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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Aren’t we just full of opinions? As a friend of mine wrote in her book: “[While} having  so  many  ways  to  bring  our  opinions  into  public discussion has been, on the whole, a terrific development… not all ideas are equal―equally valid, equally worthy, equally verifiable.” In a related article, she noted:the opportunity to comment doesn’t mean we’re required to put in our two cents, notwithstanding our collective compulsion to do so.” However, she also recognized that the horse is out of the barn (or maybe the train has left the station; you get the drift) when it comes to opinionating—many of us are likely to grab any and every opportunity to opine–the least we can do is make every attempt to make an expressed opinion as informed as possible.

My name is Nikki Stern and I approve this message. Okay, I wrote this message, in my book Because I Say So and in an article called “IMHO I bring this up because I’ve found myself this fall throwing opinions all over the place: on my blog, on Facebook, on the website I publish (Does This Make Sense) and, most recently, in the New York Times.

Opining on the Times website isn’t like opining on AOL. By and large, the commenters are smart, well-read and restrained in their responses (of course the Times screens the comments before publishing them, so perhaps I’m just not seeing the “!%$&@)%(*^*” versions that come into the editors’ inboxes. What this means is that if I have an impulse to comment, I know I’d better make sense. In part, it’s my ego at work: I don’t want appear to be a complete idiot. On the other hand, who’s going to remember commenter #49 on the recent Charles Blow or Frank Bruni op-ed? Exactly: no one. Still, I feel a certain responsibility to sound intelligent—to be intelligent.

Of course I’d like to attract a little attention on behalf of whatever I’m promoting (a book, a blog) before my comment scrolls by and disappears into the ethos. This can be achieved by obtaining “recommendations” which are garnered when the reader hits a little button at the end of the comment and which means said comment may be highlighted on the site. Gad, everything’s a competition these days!

The situation causes me to hesitate before I comment (a good thing), and then, if I decide to post my thoughts, I will write out and carefully proof them before I hit “send” (an even better thing). Sometimes, thanks to the unpredictability of the keyboard and the undeniable fact that my brain works faster than my fingers, I may end up with a typo. But my thoughts are nearly always clear.

I also read other comments on the post where I’ve left my comment but also on other pieces I find provocative (or pieces I don’t understand). If Paul Krugman tells me why the Euro is a terrible idea, I want to read what more knowledgeable people have to say on the subject. Granted, Krugman is a Nobel Prize-winning economist and some of the commenters don’t know the difference between a derivative and a derivation but I’m frequently surprised about the level of thought and intelligence that goes into the replies. At the very least, I get more background and more history.

I also read letters to the editor for my favorite magazines. Sometimes I try to read comments and letters in magazines I don’t care for,  like Reason Magazine (I don’t really dislike the magazine, but some of the articles in Reason–which purports to be a libertarian magazine–are pompous in the extreme); or letters in magazines I don’t care about. I love reading the letters section in New York Magazine because they aren’t simply letters but blog postings, tweets, passing comments—all reactions to the often provocative stories within. Like Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, the magazine makes a big deal out of noticing and promoting and replying to and arguing with the people who are noticing and replying to and arguing about something they read (which means they’re promoting it, of course).

Everyone has an opinion; no doubt about it. And everyone wants their opinions to count. One way to do that is to use your opinion as a way to start a conversation or encourage a response; to learn something from other opinionators; to practice writing clearly and concisely; to get better at framing an argument; to think, to review your own feelings about a topic, to get in the game. We might not all end up as recommended picks or one step closer to our own op-ed column, but we’ll be smarter commentators. And that means we’ll be smarter citizens.

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We like to commemorate in the United States. Coming up, what I refer to as The-Anniversary-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named recalls a horrible event ten years ago when four planes, two towers, and several thousand lives were destroyed in an attack on U.S. soil. In the days that followed, we came together, focused not on hate and destruction (at least to my grief-stricken, New York-centric eyes) but on resilience and purpose.

Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Not that my husband or so many others were killed but that, ten years later, we’re farther apart than ever. Everyone has an opinion as to why that’s happened (everyone has an opinion on everything, freely spoken and easily distributed through the unfiltered megaphone that is the Internet). For me, the decade is captured (albeit in a simplified manner) in a letter I had published in the New York Times the other day in response to an article by Tom Friedman:

After my husband died on 9/11, I hoped the American public, which had come together in a spirit of resilience rather than one of anger, would resist the temptation to blame, to justify, to point fingers or to follow an “us versus them” scenario. Instead we’ve devolved into a selfish group of squabblers, ready to throw strangers under the bus and kick friends off the ladder. A small group sacrifices abroad while we dither about the endgame; here at home, we expect our neighbors to fend for themselves and our government to do its job without revenue. The list of enemies foreign and domestic grows longer; we trust no one. While I’m mindful that my husband may be more fairly called a victim than a hero, I am still saddened that his legacy and that of so many others might be tied to a period of profound civic retrenchment.

On my worst days, I’m tempted to blame everyone, including me for sitting at home and indulging in blame. I want to slap the collective citizenry across the face and yell, “Grow up! Stop fighting! Behave yourselves. No one is always right and no one is always perfect. We have to work together to get anything done. Get off your high horse and get to work!”

Honestly, I hate feeling angry as much as I hated feeling grief-stricken. That’s not who my husband was and it’s not who I am. And so I leave my friends, acquaintances and various readers with this rather hopeful thought, played out visually by a lovely dance troupe of children from Denver, CO who have channeled what we used to think of as the American spirit to produce a stunning montage. Sure, it’s sappy but deep down inside, I’m a sap.

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I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.

 

I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

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