Occupying Newsrooms and Bribing Bloggers

It's the Best Media Writing of the Week

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For all the griping that journalism is becoming less about gathering facts and more about spewing opinions, we seem to be getting fewer powerful, persuasive broadsides than we used to. Sure, the who/what/why/where/when model is the trade's equivalent of a pair of dentures resting bedside in a glass: still useful but nothing anyone wants to talk about. But nobody's showing any fangs much either.

Craig Dubow recently resigned as Gannett's CEO.
Craig Dubow recently resigned as Gannett's CEO. Credit: Gannett

Which is why David Carr's column this week about departed Gannett executives receiving mammoth payouts despite eye-poppingly bad performance was so welcome. Mr. Carr's argument is not overly complex -- he even called it "mean" in an interview on NPR's "Fresh Air" this week. I'd call it unassailably correct. You may think that 's a strangely un-PoMo feeling to have, but dig his argument: If you're behind the wheel when your company's stock price drops $65 and headcount declines by 20,000, you don't deserve $37 million and happy-ending press release on your way out the door. Case closed or, rather, -30-.

Here's Mr. Carr:

No one, least of all me, is suggesting that running a newspaper company is a piece of cake. But the people in the industry who are content to slide people out of the back of the truck until it runs out of gas not only don't deserve tens of millions in bonuses, they don't deserve jobs.

The optics of the bonuses are far worse than the practical impact. Newspapers are asking their employees for shared sacrifice and their digital readers to begin paying. So, lucrative packages won't cut it. As newspapers all over the country struggle to divine the meaning of the Occupy protests, some of the companies that own them might want to listen closely to see if there is a message there meant for them.

So some sort of black-hat link-seeding company tried to get Gawker's Hamiton Nolan to mention its clients in his posts in exchange for some cash. This didn't go over well, as you'll see from their email exchange. It's all so unbelievable in a completely believable way. This excerpt is from a message from a guy named Bryan at a company called 43a:

What we suggest (as long as you think it won't get you into any trouble -- we don't want anything that isn't beneficial for both parties) is trying to drop a link in the article, and seeing if the editor mentions it. If he does, remove the link, and we'll go our separate ways. If he doesn't, we'll pay you handsomely, and we can continue if you want to. We don't do this for every article, and there is a certain "under the radar" element to it, so you don't want to over do it.

That said, I also don't want you in trouble with your editor. So if it can't be done, just let me know and we're totally cool with that .

Kotaku imagines the book was a video game.
Kotaku imagines the book was a video game. Credit: Kotaku

Elsewhere in the Gawker Media empire, Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton had a clever one on buying video games, which sounds boring unless you've ever injected yourself into the purchase cycle for one of these blockbuster games. To tease out the absurdities, he imagines what it would be like if you had to jump through the same hoops to buy a big, buzzy book, like Haruki Murakami's new one, 1Q84:

Gosh am I excited about the 1Q84 Beta that 's coming up! I heard that Murakami is still polishing the final book, but that he wanted to see how his distribution channels are working, and make sure that we can all get the book, that the translation is okay, and that we understand it. That's good, you want to be sure that stuff is working!

But really, I'm just excited to finally get to read some of it! I've been waiting for this book for so long, getting an advance taste will be amazing.

What the shit. I am pretty disappointed in this beta. This book just isn't finished! Man, there was a part in Chapter 3 where every time I turned the page, it was the same page again, over and over and over. ... I kept having to start over from the beginning, nothing made any sense! The translation seems off, like they're having trouble getting the words right.

I know this has been an issue with his books in the past, and that they've always worked it out, but this has me concerned. It's so close to publication -- maybe the book just isn't ready?

Normally, we'd hesitate to include a blog post about Facebook from someone just now discovering Facebook, but when that person is tech journalist/entrepreneur John Battelle, it's worth a peek. Mr. Battelle, writing on his Searchblog, makes some nice points about the social network's shortcomings, including its "enforced rudeness" that comes when you reject people's friend requests without being able to explain why:

Most folks only take one run at crafting their digital identity on Facebook. I'd reckon most of us don't want to spend hours going back to rejigger our "graph" once it's created. That'd be way too much work.

But that graph is based on a extremely rudimentary set of social rules that break down over time, and will fail to reflect our true selves as we extend our identity online. And as Facebook moves to leverage that identity through the Open Graph to nearly every action we take online, I can't help but think the brittleness of this system will be exposed. It then becomes a race -- between Facebook's ability to reverse-engineer more nuanced social interaction back into its platform (and it is , I can see attempts in the interface already), and some new startup (or, OK, maybe Google) that allows us to do the same with far less work.

Writing for The New York Times magazine, Dan Kois gave us a simply wonderful story on Lynda Barry, a cartoonist for alt-weeklies in better times now teaching writing classes and generally going around being off-beat and charming. A high point is when she talks about the (otherwise execrable) strip "Family Circus" created by Bil Keane:

"I grew up in a house that had a whole lot of trouble," she said. "As much trouble as you could imagine. In the daily paper, there were all these comic strips, and there was one that was a circle. It seemed like things were pretty good on the other side of the circle. No one's getting hit. No one's yelling."

Once, at a comics convention, she shook hands with Bil Keane's son, Jeff -- Jeffy -- who now inks the strip. Barry instantly burst into tears. She told the class why: "Because when he put his hand out and I touched it, I realized I had stepped through the circle. I was on the other side of the circle, the place where I wanted to be. And how I got there was I drew a picture." She smiled and held her arms out. "The reason I'm standing here in Florida in 2011 is because I drew a picture and wrote some words. The reason you all are here is because you're interested in doing the same thing. When I think about all the things that this image world has brought me. ... I mean, I don't have health insurance, and dental work is really an issue, but the feeling that life is worth living? Being in this class gives me that in spades."

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