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Thursday, December 30, 2004

Book Reviews Coming Soon

What an amazing holiday it has been, between the tsunami tragedy, the Coleman meltdown at The Minneapolis Star-Tribune and the tremendous reception Hugh Hewitt's new book is receiving on the Blogosphere, there has been far more excitement than I recall at this time of the year in a long, long time.

With a horde of family in our home for the holidays, my blogging has been limited to furtively catching up on the news as time and circumstance allowed. But I've also been able to get in some serious reading, one result of which will be a series of book reviews in coming days. For now, here are some brief initial thoughts on the four books that have been occupying my attention:

First, my copy of Hugh's "Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation" is on its way via Amazon.com, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Being a born-again Southern Baptist with a Reformed perspective and a career in journalism, the title alone is enough to get me excited!

But I wonder - how did all you people writing those glowing reviews get your copies so early? And how do I get with the program for Hugh's next book? And Donald Sensing's upcoming effort? And all the rest of the works that are undoubtedly being produced/written/conceived at this very moment? Somebody please help me!!

Second, Dennis Bailey's "The Open Society Paradox: Why the 21st Century Calls for More Openness, not Less" is essential reading for bloggers, legacy media types and anybody else who cares about winning the war on terrorism and preserving civil liberties in America. Dennis has written an important book about which I will have much, much more to say early next week.

Third, James Surowiecki's "The Wisdom of Crowds" explains the critical elements of the success of the Blogosphere and thus why the MSM can never match the reporting power represented in the new media. It may be the essential preface to Hugh's book.

Finally, Nancy Pearcey's "Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity" captures the pre-theoretical presuppositions of secularism and convincingly demonstrates how even modern evangelical Christian culture in America is far from immune from those presuppositions. Pearcey is addressing primarily those of a philosophical bent but in a popular language that makes what could be heavy going quite accessible for those who don't normally ponder issues such as how Aquinas erred in adapting Aristotle to Mediavel thought.

So you see, between slicing the Christmas turkey, playing lots of family games and cracking some delightful books, I have been a busy boy, contrary to all appearances here. Active posting will resume January 3.

In the meantime, folks, have a happy, happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2004

Newsweek's Meachum Should Quit Before He Hurts Himself More

Newsweek Managing Editor Jon Meachum is in The Washington Post today with another effort to debunk Christ and Christmas. He would have been better advised not to have published this piece because it provides more evidence that he simply doesn't know his subject very well. You can click on the headline of this posting to read Meachum's "Between Faith and Reason, Room for Hope."

Meachum opens with an inane attempt to position himself as the reasonable moderate between "the usual cultural warriors" going "through their predictable manuevers" regarding the authenticity of the Christmas story. By contrast, he describes himself as "a moderate, churchgoing Episcopalian - and I suspect that more than a few people share my discomfort with both evangelical and unbelieving extremists. Like most things in life, faith tends to become increasingly complicated the more you contemplate it."

The problem here is that Meachum hasn't contemplated the grounds of his faith enough; he has simply accepted the tired cliches of Form Criticism and then predictably accuses the Gospel authors of making it all up.

Here's the heart of Meachum's case:
"Matthew leans heavily on ancient suggestions about the Messiah, often writing that something 'was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet.' A telling example: For Jews, it was essential that the Messiah come from Bethlehem, but Jesus was a Nazarene."
"What to do? Matthew simply puts Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem, then moves them to Nazareth after a dramatic flight to Egypt rescues Jesus from a Herod-ordered massacre of the innocents - a massacre for which there is no historical evidence. In Luke's account, Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth but go to Bethlehem to answer a census order by Caeser Augustus - a global census for which there is no historical evidence that fits Luke's chronology."

One can almost heart Meachum giggling as he writes those sentences, just like the clever high schooler who has discovered a banned book and delights in displaying his thorough knowledge of that one book. In fact, Meachum displays an incredible ignorance of modern scholarship, including especially the discoveries of archeology.

Let's look at Meachum's treatment of Luke, based upon the Form Critics accusation that there was no historically verifiable Roman census during the tenure of Quirinius as Roman governor of Syria.

Here are the facts, as described by Josh McDowell, "The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict," page 63:

"First of all, archeological discoveries show that the Romans had a regular enrollment of taxpayers and also held censuses every 14 years. This procedure was indeed begun under Augustus and the first took place in either 23-22 B.C. or in 9-8 B.C. The latter would be the one to which Luke refers.
"Second, we find evidence that Quirinius was governor of Syria around 7 B.C This assumption is based on an inscription found in Antioch ascribing to Quirinius this past. As a result of this finding, it is now supposed that he was governor twice - once in 7 B.C. and the other time in 6 A.D. (the date ascribed by Josephus).
"Last, in regard to the practices of enrollment, a papyrus found in Egypt gives directions for the conduct of a census. It reads: 'Because of the approaching census, it is necessary that all those residing for any cause away from their homes should at once prepare to return to their own governments in order that they may complete the family registration of the enrollment and that the tilled lands may retain those belonging to them."

McDowell then quotes Dr. Norman Geisler's summary of the Luke/Census issue:
"Several problems are involved in the statement that Augustus conducted a census of the whole empire during the reign of both Quirinius and Herod. For one, there is no record of such a census, but we now know that regular censuses were taken in Egypt, Gaul and Cyrene. It is quite likely that Luke's meaning is that censuses were taken throughout the empire at different times and that Augustus started this process.
"The present tense that Luke uses points strongly toward understanding this as a repeated event. Now Quirinius did take a census but that was in 6 A.D., too late for Jesus' birth and Herod died before Quirinius became governor.
"Was Luke confused? No, in fact he mentions Quirinius'later census in Acts 5:37. It is most likely that Luke is distinguishing this census in Herod's time from the more well-known census of Quirinius: 'This census took place before Quirinius was governor of Syria.'"

Knowing these things, it is difficult to read Meachum's Post piece without wondering how a person so lacking in knowledge could become the managing editor of a major news weekly. An answer to that puzzle, however, might be found in grasping Meachum's real accusation against Luke. Very simply, Meachum, like his Form Critic inspirations, accuses Luke of lying while puffing himself up as a more sophisticated intellect, thanks to his expertise in dealing with "increasingly complicated" matters of faith.

It is important here to know that Luke claimed to have "carefully investigated everything from the beginning" before writing his Gospel book. He makes a similar claim of having accurately investigated the events and people he writes about in Acts, his account of the journeys of Paul.

So for Meachum to claim Luke got it all wrong regarding the Roman census, the procedures that governed those events and Quirinius' terms as governor of Syria is to flatly contradict Luke's profession of competence and accuracy.

It is interesting to note here that Sir William Ramsay, one of the great archeologists of the 19th Century, set out to discredit Luke as a reliable historical source. Ramsay was a student in the German historical school that produced the Form Criticism behind Meachum's comments. What Ramsay found instead of what he expected was Luke as "a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements trustworthy ... this author should be placed among the very greatest of historians."

