May 28, 2008

Another one from Friedersdorf

Former Daily Bulletin reporter Conor Friedersdorf slams Singleton's Web site, calling it "atrocious."

"...the site is a hilarious parody of what clueless middle-aged media company vice-presidents imagine that young people want to read. As I write this, for example, the flash player on the front page is scrolling through 5 categories of content. The chosen categories: "Panini, sex, film, travel, sushi."


Friedersdorf is one of a few Atlantic interns filling in for the vacationing Megan McArdle.


todd said...

Conor, sort of like that blog you wrote for the Daily Bulletin? That thoroughly insipid vehicle for your unsophisticated perspective? That not even the fringe nutjobs the bulletin pandered too could be bothered to read?

todd said...

I remember when Frank Pine, Conor Friedersdorf's biggest cheerleader at the Bulletin, finally admitted the navel-gazing banality of the "Beyond Borders" blog wasn't what he'd hoped for by rehiring Conor the Blogger at the cost of one reporter's position.

Wayback machine recalls the mess:*/

Jay said...

Ahh, Todd. You make me laugh. Really. Beyond Borders was such a joy to copy edit. Such a sweet labor. I remember several particularly odious columns full of manufactured stereotypes for the sake of stirring the pot. Imagined racists and immigrants fighting it out for the sake of some ill-conceived intellectual exercise.

Anonymous said...

Consistent with the other so-called journos at LANG land. Their hindsight is dead-on 20/20 but none of them lift a digit towards what they term "new media".

Mike Rappaport said...

Giving Conor a rough time, are we? Of course he won't see any of this, but Conor was a good reporter with some talent.

Part of the problem is LANG's desire to push young reporters into the positions usually held by people old enough to have some perspective.

It wasn't Conor's fault.

Conor said...

Todd, as long as The Atlantic likes my immigration content okay I'll be content to have you as a critic.

And thanks for the pointer to the Wayback machine -- I'd thought those archives were lost to time. I'll enjoy having them.

Jay, I challenge you to produce any column in which I asserted an "odious manufactured stereotype." I can cite numerous examples where I strenuously object to such stereotypes.

You're certainly entitled to criticize my columns. But I took great pains to avoid stereotypes or xenophobia.

In fact, if you read my work as closely as a copy editor ought to, you'd know that I always opposed any attempt at mass deportation, favored a significant increase in the number of legal immigrants allowed to come to the United States, and objected that the terms "anchor baby" and "illegal alien" are inappropriate, unnecessarily antagonistic locutions.

If you'll kindly note the comments section of the Atlantic piece on immigration I linked above, you'll see that Gustavo Arellano, who writes the syndicated Ask a Mexican column for Village Voice Media, had this to say about my accumulated work on immigration:

"Conor: As always, great job articulating a position I might not agree with (I take Colin F.'s view on the Pandora's box that is deporting gang members) in a fashion that doesn't demonize or USES CAPITAL LETTERS."

I'd normally not go around posting praise of myself, but the suggestion that I'm a closet xenophobe who demonizes immigrants counts as an exception that demands rebuttal.

I'd say you owe me an apology.

For any other readers, my most recent writing on immigration, which summarizes where I stand relatively concisely, is up here:

Anonymous said...

You can say he owes you an apology, Conor, but I think that it would be hollow. The biggest critique us copy editors had with your columns for the paper wasn't your point of view, but it was the long-winded, bloated way you wrote them. They rambled, wrote in circles and, often times, wouldn't make the points you were trying to make. And for this you took up 25 to 30 inches of news hole twice a week, and numerous boxes and refers to the blog site every day. And your buddy Gustavo, the "Mexican," better work on his Spanish next time he decides to go on "The Colbert Report."

Anonymous said...

Todd, get over yourself. Seriously, your ego is writing checks your talent can't cash. Does anyone even read your blog? Clearly, Conor is off doing his own thing, not at all concerned about where you are in life so why do you care so much about what he says or does or wrote in a defunct blog? Conor hasn't even worked for a LANG for a long time and your scorn seems so personal, more like jealousy.

And Jay, all I can say is I would expect more from you, man. I recall you being a class act, not someone I would expect to see tearing down a former colleague in a blog without provocation.

