Tagged: Farhad Manjoo

Et Tu, Manjoo

It’s the Ides of March (BEWARE!), and over the last week, it’s come out that Farhad Manjoo’s two-months of only getting his news from print, which I discussed last week on this site, might not have quite the digital diet he led us to believe. In his column, Manjoo indicates that he “unplugged from Twitter,” but as Dan Mitchell and Joshua Benton reported since the column’s publishing, he was very active on Twitter.

Mitchell writing in the Columbia Journalism Review more or less deems Manjoo as a Twitter addict-in-denial:

It seems likely that Manjoo isn’t lying, and that he really believes he had unplugged, and really believes that his weak-sauce explanations don’t belie the point of his column. It could be that Manjoo’s column really does serve as a warning about the pernicious effects of social media. Just not in the way he meant it.

The Neiman Lab’s Joshua Benton digs into Manjoo’s activity on Twitter, using the Twitter API and with some hacky data visualization, as Benton himself admits, learns a few things:

  1. Manjoo did use Twitter less during his “diet” period, beginning in mid-January.
  2. During Manjoo’s two-month print news diet, Manjoo posts from Nuzzel, a news curation tool for Twitter. Nuzzel might have allowed Manjoo to “slow jam the news,” as he describes the purpose of his experiment. However, Benton describes Nuzzel as “a nicotine patch,” reinforcing the notion that Manjoo acts like an addict-in-denial.
  3. Benton notes that Manjoo didn’t just post and repost article from Twitter, but he also liked a lot of other people’s posts. This suggests that Manjoo was spending a lot of time scrolling through his Twitter feed.

In all, Benton concludes that “to say Manjoo ‘unplugged from Twitter’ really isn’t accurate.”

Bob Garfield, on WNYC’s On the Media, called out Manjoo’s claim that he “unplugged from Twitter.” In a special episode podcast episode released this week, Garfield says, “Farhad spent most of his 48-day diet sneaking into the fridge. In the time that he was supposedly “unplugged” from Twitter news, he had tweeted hundreds and hundreds of times. Not the crime of the century — but still, oops.”

Garfield interviews Manjoo, and it’s certainly awkward hearing Manjoo offer qualifications and exceptions to what he meant by being “unplugged.” Garfield appears unmoved, unconvinced, and even disappointed in Manjoo.

Of course, while using Twitter is not a crime and from what we know, he did really “slow jam the news” by subscribing to print newspapers and magazines, reading books, listening to podcasts and subscribing to newsletters, Manjoo undercut his credibility by continuing to use Twitter during this period. There was one line that really spoke to me and respect his noble experiment. At the end of his column, Manjoo reassures his readers that “you don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook.”

Manjoo, who is well-educated and an experienced journalist, should have heeded his own advice… for at least for a couple of months.

Farhad Manjoo’s Junk-Free, Two-Month Print-News Cleanse

The tech columnist at the New York Times, Farhad Manjoo, spent the first two months of 2018 only getting his news from print sources. The experiment seems a bit counter intuitive to what a technology reporter should do. Why would someone surrounded by high-tech gadgets want to get his news in this low-tech, antiquated way?

The experiment seems to have yielded two conclusions. The first, which he readily acknowledges, is that it allowed him to get news at a slower rate, or “slow jam the news,” as he calls it. This allowed him to spend his time doing other things, rather than react to each news alert and post on social media. The results, he admits were quite dramatic: “I’m embarrassed about how much free time I have — in two months, I managed to read half a dozen books, took up pottery and (I think) became a more attentive husband and father.”

This is a common theme in the discourse of “being disconnected” from our digital devices. Disconnecting, the thinking goes, will allow us to live life at a more human (and humane?) pace, one more naturally attuned to our physiology and our psychology. Perhaps, there is a truth to that, but we humans are quite adaptable. These same arguments were made when newspapers were around: “how can anyone process so much news that fast?” Today, we make those same arguments to digital news.

The second conclusion he reaches is that he now gets higher-quality news. His new print-only news diet directed him to “looking to formats that prized depth and accuracy over speed.” He lists New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the weekly newsmagazine, The Economist as the ones he chose to subscribe to and read regularly. The result was that he felt better informed.

I don’t doubt that Manjoo is getting better news through these sources, but it’s not their print-first format that makes them so reputable: it’s the professional journalists who write for them. Being a journalist is like being a physician in that both professions train intensively and are both committed to the truth. A journalist learns methods for investigating and adheres to practices to present information in a responsible way, not unlike the physician’s long program of study prepares her to follow a proper course of treatment and adhere to a patient’s well-being.

Perhaps, it’s no coincidence that the Internet and born-digital “news” outlets have brought us so much junk news (or “fake news,” in the parlance of our times) over the years, as well as the junk science that feeds the anti-vaxxers and the anti-medicine crowd. The barriers of entry to start propagandistic and fraudulent websites are pretty low. In a way, this is why digital news is so polluted. Those who start and write for these junk news and junk science sites are usually the same know-nothings that rail against professional journalism (derisively calling it “fake news” or the “mainstream media”) and also against medicine. And don’t get me started on the anti-scientific bozos who drink “raw water,” or where Louis Pasteur meets Charles Darwin.

Social media has only amplified and expanded the reach of these junk dealers. Manjoo concludes, “you don’t have to read a print newspaper to get a better relationship with the news. But, for goodness’ sake, please stop getting your news mainly from Twitter and Facebook.” That is because, as we have seen, social media treats all “news” the same, and that has helped spark the disinformation that we’ve seen over the last twenty years. But that is not to say that the news a print journalist reports can’t be shared responsibly online.

And vice-versa: print is not immune to disinformation. As early as the nineteenth century, we had all kinds of salacious news, hoaxes, and outright frauds printed in newspapers. It took newspaper publishers a lot of soul searching and the field of journalism to establish professional training programs to make print the gold-standard of news and information.