As sure a sign as any that Barack Obama will be elected president

October 25th, 2006 → 12:50 pm @

Jon Friedman, self-proclaimed “hard-bitten” journalist (is that legal?) says he “gaped and gawked” at a recent Obama siting; nonetheless, Friedman says (in an article charmingly run through with exclamation points!), Obama “failed to wow” a conference of magazine editors and publishers.

So the self-hating and often confused Friedman says neither he nor the rest of the media world is impressed; meanwhile, Bloomberg News, Time, The Washington Post, and many others say he’s an electrifying and ascending star.

Really, I don’t even need to comment on this one.

Post Categories: Jon Friedman & Media reporting

Damn you, Jon Friedman! (Or: man, do I need to figure out a better way to spend my days.)

October 4th, 2006 → 6:13 pm @

Just last night I was telling someone how I regretted, um, engaging with MarketWatch media columnist Jon Friedman. In fact, I regretted it within days of actually doing it. Since then, I’ve managed to avoid commenting on even a single one of his columns. And there have been some doozies.

But today, Jon sucked me back in to your odd, through-the-looking glass world with a column titled “I hate the media — and why you should too.” Jon’s bete noires: “a) we feel compelled to pander to all points of view b) we all too often forsake analysis in our reporting, overlooking the real meaning about why something has happened and c) we make ill-advised judgments, especially when celebrities are involved, in the hope of getting a big fat scoop.” (What do you mean “we,” white man?)

WIthout further ado, Jon’s examples:

a) A NYT piece on Donald Rumsfeld’s squash game, which, apparently, was written to “appease pro-Rumsfeld readers.”

Funny, I didn’t quite get that from the story, which did claim to offer a “window into Mr. Rumsfeld’s complicated psyche.” Let’s go to the tape:

* Rumsfeld cheats: “He…often wins points because, after hitting a shot, he does not get out of the way so his opponent has a chance to return the ball, a practice known in squash as ‘clearing.'”

* Rumsfeld is in danger of losing his mind: “The almost-daily matches, Mr. Rumsfeld, a former Princeton wrestler, acknowledged last year, have helped preserve his ‘sanity’ in a period in which he and the administration have come under increasing political attack.”

* Rumsfeld refuses to acknowledge that it’s a different world than it was thirty years ago: “‘One time I saw Rumsfeld and I referred to hardball as an old man’s game, and he just stared at me,’ says David Bass, a public relations executive who sometimes plays on the Pentagon courts.”

* Rumsfeld is an obnoxious braggart: “Nor does Mr. Rumsfeld lack for bravado. Mohamed Awad, a former champion player who was once ranked as high as ninth in the world, spent a half hour hitting with him last February at a racquet club in Munich, where Mr. Rumsfeld was attending a military conference. … Afterward, he said, Mr. Rumsfeld suggested that he could outplay another septuagenarian politician still known for his prowess in squash, the 78-year-old Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.”

* Rumsfeld gets his ideas for transforming the military from squash: “Mr. Rumsfeld himself has suggested that his ideas about transforming the military into a smaller, more agile force, like the one he pushed for in invading Iraq, were influenced by his squash playing.”

Indeed, Jon, the Times did apparently conclude, “since Rumsfeld isn’t going anywhere, we might as well get to understand him a little better.” And when they did, it clearly was an example of “pandering to the right wing.”

b) Stories detailing former President Carter’s criticism of Bush that don’t acknowledge that Carter’s son is running for the Senate.

Jon’s example? Well, he’s been “noticing headlines — even on AOL’s ‘news’ site, for heaven’s sake — proclaiming ‘Carter Rips Bush.'”

