3 reasons Judge Posner’s gay marriage ruling is awesome

So it’s nearly 2015, but there’s still plenty of anti-gay-marriage law across this great nation. Because children?

Nah — because bullshit. This week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed district court decisions striking down Indiana’s and Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage bans. Judge Richard Posner’s ruling is an amazing indictment of said bullshit enshrined as discriminatory legislation.

Here are three reasons why Posner’s ruling — which you should totally read right now — is fucking awesome.

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Why agreeing in improv is so much better than arguing

I have an improv confession: I’m an arguer.

I have a bad, albeit common, habit of reacting to offers by protesting, taking an opposite point of view of someone in the scene, or otherwise introducing conflict.

Arguing is different from — and maybe more insidious than — straight-up denial, which is usually called out quickly. You can be an arguer for much longer than a denier because arguing doesn’t seem like a violation of “the rules;” because it’s often an honest reaction to an offer; and because conflict can lead to great scenes (given the right context and improvisers).

But I want to stop arguing, or at least learn to argue less. After a bunch of recent arguing scenes and a workshop with Michael McFarland that focused on agreement, I finally get why agreement opens so many more possibilities than argument* — and turns your scene partner’s offer into a gift of an endowment.

Consider a scene I was in this week. My scene partner handed me a putter and a mini golf ball. Told me to go ahead and putt.

Then he put a gun to my head.

My character freaked out — and boy did I commit to freaking out! I even remembered to establish a relationship (“Uncle Tim, this is NOT why I came to visit you!”).

Then not much else happened.

How did we go from such a brilliant offer — the kind of inspired, so-random-he-couldn’t-have-planned-it choice that makes improv scenes so great — to such a not-great (if not-terrible) scene? I didn’t do anything “wrong.” I reacted in an honest way (wouldn’t you freak out at a gun to the head?); I established a relationship; I didn’t deny (no “Uncle Tim, why are you pointing a banana at me?”).

The problem with arguing is it usually represents a normal, average, rational person’s normal, average, rational reaction. But the average person is boring! So taking the average person’s perspective in an improv scene greatly increases the chance that the scene will be boring.

Wouldn’t it be more interesting to explore characters for whom the irrational (to us average folks) is the normal reaction?

The key is to expand our notion of what “reacting honestly” means. In the mini golf scene, I was reacting honestly as someone who would get freaked out when a gun is pointed at them at a mini golf game — i.e., as an average person. But what if I reacted honestly as someone who doesn’t get freaked out by this? Think of the kind of characters that agreement would have opened up:

  • Danger-seeking golfer trying out a new motivational strategy
  • Dad so bored of suburban life that he gets his kicks from taking life-threatening risks at children’s activities
  • Colleagues at some job that holds life-threatening activities at  orientation/retreats

The details would have emerged organically. I could have even accepted reluctantly (golfer whose career is on the skids and will try anything to get back on top, even if he’s wary). But at that point, the details are ancillary — the character is already established and emphatically not-boring, simply by accepting the offer!

In other words, agreeing with an offer that your first instinct is to argue with is like getting an endowment for free.

Meantime, arguing instead of agreeing is like an anti-endowment, an anti-deal. The deal of a character who argues “I oppose a gun to my head”  is simply “I don’t want to die.” But that kind of deal — or common argumentative-reaction deals like “I’m unhappy that you cheated on me,” “I AM good at X,” “I don’t want to be fired,” etc. — is often a dead end because it’s a basic, inherent deal of every rational person on the planet. Common, everyday human deals are boring and don’t define characters.

Arguing also leads to:

  • Standoff scenes that are like watching bulls butt heads, as McFarland put it (possibly quoting someone else?).
  • Scenes that get stuck on plot details because one character argues against doing something that the other character suggests.
    • I think of these as tip-the-cow scenes: Another recent scene I was in featured a character inviting her grandson’s fiancee to tip a cow as a family initiation, and the grandson and fiancee resisting. To which Mikael Johnson, who was coaching that practice, said: “Just tip the cow!!!” The scene would have been much better if the grandson and fiancee accepted the offer because people who happily participate in cow-tipping family rituals are bound to be more interesting than those who think such rituals are odd.

