Thoughts about Journalism

Death to User-Generated Content
Just a thought from 4 April 2006 about , , , , .

Dear internet,

Can I make a suggestion? Let's all stop using the phrase "user-generated content." I'm serious. It's a despicable, terrible term. Let's deconstruct it.

User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.

Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.

Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.

So what's user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.

Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online "user-generated content" is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, "Hey baby, let's have intercourse."

Continue reading “Death to User-Generated Content” »

Dear Business Week
Just a thought from 18 March 2006 about , , , .

Thanks for featuring Fray, my humble site, in the lead of your recent story, You Are What You Post. We always appreciate journalists taking the time to use a 5 year-old personal story contributed to our "obscure" literary site as a to peg to hang a fear-mongering, hysterical story on.

But it would have been nice if you had at least linked to the original stuff to let readers judge the threat for themselves. The original story was called Letterman on Drugs and was written by the talented storyteller Lance Anderson.

Young Josh posted his story to the posting area that follows every Fray story. His contribution appears at the top of the second page. As you can see, he's in good company. There are 39 pages of stories like Josh's.

Continue reading “Dear Business Week” »

Bloggers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Journalists
Just a thought from 5 April 2005 about , , , .

Here's a fun thing to try: Ask your typical blogger what they think of journalists. "Hacks!" They'll scream. "Journalism sucks!"

Then tell them about bloggers being treated differently than journalists. "Unfair!" They scream. "We're journalists, too!"

Try to follow the logic here: Journalism is lame and broken, so bloggers want to be journalists.

With me so far? No? Let's start over.

I went to school for journalism. Got a BA in photojournalism, which just meant I took a lot of photos in my journalism classes. I've worked as a journalist and an editor. I have some experience in this. So let me be clear: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do not turn bloggers into journalists.

Folks, journalism is a craft. It takes a lot of time to learn to do well. There are rules, written and unwritten, that are applied. Laws that matter. Experience that you have to earn. Journalism - good journalism - is really, really hard.

Blogging, like you're reading now, is not hard. It's not supposed to be. A lot of people have worked very hard to make blogging as easy as typing a thought and hitting a button. That's the beauty of blogging - anyone can do it, about anything.

So again I say: Please, for the love of all that's good and holy, do NOT turn bloggers into journalists!

When Apple sued the proprietors of three rumor sites because they'd revealed trade secrets, bloggers screamed, "but journalists are protected from that! Bloggers should be, too!" Which sounds good and just until you give it more than a minute's thought.

To become a journalist, you have to go to school, go to college, intern at some crap paper, work for crap wages, write whatever dreck the established writers don't want, put up with egomaniacal, power mad, amateur Napoleon editors who will freak out if you put a capital letter in the wroNg place, and do this all for years and years before they let you near a story that matters.

To become a blogger you have to register for a free account, slam your index fingers into a keyboard a few times, and click POST.

Tell me again how those things are the same. Tell me again how they both deserve equal protections. I mean, with a straight face.

People, being a journalist is hard. A lot harder than it looks, in fact. That's why so many of them are so bad at it. But just because you have a Blogger account, don't pretend for a second that makes you a journalist. What that makes you is a source. A potentially interesting source, yes, but no more interesting than a guy on the corner with a bullhorn.

And, remember, that's a good thing. The reason blogs are interesting is because they're not journalism. They're unfiltered personal voices. Raw emotion. They don't have rules to follow, editors and advertisers to keep happy, parent corporations to make rich. They're the real deal.

Here's a secret: Journalists want to be us. It's true! We bloggers have the freedom to be painfully honest. When's the last time you looked up from a newspaper and said, "wow, I can't believe she said that!" I do that just about every time I read Dooce.

If blogs wanted the same rights and protections as newspapers, they'd have to adhere to the same standards, laws, and process. Is that really what you want? An editor breathing down your neck? And if it is, why don't you just go work for a newspaper?

Please, we have newspapers. Let's make something different out of blogging. Let's not make it into something old and dying because they get the cool toys.

Certainly there are some bloggers that are journalistic in tone and approach, but that's the exception. Why force a young, flexible medium into that one dull corner? Because if we apply the same standards to blogging as are applied to journalism, blogs will get boring in a hurry. That's not what I want.

So if you enjoy blogs, then next time some blogger gets their panties in a twist about journalists getting all the breaks, just say: "Damn right! Ain't it great?"

And then go post about it on your blog.

Enemy Mine
Just a thought from 24 November 2003 about , , .

Just for the record, I do not hate Google, nor am I its enemy. Quite the opposite: I'm a fan. I love Google. They've done so much for the web. I use their search and news services daily. And, in most cases, the choices they make are sound.

I criticize them when they make choices I don't like, the same way your family tells you when they don't like your girlfriend. It's out of love and respect, even when it's hard to say.

So it's disappointing to spend 40 minutes on the phone with a journalist, make that love absolutely clear, go to great pains to explain what a great thing the AdSense program is, to even refer him to Matt Haughey for a success story, and, in the end, get a line like this:

AdSense has made Google a lot of friends -- and enemies like Derek Powazek of San Francisco.

No, I am not Google's enemy. I thought I made that clear. I'm disappointed that I was dropped from the AdSense program, sure. That money went to support Fray. But I'm no one's enemy. Not over something so trivial.

That's simply sloppy journalism - going for the dramatic turn of phrase instead of the nuanced truth. And I'm sorry my name got used this way.

Perhaps I should be the Boston Globe's enemy now.

(Looks like Dave is unhappy, too.)

This section is called Just a Thought. It's a blog where I post little pieces of what I'm thinking about at the moment. This page shows thoughts about Journalism, including:

Death to User-Generated Content
4 April 2006

Dear Business Week
18 March 2006

Bloggers Don't Let Your Children Grow Up to Be Journalists
5 April 2005

Enemy Mine
24 November 2003

Join the POWlist
Enter your email address here so I can send an occasional note to your inbox. Only good things, I promise. More info »

The Fine Print

Working the web since 1995, Derek Powazek is the creator of many award-winning websites, a couple of which still exist. Derek is the cofounder of JPG Magazine and the CCO of 8020 Publishing. Derek lives in San Francisco with his wife, two nutty Chihuahuas, a grumpy cat, and a house full of plants named Fred. More »

Join the POWlist to receive the occasional note.


Thoughts by month:

Thoughts by subject:

Search with Technorati:

Search with Google:

In Print
My CaliforniaMy California
Contributor (Story)
We DoWe Do
Contributor (Photos)
Design for CommunityDesign for Community
Author (Tech)
San Francisco StoriesSan Francisco Stories
Author (Stories)
We've Got BlogWe've Got Blog
Contributor (Essay)