Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Parsing "Sages" Older than Time

Update 10 September, 2004

Reader Elisabeth pointed out several errors in my text. It's Humphrey, not Humphreys. News reporting is two words. and yes, it was meant to be others, not ithers.

Of course, if Mr. Humphrey is to be believed, this never happened, since there is no such thing as proofreading on the internet.

Thanks for the Memory to Russell at Mean Mr Mustard 2.

When I read the phrase dottering[sic], clueless Old Media jackass, I must confess that my first reaction was, "Andy Rooney?" But no, sadly, Andy's not the only codger out there with a Word Processor, heart pills, and the "Truth".

So I followed Russell's link to this blog entry. One look at the picture and my second reaction was, "What the hell is George Carlin doing writing a blog for a newspaper in Tennessee?"

But no, this is Tom Humphrey, Nashville Bureau Chief for the Knoxville News Sentinel. And he has his very own blog, courtesy of his employer. Ironically, this newspaper editor has posted a blog entry that, by his own admission, is full of "ramblings." Now, that's a pretty common thing for blogs to do -- ramble, rant, and rave. Nothing wrong with that, and certainly no reason to criticize the man. But when he decides to impugn the quality of writing and newsreporting in blogs, implying that traditional newspaper writers are superior to mere bloggers, while displaying some horrendous writing skills, I just can't let it pass. And so I decided to attempt my first fisking.

Now, to give credit where due, I must say that many of the observations I make have already been made by those who have commented on this entry before I read it, including the esteemed Mr. Lileks. And while in some of those cases I had the same immediate reaction, often they say it better than I can, and so I will acknowledge my peers and/or superiors in these regards. But now, on with the show. Mr. Humphrey's words are in normal type, mine in italics.

Ramblings on Republicans

Let me guess, you don't like us, do you? And you're a journalist? That's newsworthy.

The boss lady of blogs at the News Sentinel has advised that I need to file something for this site on Saturday, though it apparently will not be visible to anyone until activation on Sunday, for technical reasons that are utterly beyond my comprehension. Just a brief will do, she said in the email.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of complex sentences. But there's a fine line between complex and run-on. Mr. Humphrey has snapped it like the tape at the Olympic marathon. The sentence structure is nigh unto incomprehensible, and the information conveyed is as uninteresting as it is unintelligible. Not an auspicious start.

But, what the heck, if I'm going to sit here the evening before deserting my family for almost a week to watch Republican worship ceremonies for George W. Bush, not so long Democratic devotional on caring for John Kerry, might as well ramble a bit.

Wha... huh? What the hell does "not so long Democratic devotional on caring for John Kerry," mean? I'm guessing it's a typo, and I think I know what he meant to type, but this is a newspaper bureau chief we're reading. You'd think he would be familiar with the concept of "proofreading." As for rambling "a bit", that's being demure.

After all, bloggers, I am instructed, do not have to follow those ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such

Have you actually read many blogs, buddy? Have you read their comments section? You know, like the one on yours where you get your ass handed to you? If anything, as it has been pointed out, blogs get fact-checked even more than newspapers. All those readers are just waiting to catch you in an error, and will not hesitate to rub your face in it if you err (especially the ones that dislike/disagree with you). Also bear in mind that we have no Bloggers Union Local 123 to defend us, and there's no such thing as "job security" for bloggers. If you screw up, you get caught, and you lose readers. Period. As for attribution, take a stroll through the blogs and take a gander at that thing called a trackback. Attribution is usually practiced even more religiously, since giving proper credit to another blogger, especially a popular one, increases the likelihood of attracting readers. Furthermore, improper attribution is just as vigorously monitored by readers as is fact checking. Logic? Pot and kettle, buddy. Some blogs display a better grasp of logic than others, a comment that is equally true of newspaper writers.

that burden the daily production of stuff to print by traditionally ink-stained wretches.

Lileks has a great comment on just how cliche and irrelevant and utterly asinine this bit is. go read it.

You can just babble like a talk show radio guy.

Apparently he's taken the "Logic-free" advice to heart, and immediately tosses in an ad hominem dig at talk radio.

Ergo, to babble a bit:

Again, that's putting it mildly.

Tennessee Republicans are pretty darn cocky these days about the presidential race in their home state. It's the one thing they are united about. All on message, got their talking points and so on.

That's a pretty apt description of any politico from a state where the party in question pretty much has a wrap on the presidential race. What Mr. Humphrey fails to do is explain how this makes the Republicans any different, or why anyone outside the Volunteer state should give a tinker's damn. This just sounds whiney and petty.