As with everything in improv, understanding something is much different than successfully and routinely doing it. But I hope I can start to be more of an agree-er and less of an arguer.

What can improvisers do to get better on their own?

This year I finally took the plunge into the wacky, wonderful world of improv.

I took all four of Shawn Westfall’s excellent classes at the DC Improv. I’ve been in three graduation shows, a DICSC show, and four shows with two troupes.

I can hold my own on stage, but I still don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not good. And I want to work hard on my own (in between practices and performances) to try to get good.

But here’s the thing: I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as “work hard on your own to get good at improv.”

Solo artistic endeavors, like solo sports, generally have clear paths to go from having potential to being good. A marathoner can create specific training programs and follow the right diet. A painter can study and practice different techniques. Stand-up comedians and other comedy writers can write and watch and write and listen and write.

In a team sport or art, individuals obviously have to practice and perform with the team to reach their full potential. But a basketball player can get good in the meantime by studying the playbook, shooting 200 free throws a day, and working out. A violinist can get good between concerts by memorizing the score, playing for four hours a day, and doing violin-specific strengthening exercises.

What can improvisers do to get good on their own?

I’ll read Truth in Comedy and Mick Napier’s book. I’ll watch Asssscat videos and go to shows. I’ll continue practicing and performing with troupes.

But will that only go so far toward becoming a better improviser? When it comes to improving as a troupe — when we’re all trying to figure it out at the same time — it seems hard to make the kind of progress that comes in other team activities when everyone is also improving on their own.

Hopefully I’m just being impatient. With enough time — enough practices and performances — I hope I’ll reach the equivalent experience of a quarterback who sees the game slow down, as Mikael Johnson puts it.

In the meantime — help me out, improvisers: Are there things I can do outside of a group context to get there faster?

The struggles of a news civilian, cont’d: Three views on politics and tech news

My struggles as a news civilian largely fit into two categories:

First, as a civilian who lacks salary-supported info-consumption time, I struggle to get through the never-ending queue of smart/worthwhile/interesting news. And it feels like news soldiers, who do have that time and are otherwise consumed by info consumption, don’t understand that people outside the industry might be like me.

Second, there is also a never-ending queue of pointless/time-suck news, but many news organizations and journalists don’t distinguish worthwhile news from pointless news. (Or industry economics don’t allow them to distinguish the two.)

I’m not talking about TMZ and celebrity gossip. I’m talking about the extremely high percentage of “news” — from the AP, NPR’s daily news shows, tech news orgs, almost every news org that covers politics, etc. — that to the average person is literally trivia, as useful (and useless) to their everyday lives and thoughts as a game of Trivial Pursuit. As a news civilian, I don’t know why I’m supposed to care.

Because news orgs continue to shovel this trivia toward me without explaining why it’s important or rethinking whether they should be producing it, I grow to suspect and resent them and feel less bad about my lack of info-consumption time. Or I continue to waste time on this news  and grow to resent myself. Down that road lies some combination of info-numbness, self-hatred, and a (further) tuned-out citizenry.

Three recent blog posts illustrate my second struggle.

Here’s Brian Lam, in his awesome post about reducing “the overage of technology and noise” in our lives to increase happiness:

I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like “top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone” and “EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY.” And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don’t have time for this.

Ezra Klein, on the “tornado of idiocy that is American politics“:

“Most people don’t care about politics,” [UCLA political scientist Lynn Vavreck] said. “They’re not running around with these preformed opinions in their head. They worry about what they’ll make for dinner and how to get their kids to bed. And that hasn’t changed. For us, that’s an alien world. We think about politics all the time. But we’re not normal. The 24-hour news cycle has not really affected the average American who isn’t into politics. And that’s really important to remember.”

I think most people in Washington believe voters would make better decisions if they spent more time following politics. But I spend a lot of time following politics, and quite often, I couldn’t be happier that voters are tuning out the inanities that obsess this town.

And Om Malik, reflecting on recent news about tech executives changing jobs (via Alexis Madrigal’s awesome essay on app/tech stagnation):

Sure, these are some great people and everyone including me is happy for their new gigs and future success. But when I read these posts and often wonder to myself that have we run out of things to say and write that actually are about technology and the companies behind them? Or do we feel compelled to fill the white space between what matters? Sort of like talk radio?

