Snarky Behavior

Entries tagged as ‘huffington post’

The Insider Baseball World Series

October 27, 2008 · Leave a Comment

This past week, the New Yorker ran a profile on Ariana Huffington that I was quite excited to read.

Some of you may remember that last year, I briefly considered dropping out of (or at least post-poning) grad school to take a job offer as an associate blog editor at the Huffington Post.  I wasn’t ready to give more than a year’s committment, so nothing came of it, but I did get a chance to speak with Ariana and the site’s chief editor.

I don’t really have anything to say about the opportunity other than the fact that I was given what I considered a fair “heads up” of what the working relationship with Ariana would entail… being a blog editor is a glamorized term for “copy and paste monkey,” and she’s a very demanding boss.

That’s why I find it utterly amusing when Gawker is running posts based on the testimonies of jilted ex-employees… people who sucked at a job that, while probably stressful and unrewarding, is also quite easy to do well, in the grand scheme of things.

What’s most hilarious is that my friend Colin- the blog’s editor and a dead ringer for Harry Potter – is described as having a “nasty temper.”  I can’t even type that without laughing.  Colin makes Matt Lauer look like Bill O’Reilly.

A solid reminder to not believe everything you read… especially on Gawker.

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Seven Years Later, a Service Mandate

September 12, 2008 · Leave a Comment

A long day… my article is up at the Huffington Post though, so check it out if you get a chance.

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Almost Famous

September 11, 2008 · Leave a Comment

I’m in the media holding room at the ServiceNation Summit, where Obama and McCain will speak tonight.  I got a press pass through the Huffington Post, and two people have approached me with “you look familiar… should I recognize you?” 

It’s soul-crushing to say no, but I think the beard and glasses make me look like a real serious internet star.

Categories: graduate school
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If this isn’t “straight talk,” then what is?

April 13, 2008 · 1 Comment

At a recent fund-raiser in San Francisco, Obama was asked the question about voters in Pennsylvania:  Why doesn’t his campaign resonate with working class white voters?

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

While his response may have included some poorly-chosen words, for which he has since taken substantial criticism, it was at least an honest appraisal.   Consider the following:

America is often recognized for its diversity, but too often we consider this diversity as a melting pot (with the New York urban-ideal as the cognitive model) than as a heterogeneous hodge-podge of cultural identities.  Obama succinctly made this point at the 2004 DNC in his now famous “Red State-Blue State” speech (”we worship an awesome God in the blue states, and yes we’ve even got some gay friends in the red states”, etc.).

So for a wealthy donor from Marin county to understand the voting tendencies of a “fellow Democrat” pension-deprived ex-steel worker of Allentown, he/she needs an accurate explanation, and a good deal of empathy.  These donors are (in large part) the ones funding Obama’s campaign, which means they provide money for polling, focus grouping, message development, etc., and they have a right to expect an explanation of the results of that research

Right now we have a political system where the campaigns engage in election “strategies,” which CNN and others than attempt to decipher and decode, without explaining the underlying assumptions of those strategies.  It is taken for granted that Clinton “appeals” to blue-collar voters, because that is the demographic she is targeting (and resonating with).

When Barack Obama lets these donors peek inside the key-hole of voter research, he may seem like a detached social scientist professor– the Ivory Tower paradigm.  But the truth is that he cannot be all things to all people.  He can only try to understand and capture the concerns of the majority of the voters in his party, and assuming he wins the nomination, in the country.

It is not Ivory Tower to try to understand a group of voters with whom a candidate has no shared background, if the candidate’s efforts are genuine, so that he/she may better represent those voters.

On the other hand, nobody likes to be categorized and have their behavior and motivations analyzed.  The thing is, this happens all the time, in market research, in commercial advertising, and certainly in elections.

Is it a poor strategy to let people peek behind the curtain instead of relying on a lazy media as a proxy to interpret campaign messaging?  Haven’t the last few years taught us that “reality” is the favored-model of communication?

If this isn’t “straight talk,” then what is?

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The Blogger’s Imperative: Always Consider the Alternative

November 16, 2007 · Leave a Comment

Reader’s Note:  I intended to post this on the Huffington Post but in retrospect it’s probably too meta.  I do think that there is a place for ombudsman-like impartial eye for bloggers, especially as blogging sites become primary destinations for news and information.

The Huffington Post’s recent admission of first-time profitability marks an important occasion in today’s media landscape. 

More than any other outlet, the Huffington Post represents what Al Gore terms “the Marketplace of Ideas.”  The web-site’s only compensatory incentive to its contributing bloggers is the platform itself, a conduit through which competitive voices can be heard and considered.  The opinions that most resonate with the readership rise to front-page prominence, while lesser viewpoints simply fall by the wayside. 

