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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Still Discussing Over At the Times

Our blog was mentioned (but sadly, not named) in this discussion between Times' editorial writers, Lynne Varner and Bill Ramsey (I know them both). Interesting. Lynne seems to think there were racial overtones and Bill thinks the district should focus on bad buildings because programs can be moved.

On other topic, this op-ed about the upcoming lose of the PI appeared in Saturday's PI by Hubert Locke, a professor at the UW Evans School of Public Affairs. He brings up one very important point (well, to me at least):

"But what about the blogs? Those individual Web sites are hailed by some as the contemporary, technological successors to the famed pamphlets that circulated during the Revolutionary War era. Blogs ostensibly permit public opinion to circulate in a new and rapid fashion, and to a far wider extent than their colonial counterparts could ever imagine. But it's hard for others, and I'm certainly among them, to see how what are frequently little more than personal diaries rise to the level of Tom Paine's "Common Sense," either in content or significance. A far greater problem is whether all except a handful will ever be the source of credible news or information, not to mention the likelihood of serious investigative reporting."

He's right of course but blogs exist for many reasons (one of my favorites for sheer great writing, uselessness and hilarity is one woman's tracking of what tie Brian Williams wears on the NBC news every night and what it means); that's is the beauty of them. They are the town squares (see West Seattle blog), they are diaries (although as I was once a 13-year old girl I don't get why someone would want their diary to be public) and they are places to exchange ideas and information.

And Charlie and I (and Beth) and probably all our correspondents aren't journalists (anyone?). I wrote for the high school newspaper but that's it. BUT Charlie and I have developed the skill (the knack?) for being able to ferret out information whether it is by doing tedious research, having people feed us info (thank you to every one who e-mails me and says "thought you might want to see this" because half the time, I haven't seen it) or just using our institutional knowledge of this district and the people in it.

I had to laugh because at one of the closure workshops we went around the table introducing ourselves and a guy says, "I know you, you blog, don't quote me." I laughed and said, "But I'm not a reporter." and he says, "Doesn't matter." Hmm, he's right on one level. But he was at a public meeting and anyone else at the time could have quoted him and...I'm not even getting paid for this!

Are we the new front line for news? We need a free, open, educated press in this country and frankly, though I'm glad to maybe be a little part of it, I'm not a journalist. We need them.

21 comments:

WS said...

Thanks for bringing this up but I will disagree with you on two counts.

1. Like it or not, you ARE a journalist. It does not require training. It does not require certification. It requires pursuit of, and sharing of, information. And if you don't do that, what IS it you are doing? I was smiling when I read your account of following James Bible out of the room for an interview at last Thursday's meeting. The TV cameras all ran out of the room after the turbulence there because that's what TV loves (I worked in it for more than 20 years) - the chanting, the heat, the light. But you just went to find something out. That is more journalism than I've seen some "veteran" "professionals" practice.

2. It is VITAL to get away from using the general term "blog" to describe a website without specifics on what it does. We have "blog" in our name because of our origins but we are NOT a blog - we are a NEWS organization. And not JUST because we're a commercial business run by veteran professional journalists. I have been campaigning lately to try to get this point across - "blog" is a publishing format, nothing more. Is the site a news site? An opinion site? A discussion site? A diary? An advocacy site? Be clear. And don't use BLOGGING as a verb. You write, you report, you inquire ... and so forth. OK, off my soapbox, which I jump atop, any place this topic comes up.

And this site does the best education reporting in town, BTW. Crowdsourcing, as it's called, with the people who are at the heart of it, often reveals more truth than all the "professional" digging around can ever uncover. I learn from WSB "readers" - whom I refer to as "collaborators" - every single day.

MadronaGreen said...

As WS wrote, thanks for bringing this up. WS's position, to me, seems to be the right one.

Consider the coverage provided by the Seattle Times. Almost 100% in favor of the closure and the closure process. An editorial that could have been taken straight from the District's talking points was just the start of coverage that definitely had a slant.

Who asked the tough questions? Yes, the folks at Crosscut helped, but this blog was at the forefront.

So thank you. Don't stop.

Robert said...