Something’s percolating here. Can anything be done about it on more than an individual level?

Confessions of a news civilian

I used to be a news soldier.

By day, I read dozens of news stories for my job as an editor. By night, I read dozens more for my then-current or assumed-future writing gigs, and for my perpetual gig as deputy assistant knowledge dilettante.

I read 90 percent of the Atlantic, New Republic, and New Yorker issues (front- and middle-of-the-book sections, at least) from 2002 to 2009. I religiously followed Talking Points Memo during the Bush years. Slate, video game blogs, why-am-I-still-reading-this runs of Rolling Stone — anything to fill my professionally and dopaminically mandated info quotas.

But I’m out of the game now. Been out for a couple of years1. I’m a news civilian. And I am lost.

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Why the ‘bloggers aren’t journalists’ Oregon court ruling isn’t so bad

The journosphere is taking note of a U.S. District Court ruling in Oregon that “has drawn a line in the sand between ‘journalist’ and blogger,'” as Seattle Weekly’s Curtis Cartier put it in a post that (I think) broke the story.

“Now … we see why ‘who’s a journalist?’ is so wrong-headed,” tweets Jay Rosen in response to the news. Clay Shirky chimes in: “Bloggers have no right to speech unless they’re part of the ‘official media establishment’? Ethiopia,Belarus &…Oregon.”

I can’t tell from those tweets if they read the actual ruling, but I did — and it actually doesn’t seem that bad. Rather than representing a luddite judge’s ignorant dismissal of a new medium, the ruling seems to lay the groundwork for a fairly expansive legal definition of journalism.

In the ruling, Judge Marco A. Hernandez upholds a defamation claim against blogger Crystal Cox, rejecting Cox’s seven defense arguments. The initial journosphere reactions have focused on Hernandez’s rejection of two of those arguments: that Cox shouldn’t have to reveal the source of this column because she is protected by Oregon’s media shield law; and that Cox should be protected from damages claims because she is “media.” In both cases, Hernandez rejects the arguments on the grounds that Cox is not “media.”

Hernandez’s rejection of Cox’s shield law defense seems to rest on a literal reading of Oregon’s shield law, which applies to people affiliated with a “newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”

Hernandez says, correctly, that Cox is not affiliated with any of the above; therefore she is not “media” according to Oregon’s law. It seems reasonable that the judge applied the law as written rather than expanding the interpretation of the law to include online media. If Oregon had updated its shield law to cover the Internet, as Washington state has done, perhaps Hernandez would have ruled differently.

But it’s Hernandez’s rejection of Cox’s second media defense that, to my mind, actually gives hope for future expanded legal definitions of “media” and “journalist”:

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story.

If Hernandez believed that you need to have a Columbia J-school degree or work at the New York Times to be considered a journalist, he would have stopped at No. 2. But he doesn’t stop there — instead, he offers five additional criteria that could define someone as a journalist. These criteria aren’t based on a credential or business card — or a particular medium — but on practices, values, and standards.

By doing this, the ruling smartly avoids saying “bloggers aren’t journalists.” It merely says “this blogger is not a journalist.” By listing criteria 3-7 and avoiding any mention of specific media, Hernandez is basically saying: “Bloggers may be journalists — but to be considered as such, they have to do something that could fit a standards/practices-based, medium-agnostic definition of journalism.”

It’s easy to quibble with Hernandez’s choice of canonized practices and standards (I can see some in the journosphere taking issue with No. 6 in particular) or say his criteria aren’t expansive enough. But to the extent that “journalist” and “media” need to be defined in the law, Hernandez’s approach seems like the right one. And his criteria seem as hopeful a starting point* as any.


* Note: I’m not up to speed on other definition-of-journalist case law. I’m sure there have been other rulings that offer their own criteria for such definitions.

The real problem with ‘The Rising’: It’s not actually about 9/11 (or anything at all)

As a fan of Bruce Springsteen revisionism, I was happy to see John Cook’s Gawker post challenging the canonization of Springsteen’s The Rising as “the closest thing we have to an official soundtrack to 9/11”:

The Rising is a failure. It purports to document a nation’s rupture and guide us toward salvation—”here the poet, not unlike the priest and community during Mass, opens a window in space and time for communion with the dead themselves: the dead who alone, perhaps, can transform the rage of the living and awaken in us a vision of something more than more of the same,” is how one Catholic critic recently put it. You can almost feel the weight of Springsteen’s duty on the record—these are his people, these firefighters. This is his backyard. A nation turned its weary eyes to the Boss, and he keenly felt the need to answer. But the answer was overwrought, grandiose, bombastic. He went big. We didn’t need anymore big things.

