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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ridenour Takes Apart Bloomberg's Carlson, Demonstrates Need for Footnoted Journalism

Bloomberg.com columnist Margaret Carlson wrote a column this week in which she bewailed the passing of a kindler, gentler politics and lamented the descent of the American public debate to the new low of Rush Limbaugh accusing Michael J. Fox of being a fraud.

It's a typical Carlson column, long on assertion but short on documented facts. And it serves as exactly the kind of column Amy Ridenour thinks demonstrates the need for footnotes in contemporary journalism. In the course of systematically taking apart Carlson's column, Amy also responds to my assessment of her suggestion regarding footnotes.

Here's just one point on which Amy uses Carlson to make her case for footnotes:

"Carlson says: 'One ad ran in Missouri, where Republican Senator Jim Talent is locked in an unexpectedly close race with challenger Claire McCaskill...' Unexpectedly close? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch on January 22, 2006, said: 'With the election 10 months away, state Auditor Claire McCaskill is in a statistical dead heat with the man she hopes to replace in the U.S. Senate, incumbent Jim Talent.'"

Sort of reminds me of a cat toying with its prey.

Obviously, I do think Amy's footnote suggestion is a good one, but applying the idea to an opinion column is one thing, doing it with a news story is a different sort of challenge.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Blogs Are Reviving Entrepreneurial Journalism, So Where are the News Tycoons of the Right?

Excellent interview today in the Online Journalism Review with Debbie Galant, the former reporter for The New York Times who is the chief force behind Barista of Bloomfield Avenue, one of the more successful illustrations of how blogs can be platforms for what is often called "hyperlocal journalism."

Galant has gone from a one-woman operation two years ago to now having a couple of paid staffers, as well as a growing readership, regular advertisers and an increasing need for band-width. During the OJR interview, she provides a bunch of interesting insights into how to build a mere blog into a genuine news site.

Along the way, I think Galant points to one of the key aspects of the Blogosphere as it develops New Media forms and processes. Essentially, the blog encourages a revival of an independent, entrepreneurial form of journalism to rival the dominant corporate model of the old media.

And that raises a question of particular relevance to the Right side of the Blogosphere: Where are the news tycoons of the Right who recognize that "hyperlocal" can mean covering a neighborhood, or it can just as easily mean covering Congress, the White House, the political scene, or carefully defined parts thereof?

That the independence is especially evident on the editorial side comes as no surprise to veteran bloggers. Even so, it's interesting to see a former MSMer like Galant so positively acknowledge the independence in the OJR interview:

"I'd say I'm also much more courageous now. I remember one of the first posts I wrote was about a fundraiser in 2004 for Kerry in the backyard of some very wealthy liberal. I wrote a teasing post and I remember really struggling over it, afraid people would be mad at me.

"And they were but that's the kind of thing I can do now in an instant. I'm much more likely to just press the button and be decisive and not worry about who's going to like this and who isn't going to like this."

The entrepreneurial spirit is seen in the recognition that it's not enough just to be able to write well and stir up controversy. To grow a viable economic tool, Galant notes, the people with a blog-based publication have to learn some business skills as well:

"It was like claiming the territory of being almost like a newspaper single-handedly. It's not very glamorous from the viewpoint of new media as a business and nobody talks about that. But it's absolutely important for Liz and I to rationalize it as a business and to make it work as an organism, so that we have procedures, we are allowed to have vacations and go out of town.

"So that when somebody has agreed to be an advertiser, somebody is making sure that the bill is sent, and the money is collected and all those things. Writing is natural since that's what we have done professionally, but it's a whole different set of skills that has to be learned to run a business."

Now, here's question I want to pose for those on the Right side of the Blogosphere: Why aren't more of us moving to develop economically viable blog-based news sites? Yes, some of our blogs are generating sufficient advertising income to become attractive economic propositions, but the editorial model remains essentially opinion-based. And there are efforts among us - notably Wizbang, Powerline and a few others - to incorporate news functions into established opinion blogs.

