Curiouser and curiouser!
 'Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?' He asked. 'Begin at the beginning,' the King said, very gravely, 'and go on till you come to the end: then stop.'

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 23 March 2003
11:29:48 AM    Business Journalling as investment

I've had an old friend come visit from Yale so I haven't been slave to the keyboard for a few days -- I'm catching up though.

Blogging = Investing. I don't spend much time reading good old paper off-line and since I was reading a book at the time I missed until today this article on an almost one month old issue of The Economist.

For the past decade or so, sociologists have been pushing one more concept, "social capital" - trust or community, in one of its guises - that is now also being taken up by economists. Crudely speaking, the more people trust each other, the better off their society. They might work more efficiently together, for example. In business, trust might obviate the need for complicated contracts, and thus save on lawyers' fees.

Besides using "social capital" to measure countries' economic power, I belive that the same concept can be applied to any community. Applied to the weblogs community, this concept help explaining the huge power that has been unleashed by blogging. Reading other people's weblogs creates trust and efficiency, and it's an excellent base to build businesses and relationships. This is interesting also for k-logging (or "business journalling"): if a country with a better community is richer, then also a company with a better developed trust and efficiency amoung its workers is going to be better off than others. So, no, we are not wasting time writing on our weblogs, we're investing. [Paolo Valdemarin: Paolo's Weblog]

I've little to add to a good piece by Paolo, other than that we are also exploring the ways in which companies can develop the infrastructure to allow employee's to make these investments and in how they can reap the benefit of their investment.

10:56:34 AM    What he said

Peter Shaplen, broadcast veteran, chimes in

My partner in production efforts, Peter Shaplen, who began his career as Walter Cronkite's desk assistant, chimes in. Alas, Peter is blogless, so I'm posting this for him:

Once again we are confusing technology with editorial substance. The ability to see a military column with night-scope technology and moving in the dark is neither a news event in itself nor indicative of anything strategic.

Asking a reporter to "tell us the latest" from there is gratuitous. First, from his perspective this milepost is not significantly different from the one 5 minutes earlier. Second, from his humvee and note it is NOT the command vehicle he is no better off than any other forlorn private in the convoy being carried along in the desert.

We have entered a media war with reporters and cameras embedded with troops, subanchors in Qatar and Kuwait, and if they could, news organizations would likely rent their own AWACS to create skyboxes much the way they are accustomed to covering political conventions.

But the sad reality is that they have little to say, little to offer in terms of news, and it seems from the first 4 days of coverage, they have little if any intention of gathering news.

They are doing a play by play. They are content to tell us about mile posts and sand as if that is a substitute for reporting on the progress of the war or the condition of the men or the leadership of the generals.

This has once again - become more about the media than the war.

In Gulf War I, Arthur Kent was dubbed the Scud Stud in some sort of weird accolade as the bravest or sexiest reporter on the beat.

We have yet to see who will emerge as the next Beauty in a Bush Jacket for Gulf War 2, though I am certain that, once again, there are countless talent agents hoping and coaching their clients to become the next Ashley Banfield.

War reportage is not about the personalities of the reporters covering the war. Thus far, those reporters embedded with the troops have done an appallingly poor job of truly introducing us to the men they are covering.

We have no sense of them, their view of the war, the perspective of the GI. We have no sense of how they view their commanders. We have little insight to how they feel about being there. And who could blame them? Speaking honestly in the military or expressing the counter-to-the-prevailing-wisdom opinion is not healthy for one's career.

So in turn, the media turns to itself to discuss and debate how the campaign is going.

The networks (and local stations) ploy of having a platoon stand and proudly, happily and loudly proclaim they are the "such and such of the whatever company, Good Morning America" or "Hi Mom, I love you and we'll be home soon" is a poor substitute for substance.

Murrow did find substance tho aboard the night bombing mission over Europe. He introduced us to the boys. He let them speak. We could listen and hear that they were truly just like the young men of our town. We knew them. We related to them. We felt their fear and their sense of mission.

Jack Laurence did it too with his work for CBS on Charlie Company. His book "The Cat From Hue: A Vietnam War Story" (2002, Public Affairs) should have been required reading for all of the reporters embedded in Gulf War 2. Its 848 pages are a chronicle of a tortured media experience covering a US led coalition.

