I’ve blogged recently about comic book artist, publisher and teacher Stephen R. Bissette. This post is an exorcism of sorts because I just want it out of my system. As long as I’ve known Dan Conover, I’ve thought he and Bissette looked a lot alike. Dan is screwing this comparison up recently by losing weight and getting trimmer, as well as clipping back the facial hair to less mountain man proportions. I’m using a picture of Dan that is a few years old just because it makes my case stronger.
I now present, for your enjoyment, “Separated at birth? Dan Conover vs Stephen R. Bissette”:
I once had a conversation at Dragon*Con with my friend and Subgenius luminary Susie “the Floozie” and she was telling me a story about a guy she knew. She said he was a big lumberjack looking guy, “You know, kind of like Steve Bissette.” There ain’t that many people that you can use that as a referent and have them understand, but she happened to be talking to one of them. Rock on, nerdosphere.
I got to spend a little time with Dan Conover last Saturday, kicking around ideas that have floated between us personally, between our blogs and in the aether. Ever since he took the buyout for his job from the Charleston Post and Courier, he has really been on fire at the Xark blog.
Just this evening he made a post (which I think would rock even if it didn’t name check me) about the damage that narrative is doing to the current state of journalism. I find it amazing how hard it is to get facts from a news story nowadays. Any news story – print, web or video – that begins “It was a day like any other for Joe Bob …” is one that has already lost me.
He also wrote a piece yesterday that used BarCampCHS as an example of the things that are typical of a New Charleston forming that doesn’t need to ask permission of or win the approval of the old money, Old Charleston power brokers. It is also a kick ass read that I highly recommend.
Our conversation Saturday kept coming back to this journalism grenade he lobbed earlier this year. I think this is an idea he should pursue and since no one else seems to care, he should do this and force everyone else to adopt it by succeeding with it until no one else can possibly ignore it.
Check out Dan’s work. I guarantee you that it will rock your little world.
I find the current state of the news industry a fascinating thing to watch. In that way, it’s much like a 12 car pile-up or a dumpster fire.
Here are a few items on the subject that I have found highly interesting.
Dan Conover wrote a piece called The Newspaper Suicide Pact a few weeks ago, and it really seems to have gotten a lot of traction. It was even Boing Boinged a few weeks ago. I’ve wanted to talk to Dan about his experiences looking at the future of newspapers for the Charleston Post and Courier and then having all recommendations ignored. What I really like about this piece is that he points out a fact I think is really important. In all these pro-newspaper articles they are really arguing the positives for a newspaper industry that hasn’t existed for a long time. There are very few plucky rumpled beat reporters wearing out the shoe leather doing investigative reporting so if your argument for newspapers involves this sort of romantic self-image, it ain’t reality.
My AmigoFish recommendation feed dropped in this episode of the show Dave Winer and Jay Rosen do together called Rebooting the News. In it, Rosen discusses his “Church of the Savvy” analysis and I found it brilliant. I hope he writes it up soon so I can point to it. He points out that many current practitioners of journalism place their highest value on their own savviness, their own ability to be insiders and to understand the game. It really explains the mechanism for phenomena like the lousy process heavy horse race campaign reporting we get. The reporters don’t want to test the campaign claims against reality, they want to talk about “whether or not they will play with public” and whether they will “move the needle.” I thank Jay Rosen for giving me a cognitive framework for my disgust with the state of reporting. It doesn’t make it better, but it explains why it is this way.
Bruce Sterling blogs about this article in the New York TImes that covers the shocking news – shocking I say – that some blogs are started and then abandoned. The subtext is unmissable – “Look at these blogs that don’t even keep going! How can you even compare us to them?” When not giving itself a romanticized self-fluffing, the newspaper industry spends its time finding things to point to as being worse than it. Stay classy, New York Times! As much as people revere that paper, it means absolutely nothing to me in my life. I could care less if it stays afloat or sinks.
As someone who as seen the “journalists vs bloggers” debate iterated a few dozen times more than I really care to, I’m interested when new factors are put in either side of that equation. One thing I have noticed from the journalist side of this is that they tend to mention virtues of professional journalists that I don’t really see much in practice. They talk about how how good it is to “be fact checked.” However whenever I’ve seen major articles on topics I’m deeply familiar with, they always contain egregious errors of fact. It’s the same thing with the idea of being professionally edited. If that’s the case, why are so many modern articles written in that florid, overwrought prose that is strong on “story” and light on fact? Is that really what that are edited to?
This brings me to Dan Conover. He’s been the editor of a newsroom and up until very recently he was a working reporter. He’s also been a blogger for a goodly long while, and groks the online world quite well. When he starts refactoring this equation, I pay attention. Here is Dan’s take on one of those unexamined sacred virtues of the newspaper world, the fact that they do investigative journalism. It’s really an interesting read.
I talked to my friend Dan Conover on the phone today, tomorrow is Halloween and this week I’ve been in my workshop making artificial dismembered body parts. All those combine into a souffle of rotting flesh when you think back to Dan’s short film from earlier this year, Brunch of the Living Deadembedded below with a bonus bit about doing zombie makeup:
If you are going to Greensboro this weekend for Converge South, don’t forget that we are doing a spontaneous make up day to fill in the hole left by BlogHer when they cancelled their Saturday session. Kelby Carr has organized a morning of panels and I have disorganized an afternoon of hands-on workshops. The afternoon will have two rooms running, one focused on blogging and new media and the other on audio and video. There will be presentations in the rooms, with lots of time allowed for questions and some fiddling. Some of the sessions we have set up:
~ 1 PM to 1: 30 PM – Mur Lafferty will be presenting on how to create a community with new media (Mur has to leave shortly after so if you want to see and talk to her, do it sooner rather than later)
Dan Conover and Janet Edens will be presenting on how to use blogs and social media to replicate some of the value of traditional media
Don Lewis will be presenting how to green screen compositing for video (I really wanted this one because is the session I most need personally)
Jared Smith will be doing a demonstration on how he does weather broadcasts via the internet from his home in Charleston
I’ll be doing a short practicum in how to do phone interviews via Skype in two channels for ease of editing
If there is something you want to learn to do in new media, come armed with your laptop and there will be someone there to teach you the basic skills.