Letters to the editor or the current iteration opinion pieces speaking nonsense just to sell online ads on their comments sections... The more inflammatory the better!

Oh then KUOWs hatchet job on elementary APP.

This blog is better than all that combined.

dan dempsey said...

You and Charlie are extremely talented writers.

I appreciate your unpaid volunteer efforts and find them far superior to either of Seattle's major papers.

Perhaps because you are unpaid, you can follow your nose in the appropriate direction and say what you find without restrictions.

I find Jessica Blanchard to be very talented. She unlike you needs to follow the lead of those in charge.

So where is much of the investigative journalism happening on the Seattle Scene ... on this Blog.

I find you and Charlie to be true Emerald City jewels.

seattle citizen said...

This IS the "new news."
Not only are there diligent and effective fact-finders on this "blog," but all the others who contribute are:
1) mainly sticking to facts, questions, discussion, even when their perspectives or positions differ: This discussion is a much deeper form of "news" about important and current topics; it's multifaceted and interactive.
2) ALL the contributors have "news" to share, from their little corners of the district. These "citizen reporters" (especially when they keep their news factual and free(ish) of flame and spittle, share news with anyone who wanders by this website.

THIS is the new news, and if it is nurtured, held to journalistic standards, or as close as us amateurs can get to it! And I personally think there is nothing wrong with a little personality, a little humanity, in the reporting as long as it doens't wander too far off topic (guilty as charged)

So good job, blog originators and contributors! You're sharing news of the district, and the discussions flesh out the nuance. Beats the c**p outta one-minute video bites...

zb said...

I also agree that this is news (and also that the West Seattle "blog" is a news site). I think that's the future of community reporting (and perhaps even more) and if we don't treat it that way, we won't have community reporting anymore.

Regarding "blog" as a verb -- I think that there is something that should be called "blogging" (biographical log, right, that's what it stood for). It's what I do when I log our family life on my personal blog.

But what's being done here is different.

Now, regarding the "don't quote me" comment, of course you can quote anything that's said in a public forum. The key is that sometimes people will refuse to talk if they know that their words will be quoted.

Denise Gonzalez-Walker said...

The one thing I would add -- there are many kinds of journalism, not just straight newspaper-style reporting.

Personally, I feel constrained by the "just the facts, ma'am" approach. I'm a qualitative girl at heart, always drawn to the color, the personal stories. Sure, data is important, but it's not the whole picture.

I would love it if we had a full-blown Gonzo journalist among our ranks. The district's ongoing hoo-ha would make great raw material. (Why don't I do it? I don't think I have the particular skills or thick enough skin to pull it off... plus sarcasm doesn't seem to play well in this city).

Sahila said...

I agree, Denise - sarcasm/irony/satire/black humour dont seem to be understood here... or they might be understood, but they're not appreciated... too many thin skins maybe... though with the cold you'd think they would be thicker... or is that your blood that thickens in the cold and thins in the tropics? Big grin...

Sahila said...

To continue the issue of humour... take for example farce...
the latest post on this blog (from the PTSA) talks about wanting inclusion/parental involvement on the design teams, with money to be spent and a glossary available for people without the background to bring them up to date so that they might participate fully (am torn between lauding the good intentions and damning the patronising here)....

However, the meetings are in the city at 3.30 on a weekday... how many low income working and single parents from the schools affected do you think are going to be able to participate in this process????

Not that many... what a wonderful strategy for keeping ("ignorant, ill-informed") potential rabble rousers who might have specific needs out of the game...

rugles said...

And for a slightly different take on blogs, here is Washington Post sports columnist Norm Chad....

