbying for laws that make downloading too many scientific papers
        a crime.

        So we’re all locked out of this stuff which belongs to us, often (though painfully imperfect) the best collective attempt at understanding every aspect of the world, and in its absence we are held captive by the even worse charlatans who produce the content that makes possible the news industry.

        I try to imagine what the world would be like if all of this was liberated. I think the nature of this sort of literature is that it encourages more epistemic agency. Authority runs through the whole thing, but you are still expected to make judgments, to involve yourself in comparisons, to develop a rich understanding of the literature, rather than just defer to the authority of the person whose name is on the byline. Something has to come from you. You negotiate your way through it. That is way more than is expected of you – even allowed to you – by the mainstream press. (I’m thinking of journalists consoling each other on twitter about the comments under their articles. “I never read below the line!” I hate them so much.)

        Anyway I think the effect of interrogating this sort of literature is that one acquires just a bit more independence in how to think, rather than being asked to put oneself entirely in the hands of people who will tell you what to think.

        (Aside, the Polk article was similar, to me. It seemed more respectful of its audience. It didn’t talk down. It seemed to address me as if it assumed I was not too stupid to understand a complex situation, and assumed I wanted to understand that situation in the same way as a decisionmaker might want to understanding it, and not just as if I was a sideline spectator. I felt Polk was addressing me as an equal, rather than as a vassal. I frequently feel as if “journalists” perceive themselves as more discerning than me, as my superiors, as if I was not able for the full account. There comes with this the even more troubling sense that they consider me to be entitled only to a sanitized synopsis, as if I would have to earn something more than this. It was refreshing to find Polk’s article devoid of this. I imagine intelligence analysts are (implicitly) trained to write as if the person reading their work is smart, whereas journalists are (implicitly) trained to write for some hypothetical idiot.)

        The same goes for the general culture industries, which tend to just ransack our intellectual commons and then monopolise the product. I am not speaking about this from the “everything should be free just because” perspective, although I used to take that one, and there is nothing wrong with it. I just think there is an instrumentalist argument too, which is that the cultural feudalism enabled by “intellectual property” impoverishes collective self-understanding and makes revolution impossible. I don’t understand why anyone on the left would support the idea of “private ownership” of something that is “non rivalrous” – there is no natural shortage of it. But if they must, they should think about how “intellectual property” consolidates all of the other structural inequalities in a practical sense.

        Anyway, all of this is the same problem to me as the problem with the “news”. This is the way our cultural eco-system is regulated. The rivers of intellectual understanding are dammed, and only the clean are allowed to wash in the reservoir. The rest of us can wrestle for advantage in the filthy delta of the few poisoned streams they allow to trickle out. Be thankful.

        they need the tools and resources to articulate their own agendas and experiences, they need encouragement and support, not condescension and silencing.

        This. Just to reiterate, in case I get accused of an iterated elitism, I do think the academy is elitist, but I think that is principally because of its system of exclusion and privilege. This infects its output, too, but I think that is a side matter. I think the academy needs to be destroyed too. What I think is valuable about it – the feature I wanted to draw attention to – is that the proto-elites are allowed/encouraged to think for themselves. There is something more inclusive and participatory to the sciences and the human sciences than there is to the writer-reader relationship in the mainstream press. Everyone is expected to be both reader and writer, and between that, thinker, critic, agent. Whether or not that is actually realized is another thing, but I think it is arguable it is a more healthy thing to be involved in than reading Thomas Friedman.

        So when you say “tools” I think they can be the skills, cognitive habits and epistemic biases acquired when you are expected to have responsibility for your own views, and to be critical by default, and when you say “resources” I think, at the very least, that everything which currently lies under copyright in the journal archives should be made available for free over the internet.

        If abolishing private property is within the power of an organized left, abolishing “intellectual property” surely must be.

