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You are not funny and are deflating the blogosphere’s value

UPDATE: Jon Gordon from Minnesota Public Radio’s American Public Media’s FutureTense has audio interviews with both Ed Kohler and Robert Scoble.

UPDATE2: On April 16th, Jon Gordon delivers a FutureTense with snippets from the interviews above as well as one with me done a couple of days prior.

As a fellow Minnesota blogger and technoweenie, the Technology Evangelist guys are in my news aggregator. Reading Ed Kohler’s post this morning, “Technology Evangelist Podcast to Replace Imus” I thought, “Nah” but then thought “Hmmm….maybe CBS is that desperate to get user generated content creators into the fold” but still didn’t buy it. Turns out, of course, it wasn’t true.

Here’s the deal: To all bloggers attempting to be taken seriously…stop trying to be funny….’cause you’re not! The whole April Fool’s joke thing isn’t working anymore since 99% of them aren’t funny anyway. The other issue? If you’re going to do an April Fool’s joke, do it on April Fool’s day and NOT the day before or after….or any other day for that matter.

The key to humor is timing. Respected people like Mike Arrington and Robert Scoble broke the unspoken timing rule this year by delivering their incredibly side-splittingly funny attempted humor early and it backfired (not hugely…but my trust in them has gone down a notch). They weren’t the only ones (just the most visible that I read) and it bugged me so I wrote “Why there are no technoweenie, geek or propellerhead comedians“. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor but I use it elsewhere instead of on my blog where I’m trying to have the value I’m delivering taken seriously.

Kohler has posted his act of contrition. But how will I know what to believe in the future when I read him? Do I wait to see if he was just kidding or maybe just stop reading him?

Even with the whole Kathy Sierra/Chris Locke incident and Tim O’Reilly’s Code of Conduct attempt at adult supervision (which hasn’t been received well), even *I* am getting suspect of what I’m reading on blogs…even ones that usually aren’t attempting such sophomoric humor.

As I stood back from all of this I realized why I’m so agitated:  we who are investing our value into blogs are being less valued when so-called A-list bloggers — or any others attempting to gain attention — end up as the blogosphere’s poster children for the lack of credibility to which the disrupted big media is more than willing to point with a big article or story. It’s no wonder that big media is having a field day telling the non-blog-reading world why we’re all a bunch of diarists-writing-about-our-cats-pooping without a journalistic bone in our bodies or the discipline to fact-check before we write.

Before you leap on me about this or think I’m going way too far in my agitation about this, consider picking up your local daily newspaper and on the cover of the business section it states, “Top Bloggers Receive Presidential Honors“. The article goes on and discusses how Mike Arrington, Robert Scoble and Ed Kohler were escorted to the White House to receive top honors by President Bush. Then the next day the newspaper prints a “we were just kiddin’ around” article to correct it.

Well, that wouldn’t happen Borsch“. Why? Because even though they’re imperfect, journalists and publishers work their asses off to build trust, credibility, check their facts, and deliver value we can count on — and would never dream of printing something erroneous on purpose without somehow explicitly printing a disclaimer so the naive or the trusting wouldn’t be duped.

This effort by journalists and publishers to be credible is one reason why so many of us who blog have been agitated at the online walled gardens of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal since we’d like to link to them (and thankfully, that’s slowly changing). What they offer is credible (though at times many of us scream “bias” since these two are perceived as either too liberal or too conservative) and yet you know they’re at least striving for perfection though they often fall short.

We can do better.

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

Comments

  1. It should be noted that when I posted my April Fools joke it was April 1 in Australia. But, overall, I agree with you. I probably won’t do any more April Fools jokes. I think it does detract from your believeability.

  2. Not to mention that I made it pretty clear it was a joke by the end of the post and in my comments I copped to it being a joke within minutes of it being posted.

  3. OK Robert…a jury of your peers would probably exonerate you of all charges and I will too. ;-)

  4. Steve, you make some good points, as a fellow Minnesotan and technoweenie, I subscribe to your stuff too.

    Personally, I don’t see traditional journalism as the proper bar for measuring blog’s credibility. While it’s hard to generalize, some of the best stuff I see is personality driven journalism with a mish-mash of reporting and opinion. Steve Rubel’s work at Micro Persuasion is what I had in mind for that statement.

    Most reporting-style posts written by bloggers have credibility beyond what you’d find in traditional media since they link to their sources, correct the original story rather than posting small corrections boxes, and allow comments.

    Neither is better or worse. They’re just different.

    Shaking things up COULD hurt my credibility with some readers. That’s a risk I took. If people rethink whether they should trust every word I write, that’s probably a good thing.

  5. Ed,

    Rubel is a good model and the open, transparent, ‘real’ nature of blogging is what gets to the essence of what it means when there are few barriers and obstacles between us, our readers and others…most importantly other bloggers: perspective and truth is tossed onto the table under the light pretty quickly.

    If you don’t see traditional journalism as the bar, then what is the bar?

    Unlike the days when I’d grab coffee and sit with my morning paper for a half hour, I now consume it in 10 minutes while the TV news is on and then crack open my laptop at the kitchen island and start scrolling through my river of news (like you probably do, I have dozens and dozens of sources in my aggregator and they never stop coming in).

    Are my critical thinking skills compromised since I’m hyper-consuming content? No….but the time I devote to dwelling, contemplating and musing over news and information like I used to do when there were few sources has lessened DRAMATICALLY in this time of accelerating change in participation on the Web.

