Jenn Abelson's New Media Attack Piece

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This was originally posted on my MTV Think profile for the Street Team.

All bloggers have their issues.  Each and every one of us has a special something that we add to the digital universe.  It results in a diversity that is beautiful at the same time that it is ugly and contentious.  Even with all of our differing views there is one thing all bloggers can unite against: traditional media attacks on our new mediums of communication. 

As someone who was interviewed for, and saw first-hand how Jenn Abelson of the Boston Globe went about writing her piece "MTV wants digital army to bring back the buzz", I can say that Abelson not only wrote an unfair new media attack piece, but she also went about gathering her information with what seemed to be the explicit purpose of undercutting the legitimacy of new media.  You only have to read the first two sentences of Abelson's piece to understand where I'm coming from:
While New Hampshire residents voted in this week's primary, Megan Budnick was taking a crash course for her new job: covering the presidential election for MTV.

The 24-year-old has no professional journalism experience whatsoever.
Jenn Abelson - Boston Globe
Before I say anything, Megan Budnick of Connecticut deserves to be defended.  She's doing a much better job than me at this whole Street Team '08 thing, and I have "professional" journalism experience.  So far, her first piece is an artistically beautiful expression of youth, and her second piece profiles a 26-year-old that struggles to pay for insulin on minimum wage and no health insurance (I will embed them below).

You have to be a pretty big bully to take-down an emerging 24-year-old journalist in the lede of a Boston Globe article, and that's exactly what Abelson did.  Bullying is not the issue though.  Budnick can take care of herself.  The issue is that Abelson completely misses the point.  When it comes to new media, no one is experienced.  Weblog, social networking, and videosharing sites have only been around for a few years giving Budnick close to the same amount of experience as Abelson when it comes to new media.

I'd like to see Abelson produce quality video like that all by herself.  I'm not talking about just filming or even editing.  I'm talking about producing.  That means Budnick has to schedule her interviews, navigate legal restrictions, get forms signed, and catalog every snippet of music she uses, in addition to all the work that goes into directing, filming, and editing video that Budnick has to tape all by herself.

In addition to defending Budnick, I also want to make clear that I'm not just defending Street Team '08 because I'm part of it.  I'm willing to criticize MTV/Viacom when necessary.  Furthemore, Abelson's attack is bigger that MTV and the Street Team.  She went about this article in a way that undercuts new media in general and that's something no blogger should stand for.

Abelson's article appeared on the Jan. 12, 2008, edition of the Boston Globe. As if her lede attacking Budnick's journalism experience wasn't enough, smack in the middle of the print edition of the paper is a picture that makes members of the Street Team look like idiots.  You can't see it to well with the small jpeg the Boston Globe still has up on his site (shown on the right here), but they took pictures of the street team with confused faces as they were being taught how to use their cameras.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that they were trying to paint us in a bad light: "inexperienced" and wholly unworthy of the title 'journalist'.  This is how the whole scenario was described by Abelson:

At MTV's headquarters this week, Babb and other Street Team members fumbled with palm-size Panasonic camcorders, trying to figure out white balance and microphones. During an intensive three-day orientation, they received lessons on ethics and journalism, maintaining objectivity, and new forms of mobile media. One MTV producer handed out a "shooting bible" and dispensed advice such as "Don't drink with your sources" and "Work smarter not harder."
Jenn Abelson - Boston Globe
It's not just the word "fumbled" and the elementary school-like training she paints in this paragraph that I think is unfair, it's the fact that Abelson painted all of the street team members with the brush stroke of inexperience.  Saying Street Team members are inexperienced couldn't be further from the truth.  In fact, I'm still intimidated by how little I know about film in comparison with everyone else involved in the Street Team.  On the other hand, I knew the journalism part of the training, and most of the laws surrounding journalism pretty well.

Even the experience Carla Babb of North Carolina, who did some excellent work exposing some of the hypocrisy of the Democrats' presidential candidate John Edwards, is used to undercut the MTV experiment:

Carla Babb drew MTV's attention through a headline-making video. A graduate journalism student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Babb submitted a video contrasting John Edwards's decision to locate his headquarters in one of the wealthiest parts of Chapel Hill with his campaign's goal of reducing poverty in America. The Edwards campaign saw the piece when she posted it on YouTube last fall and demanded that Babb's journalism professor withdraw the video and threatened to limit UNC journalism students' access to the campaign. That story was picked up by the national media and blogs, including the popular Drudge Report. Babb kept her piece up and got hired by MTV.
Jenn Abelson - Boston Globe

"Babb kept her piece up and got hired by MTV".  Here's where the new media part comes in and readers are free to weigh in on whether or not this paragraph comes off as condescending.  It comes off as condescending to me.  But wait, there's more.

Abelson finishes off this tabloid piece by taking one last cheap shot at Budnick:

Budnick, who lives in Connecticut, said she was anxious but eager to start.

"I'm going to wing it," Budnick said, smiling. "I just hope I can get everything done efficiently and adequately and not come off looking like a fool."
Jenn Abelson - Boston Globe

Am I the only one that reads these subtle jabs in Abelson's piece?  The worst part about it is that I really like the Boston Globe's reporting and to read this on the front page of the paper is really disheartening.  The U.S. would be worse off without the valuable work of Boston Globe reporters like Charlie Savage and Maria Sacchetti.

Maybe it's because I was able to read into this article because I was interviewed by Jenn Abelson. 

She asked me questions along the lines of, "Do you have any journalism experience? How much do you get paid? Who did you vote for in the 2004 election?": answering that last question alone would have dramatically reduced my ability to legitimately cover the presidential election.  She even asked me a leading question along the lines of "Why don't youth vote / why are youth disillusioned with the electoral process?" painting me into the corner of forcing to answer in a way that makes it seem as if youth are disengaged or not politically active when the opposite is true.  I was stupid enough to answer that leading question and I'm happy she didn't publish my answer.

I'll be the first to admit that I might not be the best person to cover Massachusetts youth, but that's for entirely different reasons.  That's why I've made an appeal to harness new media to try and get Massachusetts youth voices out there.  If I were a journalist asking myself the hard questions it would be along the lines of, "how can a 21-year-old that spent most of his life in Guatemala be a voice for Massachusetts youth?"  I had a good answer for that one, but Jenn Abelson was interested in my background when she interviewed me.  She had a different story that she was trying to weave.  Bloggers everywhere should be outraged by this sort of subtle attack journalism.   It undercuts the legitimacy of new media everywhere.

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2 Comments

JP said:

Poor insecure Jean. I think her cry for personal affirmation should have been an internal memo directed to her boss. Being a "professional" journalist, I am certain she is aware of decreased circulation, ad revenues being redirected to the Internet, and her relevance or importance to the Boston Globe being under constant review. (as is others)
Jean....Stand in front of your boss, click your heels together and repeat three times.
I am a journalist.
I am a journalist.
I am a journalist.

It will make you feel better.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

I think you hit the nail right on the head JP, regarding what her real problem with this whole MTV thing was. I'm glad you made that leap.

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This page contains a single entry by kyledeb published on January 28, 2008 6:03 AM.

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