[Air-L] My letter to Monica Hesse at the Post (was: snide, , cute...)

Bill Herman bherman at asc.upenn.edu
Mon Dec 17 00:30:00 PST 2007

Hi all,

I'm also delurking for my first post.

I agree with much of what has been said thus far about the piece 
(thanks/sorry danah, etc.). Thank you, Terri, for inviting Monica to the 
list; complaining to each other is not as useful as educating outsiders.

Two points stick out for me. First, while I agree this piece was 
definitely not up to snuff (the comment that all of us save danah have 
so little expertise that a reporter could exhaust it for a newspaper 
story is just laughable), I'm scared to say that it may be better than 
most of what the print world writes about the internet. For starters, 
she actually looked up and cited something from the internet, including 
the author's name--unjustified mockery notwithstanding.

How many articles have you read that describe blogging and bloggers 
without citing a single blog--even citing specific breaking news stories 
without citing their source? (Yes, I know I'm returning the favor; I'd 
be embarrassed to do it in a blog post, though, and nobody's paying me 
to write those.) It's part of the broader trope of the internet as a 
dangerous place composed primarily of unsubstantiated rumors, dopey 
videos, and malware. "Internet as citation-worthy" and "internet as 
object of study" is a move up, even if we're portrayed as a backbiting 
lot of landgrabbers who have little to offer past danah's email address.

Second, and relatedly, our corner of the world is particularly subject 
to a lack of quality coverage as the result of cutbacks in newsroom 
budgets. I can't speak to the specifics of this story, but in an era 
when most newspapers are cutting the staff they already have, they can't 
possibly be investing in the new people required to cover the internet 
competently and train their other beat reporters to do the same. Most of 
the other major topics in the newspaper--crime, business, policymaking, 
war, movies, sports--were well-established when Wall Street was still 
hungry for newspapers. They cope with cutbacks by forcing internet 
coverage through those strainers, so we get: internet crime, mergers & 
acquisitions news for tech stocks, and (abhorrent) coverage of 
(generally abhorrent) proposed tech legislation. This time, we got run 
through the "style" strainer and (surprise!) it's all about idol worship 
and jealous gossip.

Internet-as-new-social-phenomenon coverage would be challenging in the 
best of times, and it's coming along when newspapers aren't laying out 
the capital to invest in new areas of investigation. Expect this trend 
to continue.

Happy holidays,


Bill D. Herman
Ph.D. Candidate
Annenberg School for Communication
University of Pennsylvania
bherman (ampersand) asc.upenn.edu
billdherman at gmail.com

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