Truth in opinion alert: I missed the boat on part this one. The state of news business is always changing. Nobody has called it correctly - yet. An article over at wired.com missed it as well.
When real citizen journalists get into news coverage and start writing news and real analysis, it will be "bar the doors boys, they're coming for us."
Break out the pinot noir while we wait. Years ago in news rooms it was cheap whiskey.
It will be like farmers armed with staves, pitchforks and torches in a really bad remake of Frankenstein. This time the monster, Open Source Media, may win.
Take away the everlasting liberal vs. conservative bias dispute for a moment. Most members of the Washington press corps are writing for each other, not the average news consumer.
Same for the talking head opinion makers and shapers on the tube. They exchange those knowing glances, winks and nods. When Mara Liasson of NPR is on the Fox talking head show, she is almost on an estrogen high. Juan Williams on the other hand gets frustrated with the inaneness of many questions he hears.
I believe many of them compare themselves to analysts who are weighing the value of intelligence to write a briefing for a military gist sent above echelon to corps level.
The press corps has convinced itself that they must prove to one another that they must know what they are talking about or they would not be writing. They are convinced they must convey these prissy little anecdotes or news consumers will know they are not really insiders who have the ear of the evil Prince of Darkness.
I just had to throw that Machiavellian jab in there.
They add too many side issues and fringe facts to avoid a colleague or competitor from telling them "you forgot to mention ..." Some of the anecdotes couldn't make it through my tinfoil protector beanie.
Later that night ...
Some slot editor waters it down because he doesn't understand the importance of the prissy little anecdote. So the line editor "vagifies" it.
And it goes right over the head of the poor working stiff who laid out 50 cents for news to see if his taxes are going up, or if Lewis Libby or Karl Rove lied.
If 50 cent man still has enough control of life to read news, he wants just the facts. The anecdotes must be able to put the news in into the context of importance, or leave them out.
It's like Clark Gable in "Front Page" dropping a dime into a pay phone with a hot one. "This is Lindy. Get me rewrite quick."
Inflation changes things. When I was at UPI, I always carried quarters in my pocket. To this day I feel naked without quarters jingling in my pocket. Quarters, not change.
Details and facts are the quarters of news. Pissy little anecdotes are small change.
Let's drop a dime on the inaneness of talk radio and news opinion. I want facts.
Two wizened colleagues of mine at UPI, Martin Murphy and June Preston, (She now runs the CNN International overnight desk) taught me to rethink everything. Think and rethink often. It's just like W. Paige Pitt taught at the Marshall University J school. Write and rewrite. Rewrite more. You can take it to the extreme of Orwell's famous essay about political writing.
Keep it simple for the reader. Be direct. The KISS and PASS principals are still very relative to journalism today.
Murphy covered the Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins in the 60s. It was hugely ironic to him that the heirs Kresge dime store fortune provided millions to back the NAACP, but would not let blacks eat at the lunch counters in Greensboro.
That's kind of inside baseball that news consumers want and need to know.
He covered the assassination of Martin Luther King. He and Al Rossiter, also a former boss, covered the space program for years. Marty wrote a heartbreaking series about the three astronauts in the Gemini program who died in a launch pad fire.
"We burned those boys alive," Murphy said as if he too were responsible.
The stories were heartbreaking because he knew Virgil Grissom and the others. Back in those days it was that kind of relationship that got you solid details that helped explain the facts.
Those explanations beat the hell out of the competition every time.
It is said that Harry Truman very nearly wept when he was informed by the Sec. of War that Ernie Pyle had been killed by a Japanese sniper. Pyle dealt in only facts. He helped a generation of people live with the horror of war by putting it in context.
I wrote for both broadcast and newspapers which is a real trick. When you are making that transition all the time it makes you stop and think about what is simple and what matters. You quickly shove the unimportant facts to the side.
Back then the AP had a competitor -- United Press International. There is no one to beat. Run a Google news search on today's news. How many hits are the same story over and over.
Murphy repeatedly beat into my head that most government and legislative reporting is too "inside baseball."
Now real sports fans understand and appreciate sports coverage that is "inside baseball."
The Beltway wonks don't know what they care about unless a colleague or source has gossip. They step outside and test the direction of the wind before administering the gossip in carefully measured doses.
They know not the difference between facts and baseball.
"My prissy little anecdote is better than your prissy little anecdote."
"Is too. Nyah. Nyah."
"I'm telling' Pa."
Never mind that the prissy little anecdote is unimportant to the facts.
Nobel laureate and novelist Nadine Gordimer of South Africa once opined about the truth.
Truth isn't always beauty, but the hunger for it is. The facts are always less than what really happened.~Nadine Gordimer
News consumers want the facts and the insights, but not silly anecdotes that show that beltway reporters have access to meaningless facts.
Citizens don't care about baseball rules in government. They want to know how it's going to affect them. They could care less about some reporter's sequeway about what Lewis Libby ate when had lunch with Karl Rove. They only care if Rove and Libby talked about Valerie Plame.