Missing in Action: How’s Your News?

Wikipedia has had its detractors when it comes to the great topics of the humanities: history, art and the classics. Some of it is indeed justified.

But what is rarely disputed is that Wikipedia is without peers when it comes to the strongholds of the net roots: tech geekery and pop culture. Just try to find better articles about the creation of Star Trek, the authoritative list of Family Guy characters or a history of South Park memes.

But we’re starting to see this unquestionable dominance, well, questioned.

I’ve pointed out how many dot-com and tech topics (like Pownce and DisplayLink) seem to have lost their studious caretakers in the “encyclopedia that Slashdot built”. These pages have gotten dumped by deletionists, dominated by POV pushers or been missing altogether. This has become fairly regular of late on my blog, in my Twitter feed and the Wikipedia Weekly podcast.

Now, I believe we’re seeing startling holes in Wikipedia’s pop culture dominance.

It began when a friend told me about a new show called “How’s Your News.”

It was on Bittorrent networks as a download, and debuted on February 8 as a new series on MTV with a rather tasteless premise — gather a diverse bunch of mentally challenged reporters (from Down to Williams syndrome) to be roving street reporters, while also rubbing shoulders with celebrities and ambushing them on the Grammy Awards’ red carpet. This is the “brainchild” of South Park creator Matt Stone. Given MTV’s ability to sensationalize Jackasses, Pimping and Sweet Sixteens, it should probably be no surprise putting stumpy, disfigured and badly groomed “special needs” journalists on camera is the next big idea for the cable TV channel that depends on unpredictibility.

Hows Your News mentally challenged reporters

How's Your News "mentally challenged" reporters

But this post isn’t about whether the show is a tasteful exercise or not.

The fact that this was a new MTV show with a controversial premise, and caught the attention of not one but two BoingBoing posts, a review by the venerable Tom Shales of The Washington Post, and a NY Daily News TV review meant this was not an obscure show under the radar.

Far from it.

In fact “How’s Your News” is a TV serialization based on a documentary of the same name, that was profiled by NPR’s This American Life, a show with a massive following, in October 2007.

Given how controversial this potential freak show of a TV program could be, it seemed ripe for a solid NPOV treatment ala Wikipedia’s smart crowd of editors.

There was one problem: there is no article.

Not even a single deleted version, which means no one even tried to start it.

To me, this was a real shocker.

At least in the Pownce case, there was a debate among people who wanted the content, and those who questioned its notability. In this case, no one even cared to start it.

For something that landed right in the “sweet spot” of Wikipedia’s core  — pop culture, television show, US market, controversial content, troll-worthy characters — there was nothing at all in Wikipedia. It almost makes you wish the trolls had at least initiated the article’s creation, tasteless jokes and all.

Wikipedia still has the policy that users who aren’t logged in cannot start a new article. So while there are red links from other Wikipedia articles (ie. [[List_of_programs_broadcast_by_MTV]] and [[Arthur Bradford]]) it didn’t lead to [[How's Your News]] being created.

I’m not sure what more to say, other than to ask other Wikipedians what they think this means.

I consider another discovery in December 2008 to be relevant: the article [[Chewbacca Defense]], one of my favorite examples how NPOV can usefully document pop culture memes, was ingloriously merged into [[Chef Aid]]. This was on September 20 2008, without much fanfare, discussion or clear rationale. Just a solo comment in the edit history: “Merged – No opposition on talk page.”

And perhaps that’s Wikipedia’s long term fate as a product of a decimated crowd: a slow march towards being stale and conventional, not out of commission but omission.

22 thoughts on “Missing in Action: How’s Your News?

  1. Andrew, you really are a doomsayer! Pop culture slips through the cracks all the time, even though it’s Wikipedia’s strong suit. This is something that only hit the news a week ago, and has only been covered in a couple places. The rate of production of pop culture coverage, and the work hours devoted to it, has always been far greater in traditional media than on Wikipedia; we just forget that because that coverage is so fragmented and so Wikipedia is more complete than any single other source.

    First you complain that there’s no low-hanging fruit, and now you complain that no one has picked this piece. Rather than a harbinger of doom, doesn’t this point to a sort of feedback loop? The more that gets omitted, the more new editors will join to fix those omissions. And Flagged Revisions could open the door for the return of anonymous article creation.

