Hindsight Journalism

In an earlier post I picked apart Ted Koppel’s graduation speech to the students at UMass Amherst. However, I wanted to return to his remarks briefly and take a closer look at one portion of the speech that I didn’t contend with in my earlier post.

For quite some time I’ve been wondering if we are entering an era of “hindsight journalism,” where some of the most important stories of our time emerge after the fact. This kind of journalism shines a spotlight on critical issues, but serves as more of an autopsy than an antiseptic. It dissects issues like specimen, instead of shining a light on problems before or as they emerge. Hindsight journalism emphasizes having an explanation for how a problem happened – the chain of events – over why a problem happened – the structural forces and power dynamics that created the problem. It dissects rather than illuminates.   Continue reading


Twitter is not a Typewriter: Ted Koppel’s Commencement Address at UMass Amherst

This weekend Ted Koppel, longtime host of Nightline, gave the commencement address to UMass Amherst, where I did my graduate work. His full remarks are copied below, but here are my thoughts on a few key passages on the state of journalism, politics and social media.

He opened his remarks with a familiar critique of social media: the requisite nod to the Arab Spring followed by a dismissal of Twitter and Facebook as too fast, too shallow, and full of too much noise.

If sclerotic dictators can be overthrown by messages of 140 characters or fewer, surely I should have been able to Tweet something adequate your way. But I won’t. It will surprise few if any of you to learn that I don’t Tweet and that I have, thus far, resisted all efforts to “friend” or be “friended.”

Billions upon billions of Tweets and text messages, most so lacking in substance that it is difficult to imagine any impact if they were all vaporized tomorrow. The new media clearly enable information to be transmitted more widely and efficiently than ever before.

Koppel links the speed of social media (and news media) today to a larger erosion in our ability to engage in constructive dialogue. This is born out, for him, most clearly in our political discourse. Continue reading

Media Making as Participatory Democracy: Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street

“If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said,
then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.” 
– The Port Huron Statement, 1962

 We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.”
– Occupy Wall Street, 2012

Fifty years ago, the authors of the Port Huron Statement wrote that “Every generation inherits from the past a set of problems – personal and social – and a dominant set of insights and perspectives by which the problems are to be understood and, hopefully, managed.” 

Today, the generation that sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement has likewise inherited a distinctive set of problems and generated its own new insights and approaches to them. One of the most important characteristics of the Occupy movement is the expanding universe of media makers – citizen journalists, livestreamers, artists and others – who see their work as overtly political and a central part of the movement itself. 

New tools and technologies are empowering more and more people to commit acts of journalism – many for the first time – as their preferred mode of engaging with the movement. For many, grassroots media is not just a means to forward the goals of Occupy Wall Street. Creating media and telling a new story about our society is also an ends in and of itself. Media making is increasingly a political act as important as the occupations themselves. Continue reading