Cook’s right that The Rising is a failure, but he doesn’t quite get at the reasons why. The Rising isn’t just big and overwrought. It’s lyrically vague to the point of being a 9/11 album in name only. Absent the marketing push that announced the album as Springsteen’s big 9/11 statement, The Rising could be interpreted as being about pretty much anything (or nothing at all).

I wrote about the Boss’s 9/11 dodge in a 2003 piece for the Valley News in New Hampshire. (It’s actually a section from a larger essay about that year’s Grammy Awards.) I think it holds up pretty well.

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The most postmodern-philosophical passage from the May 16 New Yorker

The overriding impression I carried away from my … visit was that, although it all comes back to taste at PepsiCo, the physical sensation of tasting has been so thoroughly mediated by advertising and packaging that no one knows anymore where the physiologoical experience ends and the aspirational experience begins. It’s hard to guarantee the “same great taste” in a scientifically advantaged product when no one is sure just what that taste is.

— John Seabrook, on PepsiCo’s attempts to reduce salt and sugar levels in its snacks without changing the taste. (The article is available online for subscribers only.)

Adventures in Entertainment-Publicist Bamboozling: Black Swan and the Governator

The new Entertainment Weekly has a couple of hilarious reminders that the entertainment business — including most of the publications that cover it — is primarily a publicist-driven hype machine. Join me for the first installment of a potentially semi-regular feature, Adventures in Entertainment-Publicist Bamboozling. (And yes, I still get Entertainment Weekly. I also watch movies on a circa-2003 CRT TV.)

Natalie Portman did the Black Swan dancing :: Tom Cruise did his own stunts :: Avril Lavigne wrote her own songs

One of my favorite show-business lies is the “[big star X] did [obviously untrue feat Y]” claim, used to establish a star’s talent, grit, or authenticity.

Via EW, I see that we have a new entry in this storied marketing approach: the “Natalie Portman did basically all the dancing in Black Swan” claim. Apparently Portman’s body double Sarah Lane is causing problems for this strategy, pointing out that Lane — a professional ballet dancer rather than a dilettante actor — did the dancing:

“Of the full body shots, I would say 5 percent are Natalie,” says Sarah Lane, 27, an American Ballet Theatre soloist who performed many of the film’s complicated dance sequences, allowing Portman’s face to be digitally grafted onto her body. “All the other shots are me.” …

“They wanted to create this idea in people’s minds that Natalie was some kind of prodigy or so gifted in dance and really worked so hard to make herself a ballerina in a year and a half for the movie, basically because of the Oscar,” says Lane.

I haven’t seen Black Swan and don’t really care whether Portman did the dancing. But despite Darren Aronofsky’s defense of Portman, I would bet a lot of money that Lane is telling the truth. This is just how the entertainment hype machine works.

My favorite example of the phenomenon was the mid-aughts hyping of then-teenager Avril Lavigne as a totally real pop star who totally wrote her own songs!!! (Even though professional songwriting teams and session musicians clearly wrote the songs and played the music.) Edward Jay Epstein describes another example in The Big Picture, his terrific 2005 book detailing the marketing-and-publicist-driven reality of today’s Hollywood. It’s worth quoting at length:

The studio begins its marketing effort as soon as a project receives a green light. … The principal awareness instrument that the publicists have at their disposal, obviously, is the public reputation of the film’s stars. As part of their arrangement with the studios, the stars effectively allow the studios to use their reputations to publicize their films. To this end, the studios script “back stories” that merge the stars’ activities, real or invented, with those of the characters they play in the films. …

Consider Mission: Impossible II. … A back story was … scripted in which [Tom] Cruise was seen to be indistinguishable from Ethan Hunt, the acrobatic hero he played, via the claim that he, and not a stunt double, had done the free falls, fire walks, motorcycle leaps, and other perilous stunts that Hunt did in the movie.