As for you Mike, build a bridge and get over it already. We get it. LANG is evil. LANG fired you. You're mad as hell and you're not over it despite protesting too much to the contrary, and despite the fact that may be, just may be, you played a part in it. Remember, people saw what you did and didn't do and frankly, you aren't a sympathetic character. All you do is whine on here and on other blogs. I read in one of your comments that your wife makes "six figures" so you didn't need the LANG job anyway. If that's true, then why are you so bitter?

Jay said...

Conor, I apologize for not being clear. I don't believe I criticized your views on immigration. Your stand on the issue is not what I questioned. If it came across that way, I regret it. My criticism is aimed at several columns in which you created characters from both sides of the issue to engage in dialogue within the column. Not good journalism. I don't have the archives at my disposal but I can recall the copy desk discussing the columns and the creation of these characters to produce conversations you were not able to find among real people on the ground. There was some good reporting in the Beyond Borders series. No doubt about that. Jeff K. and several others did a terrific job overseeing important coverage of a hot issue. Some of your columns were great contributions to the discussion. Some of your columns simply landed flat or seemed superfluous at times.

As for the assertion that I suggested you are a "closet xenophobe who demonizes immigrants"...

Well, all I can say is go back and re-read my comments. A careful reading will yield no such interpretation of my words. Besides, I shoot straight enough to tell you with confidence that if I meant to call you that, I would have said it in those words.

And for "anonymous," I really don't need provocation to give an honest assessment of a former colleague's work. Funny thing is, I have not said anything here that was not a topic of conversation on the copy desk during the run of the columns. Anyone who worked on the desk at the time could tell you that. That is, if any of them are left.

Peace and love to you all.

Jay said...

To follow up on my comments above, here's an example from a column dated March 24, 2006:

That brings us to today's "based-on-a-true-story'' character: Harold is a white retiree who is kind to the Latina cashiers at the supermarket, loves his grandchildren profoundly and hates illegal immigration with a bitter passion. If you hooked him up to a truth machine and offered to put his grandkids through college in exchange for his blunt views on immigration here's what he'd say...

Then it goes on to run all of these arguments out and then solicits feedback on this "Character's" thoughts. Rubbish. Thought exercises like this are a poor substitute for real people.

And the column's introduction? Sweeping generalizations about the dichotomy between young and old views on immigration are more rubbish.

As i looked through Conor's columns in the archives I saw some thoughtful ones. My critique takes aim at manufactured nonsense. Do they let you do that at The Atlantic?

The irony here is that in a column dated a couple weeks before the one above you said the problem could only be solved through real dialogue...which was my initial point.

Conor, you had the huge task of writing (prolifically, I might add) on an issue that was bigger than most journalists much "longer in the tooth" than you. That pace of production led you to some sloppy columns.

Conor said...


I remember those columns. I certainly don't object to you criticizing them, or any others I wrote, on the merits, and I take you at word that you meant to do only that.

I'd add that writing two columns a week, for I can't remember how long, having never written a column before, I'm sure some of my efforts were flat. The same is true for almost every columnist. I'd not use my age as an excuse if given the opportunity.

Interestingly, judging by the e-mails I got (including some from people on the staff of the Bulletin!) the "character" columns were actually among the most popular, and I'm surprised to hear that the copy desk objected to them, not because I can't conceive of objections in hindsight, but because no one ever e-mailed me at the time to suggest that maybe that technique wasn't a good idea. I've got to say that a simple e-mail or phone call to one's colleague seems like an easier way to address a disagreement about journalistic technique than arbitrarily lashing out in the comments section of a blog several years later in a complete non-sequitir.

But I'm glad you did.

I'm always up for long, rambling conversations about journalistic ethics and technique, over beers if possible. I could certainly be convinced that columns like that are a bad idea (though not unethical so long as it was stated very clearly that the characters were composites). At this moment, however, I haven't been convinced.

In the course of doing Beyond Borders Blog, I interviewed a lot of people who articulated arguments about immigration I'd never seen in print. Often they refused to be on the record.

Were I reporting a news story whose purpose was to inform the reader about facts, I'd never have used that technique. (If you review my news writing you'll see I very seldom even used anonymous sources).

But the purpose of those columns wasn't to expose the reader to facts about immigration (though I did a lot of that on the blog). The purpose of those columns was to expose readers to various arguments about immigration they'd never heard before.