This is being set up on the fly, and the exact timing will be fluid up until Saturday afternoon. We’ll be adding sessions and arranging things even during the Friday sessions, so it will be more like the PodCamp level. If you’ll be going to the Saturday session (and really, why wouldn’t you netizens?) come talk to me on Friday about your needs. At the BBQ on Friday I’ll probably still be wrangling sessions. We’re showing the new media agility and flexibility by arranging in real time, or just-in-time, or maybe not-quite-in-time. Regardless, come and take part. I guarantee you’ll get something out of it or triple your money back.
My friend Dan Conover took a buyout at his job at the Charleston Post and Courier last month. His final assignment was to write a piece on the present day values of mass media journalism. Fittingly for the situation, they opted not to print it and gave it back to him to do what he wanted to. He opted to publish it at his group blog Xark. I occasionally shoot off my mouth about journalism (like I did the other day) but I’m an outsider who doesn’t really know what I’m talking about. Dan’s a career journalist, so when you read his assessment of the current state of journalism, bear that in mind.
Dan talks about the power of cheap technology when it intersects the desire to be creative. That’s the spirit that drives our Create South conference this weekend. Not coincidentally, Dan and his wife Janet will be presenting at the conference about ways to wire up cheap web services to create something more powerful than the components standing alone. I can’t wait to see this, I can’t wait to see Dan and Janet, I can’t wait for the conference. Come join us, register now!
Update: It gets better. In response to a sniffy comment about how they used this energy and cooperation not to “end hunger but make a zombie film” Dan responds:
We have a local blogosphere because dozens of people have been working to knit that community together since April 2006. It didn’t suddenly emerge because I posted a casting call for zombies. And would everyone have come running if I’d proclaimed “Hey, I’ve got this idea to end hunger. Y’all come help me?” I doubt it.
But I believe that every time we work together to make a “not so good by the looks of it” video, we learn a few things. We adjust our horizons. We start to look at ourselves and our possibilities differently.
I spent a long time being a Very Serious Person. But I get more joy from being silly.
In the end, I think spreading joy is a better strategy.
Here’s an interesting post from Dan Conover in which he riffs on some Tweets of mine about new media and the press. My original impetus for writing those tweets was my cynicism and disbelief of any “received wisdom” about our election and primary. When any talking head on TV makes a statement about something that isn’t verifiable, such as “event X will hurt candidate Y” I just don’t believe it. I think most (not all) of those people believe what they are saying to be true but most of them believe it because they have been gamed in one way or another. That was my point about blogs, not that they are wonderful intrinsically or impossible to be gamed but that it is cost and time prohibitive to buy the opinions of a million or even a thousand bloggers.
Interestingly, on the same day I listened to the episode of The Gang where Mike Arrington came on and was talking shit with Dan Farber. Most of it was pro-wrestling style theatrics but there were some actual substantive bits that showed the difference in their approaches. I have to say that Arrington has hit the point where his motives and goals for himself and his empire horrify me. I might be a special case in that I really don’t care at all about Tech Crunch. I talked to Arrington about AmigoFish back in November 2005 and I subscribed to Tech Crunch around that time. By February I had dropped it because I just didn’t care about 98% of the things and companies they post about. The only reason I stuck around was to see if they posted about my site, and when it never happened I got bored and left. As a property, Tech Crunch holds no interest for me. When Arrington talks about rolling up “A-list blogs” and making a network out of it, I don’t see what value it holds for anyone on my side of the feed reader. It makes him money, but why should I care?
I do know the guy I talked to the day after Thanksgiving in 2005 seemed awfully different from the guy on the Gang. It seems like success has gone to his head, and he’s gotten high off his own tailpipe fumes for some time. When he talks about the value Tech Crunch brings vs Cnet, he sounds like a CEO talking about the value of outsourcing to some country with lax labor and environmental policies. What he is selling as his advantage the fact that he gets to do the same thing and even try to sell to the same advertisers but without playing by the standard rules of big j Journalism.
For me, there is no difference between Tech Crunch and Valleywag. They are both Silicon Alley porn of one form or another, and that’s a subject that holds no sex appeal to me. Even if I cared about the subject matter, the presentation and drama around it would reduce the value to nil for me. Most of the promise of new media melts away when it becomes yet another mechanism to disseminate and reinforce cults of personality. “Bob” save us all from blog celebrities.
I play a song from Dead Heart Bloom and give a shoutout to the Large Hearted Boy blog; I talk about Dan Conover’s post about newspapers entitled “What if the Business Plan was Love?”; I discuss sentimentality and the equilibrium of love, getting more in by letting more out; May will be interview month on EGC; I give an example from Paul Melancon why I like the interview shows; I suggest that the outrage directed towards Don Imus would better be placed against the people who prevent black people from voting; by request I memorialize the late Siderunners and then call it quits.