Archive for March 2009

I think the kids call it ‘wicked smart’

March 31, 2009

This post is stuffed full of interesting ideas and claims.  One I really liked:

Information scalability. The No. 1 issue in modern communication is the superhuman rate of expansion in global information production. Mainstream media in 2009 attempt to deal with this problem by artificially limiting the “meaningful” sources of information and then applying “news judgment” to that limited stream. The engineering trick for journalism will be to create systems that scale the true global flow of data to levels that can be used comfortably by humans. This will be accomplished through information architecture, informatics, artificial intelligence, exotic findability structures, taxonomy/folksonomy systems, smart archival and curation techniques, plus multiple reputational and credibility scoring systems.

We are so far from this working.  In the valley, we aren’t even thinking about it.  We’re still stuck thinking about web portals.  This isn’t 1997.

[GT] Whaaa?

March 31, 2009

I think this one is filed under ‘things that make me uneasy’:

We think that Sen. Benjamin Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, had his heart in the right place when he proposed March 24 that struggling newspapers be allowed to operate as nonprofits, the way that public broadcasting does.

….

But community newspapers are different. In smaller cities, we remain the primary community touchstone for gathering and publishing news.

….

So why not go nonprofit, if it means providing advertisers and readers with a tax write-off to buy ads or subscribe?

We think today’s editorial cartoon answers that question well.

Nonprofit status would muffle or silence newspapers’ editorial voice and add in layers of regulatory control that we cannot begin to predict, going in.

I’m going to let go the seemingly-odd timing and tone of this editorial and focus on the only real reason offered against going to nonprofit status.  Well, three reasons:

1. “Nonprofit status would muffle or silence newspapers’ editorial voice…” Without details, this makes no sense.  The obvious counter-example is the BBC in England.  Another might be – as a commenter to the editorial notes – NPR here in the US.  Charitably, there is simply information missing from the editorial that would bolster the claim and possibly rebut the examples I’ve provided. Uncharitably, this is just wrong.

2. “…add in layers of regulatory control…” Really?  Again, the lack of evidence for the claim is a bit frustrating.  Presented this thinly, I am tempted to ask – by pure desire to snark – why additional layers of regulatory control would be a bad thing.   However, in my eternal quest for charity, I will assume the editorial writer actually knows what they are talking about and simply decided not to share the information that would make this claim sensible.  However, I am tempted to question even that, since both private and public businesses are already subject to a vareity of regulatory controls.     Let’s be clear: Cardin was talking about as an alternative to failure, so if the implicit claim here is that it’s unnecessary for the GT to become a nonprofit because it’s not failing as a for-private, then there’s no problem. So complaining about regulatory control in the face of a newspaper folding seems a bit shortsighted to me.  The editorial does not claim, for example, that newsgathering or non-opinion journalism* will suffer.

3.  “…add in layers of regulatory control that we cannot begin to predict, going in.” Emphasized because I think this is a slightly separate reason than the previous one.  Frankly, this is just silly.  Again, the context of a failing newspaper – and agreeing that journalism (if not newspapers) are important – “we can’t do it because we don’t know what will happen” is all kinds of wrong.  I’m going to go with lacking vision and courage for starters.  Also suicidal.  What, like no one in history has ever embarked on a project having no idea of how it was going to work out?  Newspapers in particular are way past being able to shoot down ideas because they are unknown and scary.  That’s not a fun place to be, but it’s true.

None of this is to say that the editorial is wrong about the idealized importance of community newspapers.  However, as this Howard Owens piece (sent to me from within the bowels of the GT building, even!) makes clear, the idea that a newspaper is necessarily a community touchstone is a fallacy.  Certainly – and I like the GT, I really do – the GT is not, for many, a community touchstone in any meaningful way.  It’s trying, yes.  But too many people I know don’t care about the GT because they don’t see it as relevant to their lives.  Owens has an answer as to why.

Finally, the more I re-read the editorial, the more a thought percolated to the forefront of my brain.  If the editorial is claiming that nonprofit status would stifle their editorial voice (and again, I am open to the possibility that this is true, though I have seen no evidence), then how does the current structure not stifle their editorial voice when it comes to, oh, I don’t know, ADVERTISING?