Otherwise, there's quite a bit of infighting, interspersed with the occasional embarrassment.

Again, how does this distinguish them from any other group of politicians? Shouldn't you have added "irrelevant" to the word ramblings, just to, you know, warn us?

For the most recent embarrassment: Hey, what about that 8th District Republican nominee for Congress, James Hart, the eugenics yahoo who won the primary despite the somewhat belated disavowal of his candidacy by state party officialdom? Check out his website at www.jameshartforcongress.com. Reports circulated last week that Mr. Hart might just show up at the GOP Convention in New York to promote his doctrine of 'favored races.' Beth Harwell, state party chairman, says he will not be welcome.

Good for her. The guy's a dim bulb who doesn't represent mainstream Republican values, and shouldn't be embraced by the GOP. And before any supported of the other party gets smug about this, do a Google search for the words Democrat and Ku Klux Klan.

This would, of course, provide some novelty. Republicans are worried about left-wing yahoos disrupting things in New York. Tennessee's Republicans could find themselves under attack from another direction. That would be special.

Whoops, I guess it's too late to heed my smugness warning. Seen the streets of the city you're visiting, Tommy? Been to DU or Indymedia? Listened to Michael Moor or Kos or any of their ilk screeching away? I wouldn't be too quick to play the extreme elements card.

Hart's candidacy, incidentally, has spurred talk of Harwell being available as a sort of stand-in Republican nominee for governor against Phil Bredesen if no one credible steps forward to challenge the Democrat doing darn well in popularity polls lately. She’s a nice lady, well-spoken, proper credentials, etc. And having her there would assure that no incredible idiot wins the Republican nomination.

Because we know that's all most Republicans are. Once he has that ad hominem ball firmly in hand, he runs for the end zone.

Haven't asked Beth about that rumor, but what the heck, this is blog babbling. Will try to do so in the days ahead, and predict that she will be non-committal, refusing to rule out anything, etc., etc. (Keen insight, eh?)

At least he's capable of making an attempt at self-deprecation, lame as it is.

The Republican infighting is mostly political, though every now and then personal.

That reads like a freaking fortune cookie, not a political commentary.

Heck, you can even get emails from a Tennessee Republican group poking fun at 'part-time Beth' ( that's Harwell, who is also a state representative, a mom, a wife, etc. ) and 'Deputy Bob,' a reference to state party deputy Bob Davis, the former right-hand man to Sen. Fred Thompson and perhaps the most media-shy of all those enclosed in the offices above Amerigo's Restaurant in Nashville (OK, my non-blogging mode would make that state GOP headquarters).

Again, more blather that nobody outside Tennessee gets or gives a damn about.

One email I recall centered on the salaries of Beth and Bob and, when rummaging through disclosure forms recently, I noticed that Deputy Bob makes more than Part-time Beth. If he would talk to me occasionally, I might think he was worth it.

My dear God, that's the most self-important, narcissistic thing I've heard in a while. That's quite an accomplishment.

But I digress, as authorized in blogging it seems.

Ha ha. Back to the little digs about bloggers not being worth taking seriously. Given how glib and sloppily written your schtick has been, my friend, I'd avoid attributing color schemes to kettles.

Back to the aforementioned infighting, political, not personal.

At which point, Humphrey's post continues on with inane insight regarding the nuances of Republican politics which is vaguely disdainful and smug, but again, conveys nothing that cannot be gleaned by reading any amount of conservative commentary already available, and doesn't actually make what we lowly bloggers like to call a point. Really not worth reading. The only other item of note is a Technical note on the side, referring to an earlier version of the post that referred to "web-only" blogs, and was justly taken to task:

The description was modified by a content producer to remove reference that this is a "web-only blog." Familiar with the blogging world herself, she should have known better.

Yeah, you'd think that someone who worked for an institution that has "ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such" would have caught that the first time.

Enough rambling. Time to finish packing.

If you write for the paper as poorly as you write for your blog, the only thing you should be packing is your desk into a box.


The comments section of Humphrey's blog included quite a few really cutting retorts to his post. Some of the commenters expressed concern that the News Sentinel would delete those comments, so I've posted them here:


Laugh riot! Most blogs I read are actually more interested in the truth, rather then putting a spin on the news to bulk up Kerry in the polls. You may not like President Bush, but I bet you would loathe "President Kerry."

PS: you aren't doing it correctly, if you are trying to run a political blog.
Posted by: Porter G at August 30, 2004 08:11 PM

Humphrey: You are either a liar or a fool, and it is obvious at a glance that you did not attribute this alleged "instruct[ion]" in order that a reasonable investigator could determine which.

