Chris Angelini (frobozz) wrote,
Chris Angelini


I've just finished a couple more audiobooks as part of my daily commute/exercise/walk places routine. Both are ones that I'd feel safe in recommending.

The first was 1066: The Year that Changed Everything, a lecture series by the Great Courses (taught by Professor Jennifer Paxton). This was a laser-focused six-lecture series about the historical events leading up to the Norman conquest. The professor has a real love of this material and it comes out in the course of her lectures; and that's probably in no small part because the material itself is *fascinating*.

Starz? Showtime? HBO? If you're reading this, you totally need to make your next anachronistic historical drama series out of the Norman conquest. There are so many great figures and situations that you could adapt to the small screen! Plus, you won't have to go searching far for strong female characters... they're all over the place during this time period! Remember who turned you onto this money-maker, guys. Now get to it. I want to start watching this by October 14th.

The second audiobook that I listened through was Trust Me, I'm Lying by Ryan Holiday. This book essential reading material, I think, for absolutely everyone who follows the big blog networks out on that there internet. This book is partially a confession and partially a warning about how easily online news sources can be manipulated into accepting whatever narrative you wish to insert into them. Holiday was an online media manipulator for many years and goes through the many ways in which he pulled the wool over the public's eyes through the use of manufactured controversy; trading up the chain from small blogging outfits to major news networks; and feeding the insatiable maw that is the constant fight for clickthrough traffic.

The book paints a fairly dismal picture of online journalism; and the really scary thing is that it doesn't seem particularly far off the mark. Blogs make money from page views of their sponsors' ads, whether those ads are actually seen or not. This results in the need to churn out attention grabbing, seemingly important and sensational news stories and 'exclusives' to keep eyes on their stories and thus money coming in from advertisers. The responsibility for this constant churn is passed down to the bloggers who work for these outfits, encouraging them to produce news (or 'news') as often and as rapidly as possible.

Because of this need for speed, bloggers have largely embraced what's referred to as 'beta journalism', 'iterative journalism' and also 'not journalism'. The idea behind 'beta journalism' is that you put out a story the moment you hear a rumour or catch the faintest whiff that something newsworthy might exist. Then you iteratively update the story as new information comes in. In theory, this should result in an end product that's just as polished as a major news outlet's story. In practice, this means that viewers will read the story once, accept its premise and then never see the updates, because the human mind is designed to believe first and analyze after (if at all). This practice also leads to dispensing with such frills of journalism as 'verifying sources' or 'getting comments from the subject of the stories' or 'being right'.

It's fascinating that Holiday is able to trace a direct link between the arc of online news and the arc of the US printed news' historical trajectory which began with party papers, proceeded to yellow journalism and finally found some degree of respectibility and trustworthiness through the subscription news model. Blogs are currently in the yellow journalism phase of having underpaid newsies yelling their headlines as loud as possible to drown out the rest; though there is no real evidence that there's going to be any sort of transition from this phase to a subscription model, in which newspapers court returning readers through trustworthiness and are freed of the need to daily out-compete other papers by having perpetual subscribers.

And just like yellow journalism papers, blogging networks are more than happy to manufacture news when it doesn't just fall into their laps. Steve Jobs, for instance, was declared dead at least three times by blogs in the five years before his actual death. A political figure was drummed out of office because an out of context clip of one of her speeches (which was about how *not* to be racist) was edited to make it seem like she was giving a hate speech. ACORN... well, you know about the tragedy behind ACORN. Planned Parenthood... well, you're angry as hell about what's happening to Planned Parenthood. These blogging networks are passing conjecture and intrigue off as news and then doing nothing to clear up their mistakes when the truth comes out. If this doesn't sound like journalism to you... well, it doesn't to me either.

This book is highly recommended if you feel like completely ruining your daily blog check; and I think it's worth ruining your daily blog check. If nothing else, it will help you (and me, since I have not been innocent of being taken in by blog controversies, over and over and over either) think more critically about the stories you read and what you accept as news and what you instead accept as innuendo.

Two excellent audios. And only one of them made me terribly depressed about the world. Hurrah!
Tags: audio
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