A general imperative for consumers of information is to “always consider the source.”  In this sense, the Huffington Post holds a powerful comparative advantage over established media outlets, which are increasingly characterized by thinly veiled ideological slants or biases, or are otherwise beholden to the advertising interests that sustain their business models.  That is to say, opinions on the Huffington Post can be evaluated on their face, with a lesser degree of suspicion as to the vested interests or motivations of the authorship.

The successful “networked democracy” that the Huffington Post has achieved is certainly a worthy cause for celebration.  However, as the outlet gains prominence and increased readership, the very model which has made it a success threatens to dilute its cause and purpose.  Let us consider future challenges to the web-site:

  1. First, the extremely low entry-barriers for contribution arouse cause for concern as to the quality of the product, and a super-saturation in the “marketplace.”
  2. Second, the powerful reach of the outlet provides opportunities to amplify and distort opinions and ideas that are simply bad or ill-informed. 
  3. Third, the insular debates of the community may devolve into an in-group dynamic that threatens the logical norms by which arguments are framed.
  4. Fourth, the “publish or perish” cycle accelerates the process of due-consideration of important ideas and arguments.  1,800 writers are constantly competing for the advancement of issues to “the next topic.”
  5. Fifth, and most importantly, the high number of contributers and low-entry barriers for contribution diminish the accountability of each individual to provide responsible, well-reasoned opinions.  A democratic exchange of ideas shouldn’t be throwing things against the wall to see what sticks.  It should be at once a constructive and critical exercise. 

With respect to the fifth point, let us remember and consider the words of the late Norman Mailer, who explained its danger to Charlie Rose:

“Democracy is noble, and because it’s noble it’s always in danger.  Nobility is always in danger.  Democracy is perishable.  I think the natural government for most people, given the perversities and the depths of human nature, the ugly depths, is facism.  Facism is a natural state.  Because it’s easier.  It’s easier, and if you have any resentment, your resentment can be focused.  The hardest thing in a democracy is knowing whether your resentment has any point to it or not.”

Mailer’s words ring true posthumously in the current context if we consider this web-site to be a “networked democracy.”  It is far easier to focus our opinions and resentments around polar arguments than it is to find a constructive point of departure from these criticisms.

If then it is the imperative of the informed consumer of information is to “always consider the source,” it seems the imperative of the blogger is to “always consider the alternative.”  The strength of any democratic exercise lies in the extent to which all parties recognize their rights and responsibilities to maintain the integrity of the democratic structure.  Mediocrity, group-think, laziness, distrust, subterfuge, and a lack of comity – or reciprocity in constructive arguments – threaten to degrade that structure. 

The expansion of the blogger’s legitimacy therefore must be accompanied by a self-disciplined commitment to provide high-quality, progressive, and well-reasoned opinions.  Although we are all entitled to our own opinions, and assured the right to express them, we must also recognize our responsibility to do so constructively, lest our “networked democracy” degrade into “networked facism.”

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Ahmadinejad: Snarky Edition

September 26, 2007 · 1 Comment

Wow! Yesterday was quite the day. I ditched two classes to watch a dictator speak, write an article about it, go to a Mets game, and stay up until 4 am doing accounting/statistics homework.

Thanks to all the well-wishers for my article in the Huffington Post. The backstory on that is: my friend Colin (an Editor for the HP) e-mailed me right before the event asking me if I could write something from the perspective of a Columbia student. I literally ran home to type it and send it off, scooped most of the other bloggers on the “Bollinger was an a-hole” angle, and now there’s over 400 comments. Prettayy, prettayyy goooood.

In all honesty, hearing the President of an Ivy league institution use such crass language, was really quite shocking. The crowd was completely jingoistic about it too, because he’d mix in really passionate charges (about detained scholars, capital punishment of minors, repressed women and homosexuals, denial of the holocaust, nuclear ambitions, meddlings in Iraq) with petty capstone insults (”face of evil”, “ignorant and uneducated,” “intellectually uncourageous.”)

So I found myself clapping at some parts and cocking my head sideways at others. At the end, he walked off the stage like a rapper dropping the mic before on encore. It was really weird. I wonder how much self-loathing went into that address– he has a strong history as a legal scholar in free-speech, and he was clearly pandering to a political base that writes very large checks to the university (read: Upper West Side Jewish community). So maybe he stormed off for effect… maybe he stormed off out of shame. Who knows.

So that’s that. On to snark:

The Persian Hand Wave
Ahmadinejad’s “here’s the back of my hand, kiss my ring” wave has got to be in the top 3 most hilarious salutes of all time, with Nixon’s “two-handed shaking my peace fingers” and Hitler’s “Heil! I have a silly mustache, please be seated!” gestures.