So we are left with the conclusion that Meachum's Post piece and the 12/13 Newsweek cover story that preceded it were motivated by an agenda that is of a piece with attitudes that are evident throughout the MSM, which is to debunk, discredit and otherwise render irrelevant traditional Christianity. Doing so requires ignoring all evidence to the contrary and thus presenting only the conventional wisdom that passes for sophistication among the elites that rule the MSM.

Put another way, Meachum is merely recycling fashionable myths that have been thoroughly refuted by those willing to look at the facts, all of the facts.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Should Saying "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Birthday, Jesus" be an Act of Defiance?

I thought it was simply my sometimes over-active imagination but now U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo senses it, too. Signs here and there of a gathering rebellion against the PC crowd's determination that nobody - especially not kids - has any Christmas fun in a public place. The increasing stridency of these poor souls reminds me of nothing so much as those Puritan Proctors who stood in the back of Massachusetts congregations using long poles to make sure nobody nodded off.

Since everything allegedly "starts" in California, we ought to be encouraged that the Governator is expressing his own brand of defiance by proclaiming the state's official "Holiday Tree" is actually a "Christmas tree" and will be as long as he is chief executive. How long before we hear Ahnald warning the ACLU that there will be "no girlie-man holidays" in California?

It also appears that some media outlets, notably Fox News, have devoted more critical attention to the proliferating examples of local PC fanatics poking their poles at people, schools, city councils and companies. These crusaders may be on the public's last nerve.

Coming from a Southern Baptist background, I well understand the roots and importance of the "Separation of Church and State" clash. After all, it was Baptists in North Carolina and Virginia who insisted that James Madison write a Bill of Rights for the U.S. Constitution that included a specific protection against Congress making any religious denomination the established national church.

I'll bet that, being mostly Scots-Irish, were those North Carolina and Virginia Baptists here today they would instantly understand that banning Christmas from the public square is itself a form of religious establishment. And they would thus take about three nanoseconds to tell the anti-Christmas crowd exactly where to put those poles.

Maybe next year around October when the "holiday season" commences, millions more of us will spread that kind of defiance by proclaiming "Merry Christmas" as often as possible, but especially in public places. And "Happy Birthday, Jesus." He is after all the reason for the season.

I'll be posting lightly if at all between now and New Year's, so Merry Christmas to all.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Why Does the MSM Never Get This Part of the Iraq War Casualties Story?

Drop whatever you are doing and go read this from a Powerline.com correspondent, a father with a son leading a machine gun unit in Iraq. The argument over Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's use of an autopen to sign condolence letters to families of casualties is the occasion for the post. But this graph, which appears near the end of the father's extraordinarily candid observations, is worth some consideration:

"By the way, we know families of fallen Marines who've been flown to sites where President Bush was speaking. He met with them privately after his event, never any press coverage, and the families have said that - after being given an agenda for their time with the President and being told that he's on a very tight schedule - Mr. Bush talked to every family member as long as they wanted to talk, never hurried anyone, cried with family, hugged everyone and they all felt like he had nothing else to do for the rest of the day but bring comfort to them.
"For that, George W. Bush has my eternal respect and gratitude. And there was NEVER one word of publicity surrounding any of these meetings with families. (I have pictures to dissuade doubters.)"

This is the kind of story that ought to be part of any reporting that claims to be giving a complete picture of how the things are going on the homefront. It ought also have appeared in the news media long before the recent presidential campaign. Where is the much-vaunted White House press corps and why can't the powers-that-be in the MSM understand how the absence of such reporting undermines their credibility?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Bulletin: Joseph & Mary Arraigned in Discrimination Case

Thanks to One Hand Clapping's Donald Sensing for pointing out this John Leo classic, his "Jesus and the Elves" column, which originally appeared in the 12/13/93 issue of U.S. News & World Report. It is now available at Catholic-pages.com. Just for the record, I am a born-again Southern Baptist who happens to have done graduate work in literature and political philosophy at the University of Dallas, a small Catholic liberal arts school.

Anyway, Leo's column is a superbly written takeoff on the avalanche of PC-isms then and still afflicting our culture, politics, legal system, media, education and entertainment industries. Jesus and Mary can do nothing right, thanks to the PC crowd on hand for the Incarnation in Leo's Bethlehem. The Leo link is in the midst of an excellent discussion by Sensing of the contemporary clashes in the War on Christmas. Lots of intelligent and well-written analyses. And thanks to Hugh Hewitt for drawing my attention to One Hand Clapping.

The Government's Numbers Matter - But Which Ones?

How much are Americans spending this year? The final numbers for 2004 aren't yet in, of course, but data for previous years is available from the federal government. In fact, several numbers for how much Americans spent last year are available in Washington!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, says we spent $4.7 trillion in 2003. That's more than $40,000 each for 115 million households. If you are a business (or a national economy!) that depends in great part upon retail sales, that's a pretty handy number to have around, right?

Well, if the Labor Department number doesn't suit you, the U.S. Department of Commerce has a different number for personal consumption. Commerce claims the right figure for 2003 is $7.76 trillion, or three trillion dollars more.

That's not close enough, not even for government work.

Unfortunately, the Labor vs Commerce data conflict is just one of many facing those who depend upon the government for data upon which to base millions of crucial decisions about the nation's economy, its social policy and physical health, where to allocate scarce resources such as heating oil for the winter and much else.

Journalists also must often depend upon government data in order to understand what's going on in the stock market, housing sales, flu shot distributions and a lot of other things at the top of the nation's news agenda. With Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR) becoming a more common skill in the media, a growing legion of journalists applying statistical analyses to public policy databases find such conflict government data sources troubling.

Dr. Kirk Johnson of The Heritage Foundation's Center for Data Analysis is a former Census Bureau analyst who knows all about such problems with government data because he works with it every day. (Full Disclosure: Johnson is a highly valued colleague of mine on the teaching staff of the CARR Boot Camps hosted by the foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy at the National Press Club). He's written an excellent piece on this issue that is now posted on the Fox News web site. You can read it here.

So Much New Media News Today! (But Still No Word from Newsweek)

No surprise I guess that neither Newsweek nor its managing editor Jon Meachum have acknowledged our "Meachum's Folly" open letter last week. But others, notably Hugh Hewitt, picked up on one of the basic points of that letter, which was to encourage Newsweek and the MSM to look on behalf of their audiences for ways to turn the Blogosphere into powerful new reporting resources.

And why shouldn't the MSM seek out the power of blogs as tools for getting to the facts about people, places and events? Hewitt's post is especially valuable for the variety of ways he suggests the MSM could do so:

"Now, a message for legacy media bigs:
"Time has named a first-ever "
blog of the year," and it is the very blog that not only nailed Rather, but also helped propel Christmas-Eve-not-in-Cambodia into the mainstream and which was credentialed to the Republican National Committee. Look a little closer and you'll find three extraordinarily credentialed legal professionals who have been writing on serious subjects for years.
"Now, Mr. Publisher or Mr. Managing Editor, ask yourself: "How could these guys help me?" Imagine, for example, if Newsweek or U.S.News & World Report were to ink the trio to a "Powerline" op-ed per week, or the New York Times or Washington Post Sunday opinion sections to get a commitment to exclusive re-use of the Powerline blog text for the next two years.