Doing a Nexis search of the last 60 days, I found one story that had the words “Carter Rips Bush,” and that was in a brief in the San Jose Mercury News. The headline? “Campaigning for son, Carter rips Bush tenure.” A search for “Carter criticizes Bush” turned up two stories: a 9/28 story from the Reno Gazette-Journal (“Ex-president, son make stop in Fallon on campaign trail; Carters criticize Bush administration”) and one an AP from that same day (“President Carter criticizes Bush at son’s campaign stop”). (Searches for “Carter Slams Bush,” “Carter Disses Bush,” and “Carter Bitchslaps Bush” didn’t turn up anything at all.) The only NYTimes story since mid-August that talked about Carter criticizing Bush was one whose headline read, “Fathers Defeated, Democratic Sons Strike Back.”

c) The stories detailing Roger Clemens’s supposed presence in the Jason Grimsley steroid affidavit. “Just as Clemens’ team, the Houston Astros, was trying to close in on an improbable position in the postseason, a shadowy news item from the Los Angeles Times’ Web site began making the rounds. It said that Clemens and other star players had allegedly been using performance-enhancing substances, adding to the biggest scandal in sports today. … On Oct. 3…the federal prosecutor. … was quoted in the piece as saying that the Los Angeles Times’ story contained ‘significant inaccuracies.’ … It’s irresponsible for a reporter to circulate unconfirmed information and portray it as hard news. But it’s worse than that. It’s just not fair.”

Now, let’s put aside that this report was actually printed in the Times; it wasn’t some “shadowy news item” that only ran on the paper’s web site. Nor was it unsubstantiated: “A source with authorized access to an unredacted affidavit allowed The Times to see it briefly and read aloud some of what had been blacked out of the public copies. A second source and confidant of Grimsley had previously disclosed player identities and provided additional details about the affidavit.” It would appear that the Times actually read the affidavit. And speaking of lack of context, how about pointing out that the prosecutor could be covering for Clemens because he’s trying to get him to cooperate? Or, for that matter, the possibility that some of the names are wrong…but Clemens is one of the people named?

You know what I hate about the media? People who criticize without understanding, people who talk about “trends” without offering examples, and people who rush to a celebrity’s defense before all the evidence is in. Oh, and I also hate it when I get sucked back in to writing about Jon Friedman again.

Post Categories: Jon Friedman & Media reporting

Clearly, this is a man seeking an intervention

July 7th, 2006 → 4:43 pm @

Apparently, this post from Wednesday hurt Jon Friedman’s feelings; it only took him two days to come back with a response, slugged “Columnists are people, too.” Here’s the money quote:

“I contend that too many bloggers hurt themselves. They come across as loudmouths looking for an argument or a way to exploit the relative celebrity of their subjects. It’s kind of pathetic when writers can’t find something original to say and have to resort to criticizing someone else just to be heard.”

There’s so much to say about these three sentences it’s hard to know where to start. (Relative celebrity? Really? And isn’t trenchant criticism better than public fawning?) So instead I’ll just point out two tiny, completely inconsequential errors in the following section:

“I was recently blasted by several bloggers who objected to my topics, angles and conclusions (Have I left anything out, folks? If so, I’m sure you’ll let me know ASAP).
A reader responded to one blog: ‘Wow — I had no idea so many people felt so strongly about Jon Friedman. Kind of makes me feel bad for the guy.’ Thank you for that, but no worries.”

1. Actually, yes, you did leave some stuff out: I was critiquing the absence of any actual reporting and the number of glaring errors in your piece about Time.

2. That quote? About kind of feeling bad? That wasn’t a reader…that was me. Here are some clues: it says “By Seth Mnookin” and the only place it appears is on my website.

Take the weekend off and get some rest. Really: it’s kind of pathetic when writers can’t find something factual to say and have to resort to making mistakes just to be heard.

EDIT: A friend (and former editor) points out a much more on-point criticism about blogging: “the problem with blogging is it’s like the village voice letters section of old–the back-and-forth goes on long after anyone other than the two participants could possibly give a shit.” Sigh. As usual, he’s right. I’m done. (And please, Jon, don’t try to tempt me back by writing about how Fortune should really consider publishing every other week.)

Post Categories: CBS Marketwatch & Jon Friedman & Media reporting

The Monster of Florence

July 6th, 2006 → 8:16 am @

Wow — I had no idea so many people felt so strongly about Jon Friedman. Kind of makes me feel bad for the guy.

Anyway, as I know as well as anyone, there’s no shortage of subjects for those looking to engage in critical media analysis (although as someone who spent several months poring through newspaper reports from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, I can say unequivocally that the level of reporting and writing is far better today than it has ever been…but I digress). But I’m not one of those curmudgeons determined to search out what’s wrong with the world.

