Latoya Peterson


In TechCrunch world, readers value interpretation as much as information

This week, thousands of people descended on San Francisco for Tech Crunch Disrupt where the start-up focused conference is in full swing with Michael Arrington, found and former editor for TechCrunch, in attendance. Being ousted from the roost of his popular blog hasn’t slowed Arrington for a second; he’s got a brand-spanking new venture capital firm and AOL’s $25 million payday to dry his tears.

However, AOL may have bit off a bit more than it can chew with the TechCrunch acquisition and ouster. While the official statement appoints Eric Schonfeld to the top of the masthead, Arrington and some key staffers have expressed their displeasure with AOL’s decision. And with good reason. The controversy hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for Arrington — for reasons that are unique to the fifth estate, or the new breed of news provider rising up while the field of professional journalists shrinks.

In the wake of Arrington’s decision to write for TechCrunch while launching CrunchVentures, a venture capital firm highlighting up and comers in the tech industry, vanguards of the fourth estate cried foul over the obvious conflict of interest. AOL, which purchased TechCrunch for $25 million close to a year ago, immediately freaked out and — after a few contradictory statements — ultimately removed Arrington from all operations.Read more

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‘Marriage Vow’ pledge misrepresented slavery facts, media repeated mistakes

A peculiar candidate pledge made national headlines this last week and exposed some of the cracks in our collective media foundation. The “Marriage Vow,” created by conservative religious group The Family Leader, was presented to Republican candidates as a way to secure the group’s support. Presidential hopefuls Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum both signed on — and unwittingly endorsed erroneous statements about black families under slavery. (Apparently, the candidates intended to support the  assertions made about homosexuality.)

Both the Fourth and Fifth estate leapt into action, with the Fourth explaining what happened and what might have sparked the controversy, and the Fifth parsing out what interested them most and either condemning or supporting the vow.

But one important part of the conversation is missing: Where is the context around the claims in the document? Were black children really in stable, two parent homes in the era immediately after slavery, as the “Marriage Vow” claimed? The immediate reaction from many writing on the Vow was to dismiss the claim outright, but consider how misinformed many Americans are on key tenets of American history.

Use Michele Bachmann as an example; she seems to believe the founding fathers were against slavery, when history reveals George Washington had over 300 slaves at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson was a total hypocrite, publicly against slavery as an institution but maintaining slaves at Monticello and keeping a shadow family with Sally Hemings.… Read more

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Twitter does not need an editor, just time to evolve

Are tragic movie deaths considered newsworthy? What about Twitter users’ penchant to Rise and Grind? Social media has blurred the boundaries of traditional news organizations by allowing journalists and taste-makers to patch into a daily conversation around trends.

While only 8 percent of Americans who are online actually use Twitter, its awareness levels are through the roof — over 90 percent of the general population knows about the platform. Twitter’s adoption rate and visibility have made it a go-to for information, so it was only a matter of time before discussions of regulation would begin.

Earlier this month, AdAge’s Simon Dumenco argued that Twitter was becoming a “disinformation network.” Dumenco suggested that Twitter use human intermediaries to determine the “best source of information” for trending topics.

After venting his frustration with celebrity death hoaxes and jokes passed around and interpreted as truthful, Dumenco proposed that Twitter create a hierarchy of sources and parse the accuracy of what is trending on the site.

Dumenco says he doesn’t want to tamper with the trending topics (though, Twitter has already done that when Bieber-fever stricken teens figured out how to game the system) but he advocates for human oversight for origin and truthfulness of trends, and asks Twitter to rank sources of information, something akin to a content editor for Twitter.… Read more

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Police say an 11-year-old girl was raped in this abandoned trailer in Cleveland, Texas. Eighteen men -- ages 18 to 27 -- have been accused of participating in the attack. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

New York Times, Houston Chronicle tell different stories of 11-year-old’s rape

The New York Times finds itself embroiled in controversy after publishing an article on a horrific gang rape that occurred in Cleveland, Texas. Citizens (most notably young feminist organizer Shelby Knox) are striking back, taking to Change.org to demand that the Times apologize and also deftly illustrating how advocacy can serve to illuminate bias in how stories are reported.