But why is nobody on the Right side of the Blogosphere building news-focused blogs? We've complained for decades about how the Left-dominated MSM slants the news, but now we have the ideal tool for creating and growing a whole new crop of news sites to replace the MSM, yet how many such sites are there?

Robert Cox, president and founder of the Media Bloggers Association, published an oped in The Washington Examiner earlier this month that comes at these issues from a related perspective. I strongly encourage you to read the Cox piece and the OJR interview, then come back here and let the rest of us know your thoughts via the comments.

UPDATE: Latest daily circ figures show more declines

Only the moderately populist/conservative New York Post shows significant circulation gains, while rest of the nation's top dozen dailies continue to lose readers. Go here for Editor & Publisher's story.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Would Footnoting Improve MSM Reporting?

Amy Ridenour thinks so. It would depend upon what was footnoted, of course, which means reporting assertions of the "most right-thinking people are liberals on this issue" sort would likely continue unless the regimen included all assertions subject to verification.

Footnoting would also present a problem when sources insist on anonymity. Yes, there has been vastly too much anonymous sourcing in the MSM for decades, but the fact is there are some stories that cannot be done without such sources.

Possible alternative - Instead of an identifying footnote, the reporter could describe the grounds for granting the source anonymity, as a means of reassuring readers of the veracity of the information provided.

Another alternative: Require that the email address of the reporter be published at the end of every story posted on the media organization's web site and reporters be required to respond credibly to all inquiries seeking regarding the grounds upon which a story is based.

To be sure, the Internet removes entirely the argument that there isn't sufficient room to footnote a daily news story. And the movement to make some newsrooms and the news-gathering process itself more transparent with measures like live web-casting news meetings and editorial board meetings indicates at least some recognition of the problem.

But while I'm not holding my breath, it would be a worthwhile exercise for bloggers to begin campaigning for MSM footnoting - and practicing it themselves as well.

What do you think?

News Media

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Google Announces New Custom Search Engine and It's 1984 All Over Again

Google's stock price hit another new high earlier this week and the digital giant also announced a new custom search tool that can be easily placed on a web site. The tool allows the host to tailor the results that will appear and the priorities assigned to each.

The good news here is that the new Google search tool allows the host to control the results of searches. The bad news here is that the new Google search tool allows the host to control the results of searches.

Dale "Okie on the Lam" Baker explains everything here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why Accommodating Terrorism Encourages a New Holocaust

Do you understand the "war within the war on terror?" Ruth King of Americans for a Safe Israel does, as does Democracy Project's Bruce Kesler. This is a must-read. If only every journalist in the MSM understood these facts.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

We're All Part of Ham Nation Now

Mary Katharine Ham is the next media sensation from the Right. How do I know this? Because I have seen her debut "Ham Nation" videoblog. This woman's informed, understated, cool, bemused attitude could add mountains of credibility and hipness to any mainstream media organization's presentation.

Am I biased in this assessment of Ham's talent? Possibly. She is, after all, a member of The Washington Examiner's Blog Board of Contributors and a former colleague at The Heritage Foundation.

Regardless, you heard it here first - Ham is headed for stardom in front of the camera!

Coburn, Dutcher Call for Oklahoma Legislature to Approve State-Level Internet Spending Database

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Brandon Dutcher, Vice-President for Policy at the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, have an excellent piece in The Daily Oklahoman calling for the state legislature in the Sooner State to create a google-like Internet database of state spending.

Sound familiar? It should because Coburn and Dutcher are talking about the same kind of database for Oklahomans as federal taxpayers will have in a few years as a result of Coburn-Obama, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006.

Said Coburn and Dutcher:

"In applauding the bill's passage, The Oklahoman editorialized that 'Sunshine and accountability are wonderful things in the hands of voters.' Indeed, as Tommy Vietor, a spokesman for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., observed, 'It was a bill that just made so much intuitive sense that no one could understand how Congress could not pass it.' And thanks to an army of bloggers, editorial writers and concerned citizens, Congress did pass it.