With each passing day, I am aware that I am 24 hours closer to death and 24 hours closer to blogging.
(I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who once wrote, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes and blogs.")
I recently was asked to start a sports blog -- I'll get back to that a bit later. Right now, I just want to calm the masses. My older friends are railing against blogs and my younger friends are running to them. I'd like to remind fans of all ages of a couple of thoughts:
• Blogs are not the end of the world as we know it; rather, they are an extension of a world we've always known.
• If you're thinking of starting a blog, don't; the world needs more blogs like Madonna needs more leather.
I avoided blogs as long as I could. Some of them make me smile -- http://thebiglead.com is my favorite -- but many send me seeking cover in the corner of the shed, particularly the commenter sections.
Blogging comes in the form of the written word, but blogging is writing about as much as working the pole is dancing. Blogging is more of a one-way conversation than anything else, a neighbor who bangs on your door in the morning to complain about the fella down the street who won't cut his front lawn.
Blogging, essentially, is talk radio on steroids.
(During my somewhat checkered and sordid career, I have turned down offers to do sports talk radio several times, primarily for three reasons: I would get tired of the sound of my own voice within a month, I cannot fathom having that many opinions every single day and I like to sleep in.)
At least the talk-radio host, after three or four hours of public proclamations, shuts down. But blogs are like 7-Eleven: They have a bunch of stuff you usually don't need and they never close. The blogger can -- and often does -- operate at any time of day or night.
Flip Saunders can't coach? Let me tell everyone how I feel!
Another blown save from Francisco Cordero? Let me tell everyone how I feel!

Just had a rare, late-afternoon bowel movement? Let me tell everyone how I feel!
If a blogger were sitting next to you in a bar, you'd stop drinking.
Now, all this blogging and bloviating raises a question: Are we more opinionated than generations past?
To answer that, I'd pose another question: Are we more violent than our ancestors? Probably not. But the means of violence have become more destructive. First there were rocks, then the bow-and-arrow, then guns, shotguns, semiautomatic rifles, cannons, grenades, tanks, bombs and, ultimately, nuclear arms.
Similarly, we always were passionate about our sports teams, but the means in which we can express that passion has changed.
In the 1930s, you might sit on your front stoop and argue; in the 1960s, you might write a letter to the editor; in the 1990s, you might call in to talk radio; nowadays, you go online and vent.
The Internet is the virtual-reality version of the A-bomb.
Our culture traditionally has spent too much time and energy on sports; blogging is simply a technological extension of this tiresome phenomenon.
So, yeah, I recently said no to starting a sports blog. Who wants more of me, other than couples counselors? And why would I want to pollute an already polluted blogosphere? As for those of you who insist on blogging on, I just ask that you be more kind and gentle, less cutting and snide.
(Sure, I know, Couch Slouch calling someone snarky is like Charles Manson calling someone macabre. But we all can change -- 37 years in the joint might've reformed Mr. Helter Skelter just as 37 years on the sofa have reformed me.)
Besides, I'm figuring there are no blogs in heaven. Then again, I'm probably looking at purgatory, and http://firejoemorgan.com might make it a bit less insufferable.

Roy Smith said...

It's worth remembering that when the Bill of Rights was written and freedom of the press in the United States was codified, the freedom that was being guaranteed was not freedom to be profitable - many, perhaps most, newspapers and other publishers were fairly consistent money-losers - it was the freedom to report about events and to express opinions without being suppressed by the goverment. The loss of for-profit newspapers in no way endangers freedom of the press in the U.S.

Blogs and bloggers are heirs to a great tradition of saying things that people feel need to be said and reported, whether or not it makes any money, and in my opinion, the existence of blogs and the internet is proof that freedom of the press and of political expression is alive and well.

seattle citizen said...

Denise, if you want to be like THE gonzo journalist, you'll need something more than a thick skin...I think you'll need supplies avialable at the liquor store and, um, certain streets corners...

WenD said...

Melissa, Beth, Charlie et al, I read here before I read the Times or PI, before I listen to KUOW. You're my primary source on local schools, and you've earned my readership. Your posts, and the comments that follow, give me a fuller picture than what I've come to expect from local news outlets. Truly, I couldn't plan a move back to Seattle, and school enrollment, without this blog.

Thank you for what you do.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm not comfortable with the designation of journalist because I takes sides. I try to be fair in my judgement, but I do judge and then write from that perspective. I would expect journalists to keep that sort of bias out of their reports.

Unfortunately that throws me into the area of commentators, such as those on talk radio. I'm not comfortable in that company either. While my understanding of the facts dictates my perspective, it has been my observation that with them it is the pre-determined perspective that dictates their understanding of the facts.

