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Actors and non-actors

Friday, January 23, 2009 by Dave Winer.

A picture named obamasOnTV.jpgIn journalism, there's a big difference between the actors and the non-actors. The actors are trying to create an effect, you're not hearing what they really think, you're hearing what they want you to think they're thinking. Non-actors try to play it straight. They want to communicate their ideas accurately and persuasively, and strive to find better and better ways to do that. It's true in journalism and it's equally true in blogging.  Permalink to this paragraph

To explain the idea to a journalist friend I thought of two people he would be likely to know, two extreme examples: Scott Rosenberg and John Dvorak.  Permalink to this paragraph

Rosenberg is the former managing editor of Salon, film critic at the SF Examiner. Dvorak is a longtime tech columnist, I read him 30 years ago in Infoworld, then PC mag. Now he's a blogger and podcaster. Rosenberg and Dvorak are very different sorts of reporters. Permalink to this paragraph

In person, Dvorak is a gentleman and really nice thoughtful guy. On the web and in his podcast, he's an actor playing the role of a cranky, thoughtless clown. Permalink to this paragraph

In this video Thoughtful Dvorak explains Dvorak the Actor: Permalink to this paragraph

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Rosenberg on the other hand, if you met him in person, would say the same things he says in his online personna.  Permalink to this paragraph

That analogy exists in the blogosphere as well. Permalink to this paragraph

If you were to meet me in person, like Rosenberg, I would say the same things that I say on the web. There aren't two Daves. This is me, I write more formally here, more thoughtfully, I can revise my writing, but you're getting my actual opinions, not a simulation. Permalink to this paragraph

However, some of the people I have interacted on the web with are not playing it straight. I don't want to name anyone specifically, because that would just invite the kind of slapstick they use to build traffic. But they do exist, and they often admit privately, as Dvorak does openly, that they don't really believe what they say in their online writing. Whether they want to declare it or not is their business.  Permalink to this paragraph

However, I think it's important to understand the difference. An apparent pie fight isn't always what you think it is. Sometimes it's one of the clowns of our medium trying to cover up something real they don't want people to look at.  Permalink to this paragraph

Dvorak's sleight of hand is harmless, almost everyone knows he's doing it. But the other kind is not so harmless. A good journalist must dig past the surface and figure out who are the actors and who's telling you what they really think. Permalink to this paragraph

Update: Actors can be realllly entertaining. ;-> 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.

"The protoblogger." - NY Times.

"The father of modern-day content distribution." - PC World.

One of BusinessWeek's 25 Most Influential People on the Web.

"Helped popularize blogging, podcasting and RSS." - Time.

"The father of blogging and RSS." - BBC.

"RSS was born in 1997 out of the confluence of Dave Winer's 'Really Simple Syndication' technology, used to push out blog updates, and Netscape's 'Rich Site Summary', which allowed users to create custom Netscape home pages with regularly updated data flows." - Tim O'Reilly.


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