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Oct. 3 2009 - 7:10 pm | 71 views | 1 recommendation | 16 comments

I Unleash My Journalism Students To Critique Newsweek’s Daniel Lyons

Dan Lyons, aka Fake Steve Jobs, holding up an ...

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September 17th, 2009 – a day that will live in infamy.  It is the day I officially became bored with defending Twitter to columnists that “don’t get” the popular microsharing service.  On that day, Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons (who frankly, I’d never heard of until that day, even though I knew of his Fake Steve Jobs work – great PR!) wrote a piece called “Don’t Tweet On Me: Twitter shows that stupid stuff sells,” which I immediately hated for at least three reasons.  One, most things people say seem stupid and useless to random people, so this is not novel observation.  Two, everyone who has observed general society knows that stupid sells (maybe Lyons should visit a comedy club sometime?).  And three, Lyons effectively insults 99.9% of the population with his remarks (of course, they didn’t notice because they don’t read Newsweek – whew, bullet dodged).

But honestly, I’m bored with writing posts about how useful Twitter is.  I don’t really care if anyone “gets it” at this point – frankly, the less people and businesses use it the more advantage those that do gain over the others, and that’s much more fun to watch.  There are tangible benefits quantified and qualified out there – and I feel no need to share them here.  But please don’t think how busy I am means that I don’t think Daniel Lyons should escape a good skewering.

So, taking a page out of the Web 2.0 playbook, I crowdsourced the task to journalism students (each writer volunteered and these posts were not graded) in the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University in Washington, DC.  I’m currently teaching a class called Sustainable Journalism in a New Media Age, and I felt this would be a perfect opportunity for some of my students to publish something on True/Slant, to work out their contrarian / critique style, and to perform a useful service to humanity – picking apart Daniel Lyons’ arguments about how stupid Twitter is.  (And maybe they will even personally experience mainstream media blowback!)

Starting on Monday, look for brief, funny, engaging, authentic and biting guest posts in this space from four of my undergrad students.  They’re going to be great.  Not only do they poke, poke, poke at Newsweek until its measly article looks like Swiss cheese (sorry Jon Meacham, I like you), but keep in mind that these writers are ages 18-21 – and by the time they graduate this hot young talent probably wouldn’t be caught dead working for a dinosaur like Newsweek.  But I’ll let them speak for themselves.


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    As a Journalism School teacher myself (part-time, in addition my own True/Slant blog “In Justice,” writing books, etc.) I heartily approve of you finding ways to publish the words of your students. You are too harsh on Newsweek, though. For what it’s worth, I think the magazine is moving in a wise direction (in depth, more thoughtful) and I see no reason to insult the entire enterprise because of one writer who upset you.

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    Steve, this is almost entirely focused on Daniel Lyons. However, he is a Newsweek writer, and the article in question appeared on the Newsweek website and in the Newsweek print magazine, and so to some degree he represents Newsweek, and the writing represents to some degree the judgement of the editors and other staff.

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    Hey Mark– I’m sorry you’ve never heard of me before, and also sorry that my Newsweek column on Twitter got you so worked up, and really really sorry that you’ve decided to turn a bunch of students loose on me so they can turn me into a pinata in print! Eeek.

    Anyway, Mark, I’d love the opportunity to participate in the exercise. What do you say? Also, before you guys tee off on me, I’d also urge you to look at more than just this one article. For example, check out an article I did this week, titled, “Don’t bail out newspapers — let them die and get out of the way.” Gist is that the Internet is a far better medium for news, for reasons that include — gasp — Twitter! I even say that I prefer getting news online because I can use — wait for it — Twitter to help me find good articles. Can you friggin believe it? I also argue that the crusty old print papers do a lousy job and don’t deserve a bailout.


    Anyway, fire away, and please consider letting me participate.

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    Dan: I do think that writers have to stand by everything they write, but I also encouraged the students to get into your background, etc. to some degree (of course, this is just a blog). I do also think it’s awesome you’re engaging in the debate over…you. Why don’t you write a “response” to me and the four students (Mon-Thu) to run in this column on Friday, printed as-is?

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    Hey — I forgot to include my contact info — you can write to me at realdanlyons@gmail.com. Also, check out my personal site, realdanlyons.com, or my Fake Steve Jobs blog, fakesteve.net.

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    Sounds good Mark. If your students want to contact me and ask questions before they write, I’m happy to talk to them. I’d encourage them to do so — it’s pretty standard journalism practice, even on blogs, to contact people you’re writing about and talk to them before you write about them.

    A quick bio on me: I’ve been at Newsweek for a year, before that was at Forbes for 10 years, and used to work with Lewis DVorkin, your lord and master.

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    I love the idea of your students guest blogging on your True/Slant page. I was just in the Bay area for the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit, where I ran into a former colleague of mine from the NYT who is now a professor in that graduate program. She and I are discussing a possible role for her students on T/S. These are exciting and creative times in journalism. Thanks for bringing your thinking to T/S.

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    It’s like you have your own personal critical army :)

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    Are comments allowed here from people who aren’t your students? If, so I have a few:

    Lyons is pretty right that Twitter is just a “playground.” It’s fun for some people while the rest of us are inside working on meaningful things. The one thing I actually take issue with in his piece is how he gives unnecessary concessions:

    “Yes, a guy on Twitter posted the first photos of that US Airways plane crash on the Hudson River in January. Yes, Twitter let the world follow the protests in Iran.”

    1. Are you telling me that without that guy with a phone and without Twitter, we never would have found out about the plane crash in the Hudson? I think we would have had to wait about three more minutes. Just imagine how our lives would be affected.

    2. The protests in Iran were followed by plenty of reputable journalists without using Twitter. Guess what — they came from dinosaur papers. And they did a damn good job. Another point, again from Jack Shafer’s piece in June (http://www.slate.com/id/2220736/) and from an old T/S post (http://trueslant.com/joshuakucera/2009/06/15/what-if-we-are-all-wrong-about-iran/) is that lots of the information on Twitter was wrong because it wasn’t verified, but was reported anyway. Protests were over estimated, Moussavi was under house arrest, etc.

    That’s it.

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    Dr. Drapeu, I’m currently doing a small paper on what Newsweek does with Web 2.0. I see that they do not have any specific stance regarding the credibility or triviality or usability or significance or anything else of web 2.0 or facebook and twitter in general. At times they report or publish articles about how these social networks or blogs or microblogs are like something trivial (including the article by The Real Daniel Lyons your students commented on), but at times they do quote from these sources. What do you think about it? Thank you for posting this.

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    About Me

    I'm a biological scientist by training with eclectic interests in politics, government, technology, and pop culture. My writing has appeared in diverse publications: PBS MediaShift, TechPresident, Mashable, Nature, Genetics, Genome Research, Defense and Technology Papers, Defense Horizons, The Washington Times, and The New York Times. Besides writing for True/Slant, conducting public policy research, and working on a book, I'm currently a regular columnist for O’Reilly Radar (social software and society), Federal Computer Week (emerging technology and government) and soon, DC Examiner. Because of all the above, I stare at books and computer screens too much, and at girls too little.

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