The agony and ecstasy of Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

Mike Daisey

On Friday, This American Life retracted the story “Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory” because it contains fabrications. The press release is here.

I think This American Life should keep the episode available as part of its official history of the show. Without it, we will lose a critical piece of our own historical culture, much the same way we have when we redacted the n-word from works of literature or shelved films that show actors in blackface. Without the episode, we will know where we are, but will have forgotten the steps we took to get here. Without the episode to remind us, we are bound to repeat this error at some time in the future. Moreover — while deeply embarrassing for Ira Glass — it will remain a stark reminder of his duty to respect his “blink” moments.

It is too easy for the journalism community to condemn Mike Daisey as a liar and blame only him for perpetrating this fraud. “It is about trust and truth!” they pontificate. “Without trust, journalism is nothing.”

I don’t know if it is as dire as all that, but I think the issue is about more than just trust. I think what Mike Daisey was able to pull off speaks more about who we are as an American culture than it does about the nature of journalism, truth or trust.

By his own admission, Mike Daisey is a performance artist. The monologue and the story he crafted were always his performance, whether he was on stage in front of an audience, in front of Ira Glass or Ed Shultz. The fact that each of the latter chose to ignore the fact that Mike Daisey was in character and performing was their failing, not his. I’m sure he was just as delighted in duping them as they were delighted to be interviewing him.

The Canon is replete with works by artists and writers who borrow facts heavily to spin their stories. Many times the veracity of the story is never explained as that would ruin the mystery. However, there are hints in each work to suggest that the story — while plausible — is simply not a factual account.

In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce the reader is led to believe that Peyton Farquhar has somehow escaped his hanging. In the middle of his narrative, the more attentive reader will begin noticing some inconsistencies such as the trees lining up in the forest and the shift in point of view. The reader who becomes wedded to Farquhar’s success will miss the subtle cues.

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf does not even bother to hide the fact that she would be lying to the reader. β€œLies will flow from my lips, but there may perhaps be some truth mixed up with them; it is for you to seek out this truth and to decide whether any part of it is worth keeping.” Whether or not there were lies contained in her essay or where they were is up to the reader to decide.

In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne introduces us to the story by way of telling us he found “documents, in short, not official, but of a private nature…I could account for their being included in the heap of Custom-House lumber only by the fact that Mr. Pue’s death had happened suddenly…” and the cloth containing an embroidered scarlet letter. Anyone of the day would have known Hawthorne to be a custom house officer and this accounting plausible. It is only by prefacing the story with The Custom House that made it believable as a historical reckoning. It was, of course, entirely false as was the story of Hester Pryne.

In each of these performances, there were a few details that were just too perfect, just too pat. But the audiences really, really, really needed to believe and each fooled its audience in its time. The cues are what Ira Glass missed. Missing the cues is what is embarrassing him.

Mike Daisey’s performance on This American Life illustrates what he knows intimately about American Culture. Mike Daisey knows the power of story in a highly-charged, desperate culture in the middle of a crises of identity.

We are a culture that will desperately believe in a myth rather than the facts. We want to believe the Olive Garden is authentic Italian food or that what McDonalds puts out as food is actually a hamburger. We believe we are paying the full price of the cell phone service we receive or that books should be free. We believe reality TV is not edited and the indie band we just discovered is authentic and has not been marketed. We believe the music we stole from a locker is justifiably ours because the music industry has been ripping us off for years.

We believe FOX News is really news and not just entertainment wrapped around a set of facts. We believe we can somehow get skinny eating whatever we want without exercising.

We are a culture that believes in a man named Jesus who walked the Earth two thousand years ago and was born of a virgin mother and nailed to a Roman cross to save us from our sins. We believe this so passionately that we are willing to bend non-believers to our will with laws and public shame. We believe this so deeply that we are willing — actually require — the person with the ability to blow up the entire world twenty-seven times over to also believe.

We believe that iPads should cost under $1,000 and blithely turn our attention away from the human and environmental abuses that make that possible. This is what makes a story like Mike Daisey’s plausible, possible and probable. It is the juxtaposition of our deep unease with the reality that people are being exploited with our insatiable need to have cheap stuff that taps our conscience just a little and tells us that Mike Daisey’s story is true, even though it is factually inaccurate.

How could we not know? The truth is, we couldn’t not know. The signs of truth are too blatant.

