A Sellout's Samizdat
Here's Why the Media Thinks Occupy Wall Street Is Lame ⇢

This Slate piece by Dahlia Lithwick is the biggest piece of bullshit I’ve read about Occupy Wall Street. Apparently, everyone, the movement is really cool and meaningful, and it’s the media who are lame and stupid.

Any reporter with the tiniest bit of experience and brain knows that the movement is a joke. Here’s why.

Any time there’s a protest of any kind, the same people show up. In my journalism career, I probably covered 150 protests and demonstrations and sit-ins and marches, from groups of 20 people standing on a street corner to thousands temporarily occupying a park or plaza. The messages varied from strikes and other labor demonstrations to protests against war, capital punishment, budget cuts, police brutality, animal cruelty, abortion, etc. Any seasoned journalist has done the same, if not many more.

Know what? The same damn people showed up at every protest. I’d see the labor activists, the red-diaper babies, the college students, the artist types, the trust fund kiddies who took up social justice to make up for the way their great-grandfather’s business raped the planet and abused the workers 100 years ago. 

At any protest, you’d always get a few committed people - people who were moved to demonstrate because they really believed in the cause. But most of the protesters were just people looking for something to do. They took up protesting the way some people take up religion or spectator sports or clubbing. They simply get high off the collective experience of being with a bunch of like-minded people, in public, acting in one mindless way.

I did a story about these professional protesters. I remember I interviewed one college student in requisite beard, flannel and jeans who bemoaned the fact that he was not a student in the 60s, when protests really meant something. How sad, I thought, that this kid - born on the cusp of a new millennium - was yearning for an idealized past.

Sure, there were lots of protests in the 60s. I imagine they were effective. But you know what most people did in the 60s? They went to work or school. They paid their bills. They brought up their kids. They lived lives just like people today. 

11 Journalism Jobs You May Hold in the Future ⇢


  1. Headline Optimizer. Headlines aren’t what they used to be, especially in the online world. Once you could be witty or silly or clever, depending on the story. And once you didn’t have to worry about keywords. Today, headlines are often the way people find and decide to click on a story. Good headlines are still an art, yet they are a completely different style. To brush up on your headline-writing, you could start by reading Poynter’s 10 questions to help you write better headlines.
  1. Social Media Reporter / Aggregator. Andy Carvin is well-known for his unique news role using Twitter to fact-check information. (See our interview with Carvin.)  Other media organizations are finding useful ways to make sense of social media noise. Storify is one tool being used by journalists.
  1. Story Scientist. This job is about investigating data to make digital content. New York Magazine talks about therole of a data scientist at Buzzfeed. Basically, he uses analytics to determine ways to make stories more shareable, when to share the stories and how.
  1. Data Detective. This one is also about data, something that is becoming increasingly important to journalism. Here is a video report produced during a Knight Journalism Fellowship that explores issues in this area.
Do any of you guys already have one of these jobs?

Major News Organizations Fooled by Browser IQ Study Hoax ⇢

It’s amazing these kinds of hoaxes don’t fool the media more often. In this vicious, round-the-clock news cycle, it’s better to be first than to be right.

I’ve been in these scrums many times. Some press release drops into the in box, and the reporter just rewrites the copy, puts in a token call to the parties involved, and pushes the button to publish.

I wonder how many reporters and editors used IE to look up the bogus website the pranksters set up? Maybe there’s some truth to this IQ story after all.

The New Yorker on the Squirrelly Ethics of the Press ⇢

Nicholas Lemann has a good piece in The New Yorker about the shifting, conflicted and downright messed-up ethics of the press, seen through the lens of the News of the World scandal. The story is not behind the paywall as of this posting, so check it out.

But, if journalists enjoy being raffish and self-mocking, what explains our equally powerful inclination (especially in the United States) to bang on portentously about the Founders, the First Amendment, the Fourth Estate, and the people’s right to know? Are journalists lovable rogues or human-rights crusaders? Or people who have granted themselves the right to switch between these two identities on a whim?