  2. Full disclosure my son Jeremy is part of the How’s Your News team.

    I was going to ask if you have actually seen the show before I commented on your incredibly ugly and bigoted post, but WTF –here it is anyway.

    First the history. HYN is a project that began more than ten years ago at a summer camp for adults with severe disabilities. People who went to Camp Jaberwocky were able to experience things the disabled rarely do. They windsurfed, went swimming in the ocean, rode horses, all sorts of physical activities with the help of counselors. They also had talent shows and every year produced a play.

    One day writer and filmmaker Arthur Bradford got the idea to have some of the campers visit town and do person on the street interviews.

    At first it was just a fun way to spend the afternoon, giving campers a sense of empowerment and belonging in the community. Two things happened. The questions they asked often provoked intriguing and humorous responses.

    But the most intereting thing was that it was a case study in how able bodied people react to their fellow human beings who are disabled.

    Those who are accepting and intuitively see the human being answer the questions naturally and go along with the fun.

    People who are sick in their own souls, (you know who you are)cannot get beyond the disability and want no part of the experience. It is now becoming apparent to me that the show itself is also eleciting both responses.

    As the parent of a child with a learning and developmental disability I can tell you that inclusion is a battle that must be constantly waged.

    HYN is a major step forward in the effort. But you know what, the cast members and those of us who are parents, the producers (Matt and Trey included), Arthur and the production company and the execs at MTV, everyne involved has watched with joy as this project evolved into the funny, wry, captivating, and sometimes edgy program it has become.

    I’m sure there will be many posts like this and thousands of people sitting at home thinking the same thing. But more than one million wathed the premier and I’m betting the vast majority know a good time when they see one.

    Ken Vest

  3. Sage, I get what you’re saying, but two points: I would consider this topic low hanging fruit!

    From the list above, you can see the show has been in the mainstream media coverage, I expected this to be an easy, no-brainer addition to Wikipedia’s ranks. I would have expected in the community of two years ago that a half dozen or so teens and 20-somethings watching the show would have looked up the WP article, and if not created, would have put in a stub. That didn’t happen. And that’s why I’m concerned. Mixing metaphors — I didn’t cherry-pick this article simply to make a point. I really did visit Wikipedia seeking its NPOV on this issue, because I was still skeptical about the premise of the show, the producers and participants. I could think of no better place for the ‘crowd’ to help round up facts and critical views on this new series. I looked to Wikipedia for that. I didn’t find it. And I consider that a failure compared to what I had come to expect — an encyclopedia that worked at the speed of news. And it was already two days since the airing.

    Also, as the second poster said, this is not a show that popped on the radar last week — it was a documentary first, was covered in 2007 and was around even longer as a camp concept for those with disabilities. So that added to my surprise that nothing had been written up.

  4. In response to Ken: I get where you’re coming from and yes I watched the entire first episode before posting.

    Please don’t misunderstand the words “stumpy, disfigured and badly groomed” as my judgment of the show. If that’s the way it came across I apologize, and I should have made it clearer. The point was, that in light of the other shows I consider quite sophomoric on MTV, the risk was that HYN would be taken in the same way, and that’s the only reason those adjectives were used — to convey terms in the same perceived mindset of those who watch MTV (or create programming for it).

    I have respect for the original roots of this show, and the efforts of Arthur Bradford. But I do have to question whether Matt Stone’s more “edgy” touch on this program is keeping in the spirit of respect and dignity that your son and his troupe deserve. By the end of the show, I could squint and see how Tom Shales (who I admire) gave this his thumbs up. I found there was much to like.

    Unfortunately I’m still in doubt about the portrayal. To wit: why is the HYN crew deployed in a classic shabby and obsolete bus, unless it was to frame the team in a certain way, as a motley, disheveled crew not worthy of first class facilities? Why the comical wardrobe of blue jackets with red lapels? I also don’t consider a few courteous, but patronizing, niceties from Sarah Silverman and Jimmy Kimmel as any proof that there is profound respect for the folks involved. (Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of Silverman)

    In the end, one cannot ignore the company HYN keeps on the MTV network. It’s possible within the programming that makes a spectacle of ridiculous stunts (Jackass) and superficial teens (Super Sweet 16), there is some room for meaningful exploration of the social experiment run by the HYN crew. But it’s not clear from one episode this is the consistent thread that will run through the series.