And we also believe that This American Life is journalism and that journalism does not tell stories. Journalism reports the naked facts, unedited. In reality, Ira Glass is every bit as skilled a storyteller as Mike Daisey is.

For this one episode, Mike Daisey was better. He should never apologize for that.

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Who do you trust?

Dog Cat Trust

When Steve Jobs died, I knew about it a few minutes afterward because I saw a tweet from Chris Brogan asking if it were true. But I didn’t immediately retweet or reply; I went to nytimes.com. And cnn.com. And msnbc.com. And apple.com.

I also turned on my television and tuned to CNN. (They tend to break in with confirmed news fastest, though not always.)

When twitter gets it right, the pundits all point to the powers of social media, how they are scooping traditional journalism and why print and television is dying. When twitter gets it wrong, everyone has a good laugh and points to how silly and lemming-like twitter is.

Thank God we have some smart journalists at the control switch who can pull the handbrake on this runaway ham sandwich, they remark.

We continue to assess truthiness based on hit volume and forget that only one small child actually had the guts to say the emperor wasn’t wearing any clothes. According to the Google and Klout (and ABC for print) analytics, only the most viewed and recommended links are trustworthy even if only one small child or one barking dog says otherwise and in the end, turns out to be correct.

It all boils down to: Who do you trust?

We sometimes forget that Twitter and Facebook are commercial products and they have an agenda. This agenda may or may not be aligned with the users’. As Liz Heron of the New York Times remarks, “It’s helpful to have a journalist still.” (30:50 in the clip below)

Even liars have to get you to trust them or the whole game is off.

That is what Rupert Murdoch understood when he shuttered News of the World. Readers didn’t mind being lied to as long as he had their trust. FOX News understands this as well. That is why they spend so much of their time with phrases such as “Fair and Balanced and “No Spin Zone.” Their news day cycle consists of a slow building of “evidence” for their eventual “news” presentation in the evening.

Rush Limbaugh does the same thing by going through a formula of “logical” presentation of the story. He contorts a nuanced story into a blatantly simple ipso facto argument that basically says, “Trust me, I’ve thought all this out, here is the trail of evidence and here is the simple conclusion.”

At the end of the day, however, it boils down to, “do you trust me?” If the answer is “Yes,” then you believe your source.

Below is the opening session of the Journalism Interactive Conference at the University of Maryland, “Social Media: Best Practice in Journalism.” The link is at http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/18160056 in case the embed does’t work. The folks on the panel are Jim Long, Lynn Sweet and Liz Heron moderated by Adam Ostrow. It is probably the most succinct piece on social media for journalism I’ve seen yet. No grandiosity, no hyperbole, no silver bullet solutions. These folks have thought deeply about the issue and it shows. It is an hour long, but worth the listen.



Video streaming by Ustream

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The definitive difference between a real journalist and your sorry blogger butt

New York Times front page May 25 2011

Maybe I’ve read one too many rants from know-it-all bloggers about how nobody really needs journalists and how journalism is a dead dying industry, but it really hit home today about the real difference between journalists and blogger know-it-alls.

Above is the front page of the New York Times.

How much fortitude did it take for Eric Thayer to look through his camera lens and snap that photo, straining to keep his emotions from shaking the shot out of focus? Did he fight back tears as he shot or did he just let them flow and do his job anyway?

Has Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) thrown up yet because of anything he’s seen while reporting in Joplin? I’m guessing he has, yet he continues reporting.

How many of us could go to a disaster site like Joplin and not be so overwhelmed by emotion that we could not find the courage to continue reporting or shooting photos so the rest of us could know about the devastation?

Anyone can report the news on good days. It takes men and women of incredible skill, determination and a cast-iron stomach to handle news as devastating as a tornado, earthquake, flood or war. The value of a good journalist should not be measured by how well s/he does the job on a slow news day, but how well s/he reports when all around them is falling apart.

The next time you hear someone at a conference or on a blog rant on about how journalism is dead, ask them if they’ve been to Joplin.. or Minamisanriku… or New Orleans… or Afghanistan… or Sri Lanka. Ask them how many children they’ve seen dead in the streets or how many faces of utter despair and hopelessness they have looked into.

Like their experience with real journalism, I would wager the answer would be zero or fewer.

Footnote (literally this time) I found this moments before hitting the publish button. It was so overwhelming, I had to share.

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She’s back! Karina Stenquist

Karina is one of the reasons why I think the future of journalism is in pretty good hands.

