King Kaufman

This site in beta. Unless you like it

Archive for the ‘The media’ Category

Rob Gronkowski’s time machine is a story about media bias

without comments

Time Machine poster

 

The sports meets pop culture part of the Internet jumped on New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski this week for not understanding what time travel is. I disagree with the consensus that Gronk is wrong about what time travel is, but I found the dust-up fascinating as a journalist, not as a physicist, which I am decidedly not.

Gronk has a media reputation as a bro’s bro, a good-natured, fun-loving lunkhead. The iconic Gronk momentcame after the Patriots won the AFC Championship Game in January 2012: An ESPN Deportes reporter asked him, in Spanish and then English, if he would be celebrating the victory, and Gronk said, “Si. Yo soy fiesta.” That moment becoming iconic is another blog post.

This week Pats radio announcer Scott Zolak asked Gronkowski what superpower he’d like to have. He said he wished he had a time machine, so that “I could just be like, ‘I want to be in Florida right now,’ and then boom, I’m in Florida.”

Boom. The snark was unleashed, including by my outfit, Bleacher Report. Here are some headlines:

Rob Gronkowski Wants to Time Travel to Florida, Doesn’t Know How Time Works (Bleacher Report)

Rob Gronkowski doesn’t understand the concept of time machines (SB Nation)

Rob Gronkowski Thinks Planes And Cars Are Time Machines (Deadspin)

Here’s Deadspin’s Samer Kalaf:

Gronk doesn’t understand how time works. Or maybe he doesn’t know what a plane is. Either way, it’s concerning. Does he know what happens when he gets on the big metal bird to go to away games?

Clearly the consensus view of this situation is that if you’re in Boston and then you instantaneously show up in Florida, that is not time travel. It’s just travel. Several people took the time to patiently spell this out to me on Twitter. Zolak helpfully informed Gronk that he was talking about a “transporter,” not a time machine. Keep in mind neither of these things exist.

I think that’s a valid viewpoint, but what’s interesting to me is that it’s a viewpoint, a perspective. It’s a way of looking at the world, specifically a way of thinking about time.

I believe it’s not the only valid way of thinking about time. It’s not how I think about time. I think that if you have a machine that does nothing to change the distance from Boston to Miami Beach—Gronk means Miami Beach when he says “Florida,” don’t you think?—but reduces the time it takes to cover that distance from several hours to zero seconds, your machine is very much about time. I think it’s fair to say that a plane is a kind of time machine.

If you don’t agree, I don’t want to debate the point. I’m just saying there are different ways of thinking about “time.” Your way of thinking about it is cool with me.

From all the evidence—the articles and the amen chorus in the comments section and on social media—the people who don’t look at time the way I do don’t think of their point of view as a point of view. They think of it as a fact. What Gronk talked about? “That’s not a time machine.” Fact.

That’s where I get interested as a journalist, because as a journalist, I was taught to be “objective,” which is to say without bias. I, like many, have long since rejected this practice, the purpose of which is for journalists to claim they have no bias. NYU professor and media thinker Jay Rosen calls this “the view from nowhere.”

See the parallel? You can’t not have a bias. How you think about something as seemingly fundamental and fact-based as how time works can be affected by who you are and what culture you’re a part of. “That’s not a time machine” might sound pretty weird to anyone who hadn’t grown up hearing that air travel had “shrunk the world.” As opposed to, say, “slowed down the clock.” I’ve been hearing about how “the world is much smaller now,” thanks to faster travel and communication, for as long as I can remember.

I’m not saying the consensus view—”That’s not a time machine”—is incorrect, in the way that 2+2=47 is incorrect. I’m saying it’s an opinion, a viewpoint, not a factual statement. It’s like saying “A true friend is someone who wouldn’t let you root for the New England Patriots.” A valid way to look at the world. Just not a fact.

But the snarkosphere treated “That’s not a time machine” as a factual statement, because the default way of thinking about time in Western culture in 2013 is so ingrained, so agreed-upon, that it feels to most people in that culture like the only way to think about time.

What else in our consensus worldview is like that? What other opinions and points of view do we think of as facts? That’s a central question in journalism, and one I believe every journalist should be asking all the time: Is that a fact, or an agreed-upon viewpoint?