      • Tarzie says:

        I agree with a lot of this. I have a concern, though, that by touting the secrets to understanding locked inside the university, you might be making the job of figuring things out more arcane than it really is. While I think there is a lot of information locked away, and I agree with you completely on intellectual property, I think it’s fairly easy to acquire the skills you need to figure out that 99% of what you see in the public sphere is pure bullshit. The obvious rejoinder is that if it’s so easy, why are frauds like Jay Rosen and Thomas Friedman so prominent and, honestly, I have no answer. All I know is that anyone with basic critical thinking skills and some skepticism can quickly see them for the dimwitted toadies they are. I have a terrible fear, though, that being critical and skeptical is a personality orientation, a proclivity, and while critical skills can be honed, most people don’t care to hone them. It doesn’t come naturally to them and they see no point in it.

        In fighting on Twitter with people over the Snowden Leaks etc, I have been struck by the almost infantile approach most lefts — at least on Twitter — take to disagreement. Greenwald himself is just terrible at making arguments. He spews fallacies and insults like a precocious ill-tempered ten-year-old and people actually look upon this shit with admiration. Media Lens, the English left media crit site, actually quoted him approvingly from his comments on this blog in which he rooted my criticisms in feelings of envy and inadequacy. A member of the Media Lens team then gave me the equivalent of an anger management short course on Twitter. In the two months I’ve been fighting with people over this leaking bullshit, I have encountered only one person who really, in good faith, attempted to refute my arguments with other arguments or facts. Again and again, detractors have followed Greenwald’s lead in resorting to character assassination (crazy, envious, conspiracist), mischaracterizing what I have actually said, and challenging the right of anyone who isn’t taking the same risks as Greenwald and Snowden to have any contrary opinions at all. I have been horrified by just how impossible it is to have a civil, honest argument about this stuff and how deep the rot goes. Even Wikileaks trolled me, basically telling me to shut up.

        I’m kind of thinking out loud here, but I guess what I am getting at is there seems to be more going on than just passivity or ill-preparedness in the face of authority. That there is a fairly strong orientation not simply toward deferring to authority but toward campaigning for that deference and that a lot of that campaigning is done at the lowest status levels. I see this as a real barrier to a grown-up left. In fact, I am writing off the American left altogether as the benefits of engagement are not commensurate with the headache and the risks. I just think it’s a toxic waste dump of dimwitted authoritarians and status seekers, most of whom, underneath all of their weirdness, are just vapid, (barely) liberal reformists at heart. It’s some kind of weird simulation, programmed for capitulation and self-destruction. With regard to producing alternatives to journalism, or alternatives generally, I think people who have no politics apart from the sense that things are going horribly wrong, or real experience of how horribly wrong they’re going, are much more worthy of cultivation and attention.

      • haptic says:

        Tarze,

        I agree with a lot of this. I have a concern, though, that by touting the secrets to understanding locked inside the university, you might be making the job of figuring things out more arcane than it really is.

        I think that’s fair. However, 1) I don’t mean to suggest this is the crucial thing. I think it can fairly be argued it would make a difference if there were more democratic alternatives for “being informed” than the mainstream press. But I wouldn’t want to suggest the secret to everything is buried in there. Only that whether it is or not, it should be liberated, and that that liberation would be arguable beneficial.

        2), though, I may, yes, be overestimating its value. That may have to do more with biography than anything else.

        While I think there is a lot of information locked away, and I agree with you completely on intellectual property, I think it’s fairly easy to acquire the skills you need to figure out that 99% of what you see in the public sphere is pure bullshit.

        Here’s the biography point. Personally, I found it really hard to figure out what I see in the “public sphere.” I remember being unable to think critically about anything. I remember feeling very frustrated with myself about it. I got a break and got to study in the human sciences for a good while, and my feeling was that I really benefited from it. It’s not that there was arcane knowledge buried in there, it’s that I just didn’t know how to construct an argument, or to parse a piece of writing for fallacies, or to tell the difference between a good inference and a bad inference. I really feel as if I became less stupid because I learned these skills. A lot of the “knowledge that” has since escaped me, but the “knowledge how” continues to stand to me, I think. When I argue for making this stuff available, it is because I perceive that engaging this sort of material has cognitive side-effects which results in a more critical, autonomous style of thinking.

        But perhaps you can acquire these skills elsewhere. I am fascinated by the communities of learning designed to communicate revolutionary knowledge within the working class in the histories of the organized left. That seems to me a community explicitly geared towards developing critical attitudes and mental habits – something I was never exposed to. These days it seems like the only way people can develop critical habits is to sneak like urban foxes into the campuses of the corporate university, and make off with the trash before they end up part of the system. But perhaps that demonstrates my poverty of experience.