Short story long, I became a fan of Karina’s when she was hosting an Internet vlog called MobuzzTV. She had that combination of quirky, combined with a lot of brains. She was much more than a “talking head” on camera. She really knew her stuff and talked fluently about it. Her blog — which she does not update as much as she should — is here. She is “all grown up” in this video but her Mobuzz segments were irreverent, a bit snarky and engaging. It was a “must-see” for me every day.

Anyway, Karina went to Berkeley, moved to Spain, lived there illegally for six years, moved back (ok, got kicked out) and is now attending American University in DC pursuing a journalism degree. In the middle there she had a short stint with CNN and did whatever Americans with superior language skills abroad do.

Anyway, she is going to be really big someday. I just wanted you to see how she started out.

Now if she could only quit smirking when the camera starts rolling… (but I secretly hope she never does…)

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You are bringing a soccer ball to a football game. Why blogs don’t matter.

Are blogs as important as bloggers think they are? The question itself is a bit of a stretch, but I think the shortest answer to it is one of the most American of all answers — the sports metaphor.

“Old media” — television, newspapers, magazines — are like Major League Baseball (MLB), National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) with some more minor players like the National Hockey League (NHL). Blogging is like Major League Soccer (MLS).

Who?

Exactly.

Actually, the MLS really doesn’t matter all that much, even to soccer fans. It’s just kinda.. well.. there. What matters more are the many youth leagues, SAY, AYSO, ODP and regional travel leagues scattered around the country. If you did not recognize any of that, you’re not alone and it’s ok. Soccer doesn’t really matter.

In the United States, about 4-6 million kids play soccer, depending on whose numbers you believe. That is more kids than football and baseball combined. By the time they reach high school most of them have dropped out to play other sports like football or baseball. While their kid is playing soccer, parents are engaged, almost fanatically, but when their kid no longer plays soccer, the parents quit caring about the sport, dedicating their time now to an extra dose of football and baseball.

“It’s a good thing Johnny finally got into a real sport like football,” most dads think quietly to themselves with a sigh of relief.

Sportscasters openly mock soccer as not being a real sport much like television and newspaper journalists mock bloggers as not being real media people. Sports departments cover soccer only when they have to or when it fits a pre-determined narrative, like during the World Cup and then only begrudgingly. Mainstream advertisers won’t buy placement in soccer venues. Many have soccer initiatives only because they are looking to attract the soccer mom and many times only as an ancillary buy to a larger media placement. Soccer-only product enthusiasts find out quickly how shallow and cost-concious the market really is, many going out of business within a year after launching their product or service. The parallels to blogging v old media almost rise up and slap you in the face.

And how does soccer respond? Not by being itself but by trying to emulate the larger sports leagues. It organizes the sport into a large national league (MLS) instead of deeper, hyper-local clubs tied to the community. It encourages rule and play format changes to make the play more exciting to American audiences. More goals, more points per goal, more physical contact, shorter fields, fewer players on each side for more ball touches per player, more tournaments, more, more, more….

And even internally, soccer people turn on each other, gutting one league to form another, jealously guarding their own piece of turf or breaking off to form their own club or league when the director pisses them off. (Read points 2 & 3 at Brass Tack Thinking) Sound like a typical impromptu parent sideline meeting? Sure does.

In the end, it is blogging that will change to fit an old media model, not the other way around. Sure, there will be some hold-outs like we have grizzly soccer guys who collect in pubs to watch a Arsenal game and complain about how kids today don’t play futbold like they did back when they were young. And they will eventually die and take their fan loyalty with them.

In keeping the metaphor alive, millions of bloggers write a million and a half blog posts a day. More citizen journalism, opinion editorials, lifestyle, industry insights, restaurant product and movie reviews are published each day by bloggers than network journalists combined. And still we ask, does blogging matter?

Does soccer matter?

This blog post is part of a blog-off series with a group of bloggers from different professions and world views, each exploring a theme from his/her world view. This was about β€œDo blogs matter?” To explore how others handled the theme, check them out below. I will add links as they publish.

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Shifting words to maintain the “incumbent” narrative

Did you notice it last night as the primary election results were coming in? The media narrative of “anti-incumbent” is not meshing with the reality, so the use of “incumbent” is being quietly shoved under the rug for words like “establishment,” “experienced,” and “DC-insider.”