But it took time. It took time weeks for Laurence to become part of Charles Company. It took a commitment from a network to enable him to do itŠ support itŠ film it. And they gave him air time. Not enough perhaps, but he won it by sheer reporting excellence.

That rarely exists today. While we are being treated to war 24/7, there is almost no time set aside for true reporting.

The vast amount of air time has become consumed by live shots and interviews with experts and listening to one anchor after another remind us that he/she was recently in the theatre of operations and which time they sawŠ or they were toldŠ or they heardŠ As if! As if their access and tour wasn¹t as scripted or controlled as anything we might imagine.

My point is that war, just like so many other stories the media claims to be expert at covering, does not unfold nicely, neatly or on a timetable. Yet many in the media who should know better seem to be looking for a perfect fit.

Once upon a time, war correspondents and photographers would file their dispatches that would be printed hours (or days) later. Attacks and counter attacks were long completed before the first dispatches ever appeared for the homeland readers. There were political debates of course. And in time, the memoirs of the generals and the politicians would be published to fill in whatever gaps remained. In some cases they were shocking accounts. In others, they revealed true strategy and surprise.

Today, we want the instant gratification of knowing where the troops are going, what they are expecting, what the outcome will be, and what will they see next.

It is as if the progression of the Third Marine Battalion into Iraq was a Discovery channel travelogue. But "My Journeys With Bravo Company on the Road to Baghdad" is not what this war is about.

One cannot fault Brokaw, Jennings, Rather or the others for at times tossing to the embedded reporter in desperation to hear anything new, but they should (and do) know better than to expect any truly astounding news. They can look sincere, concerned, puzzled and reflective until their crows feet grow deeper and become more embedded on their own faces, but the handoffs to the satellite-phone equipped field reporter is likely to garner very little that is "news."

In fact, there is very little news period. And that should be no surprise. This is war coverage. It is deliberate and progressive.

Following Coalition Commander in Chief General Tommy Franks news conference Saturday morning, NBC¹s Today show did a rather good recap between Katie Couric and Jim Miklaszewski featuring "Mik's" insight to what he heard that was significant and what he heard/read between the lines of Gen. Frank¹s statements. It was solid interpretation and offered value.

But what also seemed apparent was that the real value of the Couric-Mik dialogue was to fill the time required to get Matt Laurer¹s signal and Kelly O'Donnell into an IFB harness to report from Qatar.

No sooner did Couric handoff to Laurer than he tossed to O'Donnell to elaborate on her questions regarding Turkish incursion along the northern border. For any one who had been listening for more than 15 minutes, we had already heard her original question and Franks' answer. There had been no opportunity for follow up. There had been no other question asked on the subject. Once Frank had left the room on live TV, there had been no chance for additional questions with other senior officers as she was hustling to get ready for her live shot.

In short, O'Donnell's question had been asked and answered in the news conference. Now she was being called upon to merely regurgitate on national, live TV. Why? Because they had a signal to Qatar and needed to put something--anything--on it.

I am often critical of the way media local more than national covers a plane crash. For instance, how often have you watched as the NTSB has arrived at a crash site before a reporter earnestly asks for the cause of the accident. Any one who has watched more than 15 seconds of news knows that an accident investigation moves at glacial speed and can be as exciting as watching paint dry, nonetheless we watch from the sidelines as a reporter asks an unanswerable question. "So do you know the cause of the crash?"

It is like watching a traffic accident in slow motion. The reporter licks their lips take a deep breath knowing that they have the air and asks with a booming voice, "So what do you think was the cause?" And within a nanosecond, the grimace from the NTSB lead investigator reveals not only his/her contempt for the media but dismisses the reporter with a terse, "We only just arrived."

It will be months if not a year before the NTSB files its report. It will no doubt be considerably longer before that reporter learns how to be a journalist.

What is served by asking a question that cannot be answered at that time?

The same holds true at the Pentagon of JOC briefing. Reporters - standing there earnestly asking questions that they know are unanswerableŠ I am left to wonder, for whom are they performing? Are they posturing for the general? The TV audience at home--or more specifically for their bosses at 30 Rockefeller Plaza or West 57th and 67th Streets?

General Franks will not be tricked into divulging news. He has been too well media trained and is not going to reveal the secrets of the campaign on live TV.

We can watch our news anchors breathlessly throw to the reporters in the field for the latest updateŠ we can watch them twist slowly, helplessly in the wind as they chat amicably back and forth between the field and NY anchor podsŠ but we would be mistaken to think or expect that news is going to break out in these exchanges.