        All I know is that anyone with basic critical thinking skills and some skepticism can quickly see them for the dimwitted toadies they are.

        Yeah, I guess am saying that basic critical thinking skills are actually what is missing. Or that what the networking left have acquired in terms of critical thinking skills is only the appearance or distortion of critical thinking skills, when really it is just an arsenal of cognitive and rhetorical tactics for rationalization of ruthless ambition and opportunism.

        I have a terrible fear that being critical and skeptical is a personality orientation, a proclivity, and while critical skills can be honed, most people don’t care to hone them. It doesn’t come naturally to them and they see no point in it.

        I think that is true. There is no advantage to it. I think also that it is difficult to develop them. It doesn’t come naturally because you need to be in a culture where these things are prized before you start taking on these norms. Some sub-cultures, such as the “intelligence community” or the “academy” encourage features of critical thinking (although they discourage others). The general culture does not, really, encourage critical thinking.

        Actually, I am wary of asserting that there is some perfect combination of critical thinking skills that gives someone a neutral perspective. I think ultimately our choice of which forms of “critical thinking” are important, and which ones are not, join up with whether we want to radically change the world, or whether we want to put all our energies into keeping what we have. Ultimately, my commitment is to a form of critical thinking which aims at remaking the world in a radical way. I think that is the only kind of “critical thinking” that counts. Everything else seems just to be a very sophisticated way of coming up for excuses for The Wonderful Way Things Are. If you follow this argument, it means that the primary objection I have to the commercial press is that it is not an institution designed to empower people, oppose capital, undermine government, or foment revolutionary activity. All its commitments are opposed to that. Is it any wonder I don’t like it?

        However, I don’t want to throw out the idea that a more accurate approach to understanding the world would provide me with allies. I don’t want to promote the idea that I am just in a political minority because I am hugely misinformed.

        Hah.

      • haptic says:

        Actually, to say it more directly:

        by touting the secrets to understanding locked inside the university, you might be making the job of figuring things out more arcane than it really is.

        I’m not saying that. I’m saying that access to the stuff locked in the university would be like access to the gym equipment on which we become fitter (more critical).

        (Ugh, I hate that simile, but hopefully I am clearer.)

      • Tarzie says:

        I understand your meaning. I am simply saying that I think a lot of the basic skills people need to understand and fight power might not require, say, prolonged immersion in science at a university.

    • The more acquainted I am with contemporary journalism as it is practiced, the more I get this feeling I get when I look at the constitutional architecture of extant monarchies.

      I don’t think you have to break out the feels because journalism as just another monarchic tentacle is explicit in the historical record and nothing has essentially changed. It seems obvious to me: copyright, royalties, Royalty, and the serial opinionists—which would be my moniker for the sycophantic press—were birthed at the same time and became the fetid and highly purposed mess of disinformation we love to hate. I wouldn’t be surprised to find journalism consciously designed to be a honey trap where good intellects go to die.

      Monarchy is definitely a thread worth pulling and Wikipedia has a great starter page on the history of journalism. I would focus on Britain (1700-1750) mainly because it has neither thrown off the extant monarchy nor sanitised its language, social constructs, and legal contrivances quite as magnificently as in the US where various hegemonies reign in plain sight. The Enclosures happened some centuries earlier where the peasants were forced from their land by the gentry beginning the drift towards urban slums accidentally perhaps increases the rate of information transfer. The 18th century might as well be seen as the Enclosure of the intellectual commons as intellectually property became a standard. The modern day equivalent would be the militarization of the internet. (I’ll develop this point later, perhaps in another comment—it’s frustrating to see we’ve been through this all before as I see the same arguments and utterances as from people like myself, you and Tarzie in history.)

      The nascent British press was born out of a “dialogue”—maybe arms race—towards “compromises”—maybe concessions—between publishers and the monarchy. The Stamp Act is a good example and was explicit with the intent to inhibit critical analysis of the state and it had significant effects (for this topic): taxation increased the cost of papers excluding the poor, de-anonymisation of publishers, and it created the framework of obfuscated censorship.