Yep. We like to be anything when it suits our purposes.

More Dirty Little Secrets about Tabloid Journalism ⇢

The AP has a nice story about many other standard, shameful practices at News of the World. It’s a blood-in-the-water kind of moment for the mainstream press. But the mainstream press should not throw stones. This kind of stuff happens everywhere, including at the AP. I know. I used to work there.

"Gee," Newspaper Reporter Says, "I Guess I Should Check Out This Facebook Thing."

I got a friend request on Facebook yesterday from this asshole newspaper reporter I know. He’s one of these guys who’s covered politics for decades - a fixture in the halls of government as much as any pol or lobbyist. We worked for different news orgs but we covered the same stories pretty often. He never considered a story to be a true story unless he was on it.

I accepted the friend request, because I accept everybody’s, if I actually know the person. Then I clicked through to check out his page.

He just joined Facebook. Yesterday.  

This means he’s either been fired or forced to retire, or his editor is making him join the 21st century. Either way, it speaks volumes about him and his ilk, of which there are many in the traditional press corps.

I don’t mean to imply that Facebook is some fabulous thing. I dislike it, in fact - it’s grown too crazy and big to be that useful to me anymore. But it’s an essential part of life for anyone in the 21st century. You gotta do it, and you will get out of it what you put into it.

Journalist friends of mine who adopted social media early have found ways to make money from it. They have a brand presence in online news delivery and truly have a social network going. This required a major change in thinking, however. They had to recognize that the reader mattered - that people out there in the collective had info to share and had the right to offer feedback on whatever the reporter wrote. They also had to recognize that this feedback is more important than whatever they wrote. The reader’s opinions and comprehension ultimately matter most to them.

Asshole reporters like this newbie Facebooker only care about themselves. They love the ego rush of the front-page byline. They think the news isn’t news until they say it is. And technology is finally providing a means for readers to prove them wrong.

How Much of the Tea Party Is the Product of an Inexperienced Press?

The press has made so much about the Tea Party movement this year - how it shaped the elections and upset the assumptions of both established political parties. We’ll see if the movement has legs or if it’s just absorbed into the Borg collective known as Politics as Usual.

Here’s something else to thing about: How much of this Tea Party surge is really just the product of an inexperienced and hyperactive media?  

When I first heard about this Tea Party activism back last spring, I thought “OK, all the gadflies are swarming.” It reminded me of my days in local journalism.

When you’re a local news reporter, covering city hall or the county government or some other low level of government, you certainly come into contact with the gadflies. These people are very engaged in the process. Every community has them - they’re the people who show up at all the public meetings and hearings. They write letters to the editor. Sometimes they call the local reporters up or e-mail them if they think the reporter made mistakes or showed bias in a story.

These people also are knowledgeable - to a point. They’ll tell you what their property tax bill is, down to the penny. They know how much overtime the police paid last year, and maybe even how much the town spent on special ed for the kid up the block.

But they’re also usually very disorganized and crazy. These are usually unpleasant people to be around - they’re pushy and even rude. They see conspiracies everywhere. They are never happy with anything their government does, and they’ll let you know - loudly and without moderation. No one makes friends this way.

So, in my mind, the Tea Party is really just a collection of local gadflies. Someone - maybe these big-money contributors such as the Koch family - figured out how to round ‘em up into something resembling a political movement.

But the press had to play into this too. Here’s how: very few reporters on the national stage today had that kind of local reporter experience, where they got to know about the existence of gadflies and how they work. When you’re writing for a 20,000-circulation newspaper or you’re a radio or TV reporter in a tiny market, you get to know the breed personally. You know they’re nutbags - they’re NOT speaking for the majority of people who are less engaged and less knowledgeable. So you report their point of view, but it’s moderated. People who speak the loudest are usually NOT speaking for the most.

