Things We Read Today (28), Thursday


Put the Mainstreamers Around a Table…

John Taraborelli’s Providence Monthly article interviewing a roundtable of mainstream Rhode Island political reporters is an interesting read, and the participating journalists are all undeniable assets to Rhode Island.

Of course, I’m inclined to find fault in the fact that the group engaged in no real discussion of the effect that a decade of non-journalists’ blogging out of passion and interest in the truth has had on their industry.  Yeah, some of them mention their own practice of blogging, but the only reference to bloggers is this, from Providence Journal public policy editor Tim Murphy:

We’re up against a culture that wants everything for free on the Internet, and we don’t want to work for free. Nor is what is provided for free often very good; you do get what you pay for.

I’m with Murphy insofar as that elusive “business model” that pays people for high-quality work ought to be found, but professional journalists should be a bit more introspective about the economics of the situation.  Everybody would love to get everything for free, but there’d be no such thing as an economy if folks weren’t willing to pay for things that have value to them.  What they’re increasingly deciding (not always for the better, admittedly) is that the content that is not free offers an insufficient benefit beyond the content that is free to justify paying for it.

This ties in with the only real disappointment that I’d offer in response to the discussion — namely, the unanimous deference to PolitiFact in parts 4 and 5. Toward the end of the relevant part of the transcript, Taraborelli presents an opportunity for commentary as follows:

Everyone in this room clearly has some regard for Politifact and thinks it’s doing a valuable service, but now we’ve reached the point in an election year where there’s this backlash. We won’t point fingers at any one side, but a lot of people are saying, “Politifact’s already been widely discredited as biased.” People are going to their opinion-based sources to bolster their particular worldviews. How do you guys get out there and say, “We do our homework. Regardless of what you think of it, regardless of what media we use, what we do is verifiable, it’s credible, it’s important and, in one form or another, it’s worth paying for.” How do you maintain that message nowadays?

Conspicuously, not one of the assembled journalists expressed qualms about the gimmick of the Truth-o-Meter, which (in my opinion) very often utterly undermines excellent research and investigation by forcing the report to pass judgment.  They talk about verification and facts and quick, transparent correction of mistakes, but none of them philosophize about the inevitability not just of personal bias, but also of its working its way into a person’s work, at least occasionally.

Put differently, not one of them suggests that journalistic professionals should be very sensitive to the possibility that accusations of clear bias are not all politically motivated attacks from that (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) “one side” at which Taraborelli doesn’t want to point fingers.

Finding Facts on Economic Development

The longer I spend reading and writing about policy full-time (that is, not for free), it seems, the harder it becomes for me to get answers to simple questions from the ubiquitous “spokespeople” in government.

The latest thing that I’d like to know has to do with this coup orchestrated for the City of Pawtucket, as Paul Grimaldi reported in Sunday’s Providence Journal:

Tunstall Americas has agreed to relocate its medical alert service unit from Long Island City, N.Y., to Pawtucket by April, Governor Chafee said, filling those 250 jobs over the next two years.

In return, the state has agreed to help train 60 future Tunstall workers at CCRI and to provide tax credits tied to the wages of Tunstall’s Rhode Island employees.

The article mentions that the jobs will pay up to $17 per hour, but what it doesn’t say (and what I haven’t been able to find out) is what it is expected to cost the state to capture those jobs.  What’s the price tag for the tax credits and for having a “state agency … recruit and screen potential employees for Tunstall, entering those people into CCRI classes tailored to the company’s work systems”?

Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I was able to discover that a quirky guy named Douglas Allen Tunstall ran for mayor of Pawtucket in 2006, but specifics of taxpayers’ investment in the company that shares his last name (without apparent relation) are not so easy to come by.

Then, There’s Bias on the Campus

I’m almost not sure what to say about this, from an article by Linda Borg:

Led by their instructor, Michelle Brophy-Baermann, nearly two dozen Rhode Island College freshmen deconstruct the ways in which reality television reinforces stereotypes about women and their place in society. Drawing from popular television shows such as “Modern Family” and “Jersey Shore,” the freshmen discuss such terms as gender essentialism and hegemony.

“Snooki for President” is light years removed from the traditional freshman 101 class that most baby boomers slogged through on their way to meatier classes in their majors. If the original entry-level class were the equivalent of an early Macintosh computer, then the new “First Year Seminar” is the latest iPad.

Pay close attention to the metaphor.  What a Macintosh and an iPad both do is compute, but an iPad is “cooler” and more powerful (at least compared with the original Macs).  What is it that the “original entry-level classes” taught that the new (some would say “dumbed down”) entry-level classes are supposed to teach?

The selling point is “the critical thinking skills demanded by an information-based economy,” but I’m going to have to call bull**** on that one.  This is left-wing indoctrination marketed on academics’ presumption that left-wing indoctrination uniquely speaks to kids and is therefore a fun way to teach objectively valuable skills like critical thinking.

You want to teach critical thinking?  How about a course investigating the left-wing groupthink of academia?  That’ll definitely appeal to adolescents by giving them the opportunity to rebel against the “authority figures” conducting the classes!

I don’t know much about “gender essentialism,” but here’s a somewhat essentialist question:  As college curricula have moved from survey courses to Snooki, have educational and professional results and students’ life-preparedness improved or declined?

Write your answer on a piece of paper and keep it in mind as you consider how to vote on Question 3 next Tuesday, thereby borrowing $50 million for infrastructure improvements at RIC.

And for a Closing Thought

I definitely couldn’t do better than this:

The traffic in the blackout areas of Manhattan is lawless in the most literal sense: the traffic lights aren’t working, so the law cannot be applied as usual. But “lawless” doesn’t seem to be a fitting description; the driving seems better-behaved than usual. We’re so used to seeing people act under a system of government rules that it’s easy to assume that without the rules, everything would descend into chaos. But perhaps free people are generally capable of acting decently on their own.

  • Warrington Faust

    Former B.U. President SIlber once observed that "when we made the decision that everyone should graduate from high school, we implicitly made a decision to lower the standards". Could the same be true now that we have decided everyone should graduate form college?