"The Minneapolis Star Tribune ought to have locked these guys up a year ago, but the self-importance of the always-ignored editorial board has probably intimidated the time-servers there from raising the subject of the bloggers who have generated more news and sparks in one year than the Strib has in 50.
"In short, Time has identified the hot blogger(s), and any media property looking for eyeballs ought to be beating a path to their collective door to try and sign the free agents.
Just a thought. A profitable, market-driven thought, so it will probably not occur to the dopes running CNN, to cite one example of legacy media trying very hard to reclaim audience.
"A year ago I suggested a week-end cable show hosted by bloggers with rotating blogger guests. Is MSNBC doing so well that they shouldn't try a program hosted by the Powerline guys? Even execs at PBS ought to be able to figure out that the hundreds of thousands of bloggers out there would love to watch a show about their medium, and who better to host it than Time's bloggers of the year.

"The Powerline gents are already accomplished radio hosts (and my network Salem had better move quickly to syndicate their show, jointly hosted by the Northern Alliance bloggers) and could run a great 60 minute show with nearly every blogger in America willing to fly themselves to wherever to appear on the program. If McEnroe deserved a shot, why not these guys?"

Think of it. If The Washington Post were to sign on Powerline not merely for weekly op-eds and/or the reprint rights but as members of the reporting team, the Posties would have the collective talents, experience and insight of Hindrocket, The Big Trunk and Deacon to help shape the paper's reporting agenda, assist in developing major stories and generate new sources for the reporting staff.

For these and many other reasons, I am certain that within a comparatively short time, a lot of folks in the Shark Tank that is the Post newsroom would be singing "Hallelujahs" and "Amens" whenever somebody mentioned Powerline.

Among those cheering the loudest would be the Post recruiting team because seeing Powerline or another suitable blog gaining a significant newsroom role would command the attention of legions of smart young new media talents who for now wouldn't give a daily newspaper a nanosecond's worth of consideration as a potential employer.

And Powerline is only one of legions of talented, valuable blogs out there that could help reinvigorate the MSM. I developed a good eye for spotting promising newsroom talent during my years as a desk editor and I know the Blogosphere is chock full of smart, hard-working people who would quickly make themselves invaluable.

Actually, "reinvigorate" understates the situation. Everybody in the MSM knows it is in the midst of a crisis that has successfully resisted for more than a decade every attempt by the powers-that-be to make it go away. Nothing has worked because nothing done so far has addressed the foundational problem - the MSM has lost touch. Getting in touch with the Blogosphere would be the first genuinely creative response.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Media Bloggers Association Accepts Tapscott's Copy Desk (Thus Proving the Age of Miracles is Not Over!)

Have these people lost their minds? No, actually they've gained nine new members, including this scenic attraction on the internet highway to and into the 21st Century. Check out the new members here. You will quickly see what an eclectic bunch MBA is. What a wonderful melting pot of diverse, distinct and decisive voices!

Several of the Blogosphere pioneers and drivers are among the founding members, too, including Robert Cox of The National Debate, the dynamic Sheffield duo at RatherBiased.com, Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine, Jay Rosen of PressThink, Patrick Frey of Patterico's Pontifications, Dan Gillmor of eJournal.com, J.D. Lasica of New Media Musings, Tim Porter of First Draft, Rebecca MacKinnon of RConversation.com and the Spinsanity crew, to name just a few of an illustrious bunch of Blogospherians.

I joined MBA because it brings together such a diverse bunch of folks concerned about the multitude of issues arising from the decline of the MSM and the rise of the new media. And frankly because I have a lot to learn about blogging and where better to get the best guidance? Here's how MBA describes itself:

"Media Bloggers Association (MBA) is a non-partisan organization dedicated to promoting MBA members and their blogs.
"The membership includes independent/amateur bloggers, professional bloggers and professional writers who operate a personal blog, as well as those interested in the development of media blogging, citizen journalism, and related endeavors.
"Media bloggers play a valuable role by holding media organizations accountable for their reporting, commenting on the current and future state of the media, supplementing local media coverage, and reporting on the media industry. To support this role, the MBA encourages continuing education for its members and supports the emerging citizen journalism movement.
"Media Bloggers Association believes in the independence and freedom of expression of its members and is not concerned with issues of editorial integrity, journalistic fairness or objectivity of members, nor in resolving disputes between members."

I especially like the bit about citizen journalism and continuing education for bloggers because the former gets to the heart of my job as Director of The Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy and the latter parallels my passion for Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR). Oh yes, I also like one of the rules, which is "plays well with others." Being in the Washington media as a newspaper journalist, I have lots of friends on the Left and Right who REALLY need to learn to do that.

Anyway, you should see an official Media Bloggers Association logo appearing prominently on Tapscott's Copy Desk just as soon as I figure out that html stuff ....

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Open Letter to Newsweek: Here's How to Turn "Meachum's Folly" Into a Postive for Everybody

This has not been a good week for Newsweek. If you doubt it, check out the 67 posts of Vox Blogoli. Together, these folks have assembled a devastating critique of the Dec. 13 issue's "Religion: The Birth of Jesus" by managing editor Jon Meachum.

The Vox Blogoli VI critique compiles a lengthy list of the Dec. 13 feature's serious misrepresentations and distortions of the scientific, historical, archeological and linguistic research on the veracity of the Christmas story and the claims of Christ about Himself. Newsweek doesn't have to endorse this research, but your readers absolutely deserve to hear about it; otherwise, the magazine is failing in its basic journalistic obligation.

Left uncorrected, these flaws leave Newsweek's credibility in a position not unlike that of CBS in the days immediately following the infamous 60 Minutes/Dan Rather story based on fake National Guard memos during the presidential campaign. Let us be clear on this point: Nobody accuses Newsweek of fabricating evidence; the problem is simply ignoring all evidence that is contrary to the magazine's preferred conclusion.

But Newsweek also has an opportunity now to turn a terrible negative into a uniquely positive milestone for itself and for the Mainstream Media (MSM) it represents. How? Instead of digging in and defending the clearly undefendable, as did CBS with Rathergate, turn the current situation around by doing a serious review of the Vox Blogoli VI critique and then making it the heart of a substantial report as a followup to the Dec. 13 feature.

The followup would examine with equal prominence the immense body of serious scholarship that has been conducted in recent decades that clearly answers and in many cases decisively refutes the claims of the so-called "higher critics" of the previous century, as well as those of contemporaries like the Jesus Seminar. You should consider retaining as an editorial consultant for the followup somebody like Hugh Hewitt, the inspiration of Vox Blogoli VI or Dr. Mark Roberts, the Harvard PhD whose searching critique of Meachum's work is stunning in its detail.

Then, seek out ways to deepen and enrich Newsweek's reporting resources by cultivating a continuing relationship with the Blogosphere. Make it an ally on major reporting projects and stories. Where else can Newsweek benefit from the collective wisdom, experience, skills and insights of thousands of people from around the globe? That concentrated intellectual energy could be the best thing ever to happen to Newsweek. And to its readers who hunger to know all of the facts, not just some of them.