Written by King Kaufman

November 24th, 2013 at 10:18 am

Posted in Football, The media

Tagged with ,

Wall Street Journal feeds the “small ball” myth

without comments

Noted smallball enthusiast Vladimir Guerrero stretches out before a regular-season game. He's 0-for-1 stealing in the World Series.

Noted smallball enthusiast Vladimir Guerrero stretches out before a regular-season game. He's 0-for-1 stealing in the World Series.

Another example of why putting our faith in the established, trusted brands of the mainstream media because they are the established, trusted brands of the mainstream media is not the brightest idea.

Here is a Wall Street Journal piece headlined “Hitting Baseballs, Just Not as Far: Giants and Rangers Win With Contact Hitting, Bunts and Baserunning; the ‘Lost Arts.’” The piece, by Matthew Futterman and Brian Costa, explains that the Giants and Rangers have gotten to the World Series via “the kind of aggressive baserunning and timely, intelligent situational hitting and bunting that younger fans, the ones who came of age during baseball’s era of jet propulsion, have rarely seen.”

“Jet propulsion” refers to the home-run-happy steroids era, “a time when the chief ingredient of a winning team was a pack of happy oafs whose job was to hit the baseball into the next Congressional district.”

To prove their point, the Journal writers — well, they wave their arms around a lot.

The numbers tell the story rather starkly. Last year, the teams in the World Series — the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees, ranked first and third in the majors in home runs. The Rangers and Giants rank No. 10 and No. 11.

San Francisco was 17th in runs scored and 13th in slugging percentage this season. But they ranked fifth in strikeouts and third in sacrifice bunts in the National League and fourth in all of baseball in sacrifice hits. [Snip: A couple of quotes from Cody Ross and Brian Sabean, respectively, about how the Giants take good swings and "know how to compete." ]

Texas was only ninth in slugging percentage, but the team had the most sacrifice bunts in the American League, the second-most sacrifice flies and the fourth fewest strikeouts. The Rangers were also seventh in the majors in stolen bases.

So how well does a certain ranking in runs scored or slugging percentage or sacrifice flies or stolen bases correlate with winning? We don’t get much of a clue, except that the Yankees and Phillies were first and third, which is actually wrong. They were first and tied for second. The Phillies tied for second with the Rangers, who didn’t make the playoffs. In 2008 the Phillies were second in homers and went to the Series, where they played the Tampa Bay Rays, who were tied for ninth.

In 2007 the Boston Red Sox, 18th in home runs, beat the Colorado Rockies, 15th, despite both teams playing their home schedule in homer-friendly parks. In 2000, the height of the supercharged steroid era, when major leaguers hit more home runs than in any other year in history, the World Series pitted the Yankees, 10th in homers, and the New York Mets, 12th.

We’re really in a new era here, where you don’t have to lead the league in homers to make the World Series! Like you did in 2009!

But don’t listen to me. Here’s Cybermetrics, “the sabermetric blog of Cyril ‘Cy’ Morong, professor of economics at San Antonio College,” responding to the Journal piece by pointing out that all that sacrificing and stealing and not hitting home runs and so on is not resulting in any extra runs or wins for either the Giants or the Rangers.

Using these crazy things called history and math, Morong shows that teams that get on base and slug at the rates the Giants and Rangers do tend to score about as many runs as the Giants and Rangers did this year. And he points out that, given their pitching — a concept the Journal barely nods toward, though it’s basically the whole story for the Giants — teams that score as many runs as the Giants and Rangers did this year can be expected to win just about as many games as they did.

In other words: “There are no extra wins due to using ‘lost arts.’ In fact, they have done well by some combination of hitting for power and getting on base and generally preventing their opponents from doing so. This is a time honored way of winning.”

The Journal piece concludes with a quote from Giants president Larry Baer, who is a business man, not a baseball man: Baer “said there is more passion for this team than any in his 18 years with the organization. ‘It validates that this game is an art and not a science,’ he said.”

Except it doesn’t validate that. The team’s popularity might validate that marketing is an art, or that a city’s passion for a team involves some strange, hard-to-fathom alchemy. But there’s plenty of science involved in the baseball.