I wanted readers to have to contend with views that weren't their own.

Had I stated the arguments offered by my composites as abstract arguments, rendered without a character saying them, I presume you wouldn't have objected to the exercise.

So why, if my purpose is to convey various arguments and mindsets, all of which indisputably exist, is it impermissible to use the technique I did? You might argue -- I'd agree -- that it would've been better to spend lots of time finding real people who articulated the arguments I wanted to showcase and were willing to go on record... but then again I was working unpaid overtime writing that blog as it was -- couldn't "more reporting would've been better" apply to every story, column, etc. I've ever written?

I offer all these arguments with a pretty low level of investment about whether I'm right or wrong. Should you show me, in hindsight, that three or four columns I wrote several years ago could've been better, I'll not be upset. But I am curious, because I don't quite see your point as it stands.



Conor said...

And just so others can join in the conversation, here is the beginning of that column Jay mentioned. Its assertions are base don lots of reporting, though I don't quote individuals.

Most older Americans talk politics different from their children and grandchildren.

After seven or eight decades on this Earth, they've seen a lot, so their opinions are based on observations more than abstract arguments.

A young man debating immigration will cite demographic facts and economic figures.

"In California, population density is rising each year,'' he might say. "If we liberalize our immigration laws the growth rate will only increase, and crime will increase with it.''

An old man will offer an insight into human nature, or tell a story hoping to convey an underlying truth.

"When I was young we used to hunt rabbits where that new tract is going up,'' he might say. "Now there are so many people crowding together that there's no room for a peaceful life. I've seen a lot of places where people are packed together. Every time they just got more crowded, covered in graffiti and run down.''

Many Americans - older Americans particularly - have cultural concerns about immigration. After a lifetime observing this country, its culture, and its people, they find some changes today deeply troubling. They may join the conversation about how immigrants affect employment figures or how illegal immigration has taxed the Department of Homeland Security.

Yet they've formed their opinions based on
something more complex and intuitive. They take a lifetime of experiences, insights and observations. These coalesce into a worldview. That worldview affects their opinions on immigration; immigration affects their worldview, too.

Whether they are right or wrong, anyone who hopes to win converts or fashion a compromise in the immigration debate must understand this cohort of older voters made uneasy by illegal immigration, and sometimes by legal immigration. too.

Jay said...

Conor: If you're ever in Nebraska look me up. The beer's on me.

Anonymous said...

Well, that shows you that one columnist is willing to look at his past work with a critical eye. Now what about others who we could definitely describe as blowhards, like Steve Lambert.

Anonymous said...

July 25, 2004
Newspapers have a duty to get their readers thinking

It is perhaps fitting and not the bitter irony we journalists like to think it is that our calling has never been more important even as America seems more abivalent than ever to the ideals we've pledged to uphold.

Just as the "liberation' of Iraq has reminded us that a vote is a terrible thing to waste, the media in this country are confronting serious questions about their own relevance.

Fortunately or unfortunately, we have only ourselves to blame for forgetting who we are and allowing market forces to set our agendas.

Therein lies the real conundrum of media life in the 21st century we are a business, a very big business, and unless we make smart business decisions, we cannot fulfill our duty as a First Amendment-protected public trust.

So, where do we draw the line?

Not at deeper newsroom cuts. And not at the point we risk selling our soul apparently.

Anonymous said...

Clarification: Above copy comes from a Steve Lambert column.

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Anonymous said...

Interesting how Rappaport -- and "blog administrator" -- can dish it out but can't take it.

Gary Scott said...

I recognize debate can be a rough sport sometimes and so I try to leave up as many comments as possible. However, I draw the line at non sequitur personal attacks. There's no conspiracy about it.

Also, I'm not sure what you think I'm dishing out. It was Conor who sent me the link to his article.

Anonymous said...

Ya mean nonsequitur personal attacks like the "wide cloth" comments about certain female editors from a few months back, that are still posted? Please ...

Gary Scott said...

It is possible I missed something. If you email me the info on when and where those comments appeared, I'll apply the same standard there as I have here.

Mike Rappaport said...

One last comment after looking at this post for the first time in two weeks.

Mr Anonymous, who says I can dish it out but can't take it, suggested that I "move on."

I took his advice.

Tough to argue with people when they won't tell you who they are.