"Now it's time to take the idea to NE 23 and Lincoln. Oklahoma taxpayers should be empowered to Google their state tax dollars.

"Many taxpayers are frustrated that the state budget is now $7.1 billion, an all-time high. They may be aware that their tax dollars have paid for things like rooster shows and ghost employees and $100 car washes, but these things are just the tip of the iceberg.

"The Legislature should pass a law requiring the Office of State Finance to set up a searchable Web site modeled after the federal version. Taxpayers deserve to know the name of every recipient of state dollars, as well as the amount received in each of the past 10 years, and an itemized breakdown of each transaction, including the state agency dispensing the money and a description of the purpose of the funding."

I think this qualifies as the beginning of a prairie fire.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Armey Letter on Dobson Draws Line in the Sand

Ryan Sager at Miscellaneous Objections reprints a public letter from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey that focuses on the growing rift between social conservatives and libertarians. The boldfaced section was highlighted by Ryan.

This may well be the first volley in the post-November debacle debate within the GOP on who is responsible for the disaster and which direction the party should take for the future.

Christians and Big Government
Why faith requires freedom

There was a day when social conservatives were united with economic conservatives in the belief that small, limited government was not only good for our economy and the prosperity of American families, but essential to protect traditional family values. We all fought for a limited federal government - a government that had the decency to respect the American people by staying out of their lives. Small government meant that all Christians could practice their faith as they saw fit. Big government violates those rights by meddling in our lives, misusing our hard-earned money, and dictating cultural norms to us. We were and are rightly outraged when government imposes wrong-headed values through its monopoly of schools, government-funded "art," and taxpayer funded "family planning."

As a united conservative movement, we win when we defend traditional values against big government pretensions to impose its brand of "morality" on the American people. We lose when we attempt to use government power to impose our values on others.

I am a devout Christian. I am a so-called "values voter." As a member of Congress and as Majority Leader, I believe I faithfully served our values. One of my proudest moments in Congress was beating the Democrats' attempts to meddle in the affairs of families that had chosen to opt out of secular government education by home-schooling their children. I took on the entire political establishment, but we only won because thousands of Christian home-schoolers demanded that Congress keep its nose out of their decision to raise and educate their children as they saw fit.

I am also a free market economist by training, and I believe that economic freedom is vitally important in the defense of the American family. Big issues like retirement security, tax reform, school choice and spending restraint will determine whether or not families will be dependent and subservient to government. Who owns your retirement? Who decides how you provide for your family's future. Can you leave your estate to your grandchildren, or is it the government's? Will the government socially engineer your life through the tax code? Will liberal education bureaucrats determine your child's education? These are all issues that used to matter to the political leadership of Christian conservative voters.

And while for most in the Christian conservative movement these issues still resonate, the same cannot be said for some of our Washington, D.C.-based religious leaders. Right after I had left Congress and joined FreedomWorks, we found ourselves embroiled in a major tax fight in Alabama. Oddly, an old friend, Bob Riley, had been elected governor only to immediately reverse course, cut a deal with the teachers union, and advocate a massive tax increase to prop up the failing government school system. It was "what Jesus would do," he said. I took personal offense to that, as did many of the voters who had just worked so hard to elect him Governor. Our activists had joined forces with local Christian conservatives, including the Alabama Christian Coalition, to fight both bad policy and a sense of personal betrayal.

We were blindsided when the national leadership of the Christian Coalition endorsed the Governor's proposed tax increase, joining forces with liberal interests in the state that had actively worked against our values for a generation. In the end we won, thanks in no small part to the fact that members of the local Christian Coalition chapter parted ways with the national organization and stood with Alabama FreedomWorks, the Alabama Policy Institute, local taxpayer organizations, and a host of other small government advocates all united in the effort to stop a big government tax-hike scheme.