This back story was keynoted in a publicity short, Mission Incredible, shown on MTV and other cable channels owned by Paramount’s corporate parent. Made in the style of a documentary in which the crew and cast of Mission Impossible are interviewed, it has the director, John Woo, expressing great fear that Tom Cruise would plunge to his death in leaps across mountaintops or be incinerated in fire scenes. Woo states, at one point, “Tom has no fear. I prayed for him.” In another publicity short, Woo says, “Tom Cruise does most of his own stunts, so we did not need a stunt double.”

In the actual production, there were at least six stunt doubles for Tom Cruise’s part. Even if Cruise had possessed the skills and training to the stunts himself, and even if the studio was not to object to the delays in shooting this conceit might cause, the insurance company, which insured Cruise as an “essential element” of the production, would not have allowed him to risk so much as an ankle sprain, much less his life. As far as this publicity script diverged from reality, however, it served its purpose by providing a plausible story for the entertainment meda — “Tom Cruise is Ethan Hunt,” and a tag line, “Expect the impossible again.”

Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Surefire Comic Book Hit!!!

The Black Swan tale doesn’t reflect on EW as a publication. Alas, their cover-story exclusive on Arnold Schwarzenneger’s post-governor plans is a bit more embarrassing.

The big news is that Schwarzenegger is teaming up with comics legend Stan Lee to develop the Governator, “a sunglasses-wearing superhero with an Austrian accent who’ll be at the center of an ambitious, kid-friendly multimedia comic-book and animated TV series codeveloped by no less a hero maker than Stan Lee.”

If this story were more than a publicist-hatched marketing plan, it might have pointed out that:

  • Stan Lee’s main contributions to comics and pop culture came in the 1960s and ’70s. His later career does not inspire breathless fandom.
  • The pinup drawing of the Governator — featured on a fold-out cover — is straight out of the Rob Liefeld school of bad ’90s comics art:

  • This photo of Schwarzenegger and Lee couldn’t be more staged:

  • The idea is terrible! Here’s Stan Lee: “We’re using all the personal elements of Arnold’s life. We’re using his wife [Maria Shriver]. We’re using his kids. We’re using the fact that he used to be governor. Only after he leaves the governor’s office, Arnold decides to become a crime fighter and builds a secret high-tech crimefighting control center under his house in Brentwood.” Um, have they focus-grouped this? Do they really think Maria Shriver and gubernatorial experience resonate with kids?

I’m happy to be proven wrong; kids have made successes out of far worse artwork and concepts. But Schwarzenegger’s publicist deserves a huge bonus for getting an EW cover out of this lame plan.

The creepiest sentences in the Feb. 14 New Yorker (so far)

[David] Miscavige’s official title is chairman of the board of the Religious Technology Center, but he dominates the entire organization. His word is absolute, and he imposes his will even on some of the people closest to him. According to Rinder and Brousseau, in June, 2006, while Miscavige was away from the Gold Base, his wife, Shelly, filled several job vacancies without her husband’s permission. Soon afterward, she disappeared. Her current status is unknown. [Scientology spokesman] Tommy Davis told me, “I definitely know where she is,” but he won’t disclose where that is.

— Lawrence Wright, “The Apostate.” (Emphasis added. See also this previous post on Scientology’s Dear Leader complex.)

Unexpected sentences from the Jan. 31 New Yorker

I thought of Ironhead last month as well, while standing in the lobby of the InterContinental Hotel, where a special meeting of the league’s Head, Neck, and Spine Injury committee was convening in one of the function rooms. Bert Straus, an industrial designer with a background in bathroom fixtures, dental-office equipment, and light-rail vehicles, was showing off a prototype of a new helmet called the Gladiator, whose primary selling point is that it has a soft exterior.

— Ben McGrath, “Does Football Have a Future?”  Emphasis mine: I love that there are industrial designers who specialize in bathroom fixtures, dental-office equipment, and light-rail vehicles. This guy must be pretty unique to know about all three. (Also — interesting article.)

On February 11, 2004, he made a presentation to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the Army’s premier laboratory for biodefense research. Hours later, a researcher at Fort Detrick accidentally stuck herself in the thumb with a needle while injecting mice with the Ebola virus. Ebola has gruesome symptoms that often cause the victim to bleed to death; there is no licensed vaccine or therapeutic drug to stop it.