You're fired.
Posted by: Billy Beck at August 30, 2004 08:18 PM

What a chuckle this is. And by the way "Hey, look at me, I am commenting on a 'Web-only blog'!!!!"

( Must now go google "Gore +invents +"new blogging medium" )
Posted by: Dusty at August 30, 2004 08:49 PM

"After all, bloggers, I am instructed, do not have to follow those ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such that burden the daily production of stuff to print by traditionally ink-stained wretches. You can just babble like a talk show radio guy."

While it's true that bloggers have nobody checking their stories BEFORE they publish them in their blogs, it's NOT TRUE that bloggers have NO fact checkers AT ALL. Blogs have MORE, and better, fact checkers than traditional media.

Bloggers' fact checkers and critics are the blog's readers and commenters. The 'great unwashed', if you will, of people who read blogs and may have more expertise on a subject than the blogger does. If it's a big story, or a large error, there will be multiple blogs all chiming in with corrections.

I don't see the same thing happening in traditional media. Very rarely will one media outlet's error be reported on the others, as happens with blogs.
Posted by: Chris Josephson at August 30, 2004 09:06 PM

I'm sorry but old media has nothing to be smug about when it comes to fact-checking. If this post is any indication, you wouldn't be able to hack it as a blogger.
Posted by: Joel Fleming at August 30, 2004 09:58 PM

Hey Tom,
Those that can, blog.
Those that can't, whine.
...and the readers move on.
Posted by: Don at August 30, 2004 10:48 PM

Couldn't resist, and had to use this as a "the media don't get it" example on my own weblog! http://www.greg-brooks.com/000445.html
Posted by: Greg Brooks at August 30, 2004 11:05 PM

Am I the only one that skimmed through this "blog" and skipped to the comments for feedback to see if the article was worth reading? I just saved myself 15 minutes. LMAO. Tom, your prose wore thin in merely 10 sentences. Enough silliness, I need to get back to real reading.
Posted by: Caleb Charles at August 31, 2004 12:48 AM

Caleb Charles,
No, you're not!
Posted by: Ron Weiner at August 31, 2004 01:44 AM

I've read the 2nd paragraph several times and can't figure out what you're trying to say. This from a bureau chief!

Then this: "After all, bloggers, I am instructed, do not have to follow those ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such ...", followed by rumor, speculation, and innuendo at length without reference. Bloggers (1) publish links to their references; (2) publish all feedback, not just selected "letters to the editor;" (3) did not create Jayson Blair.
Posted by: Jeff at August 31, 2004 07:03 AM

So if this is a "web-only" blog, does that mean my comments are... ON THE INTERNET?

Seriously, Tom, it would appear that you have been hiding in the broom closet for several years. Chris J. hits the nail on the head- bloggers are much better at reporting the real story these days, for the simple reason that readers can call them out when they get it wrong. I doubt your paper would publish the criticism you've received here, meaning this type of back-and-forth can only exist on... A WEB-ONLY BLOG (cue Scooby Doo ghost noises).
Posted by: Rob at August 31, 2004 08:11 AM

I linked from Lileks (at Lileks.com) because he too made fun of Mr. Humphrey, in his gentle, but critical, James Lileks like manner.
For the record - I'm an ordinary citizen - no computer knowledge as such, not a writer, not a blogger, not particularly politically active, etc.
I get all of my hard news from blogger or alternative internet sources. I can fact check that news in seconds.
When I read a newspaper or magazine or even, G-d forbid, watch television news, I can usually spot the lies (intentional slants providing just the information that the media author wants to give you).
However, I have to take it all with a grain of salt, because I have no way to source the material.
Hence, I do not get my news from the old sources.
Posted by: Moishe at August 31, 2004 08:52 AM

Please tell me you're just attempting bad humor, Tom. It's less painful to think of it that way.
Posted by: Prague at August 31, 2004 09:16 AM

Caleb Charles,
Yes, you got it right!
I linked in from Lileks, scanned the first paragraph, jumped to the comments, LMAO, left this comment and then left for the real blogs. (Lileks is first, every morning!).
Old media = chicken-filled weiners
Posted by: Donald Campbell at August 31, 2004 09:32 AM

"...bloggers, I am instructed, do not have to follow those ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such that burden the daily production of stuff to print by traditionally ink-stained wretches."