Police say an 11-year-old girl was raped in this abandoned trailer in Cleveland, Texas. Eighteen men — ages 18 to 27 — have been accused of participating in the attack. (Pat Sullivan/AP)

The piece, written by James C. McKinley, Jr., came under fire for stacking the coverage so that the piece heavily quoted from those who blamed the victim for her predicament, mentioned precious little about the boys and men involved in the assault, and focused heavily on revealing class markers instead of illuminating the details of the case.

As an example, let’s examine one of the key issues in the piece — McKinley gave space only to people who said it was the girl’s fault that she was sexually assaulted:

“Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months.

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How Gawker’s redesign subverts the scannable culture of the Internet it helped create

It’s only Tuesday, and already it has been a tough week for Gawker Media.

The popular blogging house announced its plans for a brand refresher back in December, part of Nick Denton’s grand vision to move “beyond the blog.” Denton announced his grandiose goals by saying:

“It represents an evolution of the very blog form that has transformed online media over the last eight years. The Internet, television and magazines are merging; and the optimal strategy will assemble the best from each medium.”

Unfortunately, the unveiling didn’t quite go as planned. After executing the new site design on Monday, commenters widely panned the new design.

Gawker.com quickly (and perhaps temporarily) reverted to a reverse chronological view Monday that was closer to the typical blog format, while Tuesday all the sites in the portfolio are using the new layout.

The reason for the user outcry is fairly simple — unlike committing to sit down with a newspaper, magazine, or television show, the online world is built and based on distractions.

Denton’s redesign was trying to accomplish the impossible — force readers to focus on one editorially selected topic while the norms of the online world make everyone into little hummingbirds, flitting from link to link, site to site, and story to story.… Read more

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From Sarah Palin to Christine O’Donnell, Coverage of ’08 Election Reverberates in 2010

The 2008 landmark election cycle marked the first in which a white woman and a black man threw their hats in the ring to compete for the highest office in the land. Predictably, these acts opened America’s Pandora’s Box of racism and sexism, enthralling the nation and reverberating even in these 2010 midterm elections. Salon.com’s political grand dame, Rebecca Traister, covered the race — and along the way found herself questioning everything from her political views to the nature of feminism in politics.

I also blogged about the election, race and gender at Racialicious.com, so our paths crossed again and again. In 2009, Traister asked to interview me for her project, which became the recently published “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Earlier this month, we caught up at Politics and Prose, the night she gave her inaugural reading from her critically acclaimed first book. Speaking loudly over the clanking of silverware and the din of the cafe, we talked a bit about the state of the media, gender politics in the press corps, and fantasy worlds. An edited version of our conversation is below.

Election as a prism through which to see American women’s history

Latoya Peterson: Why did you name your book “Big Girls Don’t Cry?”

Rebecca Traister: Well, I didn’t think of writing this book until very, very late in the election.… Read more

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Humorous News ‘Warning Labels’ Hint at Serious Challenges for Media

Last week, Boing Boing, the popular technology and culture blog, trained its spotlight on a hilarious and painful project by British comedian Tom Scott. He created a set of printable warning labels meant to alert consumers to some of the major flaws that plague journalism.

With statements such as “This article is basically just a press release, copied and pasted” and “Journalist does not understand the subject they are writing about,” the stickers were met with amused guffaws from consumers and a resigned acknowledgment from practicing journalists.

Scott’s joke played into existing consumer attitudes about the trustworthiness and reliability of modern news coverage. Gallup recently published the 2010 results of its Confidence in Institutions poll. Once again, news media fared higher than Congress, but that isn’t saying much.