Let’s Make a Stop at Filene’s before the Speech
Um, so apparently our economic embargo on Iran really limits the quality and availability of non-cheap suits. Ahmadinejad was wearing the suit I had in 4th grade that my parents got me to wear to a wedding, because they knew I’d grow out of it in 6 months anyway. Hey dictator! Get with the program, throw on some fatigues!

“We Don’t Have Homosexuals Like You Do”
To me, this was the most important moment of the entire day. A room full of rational people LAUGHING like a studio audience at an irrational person for revealing a nonsensical position. How important is that? Domestically, people fear this man, they are jailed secretly or sent to the army for criticizing him. Gays are arrested and even hung for excercising their sexual preference. And we LAUGHED at him. It felt really, really good to do that.

What does that have to do with the price of rugs in Persia?
Ahmadinejad did a superb job orating until the questions turned to internal repression. That’s when he lost a captive audience. When asked about capital punishment of women, gays and minors, he started talking about drug dealers and thugs, about the need to “eliminate microbes” from the body to keep it healthy. I was proud of our Dean when he interrupted him and said, “Sir, the question wasn’t about punishing thugs and drug dealers, it was about women and sexual preference.” SCOREBOARD!

Denying the Holocaust is not a good way to make friends
I’ve read that this rhetoric doesn’t even play very well in Iran, that it’s spoken mostly to gain legitimacy within the greater Arab world. Whatever. It’s stupid. You want to calculate the exact number of people that were exterminated by Nazi Germany? Go ahead. Does that exact number matter? Does it change the current state of affairs? Does it make the state of Israel less legimitate if the number was 4 million instead of 6 million? Why is there a requisite threshold of deaths for something to be a “holocaust”?

I understand that it’s an issue used to question the legitimacy of the Israeli state. But why must you broach an important issue that has some merit, with an illogical issue that has NO merit, and moreover is extremely painful for those involved? I just don’t see the benefit.

He blinded me with science
Man oh man, the opening epistemological discussion of the “purity” of science was a snoozer. Look, people (including scientists and researchers) pursue things more actively for material gain than for immaterial gain. Sure, many are looking for glory and prestige. But that is secondary, especially in the West, where last time I checked, most scientific research is taking place.

Moreover, material satisfaction is pursued more peacefully and rationally than immaterial satisfaction (unless you’re Buddah). Once someone has something the rest of the world doesn’t, they’re going to try to collect rent from the knowledge. This is how economics works. If God or Allah or whomever intended for all of humanity to be illuminated by all knowledge equally, we would be born omnipotent and divine. If you want the equipment and technology needed to power your country with nuclear energy so you can sell your oil instead of consuming it, you’re certainly not going to get it from us for free.

All things I wish Bollinger would’ve said as a RESPONSE to what Ahmadinejad actually said, instead of the pre-emptive attack he gave. What kind of debate tactic is that? Why is forceful rhetoric the debative norm in US politics now (and apparently US academia)? It’s astounding…

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Thoughts on Ahmadinejad at Columbia

September 24, 2007 · 4 Comments

Readers Note: The following blog post was written for The Huffington Post on a tight deadline. Snarky post to follow.

Leading up to today’s event, I kept hearing and reading that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a “controversial” figure. But controversy implies a dispute, and there seems to be a unanimous consensus on campus that the Iranian president is repugnant, and his world views reprehensible.

For that reason it might be more appropriate to label Ahmadinejad as a “divisive figure.” The controversy, after all, isn’t about him, so much is it about us. Whether we can extend tolerance to those who espouse intolerance and hatred, and whether we are secure enough in our own positions and institutions to listen to public criticism from someone who would censure such discourse within his own nation.

President Lee Bollinger of Columbia University expanded on this important distinction during his frigid welcoming remarks to Mr. Ahmadinejad: “We are required by the norms of free speech” to “excercise extraordinary restraint and not retreat” in the “face of evil.” “We do not honor the dishonorable,” he said, but “do it for ourselves, to understand the world we live in.”

Mr. Bollinger’s remarks were not addressed to Mr. Ahmadinejad. In fact, I don’t recall him ever even looking at the man. They were addressed to those within the greater audience that would criticize Columbia for offering it’s institutional legitimacy as leverage to a Holocaust denier and terrorist sponsor. “I am only a professor who happens to be the President of a University,” Bollinger said, before briskly walking off stage. “I speak for those yearning to express their collective revulsion. I only wish I could do better.”

As a student of Columbia, and an American citizen, I wish Bollinger had done better too. I found his petty insults (at one point he charged “I doubt you have the intellectual courage to answer these questions”) to be unnecessarily aggressive and uncivil. He promised a “robust discourse” and delivered a bait-and-switch public admonition, to which Ahmadinejad rightfully took offense, as a guest of the University.