Reporters who don’t have this experience don’t understand this distinction. They think that if 1,000 people show up for something, it’s big news. Yes, it is news, but is it big? How many people DID NOT show up? People don’t usually take to the streets to say “Things are great! Thanks!” but their point-of-view counts too.

As the media continues to get less and less away from the roots of good, basic journalism, you can expect more of this to continue. So polish up your bullshit detector - you’ll need it.

Election News: People Educated at Yale Lose to Wackadoodles ⇢

Check out the New York Times’ election coverage of the groundswell of support for the Tea Party Pod People. I don’t support these nuts at all, but I have to hand it to them. They managed to ride a wave of discontent from the disenfranchised to defeat some hidebound incumbents. 

What kills me is how the Times covers it. “These people are craaaaazy!!!!!” seems to be the story, no matter how camouflaged in “journalism” it may be. The story on Christine O’Donnell mentions her wacky sex-ed background THREE times on the front page alone. 

I think the Times and other mainstream media are so used to dancing with familiar partners they can’t understand why voters differ. They expect our leaders to be well-educated at the right schools (Yale, Harvard) and work their way up the food chain from city council to state legislature to Congress, all the while building a sober background worthy of someone elected to represent others.

In other words, the candidates are the same kinds of people as the reporters. Most reporters from the Times I’ve met are Ivy League types (or Oberlin, Wesleyan etc.) who knew they wanted to be reporters since they saw “All the President’s Men” in high school. These reporters are just as much a part of the ruling classes as the candidates are.

What they don’t get is that most people didn’t go to Yale, didn’t build a sober background in utero. That’s why these candidates appeal to voters. They’re like the rest of us. 

How Much Do I Love Jack Shafer's Slate Columns? ⇢

Jack Shafer’s columns in Slate eviscerate mainstream media for its herd mentality and bogus trend stories. This week’s column is a great example - phony “pharm parties” in which teenagers supposedly ingest prescription pills all mixed together in a giant bowl. 

I’m astonished to see just how many times the mainstream media has reported on this bogus story, without one piece of hard evidence: once arrest, once police report, one bona fide case of a kid who was sickened or killed.

"Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story," I always say.

When I was a reporter, I had to chase bogus stories once in a while. Stories about children or drugs were particularly ripe for this treatment, and a story about children AND drugs would make my editors wet their pants.

My favorite recollection was a bogus story 20 years ago about the truly ineffective DARE program in schools. This program, taught by police officers, was supposed to teach children to “just say no.” Kids thought it was a joke, and some police officers would privately admit it to you, but the official line was DARE today, DARE tomorrow, DARE forever. We’d do stories about DARE “scared straight” demos and cap-and-gown DARE graduations. Even when hard research showed that DARE did nothing but waste taxpayer money and police resources, you couldn’t write the story. The myth of DARE was so ingrained into the minds of educators and editors that there had to be some other story: the school did not do DARE right, did not fund DARE enough, did not care about DARE.

Does anyone know if DARE has gone away? I have not seen anything about it in the press for years, but I may just automatically filter it out, along with stories about the Loch Ness monster.

Newspapers Actually Starting to CARE What Readers Want? ⇢

Here’s a novel thought - run a newspaper like a business and actually give customers what they want…

This story in the Times today cracks me up. This comes from the media’s biggest eat-your-vegetables paper, that delights in telling people what to think through its distorted NYC lens.

Maybe running a paper like a business feels dirty somehow to those deluded souls who still regard journalism as a noble profession. It’s hard to be noble when you’re starving.

About A Sellout's Samizdat

My journalism career sucked, and that ship's headed for the deep anyway, so I sold out. My corporate job is a joke by comparison, but it's fun in many ways to be a drone to capitalism. Here's my story of what it's like to be a sellout - published in modern-day Soviet samizdat style. If my boss knew, I'd get sent to Siberia. And while I'm at it, why not poke fun at the dumb behavior of my former tribe?

Ask me anything How Did You Sell Out With Style?