Note: This letter was emailed to Meachum earlier today. As of 6:00 p.m. EST 12/16/04, no response has been received.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Tim Porter has More From the Future of the News

We noted in this space a few days ago that Dan "We the Media" Gillmor is leaving The San Jose Mercury News for a "grassroots journalism" endeavour for which he recently secured seed funding. Gillmor's transition struck us as a milestone in another transition - our society's move from getting its news from the MSM to the Internet-inspired new media being the dominant news source.

One of the precursors to the new media is South Korea's OhMyNews.com because it makes thousands of its readers members of its reporting staff. Gillmor was recently interviewed by OhMyNews and several of his comments shed light on where he and the rest of us media mavens are headed.

Here's another name you should know - Tim Porter. He's a former newspaper journalist who has been among the Blogosphere's most active and thoughtful media analysts. In many respects, Porter's take on Gillmor's interview is as interesting as the interview itself. You can read it here. And you should.

Is "The Daily Peg" a Look at the Future of (Local) News?

Remember those "Think Globally, Act Locally" bumper stickers one used to see fairly frequently? Whatever one thinks of the Leftist politics behind the slogan, it might well serve as a maxim for the nature of the new media being generated by the Internet. We can all talk to each other 24/7 around the globe, but we also want to know what is going on down the block, in city hall and at the community center.

I have no doubt the Internet will make possible new media that serve both ends of the communications spectrum and everything in between as well, but what specifically is it going to look like? Is the OhMyNews.com model what we can all expect in our corners of the world in the near future? Or will the "grassroots journalism" project Dan Gillmor is launching soon going to be the new model we all hail? And how about those public wifi networks beginning to spring up here and there across the country? Perhaps those are the seeds of the "21st Century newspaper."

You won't hear me claiming to have the scoop from my own crystal ball, but I do think we can watch an important part of the new media develop courtesy of The Daily Peg. That's the blog of The Pegasus News. If you have a professional or merely speculative interest in where the journalism profession is headed, you need to bookmark The Daily Peg.

The folks behind The Pegasus News are launching what they hope will be the pioneering venture in web-based hyper-local news. Here's how they describe on their blog what they are up to:

"Pegasus News is a local news company that is reinventing the model of local market content and advertising. We intend to launch our new model in every major U.S. city with a monopoly newspaper -- for starters.
"Our beta test will take place in Dallas, Texas in late 2005. We will distribute content via a website, e-newsletters, RSS feeds, a daily print edition, SMS messaging and any other medium we can think of. Except for carrier pigeons. They smell bad."

And here are their "core principles:

· Hyper-local content to the exclusion of all else.
· Rich delivery via as many mediums as possible, with the print edition representing only a small fraction of the content created in a given day.
· Subscription price predicated on level of engagement (higher engagement = lower price).
· Almost exclusively pay-for-performance advertising. Yes, even in print.

Are you intriqued yet? If you aren't, better check your heartbeat cauz this is like getting an email from your as-yet-unborn child.

This one definitely bears watching.

Quick! How Many Newspapers Offer RSS Feeds?

Media Drop has compiled a list of 155 daily newspapers that offer readers RSS feeds. Many of the dailies on the list are campus-affiliated publications. I don't know whether to be surprised that there are so few general circulation dailies on the list or elated that at least there are these. Media Drop's list is not claimed to be comprehensive or authoritative, so if you know of a daily offering an RSS feed that is not on the list, let'em know at: themediaddrop@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Here's the Core of Biblical Scholarship Newsweek Apparently Knows Nothing About, or Chose to Ignore

WELCOME! If you are here for the first time as a result of Hugh Hewitt's column in The Weekly Standard or Vox Blogoli VI on his blog, I hope you find these observations useful and interesting. And I hope you will come back again often and let me know what you think of what you read here. Remember - the Blogosphere is a conversation, not just a visit! And don't miss my letter to Meachum that should be posted by noon today.

Christmas is about the birth of Christ, right? For Newsweek managing editor Jon Meachum, it appears the holiday season is simply the occasion for debunking the myths of Christ that are at the heart of Christmas.

In the process, Meachum provides yet another revealing illustration of the ignorance that blinds so many in the MSM. By ignorance, I don't mean lack of intelligence, as Meachum is an articulate, hard-charging, intelligent journalist who has been something of a phenom since he became Newsweek's managing editor at a tender age. No, I mean ignorance of any knowledge that conflicts with or otherwise doesn't comport well with the received liberal orthodoxy about the allegedly mythical basis of orthodox Christianity. It is this sort of ignorance of the existence and content of "the other side" of so many issues that is so frequently the distinctive characteristic that hobbles the MSM.

Meachum's story is the topic at hand for blogger-extraordinaire Hugh Hewitt's latest installment of his Vox Blogoli feature. Periodically, Hugh selects a significant topic and throws it out there for comment by other bloggers. The result is a catalog of blogger analysis, comment and resourcing devoted to the topic being discussed. Be sure and check out Hugh's Meachum Vox Blogoli here. At last count, Hugh had linked to more than two dozen bloggers, including Tapscott's Copy Desk!

I'm not going to launch into a detailed analysis of the many logical flaws, evidentiary omissions and outright misrepresentations of the state of scholarship that mark Meachum's cover feature. After you read Meachum's effort, you should spend a good amount of time with the knowledgable, logically precise and spiritually loving critique by Mark Roberts here. I guarantee you that regardless of your views on spiritual issues Roberts will impress upon you the extent and quality of scholarship in a variety of disciplines that has been done in recent decades and which supports the scientific and historical accuracy of the traditional understanding of Christmas. and indeed of the Old and New Testament Scriptures.

What I want to do is provide three resources for those who wish to explore this topic further. First, for those seeking a concise and highly readable popular explanation of the abundant scientific, archeological and linguistic evidence that supports the literal resurrection of Christ, His Virgin Birth and Jesus claims about Himself, there is no better resource than Josh McDowell's "Evidence that Demands a Verdict." This resource is available in a two-volume paperback available in most larger Christian bookstores, as well as in revised single volume edition titled "The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict," which recently updated the arguments and scholarship.

As a representative of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1964, McDowell has spoken to an estimated five million people in 53 countries. (Full Disclosure: McDowell's campus presentation on these issues when I was a college freshman in 1969 at Oklahoma State University was instrumental in the development of my own faith.) He's a layman, not a scholar, but it quickly becomes obvious for the person encoutering his work for the first time that McDowell is an exceptionally careful and comprehensive researcher who effectively and honestly confronts the logical and historical difficulties so prominent in liberal Biblical criticism.

McDowell is perhaps at his best in chapters such as "The Trilemma: Lord, Liar or Lunatic," which addresses the argument that Jesus was merely a great teacher or moralist who never actually claimed to be the Son of God, and "The Resurrection: Hoax or History." When you grasp the significance of the penalty for failure commonly imposed on the military unit assigned to guard the tomb following the crucifixion - regardless if it was a Roman Kustodian or a Jewish Temple Guard - you begin to see the logical impossibility of the liberal argument that Jesus disciples stole his body and then propagated the lie of the Resurrection.

