Arianna Huffington and Social Media as a Platform, Not Content

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of the all-seeing, all-aggregating Huffington Post accused the media of having a social media “fetish” in an op-ed published last week.

In the piece, Huffington accuses the news media of being overly focused on social media as a story in and of itself, rather than as a means to commit acts of journalistic excellence.

“The media world’s fetishization of social media has reached idol-worshipping proportions,” writes Huffington. “Media conference agendas are filled with panels devoted to social media and how to use social tools to amplify coverage, but you rarely see one discussing what that coverage should actually be about.”

Her central argument is a call for for substance over style, content over platform.

Huffington thinks that journalists using social media are looking for the next great morsel that can fit in 140 characters or less, foregoing the important stories of our age to find the “mini-controversies” that work oh so so well on Twitter. She believes journalists are obsessed with the “right now” and the superficial, answering the “what” but failing to address the “why.”

“Our job in the media is to use all the social tools at our disposal to tell the stories that matter – as well as the stories that entertain – and to keep reminding ourselves that the tools are not the story,” writes Huffington. “When we become too obsessed with our closed, circular Twitter or Facebook ecosystem, we can easily forget that poverty is on the rise, or that downward mobility is trending upward, or that over 5 million people have been without a job for half a year or more, or that millions of homeowners are still underwater.”

“Someday, historians will likely look back at this virality-uber-alles age and wonder what we were trying to accomplish,” her indictment continues. “The answer will be: not a whole hell of a lot. Our times demand a much better response. All these new social tools can help us bear witness more powerfully or they can help us be distracted more obsessively.”

She’s almost right. Some journalists are certainly guilty of milking the social cow for everything her bladder’s worth – especially in the political sphere.

But sadly, Huffington fails to mention the work of excellent social journalists who understand that it’s a platform and not content in and of itself. These people, such as Andrew Katz (@katz, who made a name for himself with his brilliant Occupy Wall Street coverage), are using social media as it should be used: a tool for covering an essential story in a way that wasn’t possible a decade ago.

My question to Huffington, then, is simple: Are you seeing the role social media are playing in the coverage of the Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street, with their near-constant tweeting and livestreaming? Social media have provided an alternate lens through which the public can view and consume those events, away from the filter of the traditional news gatekeepers. Is that not worth at least a nod in your indictment of social journalism?

I’m glad to have a voice like Arianna Huffington on my side of the function-over-form debate. I just wish she gave a nod to social journalists doing excellent work rather than calling the whole lot of us into the media penalty box to think about what we’ve done (or haven’t done).

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Wandering Around New York: Brooklyn Flea

Erin and I ventured to Brooklyn Flea last weekend in search of vintage garb and the random assortment of knicks and knacks that one finds at flea markets.

The Flea is in its indoor winter home at the former Williamsburg Savings Bank, actually located in Fort Green, just across from Atlantic Terminal – which I’ve always known as “the place where you ended up if you royally screwed up the transfer at Jamaica.”

The Flea, open only on weekends, was packed enough to give it energy, but not enough that you felt you needed to carry around a supplemental oxygen tank due to a lack of air. Goods for sale range from clothing to old toys to hand-sewn American flags to OH MY GOD WORKING TYPEWRITERS!

Clackity-clack-clack-clack…there’s something very satisfying about typing on one of these bad boys. And for only a few hundred bucks, they’re not as expensive as I figured they’d be.

But I don’t have that kind of expendable cash to throw around all willie-nilly, so onwards we go.

Downstairs, more clothing, some Persian rugs and a smattering of culinary offerings from local Brooklyn restaurants.

After a few hours of bumping shoulders with Brooklynites, we surfaced for some much-needed fresh air at Prospect Park.

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Wandering Around New York: Strawberry Fields

“Hey honey, remember that guy John that I told you everybody loved?”

– A father to his daughter at Strawberry Fields, Central Park.

There’s a memorial to John Lennon only steps from where he was shot and killed by Mark David Chapman. Strawberry Fields is often quiet and peaceful, despite how close it is to the very busy Central Park West and the number of tourists that come to visit every day.

Gary, called the “Mayor of Strawberry Fields” by the NYPD, places a collection of roses in the shape of a peace sign and Lennon memorabilia at the memorial almost every day.

