Process Assertions

The general goals of the yet-to-be-realized Assertion Processor are being embraced in many corners of the blogosphere. I had discussed this idea with Ben Hammersley on December 9th. That led to several posts between Ben and me on the subject, and some good comments helping us along.

Blaser: 12/15; 12/17; 12/19; 1/06

Hammersley: 12/19; 12/28

Our most recent posts respond to Danny Ayers’ important contribution – his QuestionGarland concept.

The idea behind the Assertion Processor is to extend an article’s RSS feed with a few new data tags to suggest the character of an article’s content, not just where the content appears in it. In other words, what are the phrases that get our attention?

Adopt a Campaign Journalist

On January 10, Jay Rosen reported on a distributed suggestion he saw developing in late December:

Adopt a Campaign Journalist in 2004: The Drift of a Suggestion

Over the holidays, an idea gained some Net traction: webloggers “adopting” a campaign reporter. That means you monitor and collect all the reporter’s work, and then… And then what? Follow the turns as the suggestion is taken up and debated.

Saturday Night, Jan. 10: Link flow and blog authority have been combining in the atmosphere. In sequence:

Dec. 23. At the Daily Kos, Vet 4 Dean reacts to discussion at Blog For America, the Dean campaign’s main gig:

Earlier today on DFA, there was a good bit of discussion of the latest piece of “journalism” committed by Ms. Jodi Wilgoren in the NY Times. Well, I decided it was time to lose my blogging virginity and created The Wilgoren Watch.

Dec. 23. And he does. The Wilgoren Watch: “Dedicated to deconstructing the New York Times coverage of Howard Dean’s campaign for the White House.” (The inaugural post.)

Dec. 28. At Steve Gilliard’s News Blog, Gilliard says he has had enough: Time to Take the Gloves Off:

The media in America lives in a dual world, one where they want to hold people accountable, yet flip out when people do the same to them…

I think it would be a really, really good idea to track reporters, word for word, broadcast for broadcast, and print the results online. Not just for any one campaign or cause, but to track people’s reporting the way we track other services….

Keeping score of who’s right and wrong, how many times they repeat cannards like Al Gore invented the Internet and make obvious errors. Not accusations of ideology, but actual data and facts.

Dec. 30. Reacting to Gilliard’s idea, Atrios gives it a second. Hardball: “We should have an ‘adopt a journalist’ program. As Steve suggests, people should choose a journalist, follow everything they write, archive all their work, and critique and contextualize it where appropriate.”

It’s a terrific chronicle of the birth of a new weapon in the war on hierarchy – Read Jay’s catalogue at PressThink or at Blogging of the President. Both have a good review of the reactions. Most are intrigued, but also concerned about the establishment of “truth squads.” Even Jay takes the idea with a grain of salt:

Why I Love the Adopt-a-Reporter Scheme. Why I Dread It.

A weblog devoted to watching the work of a journalist is democracy in action. It is bound to be educational, for the watcher and perhaps for the journalist who is watched. But there are reasons to worry.

All the ideas, examples and disputes are here: Adopt a Campaign Journalist in 2004. It has more than thirty links. I stayed out of that post because I wanted to know what others think. So… no illustrations in this one. Use the links and fill in any details you need.

Why I Love It.

It’s practical. People can do it, and they don’t need permission or oversight. Tracking a reporter’s work is a good thing for a very simple reason. It’s participation in the presidential campaign, and in politics. It’s doing something useful with your own civic time. It’s what Thomas Jefferson, the botanist, did– observe nature, and record what you find. Except that culture is our nature now and media a surrounding sea. So we observe this, and try to sense its motion…

Why I Dread It.

I have this question, seriously intended: What makes media hate any better, any more “okay,” than other forms of politicized hating? Nothing in my field of vision. Check yours.

Don’t tell me it doesn’t exist–floating hatred for The Media, (which has no address) addressed to individuals who in someone’s eyes represent “the” media–because I can find occasional evidence for it in comments here at PressThink. You can find it at a million Web pages in public view. Bipartisan evidence, too. Is the contempt deserved? A lot of intelligent people think so, and they act on that belief. They write of it. They sometimes commune around it. Is there contempt for an intelligent lay public by the press? There is, but right now I am not discussing it.

Processing my Assertion

The Assertion Processor is conceived as a general-purpose tool to catalogue any set of assertions, wh
ether a single article, a series on the same topic by different writers, or, as in this example, all articles by the same writer. What we continue to lack is a good enough agreement on the interesting tags that elicit what there is about a story that gets our attention.

In my last post on the Assertion Processor, I more-or-less jokingly suggested a few data tags to get at the attention-getting.

  • <moneyPaid>
  • <payor>
  • <payee>
  • <scapegoat>
  • <wretchedExcess>
  • <cynicalGreed>
  • <whiningVictim>
  • <statuteViolated>
  • <wrongedSpouse>
  • <fiduciaryViolation>
  • <rampantConflictOfInterest>

My amateur opinion is that every writer projects her bias on her audience by the whats and hows she details. I asked Jay to help us out on the concept:

We are drawn to the media based on its power to push our buttons. There is a characteristic to outrage as there is to beauty and grace. Just because they’re hard to describe is no excuse to abandon the quest.

These are the elements that journalists strive for even as they attempt to push their master narrative of omniscience and objectivity–the dominant myths of the press, as Jay Rosen is so masterfully teaching us.

Jay, could you put an oar in here? I’m sure there’s some small set of tags that captures the traditional six Perry White questions included in Danny Ayers’ QuestionGarland but also feeds out the crucial elements of cynicism, greed, Pollyanna optimism and self-victimization that marks our delusional responses to life’s challenges.

And Jay responded in the comments:

I would love to help you out, Britt. But I am afraid you reached the limit of my processor– i.e., brain. I do not quite understand what you are up to here, or what you are really asking. It seems to be what kind of narrative structures indicate a sexy, readable, outrageous story likely to get reactions.

If that is the case, I think there are too many. Sure, we could probably lay down some predictable ones, (conflict-of-interest) but for anything worth knowing the unpredictable ones would be as valuable. But then some items in your list are not story elements, as far as I can tell, but critics’ reactions and categorizations (“Smith is being made the scapegoat for…”)

Who, what, when, where, why and how (“the 5 w’s and an H,” as journalism textbooks put it) are “elements” in a simple news story, yes. But what people often care about is another element: what it all means. This too is an element in the more sophisticated news accounts: who did (or said) what, when was it done, where did it happen, why did it happen and how did it happen are supplemented with: “what does this mean for the outcome of the New Hampshire primary?”

If I knew what I was asking, Jay, I’d be more useful. I don’t know journalism, but I know what gets my attention. Everything that makes a story meaningful is an attribute in the 5 <w>’s and the <how>. The RSS feeds that our blog software generates automatically already tell us who the author is, headline, etc., but there’s a legitimate need for the qualitative tags as an option, and without the requirement for an overly determined standardized namespace to define all tags.

I’m going to be thinking of 3- 6 attributes for each of the w’s and the how tags. Perhaps there’s just a few straightforward characteristics of each that we’ll recognize when we see them, but which are not obvious yet.

1:33:33 AM    

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