There Is No Cat

As God as my witness, I thought turkeys could fly

Saturday, June 8, 2002

The Gillmire Strikes Back

Dan Gillmor responds to Dave Winer's attack on him:

Media criticism is valuable. We need more of it, not less. I do hope that criticism will be fair.

I'm comfortable with my values and my behavior in this matter. Decide for yourself.

Dan points out some of the things Dave got wrong, including the fact that Dan did cover the problems with the CMS. I pointed out the same links that Dan does to Dave in e-mail. Dave pointed to one of them in a followup DaveNet. But he managed to not apologize. It took me a couple of minutes on Google to find those links. Dave said he spent months writing the piece. You would think he would have taken a few minutes to get his facts right.

The more I think about this, the more I think Dave was wrong to attack Dan. It's Dan's prerogative to pick and choose his battles, and to make his arguments in the fora he considers appropriate. As Dan points out, he has taken his company on when he's thought they're wrong. Just not on the issue that Dave thinks he should. Dave says he doesn't understand why so many journalists focus on the personal aspect of his article. But he attacked Dan's professional credibility, concluding the he was "not a journalist". In a profession where credibility is the rock on which everything else is built, this is perhaps the most serious accusation you can make, and it seems disingenuous to me to argue that the larger point is being ignored when you've attacked the very foundation of a journalist's main asset.

Dave has a serious point behind his attack, and I agree with the idea that journalism has inherent conflict-of-interest problems, but it was completely obscured by the personal invective aimed at someone who is well-respected and who I feel was undeserving of being the target. If you're going to complain about the press, you need to pick a clearer target. (See Meryl Yourish's blog for an example of a clear problem incident.) This particular issue just isn't black-and-white enough.

One final point. Some newspapers have an institutional position designed to handle problems that readers have with the actions of a newspaper or its reporters. It's called an ombudsman, and such people are usually hired on fixed-term contracts that guarantee their editorial independence and prevent them from being fired. I spent some time looking to see if the Mercury News has an ombudsman, but it appears that they don't. Other Knight Ridder newspapers, such as the Detroit Free Press and Philadelphia Inquirer, do, or at least did (I couldn't find a current reference to a Freep ombudsman on their site, just one from 1999). The Merc News should consider creating this position. Then there would be an institutional outlet for such debates.

Posted at 5:27 PM

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


There used to be a cat

[ photo of Mischief, a black and white cat ]

Mischief, 1988 - December 20, 2003

[ photo of Sylvester, a black and white cat ]

Sylvester (the Dorito Fiend), who died at Thanksgiving, 2000.


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