      About the same time The Statute of Anne (1710) came into effect which I see as something of a peace treaty: the state gets protection from lucid information and the publishers can gain economic enforcers, all through copyrights. This was by no means the first and is a repeated pattern across history: Latin might as well be the orginical DRM (Digital Rights Management) as some centuries earlier the Catholic state struggled desperately to maintain the order of learned preachers translating or rather drip-drip-dripping information to the ignorant masses:

      Latin became the official language of the Church. The Church had the feeling that only they were capable of interpreting Scripture so thus the layman did not need a Bible in their language. In fact, they began to hold their masses in Latin regardless of the vernacular of the people. (source)

      Meanwhile the sort of publishers coming out were also elitists like Richard Steele who might as well be called the Bane of Tarzie. His rag was explicitly purposed:

      Steele’s idea was to publish the news and gossip heard in London coffeehouses, hence the title, and seemingly, from the opening paragraph, to leave the subject of politics to the newspapers,[2] while presenting Whiggish views and correcting middle-class manners, while instructing “these Gentlemen, for the most part being Persons of strong Zeal, and weak Intellects…what to think.”

      I’m reminded of Greenwald’s strategy which revolves around the obsessive dissection of bureaucratic he-says-she-says whilst extolling the virtues of the constipated gatekeeper press. It’s appropriate that he went to work for the Guardian which was created in the 1800s by wealthy well connected elites wanting to steer public opinion in their direction. Now doesn’t that sound familiar and I implore Pierre to name his merry info-jauntilism the Neo-Tatler, and just to give one quote which could have been written by any of us with a contempt for the “news” genre, according to English writer Samuel Johnson,

      A news-writer is a man without virtue who writes lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness, but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary.

      Ultimately as with nearly every social pathology I always come back to the monetary system (working in tandem with taxation): the state uses these to enfranchise, disenfranchise, incentivise, and disincentivise, whichever industry needs to be purposed to serve power, thus corruption of the info-communication space is a second order problem.

      • Craps. If Tarzie can clean up the formatting that would be grand.

      • Tarzie says:

        I made a run at it, but wasn’t sure what formatting you meant. You had a couple places where you had used anchor tags without href attributes so I got rid of those and reformatted some of your quotes to be consistent with blockquote formatting used on the site. If it’s still not how you want, you can either give me more explicit instructions — assuming they’re not laborious — or you can write it up again and I’ll delete its predecessor.

      • Yeah, you got it, thanks. It was the indentation or lack of it in my original and probably a broken href. I had used the cite tag and it was unclear when I was quoting. What tag should I have used?

      • haptic says:

        I don’t think you have to break out the feels because journalism as just another monarchic tentacle is explicit in the historical record and nothing has essentially changed. It seems obvious to me: copyright, royalties, Royalty, and the serial opinionists—which would be my moniker for the sycophantic press—were birthed at the same time and became the fetid and highly purposed mess of disinformation we love to hate. I wouldn’t be surprised to find journalism consciously designed to be a honey trap where good intellects go to die.

        I wasn’t really intending to make a concrete link between the monarchy and the press.

        I was trying to give an appropriate metaphor for how anachronistic the press feels to me when I have to deal with it.

        I’ll use another metaphor. When I used to read Latin and Greek ancient writers, it occurred to me that “history” is a historically recent genre of writing. The ancients had no such category. When we read ancient Greek or Roman history, we read various different genres of writing which no longer exist. It’s really quite diverse. Herodotus covers the Persian Wars as if they blended perfectly with the Homeric and Hesiodic mythologies. Tacitus writes in this year-by-year structure – the Annals – which doesn’t necessarily favour his subject matter. Plutarch writes short biographical essays full of gossip about both mythological and real individuals. Suetonius does this one-after-another thing with the emperors. Thucydides tries to put everything in. Some of the early Latin “historians” recorded anomalies like wolves born with the heads of bears.

        The conventions are all different and strange, enscripting a different genre on the work, and shaping the type of utility it has.

        Each of the forms they use seems now a curiosity, so clearly a creation of the conditions of its age and the needs and practices associated with writing, that it is evident to us why we no longer see genres like this populated by new works.