Only 25 percent of respondents have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in newspapers, and 22 percent said the same for television news. Neither institution has fared very well in the periodic survey. When Gallup started asking about confidence in newspapers in 1973, 39 percent expressed confidence. When TV news was added in 1993, 46 percent expressed confidence.

Gallup frets:

“With nearly all news organizations struggling to keep up with the up-to-the-minute news cycle and to remain profitable in the process, Americans’ low trust in newspapers and television news presents a critical barrier to success.… Read more
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Use Authentic Experiences, not Formulas, to Talk about Race

Watching and reading news reports about race in America is a depressing endeavor. Just this week, race has dominated the headlines, from racism in the ranks of the tea party to USDA’s Shirley Sherrod being dragged through the mud based on an edited video being posted on a prominent conservative blog.

Why is the press corps so bad at covering racial issues? Regardless of the circumstance, the players, and the nature of the problem, most stories about race follow the same format, almost to the letter. A journalist describes the issue at hand and poses the question, “Is this racist?” The reporter then interviews the principals or talks to a pundit (rarely is an expert tapped), presents both arguments, and ends the piece.

This is indicative of a much larger problem. Since race is such a polarized issue in the United States, reporters and pundits often avoid the messier threads, preferring a tighter, “neutral” story flow over our messy reality.

And even if an outlet chooses to tackle race without hiding behind the he-said-she-said formula, the subject is often treated in the most sensationalist way possible.

For example, take a recent Time magazine piece by Joel Stein called “My Own Private India.” This story was positioned as satire, but it relied heavily on racial stereotypes to explore an awkward and explosive topic: how immigration impacts small, traditionally white towns.… Read more

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What’s Next for Blogging at News Orgs Post-Weigel?

The level of obsession by media insiders around the demise of David Weigel as a Washington Post blogger reflects the changing nature of today’s journalism values.

Weigel’s work straddled the world of the new and the old, incorporating norms from the Fifth Estate (distinctive voice, independent point of view and snarky hyperbole) with those from the Fourth Estate (pursuit of truth, fairness in reporting and keeping personal opinions from public view). The scrutiny of his departure from the Post comes from journalists in both worlds and reveals a growing tension between the two cultures.

To recap: Weigel was a blogger-reporter for The Washington Post and the main author of the now-defunct “Right Now” blog. He resigned from his job after Fishbowl DC published excerpts of his personal e-mails in which he lambasted parts of the conservative movement. Weigel had posted his pejorative thoughts to JournoList, an invitation-only listserv for center to left-leaning journalists and policy experts. 

The Daily Caller then followed up, revealing even more inflammatory e-mails. 

On June 29, Weigel updated his blog with a note that he would be contributing to MSNBC while still looking for a full-time job.

Dividing into camps

Observers from both the Fourth and Fifth estates were quick to take sides, with Twitter hashtags#Weigelgate and #teamweigel.… Read more

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Why Keith Olbermann Flounced from Daily Kos

Why did Keith Olbermann break up with political website Daily Kos? The answer highlights the tension professional journalists must resolve as they experiment with different audiences and relationships.

Olbermann, the host of MSNBC’s “Countdown,” has been a heavy participant at the political website the Daily Kos since 2008. He maintained his own diary there and often responded to others in comment threads around the site. But for a while last week, it appeared that relationship with Kos had ended — after a critic suggested Olbermann’s biting commentary on President Obama’s oil speech was a ratings ploy.

In response, the TV personality announced he was leaving the site until it returned to a level of reason. His post evokes a feeling of betrayal by his community, as he writes in a post called “Check, Please.”

“For years, from the Katrina days onward, whenever I stuck my neck out, I usually visited here as the clichéd guy in the desert stopping by the oasis. I never got universal support, and never expected it, nor wanted it (who wants an automatic ‘Yes’ machine?). But I used to read a lot about how people here would ‘always have my back’ and trust me this was of palpable value as I fought opponents external and internal who try to knock me and Rachel off the air, all the time, in ways you can imagine and others you can’t.

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