Second, former Chicago Tribune business journalist Lee Strobel's "The Case for ..." series represents a highly readable, comprehensive look at much of the ground covered by McDowell, but from the more skeptical perspective of somebody who learned long ago to "check it out, even when your mother says she loves you. "The Case for Faith: A Journalist's Personal Investigation of Toughest Objections to Christianity" lays out the critics objections - much of which will be familiar from your reading of Meachum's recent Newsweek piece - and then marshalls an amazing barrage of facts, analyses and logical deduction from history, biology, the medical sciences and much else.

Third, for those who really want to get into these issues, an invaluable and fascinating resource is "When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties" available from Amazon.com by biblical scholars Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. Geisler and Howe address the commonly expressed query from skeptics: "How can you believe the Bible when it is so riddled with contradictions and inaccuracies?" Geisler and Howe literally start with Genesis and go through every known objection to specific passages in the Old and New Testaments. Along the way, they focus on the logical, historical, archeological and scientific evidence for and against the objection. Where there are unresolveable difficulties (there are a few), Geisler and Howe acknowledge them forthrightly. But in the vast majority of cases, they provide a convincing demonstration of their case that the Bible is in fact the most historically and scientifically accurate work ever written by men.

Even if you read only a small portion of the work by McDowell, Strobel, Geisler and Howe, you will very likely find yourself wondering if Meachum purposely ignored them or was simply unaware of the scholarship they present. Either way, Newsweek has again illustrated the MSM's Achilles Heel - refusing to open its eyes to the wider world beyond liberal shibboleths.

Jay Rosen Has Great Advice for CBS News: Stop Lecturing, Start Listening

People responsible for selling stuff like cars and computers take it as a given these days that to be successful it is essential that you listen to your customers, figure out what they want and need and give it to them at the lowest profitable price. And then be obsessed about making sure they have a good experience with your product after they buy it.

Put another way, you just can't force a granola-and-Volvo-loving liberal soccer mom in Seattle to buy the same big-tired, big-engine Ford F-150 full-size King Cab pickup that makes an Arkansas farmer's heart go pitty-pat. You gotta give both of them what they want the way they want it when they want it. And to do that, you gotta listen to them. Don't even think about telling them what they should want.

Jay Rosen, chairman of the NYU journalism department and chief editorial spark behind the PressThink blog, puts it in somewhat more eloquent terms, but that maxim is the essence of his advice to the CBS executives now trying to sort out the wreckage that is the reputation of the Tiffany Network's news division in the wake of Rathergate:

"Before they decide who gets the anchor chair, or what happens with CBS News, they could engage in an extraordinary, one-of-a-kind, national act of public listening, where the entire divison, CBS News, just listens to Americans state their views about broadcast news. Lots of Americans, lots of views, lots of time to hear about all sides of the problem."

Odds are not good that the CBS folks will even think about heeding Rosen's excellent advice, but that will be their great loss. In the absence of pursuing something very similar to what Rosen suggests, the future is likely to be rather less than bright for CBS News.

That said, PressThink is one of those sites that ought to be required reading for all journos, and those who care about what journos - MSM professionals and new media "amatuers" alike - do.

Can the Blogosphere Report Better Than the MSM?

Check out Patrick Ruffini's excellent discussion of the Blogosphere's reporting capabilities - or more accurately, the lack of such skills. I think Patrick underestimates the reporting power demonstrated by the blog leaders in Rathergate such as Littlegreenfootballs.com and Powerline.com, as they advanced the story of the fake Bush National Guard memos.

But Ruffini is right in noting that the Blogosphere's strengths presently reside in the context of a commentariat rather than a formal reporting corps. His recent discovery of South Korea's OhMyNews.com, which puts thousands of readers to work as reporters and editors, suggests to Ruffini a possible model for a reporting Blogosphere:

"I also like the strong reporting component that OhmyNews brings, because it would bring a focus currently missing in the blogosphere. The fact is that very rarely do we get beyond scrutinizing secondary sources. Too few people are doing with Sound Politics is doing in the Washington recount, and that is looking at the actual results, talking directly to officials, and incorporating reports from the ground. While a few of us may do more serious gumshoe work than Dana Milbank on any given day, most of us still rely on links to mainstream news organizations for most of our material."

I do wonder about the survivability of the OhMyNews model to the lawyer-happy U.S. market, thanks to the South Korean organization's lack of a systematic fact-checking capability. You can read an interesting analysis of OhMyNews in Dan Gillmor's "We the Media" here. See especially pages 125-129.

But something not unlike OhMyNews is clearly in the offing as the Blogosphere and the other new media of the 21st century converge and evolve. We just don't know yet much about exactly how it's going to look. Meanwhile, give Patrick's post a full read.

Next Up on Book Notes: Dennis Bailey's "The Open Society: Why the 21st Century Calls for More Openness - Not Less"

The subtitle to Dennis Bailey's book is what caught my eye, as it summarizes, at least in general, my own view about the need for greater opennness in government and elsewhere in public policy. I hope to be back with a review in this space by the end of the week.

Book Notes: Webb's "Born Fighting" Offers Lessons for Blogosphere

Thanks to Glenn Reynolds, I picked up James Webb's "Born Fighting" last week and found it to be among the best, if not the best, historical and sociological treatments of the role of the Scots-Irish in winning the American Revolution and subsequently providing the core characteristics and values that have shaped the American nation. I should also add that, being the product of a midlands Scot ancestry on my mother's side and having grown up in the urban Oklahoma of the 1950s and 60s, my enthusiasm for Webb's work perhaps lacks a certain objectivity.

Even so, there is a passage in Webb's book that I think offers an intriquing insight into the Blogosphere's success in shaping to a great degree the urgency and direction of the 2004 campaign. But first a little background. Webb's central thesis is that the descendants of the Scots-Irish settled the mountain South, then expanded westward all the way to California and into the American Midwest.

Over the years, the fierce individualism, patriotism, identification with evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant Christianity and uncompromising anti-authoritarianism that marked the Scots-Irish came to be the underlying and defining strengths of America generally. Today, these characteristics are at the center of the Red State culture and political outlook.

But to a great extent the descendants of the Scots-Irish remain outsiders because many of the issues most important to them are either purposely unaddressed or merely given lip service by the WASP GOP and New Left Democrat establishments. Webb notes that:

"...America's political elites, both Republican and Democrat, have grown together into an almost indiscernible 'hybrid royalty' that offers [outsiders] little to choose from in terms of how the nation is actually being governed. Grand useless speeches are made on issues such as flag-burning, homosexual marriage and abortion, but little is said or done about such vital matters as the near-nationwide breakdown of public education, the mind-boggling rate of incarceration in America's prison system or the blatant, government-sponsored discrimination inherent in what are now called diversity programs."

