Man Without Qualities

Friday, May 20, 2005

Tipping Points

From Taranto:
David Gergen observed on "Hardball" the other night:
It strikes me that this might be one of those famous tipping points, that, when you have a series of blunders, scandals, what have you, in the mainstream media, that, at a certain point, . . . the public gets fed up. And because so many people died here as a consequence of this, the publication, I think there's a lot of anger out there. You can see it in the blogs. . . . You can see it in the conversation today. I think the public may have just had enough.

And it may--if there's any silver lining, it may be that there will be a real push now to raise the standards in journalism, so that these unidentified, anonymous sources can't drive the coverage in the way this individual did.

It strikes us that if this is a "tipping point," the chief reason is not Newsweek's use of flimsy sources--a technical point that isn't of that much interest to nonjournalists--but rather its cavalier attitude toward American interests.

Well, it strikes the Man Without Qualities that journalistic standards are analogous to modules in the operating system of a computer: the consumer doesn't really care much about the workings of the operating system, but he or she sure gets mad fast when an operating system bug disrupts the applications software.

For example, when MicroSoft Windows causes a little hourglass to hoover interminably on the screen or causes the computer to "crash" when it is supposed to perform a key function, most consumers do not have an urge to read any little error explanation card that may pop up detailing the underlying operating system defect - or otherwise investigate the details of the operating system bug. Rather, the consumer has a strong and economically rational desire to look into possibly acquiring some other operating system on which the applications software might run better.

And so it is with journalistic standards. Taranto is exactly correct to note that Newsweek's use of flimsy sources is a technical point that isn't of that much interest to nonjournalists. What level of sources and other evidence (no docments were adduced) is appropriate and necessary to confirm a story or fact surely lies at the technical heart of journalistic operations systems.

On the other hand, nonjournalists (that is, "viewers" and "readers" and other "information consumers") sure have interest in (one might say "outrage over") unreliable, inflamatory stories and charges which are the products of defects or bugs in those same journalistic operations systems! But most of those nonjournalists have about as much interest in the technical details of the journalistic bug that produced the disaster as computer users have in the technical operating system bug that produced that permanent little hourglass or that "crash."

And the nonjournalist has a strong and economically rational desire to look into possibly acquiring some other source or sources of information than the mainstream media outlet harboring and, in this case, actually defending that bug. No operating system software company would dream of doing anything comparable. Is it a wonder that most of the mainstream media is contracting? Was it a wonder that computer consumers rose up against MicroSoft?

Compared to Newsweek and much of the rest of the mainstream media, MicroSoft is all about the consumer.

Comments: Post a Comment