Just as we must show restraint in not retreating from contentious debates, so must we constructively engage in these debates in an effort to embolden our own positions and weaken our enemies’. Insults are, and have always been, the trademark of the insecure.

Ahmadinejad, for his part, recognized his role in our internal debate over free-speech and discourse. He warned that self-absorption allows for misconstrual of the actions and intentions of others. That questioning the rights of others to ask questions is in itself a questionable practice.

All very enlightening guiding principles, if they were actually practiced and recognized within his country, or if the questions he was asking weren’t the veracity of the Holocaust. (The highlight of the event by far was when, in response to accusations of repressing homosexuality, he stated: “Iran doesn’t have the issue of homosexuals,” and the audience collectively laughed at him.)

Ahmadinejad is a crackpot, certainly. But it is not enough to dismiss him with an insulting label and move on. We must be willing to listen to the accusations of our enemies in order to properly defend the actions we take in the world in which we live. And I am proud to be part of a University and country that is strong enough to allow such discourse.

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Digging Up a Story

July 11, 2007 · 1 Comment

There is a term within (and somewhat recognizably without) the public relations industry called “earned media.”

Media is earned when a professional manages to pitch a product, brand, quote, idea or concept to a journalist of an established outlet, who then integrates that product, brand, quote, idea or concept into an informational article.

On the whole, “earned media” is somewhere between 10 and 100 times more valuable to a given company than a paid-advertisement. You read that right. (Keep in mind 87% of all statistics are made up on the spot).

:) Seriously though, earned media is gold. Paid media is crap.

You see, readers are trained to avoid paid-advertisements. And when they do read them, readers are trained to practice restraint and skepticism.

Readers are not trained to suspect that the stories themselves are embedded with advertisements; that a “press release” is just that; a ghost-written news-vertisement that PR firms write on behalf of health and tech companies looking to hawk their wares to sometimes lazy journalists with tight deadlines at TIME, USA Today, and all the rest of the major outlets.

[Aside: I could write a whole other post about how public relations firms cover everyone's asses but their own, and how, in an age of increasing transparency, that particular industry is at risk of losing credibility (and therefore relevance) if it doesn't start doing a better job of explaining itself.]

Anyway, one of the unintended consequences of paying a PR middle-man to write the story that the established journalist gets credit for, is that the compensation stream never fully reaches the publication that runs the earned media. That is to say: because companies don’t see a worthwhile ROI on paid media, they’ll pay just enough in job-postings to keep classifieds going, and just enough in print-advertisement to keep the publication afloat (and help maintain their brand’s reputation as an added benefit).

But, the big bucks are going to the PR guy hawking the product, not to the publication that runs the story. This is especially the case in trade publications (weekly/monthly magazines like Car and Driver or PC World Magazine). Companies really only get the bang for their buck when these publication includes a feature article on their products.

Thus, in some sort of asymmetrically symbiotic relationship (if that makes sense), companies leach off of established publications as outlets of dissemination for their products and services, without actually fairly paying them for featuring their content. Of course, specialty or trade publications are dependent on scooping and reporting on items new to the market (like the iPhone), so what leverage do they really have? Not much.

Why does this matter?

It always amuses me when old media reports on new media. It’s like a Baskin Robbins employee telling a customer: “did you know Ben and Jerry’s is giving away free ice-cream all week? They are! And it’s glorious!”

Well, the New York Times continues to do just that by reporting its man-crush on The Huffington Post. (Yes…in my head, these publications are male-gender specific. The NYT is an effeminate Yankee, and the Huffington Post is Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Arianna on HGH. I can’t explain why, so don’t ask.)

This matters because the Huffington Post, as a collection of small “i” independent bloggers, is not limited by the same content-restrictions as is the Times. Most notably, they can mix news and opinion. And whereas the Times keeps a “top 10 most e-mailed list” to aggregate stories based on popularity, the Post continually shuffles popular stories to the top of its home-page. This makes that page EXTREMELY more valuable in terms of advertising space, because the eyeballs are concentrated on one space, and not shifting, sorting and scanning through articles.

Great, right? Articles ranked on popularity cut out the necessity of a PR-middle man to “pitch” ideas, because the cream will rise to the top, right?

Well, not exactly.

Have you looked at The articles that “rise” are still only indicative of the users that actually either read certain publications or are technologically saavy enough to use news-aggregators. The biggest “diggers” are un/under-employed techies who live second lives and exploit polygons.

So as the tail of news consumption grows longer, what new conduits will companies use to reach a diversified audience? Will they continue to explicitly rely on PR professionals? Will they start pitching to diggers themselves?*

Who knows?

This is actually already happening… I read an article about how companies have approached the most influential diggers, including 13-year old snot nose punks who sit on their computer all day. Makes… me… ang-ry.

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