    As I skim and skim in my aggregator each morning I zero in on the articles and posts that are either relevant to what I’m working on or are ones I can place in the back of my mind for later retrieval — or get my attention in some other way. I always do what my mother told me to do as she taught me to think critically, “Stevie, consider the source” and it’s funny….but sometimes I have to glance over to see who I’m reading and I have an instant “trust or don’t trust” filter that makes me stop and question what I’ve read. This is all based on experience with the blogger or columnist over time and Technology Evangelist was in the “trust” category. *That* is why a trust relationship, credibility and being able to count on sources is more important in a time of reduced attention and an explosion of source than has ever existed before.

    (Note: remember the Jayson Blair incident at The New York Times where he was caught plagarizing and making up stories? Should they have allowed him to continue and what would that have done to the trustworthiness of their reporting and the brand going forward?).

    I agree with your characterization of “personality driven journalism” but know that if I’m not authentic, if I lie or even stretch the truth, do something just for the attention, and don’t work my ass off to strive for a quality output that people can count on, then why should I bother? There are enough others out there that are more than willing to compromise their integrity and game the system and I’d rather not join them (though I must point out I’m *not* putting you in that latter camp).

    “If people rethink whether they should trust every word I write, that’s probably a good thing.” That was actually the whole point of my argument and I’d beg to differ on that point. Without trust there is no relationship whether it’s a marriage, a friendship or one with our readers.

    It would be fun to grab coffee some time and chat about this face-to-face.

  6. I don’t want to encourage the proliferation of April Fool’s Jokes in the media (particularly bloggers who think they have a sense of humor), but I think it’s worth noting that NPR does a fake news story every year on that day.

    http://nydailynews.com/news/2007/04/02/2007-04-02_law_to_curb_cell_ring_tones_is_phoney.html

    The stories they’ve done are obviously fakes, and for the most part, they’re funny. They don’t hurt the credibility of the organization, but they do help lighten NPR’s typical “stuffy” persona.

  7. I added two posts to my blog on 4/1 which I thought were pretty obviously intended as tongue-in-check (although some might not find the 2nd one totally humorous). I even posted “UPDATE” in bold, italicized, red text with explanations at the end of the day on the 2nd post.

    Alas, it didn’t do a lot of good. The National Review Online linked to the posts as if it were serious and about 1,500 hits later I felt I had to post a “Clarification” for anyone expecting to see a serious essay.

    It seems that humor is overrated.

  8. Justin — I know about NPR’s stuff but they’re pretty clear about not doing another Orson Welle’s like “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast scaring the beejesus out of listeners. They disclaim like mad which wasn’t done at all in this case.

    Bruce — Even publications like The Onion that are known for humor and someone picking it up or viewing it online EXPECT it to be funny sometimes miss the mark. It’s no wonder that consistently funny writers or comedians are rare. It’s really tough to be funny — which is why I rarely try and when I do my 12 year old son is my control mechanism when he looks at me with a bemused look and says, “Why do you think that’s funny Dad?”

  9. There are those who might shake their heads at the tut tutting and moral disapproval expressed by the media over Don Imus’ “knappy hos” remarks but there is no mistaking that this nonsense marks an important landmark in the devolution of America. Oh, and let’s not forget the usually amusing Al Sharpton ponderously advising Imus to respect his own race by not denigrating himself as a “cracker” on Al’s show.
    *
    So what is wrong with this picture? Imus is being crucified by the PC crowd but this same crowd thinks nothing of men sticking their penises in multiple rectums (not to mention uncritically accepting vaginas) and slaying millions via AIDS in the process. Light a cigarette and see those with smoke sensitivities wrinkling their noses at the moral and unrepentent stench of the smoker. Yet display a story about an abortionist performing a late term abortion by crushing an infants head and sucking out its brains and shoulders will barely shrug. Why has race become the last moral sensibility of those who have no moral sensibilities?
    *
    When media “staffers” told their boss recently that they weren’t comfortable working with Imus, what does that tell you about their values? Do they have a problem in dealing with proven liars and child butchers like Al Sharpton, Nancy Pelosi, Ted Kennedy, Hillary Clinton or the appalling Diane Feinstein. Nooooooo, these are all decent people in their eyes. Hello, hello, does anybody remember Ted Kennedy abandoning his girlfriend in the Chappaquidick after a night of heavy drinking? Rather than being in jail Mr. Kennedy enjoys the respect of his peers. Packing fudge, leaving young women to die in sinking cars and butchering small children–these are not things to get your knickers in a twit over but call a few young ladies knappy hos and this is the height of outrage.

    This kind of faux “sensitivity” has permeated our society. Does anyone remember the homosexual community’s outrage against the homophobic comments that the US military was writing on its bombs? We could kill people in the Middle East but God forbid a homophobic comment should be written on a bomb casing? What is wrong, what is wrong with these devolved imbeciles? How about the faux outrage of Democratic politicians when their patriotism is questioned? Welcome to the Alice in Wonderland world where everything depends on “what you mean by is.”

    So personally speaking, I think Imus should be given the first annual Chris Rock, Racial Humor Equality Award and the hypocrites in the media should turn the eye of their shallow moral judgments upon themselves. What was it Christ said about plucking the mote from your brother’s eye while not removing the log from your own? Whoops, I forgot, wasn’t He was crucified for these and other scandalous remarks? Imagine suggesting that the Goyim might be equal to the chosen people in God’s eyes and that what might make a man unclean is what comes out of his mouth. Don’t tell the truth, don’t tell the truth, don’t tell the truth…don’t even look at it.

  10. Jon Gordon Covers TE – Imus Story for American Public Media

    Jon Gordon found last week’s story and resulting controversy about Don Imus’ supposed replacement interesting from an Internet journalism standpoint and ran a story about it today. If you’re a National Public Radio listener, you may have heard it earli…

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