— David E. Hoffman, “Going Viral” (subscriber-only). Emphasis mine: How can you work with live Ebola virus and not a) wear mithril gloves, or b) be extra careful so you don’t inject yourself with Ebola??? (Another interesting article.)

The ‘game mechanics’ misnomer: Why gamifying the news is so challenging

Chris O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News has launched NewsTopiaville, an interesting project that will “explore how game mechanics can be applied to reinvent the way we produce, consume and interact with news.” The project is ambitious, interesting, and worthwhile.

But I want to clarify something about the term “game mechanics,” which I think is being misused — or at least oversimplified — in the gamification discussion. Without understanding the term’s fuller context, there’s a risk of masking the challenges of gamifying the news.

In the gamification discussion, “game mechanics” typically refers to (in O’Brien’s words) “features like leaderboards, progress bars, rewards, badges, and virtual goods.”

These are indeed game mechanics; I would categorize them as “motivational” or “psychological” mechanics.* (UPDATE: See footnote for another definition.) They can be a big part of what makes people keep playing a video game — what makes us want to play for just five more minutes (which inevitably turns into two hours) to reach the next goal.

But motivational mechanics are not the only kind of game mechanics.

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Groupon Stores is another big blow to local news organizations’ revenue hopes

Figuring out how to better serve local businesses and connect those businesses to readers is a big part of local news organizations’ hopes and ideas for making money online.

Facebook’s Deals platform, announced in November, was a blow to these hopes. Now Groupon has piled on with its Groupon Stores platform.

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Data journalism needs to be more than external data sets

Paul Bradshaw has a good column at Poynter about how the increasing availability of data will force journalists and news organizations to change:

Data journalism takes in a huge range of disciplines, from Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) and programming, to visualisation and statistics. If you are a journalist with a strength in one of those areas, you are currently exceptional. This cannot last for long: The industry will have to skill up, or it will have nothing left to sell. …

So on a commercial level, if nothing else, publishing will need to establish where the value lies in this new environment, and where new efficiencies can make journalism viable. Data journalism is one of those areas.

Journalists should read and heed everything Bradshaw writes. But it’s important to make sure the discussion of data doesn’t get too narrowly confined to external data, without considering how journalism itself fits holistically into the data-centric future.

The big challenge for news organizations isn’t just how to better ingest, analyze, and present extant external (if sometimes hard-to-access) data sets. Inculcating a new skill set industrywide may be non-trivial as a matter of scale and institutional-cultural inertia, but at least that skill set is pretty well defined.

Rather, the trickier and less-addressed challenge for news organizations is how to turn the raw materials and finished products of non-database journalism into data.

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How the Sunlight Foundation and PolitiFact can make ALL political coverage better

Today’s 2010 Knight-Batten Symposium gave me visions of political debates and speeches transformed from exercises in sound-bitery and emotion into civic lessons and conversations.

It gave me visions of political news stories that provide context not just about the issue at hand, but also context about the people at hand.

(Also, it gave me the vapors. But mostly just visions.)

Here’s one vision:

On TV, political debates display a fact-check tally for each candidate (how many true, truthy, lying-liar, etc. statements each candidate has made). Fact-check details about a particular statement are displayed as soon as they’re available.

No more useless meters showing allegedly uncommitted voters’ emotional reactions:

Instead, imagine if the debate screen looked like this (well, imagine a non-crappy-mockup version that looked vaguely like this):

Here’s another vision:

Online, any streamed speech, debate, or hearing displays a combination of fact-checking material, aggregated contextual material, real-time commentary and public reaction. Any story or video that mentions politicians displays some combination of:

  • Fact-checking details for that person’s recent statements (any of their statements and/or recent statements related to the story being viewed)
  • Campaign contributions to that person from individuals/organizations related to the story’s subject.
  • The candidate’s biggest contributors (individuals/organizations and industries).
  • Lobbying information for the person and/or their staffers
  • If in office, recent votes the person has taken related to the story’s subject.
  • Biographical information about the person.

Now here’s the great thing about these visions: The Sunlight Foundation and PolitiFact have pretty much already fulfilled them!

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