        I have a similar feeling when I read the New York Times or the Guardian to the feeling I have when I read Plutarch. I feel as I am staring through a keyhole at a tiny constellation of facts from somewhere in a grand galaxy of history, and every time I look through the keyhole, I see another tiny glimpse, and in my mind have to imagine the vast expanses of context to make them part of the same picture. Somewhere along the way I suspect the keyhole frequently shows me a distortion, sometimes out of orientation, sometimes upside down, sometimes made up entirely, and that this cannot be spotted because after all all you get is a keyhole. I know then that it is hopeless hopeless hopeless.

      • Tarzie says:

        Yeah, I found your idea of News as a genre, with conventions that limit its ostensible objective, really interesting. I wish more people would take it up.

        Provoked by your post, I started poking around looking at the conventions for intelligence briefings. The CIAs handbook for preparing them is actually online at cryptome.org.

      • haptic says:

        Provoked by your post, I started poking around looking at the conventions for intelligence briefings. The CIAs handbook for preparing them is actually online at cryptome.org.

        Ah that’s a great idea. Did you have a read?

        You don’t have a link do you?

      • Tarzie says:

        That link shows the first 16 pages of the CIA’s handbook online. I am not having success with the links to the rest.

      • Tarzie says:

        Haptic –
        Finally, This looks to be the whole thing. Also, the guy who runs Cryptome fixed his link to his version after I tweeted him and also consolidated that (a bunch of gifs) into a single pdf.

        I think these are all the same but haven’t compared. I’m reading the one from the scip link and really enjoying it. I think it’s very instructive for anyone who wants to think and write analytically. It follows what it describes as a ‘strict constructionist approach’, basically a detailed recipe for analysis and communicating your analysis. Full of great tips.

      • haptic says:

        @lastwheel

        That’s very interesting. If I take your point, it is that “the press” as an institution has always been a co-option.

        What structural environment would favor the production of 1) intelligence about the world around us so inclined to refine popular political action through awareness as to have a genuinely emancipating effect, and 2) genuinely seditious modes of communication and organizing?

        How do you create that environment?

      • haptic says:

        Great. I’ll try to read some of it soon.

        Thank you.

      • Tarzie says:

        Haptic:

        I’m curious to hear what you think about the handbook. My first impression is that everything it recommends is not simply at odds with most journalism, it’s really really at odds with most left writing. Which makes me think of how unwelcome an attempt to sell the CIA’s analytical thinking and presentation methods as a tool for radical post-journalism might be, in an environment where the very idea of a logical fallacy — when the concept is even understood — is equated with 100 different flavors of oppression.

        I am curious what your answer is to tendencies on the left to insist we need new ways of thinking and expressing ourselves, rather than just putting the old ways to radical uses? To me it seems obvious that the ruling class uses stuff that simply works but that’s a hard sell for people who think oppression is reproduced 100 gazillion mysterious and subtle ways, mostly through language use.

  17. parink says:

    I wonder if he drunk dials her at night.

  18. Pingback: No, Pierre Omidyar Does Not Want To Topple The Government | The Rancid Honeytrap

  19. thedoctorisindahaus says:

    Royal Licenses for printing presses, subject to censorship and favor based on content, are a common feature of monarchies and I accept that copyright finds its basis there. However, with reduced censorship in republics and parliamentary constitutional monarchies, the case can be made that, if permission to print is still based on promoting the state’s interests or at least not overtly challenging it, it is nevertheless so to a lesser extent than dictatorships (royal, junta or otherwise). You’ll still get shut down and droned for writing about “death to america” or disclosing military secrets but it’s not like “off with the king’s head” wouldn’t have resulted in a hanging back in the day.

    The history of newspaper taxation in that article demonstrates a parliament using economic influence to indirectly control information. Government that has to influence instead of commanding through immediate violence can still be balanced against other influences, like sales and market. It’s a token freedom but it’s still a far cry from being the king’s propaganda as a rule.

    The motivation of proprietors has been high to defend their interests in alliance with government power and so they become de facto enforcers of official orthodoxy in partnership with the government.