There are specific kinds of news from a war. There are of course the pictures. Dating back to Matthew Brady, there are pictures. Apart from a location caption, often times the pictures require nothing more.

The picture of the burning of London, St. Paul¹s Cathedral, or the faces of the huddled population in the Underground speaks volumes.

For any one who doubt the power of this with troops in the field, I refer them to the work of Larry Burrows of Life Magazine. (The magazine resources must be available somewhere; surely his book "Compassionate Photographer" can be found).

We continue to see a derivation of this in the live cameras from Baghdad. All that is really needed from those vantage points is the summary of "We're looking north...." or "the building on fire is the palace of...." We don't need much more because the picture itself is the story.

We don't need to be told the building is on fire if in fact we can see the flames. Telling me that is to tell me the obvious. Tell me instead what time of day is it, was the building likely occupied, were there air raid signals in advance of the explosion, were people seen running from the scene, are there ambulances removing the injured, are fire crews able to get to the scene?

We have heard none of that reporting.

We have heard plenty of hit-runs-and errors kinds of summary, "Oh that was a big one," or "Tonight¹s explosions were louder than last nights." Forgive me if I dismiss this is as not substance but rather play-by-play and color commentary punctuated by bomb blasts.

The next type of reporting is the on scene report. In Vietnam this was usually obtained by small crews (a reporter, cameraman and soundman) who truly risked their lives by traveling to a forward base, persuading the military PAO to put them on a chopper and ferry them to a hot spot. They shot their story, did a few interviews, asked some fairly decent questions both on and more off camera (for film was expensive and heavy), and then it became the responsibility of the reporter to put it all together. To add depthŠ to add perspectiveŠ to bring his or her knowledge and prior experience to bear and create a tapestry of the news.

In Nicaragua and El Salvador, we managed to get there on our own usually arriving as uninvited guests. Now in Gulf War 2, the media is being carried along as official guests. But thus far, the censored and self-censored coverage has been reduced to a play by play of a road trip.

The last kind of reporting and sadly it cascades out of the TV and radio is exactly what the press used to deride as the "Five o'clock follies" that was the daily staple of MACV (Military Assistance Command Vietnam the precursor of the JOC at the Coalition Command Post). There on a daily basis, senior officers would interpret the news and field reports for the Saigon based press corps.

The only difference today is that the networks have hired their own interpreters and experts from the retired ranks of the military to cut out the middleman. They do their own "follies." For it is surely a folly to ask an arm chair general in suburban Virginia to interpret a campaign about which he has little, if any, first hand knowledge.

We are also being treated to former journalists who have pitched themselves as experts to local media. In San Francisco, one former Vietnam reporter has been hired to sit on the set and explain in depth the military strategy. He is offering little more than what has been gleaned from the printed press from network pundits and from other, previously available sources. Yet sitting on the anchor set he and the host proclaim, as if they have just assessed this on their own, that the attack on Iraq "will be a coordinated one" or "will open with a blistering air campaign followed by ground columns from the south, west and north." As Homer Simpson eloquently says, "Well, doh."

We are receiving an overwhelming amount of noise in this war. Noise from the battlefield, from the JOC, from the Pentagon, and from the anchor desk.

Instead of sifting out the best to present that within the news window, the window itself has been expanded to "take it all in" and to present it back in often an unedited, unshaped fashion.

The press has abrogated its responsibility to be editors rather preferring to become facilitators.

Unable or unwilling to edit and shape the reporting, they are content to use technology to let it flow into our living room.

Unwilling to risk upsetting the political apple cart by taking a stand or showing something it fears would be unpopular or worse, deemed unpatriotic, the network/mainstream media has decided it is safer, politically wiser, economically advantageous to be a "pipe" rather than an editorial resource.

Yes, we¹ll get to "see it live" though it remains uncertain just what "it" is. If war is death and destruction and pain and blood and suffering and loss, then we surely haven¹t seen "it" yet.

Instead, we have seen and heard noise and bombast.

Live feeds, individual captions, blogs and so much more technology enable us to experience this battle, but often as not much more than a game show.

I have yet to see anything that shows me the war has begun that people are paying the supreme price and that the technology has improved either the editorial understanding of the campaign or will prevent us from new wars to come.

[RatcliffeBlog: Business, Technology & Investing]