What You Do Is More Important Than What You Say

Mark Glaser at MediaShift published an article a few weeks ago that was an insider perspective from a NYU journalism student. She is taking a class called “Reporting Gen Y (a.k.a. Quarterlifers)” and she wrote a blog piece about the class. The piece itself is surprising, containing observation that she was the only one of the 16 students who actually had a blog before the class amongst others. What’s really interesting is what the follow-on reaction was.

Her professor – the one teaching young budding reporters how to use new media – was not happy at the budding reporter’s use of new media. This class requires all of the students to blog, but when the subject was about the inadequacies of the class itself as reported by Alana, the professor claims that was an invasion of privacy because she did not ask permission to do so. I’m no journalism student or a journalist, but is that how it works? You need permission to write a piece about your experiences from everyone else in the experience?

Even more fascinating to me are the comments on Glaser’s follow-up about the reaction to the original post. It reflects the clear divide to me between the defenders of the status quo and those willing to upset it. I find the latter group more valuable because, to quote Dr. Horrible “the status is not quo!” The impression I got from those defending the actions of NYU and Professor Quigley is that reporters should know their place, only report on things that the subjects want reported on, not upset apple carts. Thinking back a century or so, what important pieces of journalism were comfortable for anyone involved or did the subjects desire to have written? The argument seems to be on the ethics of writing the blog post without telling people she was doing so – in a class required to write blog posts. That whole line of debate is at best disingenuous.

I can tell you that if I paid my money to go to NYU, took a class on blogging, blogged about the class and then had a policy applied to me ex post facto that I was not to blog about what happens in the class on blogging, I would be pissed off at the minimum. What it would give me is a teachable moment, but the teaching is not what the professor wants. It is clearly “Listen to what I say but ignore what I do.” My favorite moment in any Subgenius ritual is when the speaker says “Question Authority!” and the whole audience yells out “Why?” If this journalism professor feels that authority can appropriately quash things from being written that the authority doesn’t want out there, then that explains a lot to me about our modern times.

I don’t create journalism. A few years ago when I was doing interviews at an SF convention and they made me get a press pass, I wasn’t happy because I didn’t like being labeled press. To my mind that’s a value subtraction from what I was trying to do. I have no reverence for the position of Professional Journalist as a career. That’s great kid, now report on something meaningful to me in an illustrative way and we’ll be getting somewhere. More and more these days, I’m not happy with the journalism I do experience. It doesn’t ask the hard questions, doesn’t provide what I need to know and generally fails to question authority in the ways that I feel it is obligated to. Now I’m slowly beginning to understand why that is, and the outlook for that improving in the future is that much bleaker.

Let me close with an appropriate quote from one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th and 21st centuries:

Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived
We got to pump the stuff to make us tough
from the heart
It’s a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange
People, people we are the same
No we’re not the same
Cause we don’t know the game
What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved lets get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say…
Fight the Power


I was contacted by Mark Glaser of the Mediashift blog for PBS the other day about the food fight brother Gillmor and I had over the Earthlink ads. He published his final piece today, and I’m extensively quoted. In fact, I’m probably quoted too much. Some stuff that was kind of silly that I was giving for background ended up in it verbatim. That’s all my fault, not Glaser’s in any way. I haven’t quite learned only to say things to reporters that I’m happy to see in the final piece. Note to self – keep mouth shut more.

Here’s part of what he quoted that I think is pretty sensible:

“Podcasts work because they are economically viable to create without requiring large audiences. Because the denominator gets raised and the interests more rarified and less general, it gets more possible to have sponsorships and ads that hit the Holy Grail: giving the audience the ads it actually wants to hear…I think the value that the medium brings is increasing the odds that the sponsorship will have that kind of relationship to the audience.

Now, if only I had stuck to that, I would have had a much better batting average.

The last part of the piece is about quitting day jobs. Dear lord I’m getting tired of hearing about this. As much as I love the form, I don’t think that a new economy has been created that will support thousands of people as a sole source of income. Not today, maybe not for a long time — if ever. Only about one in twenty of the published novelists I know make their living solely from writing, for pete’s sake. I’ve written about this before and I think almost a year later I still feel exactly like I did then, perhaps even more strongly (although I have undoubtedly slid down the revenue list since.) On this subject I always go back to Hugh Macleod’s Sex and Cash Theory.

I say don’t worry so much about making money or getting “big”, worry about getting good. That doesn’t mean start out perfect day one, but focus on making every show better than the last. If you reach the point of consistently putting out a quality show that really speaks to people and entertains or informs them, the money and the “bigness” will come. If you are good enough, you’ll have to work to keep them away.