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Rant #237
(published July 28, 2005)
The Newswire Challenge
by Morgan Johnson
I spend a not insignificant part of my week trolling the nets and dredging up news articles for the Poor Mojo's Almanac(k) Newswire. Anywhere between two and five hours a day gets devoted to feeding the hungry maw of the Wire. It's an eternal hunger, a void that can't be filled, an insatiable devourer from a dimension beyond time, et cetera, etc, &c.

Real reporters and journalists and editors must go through this very same thing every day, this questing for something new to tell their readers. Hell, that's why they call it the "news," right? Because it's always gotta be new. And the very nature of the media (as in plural of mediums) requires new content, constantly.

I've been thinking about this for awhile.

Before we developed the Newswire, we here at Poor Mojo's Almanac(k) had batted around the idea of doing a weekly article called "Poor Mojo's Context", or possibly "(K)ontext." It was going to be an in-depth look at one given topic, providing all of the background info so that the reader could make up her own mind about it. The weekly articles would provide the context and fullness of thought that no other outlet provides. But the timing was bad for us, and then Wikis sprang up and did the job way better than I could have hoped (save for the occasional brushfire of Chinese spambots).

So while the task of providing deep, well-reasoned context was beyond us at the time, we still wanted to do more. We had been publishing fiction, poetry and rants along with screeds and broadsides from our Editor-in-Chief, the Giant Squid for almost four years. We hungered for more. I wanted more.

I had quit my job working in the book mines for a national retail book chain, and had taken up editing at a desk job for a multi-national publishing company. The nature of the work being like that of evolution: punctuated equilibrium. Vast periods where nothing happens followed by times of upheaval, change and busy-ness.

I used my free-time and my connection to the interweb to catch up on news, politics, and so on. I began emailing and forwarding every interesting article I found to my friends and coworkers. Eventually, when the trickle became a flood, the Newswire was developed as an outlet and an aggregator for all the interesting and shiny things discovered hiding in the internet.

The chief problem of the news is the reliance upon everything being new. It doesn't provide time for reporters to adequately research their stories. Politicians know this. Karl Rove knows this, it's how so many libelous tidbits find their ways into the public mind. A careful word slipped to a reporter nearing deadline leaks out, and suddenly someone's reputation is tarnished.

President Johnson (no relation, I think) back when he was running for Congress, was falling behind an opponent in the polls. He told his campaign manager to anonymously tip off a reporter to the fact that his opponent had been fucking pigs. His manager was aghast, and asked "Is that true?" and Johnson replied, "Hell no, but let's make him deny it."

There is no time to look back in the news. There is no time for context. Every column inch is precious, and every second that isn't grabbing your audience's attention is a chance for them to change the channel or click to a different page. This is why we have the CNN news crawl. This is why we have angry, shouting people on Fox news. They want you to pay attention, and are terrified of boring you.

It's a terrible mistake, I believe, to think that context is boring. People like to learn about the world. No one enjoys their ignorance once they are aware of it. Context and background, history and geography can be just as interesting as any breaking news story, if handled correctly.

On the Newswire you may notice that every posting has a category (or (k)ategory, if you will). I find myself on most days only using three or four of these categories. There are whole ranges of news I never explore, never delve into because I am so busy chasing the new, chasing the shiny. In always reading the breaking news on the internet I am just as guilty as Fox for not providing any context.

So here is what I am proposing, call it the "Newswire Challenge". I'm proposing this to my fellow Newswire-istas (Fritz, Dave-o, JIM, Alan and Longo) and to my own damn self.

Over the next two weeks I dare you to post at least one article in every (k)ategory. Anyone who does this will get a Poormojo Tshirt, paid for by me, from our store.

To the readers I also have a challenge. Help us see the big picture; help us combat the amnesia our media lives in. Send in your own take on news stories. Send us context and new ways of looking at things. If we publish five of them we will send you too a free t-shirt acknowledging your valiant efforts to edify the internet.

Step to the plate, people: It's a world inside of the world out there, not just pig fucking all the way down.

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