One need not agree with every jot and tittle of Webb's analysis in order to see a strong parallel here with the Blogosphere's impact on the MSM. One way of viewing that impact is understanding that the new media has largely forced the MSM to address lots of issues that would otherwise have remained invisible.

Perhaps one measure of the new media's impact on government and public policy will be in how successfully new issues that concern millions of Red State Americans such as the catastrophic consequences of public education's ongoing collapse, government-sanctioned racial discrimination and the continuing crime rate that feeds the prisons are addressed during President Bush's second term in the White House.

We might add to these concerns noted by Webb others such as the continuing failure of Washington to secure America's borders and ports to terrorist infiltrators, the inability of Congress to get off the pork barrel drug and the virtual exile from public places of all expression remotely linked with the generally Christian faith, values and traditions of the clear majority of Americans.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Gillmor Waves Bye-Bye to MSM, Starts "Grassroots Journalism" Project

"We the Media" author and pioneering blogger Dan Gillmor is leaving The San Jose Mercury News for what he describes as a "grassroots journalism" project for which he recently received seed funding. He promises more details about the project in the near future as it develops.

It may not seem like such a big deal today, but years from now I predict Gillmor's leaving the Mercury News for his new venture will be seen as a milestone in the transition from the MSM as our dominant media to the era of internet-driven new media. I say this because Gillmor grew up professionally in the daily MSM newsroom but was among the first to recognize the vast significance of and start thinking seriously about internet-driven new media.

If you haven't read "We the Media," you should. Check out the book's web site here. Gillmor's key point is this:

"Tomorrow's news reporting and pr0duction will be more of a conversation, or a seminar. The lines will blur between producers and consumers, changing the role of both in ways we're only beginning to grasp now.
"The communication network itself will be a medium for everyone's voice, not just the few who can afford to buy multi-million dollar printing presses, launch satelites or win the government's permission to squat on the public's airwaves.
"This evolution - from journalism as lecture to journalism as a conversation or seminar - will force the various communities of interest to adapt. Everyone, from journalists to the people we cover to our sources and the former audience, must change their ways."

Being a journalist whose primary focus has always been on public policy issues and the events and people who dominate the nation's capital, I recognized a long time ago that the internet would "change everything" in media and government. The only question was how long it would take and what it would look like once the transformation was underway and then completed. "We the Media" does the best job I've seen anywhere in describing why the internet makes the transformation all but inevitable and projects forward with what I think is great insight from what is already happenning all around us.

In our brief email exchanges, it was clear that our political views diverge rather radically, but everybody in the media and public policy community can learn a great deal from Gillmor. In a very real way, he was the inspiration for Tapscott's Copy Desk because reading "We the Media" pushed me over the edge to take the plunge into the Blogosphere.

I wish him great success with his new venture.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Here's Proof That Not Everybody in the MSM is Asleep at the Wheel

This may be hard for some of you out there in the Blogosphere to believe but there really are lots of serious, creative people in the MSM who understand the challenges and opportunities presented by the new media. Tim Porter is one of those folks and his "Intentional Journalism" posting today is a fine illustration of that fact.

Among much else, it contain's Tim's five recomendations to MSM newsroom powers-that-be for how they can cut the journalese BS and reinvigorate their organizations. I don't necessarily agree with everything Tim suggests, but, after spending more years than I care to remember in a bunch of daily newspaper newsrooms, I can tell you he's got something important to say. Definitely worth a read here.

CBS' Blog Bash is a Threat to the Free Press

Probably nobody is surprised that some precincts of the MSM are or soon will strike back at the Blogosphere. That CBS is the first out of the blocks is surprising because one might think they learned first hand in Rathergate the risks of using the news process as a weapon against a perceived opponent. Captain's Quarters has a superb analysis of the particulars of the CBS effort, which you can read here.

I have no doubt the Blogosphere will respond effectively to the CBS attack. What concerns me more about it, though, is what it says about the deleterious implications of the CBS story visavis freedom of speech, thanks to the McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002 and the U.S. Supreme Court's upholding of that law late last year.

What's the connection? Justice Clarence Thomas eloquently described it in his dissenting opinion (which is highly recommended to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid!): "The chilling endpoint of the Court's reasoning is not difficult to see: outright regulation of the press." The reasoning Thomas is referring to is the Court's majority holding that Congress can regulate speech if it is defined as political speech, the First Amendment's injunction that Congress "make no law regarding freedom of speech" notwithstanding. You can read my columns critiquing that opinion here and here.

Now, what has that to do with CBS' attack on the Blogosphere? The CBS report hinges on its discovery that two prominent South Dakota bloggers were paid by Jon Thune, the former Republican congressman who unseated former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. Both bloggers were enthusiastic and effective advocates for Thune, but neither noted their financial arrangement with Thune during the campaign.

Here's the key lines in the CBS report:
"At minimum, the role of blogs in the Daschle-Thune race is a telling harbinger for 2006 and 2008. Some blogs could become new vehicles for the old political dirty tricks. Like all media, blogs hold the potential for abuse. Experts point out that blogs' unregulated status makes them particularly attractive outlets for political attack."

Campaign finance reform supporters would argue that those Thune payments to the bloggers made them campaign agents, thus their postings amounted to campaign contributions, which are subject to FEC regulation. CBS doesn't say that, but the experts it quotes don't make the obvious point in rebuttal - blogs aren't alone in being unregulated communications vehicles i.e. conveyors of news and opinion. So is, just to take one example at random, CBS.

Nor do those experts say anything at all about what happens after bloggers are defined as suitable subjects of regulation for campaign speech. If communications vehicles like blogs are subject to such regulation, why shouldn't vehicles like The New York Times or CBS? Since the object of McCain-Feingold is to minimize the impact of political speech by those with "too much" money, the speech is the problem, not the money. Thus, the logic leads inevitably to regulation of all political speech, including that which is published by the MSM.

Just like Justice Thomas predicted.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Blogosphere Could Expose FEMA Disaster Relief Abuse

Just as it is already doing with the MSM, the Blogosphere can generate more openness and accountability in government. To see why, check out this email I received today from Gloria Pappas in response to Townhall.com's posting of my latest Knight Ridder Tribune FOI Series column:

"Mr.Tapscott, thank you for publishing this article today. I learned some of what you reported when I volunteered as a Red Cross Disaster Helper in South Alabama a few years ago when that terrible hurricane hit. The water table of the ocean was actually raised so high that the water came into the bottom floors of the hotels close to the beach. The groups and businesses mostly hurt were those who could afford property on or very close to the beach and the hotels and businesses-the kinds of properties most likely to have private insurance on them.
What I learned there though shocked me and was very disappointing.The whole natural "disaster" act of God was used to refurnish properties like decades old trailers and huts and lean tos, and shacks. Some of them according to one owner who confessed it to me, 'had been paid for three times by FEMA.' In other words, every time a hurricane comes ashore the fraud artists turn out in droves. The attempt to turn acts of God into a financial windfall of more money than some would have in a lifetime of no skills and no interests in gaining any, is reknown!
The idea that FEMA can or should attempt to indemnify owners of shacks, trailers, lean-tos and other inadequate housing, or even the very rich for acts of God is preposterous. It is not the duty of government to do that! It is not the duty of taxpayers to provide a billion dollar slush fund for the governors of coastal states. It is not the duty of the federal government to indemnify anybody. Thank you for publishing the article! I hope it accomplishes great things."

