The letters of our thoughts are the ideas present in our mind before they come to realization . . . Thoughts that are, yet not felt . . . The words of the subconscious . . . of the soul . . .


Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Call for Journalistic Ethics in the JBlogosphere

One of the perks unknown to me when I began my blogging career was the propensity of various interest groups to throw free things at you in order to gain a grassroots buzz for their products.

I've received my fair share of goodies in the past. So have others.
But while blogging gives the "Citizen Journalist" many benefits, it also requires a basic commitment to journalistic standards of truth and integrity.
If not, then we loose our power to provide a fresh, honest and personal voice to the world . . . and instead become nothing more then cheap cogs in marketing. Ultimately we not only fail to live up to what we wish to stand for, but instead work against it.

Case in point: A certain blog recently reviewed Mordechai ben David's new album Kulam Ahuvim.

Now before I continue, I'd like to make a few points clear. I do not know Chaim Rubin personally (for that matter, due to his anonymity, I don't believe many people do), I can only say that in my dealings with him online, he's always been friendly. His blog has been a long standing feed on my Google Reader (for nearly four years now) . . . So let it be clear that I have no ill-will towards him or his blog.

That being said, we have an obligation to avoid hypocrisy, sycophancy and other signs of falseness.

In his review he writes:
One last thing, I hate to write anything negative because at this point I know the subject or someone involved in the project will read it at some point. Let me just address one thing, yes, MBD’s voice isn’t the same, so it’s hard to compare this CD to say … Moshiach or Mamminim. But that doesn’t matter, even like this it still incredible. I’d trade a weaker MBD voice over 80 percent of whats on the market currently any day
Something struck me the wrong way with his wording and intent. If MBD's voice is indeed no longer what it used to be (something completely acceptable - the man is allowed to age!), then say it! While the Torah is careful not to embarrass a non-kosher animal, it also clearly states what is right and wrong when it comes down to action. Say it, as pleasantly and respectfully as possible, and move on. If reviews, even if entirely true, don't say what is problematic, then they loose all authority!

Surprised by the sentiment expressed in the review, I decided to comment on Rubin's standards:
You write that you hate to write anything negative . . . Frankly I'm some[what] shocked by your statement! While it's important to respect the work and efforts of others, by not calling a spade a spade, or dodging the truth, you loose all journalistic integrity . . .
My comment criticizing the ethics of the reviewer (not the CD - as at the time I had not yet heard it!) never went up.
Instead I received an email from the reviewer letting me know that "every word" written was "the truth." - As to the lack of a complete and full review, I was told that the reader could infer what was wrong with the album from what was not written.

This path was described as being far better then what "some people" would rather have written - i.e. "this song sucks, it makes no sense, I think he sounds terrible, etc ..."

I, for one, couldn't agree more. Saying that a song "sucks" isn't a review at all . . . it's unqualified and a baseless attack.

What got me, however, was Rubin's reasoning for not wanting to write negative statements at all:
"I can't, because these people email me and they are human beings who get upset just like if someone walked into your business and told you to your face your horrible, you screwed up that job, your work was terrible ... etc..."

I for one was shocked by the travesty being presented as an honest review.
I understand the fine line one most walk when reviewing the work of others, and I agree that saying somethings "sucks" or sounds horrible is both immature and unprofessional. However to say that a song was lack luster, boring, or the like is not unfair.
It is no secret that the record labels know more then well that they use filler songs to round out an album. If they wish to push off fluff, then they must be able to handle the criticism that comes with it.

That they get upset is no secret, some time back Rubin was called out for his "harsh review of something" and as a result was confronted with and "had a long talk with someone who was very involved in the album".

Frankly the Jewish Record labels need to grow up. If something is poor quality, uninteresting or such . . . they need to face the facts and use it as a chance to change. To act otherwise shows the grossly unprofessional nature of these companies.
As a writer and part time journalist I've had my works ripped apart, but while painful, it's the price one pays for a quality product in the end.

