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January 09, 2003
Satirist inspires gossip moorgy!
99.9% of the time Big Media practices journalistic bulimia, devouring liberal propaganda like a python eating a greased mouse, then expelling a hairy stomach-stew of bias it likes to call "objective news reporting."
But there's one subject Big Media always nails in one take: the bad behavior of Michael Moore.
Or at least that's what thousands of people seem to believe.
Yesterday, the web was ablaze with Moore-related gossip emanating from London, where Moore had been performing a one-man show at the Roundhouse Theater for the last two months. One story, primarily spread via a WENN-syndicated blurb that appeared on IMDB.com (and is now already gone), explained that Moore had "verbally attacked everyone associated with the theatre because he thought he wasn't being paid enough. During the performance he complained he was making just $750 a night...Staff retaliated by refusing to work the following night, which led to the show being held up for an hour. Eventually he made a groveling apology to staff and the angry audience finally took to their seats."
The other story, published in the Independent, explained that Moore had delivered "a rant about how the passengers on the planes on 11 September were scaredy-cats because they were mostly white. If the passengers had included black men, he claimed, those killers, with their puny bodies and unimpressive small knives, would have been crushed by the dudes, who as we all know take no disrespect from anybody."
Numerous other publications pounced on these tales, and displaying the sort of enterprise and thoroughness that gives journalism such a good name, added absolutely nothing to them. Apparently, what's good enough for the WENN and the Independent is good enough for the Washington Times, Worldnetdaily.com, and Newsmax.com too.
Coincidentally, both the Washington Times and the Independent itself had previously published reviews of Moore's show. And those reviews suggest that the latest Independent article didn't fully describe Moore's rant. PopPolitics.com and the Observer offered similar synopses, as did blogger D-Squared, who attended one of Moore's performances.
"He was trying to make a point about the docility of the middle classes, and about the fact that middle class people tend to expect others to do uncomfortable jobs for them," D-Squared writes. "He mentioned black people, but also mentioned poor whites, football thugs and (topically for London at the time) firemen as members of dispossessed classes who in their daily lives did not typically have the option of letting other people handle their problems."
There are plenty of reasons to object to that conceit too, of course, but the Times, Newsmax.com, and the dozens of bloggers that picked up on the Independent article mostly failed to do so because they were satisified with simply using the Independent author's version of events to brand Moore a racist.
And the only-$750-a-night incident? Well, on the one hand, $750 a night to make prank phone calls and inject Leno's creaky Jaywalking gag with some shameless Brit-licking seems like a pretty good deal. But on the other hand, with tickets for the 1300-seat venue going for between $16 and $48 a pop, it appears that the nightly revenues were probably in the range of $30,000 to $40,000. Who exactly Moore should have been mad at for his skimpy slice of the pie (if indeed he was only getting $750 a night) seems unclear, but at the same time, it's not quite clear that money was really an issue in the first place.
Indeed, the WENN blurb left out an interesting detail about the story. According to the CEO of the company that owns the theater, Moore's outburst was inspired in part by a death threat he'd received there. The Times of London, the Guardian, and even the New York Post reported the death threat angle. Unlike the WENN blurb, these articles quote named sources. But even so their coverage still seems a little fuzzy, with both papers attributing a similar quote to two different people. The Times reports that the theater's general manager, Matthew Boyle, called Moore's outburst "a storm in a teacup." The Guardian reports that the theater's executive director, Marcus Evans, says the publicity surrounding whatever happened is "a storm in a teacup, probably down to a stage-hand getting a bit miffed...[Moore] had a death threat and I think the pressure got to him. But he didn't hold the audience up at all, and finished his last performance saying, 'This is a great venue, and thankyou to everyone at the Roundhouse.'"
Whatever really happened at the Roundhouse, one things seems clear: it's probably best not to take a single gossip column blurb as gospel, however politically expedient it may be to do that.
Posted by Greg Beato at 10:02 AM
January 08, 2003
The Emerging Vlogosphere
At first pitch, video-logs, or vlogs, sound like a bad idea in search of an even worse venture capitalist. Or to put it another way, the only reason more people don't remember Pseudo.com's attempt to turn public-access TV into a public offering is because so few people watched it in the first place.
