Fried squirrel, politics and the media

Some followup notes from my delightful conversation this morning on KNPR’s State of Nevada, with host Dave Berns and his panel of so-called “witty academics.” (The audio with David Damore, Ken Fernandez and me from University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Eric Herzik of University of Nevada, Reno, is here.)

During the show, I mentioned a wonderful resource at the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which has been running a campaign coverage index showing how much attention the media is giving each presidential candidate. This one, covering the week of Jan. 6 through Jan. 11, shows Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton got far more media attention for her New Hampshire “comeback” than did the also victorious Republican Senator John McCain, who had not won in Iowa. Moreover, this index suggests that Democrat John Edwards is almost being ignored by the media.

One person who called in to the show wondered if the media is shying away from him because of Edwards’ criticism of the kind of big corporations that own the media. I wasn’t as articulate as I would have liked to have been on air, so here is an addendum:

My two cents is that this is more a reflection of “pack journalism” than any philosophical thing on the part of the journalists. I could be wrong, but news organizations are lousy places to pull off a controlled conspiracy thing — they’re generally too blessed disorganized and full of ornery back-talkers.

The screw ups I’ve seen over the years stem more from laziness and fear than some order from on high. The fear comes two ways. First, there’s the fear of getting beaten. If everyone else is covering Candidate X, you’d better do it too or you will look stupid. Second, there is the fear of someone yelling at the publisher because a reporter didn’t cover their event — or because a reporter asked impolite questions. That is very real and very true.

I was pressured that way in my coverage of Texas gubernatorial candidate George W. Bush, as I wrote about here.

Fortunately, everyone seems to have a digital camera and a recorder these days, along with access to free publishing tools on the Web. So it’s a lot harder for candidates and their spinmeisters to squelch things.

Also, I didn’t have a chance during the show to mention a couple of other fine journalism resources for election information. The Las Vegas Sun’s ace database folks put together a truly nifty interactive map that shows voting, party affiliation and contribution information by Zip Code for Clark County. Check it out and play with it — the data tells the story.

And another friend of mine over at Congressional Quarterly sent me a link to CQ Politics Primary Guide — nice stuff and good, accessible information.

Now, a reward for reading this far down.

I really wasn’t joking about Republican candidate Mike Huckabee claiming to have fried squirrel on a popcorn popper in college.

Here thanks to the good folks at Talking Points Memo, is the video:

Just because I am a calloused, cynical journalist, I do wonder if a popcorn popper actually gets hot enough to fry a squirrel.

But then, I wonder about a lot of things.

Perhaps some enterprising reporter will put it to a truth test.


Quote ’em if they can’t take a joke

That’s one of my basic rules of journalism, and never has it been so delightfully true as today, when we can not only tell you what someone said, but let you hear how they said it — in their own voice.

One of my students got a very rude awakening last semester thanks to an Embarq screwup, but she turned the incident into a very nice piece of digital journalism.

Have a listen to what she produced and published:

The challenge for the students in my digital storytelling class was to choose the right medium for the story, whether that was text, sound, video, graphics or still images. In this instance, telling the story through text wouldn’t have really done it justice. The sound makes the story.

Las Vegas Sun reporter Tim Pratt, who covers social services and the poor, wrote a piece Jan. 5 about the other victims of this bonehead snaffu by Embarq and the Clark County Housing Authority.

When he interviewed me, Pratt made it clear he understood the power of all things digital by asking if Ruby’s video might “go viral” on the Web.

That would be nice.

What’s important is that journalists no longer need a big old printing press, a radio station or a television station to publish and broadcast stories.

But knowing how to use digital recorders, cameras and editing software is increasingly important.

Just gather the facts, pick a medium, weave the story and publish!

P.S. — Check out the Sun’s Website redesign, which went live today. Among other essentials, they’ve added a field for comments under news stories, acknowledging that news is a conversation.

Faster than the Pony Express

Thanks to the printing press, the mail coach and the steam packet—gifts beyond the gifts of fairies—we can all see and hear what each other are doing, and do and read the same things nearly at the same time.

— Maria Edgeworth, (1767-1849) Irish author

(thanks to Ted Pease and his alert WORDster Louise Montgomery)


So “The Media” (whoever they is ;-), suffered an upset in New Hampshire Tuesday night when Hillary Clinton won. The polls had said Barack Obama would win the Democratic primary race there, but then an unprecedented number of the voters changed made up their minds in the voting booth.

But the good news is that there was no “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline, because we have better and faster tools to turn on a dime and respond to news as it happens.

There’s a lot of speculation about why the pollsters and The Media (and the candidates?) headed into the New Hampshire vote thinking Obama would win the Democratic contest.

I’m not smart enough to answer that.

I wonder, however, if it is not The Media, but instead, the medium. If you agree with the suggestion that it was Hillary Clinton’s “near tears experience” that prompted a remarkable number of people to decide to vote for her, then it was video on the Web that tipped the scales.

Yes, it was ABC’s video, but more than a dozen individuals copied and posted the video on YouTube, and that’s where it went viral, getting more than half a million pageviews and thousands of comments in one-tenth the time it took the Pony Express to gallop a mochila across the country.

I’m thinking that The Media’s not in charge of the message here.

From a personal standpoint, I love that there is still a very serious contest underway, which means the Nevada caucus next week really matters. And even though the UNLV spring semester doesn’t start for another week after that, my students can cover it live, as it happens, with new tools, like Utterz and Twitter.

I had a delightful conversation about the ch-ch-changes and the primary this morning on KNPR’s State of Nevada with host Dave Berns and three political science professors, David Damore and Ken Fernandez of UNLV, and Eric Herzik University of Nevada, Reno.

Here’s a link to the audio from the show, and I expect we’ll be back for more next Wednesday morning after the Nevada caucus.

How wonderful it is that no matter which time zone we’re in, we all have a front row seat!

Selling the free stuff for $14.99

What if you give away the polished and edited content, but then put a price tag on the user-generated content?

People will buy it.

Those of us who have solicited so-called user-generated content know that there’s just about nothing more popular than people’s own stuff.

The numbers are overwhelming and consistent.

When it snowed on Valentine’s Eve in 2004 in San Antonio, we were overrun with reader-submitted photos of the miraculous, 1/8-inch dusting. So we posted a mini-slideshow on, and it got the most pageviews on the site for a month.

Ask folks to send in pictures of their pets, their Christmas lights — whatever — and you’re likely to get buried in an avalanche of voluntary contributions and a subsequent pageview frenzy.

While the trained, credentialed and degreed-journos in newsrooms ponder this, one retailer is running with it.

San Antonio-based Central Market grocery store solicited Hatch green chile recipes from customers across Texas last summer. Now those recipes are bound into a book “un-edited & un-tested,” and the grocer is charging $14.99 for the raw deal.
Free recipes for sale

And guess what? People are buying it.

Elsewhere in the store, customers can pick up 3×5 index cards with chef-tested recipes for free.

But this book of unedited people’s stuff is worth money.

If news organizations could for one moment stop being so arrogant and snooty about citizen journalism/user-generated content, they could learn something here.

People don’t confuse their own stuff with the “pro” stuff.

And they really like their own stuff.

They’ll even pay money for it!

Update: Here’s a related piece at the NYTimes Bits blog, “On eBay, Some Profit by Selling What’s Free.” And the TechDirt blog riffs on that, with this: “Content Industry Could Learn From eBay Seller Turning a Profit with Public Domain Content.”