Today, the national Christian Coalition has joined forces with MoveOn.org in another government grab of private property dealing specifically with ownership of the Internet. They are wrong on the specifics of the issue, and they are wrong to associate with and comfort radical liberals who have demonstrated nothing but disdain for conservative values. Armey's Axiom: Make a deal with the Devil, and you are the junior partner.

Another Armey's Axiom says that if it is about power, you lose. And unfortunately when it comes to James Dobson, my personal experience has been that the man is most interested in political power.

As Majority Leader, I remember vividly a meeting with the House leadership where Dobson scolded us for having failed to "deliver" for Christian conservatives, that we owed our majority to him, and that he had the power to take our jobs back. This offended me, and I told him so.

In a later meeting Dobson and a colleague came into my office to lobby against a trade bill, asking me to stop the legislation from going to the House floor. They were wrong on the issue, and I told them no. Would you at least postpone the vote, they asked? We have a direct mail fundraising letter about to go out to our membership, they said.

I wondered then if their opposition to the bill was driven less by their moral compass and more by the need to rile their membership and increase revenue. I wondered then, if these self-appointed Christian leaders, like many politicians, had come to Washington to do good, but had instead done well for themselves.

Dobson later ran an orchestrated campaign against me in my race to retain the Majority Leader post, telling my colleagues that I was not a good Christian. I prefer to leave that decision to Lord God Almighty on Judgment Day.

Maybe you can understand why I have recently been quoted referring to this person as a "bully."

And it continues today, as Focus on the Family deliberately perpetuates the lie that I am a consultant to the ACLU. I have never had any relationship with the ACLU and oppose most of that organization’s work. The ACLU has twisted "civil liberty" to mean something quite the opposite.

Nowhere was it more wrong, with more disastrous policy ends, than in the Terri Schiavo intervention. While her case was heartbreaking, our Founders created a government built on checks and balances, not a nation run by an arbitrary and imperial Congress. Congress cannot simply override our entire state and federal legal system to intervene in one person's situation. It was truly a chilling act.

Imagine the precedent-setting nature of such an action when a different House of Representatives, one with "Speaker Nancy Pelosi" wielding the gavel, holds power.

Freedom works. Freedom is a gift from God Almighty, and we have a responsibility to protect it. Christians face a temptation to power when we are fortunate enough to have a majority of support in Congress. But government can never advance a faith that is freely given, and it is corrosive to even try. Just look at Europe, where decades of nanny-state activism - including taxpayer support for churches and for religious political parties - have severely eroded the faith. In America today, too many of our Christian leaders fail to recognize the temptation to power and the danger it holds for our society and our faith.

And so America's Christian conservative movement is confronted with this divide: small government advocates who want to practice their faith independent of heavy-handed government versus big government sympathizers who want to impose their version of "righteousness" on others through the hammer of law.

We must avoid the temptation to use the power of government to perfect our society and its citizens. That is the same urge that drives the Left and the socialists, and I can assure you that every program or power we give government today in the name of our values can be turned against us when the day comes where a majority of Congress is hostile to us.

Instead, we need to limit the sphere of government and create civil space where private institutions, individual responsibility and religious faith can flourish. By reducing the size of the welfare state, we increase the importance of the works of Christian charities and our church communities. By reducing the tax burden on families, we make it easier for Christian households to tithe or for young mothers to stay home to raise their children. The same is true for retirement security based on ownership. Reducing the ever-growing reach of the federal government means local communities, and more important, parents, are free to establish the standards and values for the education of their children.

Consider the welfare reform we passed in 1996. By reducing bureaucracy and dependency and emphasizing work and responsibility, we changed conditions for an entire segment of our society. Since welfare reform passed, teen pregnancy, welfare caseloads, and the number of abortions in America have all declined. That is the kind of policy change that values voters need to support, and it is the result of limiting government's power over our lives.

