Know Your Audience

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One problem with writing, as opposed to speech, is that one can’t use voice inflections. This creates a particular issue for those who are frequent users of irony, satire, sarcasm, etc.

Well not a problem for those who use it, but perhaps those who “don’t get it,” and thus misconstrue generally smart or witty remarks.

Case in point:

Last week I blogged about the problems being raised by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows‘ release on Shabbat in Israel. As did Gawker, a Manhattan blog devoted to media news and gossip:

Some stores are planning to open anyway—these are Jews, let’s remember, and a buck’s a buck—which has resulted in predictable outrage from the more Adonai-adoring elements of Israeli society. (MORE)

Before you too become outraged at the anti-Antisemitism of this, you should first note some of their other recent postings:

  • A video of the entire population of a Philippine prison doing the dance to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. (If you ask me, it looks too well choreographed to be true but is still rather amusing.)

Now don’t get me wrong. Gawker also covers serious topics, such alleged racial slurs uttered at the New York Times, the oversaturation of coverage devoted to Lindsey Lohan at other news outlets, and Apple’s iPhone woes.

But Gawker’s tone is irreverent, sardonic, and sometimes rude. Every single post. It’s what they do. Journalists might called it their niche.

But someone had to go take their mocking post a little too literally.

Mark Caro of the Chicago Tribune wrote on his blog subsequently:

They’re being postmodern and ironic. They’re playing to a crowd that appreciates such wink-wink references (the comments include several inside jokes about Jewish law and nary a complaint). There’s already a popular Jewish magazine called Heeb, so why not embrace all slurs and stereotypes? Don’t take offense; it’s all in quotation marks. (MORE)

He also calls their effort “stupefying in its casual offensiveness.” (Ironic to the most since one of Harry Potter’s most important spells is the stunning “stupefy curse.”)

To answer, Mark, yes that’s what they were doing. Again, it’s their shtick.

But after Gawker posted Caro’s remarks on their blog, people couldn’t drop the issue. One writer wrote the Gawker:

The way you’re keeping the “Jews and Gawker” thing alive is getting strange…Yesterday it was just that the guy in Chicago couldn’t see the joke. Now you want us to see the thinking behind the joke. ( “…we think the comical ways in which your Jew country kowtows to the craziest Jew elements of crazy Jewiness could not be funnier. Hope that’s okay!”)

What’s next, a diagram? (MORE)

Why Yes! Gawker posted a diagram.


Jewish humor_1.JPG

Click image to see it larger.

Other blogs began to pick up the story, including Heeb, where another reader got upset.

So of course, Gawker wrote an apology:

Dear Jew,

We are sincerely sorry for offending your delicate Jew sensibilities. Yes, it’s true, there are a few Jews here in the office—we’ve crunched the numbers, and four out of five Gawker editors have at least some Jew blood in them (not on them!)—and we do think that gives us the right to make Jew jokes… Hope that’s okay!

Shalom (MORE)

A full recap appears in the Forward this week, where people have already commented that about Gawker: “Clearly, they’re self-hating anti-Semites.”

So what was at the heart of this debate? One word: Audience.

Once upon a time journalists didn’t have to consider their audience; they only had to consider the news–as I was reminded by a colleague recently . Separation between editorial content and consideration for readership was so strict that the departments had separate elevators at media outlets. Gone are those days.

Blogs in particular, with high amount of editorializing, and sometimes unfortunately little accountability, are generally intended for a specific audience. They are meant to be provocative and thought-provoking at the same time.

Each blog has an attitude. We at MJL are a serious, non-profit organization with the express goal of educating. Thus we keep our blog the same, with perhaps a bit of humor. While we’re a young hip crowd (or so our parents tell us), we don’t have the audience Gawker or Jewish blogs like Jewschool or Jewcy.

Now don’t think we don’t sometimes agree what these other blogs write. Occasionally we too want to write our manefesto about the many problems in Jewish communal life or make what many would consider inappropriate jokes about our content. We might dream of an anonymous blog on which to do so (don’t go looking, it doesn’t exist… or does it?) but we don’t let that seep in here. Because we know both our mission and our audience.

Some blogs represent organizations or conservative interests. But for the most part, blogs come from a younger, more liberal generation. Call them individualist, progressive, radical, without respect, ironic, self-depracating, self- hating, whatever you want.

And the truth is that some people won’t find their material funny. If you fall into that category, try another blog or even a traditional newspaper.

Comments like the ones given to Gawker just add fuel to their fire, which I’m sure they appreciate.

Because sometimes it’s a slow news day.

Posted on July 26, 2007

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One thought on “Know Your Audience

  1. MamaK

    More than being “a young hip crowd” you are a voice of reason and true to your journalistic values and website’s mission. Among the newer electronic forms of the “old yellow journalism and the tabloids” there is a light of truth and civility.

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