My column was based on reporting by The Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and describes some of the newspaper's findings from its FOIA to FEMA for details about who received how much disaster relief earlier this year. The column was not meant to denigrate the tremendous work of FEMA, state and local officials or private relief workers, but rather to focus attention on the need for FOIA laws to prevent such abuse of tax dollars as was reported by the Sun-Sentinel.

What caught my eye in Gloria's email was the FEMA aid beneficiary claiming he had been paid three times for the same structure. How many verifiable examples of disaster aid abuse could be generated by bloggers in Florida and elsewhere along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts? My guess is lots. And the day is not far off when bloggers are routinely doing such accountability journalism on programs at all levels of government. The question now is how do we encourage that development?

Bennett Nails New Media's Impact on Politics, Government

Did you read Bill Bennett's "Whither the Mainstream Media" on RealClearPolitics.com yet? If not, you are behind the curve, my friend, because Bennett has written what I believe to be the most discerning analysis yet of the implications of the New Media for politics and government. There is much more to the piece but these two points strike me as the core of Bennett's observations:
First, one in five Americans now get the bulk of their news online, double the number from just four years ago. Bennett argues that is the most significant statistic to come out of the 2004 campaign:

"After the election, many statistics emerged. Perhaps the most interesting do not have to do with the mere shifts in the Catholic, Jewish, Black, or Hispanic votes. But, rather, why those shifts took place. Those shifts took place in part because of these statistics from the Pew Research Center: 41% voters say they got at least some of their news about the 2004 election online. Further, 21% relied on the Internet for most of their election news, nearly double the number in 2000."

Think about that for a second - we are only at the cusp of a "wired" society but fully a fifth of us depend upon web sites for our news. Put another way, in less than a decade, we've moved from virtually no one depending upon the web as their main news source to a fifth of us doing so. Somebody correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that is a significantly faster rate of growth than we saw with television news during the 1950s and 1960s.
Bennett's second point is what these web news addicts are doing with their constantly expanding universe of information sources. They are shaping the rest of the media, especially Talk Radio, and in the process enriching, enlivening, correcting and directing the national conversation on public policy issues:

"People now get their news and opinion on the Internet and relay it to talk radio. They then think about it, research it further, and discuss it on the Internet, in email, and in the national conversations that take place on shows like mine all the time ...
"This new media makes news, national priorities, and fact-checking a much more democratic thing, giving all consumers of news—all citizens—a new birthright to their democracy and to their citizenship. It empowers all of us with the ability to find the truth of a story or a claim, to make judgments rather than have judgments made for us."

With a traditional MSM outlet like CBS News or The New York Times, there is no response mechanism for news consumers, they must take what they are given or leave it. The New Media is truly inter-active and democratic, compared to the one-sided dictatorial pronouncements of the MSM. Politicians, bureaucrats and MSM journalists who don't understand this new reality sooner or later will be Ratherized.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Quick, Drop What You Are Doing and Go Read This Great Piece on the MSM by Bill Bennett!

As usual, Bennett connects the dots in an original and enlightening way, particularly on the impact of the Blogosphere on Talk Radio. More here on Bennett in this space tomorrow. For now, I've been teaching a Computer-Assisted Research and Reporting (CARR) seminar for a smart bunch of Paul Miller Fellows of the National Press Foundation today and I am bushed. Plus, the annual Heritage Foundation Christmas Media party just got started and ... well, you can guess the rest of that sentence!

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Why Did The Washington Post Allow Itself to be Suckered by Waxman?

Being a long-time newspaper journalist, I know a lot of folks at The Washington Post and believe it contains great journalism every day. Yes, it often has a distinct liberal bias; even so, lots of solid journalism appears on its pages.
That is why it was so disheartening to find a front page story by Ceci Connolly in Thursday's Post that reported the "findings" of a report by Rep. Henry Waxman and the minority staff of the House Government Reform Committee as fact, without apparently making any attempt to check easily verifiable claims that are central to the debate about federal funding of Abstinence-Only sex education programs.
The bad new is that in the process the Post provides a vivid illustration of how the MSM hurts itself whenever it fails for whatever reason to perform even the most basic fact-checking of a government official or report.
The good news is that this episode also provides a great example of how the Blogosphere could be used to enhance and strengthen the quality of MSM reporting on a significant public policy issue.
To cite just one example of the Post's uncritical acceptance of the Waxman Report's claims, the story reports that "nonpartisan researchers have been unable to document measurable benefits of the abstinence-only model."
In fact, there are at least four peer-reviewed data-driven studies that have appeared in recent years in respected academic and professional journals that document the effectiveness of Abstinence-Only sex education programs. Descriptions and links to each of the studies can be found here in a lengthy analysis of claims for and against Abstinence-Only sex education by The Heritage Foundation's Robert Rector.
Additional examples of the Waxman Report's flaws can be found here in a web memo by another Heritage analyst, Melissa Pardue.
What is especially puzzling about Connolly's story is that she is among the top reporters in the shark tank that is the Post newsroom, yet her story uncritically accepts as gospel the assertions of a report by a congressman and committee staff known for being among the most partisan on Capitol Hill.
Waxman's self-serving claim that no data exists to verify a basic argument of Abstinence-Only proponents should have raised a red flag for Connolly and her editors at the Post. The bad news, of course, is that it didn't.
Here's the good news: Connolly could have run Waxman's claims by any number of bloggers on the Left and Right who would have gladly given the Report a quick fisking (i.e. fact-checking) before the story was published. The bloggers would have provided Connolly a variety of contrary sources and facts that would have enriched her ultimate reporting on the Waxman Report. Post readers would have been given a more comprehensive and accurate report on the claims pro and con regarding Abstinence-Only sex education, thus advancing the public's understanding of an important issue.
Instead, the Post now has egg on its face because it allowed its front page to be used by an advocate for one side of a major public policy debate to discredit the other side on the basis of patently false and misleading claims. This is the kind of thing that is destroying the MSM's credibility and thus its economics. How long until the leadership of the Post and other major MSM organs wake up to this fact?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Big Broadband Gains in Third Quarter 04

The number of blogs "out there" is increasing at an incredible rate. The growth rate of broadband subscribers is growing rather handsomely, too. Which is good news for the Blogosphere and the future of new media. Check out LRG's latest data here.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

NewsFlash! The New York Times Discovers Reading Christians

Periodically, one of the MSM bastions publishes a breathless story announcing, often with the furrowed editorial brow of deep concern, something about evangelical Christians that has been common knowledge among those folks for years, sometimes even decades. These stories invariably illustrate how truly out of touch the MSM has become. The latest illustration of this phenomenon is found in this past Sunday's New York Times' story by Rachel Dondio on faith-based publishing.