Blogging is popular because it's simple, it's cheap, it's spontaneous, and it puts a premium on interactivity via links, extended excerpts, and reader feedback. And vlogging? Well, the software that proto-vlogger Jeff Jarvis uses reportedly makes it so easy to approximate the look of local TV newscasts that even local TV newscasters could probably do it.
But however easy vlogging may be, it's never going to be easier than posting a text-based blog entry. And, remember, it doesn't take a degree in rocket science, or even social science, to hand-code a simple HTML page. And after you do it once, you can pretty much publish new entries and maintain an archive by changing filenames and doing a little cutting, pasting, and FTPing. All told, it requires about a minute per entry to maintain a hand-coded text-based website, but blogging didn't go platinum until automated tools turned a simple operation into an almost-involuntary reflex. In the end, blogging is for people who think filling up their own soda at Taco Bell qualifies as "cooking." Each second that vlogging adds to the posting process eliminates a million potential vbloggers.
Money matters too, of course. The only people cheaper than blog-readers are bloggers themselves, who are like homeless people without the spare change: thousands of them depend upon the kindness of strangers for their domain names, server space, and bandwidth. And vlogging turns every aspiring Ananova into an Instapundit, at least in terms of bandwidth consumption. If there's a web-host out there dying to provide large amounts of bandwidth for free to Web broadcasters, how come ABCNews.com doesn't know about it? Ultimately, any vblogger who wants to reach more than a handful of viewers on a regular basis will have to pay something for the privilege, and any fee over "free" will immediately eliminate millions more potential vbloggers.
Spontaneity is another crucial component of blogging. With most blogging software, you can post from any machine that has Internet connectivity and a Web browser, so every blogger can be a roving correspondent, filing dispatches from home, the office, libraries, Internet cafes, and anywhere they can log onto the Net with their laptops. With vlogging, however, you need more hardware, more software, and a make-up person: is your boss really going to let you get away with all that at work?
Finally, there's the question of linking and the popular blog pastime of extensively excerpting other texts. How do you Fisk the latest Paul Krugman column via vlogging? What makes Fisking work is the close, static juxtaposition of two texts - you can jump back and forth as much as you want; you can usually click on a link to read the complete version of the excerpted text if you desire. But with text/video Fisking, you pretty much lose that functionality. (On a related note, Justin Katz addresses the difficulty of "quoting" video.) As for linking, well, you can put a list of links on the same page that your video appears, and you can probably even put links on screen and make them clickable. But if one of the main purposes of your blog is to send readers to other sites (and pretty much every really popular blog places a major emphasis on doing this), why bother with video? You can use a chainsaw to weed your garden too, but it's a little more technology than the job actually requires.
Having said all this, I do think vlogging has a lot of potential. While I doubt hundreds of thousands of people will start vlogging, it's possible thousands will, or at least hundreds. And some of them might actually prove to be pretty entertaining.
Already, Jarvis has produced some clips that clearly show the promise of the format: he's not quite as smooth as a professional on-the-airhead, and his graphics aren't super-flashy, but even so the end results are pretty impressive: visually, his vlog work is to actual TV news what Extreme Elvis is to the King: from a distance, you can barely tell the difference.
But while vlogging may appeal to our Inner O'Reillys, what's in it for users? Dan Perkins argues that it simply takes a format that's very efficient from a user perspective and makes it less so: "talking heads [recite] copy which could be much more easily digested and pondered if presented as straight text with links."
But while I think that's generally true, it's also true that some people communicate better through speech and gesture than they do through the written word. Dan Rather's syndicated columns, for example, are as lifeless as Trent Lott's hair. Absent the craggy gravitas, absent the practiced stagecraft, his high-school commencement address sense of drama reveals itself in all its booming mundanity.
So vlogging will allow those blessed with timing, inflection, and gesture to play to their strengths. Of course, it can take a lot of practice to master these skills. If you're a bad writer, you suck quietly, at least; video exposes shortcomings in a much more dramatic fashion. And there's another factor to consider too: the bulk of TV punditry is a collaborative debacle. While Jarvis casts the vlogger as a network of one, engaged in solo flights of Rooneyesque rumination, professional TV pundits are generally more like Real World cast-members - interesting only when screaming at each other. The simple arithmetic of TV punditry goes like this: three squawking heads are better than two, and four are better than three. But assembling a group of vloggers, either virtually or physically, can't help but make things more complicated.
