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The Holy Church of Checklists

Monday, January 12, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A picture named notebook.jpgYesterday's piece on investigative research in the blogosphere was one of the most polarizing pieces I've ever written, going all the way back to the first email essays I wrote in 1994. Those really upset a lot of people, because I saw where my industry, which now is pretty much gone, was getting swallowed up in the open formats and protocols, both technologic and human, of the Internet. Now, 15 years later, I stand by any of those pieces. I've become a better writer, for sure, I'm better able to anticipate people's objections, I have a better sense of what people are ready to hear, but every once in a while I just ignore all that, and write what I really think.  Permalink to this paragraph

I had a good but brief talk with Howard Weaver, who proudly told me he had two Pulitzer Prizes, and who recently retired from McClatchy. We found we had a lot to talk about, and we're quite close in age, and I think for two aging guys we've still got some flexibility in our thinking. He lives in Sacramento, just a couple of hours away by car. I'm sure we'll get together, and when we do, I don't doubt it will be interesting and productive.  Permalink to this paragraph

That said, a fair number of other people expressed anger at me and my piece, but always with remarkably honest words like "You seem to be saying" or "I suspect you believe" or somesuch. Those are big red flashing warning signs, your inner-editor should stop and ask for a rewrite, because you're using whoever you're writing to as a foil, somehow you want to express something, to be heard, and you need this crutch -- this symbol to be angry with. I wish somehow I could make people filter these things for themselves. We all want to be appreciated for our individuality, no one wants to be treated as a symbol.  Permalink to this paragraph

Or I could just write a followup, like this one. ;-> Permalink to this paragraph

I also wrote a piece about economics, but if you take it at face value you'll see it's another media story. I had just listened to 1/2 of yesterday's Meet The Press, and was disgusted that the reporters on the roundtable were basing their analysis on a lie. Then later that day Jay Rosen, who is a great teacher of things I am very interested in, provided a framework for all this. The media and the people they interview have an agreed upon set of assumptions, Jay calls this the sphere of consensus, and it doesn't matter if they're true or not, and many of them are not. They have a finite set of them, so any reporter only has to master the list, and then each politico he or she interviews is asked to recite his or her poetry about each item on the list. They judge the quality of the pol by the quality of their prose and how ruffled they get. The more ruffled, the more points for the journo, the less ruffled, the more for the politico. It's a game.  Permalink to this paragraph

A picture named elmerFudd.gifThere are some people who are regulars on the shows who clearly don't buy into this nonsense. Krugman for one. I was also struck by a Fresh Air interview with Chuck Todd last week where he explained how he was learning the ropes as a member of the elite priests of the Holy Church of Checklists. But I think of Todd as one of the few who think independently, and forms his own theses and tests them scientifically. This is my kind of journo. I also like Brook Gladstone and Bob Garfield, because they sometimes break out of this straight jacket themselves.  Permalink to this paragraph

Ladies and gentlemen, whether you're a pro or an amateur, I think the real difference between the men and the boys, the women and the girls, is this. In these challenging times do we have the guts to admit that the government prints money, and accept the complexities that come with that, and ask our politicos what happens when they've exhausted that option, instead of asking them nonsense questions about cutting expenses or raising debt, and watching the politico just sidestep it and answer the question they really want to.  Permalink to this paragraph

In other words, I think the reporters who get so angry with me are doing so because I don't buy into the Sphere of Consensus Jay talks about. Instead I buy into the Sphere of Don's Amazing Puzzle. I know that my eyes deceive me every day, they see only what they expect to see, and unless I develop methods to check my vision, I will keep believing in systems that don't work. Permalink to this paragraph


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A picture named dave.jpgDave Winer, 53, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.

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