The Giants would do well to understand that science a little better. If they did, they wouldn’t owe Barry Zito — not good enough to make the postseason roster — $64.5 million over the next four years. They wouldn’t owe Aaron Rowand — worthy of eight plate appearances in 15 postseason games — $24 million over the next two years. The people who do understand the science and root for the Giants screamed their heads off over both of those signings.

The Journal could do a better job of it too. You know, like some blogger in his mother’s basement an economics department in San Antonio.

Photo: Benson!!/Flickr Creative Commons

Written by King Kaufman

November 1st, 2010 at 1:55 pm

Revisionist history: San Francisco never loved Barry Bonds

without comments

Barry Bonds acknowledges cheers before NLCS Game 3 in San Francisco.

Barry Bonds acknowledges cheers before NLCS Game 3 in San Francisco.

It’s true, as many in the national media have written, that this year’s National League champion San Francisco Giants have captured the imagination of the city in a way that the Barry Bonds-led teams straddling the turn of the century did not. It’s easy to love a champion, but San Francisco had already fallen hard for this Giants club before the regular season ended. It’s one of those love-affair years.

But it’s revisionist history to say that the teams of the late ’90s and early ’00s were not beloved by the fans because the fans didn’t like Barry Bonds. I can’t put it any more simply that this: San Francisco fans absolutely loved Barry Bonds. There was no ambivalence at all.

It was the writers who didn’t like him. For all the negative talk about him, he was a garden variety beloved superstar before the steroid revelations. And by that I mean the smoking gun of the BALCO case, which broke in the 2003-04 offseason, not the rumors and accusations that had flown around Bonds for a couple of years before that.

And even after BALCO, it was a very small percentage of San Francisco fans who gave a flying damn about Bonds and steroids. A vast majority of the outrage and worry came from the media — and of course fans in other cities. Everyone is always very, very concerned about steroid use by the visiting team.

Even when Bonds was chasing Henry Aaron’s career home run record, by which time there was no doubt that Bonds, in addition to all the other aspects of his toxic personality, was a user of illegal drugs intended to enhance performance, relatively few Giants fans were troubled in the least by him. I should know because I was one of those who were troubled, and the meetings were not crowded.

Here’s my pal Gary Kamiya writing in Salon the year before the record-breaking homer:

If Barry hits it at home and I’m lucky enough to be there, I’ll be screaming like God had just opened the seventh seal. And I’ll be doing that even though I’m 99 percent sure Barry cheated — and I don’t approve of cheating.

I won’t be alone. There will be 40,000 screaming Giants’ fans around me experiencing the same non-asterisked rapture, and several hundred thousand more fans throughout Northern California.

No, Barry Bonds did not keep San Francisco from loving the Giants team that went to the World Series in 2002 or the playoff teams in 1997, 2000 and 2003. Those teams were loved just fine. But not as much as this year’s team.

I think it’s the natural course of things that some versions of a team are more beloved than other versions. Some years, it clicks. This Giants team is led by enormously likable players — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Brian Wilson, Buster Posey and, to a lesser extent because he didn’t play well, 2009 revelation Pablo Sandoval. On top of that, it has an Island of Misfit Toys makeup — led by Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell — that fans in any city are going to love when it works. Plus, the team was involved in an exciting three-way playoff race.

The only other time I can remember this kind of feeling around the Giants — non-fans talking about them and excited about them while the season was going on — was in 1993, when Barry Bonds was a newly signed free agent, a local kid, the superstar son of a former Giants star. The pennant race with the Atlanta Braves that year was out of this world, and the Giants had probably the best team they’ve ever had in San Francisco.

If Barry Bonds had started doing steroids that year and word had got out about it, that team would not have been any less loved in San Francisco. I’m sure of it.

Every playoff year can’t be a love-affair year. Most of the time when the home team is good it’s just regular old fan excitement going on. But once in a while, everything clicks and a team stands a city on its ear. That happened with the Giants this year. It happened in 1993. It didn’t happen in the playoff years in between, but not because San Franciscans couldn’t root for Barry Bonds.

All that ambivalence San Francisco felt about Barry Bonds that you’ve been reading about: I don’t know whether it’s projection or faulty memories. But I do know this: It’s fiction.