Dondio finds it "mind-boggling" that evangelical Christian authors like Rick Warren can sell 20 million copies of his "The Purpose-Driven Life," while former President Bill Clinton manages a mere 1.9 million sales of his "My Life." I suspect that many of Dondio's New York readers would find this data anything but mind-boggling, especially considering that Joel Osteen, another of the evangelical figures she quotes, not only sells books like hotcakes but filled Madison Square Garden two nights last month. Presumably, those Garden seats weren't filled by Bible-thumping Baptist primitives bussed in from Tennessee especially for the occasion.

Anyway, nobody should be surprised that millions of people who have known for years about the immense economic, social and political impact of Christian publishing - and Christian music, Christian entertainment, Christian counselling, etc. etc. - would be among the legions of folks abandoning the MSM for new media like Fox News, Talk Radio and the Blogosphere.

Also, having witnessed the several mini-movements since the early 1980s among my MSM brethren to accord the religion beat more attention, articles like Dondio's provide additional evidence that traditional journalists too often are unable to suspend stereotypical thinking about people of faith and thus are incapable of doing the beat justice.

These things said, check out the entire Dondio piece and Joel Rosenberg's biting analysis thereof on his blog here. Communities of faith are uniquely suited to being among those pioneering the new media made possible by the Internet. Sadly, it often appears the MSM is determined to do everything possible to hasten that process along.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Here's the Media Company I Want to Work for, Too!

Amid all the sturm und drang of the MSM's travails, the alleged evils of media concentration, Rathergate, convergence, etc. etc., the Internet is sparking the creation of a new journalism. Media pundits, talking heads and futurists have been saying so for at least a decade, but who can name the existing media company, new or otherwise, that actually embodies the culture and products that can reasonably be expected of a new journalism? The work of some among the top bloggers illustrates the underlying principles of an emerging new journalism, but only on a limited scale and typically only within the narrow confines of one or a few public policy issues.

What will a new journalism media company look like whenever it appears? Online Journalism Review's Mark Glaser has a superb piece on Professor Jay Rosen's always stimulating PressThink that lays out a dozen characteristics he believes will characterize such a company. Glaser's piece, as well as the succeeding commens from Rosen and others, are well worth a careful read.

In the meantime, my two-cents worth revolves around these points that I believe are at the heart of Glaser's vision:

"A group of like-minded people who are willing to start from scratch and build a new way of doing smart, groundbreaking citizen journalism. Not too amateur, not too professional but something in between.
"A company that is flexible and knowledgeable, with people who 'get it' and understand how they can tap the latest technology to improve the craft of journalism -- and help it survive. "These new journalists would blend the research done online via search and databases, the production process of a content management system, the community involvement of bulletin boards and
wikis, and the delivery mechanisms of RSS, blogs and mobile platforms.
"Rather than teach old dogs new tricks, employ techno-literate people from inception. The 'everyone gets it' company.
"A commitment to provide more transparency for all writers and editors, including political leanings, conflicts of interest and other details that will help readers know who they are. A balance of privacy for journalists with the public's need to know who they are and where they come from."

First, I think Glaser undervalues the skills of the new journalists. They won't be "somewhere between" the amateur and professional, but will instead redefine both of those terms, which are themselves relics of a bureacratic era. Today, "professionals" work for MSM companies, amateurs don't. The presumption, at least in the minds of the professionals, is that they alone are able to do journalism. This is credentialism at its worst.

I suggest that with the emerging new journalism, the relevant distinction won't be professional versus amateur but rather contributor or constructor versus detractor. We are rapidly reaching a point where practically anybody and everybody who has even rudimentary web access can provide some level of "reporting." The important distinction will be reporting that expands the universe of verifiable knowledge or fact about an event, personality, program or product, and reporting that doesn't, either because it is found to be false, inaccurate, incomplete or otherwise value-less. How exactly this is going to look on a resume or be embodied in law and regulation, I don't know, but the day when we all look back and say "yeah, we should have seen this coming" is not that far off in my judgement.

Second, when the nature of reporting changes, so will the nature of much of what is reported. This will be most evident in government and other institutions with an impact on public policy. The kind of transparency that will be required as a matter of course among new journalists will force far greater levels of transparency throughout government and industry, too. This will be mostly a blessing to a society that views itself as a representative democracy in which the rulers answer to the ruled, not the other way around. But it will present some unique challenges as well.

Consider, for example, the area of government contracting. The federal government now is party to more than 350,000 contracts that cover purchases of more than $200 billion annually for everything from aluminum to zinc. Getting information about the terms of those contracts, how efficiently and effectively they are being fulfilled and who is responsible for managing their fulfillment is virtually impossible because the government's internal systems like the Past Performance Information Retrievel System (PPIRS) are closed to the public.

In a society in which the media includes legions of government and private contractor employees who are themselves reporters, keeping a system like PPIRS closed will become all but impossible. That will be good from the perspective of maintaining public accountability of the bureaucracy and its friends in industry. But how will an open PPIRS keep proprietary national security information secure? See the potential for the new journalism being the source of blessings and headaches we can't even begin to contemplate today?

These are issues that need to be vented and assessed now, not after a terrorist regime (like the Mullahs who presently run Iran) is able to detonate a 5 megaton warhead in Manhattan in part because the security provisions of Uncle Sam's contract with a U.S. weapons developer were available on the web.

More Musings on MSM and Rathergate

Chris Weinkopf offers some insightful thoughts in American Enterprise, which Powerline thoughtfully quoted at length:

A couple of days ago, we quoted from an article on Rathergate by Chris Weinkopf in American Enterprise. Reader James Phillips points out that it's now available online, here:
"Seldom in the course of a Presidential campaign does a media drama upstage the election itself, but for a short while in September, Americans tuned out politics and tuned in to 'The Decline and Fall of Dan Rather.'
"The drama began when CBS posted forged National Guard documents on its Web site and, that same evening, an attentive 'Freeper' (a regular at the conservative FreeRepublic.com Internet site) named Buckhead raised suspicions of fraud.
"From there, intrepid bloggers Powerlineblog.com and Little Green Footballs, the Woodward and Bernstein of Rathergate, began to document the mounting signs of forgery.
"By the next afternoon, the country was abuzz. Rather and his supporters denounced those who questioned the credibility of the anti-Bush memos as 'partisan political ideological forces.' "Former CBS News executive Jonathan Klein infamously dismissed the truth-telling bloggers as 'a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.' But thanks to the cyber sleuths, it was soon obvious that the memos were phony.
"This was not a complicated case: Within hours of CBS's airing of the story, some gifted amateurs in Middle-western suburbs [Ed.: Ouch!] had proven that the documents could not be genuine. CBS had enthusiastically embraced the flimsy claims that Bush had failed to live up to his National Guard duties simply because most everyone in the elite-media circle wanted to believe them.
"But as 'The Decline and Fall of Dan Rather' showed, reporters who derive evidence from their political conclusions, instead of the other way around, won't have free rein anymore. Thanks to blogs and other 'new' media, the prejudices of the old media princes will no longer go unquestioned.
It's about time."