And then, of course, there's the competition. The current standard for DIY web video is full frontal meteorology, i.e., a lot of viscous forecasting about how hot and wet things are about to get. Can people who think asses are for fact-checking compete with that? Probably not. But, ultimately, bloggers aren't the touchwood that will ignite the vlogging inferno. Who is? Stand-up comedians looking for a little more exposure than the late-night circuit affords. Semi-pro Coulter clones angling for more Sunday bookings. And, of course, celebrity activists. While Barbra Streisand, Sean Penn, and the rest of the Hollywood cabal clearly yearn to sculpt the body politic, few (if any) have taken up blogging to date. But maybe that's simply because they've been waiting for a format that truly showcases their gifts. Scoff if you want, but you know who's leading the vlogging revolution so far?
Posted by Greg Beato at 09:16 AM
January 06, 2003
The conventional conservative wisdom says that liberals control top-down news mediums where consumers have no choice (broadcast TV, monopoly newspapers, Hollywood message movies) while conservatives control open, interactive mediums where genuine market demand determines success or failure (books, talk radio, cable TV).
The Internet is the ultimate open medium, so conservatives generally claim that they control it too.
But what do they actually base these claims on? Has Media Metrix or some other market research firm or political think tank ever measured conservative vs. liberal media on the Net in any systematic way?
If they have, I couldn't find them, so I decided to do one myself.
Again, this is another exercise that should be taken with a grain a salt - it's really just a suggestion to a real research organization to complete such a study...
In any case, all I did was enter the URLs of several hundred news sites into Alexa.com's database to determine their rankings.
I limited the sites I entered to American sites only. Also, I limited them to sites that regularly generate or link to at least some political news. In other words, I didn't include sites like Eonline.com. I also didn't include publications that are primarily business-oriented, like Forbes or Fortune.
Below are the 100 highest-ranked news sites out of the several hundred I entered. It's quite possible I overlooked sites that would have made the top 100 had I known about them. If you think I've missed such a site, please suggest it in the comments section.
Also, because there are dozens of metro dailies with high rankings, I ended up excluding a lot of them. I decided to include only the metro dailies that were amongst the top 2000 sites - thus, newspapers like the NY Times and the Washington Times made it in, because they were in the top 2000. But newspapers like the Portland Oregonian and the Salt Lake Tribune, while still ranking higher than many of the entries on this list, didn't make it in because they weren't in the top 2000. I did this simply because I didn't want the list to be half general-interest metro dailies; instead, I was most interested in websites/publications with an overtly political focus, along with those that have a national focus rather than a regional one.
A couple of notes: the Alexa.com rankings change constantly, so the rankings that appear here for a given site will likely be at least slightly different for that same site tomorrow. Also, individual rankings for Slate.com and PBS News Hour were not available; their rankings are actually the rankings of MSN.com and PBS.com as a whole, respectively. Finally, The New Republic probably should be ranked a little higher than it is; it has two URLs, tnr.com and thenewrepublic.com, and Alexa.com ranks them separately.
Given the arbitrary and imprecise nature of this exercise, what's its value? Well, at the very least, it compares 100 popular media sites and gives you an idea of what size audiences they're attracting. Also, it suggests (to me at least) that the Web is not necessarily the haven of conservative discourse it's often made out to be. By my estimation, the sites are pretty evenly split between liberal ones and conservative ones, with perhaps a slight advantage going to the liberal ones.
Finally, I think it also refutes the conservative contention that liberal media (i.e., broadcast TV and monopoly dailies) persists only by dint of its monopoly status. On the web, where users are given thousands and thousands of choices, many of the most popular sites (i.e. ABC News, NY Times, CBS News) are the ones that theoretically are not able to withstand the rigors of an open market..
As it turns out, however, they're doing just fine. In any case, here are the results:
Posted by Greg Beato at 11:36 PM
As the previous entry suggests, the spectacular rise of Instapundit.com was a frequently reported story last year. Thanks in part to early boosters like the Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, the Washington Times, and Slate.com, all of which combined to mention Instapundit.com over a dozen times during the first 90 days of its existence, Comrade Reynolds quickly established a reputation as a grassroots populist whose opinions were finding an audience largely through such word-of-media coverage.
