Media Guy's Got Love for Readers -- Even if Some Call Him Names

Thoughtful Fans Offer Kudos for Column on Virginia Tech, but Twitter Devotees Just Think He's an Idiot

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I'm a nasty little bugger, aren't I?

Or so I've read.

I'll explain, but first I'll note that this is Media Guy R.A.W. -- Reader Appreciation Week -- in which I give thanks to the lovely, smart, generous and occasionally pissed-off (at me) people who read this column.
David Carey: Portfolio publisher is a hero to Media Guy, thanks to his New Yorker days.
David Carey: Portfolio publisher is a hero to Media Guy, thanks to his New Yorker days.

To start with, I got an insane amount of responses to my recent column about TV-news operations -- CNN in particular -- that created gratuitously garish, sensationalistic animated logos for the Virginia Tech tragedy. A network executive (whom I won't name) shared my disgust with what she called the "disturbing, almost gleefully produced, logos and graphics" used to market the news coverage, while an airline mechanic wrote in to say, "You got it right on the mark -- all of that stuff was pretty gross. Thank you." (Since I fly frequently, I'm always happy to please airline mechanics.) I lost count of the blog responses I came across, but I was especially gratified by thoughtful posts by Steve Delahoyde on the excellent design blog UnBeige and Brian Montopoli on the CBS News blog Public Eye. Montopoli, remarkably, not only acknowledged that my criticism encompassed CBS News but added: "There's no denying that the graphics used by the networks sometimes seemed obscene -- did we really need dramatic fonts and graphics of gun sights to convey the enormity of this tragedy?"

Special shout-outs to MTV digital chief Mika Salmi and former Viacom CEO Tom Freston, both of whom I gently made fun of in a recent Media Guy pop quiz; their e-mails to me demonstrate that they have exceedingly healthy senses of humor. Same with Conde Nast Portfolio Publisher David Carey, who graciously thanked me for "having some fun with our launch" and added, "I almost spilled my coffee, I was laughing so hard." (In the event of an actual spill, of course, Si Newhouse would have picked up the dry-cleaning bill.)

Carey, by the way, is a hero in my book because, as publisher of The New Yorker, he shepherded the historically money-losing magazine to profitability in 2002, noting at the time that he saw his job as "validating journalists' faith that quality wins out." That's a big part of the reason I have little interest in all the Portfolio bashing that's been going on. Slamming the first issue of a magazine is a bit like panning a play in previews or throwing a fit because your soup was lukewarm on the very first day a restaurant was open. Granted, Portfolio's first issue was a long time coming (I made fun of Portfolio's prelaunch hype machine, not the actual magazine), but I do believe Conde Nast is basically the only big magazine publisher that's truly interested in making new, risky investments in editorial quality right now -- and it has a history of spending the money it takes to get things right.

(Full disclosure: I've written, worked and/or consulted for various Conde Nast publications over the years, and I'm a contributing editor at Details, which is published by the company. I had nothing at all to do with Portfolio.)

As long as I'm in an agreeable mood (God knows why), I'll agree (sort of) with some criticism of a column I wrote several weeks back in which I challenged the notion that a lot of supposed Web 2.0 stuff actually represents any sort of great leap forward. In particular, I singled out nano-blogging service Twitter, which lets users publish short (140 characters or fewer) "tweets" from their cellphones or computers in answer to the standing question "What are you doing right now?" I quoted several random tweets, including one from a user named ian_hocking, which I spotted on the Twitter website: "Having a nap in the hope my feverish symptoms will abate."

Ian Hocking turns out to be a British blogger (and novelist and university lecturer) who clearly thinks I'm an idiot. He notes in his blog: "For me, [Twitter is] entirely a piece of art; I love the idea of people from all over the world just answering a simple question over and over. ... I'm sorry, but if you don't think this is simply awesome as a piece of global, human expression, then I can't help you."

Sure, in a manner of speaking, Twitter as a whole, as a technological phenomenon, is art (Jenny Holzer, arguably, begat Twitter), and it is conceptually awesome -- but individual tweets are, I maintain, mostly mindless, ephemeral drivel. And they're certainly not the building blocks of some brave new order of human communication and mass media. While it's nice that some of Hocking's friends care enough about him and his well-being to indulge his tweets, what I was really ridiculing in my column was the notion that little bits of random communication -- tweets and Facebook posts and so on -- are "user-generated media" that can be "monetized" and that advertising can and should be sold against this "content."

Hocking goes on to write that attacking Twitter is "as pointless as attacking two cups and a piece of string." Dangerous territory that, because at this very moment, someone somewhere is probably trying to figure out some way to automatically place contextual text ads on the cups (or perhaps banner ads can be dangled from the string). And venture capitalists can surely be persuaded to invest in this scheme if the words "social networking" or "the next MySpace" are somehow associated with it.

Look, I have nothing against cups and string, real or virtual -- and I'm all for deeply personal, idiosyncratic human expression -- but I don't think every tweet or blurp or bloop or fart that emanates from a human can or should have advertising sold against it.

In his blog post, by the way, Hocking calls me a "muppet," while one of his supporters, on another blog, made that comment about my nasty buggerishness.

They're both right!
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