    It may take more time to get past the packaging and editing to show me unequivocally that it does not amount to gawking and laughing at them, rather than with them.

    I hope I’m proved wrong.

    (That said, I really liked Jeremy on the show, whose drumming skills I thought were very impressive. And his red carpet interviews I also enjoyed.)

  5. Andrew

    You make some fair comments (and I’m most pleased you didn’t knock my horrible spelling skills).

    I appreciate your clarification for the terms you used, they were quite shabby.

    That said, although it would be more appropriate for Arthur to respond to your substantive comments, I’ll try.

    I don’t think you should read too much into Matt and Trey’s role in this project. They saw the early tapes and loved the idea, as I expressed in the previous post. They also loved the people.

    I can’t speak to the bus or the uniforms except to say the crew is comfortable with the ride and the clothing and I’m certain it’s not meant to portray them as you suggest.

    I watched the same show and don’t think Jimmy or Sarah were being patronizing. (Full disclosure I like them both). Once again they were having fun with Bobby and relating to him. I know Bobby and he was definitely having fun with them.

    Bobby is an excellent example of what I said in the last post. When he interviews someone it opens a window on the subject’s perceptions and acceptance of a person with disabilities.

    HYN went to both political conventions in 2004. Bobby interviewed Al Franken. Franken didn’t quite know what to make of it at first, but he was patient and cool enough to stick it out and they wound up having a conversation –with Al’s help Bobby got through to him.

    At the GOP convention Bobby interviewed Don Evans, Bush crony and Sec. of Commerce. Evans was completely cold and callous. He didn’t make eye contact and essentially gave a speech about how wonderful the convention was.

    I’m not involved with the production of this program. I’m only commenting as a viewer, and a Dad. As a viewer I think the show is a blast and as a Dad I know the producers treat the HYN news team with love and respect.

    The show is a gas to watch because the HYN news team is having such a great time.

    The laughing at laughing with, will always be a factor, it’s not going away because people will laugh at them. Once again, that’s a problem for anyone who has that reaction.

    One could say that HYN is a social experiment, but in many ways that seems demeaning as well. My kid isn’t a lab rat.

    Mainly it’s a TV program and, with my admitted bias, I think one of the best ones on the air today. It’s fun to watch, because the news team is unpredictable and so are their interactions with both stars and just plain folks.

    I’ll leave the critics to read between the lines and make judgments about the other programs and the motives of MTV. All I can say is that my son Jeremy (who now has a fan club on facebook) and all the other members of the HYN team are having a wonderful experience, and we all hope that “the road goes on forever and the party never ends”

  6. Hi Andrew,
    A friend referred me to this posting and you make a great point about HYN not having a wikipedia entry. I’m the director of the show and thanks to you we’ll take care of that right away. Part of the reason I want to take care of it right away is your bizarrely offensive characterization of the show. I’m not sure how you can ask us not to “misunderstand” your description of the reporters as “stumpy, disfigured and badly groomed ‘special needs’ journalists.” (why quotes on “special needs”, btw?) A little research into the project would have shown you that this “potential freakshow” is widely embraced by the disability community and has been for ten years now. That “shabby and obsolete bus” is a vintage Buffalo Top Cruiser from 1974, lovingly restored and handpainted at no small cost, and the jackets were custom designed and hand stitched by a well-established clothing designer in Los Angeles. You make a point of trashing MTV’s programming style, but then trash us for trying to differentiate ourselves from it’s pre-packaged gloss. Your point about our guilt by association with MTV’s substandard programming holds little water for me as well. If the programming on mtv is so bad, why not strive to make it better? I give MTV a lot of credit for putting this show on the air, and I bet most of the kids you dismiss as unable to comprehend it will actually display less prejudice than you on this matter.

  7. Arthur, good to see your post, and your points are what I hope will be portrayed neutrally in a Wikipedia article — quotes about HYN’s role and reputation in the disability community, with a collection of reviews and an inventory of stories and personalities involved. You should note, however, that in general Wikipedia discourages people directly involved with a topic to write about it. So you might be asked to curtail your editing when it comes to anything beyond the bare facts.

