"When in doubt, draw a distinction."

Not sure where he got it, but in grad school one of my teachers told me that. Some of the best advice I ever received.

This THREAD is about some of the key distinctions I draw on to do my work. If you're into that kind of thing.😎

Ready? 1/
For distinctions to do work, the terms have to be sufficiently close that prying them apart clears space for thought.

If I write, "bending is not the same as breaking," well, who said it was? That one is going nowhere. But "naked is not the same as nude" is an idea with legs. 2/
These notes about some of the distinctions I draw in order to do my work were written under the influence of two masters of the form: the French critic Roland Barthes, and the political philosopher Hannah Arendt, known for her striking distinctions— such as labor vs. work. 3/
For those who don't know me, I'm a J-school professor and press critic who writes about the media and politics, and journalism's struggle for survival in a digital world. I have a PhD in media studies, and 35 years experience in puzzling through problems in press behavor.

Here we go with some key distinctions I use to do my work.

An audience is not a public.

"Audience" = people attending to a common object, typically a performance or spectacle.

A public is people with different interests who live in the same space and share common problems. 5/
Audience vs. public, cont.

When people share common problems but don't realize it, they are an "inchoate" public. (John Dewey.)

One reason the presidential debates are such a big deal is that they are one of the few occasions when the audience is the public and vice versa. 6/
Key distinction number two: journalism vs. the media (vs. the press)

I think of the media as the attention business, an industry whose product is audiences.

Journalism is a social practice, the purpose of which is to keep publics informed and hold power to account.

However— 7/
Most journalists are employees of the media, and thus part of the attention business. This creates endless problems and compromises, which I hear about nonstop.

The press — to my way of thinking — is the institution that endures over time as journalists come in and out of it. 8/
Media, journalism, and the press are not interchangeable terms. Yet they are bound up with one another.

Media is the attention industry
Journalism is a social practice
The press is a key institution in a democracy

Journalists who work in the media carry forward "the press." 9/
Jay's third key distinction: truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking behavior in journalism.

Truth-seeking needs no definition. It is finding out what actually happened— and telling us.

Refuge-seeking is telling the story in a way that protects against anticipated attacks...

Seeking truth vs. seeking refuge, cont.

My favorite description of refuge-seeking behavior in journalism comes from a former reporter for the Washington Post, Paul Taylor, in his 1990 book about election coverage. I have quoted it many times. 11/
Truth-seeking is what journalists see themselves as always doing.

Refuge-seeking includes such common practices as false balance, "both sides do it," steering the story "down the middle," and the depiction of "dueling realities" in a divided nation. abcnews.go.com/Politics/live-… 12/
What is "political" need not be politicized. This is a point I make again and again in my press criticism.

When TV journalists with Sunday morning shows push back against major party candiates who are floating poisonous charges without evidence, that is a political act.

But — and here comes my distinction — if journalists let an ideology distort their reporting so as not to injure a cause they manifestly believe in, then their work has been unduly politicized.

Journalism is political. It should not be politicized. 14/ pressthink.org/2020/05/you-ca…
The great sociologist C. Wright Mills would distinguish between "troubles" and "issues."

My paraphrase: Troubles are the things people are actively worried about in their lives.

Mills: “An issue is a public matter: some value cherished by publics is felt to be threatened.” 15/
Troubles are a category of experience. Issues emerge from the political system.

Why does this matter? Well, when people's troubles don't connect to what are called the issues, or when issues don't speak to troubles, democracy — and journalism — are working poorly indeed.

If issues don't bear on common troubles, then focusing on "the issues" — as against the horse race — may not be the answer it seems to be.

Also: Great journalism puts a spotlight on troubles and turns them into issues, which is exactly what the movie, "Spotlight" is about.

In grad school I learned to distinguish between "ritual" and "transmission" views of human communication, a distinction introduced by James W. Carey.

"Transmission" means the movement of messages across space.

In rituals we produce a shared world and affirm common values. 18/
When your cable news anchor says of an upcoming press conference, "we'll bring it to you live," that's transmission.

Ritual: When we gather at a memorial service to mourn the dead and co-produce loving memories.

I did a thread about this distinction. 19/
What can a media critic do with it?

When the thing you're watching on CNN seems to have no value as information — and from it you are learning nothing — you can try to switch frames and see if the news makes sense as ritual: in production of a shared world. 20/
"I expect what I may not predict."

Eight years ago, I wrote that my work as a press critic is "primarily about about the legitimation of the modern press: the various justifications for it, and how they match up with actual practice— or don’t." pressthink.org/2013/06/a-few-… 21/
During Trump's second impeachment, I put this distinction to work like so: 22/
Follow me on this: Subscription and membership are not the same thing.

Subscribers buy a product. Members join a cause.

The distinction matters because around the world readers are being asked to pay more of the costs for quality journalism. 23/ pressthink.org/2020/09/notes-…
When you cannot receive the product unless you pay your share of the costs, that’s subscription.

