Category: Random Scribbles

Random Scribbles: Another crackerjack journalist

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

A year ago, I discussed some of the shortcomings of modern journalism. And not much has changed in that time.

Today, I can add to the list of inept professionals who fail at the most basic skill in news reporting: asking the hard questions to get to the facts. In the spotlight is Jeanine Pirro, a “television personality” with Fox News.

While broadcasting a segment on terrorism in Western Europe, Pirro allowed her guest, an alleged “expert” on terrorism, to spout a complete falsehood about how Birmingham, England, has been entirely taken over by Muslims.

Jeanine Pirro

Jeanine Pirro doing crackerjack work on Fox News.

Pirro didn’t question his statement at all. She just looked on with an “I can’t believe it” expression on her face.

How these people get hired–and stay hired–boggles my mind.


Random Scribbles: The action of curation

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

Curate–and its cognates “curated,” “curation,” and “curating”–has become a buzzword.

Here are some recent examples:

If you want to understand how fast curation is growing on the web, just take a look at Pinterest. (Fast Company)

The database includes 6,000 curated Wikipedia articles, thousands of Khan Academy videos, a deep database of health and wellness content, thousands of K-12 text books (most including teacher editions), world literature, and a variety of other educational content. (Forbes)

DMA opens up to consumers a library of over 400 titles from these three major studios and lets them preview upcoming releases and enjoy hours of free new and exclusive short-form content, and discover content curated to their individual preferences. (Animation Magazine)

Several artists have complained that they can’t pull their music off Pandora, a service that curates music but doesn’t offer on-demand listening for specific songs. (Washington Post)

Except that “curate” is not a word.

According to the Webster’s New World Dictionary (Second College Edition), it doesn’t exist as it is currently being used–as a verb. And the spell check in Microsoft Word flags “curation” and “curating” as misspelled.

I was surprised to learn this. Having read the word so often in the media, I had assumed that it passed muster.

However, curate–when used as a verb–appears to be a back-formation* from the noun curator, similar to how the word “edit” (verb) was invented from the word “editor” (noun).

Language evolves constantly, I realize, so I should get off my high horse. But I guess I didn’t expect it to evolve not only within my lifetime, but just since I graduated from college. The addition of the word “selfie” to Merriam-Webster’s collegiate dictionary recently created a bit of a brouhaha (itself a word adopted from the French as a corruption of a saying in Hebrew). But when the dust settled, it does make sense.

I’m thinking that “curate” will be coming soon to a lexicon near you.

*Back-formations are when an existing word is mistakenly understood to be a variation on a nonexistent word.

Random Scribbles: You may just end up being right

My wife got a job this week. She’s been a substitute teacher for several years, and now she has a permanent teaching position. In college, she’d planned to be a teacher. But her reservations about it got the better of her and she ended up working for an environmental education organization, then in retail pet supplies. We had children and she stopped working for about a decade. And now she’s returning to where she’d wanted to be 20 years ago.

My brother is an editor for television in Hollywood. In college, he’d intended to be an editor, but life took him to work in retail record sales for a while. He then dabbled in video production, but now he’s returned to where he wanted to be when he graduated.

In college, I wanted to be a writer. But, as life would have it, I worked instead in retail food sales, then got a job in a legal news and information company. But now I have this blog and have been posting my writing for over a year now. I too have returned to what I thought in college that I wanted to do.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here: go with your gut, don’t second guess yourself, believe in what you feel.

You may just end up being right after all.

Random Scribbles: Making economic sense out of online news

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

In his recent article “Build the Future: Journalism’s deathwatch is over” Jacob Weisberg of discusses his vision of a sustainable future for digital news. This brief but informed review of the development of online news sites has, I think, some astute ideas on how this might work.

The end of the article has the most concrete points:

Slate is too dependent on advertising. So we’re trying to figure out how to get money from our readers, but without a paywall, because we like having a massive audience and fully participating in the digital conversation. Our latest experiment is a membership program called Slate Plus. Though we’re for-profit, it’s partly an NPR-style pitch: support the journalism you love. But it’s also like Amazon Prime: We’re thinking every day about what new benefits we can provide to our most loyal customers. The goal is to be thriving for another 18 years and beyond. The challenge is to think like a start-up while building an institution.

Last May, I shared my idea that news outlets should ask readers to pay to post comments, and interestingly enough was dismissed by many writers and editors. I still find the reaction odd, as if the ability to post comments for free is somehow a right that shall not be infringed.

In my view, when the ship (of journalism) is sinking, nothing should be sacred. So I’m interested in the ideas behind Weisberg’s Slate Plus, which could easily include the ability to post comments while locking out non-Slate Plus readers.

People who bash new ideas are not thinking “like a start-up.”

Random Scribbles: Send the troops to St.Louis

[Random Scribbles are my occasional posts of half-formed thoughts, half-baked ideas, and off-the-cuff observations.]

I will admit up front that I’m a geography geek. I always have been. It’s part of my DNA.

I have no empathy, then, for people who cannot read a map or at least ballpark the location of a country (or in America, a state).

So I find this report simply astonishing. According to researchers from Dartmouth, Harvard, and Princeton, only 16 percent of Americans know where Ukraine is and can properly locate it on a map.* While most survey respondents at least knew that it was somewhere in Europe or Asia, some were embarrassingly incorrect.

Looking at a map of the survey results, there were a fair number of people who thought Ukraine is in one of the following locations:

  • Canada (50+)
  • Greenland (50+)
  • Australia (2)
  • the United States (seriously–17 people)

And while this level of ignorance is undeniably sad, it is also dangerous. How? The study also found that “the less people know about where Ukraine is located on a map, the more they want the U.S. to intervene militarily.”

Politicians routinely say that they are only acting on the will of the people. I hate to say it, but sometimes the people are wrong–shockingly so.

So when the people demand that we send armed forces to intervene in Ukraine, many have no idea where they are sending our men and women in uniform. Just like, I would bet money, they had no idea where we were sending our military when we engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan, and a whole host of other actions.

Photo by IllinoisHorseSoldier on Flickr

Photo by IllinoisHorseSoldier on Flickr

I’ve thought all along that our recent foreign wars were a bad idea. Now, I’m beginning to understand why much of the public has also become disillusioned. They must’ve thought we were sending the troops to St. Louis.

*The study is “part of a broader project on the relationship between political knowledge and foreign policy views,” Dr. Kyle A. Dropp, Assistant Professor of Government at Dartmouth College, and one of the study’s co-authors, told me in an e-mail. The study has not yet been submitted for peer review.