Oct 13

Blogs vs. Media Giants?

Boy, am I hungry. I could eat a cow. Good thing, too, as I don’t know any butchers in the area. Lots of ranchers, no butchers. No choice but to go hit up one of my rancher friends, walk a cow home, and eat the whole thing. But before I do, let me tell you about something I saw.

I saw an article at NewsBusters in which New York Times executive editor Bill Keller said, “Most of what you know, you know because of the mainstream media. Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.”

Well, of course his comments did not please me, but the fact is that he is right. I can count actual reporting bloggers I am even familiar with on one hand, and the only one I can name is Michael Yon.

So what is this blog nonsense, anyway? Just today, I found myself explaining to yet another co-worker that he probably already reads blogs, he just doesn’t know it. He thinks they’re just web pages, and to him, that is all they are. I tried to describe the filtering hierarchy which the blogosphere evolves as its chosen architecture. I failed. Again. But in reading Mr. Keller’s comments, I realized where blogs fit in–as a “front-end”.

Let’s slide on into software terms here, but gently. This description may not be anatomically correct, but it puts most of the parts in the right places. A program you run can be considered to have many parts. The part you see is the user interface (UI). Behind that is the guts, and behind that is the back-end, which deals with program-to-machine issues, and communications with other computers. The guts section contains the actual “I’m-doing-what-you-want-me-to-do” program, such as a database which stores (and more importantly, retrieves) phone numbers and addresses. And trapped between the guts and the UI may be a front-end. The UI may in fact be a part of the front-end, but not necessarily.

If you have used Microsoft’s Access for your database needs, you have actually used an optional front-end. Access is NOT a database program–it is a front-end to the Microsoft JET database engine. If you had to deal with JET, you would swear you were using DOS. In fact, it would be SQL or something similiar (suspiciously similar…). So Microsoft came up with Access to keep those hands of yours and mine free of the dirty litle details of databases. Instead, we point and click and still wind up typing a lot. The front-end “fits onto the front” of the database engine so we only have to deal with shiny mousables and gridded tables. Of course, there are other front-ends, and this is where we come back to blogs.

The mainstream media is the News Engine. They make lots of money and have lots of people and equipment stationed across the globe and they go out and get lots of news. Then they put it on their own private networks and charge advertisers a fortune to be squeezed in between bits of this hard-won news. The network news programs have their own profit and loss responsibilities, and they try to attract more viewers, so they can charge the advertisers more, and they do this by taking all that valuable information and reducing it to something easy to feed to we invalids.

What blogs have changed is the front-end of the news. We are no longer forced to deal directly with CBS or CNN and their patronizing gruel-casts any more than we still have to deal with MS-DOS. The Internet has evolved an open source front-end for the MSM’s News Engine.

Keller is right. We need the legacy media and their awesome resources to provide the raw material of news to the blogosphere. But you don’t ask ranchers for beef; you ask butchers for beef, and if your butcher keeps trimming it his way instead of your way, you go find a different butcher.

We no longer need the MSM to study, analyse, antagonize over everything and then tell us what to think–we have developed our own front-end; it is customizable and verifiable, we fact-check it and each other, and it’s here to stay.

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Oct 07

FoxNews Poll

This FoxNews Poll shows the results for several political figures, when respondents were asked whether the subject was a “Strong and Decisive Leader”, and “Understands the Needs of Average Americans”.

I found it interesting that the subjects are ranked in descending “Decisive Leader” order, and that that closely matches the numbers for “Understands Needs” order. They descend roughly together, until “Understand” takes a jump back up with Clinton, and stays high for Kerry and the Algore.

So I did a little math. I wanted a single composite of both “scores”, so I plotted the results by hand, X=Understanding, Y=Leadership. If you look at the resulting graph, you see the subjects range from unpopular in the lower left (Gore Country) to Popular in the upper right(Giuliani Country). Also, they fall either above or below a diagonal line which indicates whether they lean more toward Leadership or more toward Understanding.

I also wanted more interpretation of the scant data, so I wrote a small python function lead(a,b) which takes a=leadership and b=understanding scores straight from the poll, and gives you back two numbers. The first number is sqrt(a^2+b^2), which on the graph is just the distance from zero that the subject earned. This is a numerical score for Popularity, and in the list below, it is the first number under a subject’s name. The function lead(a,b) also divides a/b (leadership/understanding) to give a quotient of leadership vs. understanding, and this is the second number under the subject’s name.

Using Rudy as our example, we would say that his popularity is 90.52 (minimum possible 0, maximum possible ~=~ 140), and a Leadership vs. Understanding quotient of 1.03 (over 1 = more leadership, under 1 = more understanding). The exact scores are reproduced at the bottom of this post.

If you now plot THESE scores you get some real information! Plot popularity from 60-100 going up the page. Plot Lead/Understand from 0.5 to 1.5 going left to right across the page.

Obviously, President Bush is not a candidate, but was included in the poll.

Assuming that these numbers mean anything at all, Condoleezza Rice is a more popular version of GW Bush. John Mccain is a more popular version of Hillary. Rudy Giuliani is the most popular, and centered between the four previously mentioned subjects as far as Lead/Understand. Lying at the fringe of the main group is John Kerry, more popular only than Gore. And the Algore itself lies an amazing distance to the left (very low lead/understand score), far from the group, and less popular than any other as well.

Some people call Giuliani “un-electable”. This poll seems to suggest otherwise.

Listed below are the results of my number-crunching, as copied and pasted directly from the program I used. They are listed in the same order as in the FoxNews poll; descending by “Decisive Leadership” percent answering “yes”.

Rudy Giuliani
>>> lead(65,63)

John Mccain
>>> lead(56,57)

Condoleezza Rice
>>> lead(55,49)

George W. Bush
>>> lead(51,45)

Hillary Rodman Clinton
>>> lead(51,53)

John Query
>>> lead(35,40)

The Algore
>>> lead(27,41)

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