I'm also outside of each of these groups because I'm not compensated for this work and I'm not obligated to do it.

I think that just makes me a guy who spends a lot of time around the virtual water cooler. I definitely see this as a peer-to-peer medium in which I have no hierarchical advantage over anyone else. That's not exactly true because I have permission to create a new post and because I have the authority - I've used it only once - to delete what someone else wrote. Still, I think of myself as just another commenter on the blog - albeit a frequent one.

Charlie Mas said...

Here's another bit of evidence that I am not a journalist: I get interviewed by the education beat reporters for the Times and the P-I.

I gave an interview to Jessica Blanchard on what to do with closed schools last week and tonight I gave an interview to Linda Shaw about the Superintendent's leadership.

They don't call and ask each other for interviews, do they?

Central Mom said...

Charlie...Ever watch cable news, especially on a weekend? That's all journalists do these days. One calls up another 3 and they talk talk talk talk talk talk. ;-)

Denise Gonzalez-Walker said...

I recently wrote an article that referenced past closures, etc. In my research, I came across something pretty interesting --

Back in 2003, a guy named Bob Valiant put together a spoof Seattle Schools site in the wake of Olchefske's mismanagement. The url? www.seattleschooldistrict.org

The district's lawyers contacted Valiant to put a stop to the website. In the end, "Valiant and the district negotiated a settlement in which he agreed to give the district his domain name and the district agreed not to claim any intellectual-property violations." (from this article)

What's really funny is this--after all that commotion, the article says the district registered domains similar to its own.

So you'd think that when I recently checked on WHOIS, the big internet registry, I'd find our district owning www.seattleschooldistrict.org, right? I mean, since they got into a big spat over it and paid out $$ and all.

Nah. Some domain reseller owns it, has it filled with advertising.

WS said...

Two followups here, both to Charlie: You can be a journalist and take sides. It's increasingly recognized that the "neutral" stance is what has led to a lot of lousy reporting over the years ... just be clear about where you stand, and fair in presenting facts about everything. Wish I had more time to blather about that. Unlike some blog-format sites, we do NOT take stands very often at WSB ... although I certainly did in the first year, before we started moving in the news direction. 2. Yes, you can be a journalist and be interviewed by someone else or used as a source.

Josh Hayes said...

And just a mild snark at the good professor, who sniffs at "blogs" as glorified diaries --

Didn't he read Samuel Pepys's diaries in school? Not the, uh, "naughty bits" (which were often in code), but an honest description of events is useful stuff. I like to think that this forum - and I too dislike the word "blog" - provides something like a regression to the reality mean: enough perspectives to permit the construction of a shared reality.

We all, "Rashomon"-like, see the same events in our own way, but by pooling those perceptions, we produce a richer, more accurate whole. I've learned a lot here, made a fool of myself more than once, and I hope I've redeemed myself now and then -- pretty much what we can hope for in the "real world". That's nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of what Hubert grumps.

Dorothy Neville said...

Charlie aren't you interviewed for your analysis AND for your depth of understanding of facts and history?

Did anyone read Gore's "The Assault on Reason?" I didn't because the beginning is too depressing, but my husband did and summarized it for me.

Gore's point is (if my husband is to be believed) that the thing that will save the world is the internet and the free exchange of ideas allowed in the medium. People like Charlie and Mel have become experts in the topics of their choosing. Amateur sleuths as it were. But without the internet to aid in all the digging, y'all wouldn't have gotten nearly as far. And without the internet to discuss and share what you've learned, you wouldn't have made such an impact. It's not our parents' journalism.

I also agree with the other comments. We all have biases and perspectives, we all share opinions, but we all (or mostly all) bring facts, rumors, history, analysis to the issues. And ask clarifying follow-up questions to each other.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Excellent point, Dorothy - not our parents journalism indeed.

I get annoyed if I CAN'T find something on the Internet. The world is open to us all.

I grew up in a border town in Arizona and it was a quiet, small world. But now, you can be anywhere you want. A kid in a small town can access the Library of Congress. I marvel that we have all this at our fingertips but sometimes it's separating the wheat from the chaff (too much information) and making sure we got it right (fact-checking information).