Eventually, other publications could no longer ignore what these vanguard publications had not been ignoring, and an even greater wave of publicity followed. Dozens of media outlets from around the world, including Newsweek, Fast Company, the New York Times, the Washington Post, US News & World Report, the Associated Press, the Economist, the Japan Times, and the Guardian, to name just a few, mentioned Instapundit.com in their pages.
All this publicity helped turn Instapundit.com into an even bigger grassroots, off-the-grid phenomenom - the site's total monthly visits rose from around 470,000 in June 2002 to around 1.5 million in October 2002.
But recent data shows that Instapundit.com growth has come to a screeching halt over the last two months. It actually dropped in November, then remained flat in December.
Is this simply due to a holiday slowdown? Or has the period of spectacular growth for Instapundit.com finally begun to level off? Tune in on February 1st to see if the site manages to reverse its downward slide, or if it continues to fade...
Meanwhile, what will emerge as the media's look-what-they're-doing-on-the-Internet-now story of 2003? Will the warbloggers continue to dominate media stories like they did in 2002? Will this be the year that liberal sites get some attention? Buzzflash.com, Michaelmoore.com, Talkingpointsmemo.com, Cursor.org, and Bartcop.com all appear to be fairly popular - yet they haven't received nearly as much attention as their conservative-leaning counterparts. And Atrios, despite his ungainly Blogspot URL, appears to have some momentum, with five media mentions in December 2002. Another potential theme to run with: the popularity of political sites with an edge. Bartcop.com, Mediawhoresonline.com, Freerepublic.com, and Littlegreenfootballs.com - all controversial, all popular, all relatively overlooked in 2002's press coverage of DIY Internet media.
UPDATE: I thought I had stumbled onto a mini-scoop about Instapundit.com's numbers, but it turns out that people have been talking about it for days. David Appell looks like he was the first to post on this subject. Thomas Spencer of History News Network also has a post on this. The Comrade is shrugging off the story with convincing aplomb. Well maybe not quite convincing. He does seem to mention his traffic on a fairly regular basis. At least when the news is good. But only because people keep asking him about it.
Posted by Greg Beato at 08:03 AM
January 05, 2003
Warning: Lexis-Nexis journalism ahead
According to the Washington Post, blogs "caught the eye of the mainstream press in a big way" in 2002. To find out (inexactly) who the big winners in this publicity bonanza were, I decided to see which blogs got the most media mentions in 2002, at least according to Lexis-Nexis.
Along with blogs, I also decided to look at some other sites that I consider bloggish, if not quite blogs. To make things easy, I decided to only count mentions of a website's complete URL. Thus, some sites that have managed to brand themselves so well they're often without an URL appear a little underrepresented. For example, the phraseDrudge Report was mentioned 472 times in the last year, but drudgereport.com was mentioned only 74 times. Similarly, "Instapundit" was mentioned 161 times, but Instapundit.com was mentioned only 82 times.
But since it'd be difficult to determine how many mentions of, say, "Andrew Sullivan," were made in reference to Andrewsullivan.com, I just decided to search for mentions of complete URLs.
Also, I didn't closely examine the articles that each search yielded. In many cases, a single article yields more multiple returns, either because it was syndicated or because it appeared in multiple editions of the same publication. In addition, sometimes returns come from a person's byline blurb, rather than from an article specifically about their site. For example, when Sullivan writes a column for the Washington Times , he includes his URL.
Along with the number of media mentions, I've also included the site's Alexa.com Traffic Rank. That's the number in parentheses - according to Alexa, for example, the Drudge Report is the 333rd most-trafficked site on the Web.
Finally, these aren't necessarily the "top 40" sites in terms of media mentions. They're just the "top 40" out of the 50+ sites I decided to look at. It's quite possible there are sites I overlooked or don't know about that have gotten more mentions than some of the sites on this list.
In other words, this is ultimately just a rough, half-hour, far-from-conclusive exercise. But enough disclaimers - here are the results:
Posted by Greg Beato at 07:23 PM
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