    I bring this up because it remains possible for a dedicated enterprise to take the opposite path. Which is why people believe in boycotts even though they can almost never get together to enforce them, especially since they need to check back with some authority to know what they should think about the corporate culprit’s latest move. This is especially challenging where the corporate culprit is the same one disseminating information about itself.

    The story in that wikipedia/History_of_journalism#India article about The Times of India is case in point:

    The Anglo-Indian papers promoted purely British interests. Englishman Robert Knight (1825-1890) founded two important English-language newspapers that reached a broad Indian audience, The Times of India and the Statesman. They promoted nationalism in India, as Knight introduced the people to the power of the press and made them familiar with political issues and the political process.

    It can be done.

    Getting free html lessons on here. All good.

    • Tarzie says:

      It can be done.

      Yeah, concentrated wealth and influence in the hands of a white, male paternalist who isn’t a complete shitbag can produce something more edifying than a toxic waste dump. Woo hoo!

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        I’d say that publicly promoting independent nationalism to a sloppily murderous and shameless empire is enough of a thing that it puts into doubt the necessity of linking copyright to governmental control as a way to describe journalism as a structural, institutional branch of government rather than a conspiracy of economic interests.

        I don’t know that Robert Knight wasn’t for sure a shitbag. It could be that the Indian audience was more likely to pay for journalism that spoke to their interests than the imperial propaganda aimed at them. Which is kind of like what a new model for wider citizen practice of journalism could vie for, economically. So, a paternalist like him played to that. Curious that the market can determine a paternalist’s actions.

      • Tarzie says:

        A most excellent reply to my snarking. I have no regrets.

      • Tarzie says:

        Well there’s that proverbial upside of the capitalist selling you the rope to hang him with. Probably better stated as the rope to hang another capitalist with. Knight was lucky to be selling his subversive ideas in another country, leveraged by that country’s colonized people.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        I don’t think a citizen’s journalism can pass over capitalism. If only because the part time issue puts workers at risk for their journalism.
        Not saying they have to form a business union but there should be some form of economic leverage that can balance against the fact that even local reporting can ruin your career and other deals, if you are upsetting associates of those you depend on.

      • Tarzie says:

        Well anonymized crowd-sourcing can get around some of that. I like the idea of counter-spying embedded in haptic’s intelligence analysis idea. I may be less won over to haptic’s idea that the corrupting influence of money is a dealbreaker. I think Steve Bloom has weighed in usefully on this. Again, I don’t think this is an either/or. I think a successor or competing system should attempt to dispense with financial incentives/advantages as much as possible, and include them where they appear to be indispensable.

  20. haptic says:

    Responding to Thomas’ comments in this comment.

    I am not saying there are not important roles that have happened to have been fulfilled by the commercial (albeit local) press. I am not convinced they are not filled elsewhere. Neither am I convinced that the commercial press fills those roles as efficiently as they could.

    If there are vestigial advantages to certain things the commercial press habitually does, why not leave that as a specification for what we need in future, instead of pretending that it redeems the structure it’s a part of.

    Anyway, I wasn’t that interested in having an argument why “news” and “journalism” need to go. I’m happy to explain why I think it, but I don’t see a lot of utility to arguing with someone who’s committed to keeping it around. I am more interested in how the radical suggestion that news itself could be discarded for something better provokes a critical perspective on “news” which is sorely lacking in the output of Jay Rosen.

    • Thomas Lord says:

      Neither am I convinced that the commercial press fills those roles as efficiently as they could.

      I think for the most part the commercial press that we have today does not fill these roles any more. You can spot little vestiges here and there.

      why not leave that as a specification for what we need in future

      I believe that’s what I’ve been doing, though that isn’t how my comments were received.

  21. Thomas Lord says:

    This is a reply to comment from Haptic in the discussion re Polk and re newsroom-as-HUMINT machine.

    I don’t think pointing out a debatable conclusion [in Polk] in any way challenges the idea that there is something more healthy in the genre conventions of this piece of “intelligence” than there is in the genre conventions of “journalism.”

    I don’t think that Polk’s piece is of some very different character from today’s main stream journalism. Not all journalism is like that. Some is. But for its length, his piece could have appeared as an op-ed in the Sunday edition of the San Francisco Chronicle and nobody would bat an eye.