The media was wrong in their prediction of this huge anti-incumbent wave sweeping the country, angry voters demanding change, etc, etc. but they won’t admit it. They stubbornly hang onto the theme they set and push valiantly through, changing the lexicon ever so slightly.

Did you notice? You should have. You should be asking “why?” You should be asking why media is predicting and producing a news cycle rather than reporting and analyzing.

And when the final results are in from the general elections and they don’t match the narrative then it was an “upset.” I guess it is all entertainment after all. Very expensive entertainment, but…

Am I wrong?

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WSJ photo change-up

I understand regional differences in editorial selection for newspapers and different editions based on a kind of soft “stop the presses,” but really WSJ, are you pandering to us in the “Pro-America” parts of the country?

At least we should be grateful the cadet wasn’t reading “Goin’ Rogue”

The national edition on WSJ.com. Notice the four stars which usually indicates a later edition.
The national edition on WSJ.com. Notice the four stars (three on the OH edition below) which usually indicates a later edition.
The edition I got this morning. Wondering how wide the circulation of that photo is.
The edition I got this morning. Wondering how wide the circulation of that photo is.
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Why celebrities on Twitter need journalists and PR folks

malariaI’m pretty sure I was not the only puppy watching Kutcher’s video where he broke 1 million followers on Twitter, scratching my head at the $100,000 check he was holding up as a donation to the Malaria No More organization. Why was this important? Where was the tie-in? Is malaria really that important to stamp out? Isn’t AIDS, cancer and heart disease more pressing?

Today, Peter Chernin wrote an article in the WSJ on why Malaria is an important disease to stamp out. Now, I get it.

Malaria kills 1 child every 30 seconds. It is easy to wipe out with enough money and it eats up limited resources that could be applied to solving the larger problems. It is the “day job” that keeps you from “changing the world” by sapping your energy. I get it because Chernin was able to write clearly.

I found out through the WSJ that April 25 is World Malaria Day. Surely, @aplusk was all over this with his 1 million+ followers on Twitter. Nope. His latest tweet as of this article was a musing over wanting a trap door to have people fall through.apluskfeed Maybe he was promoting it a few days ago. Nope. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

Malaria No More has a Twitter account @malarianomore. If you do a search on malarianomore, you will find a ton of pleas by average twitterers urging @aplusk to promote World Malaria Day.

Does @aplusk have a moral obligation to promote World Malaria Day using his 1 million followers? I think he does. I think the Twitter community would probably agree, especially after his claim that “One man can have a voice that’s as loud as an entire media company.” I think the folks at MalariaNoMore.org would agree that he does as well. Especially since it would take almost no effort.

I’m pretty sure the folks at MalariaNoMore.org are scratching their heads in confusion over Kutcher’s apathy and resultant silence on twitter about World Malaria Day. They have probably gone through the usual cycle of emotions of sponsorship: excitement, exuberance, confusion, anger and resignation. They probably realize by now that they have been and will be all alone in the effort, despite Kutcher’s “support.”

By contrast, If Guy Kawasaki with only a few over 100K followers were to make an impassioned plea to his audience, how many of us would fail to listen? I can’t think of one person.

Should Kutcher suffer the pains of a Twitterstorm for his apathy? We skewered Amazon, Dominos, Motrin, and Target. And these are just brands. Nobody is dying because the brand ignored Social Media. With malaria, people are dying because the awareness is not known, because Kutcher could make a difference but chooses not to.

However, with good journalists and PR folks, Kutcher would not have the option of letting this opportunity go wasted. As it is, he has less than 24 hours to pull something together for World Malaria Day.

Whatever it is, it will come across as half-baked and rushed. I eagerly await the first World Malaria Day tweet from @aplusk.

Ok, now give. DogWalkBlog is giving $100 tomorrow to help with World Malaria Day. If each of @aplusk’s followers gave $1.00, that would be $1.3million. But, I’m not sure why they would as it doesn’t seem all that important a cause to support when nobody is looking.

PS: Proof of the Existence of God. As I was writing this post, I received an email linking to this AdAge article. πŸ™‚

Afterthought: On April 18, 2009 I tweeted out:

Should we listen to @guykawasaki about twitter any more? After all, he only has 100K and @aplusk has 1M, @mileycyrus has 300K+ Thoughts?

Guy came back with an “are you kidding?” response. I was thinking through a thought and it took a week and an article from the WSJ to get to some clarity.