* * *

Photo: Artolog/Flickr Creative Commons

The TV lottery ticket

without comments

A tweet from NBC reporter Ann Curry:

Ann Curry tweet

Ann Curry tweet

Here’s the text you get when you “share” the video report Curry’s tweeting about:

Overwhelming response to Dateline’s poverty report

A development to the story we brought you about struggling families in Ohio who have been pushed over the edge by this recession. ††There’s been a response from people wanting to help.

http://bit.ly/btt50h

So it’s that old TV thing. NBC does a story on “Dateline” about families struggling through the recession in rural Ohio, and letters and donations and job offers come pouring in from all over the country.

The retired Air Force vet has “job offers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona, Iowa.” Someone sent him $5,000. A woman reads through tears from a letter she’s received: “In a couple of weeks I will be able to send you some money to help with expenses. I hope this letter raises your spirits and that you know I really do care. Most of all, you have a friend in me. You are going to be OK, and so are your children. I will be thinking of you, sweetie, and praying that lots of other people send you much-needed money.”

She says, “It’s really hard to believe that someone you’ve never met could actually care that much.”  

The food pantry lady has gotten 500 phone calls and donations from Texas, California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Maine, Canada. She says, “I just cant even describe how good it feels to know that there are so many people out there that really do care.”

This is absolutely par for the course, it’s what happens every single time there is a sob story on the TV, but here’s the thing: People don’t care. They just respond to what’s on television.

There are folks right down the street in Texas, California, Florida and Iowa who need food and basic supplies. There are good, capable people, some of them retired military, right down the street in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona and Iowa who are looking for work. And after NBC’s report those people still need the basics and are still looking for work. And those people who sent the heartfelt letters and the donations and the job offers likely never moved a muscle for those people down the street.

A guy who drove to the food pantry with a Hefty bag of donations tells the food pantry lady, “Cincinnati Ohio’s thinkin’ of ya,” and she gives him a big hug. Really, guy who drove 170 miles to Lottridge to find someone to give your Hefty bag of stuff to? Because where were you and the rest of Cincinnati before NBC aired its report?

Waiting for food -- or a TV camera -- in Denver.

Waiting for food -- or a TV camera -- in Denver.

Curry, who is among the best in the business and whom I don’t mean to beat up on, gets “a smile” out of this, as she should. She did a good piece about people who are struggling, her viewers responded in overwhelming fashion and the people she reported about are deeply moved by their good fortune.

If you focus in tightly enough, it really is a wonderful thing. That relatively tiny group of people in Ohio actually did get a lot of help they weren’t going to get without that TV report. It was like a little miracle, and you’d have to have a hard heart indeed not to be touched by the young mom reading the letter or the hard-working food pantry lady who is suddenly able to provide so much more help to so many more people. I love America too.

But back your view out to the larger picture and what you see is something much more depressing.

Obviously, the people who sent money and goods and job offers had both the means and willingness to help their neighbors in need, but instead they helped some people they saw on TV. Now, I suppose it’s possible that every one of them, from the donor of $5,000 to the Hefty bag guy from Cincinnati to the job offerers in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Arizona and Iowa, are doing just as much for lots of other people closer to home and not on the TV.

I would just be willing to bet a lot that they aren’t.

What Curry’s story suggests is that the generosity of the American people can solve the problems of a lot of folks who need help — as long as they can get on TV. Getting on TV is a lottery ticket, and the depressing part of it is that if you’re in trouble, your chances of getting on TV are about the same as your chances of winning the lottery.

What about all the desperate people who didn’t have a TV network drop out of the sky into their local food pantry? How do we turn their story into “a smile”? Because there are clearly people out there willing to help. There just isn’t enough TV to go around.

* * *

Photo by Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons license.

Written by King Kaufman

August 4th, 2010 at 11:33 pm

Posted in Not sports, The media

Tagged with ,

Marlon Byrd 2-out RBI update

without comments

A month ago I wrote about Marlon Byrd and two-out RBIs. He’d written on his blog that he couldn’t explain his special ability to drive in runs with two down, but he described his approach at the plate in those situations, which was interesting to read about.