This article in the July/August issue of The Atlantic reminded me of how thrilling long-form journalism can be. It’s partly a history of the Monster of Florence, a serial killer who roamed the Italian hillsides from 1968 until 1985, and partly a narrative about crime novelist Douglas Preston’s involvement in the case. The full article is only available online for Atlantic subscribers, but the magazine’s website does feature an interview with Preston. I’ve always been a true-crime junkie, and Preston’s tale–like Blake Eskin’s Granta piece about Benjamin Wilkormirski or James Ellroy‘s and Steve Hodel‘s works on the Black Dahlia–belongs in my favorite subset of the genre: a story that combines a chilling tale with personal history. It’s well worth picking up a copy of the magazine to check this out.

(An aside: has any book title been more ripped off than Janet Malcolm’s The Journalist and the Murderer? Try doing a Google search: you need to wade through a lot of other pieces that have appropriated the name of Malcolm’s classic…which remains, sixteen years after it was printed, one of the definitive texts about the conflicts and quandaries of practicing journalism.)

(Another aside: with five days until the release of Feeding the Monster, it’s likely my posting will slow down a bit as I nurture my anxiety, er, prepare for my book tour. I know that promise might seem a little empty, but this time I’m serious. I think. I do have some more outtakes and sneak peeks fired up and ready to go. Oh, and also, there’s only four more days to enter the Monster Sweepstakes.)

Post Categories: Jon Friedman & Journalist and the Murderer & The Atlantic

Amazingly, there are some j-school grads who don’t have jobs

July 5th, 2006 → 9:21 am @

For about six years, I’ve been mystified by the work of Jon Friedman. He writes a media column for CBS, a financial news site bought by Dow Jones a couple of years ago. Oftentimes, Friedman’s work seems to consist of glowing profiles of this or that media exec. Other times, Friedman seems to do nothing except parrot whatever it is that’s just been said. As the Columbia Journalism Review‘s website noted recently in an article titled “The Man Who Knew Too Little and Wrote Too Much,” “Friedman occupies the odd cultural space of both upholding conventional wisdom while struggling mightily to understand it himself….As with so much else, Friedman doesn’t necessarily get anything wrong, but by time he wraps things up it’s clear he hasn’t gotten anything accomplished, either.”

Which isn’t to say Friedman isn’t occasionally impressive: Every now and then, he comes up with something that’s both banal and boneheaded. Take today’s column, titled “How Time magazine can stand apart: For starters it can change its publication date.” (Now there’s a thrilling headline.) Friedman proposes Time close mid-week, enabling it to hit newsstands on Thursdays. As Friedman asks, “Does it really make a lot of sense for the final two/sevenths of a newsmagazine’s cycle to encompass Saturday and Sunday, when little of consequence happens?”

Now, various execs at Time Inc. have advocated moving Time‘s publication to mid-week for a while; hell, I know that and I haven’t done regular media reporting since 2003. Friedman, in the midst of “propos[ing]…something truly revolutionary” apparently hasn’t done the reporting to uncover what I’ve picked up in idle chatter. (The reasons for such a move wouldn’t be the two that Friedman suggests–to improve morale and encompass more of the weekly news cycle–but because there’s a good case to be made that these days, people are more likely to have time to read a newsweekly on the weekend.) What’s more, Time, like Newsweek, closes on Saturday, not Sunday; the only way it can get news that breaks on Sunday into the magazine is to rip up an issue that’s already at the printers. (Friedman uses the capture of Saddam Hussein, which occured on a Sunday, as the rare example of news which broke on the weekend. It took me about 90 seconds to find a Times article about Saddam’s capture that contains the following sentence: “The breaking news was of such magnitude that both Time and Newsweek decided to redo issues that were already being printed.”)

That’s not the only groundbreaking suggestion Friedman has; he also recommends that Time put up exclusive web content. “The American media are missing a good bet to attract greater numbers of readers” by “provid[ing] exclusive content geared only to online readers,” he says. What an awesome idea! You mean like having Joe Klein write web-only columns? Or hiring Ana Marie Cox to do the same thing? Or maybe putting Andrew Sullivan’s blog online?

Oh, wait: already does all of that. To be fair, all of those columns are buried on the upper right-hand side of the magazine’s homepage.

Post Categories: CBS & Jon Friedman & Media reporting & Time Magazine