Our movement must avoid the temptations of power and those who would twist the good intentions of Christian voters to support policies that undermine freedom and grow government. Freedom is what gives America its unique place in the world, and protecting and expanding our freedom is what creates the space necessary to keep our faith strong and growing.

Dick Armey

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Proud Powerline Papa Touts Daughter's Journalism Debut

Powerline's Paul Mirengoff is one proud father, thanks to his daughter Emily's first published story in the Dartmouth Review. It's an excellent piece focusing on the controversy surrounding the Dartmouth administration's attempt to insulate itself from even the most rudimentary of accountability.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Coburn-Obama Inside Story Told at Heritage Panel

"This is a big deal," said Tim Chapman, blogger and Director of The Heritage Foundation's Center for Media and Public Policy, in hosting a panel earlier today at the Washington think tank that focused on how a bipartisan coalition of bloggers won passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act.

"This is a big deal for the Blogosphere. The Blogosphere in the past has had victories in a lot of high profile confrontations, but they've never enacted a law. And they've never coalesced around an issue like this with leftie bloggers and rightie bloggers," Chapman added.

The whole story has yet to be written on the role played by bloggers in this campaign but the panel at Heritage today marked a milestone in the public discussion of those events. You can view the entire panel here on the Heritage web site.

Panelists included Bill Allison of the Sunlight Foundation, N.Z. Bear of Porkbusters. org, Rebecca Carr of Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau, Justin Rood of TPM Muckrakers and yours truly.

Every person on the panel - well, at least the other four - had lots of insightful and useful comments, but pay particular attention to Carr's initial remarks, beginning at the 9:27 mark. Here's one of her most interesting statements:

"As a traditional print journalist, I have to say I was amazed at the power of the bloggers. I couldn‘t get over how effective they were at holding this government accountable. And what you see oftentimes in Washington is this caste system. And if it’s not in The New York Times or The Washington Post, it doesn’t matter.

"But suddenly I was seeing that it didn’t matter that I wasn’t in the Times or the Post, my stories were being posted on their [Porkbusters.org and TPM Muckrakers] web sites or being mentioned on their web sites and they were actually carrying the ball further. I think in tandem we exposed a questionable practice of holding up legislation at the 11th hour for reasons I still don’t know. "

This is the definitive discussion by some of the major players on the role of bloggers in gaining passage of the measure co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and Barack Obama, D-IL, which requires the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to create a Google-like Internet database of most federal spending.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Happy Birthday, Capn'!

Ed Morrissey at Captain's Quarters is celebrating his blog's third birthday and in the process explaining something I had been meaning to ask him about for a long time, namely the origin of that delightful quote about those coming from behind.

Congratulations to Ed and First Mate and all the great sources who have helped make Captain's Quarters an absolute must-read-first for thousands of smart people across the country. Go here for the celebratory post.

The Glenn and Helen Show Interviews John Fund on Election Fraud

You want to know about election fraud and how it can eat up the heart of a democracy? John Fund of The Wall Street Journal may be the best informed expert on that topic in America and he's got a book on it called "Stealing Elections: How Voter Fraud Threatens Our Democracy."

Fund is the expert, so of course Glenn and Helen Reynolds have him on their outstanding show and ask him all the right questions. To which he has the right answers. Go here for the whole interview.

By the way, Glenn is really good on these Pajamas Media Politics Central podcasts, but Helen (who I have never met) has real presence!

I'm Playing Hooky Today by Guest-Blogging at MediaShift on PBS.org; Talking Transparency

Mark Glaser writes the MediaShift blog for PBS and decided this week would be a great time to take some vacation. It was at the point when he made the decision to take off that he also evidently took leave of his senses because he invited yours truly to guest-blog in his absence.

I had to think that request over - for about two-tenths of a nanosecond - before saying yes. Today is day one and you can read my first post here. You can also see a screen shot of it here: