Fact-Checking the "PRT Boondoggle" Blog
A project of the PRT NewsCenter

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Mopping up - Mock Journalist, Part III(a)

Is blogging 'journalism'?

It can be. For instance, Talking Points Memo (and it's spin-off, TPM Muckraker) is an example of a blog that started out with dedication, professionalism and connections, and built a reputation as a trustworthy source of news and analysis. I also like Juan Cole, Daily Kos and some of the Huffington Post-ers. When I want a laugh I visit Borowitz, Bad Reporter and Defamer. When I'm feeling especially angry at the christo-fascist zombie brigade, Wade Madsen is there to connect the dots.

But if you survey the spectrum of blogs, there is an inescapable conclusion. Like all things, blogging reflects the motives and capabilities of the blogger.

In short, we can conclude that blogging is journalism if that is what the blogger is practicing.

I don't mean credentialism. I believe citizens can be journalists -- if only for the practical reason that we can't all go to journalism school; we can't all be Rachel Maddow. Journalism depends on whether a person asks questions, anticipates questions readers might ask, and doesn't stop questioning until getting the full story. Or as full as can be expected. At a minimum, does the person ask the classic reporter's questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why, and sometimes, How?

The recent events reported in Mock Journalist, Part III (1/2) are a case in point. Take a moment to catch up on it; be sure to read the Minnesota anti-PRT propagandist's post that started it all.

Ready? We'll continue.

1. Kenwood the propagandist's entire post is dedicated to hammering on the point,

Ray Cox Claims there is a PRT Facility in Duluth.. [sic] and There is None...
How about a politician who claiims [sic] there is a quarter-mile demonstration PRT system up in Duluth?

He copies two old statements to establish that Cox has favored Personal Rapid Transit, then part of a Nov. 13, 2007, email from Cox confirming his support continues. Thus, we know Kenmore asked questions directly of the subject, maybe the most important aspect of journalism.

2. Next comes the video with Cox's Dec. 20 statement about there being a PRT facility in Duluth. At this point the propagandist stops being a journalist, because he apparently stops asking questions -- even though the statement about Duluth ought to give rise to a whole other line of such questions (e.g., Huh? There's PRT in Duluth? Since when? Etc., etc.).

3. Instead, what Kenmore does next is give Cox a seat in The Pod Squad, on Dec. 24. That's four whole days in which those additional questions could have been asked.

Then, he writes an anti-Cox letter to the editor ("LTE") of the Northfield News! I won't link to it (since he does), but I will emphasize this sentence from it:
Cox also says there is a 1/4 mile Personal Rapid Transit demonstration project in Duluth. That is not true.

The letter ran Dec. 26, six whole days after the video was taken.

Then came Ovendoor's blog post, datestamped Jan. 1. Happy New Year! Eleven days have now elapsed since the Duluth video.

4. The next day is Jan. 2, and I am now on the story. By 2:00 in the afternoon, Pacific Standard Time, I have asked the obvious followup questions of Cox, and received his answer that he had simply been mistaken about Duluth. It took all of three hours, not days.

What I wrote then still holds up: if Avisnore had asked Cox the obvious followup questions the full story would have come out, turning the video scoop into a non-issue.

Of course, getting a scoop and stirring up an issue, the PRT issue, is Humidor's whole purpose. That is why as soon as he thought he had his 'gotcha' story, he stopped being a journalist, stopped asking questions, and went on the attack online and with the LTE. And he can't even use the old newspaper excuse of being on deadline. There are no deadlines in blogging.

Except in this case, there was a sort of deadline: the Jan. 2 special election for the Minnesota state senate, between Cox and Kevin Dahle. Lumpidor likely needed to get the Duluth-PRT story out ASAP so it could simmer and do (he hoped) the most to help Dahle. Except that we showed that no one cared. Still don't.

The aftermath has brought a defense of Floppidor by Eva Young. I suppose we can refer to her as Mr. Floppy's publisher, since it's her "Lloydletta's Nooz" [sic] and "Dump Bachmann" that host so much of his propaganda. This nugget from Eva is worth thinking about:
Ken's post was accurate. He had no obligation to contact Cox to verify what he said, since it was on tape. Cox said, what he said - and after I listened to the video, and read Avidor's post, I googled for information about the Duluth area PRT test track and could only find a Mark Olson press release promoting it. Source

Oh, but I think there is an obligation, a personal one, on any blogger who aspires to inform a lot of people. At the very minimum, there is an obligation to at least get the full story. And beyond that, to be regarded as trustworthy and responsible. And beyond that, to be worthy of the constitution's protection of the press, should it ever come to that.

Kenthorpe once indicated that he might have aspired to standards of some sort:
One problem overlooked in all the hoopla about citizen journalism... [ellipsis in original] what rights do citizen journalists have? How is working for free, not having your article fact-checked and edited, not being protected from angry readers, not being represented by a union and having no control over your work more desirable than being a paid, professional journalist? Source

Except that he seems to have mistaken those hardships for directives, not challenges.

Of course, at Lloydletta they give you a big whopping signal that they're not reporting news. No, what they're serving up is "Nooz."

When I want "news," I surf over to something like McClatchy.

Good night and good luck, Ken Avidor


A Transportation Enthusiast said...

Excellent analysis.

Here's my theory on blogs: they start off with the best of motives, and they often Do The Right Thing journalistically for a while.

But when they don't get the attention they crave, they inevitably descend into inflammatory propaganda. In a sense, it's like an accelerated version of the phases that traditional electronic media have gone through, as they started out with Edward R. Murrow and have gradually descended to tabloid television to attract viewers.

We might also compare it to politics, where a failing candidate often resorts to negative campaigning when far behind in the polls.

I've noticed DumpBachmann seems particularly interested in its popularity - I don't have specific examples offhand, but I have seen cases where they seemed to be overly focused on their popularity. I think this need for relevance has fueled their dive to journalistic depths.

It also seems like we see much less of more rational DumpBachmann contributors like Bill Prendergast, even as Avidor's contributions have increased; perhaps Bill has tired of the decline in quality? Or maybe he was squeezed out because his reporting was not inflammatory enough to keep the blog ratings up?

Mr_Grant said...

Yeah, Lloydletta and the Dumps definitely started with good motives. Kenny-boy is the fly in the ointment, because without him Eva would have a stable of fair-to-good writers.

Like a lot of blogs that aspire to political gravitas, LL and the Dumps spend a lot of time cluttering things up by crossposting and quoting things written by other people -- most of the time without much significant value-added. These sorts of blogs often have perfectly good commentators, who could create a quality body of work.

Except the way blogging has spread, and how blogs get noticed, is by popularity. And the way the aggregators measure that is by volume (of posts, comments, trackbacks, etc.). So much emphasis is placed on what you've done TODAY, how many posts you have, and when was the last one.

More writers means more volume.

Kenthorpe's anti-PRT propaganda is 100% 'value' added in a way, since it's all fabricated. For whatever reason Eva took him onboard, hating PRT is a unique niche, and I think she allowed it because it could make her blogs distinctive.

Except PRTJJ and Weiner Watch came along, to show how sloppy, mendacious and biased Labridor is. He wanted citizen journalism to have fact-checking; well, here we are!

I see her tight monitoring of reader comments as two things - an effort to enforce the atmosphere/look and feel she envisioned, and damage control. Fine, they're her blogs; and everyone wants to look good.

Except his obsession is making her job more difficult. Surely she can't look forward to getting home from work, only to spend hours gatekeeping all the Kenny-related comments.

How long can she keep it up before she dumps him?

Mr_Grant said...

An even sadder thing in terms of journalistic quality: Now that the special election has passed and Cox has lost, Eva is reporting how hard-right Republicans don't really care for Cox. They call him an environmentalist tree hugger, not a fiscal conservative, a Republican in Name Only - RINO. As noted, he even supports Amtrak.

If his positions are genuine, he is exactly the kind of Republican who ought to be encouraged, or at least reported about in a balanced way. One would expect Eva, whom Kenmore has called a moderate Republican, would welcome more Coxes into politics.

She did make an effort, writing at least one fairly balanced piece about Cox v. Dahle under her own byline.

But the relentless anti-PRT-centric Ovendoor propaganda thread was allowed to run -- even though she now admits PRT wasn't a factor. Funny, Eric Z wrote the same thing about PRT and Bachmann's US House win.

A Transportation Enthusiast said...

"How long can she keep it up before she dumps him?"

Answer: she will never dump him. Eva has gotten a taste of the publicity an Avidor brings, and she's now addicted to it. She's intoxicated by the attention Avidor garners with his inflammatory style, and she no longer cares if her credibility suffers.

Popularity trumps credibility, and Avidor generates popularity. Why are Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh popular? Because they push simplistic, dogmatic views using an inflammatory combination of half-truths, exaggeration, and outrage - and the masses eat it up. The same can be said of Michael Moore on the other side.

These types appeal to the masses by telling them they are right and the other guys are wrong. They are experts at breeding divisiveness and demonizing the opposition, and people can't get enough of it.

That's what Avidor brings to DumpBachmann, and that's why Eva will never get rid of him. To Eva, the end justifies the means - her goal is to oust Bachmann, and in the process of doing that, she has no problem becoming Bachmann.