This guy is Too Much! Although he looks old enough to have been around when the "ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such" might have kinda-sorta applied to his media, those days are long past. Now it's not-too-well-disguised editorializing in the "hard" news, "toe-touches" and outright fabrications (Jayson Blair). Meanwhile, serious bloggers hone their craft through with the help of almost instantaneous (and very public) feedback and fact-check the bejezus out of the "old media" fact-checkers, often with hilarious results.

Speaking of which, something tells me that in the dog-eat-dog world of the blogosphere, Mr. Humphrey and his attributed, fact-checked, logical writers have just donned dog-bone underpants. Should be fun to watch (for those of us that read "Web-only blogs"!)
Posted by: Wylie Merritt at August 31, 2004 09:57 AM

I think it's brilliant:

step one: say something stupid and unverifiable.

step two: Wait for reynolds and lileks to link you.

step three: traffic

He has this blogging thing down.
Posted by: SayUncle at August 31, 2004 10:37 AM

I really do hope the comments and post stick around, but I fear that when the editors wake up there will be some house cleaning.

If it does stay, I expect it will soon be a Wiki object lesson. If it's around in a day or two I may make a "Web-Only Blog" entry to memorialize it.

In the meantime, someone explain to him that one of the nice things you can do with a "Web-Only Blog" is make those URL whatchamacallits in your text body into these things called 'hot links'
Posted by: Tempus at August 31, 2004 10:50 AM

Ah, the irony. I think Mr. Humphrey has just experienced blog-based "fact-checking."

Here's another "AYE" to Caleb Charles. I did indeed slog through a couple paragraphs before jumping down to the comments...
Posted by: Out4Blood at August 31, 2004 11:23 AM

As I read through this "web-only" excrement a couple of dozen pithy comments came to mind. Unfortunately I was too late as more timely commentors beat me to the punch.
Posted by: tim at August 31, 2004 11:36 AM

Unfortunately, I read it all the way through to the end. That the comments make infinitely more sense than the column tells the story: the war is over. Old media lies bleeding on the field.
Posted by: Cato at August 31, 2004 12:14 PM

Whistling in the dark from the moribund old media, and a pathetic demonstration that "journalistic integrity" is now an oxymoron.
Posted by: James at August 31, 2004 12:23 PM

They've already removed the "Web-only" line. I wouldn't be surprised if our comments go bye-bye too.

Not to worry, all of the comments posted up to this point have been copied and pasted at my own "web-only" blog, along with my comments on the article.
Posted by: Brian B at August 31, 2004 01:09 PM

I pointed out the byline change in a comment on his next entry.


In fairness, they posted the explanation for the change when asked about it. (See "Technical Note" in the Nav bar on the left).
Posted by: Tempus at August 31, 2004 01:18 PM

Mr. Humphrey, you're WAY out of your league. It wasn't even a valiant effort. You're not nearly disciplined enough to write a respectable blog. Go back to the op-ed pages, old man.
Posted by: Tyler F at August 31, 2004 07:10 PM

Very good, Tom. I am glad to see that you are seeking "instruction" to remedy your obvious ignorance of the nature and etiquette of the blogosphere. However, a few more remedial lessons may be in order:

1. Don't use the passive voice. Say, "X instructs me" not "I am instructed". The latter formulation violates one of those "ironclad rules of attribution" that you should have learned from your days among the ink-stained wretches. Also, the passive voice sounds weak, stuffy, effete, French ... you get the picture.

2. I applaud you on enabling the comments section on this blog. I actually only browsed to this site to see if you had, since you seem unaware of the way that fact checking works out here. But even those blogs who do not enable comments, such as my own humble effort, can be fact-checked through the use of links. I found your post through Instapundit but evidently James Lileks has also linked to you. By now you probably have several hundred links, as the sampling of comments above should indicate.

3. You have handled the little gaffe about this being a "web-only blog" adequately, but it is traditional to do this kind of error correction in the text of the blog itself rather than in a side-bar. I realize there are aesthetic considerations here, and styles vary on this matter, but it makes it much easier for people to find. And admitting your mistakes forthrightly makes you seem more intelligent (if you caught the error yourself) or more honest (if you didn't).

One final note about self-deprecating humor: lots of bloggers use it and it can be a helpful device in spicing up a post. But, like all humor, you need to be make sure that it is actually funny. Repeating the joke that this is only a blog so the normal standards don't apply isn't all that clever. It sounds too much like you are making excuses. This is more an art than a science, though, so I can't really offer instruction on this point. But a careful review of some of the comments above might give you a clue as to how it is done.
Posted by: R. C. Smith at August 31, 2004 07:19 PM

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