Notes on Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 classic ‘Tipping Point’

Nothing more needs to be said on influential journalist Malcolm Gladwell’s first breakout book Tipping Point, which published 15 years ago. Like a lot of popular books, it has been aggressively criticized and dismissed.

Even if his theme is challenged, there are small points that are interesting. Though I read this several years ago, I just reread it and took down a few notes for my own future perusal. I’m sharing them here

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Notes on “Revolutionary Networks: the Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789”

Colonial-era publishers in the United States were small, family-run businesses that spanned social classes, divided politics and drove forward discourse. Though tiny operations independently, they collectively shaped widespread opinion and developed into the fractured news environment we have today.

That’s one main theme from Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789, an academic book published by Joseph M. Adelman earlier this year by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Adelman adds a lot to the literature on the details of how publishing houses worked in this era. In truth, I sought even greater detail on the real operations but I so appreciated his inclusion of basic finances and revenues, and much detail on the people behind it. I found myself scribbling many notes down on what I’d like to further research for my own understanding of the history of my trade. Much thanks to Adelman.

My friend Everett kindly bought me this as a gift, and I quickly read through it back in February. This is one of many publishing and journalism history books I’ve enjoyed the last several years. Below find notes for myself. I encourage you to buy the book and explore the topic yourself.

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The “Elements of Journalism”

(Image source)

Journalism is a practice largely influenced by those who learn the craft on the job. Despite its well-established impact on communities, there’s a very old debate about whether or how much formal training should be required.

In 1988, ABC anchor Ted Koppel said that “”journalism schools are an absolute and total waste of time.”

Into that fray, the Elements of Journalism has served a breezy foundation for modern journalism. The book, written by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, was first published in 2000, then revisited in 2007 and most recently in a third edition from 2014. I read it once many years ago. I returned to it again, after a conversation I had with Rosenstiel, and found it a helpful resource.

Below I share my own notes, though I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in journalism best practices. I bought copies for the editors at my own organization. It’s an easy and effective read.

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What is newsroom objectivity?

(This is an expansion of this thread)

When is a news organization being fair to a range of good-faith perspectives, and when is that newsroom retreating from a moral responsibility? When is a reporter taking a partisan stance and when is it a stance for justice?

With the rise of the social web in the last 20 years, this reevaluation of journalistic principle has been frequently described through the lens of newsroom objectivity. It reached a fever pitch in 2020, resulting in an important dialogue on objectivity and “moral clarity” in newsrooms.

This concept was the topic of a session in November 2020 during the virtual 12th annual Klein News Innovation Camp unconference I help organize. I’ve revisited the conversation, and I want to share what I took away.

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Newsroom objectivity and “moral clarity” are not in opposition

(This is adapted from a Twitter thread)

No, newsrooms don’t need to throw out “objectivity’ as a principle. Yes “moral clarity” should mean something for news organizations.

This thread comes from my own experiences, plus this helpful conversation I had during Klein News Innovation Camp with Alexis Johnson, Tom Rosenstiel and Wes Lowery.

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What is my news, media or content business worth?

As the web has brought down the upfront costs of launching a publishing business, there are plenty of them. This means I’ve been asked to join several conversations about how to decide how much one of these are worth.

I’ve been involved in several conversations over the last few years in which publishers (those with no full-time employees to those with several dozen) have sought advice or discussed the topic. I suspect I’ll have other conversations like them in the future, so I thought I’d just share some of the advice I most commonly give and have seen take place.

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Notes on ‘Stuff of Thought’ by Steven Pinker

Language is a manifestation of human thought. So it’s an effective tool to understanding how we perceive the world.

That’s the premise of the 2007 bestselling book The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature by experimental psychologist Steven Pinker. His prodigious collection of popular books blending linguistics, thought and human nature have made him both a celebrity academic and a frequent source of scorn.

I appreciate his contributions and regardless of popular perception, I’ve enjoyed working through his catalogue. Below I capture some notes from finally getting through this one. Find 2007 reviews from the New York Times and the Guardian.

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White authors writing non-white characters

American fiction writing is over-indexed for straight white male voices, considering our rapidly diversifying country. A consequence of this has been painful examples of white authors doing a crummy job conveying the voice and experience of non-white characters.

This has been no better demonstrated than in Young Adult fiction. The deserved backlash has gone to a logical extreme: should white authors write non-white characters at all?

If you believe like me that there, indeed, will continue to be white authors and that we do not want all stories told by white authors to be exclusively populated by white characters, then the more productive question is how can white authors effectively and ethically write non-white characters?

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Newspapers were once the big tech platform companies everyone hated

This is adapted from a Twitter thread.

There are many parallels between early newspapers and today. Like then, today big tech platforms are vilified for taking creative destruction to a more harmful end to civic discourse.

Then partisanship and misinformation gave rise to the modern concept of editing. Perhaps something akin is happening again.

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News organizations: how do you get throughout feedback from your community?

I assume that the idea of ‘letters to the editor’ was once a representative and effective means for news organizations to receive feedback from their community.

I’m not certain it remains so. For one, those can of course only be sent in for what has already been announced. I also get the sense not many reporters really listened or could gauge the preponderance of feedback.

The rise of quantitative surveying helps, though of course surveys are also not necessarily representative. We at Technically Media do our fair bit of surveying, after events and annually too. We also host regular curated groups of readers and (importantly) those we aspire to be readers of ours.

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