Or better yet, Oregon State University.  When’s the last time you saw a story critical of OSU in the GT?

I’ve read quite a bit of stuff in the blogosphere about the future – or lack thereof – of newspapers.  In that world, this editorial was better written three or even five years ago.  Now it just sounds petulant and privileged.  I can almost see the heels digging in.

*nonexistent, I know

[LCSD] Superintendent Interviews

March 29, 2009

The LCSD board will be interviewing candidates Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in Executive Session starting at 6 PM.  They’ll be announcing the finalists at the end of the candidate interviews, presumably on Wednesday.

If anyone gets the names of the finalists, please leave a comment or email me.  It’d be nice to get the names out there, and unless something major happens, I won’t be waiting around for the announcement.

Felix Salmon on class warfare

March 27, 2009

Good stuff:

In one corner are the technocrats not only in finance but also in government and the media: people who can understand the importance of distinguishing between a $250,000 base salary, a $2.5 million bonus, a $250 million bonus pool, a $2.5 billion bonus pool, a $250 billion bailout package, a $2.5 trillion monetary stimulus, and so on.

In the other corner are the real people, the angry people, the unemployed people — and with them their elected representatives in Congress. They’re not interested in such distinctions any more, they’re not interested in what’s fair or what’s sensible. They saw their real wages stagnate for decades as the orgy of plutocratic self-congratulation reached obscene levels only to keep on growing. All they ever had was the American Dream: the idea that they, too, might one day become dynastically wealthy and join the overclass.

Now, of course, that dream is shattered — and, what’s worse, it turns out that very overclass is responsible for the working classes’ own present straits. While the talking heads in New York and Washington throw around their millions and billions and trillions before commuting home to their comfortable middle-class-and-better lifestyles, the rest of the country is mad as hell, and ain’t gonna take it any more. They’re not interested in constructive solutions or in leveraging private capital or in the sanctity of contracts: fuck that shit. Those days are over. They want to see jail time, confiscatory policies, and worse.

As inequality grew in America over the past 30 years, there was always the risk that it would snap back violently and dramatically. That day is not yet here, but it’s closer than it has ever been, and its possibility cannot be discounted. Barack Obama smells the public mood, and is trying to respond to it in a grown-up and non-incendiary way. Congress smells it too, and is being rather less grown-up about things. And Wall Street still largely remains inside its bubble, watching the tour buses on the outside with fear and incomprehension. But unless some very senior executives start smelling the coffee sharpish, they might end up facing the biggest tail risk of them all.

[LCSD] A thought experiment about LT

March 27, 2009

Let us assume, for a minute, that LT is indeed the pseudonym of a Lebanon Community School District employee of some kind.

Let us further assume LT loses their job as a result of the current investigation.

Further, let us assume – perhaps – that LT has trouble finding a new job, whether it be because of the economy or because there will be people badmouthing LT any chance they get.

What, then, do you think LT will do?  Personally, I’m wondering if LT will have allllll kinds of free time to blog that they did not have before… and a giant chip on their shoulder.

I’m not advocating for or against this, mind you.  I’m just – as I have a tendency to do – wondering out loud about one possible future.  This happens to be one in which whoever is driving the investigation might not be thinking about the consequences that clearly.

Actually, I sort of consider this another piece of evidence that the best solution to this situation probably doesn’t involve going after the blogger in a hostile manner, but that’s just me.

[LCSD] The Superintendent Search

March 25, 2009

I don’t actually have much to say about this, since most of the process is confidential.  However, I do want to add that I think it’s a sketchy idea at best to hire anyone who has worked in the district before.  Better fresh faces who are not connected to any of the past history.

Oh, and I can say that I think Alexander’s idea about not renewing admin contracts on the pretense that a new Superintendent should somehow automatically start with a whole new team is just laughable. (Can Alexander please reconcile his stated desire to see the district improve with the consequences of a district-wide leadership team with no experience?  No?  OK then.)  School districts simply do not work like that, and either Alexander is completely ignorant of that fact or he was using it as a convenient excuse for a bizarre and really, really bad idea.  It’s further proof that he isn’t a very good board member.