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Sometimes a dog is just a dog

The New York Post issued a statement about the infamous chimp cartoon published Wednesday. (Here if you need to see it.) At the end they stated “Sometimes a cartoon is just a cartoon – even as the opportunists seek to make it something else.”

First, let me remind everyone that this is the New York Post we are talking about.

Now, a little bit of history about chimps and Obama. Just last summer.

I’m sure if the editors at the New York Post need access to YouTube, their IT people would probably relax the firewalls a bit. In the interest of credible journalism. Well at least in the interest of making up good apology statements anyway.

Once again, let me remind everyone that this is the New York Post we are talking about.

Sometimes a dog is just a dog.

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I know nothing, but let me tell you about it anyway

Few things make me more upset than “journalists” who have no knowledge of the facts of a story, write about it or get on television, answering phantom questions about hypoteticals. Then the anchor or host treats their answers like they relate to the story at hand. Then they guide the reader or listener through the “facts” of a story based on the answers to these hypothetical questions as if they are relevant. Unless you are paying attention and reject the entire story when this occurs, you will get the facts of the story all wrong. Is it any wonder Americans are so ill-informed about so much?

The latest example of this type of “journalism” can be found right here in my local newspaper, the Dayton Daily News. Not only does the writer start by asserting an unsubstantiated “fact” (…dying from [a seizure] is rare) but early in the article she states:

Medical specialists who did not treat the boy told The Associated Press on Tuesday that while Kawasaki syndrome is poorly understood, it’s extremely unlikely the disease had anything to do with the teen’s death.

Let me repeat: “medical specialist who did not treat the boy told…” And, AP, why are you lapping this up? What kind of journalism institution are you anyway?

And now, we have Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the worst offender of them all*, slated for the Surgeon General. Has he not done enough damage with his glib, over-arching generalizations of the American health care scene at CNN? I’m sure Dr. Gupta is a competent doctor, but it is unethical and immoral to lead people down a path that is so generic as to be dangerous to their health. Whatever you believe about Dr. Gupta’s competence, his words have weight.

I attribute this “fact-filling” as a desperate attempt by media to be the first on the scene and to fill 24/7 airtime with breaking news stories. Here is a bit of advice from the the old school: If you have nothing to say on the matter, just shut up before you start sounding like an idiot.

*No, I have no supporting evidence he is the worst, but go to YouTube and sift through the video.

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NEWS RELEASE: Rufus volunteers to be the first puppy reporting from Iraq

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Rufus
c/o
Gerard McLean
DogWalkBlog
rufus@dogwalkblog.com

Rufus volunteers to be the first puppy reporting from Iraq

ENGLEWOOD, Oh. – In a brave move today, Rufus announced his intention to be the first puppy dog reporting from Iraq. Inspired by a call from Tribune Publishing owner Sam Zell, who said in a video posted on YouTube, “..hopefully our revenues are so significant that we [Tribune newspapers] can do (stories) on puppies in Iraq.”

Rufus, 8, the author of the popular blog www.dogwalkblog.com wants to be that puppy dog reporter in Iraq for Sam Zell.

“Puppies DO matter,” barked Rufus emphatically at a recent press conference. “Even if you oppose the war in Iraq, you can still support puppy dogs in Iraq.”

The traditional journalism community immediately dismissed Rufus’s intention of visiting Iraq as silly, citing that stories of puppy dogs in Iraq were not newsworthy. Most Americans disagree.

“We’ve had enough gloom and doom reporting with the war and I think it is about time that we had an upbeat puppy dog story,” said Gerard McLean, Rufus’ handler and blog editor. “Dogs are very observant, have sharper hearing and sense of smell than most journalists and rarely miss signs of danger,” adds McLean.

“Puppies in Iraq are long overdue to bring in a sense of balance and perspective.”

Rufus is apolitical and sees a visit to Iraq as an opportunity to remind Americans and his friends elsewhere in the world, that there are things more valuable in this world than politics, the economy, war and terrorism. A good scratch on the ear, a brisk walk on a Sunday morning and an unabashed sniff of a neighbor’s buttocks are all things that dogs – and humans – can rally around.

“Our world may be changing rapidly,” barks Rufus, “But the loyalty and friendship of a dog is everlasting. That is something that is newsworthy.”

Rufus intends to publish the quest to Iraq daily on his blog, www.dogwalkblog.com and on www.puppyjournalism.com. The video of Sam Zell, which sparked this quest, is also posted on Rufus’s blog.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDy7vn7-LX4

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