Battling the Robots

Robots have been driving me nuts recently. Two specific kinds of robots, actually.

First, there’s the kind all journalists know about: the human PR robot who refuses to answer the question you just asked them. Sometimes this is fine. Even if their language is painfully robotic, you really just need them to say something, and you can fill in the narrative around their quotes. Other times, particularly when you’re trying to report on something in depth that asks “how” or “why” something happened, it ruins the entire interview. If you ask a question that should be answered beginning something like, “Well, this one day, Tom said to Mary, ‘I’ve got a great idea!’ And the first thing they did was…” and instead the answer begins, “As a company Big Brand has always been committed to supporting great ideas…” that is not anything. It’s robot sludge. It’s definitely not a story.

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Don’t be scared, newspapers. OK, maybe be a little scared.

People have been free-king-out about Jeff Bezos’ purchase of The Washington Post. In part, I get it. New media is scary. It’s especially scary when it appears to threaten to replace old media. When newspapers have long been the guardians of democracy, it’s not hard to freak out a little when it appears they are going away, sucked into the virtual world of pay-per-click media responsible for such journalistic gems as “The 18 Greatest Dog Smiles Ever sponsored by DENTASTIX®”

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