Membership does not imply a paywall. People who have joined the cause often want the journalism to be available to those who are not members. Which is how public radio operates. 24/
Other distinctions I thought of including:

Lying vs. bullshitting
Experience vs. expertise
Exit, voice, and loyalty (A.O. Hirschman)
Tame vs. wicked problems
Demos vs. memos (@mattwaite)
Information overload vs. filter failure (@cshirky)

To wrap this thread, let's review... 25/
Some key distinctions I use to do my work:

Public vs. audience
Journalism vs. the media
Truth-seeking vs. refuge-seeking
Political vs. politicized
Issues vs. troubles
Ritual vs. transmission
Expect vs. predict
Subscription vs. membership

"When in doubt, draw a distinction." END
Coda: Here's an essay by @RoyPeterClark that employs (beautifully, I think) a distinction I featured earlier in this thread— between "transmission" and "ritual" views of human communication, which of course includes the language of journalism. poynter.org/reporting-edit…

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More from @jayrosen_nyu

17 Feb
The Baltimore Sun said it will soon be acquired by a non-profit formed by businessman and philanthropist Stewart Bainum Jr. that would operate the Sun for the benefit of the community. It's part of a hedge fund's deal to buy Tribune Publishing. baltimoresun.com/business/bs-bz…
Could be good news, but a lot is still unknown. The Sun said the sale is not a completely done deal. It's unclear what the connection is to an earlier effort by Baltimore philanthropists, businesspeople and the union representing journalists to buy the Sun and make it non-profit.
On top of that, and as someone will no doubt say in a few minutes, there is nothing magic about turning non-profit. The phrase you will soon hear: non-profit is a tax status, not a business model. Meaning: you still need revenue greater than expenses. Big challenges ahead.
Read 8 tweets
26 Jan
I read the transcript of the full 90-minute interview. Count me surprised that Margaret Brennan did not ask Deborah Birx: what would have led you to say this about Trump?

“He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature and the details and the data."

Leave aside that it contradicts everything we know about the man. "He’s been so attentive to the scientific literature" is a strange statement because Birx in the interview says several times she had almost no interaction with Trump. So how would she know he'd become Mr. Science?
Another impression from the CBS interview. Birx seems to me an example of a public servant caught in an intensely political position who convinced herself that to succeed she had to be as un-political as possible, as against mastering the politics, too. It could never work. But..
Read 6 tweets
24 Jan
Rand Paul just gave a master class in how the Big Lie — election denialism — exploits the "both sides" rule set in journalism. "Was the election stolen?" @GStephanopoulos asked. There was no second question. They fought all the way through. Rand kept saying: hear the other side!
A clip of Rand Paul using the platform of ABC News to continue the Big Lie, with plenty of pushback from George Stephanopoulos, which in turn led to — stop me if you've heard this —"liberal bias." ABC News: what are you doing here? What end is served?
After all, @ABC, there is an alternative to asking Big Lie denialists "was the election stolen?" followed by hand-to-hand combat around every "just raising questions" maneuver they have in stock for you today.

Just call the question closed and move on. As an organization.
Read 9 tweets
19 Jan
"An Anti-Racist Future." A VERY challenging open letter from public radio employees calling for reform. The tone: all patience is gone.

"We hope to tear down public radio in order to build it back up. We don’t critique our industry because we hate it, but because we love it..."
"White supremacist culture and anti-Blackness shape the policies, norms, and standards of public radio. They determine whose opinions are valued, whose voices are heard, whose stories are told and taken seriously, who is promoted, and whose resume never gets a second glance."
"It’s time for a new kind of journalism: anti-racist journalism." celesteheadlee.medium.com/an-anti-racist…
Read 6 tweets
11 Jan
January 6 was one of the worst attacks on civil order in American history.

Have any of these given a briefing and answered questions yet?

Capitol Police
DC Police
Secret Service
Homeland Security
National Guard
Secretary of Defense
Vice President
White House
I am informed by several people that the DC Mayor held a press briefing. rev.com/blog/transcrip…
The FBI gave a briefing Friday, Jan. 8, referred to here: buzzfeednews.com/article/craigs…
Read 7 tweets
9 Jan
After the siege these would be my newsroom priorities:

* What's going on behind the scenes to get him out.
* More sieges at state capitals and in DC before Jan. 20
* How could the Capitol have been left undefended?
* If this had been Black people gathering...


My post siege story priorities, cont.

* Who planned this? What drove these events?
* The investigation: Where are we on the arrests?
* U.S. military reacts to an unstable commander
* Tech platforms recoil at a world they helped create


My post siege story list, cont.

* When prophecy fails: where Q and Trump cults go now * Frankenstein hour for some in the GOP while others re-commit to the crazy
* Experts in authoritarian rule on the dangers in a crumbling regime's final days
* ...

What's on your list?

Read 5 tweets

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