Last week I interviewed Ryan Holiday, author of the book, Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. The post included an excerpt from Holiday's book, which focused on his interactions (as director of marketing for American Apparel) with a journalist for Jezebel named Irin Carmon. Carmon (who is now at Salon) wrote an essay in response to the chapter in which she claims the chapter is full of inaccuracies.
Posting emails with speculative headlines was not my favorite part of working at Jezebel, nor was writing a half-dozen or so times a day. I agree with Holiday that neither are particularly conducive to journalistic enterprise. (That’s partly why, after two years, I moved on to Salon, with a different pace and editorial mission.) My favorite part about working at Jezebel was being part of a raucous, funny, feminist community on the Internet that also wasn’t afraid to call people out, even people we liked, when the occasion warranted it. I also learned how the sometimes raw tools of the Internet — emotion, immediacy, direct access to primary sources — could be used for good as well as gossip. They could mean the difference between well-meaning and unread and well-meaning and widely-discussed.
But in Holiday’s formulation, sexism or discrimination aren’t real, they’re just something he uses as a way to sell products. No one actually believes in what they write or the issues they’re writing about, because, Holiday claims, we are all motivated by a desire for attention or money. I’ll freely admit that like most writers, I prefer my work to be read and I like to be paid for my labor. But you know what reliably gets more traffic than articles about gender or, the beat I’ve been on for several years now, politics and reproductive rights? Cats and iPhones. You know who reliably makes way more money than journalists? PR people and authors of self-aggrandizing tell-alls.
Strangely, though Holiday’s criticism hinges on using me as the poster-child of bloggy disregard for reporting, the two other stories he cites are examples of old-fashioned newsgathering. It’s true that, in one of the cardinal benefits of Internet transparency, they came from a clearly-stated point of view, in this case a feminist one.
Take the story about women on the Daily Show. Holiday says this story was a “lie” because he doesn’t believe I contacted the show for comment, because he claims I relied solely on anonymous sources, and because the women working on the show issued an open letter disputing the piece. Let’s start at the top. “Did Carmon really send repeated requests for comment to The Daily Show?” he asks. “Who did she contact? Did she provide time for them to respond? Or is it much more likely that she gave the show a cursory heads-up minutes before publication?” The answers: Yes; the publicist I’d worked with on past stories; yes, a week; nope. (You can read the emails here). Ad hoc efforts to reach current staffers through unofficial channels were unsuccessful. In the end, the piece had interviews with five named sources — three former correspondents, one former executive producer, one former high-ranking writer — plus anonymous accounts from a show insider and a former correspondent who both asked not to be named because they feared alienating their powerful former employer. I also quoted a female comedian who had auditioned repeatedly for the show.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. His new book is Maker Dad: Lunch Box Guitars, Antigravity Jars, and 22 Other Incredibly Cool Father-Daughter DIY Projects