Gary is a Lennon scholar by hobby; he teaches anyone who will lend five minutes of their time about Lennon’s life. He ends each of his lessons – sermons, really – by flashing the two-finger sign for “peace” and telling people to pay their respects in whatever way they wish.

When I asked Gary how many times he’s given the Lennon lecture, he shook his head.

“I lost count,” said Gary.

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A Day at The Museum

Six million visitors come to the Museum of Natural History every year for a look at dinosaur bones, meteorites from outer space and a calm-as-a-Buddhist-monk Blue Whale dangling from the ceiling. The “history” here is on a geologic or evolutionary scale. How many visitors come to find history of their own?

The Great Northeastern Blackout happened over a decade ago, when a power plant in someplace called Eastlake, Ohio went offline. That outage put pressure on the rest of the electrical grid to make up for the lost power. Other electrical stations fell offline, and a cascade of failures left millions powerless from Ontario to New York.

My grandfather – my Pa – and I were at the Museum of Natural History that day. Both of us space geeks, we really went for the Rose Center for Earth and Space, a cube-shaped cathedral devoted to all things alien from Earth.

The Rose Center, when viewed from outside during the nighttime, presents a paradox: The entire universe is contained in a transparent blue-glow cube. But as many a science geek understands, the universe is expanding. I suppose the only place where the universe isn’t expanding is the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

After a day of looking at moonrocks and seeing how much we would weigh on various interstellar bodies, we took the C train back to Penn Station, where we boarded the Long Island Rail Road to go back home.

Between Woodside and Jamaica, the blackout hit. Our electric train was stranded in Queens.

Rumors flowed at a rate electricity could never match. September 11th was still fresh in our New York minds and the Global War on Terror was terrifying. Reports of “smoke in Manhattan” circulated through the train, completely unsubstantiated. This was pre-Twitter and most cell towers were down.

A contingent of Police Academy cadets took charge of the train and warned passengers not to get off and walk back to Woodside. If the electricity should come back on, they said, the 3rd rail could fry a person. Long Islanders are taught to fear and respect the 3rd rail (and the gap between the train and the station platform) around the same age we’re taught the Golden Rule and to always say “please and thank you.”

Some passengers ignored the warning and took to walking the rails. The electricity did not come back on and they were not burnt to a crisp before making it to Woodside.

I was worried about Pa. He had diabetes most of his life, and we were out of the snacks we carry in case of a blood sugar crash. It was the middle of Summer, and the temperature abord the train was rising quickly. He was a big man, and if he did crash, I would have to enlist help to carry him to a hospital or ambulance.

“The same thing happened to me during the Blackout of ’77,” said an elderly lady nearby in an apparent attempt to be reassuring and lighthearted.

It didn’t work, but we smiled at her anyway.

A few hours later, the LIRR sent a diesel-powered engine to push our train back to Woodside, where my parents rescued us – and they brought snacks. Back home at my apartment, everyone was outside, grilling and drinking and having fun. It’s amazing how quickly the community of a village is restored once everybody loses their TVs and computers.

Last weekend, I didn’t really go back to the Museum of Natural History to look moonrocks and dinosaur bones. I went to find Pa. He passed away this past November after months of chemotherapy for Lung and Pancreatic cancers.

And the whole time I wandered the museum with my friends, I felt his arm around my shoulder and his voice in my ear, telling me about the Moon and Jupiter and why I weigh more on the Sun than on Earth. And on the subway ride home, I felt him making sure I watched the gap and didn’t fall victim to the third rail.

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Meanwhile, In Poland…

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Polish lawmakers donned Guy Fawkes masks to protest their government’s signing of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) Thursday. Out in the streets, several thousand Poles came out to protest the treaty. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

What’s ACTA? Funny you should ask.

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Site Update

Hey there!

I’ve finally updated my site to reflect my new position at Mashable, where I’m working as US & World Reporter.

You’ll find my professional work over on the “Writing page.” From here on out, I’ll be using this space for more fun, casual writing.

Share and enjoy!

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How the Internet Saved Buddy Roemer’s Campaign

Buddy Roemer, former Governor of Louisiana, is a relatively unknown candidate running for the Republican presidential nomination. He’s so under the radar that in Iowa, only 31 people caucused for him – although to be fair, he wasn’t campaigning there anyway.

How does Roemer expect people to notice and support him? The Roemer team is using a digital-first approach to politics.

Read the rest at Mashable.

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