At the time he wrote, Byrd had 13 RBIs, 11 of them with two outs. At the time I wrote, he had 15 RBIs, 12 of them with two outs. There certainly must have been some magic going on there, right?

Like I said last month, no. Byrd’s prodigious two-out RBI total was just statistical noise. He’d flipped five coins, gotten tails four times, then tried to explain what made him so good at flipping tails. It was silly.

It’s nothing, of course, for some ballplayer to misinterpret his own numbers, especially since doing so might help him on the field. If Marlon Byrd believes in his heart that he has magical two-out RBI skills, the confidence might help him do a little better in that situation. Who knows. Or cares. It’s fun to have ballplayers writing blogs.

What’s annoying is when, for want of a better term, the media, the people who are supposed to describe and analyze the game for us, lazily fall into this kind of silly thinking, which happens approximately most of the time. As detailed in my post last month, my fascination with the two-out RBI was sparked years ago by ESPN lazily flashing a team two-out RBI statistic to further a story line that the then-Anaheim Angels were scrappy.

Byrd now has 27 RBIs, 13 of them with two outs. So since my post, he’s driven in 12 runs, and one of them has come with two outs.

What’s going on here? Gosh, I wish I knew, but oddly, Byrd has not posted anything to try to explain his sudden inability to drive in runs with two outs!

Written by King Kaufman

May 30th, 2010 at 10:23 am

Posted in Baseball, The media

Tagged with ,

Newspapers: Shut up and charge already

without comments

“I’m all for an antitrust exemption for newspapers so they can all get together and charge. And get their demise over with.”

I tweeted that the other day. Beau Dure of USA Today, who always asks good questions, wondered, via Facebook, “Did a newspaper delivery person knock over your mailbox or something?”

Are you kidding? The delivery person is one of the few people in the newspaper business who actually delivers something of value — a hunk of birdcage liner! Hey that’s pretty good. Only took me a week to think of it.

It’s just that I’m sick of all these panel discussions and secret meetings and statements of purpose about how newspapers are going to get readers to pay for their basic content online, and/or save the print product. It’s like this endless debate about a question that’s been settled. The answer: They’re not. Can we please move on?

Here’s the editor of the Wall Street Journal — which, unlike almost every other newspaper in the country, has content specialized and distinctive enough that people will pay to read it online — complaining about aggregators, especially Google.

“It’s certainly true that readers have been socialised — wrongly I believe — that much content should be free,” the Australian quotes Robert Thomson saying. He’s Australian too so he talks with Brit spelling. “And there is no doubt that’s in the interest of aggregators like Google who have profited from that mistaken perception. And they have little incentive to recognise the value they are trading on that’s created by others.”

Thomson says readers who click to a newspaper story from Google News think they’re reading Google News: “Google encourages promiscuity — and shamelessly so — and therefore a significant proportion of their users don’t necessarily associate that content with the creator. Therefore revenue that should be associated with the creator is not garnered.”

It sounds ridiculous to me, but when I tweeted about that, several online acquaintances, including Beau, said they’ve seen that phenomenon at work. So OK, I believe it. It happens.

But do those people matter? If you don’t even pay attention to whether you’re reading something on a newspaper’s Web site or on Google News, you’re not likely to become a paying customer of either. I don’t pay enough attention to “American Idol” to know which one of the recent finalists is Kris Allen and which one is Adam Lambert, so I’m not likely to buy either one’s next record. I don’t matter to them. I’m not the customer.

If that’s the future business model for newspapers — to get the people who are too dumb or inattentive to even know what they’re reading to pay for it — well, now you know why I’m ready for them to figure out that this matter has been settled. It’s like listening to someone who talks painfully slowly explaining something you already know.

I don’t know how slowly Thomson talks, but here’s some more from the Australian article:

“Thomson argued aggregators ‘need to be honest in their role as deliverers of other people’s content.’ And as those sites were exploiting the value of mainstream media content, ‘we have to be at least as clever as they are in understanding the value of our own content.’”

Exactly! He and others in our racket act like it’s some kind of vexing mystery, figuring out the value of something, in this case content. But it couldn’t be simpler: Put a price on it. That’s how you “understand the value” of your hooptie when you offer it for sale on Craigslist, right? If you ask for too much, nobody calls.