[LCSD] The investigation

March 25, 2009

Rumors have been swirling for a few weeks now about an investigation in the LCSD into the identity of Lebanon Truth.  I don’t know the details – nor have I tried to find out – but I want to comment on the fact that it is ongoing, especially in light of the LT posts dealing with it.

Where to start?  How about this:  IT’S A BAD FRACKING IDEA.  If the investigation is about the climate at LHS, that’s fine.  But – for the reasons outlined quite well by Tre’ Kennedy here – going after the anonymity of the blogger in this case is not only bad for the morale and future of the district, but will probably be unsuccessful, or at the least massively counterproductive.

So why is there an investigation into the blogger’s identity?  I can think of two general reasons, one good and one bad.  The good – or at least honest – reason is that someone or several someones actually believe an investigation is a good idea and that outing the identity of LT is similarly a good thing and/or that it will help move the district forward.  I don’t think either is true, but I can understand it.

The bad reason is simply that the Alexander/Fandino faction (and understand I use that term loosely) is feeling like they are ascendant and have a lot of power right now, and they want to use that power to get rid of LT.

The other thing, as with many investigations, is that this will increase distrust among the staff.  Who is talking about who?  What are they saying?  Who is the next person to be investigated, and why?  None of these things will help move LHS or the LCSD forward. Not only that, but they might decrease the possibility of people speaking out in the future.

In addition, LT has started publishing some of the nastier comments they’ve received in the recent past.  While I suspect they’ve been receiving these comments for some time, I am also willing to bet that the number and nastiness of comments they’ve received has increased recently.  Frankly, that’s bullshit.  For what LT has said, death threats are simply unacceptable.  Furthermore, I think there is a connection between the constant badmouthing of LT and the nastiness of the comments.  One only has to look at the larger picture nationally to see the connection between speech filled with hate (not hate speech per se) and an increase in threats and actions – the Patriot movement in the 1990s (see McVeigh, Timothy) is one good example; the increase in hate crimes against people of Arab descent and Muslims after 9/11 is another.  The point is that the kind of speech that’s going on now creates a negative environment which, again, does not help move the district forward. I cannot emphasize this point enough.

Further, if Lanning is condoning or participating in this investigation because it’s the professional thing to do, then I think he might be making an error.  I don’t say that lightly – I hope he has carefully considered not only the professional aspect to this but the political one as well.

The other aspect of this that I want to highlight is that this is another thing happening behind semi-closed doors, and there has been entirely enough of that in the LCSD in the last few years.  Better to push things out into the open as much as possible.

UPDATE:  In addition to the comment below, someone pointed out to me that the investigation is focused on cyberbullying.  This explains things to me, at least partially, but it also raises a red flag:  When I was subbing, I heard teachers make fun of students plenty of times.  Sometimes there were no students present, and sometimes there were – heck, sometimes the teacher would make fun of a student directly (up to and including calling them stupid to their face; no, I am not making that up, and yes, I wanted to yell at the teacher who did it).  Of course, it was all verbal, so there was no record besides, oh, everyone else who heard it.  If Lanning is investigating the cyberbullying and takes punitive action but doesn’t investigate anything else, well, that’s a bit of a problem from an equal treatment perspective.

UPDATE 2:  It also strikes me that if the problem really is cyberbullying, revealing the identity of LT is not actually necessary, as the main goal(s) would be to end any cyberbullying and/or make amends to those injured.  I can see a confidential agreement being reached wherein LT apologizes and/or yanks any relevant material without their identity being discovered, or other practices being changed without punitive action being taken.  Of course, if the Board finds out LT’s identity during the course of the investigation, I guarantee Alexander will be too dumb/proud to not tell people who LT is, and the district will shortly owe a bunch of attorneys a lot more money, not to mention that this instance of violating Executive Session rules will likely be followed up on.