    I think it’s unfair to characterize my portrayal as “bizarrely offensive,” when I explained clearly that my adjectives only reflect what I consider the core slacker audience of MTV would project onto your show. Again, if it appeared that was my sentiment, I apologize. That was never the case, and as you see I don’t hold those views. I only fear that this would be the prima facie interpretation of a show about a crew of mentally disabled newspeople.

    That said, if HYN was on Discovery Channel or TLC (I wish it was, actually) my comments, expectations and judgment would be rather different. As such, you are known by the company you keep. That happens to the a slate shared with other MTV programming. Remember, this *is* the channel of Beavis and Butthead.

    As for quotes on ‘special needs’ comes down to my lack of sophistication about the politically correct terminology. Frankly I was surprised Ken used the word “disability” to describe Jeremy. Perhaps that’s the accepted lexicon, but again, this is something a Wikipedia article could help with. If you point out the preferred terms, I’ll use them.

    You points are well taken. But I still contend the show is still overwhelmingly at risk of being portrayed as exploitative theater.

    I should remind you this gonzo interview genre has been dominated by such characters as Tom Green (MTV), Ali G (HBO) and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog (Conan). Hardly a noble set of trendsetters. When Bobby earnestly asks a subject “ … booya?” is the idea to admire the kindness of the response, or to laugh at the questioner and the awkwardness of the interviewee? You have to recognize the latter may well be the dominant takeaway for the MTV crowd.

    I dearly hope you are right and this is a surprise sensitive eye opening hit among a sea of MTV dreck. You may just be onto something here by sneaking in a Trojan Horse. Viewers may think they are watching to gawk, but come out learning and appreciating people in a new light.

    As an aside, I notice each reporter uses a handheld shotgun mic, though I notice the audio doesn’t seem to track the strict directionality of the pickup. Are they mostly props, and an overhead boom mic is used, or some combination of the two? Is there a reason they don’t use a standard handheld ENG mic?

  8. Arthur, thought you might also find this post interesting, by what seems to be your old schoolmate! I think he’s in the same line of thinking:

    http://www.pbs.org/pov/blog/2009/02/doc_soup_hows_your_news.html

    But when MTV sells it as “From The Creators of South Park,”
    and I consider the comedy of Johnny Knoxville and co.,
    I have to wonder if the wider audience will get it.
    The South Park guys have been behind the show for
    awhile, so I assume their hearts are in the right place.
    But when you look at the show in the context in which
    it’s being marketed, will the audience be laughing with
    people with disabilities rather than at them? Or maybe
    it doesn’t matter. I am not sure.
    
  9. Andrew

    I’m glad Arthur has joined the discussion, so I’ll close with a response to using the word disability. Jeremy uses it to describe himself when he explains that he has Williams Syndrome, why wouldn’t I? But it doesn’t define him, it merely describes a condition that creates some challenges along with some wonderful qualities and an enormous amount of musical talent. I hope you keep watching the show.

    CYA

  10. Huh… when did Wikipedia become the encyclopedia of popular culture? It covers more topics that that, you know….

  11. Of course Wikipedia covers everything, but its articles about pop culture topics has always been particularly strong.

  12. The only appropriate response to finding that there was no article for the new tv show would be to type up what you know and to format it as best you can. That is if you care, and since you blogged about it you must.

  13. Hi Andrew,

    i wanted to give you some background for the jacket design for HYN. My husband and I designed the jacket concepts and saw the production through to the very last detail, including hand stitching all the embroidery on the denim jackets. When we were brought onto the project, we were immediately given photos of the iconic vintage bus. Since our specialty is vintage clothing we were a perfect match to create very tasteful, yet fun retro wardrobe choices. The blazers are far from “comical blue jackets with red lapels”. The lapels are navy with a very tailored red and white grograin trim. They are patterned after ivy league school jackets from the 1960s (a very sought after jacket with the hipster set).Keeping with the same era, the “field jackets” if you will, are authentic 1960s vintage Levi’s jackets hand embroidered with custom chenile patches. We used the denim jackets with the “club patches” to convey the family type bond of the HYN cast and crew. We can’t deny a hint of whimsy to the jackets, it was intentional. When you meet the journalists they have a fun energy that is warm and infectious…we thought the wardrobe should match!

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