A shocking lack of self-awareness
by Dan Herman
You know how sometimes, when you get a new newspaper reporting gig, you think you’re so amazing you put together a fake press release (including the official letterhead of your new company) that includes quotes from your (obviously) confidential hiring letter and then post it to your blog?
Khristopher Brooks, a recent(?) graduate of the NYU j-school, clearly was psyched about landing a new gig with the News Journal Media Group. So psyched he faked a press release (a la the NBA, according to him) and posted it to his blog.
Then he got fired for it.
According to him (via Romenesko), he was fired for “improper use of the newspaper’s logo on his personal sites, and for using executive editor David Ledford’s hiring-letter quotes in his press release.”
There are two points I want to make on the meat of the argument: 1) It seems like Brooks could have not used the official logo and quotes, and 2) The News Journal could have solved the whole conundrum by simply asking him to take it down.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. It’s some other quotes he gave to Romenesko:
“I’m a really big NBA fan,” journalist Khristopher J. Brooks tells me, “and whenever an NBA team acquires a new player there’s always a press release announcing it. I’d look at those releases and think, ‘The organization is really proud” of the new hire. Brooks notes that newspapers don’t announce new employees unless they’re stars, but “what’s keeping me from doing it?” …
“I didn’t do it to showboat,” he says. “I did it to tell family, friends and ex-co-workers about the next step in my career.”
Notice what he did there? That’s right, he said two diametrically opposing things. When you begin your explanation talking about how you were inspired to write a (let’s face it, totally unnecessary) fake press release because of how NBA teams seem proud of their acquisitions, you can’t then turn around and say it wasn’t about showboating — which, after all, is nothing more than an exuberant excess of pride.
This actually provides an example of two separate (but, I think, related) problems many in the 20something age cohort have: An over-brimming self-confidence and an appalling, severe lack of personal responsibility.
It’s interesting this young journalist thinks his acquisition, which probably is somewhere in the mid-five-figures range, salary-wise, and impactful to somewhere around 100,000-300,000 people (who might read his stories, though this figure could be wildly overstated, as the paper has a 100,000 daily circ and I highly doubt every reader is going to read every one of his stories and then care about them) is somehow equivalent to an organization that has, at minimum, millions of fans acquiring the talents of a player who’s being paid, at minimum, more than $450,000 a year.
I realize the young people like the Twitter and the Internet is the ultimate democratizing force, but are the young so deluded as to think that there is no difference between two people, regardless of reality’s cruel determination? Because that’s really what his actual reasoning comes down to: Other people do it, so why shouldn’t I?
Of course, that’s not what he says/thinks his reasoning is. He’s just trying to get the word out, you know? He’s just telling his “friends, family and ex-co-workers about the next step in my career.”
And the only way you can let people know about big changes in your life is via fake press release, right? That’s how most people do baby announcements, I think. “The Mortensens would like to announce a new addition to the family unit. Though they expect the child to be a burden at first, it’s hoped that as he matures, learns and grows he will eventually grow up to be a functioning, contributing member of society. This is the second time the Mortensens have attempted to expand the team, and they hope they have learned from the mistakes of their first acquisition, Robby, who they unfortunately had to part ways with after the infamous spaghetti incident just four years into his original contract.”
It’s not like he could have called those closest to him (more personal), sent out an email to friends/acquaintances (making sure they know), or even just written a straight blog post on the blog he posted the release to (common sense).
Nope. Fake press release.
We all know he was bragging. We all know he committed the shameful sin of pride. So why can’t he just come out and say it? Probably for the very same reason he made the stupid thing in the first place: A shockingly vast array of younger adults simply don’t have the self-awareness to function properly. You can tack on an “especially in the Internet era” if you must, but I feel it’s both cause and symptom.
Because we’ve grown up in an era where we’re encouraged to share everything, because self-esteem was considered more important than education and because the Internet allowed everyone to post their every thought and whim and have it appear next/equal to (if demonstrably less well-designed than) The New York Times, there was simply no gatekeeper, no arbiter who stood around to let everyone know they’re not the best, they’re not special and no one else is watching them — yet.
“Social networking platforms have a leveling effect and tend to make hierarchies disappear,” Monnier says. “They are only one link away from that celebrity.” — USA Today
I’m aware there’s no small amount of irony in writing this on a blog post, but the above paragraphs (or diatribes) are not arguing that blogs or the Internet or Twitter shouldn’t exist, or that you shouldn’t email or Tweet or poke (does anyone poke anymore? Does it even exist as a function?) celebrities. You’re more than welcome to try all those things, to rap on YouTube in hopes of being discovered, or to rant incessantly on your blog about inside-baseball journalism stories. There’s nothing wrong with a (heavy emphasis) healthy dose of self-expression or celebrity fawning; All of these things have been done for years, it’s just the medium and method that have changed.
The difference is that when girls screamed and threw their underwear on stage on rock concerts, they didn’t think they were making a personal connection. The form letters Ringo Starr sent to his fans didn’t really encourage those fans to think they were creating some sort of two-way relationship. Even if the medium wasn’t television or radio, the dynamic of fame was broadcast (one to many, largely one-way), not interactive.
And while Slash may tweet his displeasure about being nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (because he’s Slash) and you can tweet back about what a twit he’s being, chances are Slash is never going to see your tweet. Unfortunately, too many people don’t get this. They think that by putting their thoughts into the world people will be interested in them, rather than self-selecting interesting things to put out there. (How else do you explain the infamous pooping tweets? [mildly SFW, no pictures])
More than emotional or empathy education, more than being able to pass a test, more than being able to create a 15-minute movie about a basketball-playing leprechaun*, what we need to teach kids/young adults is the ability to filter and judge information. Whether you’re trying to determine the veracity of an external source or simply trying to figure out if the picture of your cat wearing berets made of Cheerios is worth sharing, the ability to determine what information is important and appropriate for which venue is a vitally important skill, and one sorely lacking.
*This was my actual senior project, a graduation requirement.