Living in Glass Houses

Just saw Michael Kinsley on the Daily Show talking about Slate’s “profit.” A couple of points:

First, Slate made big news of its profitability, yet no one mentions the fact that it gets all of its traffic from a certain monopoly-holding company which happens to own the online zine and which uses its control of the desktop and the browser to prop up its also-ran portals and news sites.

Next, when John Stewart made light fun of how Internet journalism is a step down from working at CNN or in magazines, Kinsley nodded politely as if he agreed. Perhaps this was a moment of politeness or deferrence to his host, but I don’t think so. I think Mr. Kinsley is embarassed of his low station as the leftover master of a zombie dot-com ship and his current media tour is his way to re-enter the mainstream in the hope of an elegant exit from online journalism. Even the most green blogger understands that the interactive medium has unique advantages over television and other news media, which are too numerous to discuss here.

Finally — and this is what got me off my ass to write this screed — when Stewart brought up the Jayson Blair incident, Kinsley tut-tutted in a very old-media sort of condescention, even offering the audience a cute anecdote about a stray Slate article which was factually incorrect yet passed his desk. Ummm, I’m no media geek, but even I’m up enough on current events to remember that it was Kinsley who hired Stephen Glass, the infamous fabricator who, unlike Blair, fabricated entire articles out of whole cloth. For neither interviewer nor subject to bring this key fact up is ridiculous. So I will. Here’s Kinsley on fact checking:

And Slate does not have a fact checking department or “fact checkers” so labeled. We do have a group of people whose duties include making sure our writers are as accurate as possible. They are called “writers.” And we have another group of people who skeptically examine what our writers produce and try to catch errors of fact (or of logic or analysis or spelling or taste or—in the case of poetry—rhyme and meter). These people are called “editors.” What we do not have is people whose job it is to duplicate the writers’ research from scratch. (Slate)

So I guess online is deficient compared to other media, or at least when it’s run by people who don’t understand the medium, under the protection of an unchecked monopoly.