Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Fake Steve Nails It

Fake Steve Jobs (actually writer David Lyons, currently at Newsweek) was decidedly unimpressed with last week's NY Times feature on Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. After ripping Microsoft apart, Fake Steve went on to diagnose what's gone wrong with another flailing ex-monopoly:

Really it's the paradigm of the "objective newspaper" that forces them into this weird straitjacket where they can't ever say what they really mean. They have to pretend to be "objective," but what that really means is you put a vague headline on the story and you write the top in some boring way but then you just stack up a pile of negative quotes from people who don't like the Borg -- bam, bam, bam -- but you spread them out, and you put some boring stuff in between them, like so many pillows between so many grenades, and you arrange the whole thing in an artful way such that you can still say the story is "balanced" even though anyone who knows how to read your newspaper -- anyone who knows how to crack the code, so to speak -- will understand full well what you're really saying, which is that Ballmer is a failure and should be booted out.

Reading business coverage in the Times, or in any mainstream publication, is a lot like reading Pravda during the Soviet era -- you have to know the code. That bad review of a Shostakovich symphony? It ain't about the music. Of course, the music wasn't about the music, either. So all of these conversations are taking place all around you, all this information is zipping past you, and everything is encrypted.

Why doesn't the Times just say what they want to say? Why resort to doofy photos and strings of negative quotes cushioned between pillows of pointless prose? Well, see, that wouldn't be "objective" -- and by "objective" I mean keeping it boring enough that you won't scare off advertisers who, if they had their way, would place images of their cars and clothes and jewelry next to complete pablum that would never offend anyone or create any kind of controversy. Ever wonder why there aren't many ads in the parts of the paper where they cover politics? Um, yeah.

So we get this kabuki theater and they call it journalism. And then newspapers wonder why they're losing their audience. To put this another way: Try to imagine what this story would have sounded like if Ashlee Vance, the guy who wrote it, had published it on his personal blog, where he could say exactly what he wanted to to say and didn't have to worry about scaring off advertisers meeting the high standards of "objectivity" espoused by the New York Times. And which would you rather read? Yeah, me too.

No comments:

Post a Comment