So, I wish newspapers would quit talking about this stuff and just start charging. They’ll quickly “understand the value” of their content, which, with rare exceptions like the Wall Street Journal, is something very much like zero, and then get to the real business at hand, which isn’t figuring out how to get people to pay for newspaper Web content, it’s how news organizations can generate enough revenue to do the important work they need to do.

Solutions to that problem almost certainly exist. The sooner the industry quits working over questions that have already been answered, the sooner we’ll find them.

Written by King Kaufman

June 6th, 2009 at 9:12 am

Morley Safer attacks the vast blog wasteland

without comments

Morley Safer made note of the newspaper crisis and took a swipe at the blogosphere this week as he accepted an award at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.

Receiving the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award, named after the TV news pioneer, Safer said broadcasters get stories from newspapers and can’t replace the reporting the best of them do, according to the university’s account of the evening.

Then, Quinnipiac’s press release says, Safer added, “The blogosphere is no alternative, crammed as it is with the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard. Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility.”

Morley Safer could have spent the last 45 years dining out on his landmark reporting from Vietnam, but he didn’t. He’s a giant in the field and, like most people in our business, I’m not fit to carry his bags.

But he’s wrong about this one.

And I’m going to give him a pass on the really ridiculous thing he’s quoted as saying: “I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust citizen surgery.” Let’s just assume that quip was just Safer being glib for the crowd, tossing off a clever line. Let’s credit him with not really equating the skills and training journalism requires with those needed to perform surgery. He must not think citizens can’t do journalism or that journalists aren’t citizens, right?

But the blogosphere is absolutely an alternative to newspapers. Or at least it can be. Or at least I think it can be. I only think so rather than knowing so because I don’t know what the blogosphere is, and I’m guessing Safer doesn’t either.

I count 73 blogs at the New York Times, for example. The guy who writes this one just won a Nobel Prize and was a finalist for a Pulitzer, neither of which they just hand out to random bloggers. Is Paul Krugman part of the “blogosphere” that’s “no alternative” to print newspapers?

A blog is a format. That’s all it is. It’s a way to organize words. The words themselves can be brilliant shining diamonds or they can be a load of cow patties. There’s no reason why the universe of online writers can’t perform the same functions the universe of newspaper writers has.

It’s simply a matter of someone coming up with a business model that works. I believe some people are going to do that. I also believe those people aren’t going to be journalists, they’re going to be business people. Which is why it’s funny that everybody’s having all these panel discussions about what the future of journalism is going to be and filling the panel with journalists.

We don’t know. We just do our thing. Other people figure out how to make a business out of it. A journalist didn’t invent the linotype machine, you know. Or the TV camera, for that matter.

“Good journalism is structured and structure means responsibility,” Safer said. I’m not sure what he meant by that. I would guess he’s talking about the structure of editorial oversight at newspapers, the editors who vet reporters and help shape their beats and their copy.

Again, there’s no reason that couldn’t happen at online-only publications. It happens now. But even if we’re talking about the blogosphere as Safer envisions it — you will now picture a basement and a lone figure in his underwear, typing — there is responsibility.

The bloggers who write well, tell the truth and have important things to say find an audience, and a large, engaged, intelligent readership is a better and tougher editor than the best, toughest editor who ever edited.

Sure, the Internet turns everybody into a publisher and that makes us all subject to “the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard,” in Safer’s words.

It’s called freedom of speech. Safer might want to take a gander at that First Amendment the award he just picked up was named after. It gets a mention. Safer’s a standard-bearer for a profession that champions freedom of speech. It’s strange to see it bother him so when other people get to use it.

“Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one,” goes A.J. Liebling’s famous quote. That’s no longer true. That’s a good thing.

The blogosphere is no more tainted by the ravings and manipulations of every nut with a keyboard than public speaking is tainted by the ravings and manipulations of every wingnut with a loud voice. We don’t discount what Martin Luther King Jr. said just because some dude got in front of a microphone in Connecticut one day and said journalists are like surgeons.

The public square has given us all manner of crackpots for hundreds of years. It also gave us Lincoln.

Written by King Kaufman

May 24th, 2009 at 12:53 am