    Polk’s dubious “what would I do” reasoning highlights the importance of original reporting and investigatory reporting. When Polk reasons that way he is trying to fill in a gap that original and investigative reporting had not filled. Journalism still needs reporters.

    So what do reporters need?

    That’s the question I was thinking about when I tried to defend the “journal” in journalism, the institutional memories and social networks of (classical, idealized) newsrooms, the importance of loose money, and so forth.

    If any of this indeed does happen, that makes things all the worse really for the institution as a whole, seeing as, even with this sort of acumen and human intelligence network, it does such a fatally woeful job at presenting any legitimate counterpoint to the distorting effect of established power. [….]

    In the small scale petri dish of Berkeley, where I’ve gotten to watch the erosion of traditional journalism, I can tell you that the established powers are much stronger for its loss. Berkeley’s activist networks are taking up some of the slack but not nearly all.

    I don’t start from any presumption, though, that journalism done right can bring on a revolution or anything like that. I want a world where people are generally better rather than worse informed. I want a world where they are more rather than less interested in what’s going on. I want a journalism that helps people become more rather than less self-actualizing in taking on their relations to power, contingent on their being actually better informed.

    [….] My problem is with the entire enterprise, and its visible effects. I tend to feel that micro-analysis of the good intentions and neat tricks of the profession, so long as on a global scale they make little difference, are of limited value.

    I’m not sure what to make of this. I feel like you have in mind some particular kind of change that journalism is failing to help catalyze. I don’t have a clear enough idea of what you mean, though, to evaluate that notion.

  22. thedoctorisindahaus says:

    First Look sounds like the creation of Dr Rosenpenis.

  23. thedoctorisindahaus says:

    An example of a marginal blog voice having some “leaks” of a sort. In this case, screenshots of ashleymadison’s interface exposing its fake “decoy” profiles of women customers for admins to use.
    http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/show-and-tell/

    This would still not be a decentralized model and the same pitfalls can occur. The blogger held on to the information until such time as she felt like reporting on it. Decentralization that is competitive would require general document availability, not just distribution. So in the case of something like Snowden, his only way to ensure that would have been to give it to an outlet like cryptome that makes their model or their brand one of dumping. Which is still in their hands to pick a time for posting.
    To really guarantee document availability outside the model of trusted journalist holding a source’s info, the source has to post a file online on a blog or a filesharing network. This means the source is completely on their own and it’s up to them to remain anonymous. A lonely prospect for more dangerous information but plausible for the little people and their less important stories…as far as avoiding the law is concerned, in a legal environment that may be selecting for Real Journalists and Non Journalists.

    • Tarzie says:

      To really guarantee document availability outside the model of trusted journalist holding a source’s info, the source has to post a file online on a blog or a filesharing network

      Dear God, GG’s dichotomy straw is back.

      A lonely prospect for more dangerous information but plausible for the little people and their less important stories

      You’re suggesting that going through a journalist or Wikileaks affords some kind of protection from state abuse. Why? There’s evidence that whistleblowers get ratted out by big media. Wikileaks ostensibly helped get Snowden to Russia, but we have absolutely no idea what happened. The Snowden story is a big black box. Otherwise, Wikileaks’ source-protecting abilities seem limited. Not getting your point.

      • thedoctorisindahaus says:

        The protection is illusory and hype. It affords a certain comfort. I agree that it is not a plus in terms of protection.
        What evidence do you have for the ratting out. The risk is enormous and sources get ratted out all the time on smaller things. As to this high level ratting out, I’m not familiar with it.

        I largely entered into banalities as filler to pad out the fact that just outsourcing to smaller outlets doesn’t guarantee a better roll-out of info. As to the dumping, I’m not providing that as a dichotomy between greenwald and his critics. Rather, as an unavoidable dichotomy. I don’t think his critics, you included, go far enough logically. Silber says let everyone just see. Your criticism, taking a reasonable ground of wider release, doesn’t go far enough, logistically. It’s ideologically a sound free info proposal but it would just remain in the doc hoarder trap. Admittedly, much less than it is now. Or not.

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