If I plan on dropping down 15- 20 bucks for a (or more) on a CD, it had better be good! The reviews on sites such as Life of Rubin were often those that I used as a guide towards making a purchase.
If in the review there is a failure to point out serious flaws in a track or album, then hard earned money (Yiddishe gelt -with that the term implies) has been wasted. If one were to buy a mediocre product based on a one sided Consumer Reports review, he'd cry foul. This is no different!

What is more, if the reason for not writing a complete review is due to the presence of free review units supplied by the labels, then what we see on the site is nothing more then an advertisement. Perhaps one written by a fan and entirely his own words and opinion, but one biased by the gift none the less.
At the very least, basic standards demand that he make clear in the reviews that the review unit was supplied by the companies . . . if not, then the author sold out and become an ad blog over a music review blog, having disqualified himself with a clear and present conflict of interests.

My original comment calling out the author for writing lack of journalistic integrity was never posted to the site. The reason, as mentioned in a follow up e-mail was that it was too negative. Negative of who? Not of Mordechai ben David, nor of the music labels, but rather about the blogger himself!
In short, for asking for a clear and basic commitment to journalistic integrity. My comment was censored. True I was given the decency of being told why it was censored, but censored it was nonetheless.
What makes the act of hypocrisy even more onerous is Rubin's penchant for calling out other frum publications on their own acts of censorship!

When Mishpacha Magazine (poorly) cropped out Laura Bush from picture of the White House kitchen being kashered for a Chanukah party, Rubin was in near hysterics calling, admittedly a stupid and near pointless move, "offensive, not just to women, but to world leaders," a "Chillul Hashem" a source of "animosity toward Frum people by men and women in positions of power(?!)"
I doubt that Laura has Mishpacha on her reading table, and question Chaim Rubin's statement that "It’s bad enough you don’t show women, for whatever sad reasoning" (Has he ever spoken to rabbonim about the Rebbe's sentiment about portraying the female likeness in Chabad publications? He might be surprised), the point remains that when it comes to his own honor and credentials, he doesn't flinch in hiding the truth.
(Image Source)

Let's hope that the new year has more abiding results.

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Anonymous said...

Hmm. Interesting. I *try* to pass on comments that may not always be favourable in a constructive way, rather than just saying 'That was cr@p'. Sometimes though, bluntness is the only way to go.


e said...

a storm breweth between mottel and chaim rubin...

e said...


Cheerio said...

really great article.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mottel said...

Thanks all for the encouragement! I wonder if we'll indeed get a response . . .

-Anon: the purpose of my post was to bring light to a specific problem, not attack CR. Play nice and focus on issues, not crazy attacks on people!

Der Shygetz said...


The only way to decide on an album is to listen first. Forget all the reviewers; they are all subjective.

The only real Jewish music out there is when the Neturei Karta (Ku Klutz Kartel) perform Hashem Hee Malkynee at a Hamas rally. The rest is not authentically Jewish but rather Zionist.

And the above is about what most of the JM reviews are worth nowadays, unless you really want to know technical details about the arrangements etc.

Yehuda said...

FWIW, I left the following comment on the review. (I am posting it here, because it was never posted on lifeofrubin, and I wasn't given the courtesy of an email explaining why...)

“One last thing, I hate to write anything negative because at this point I know the subject or someone involved in the project will read it at some point.”

So what is the point of a review? I understand not viciously attacking someone personally. Obviously, you shouldn’t be doing that. But pointing out flaws pertaining to the vocal/musical/production quality of an album is surely necessary in an honest review. Without that, we might as well read a review from artist himself.

Also, why the double standard when it comes to writing negatively about Weber and Taussig. To be clear, I have no problem with what you wrote about them. It was an honest opinion about the quality of their albums. But why was it allowed for them and ossur for MBD?

This is especially surprising coming from you. You have always railed against Counry Yossi Magazine, and have always been a proponent of honest reviews online.

At the end of the day, when someone wishes to sell a product, they better be ready to have their product analyzed and reviewed in public, albeit in a fair and respectful manner.

Mottel said...

-Yehudah: I'm glad to see that we're both on same page. I'm rather disappointed that CR hasn't responded to this post . . . I'm debating the wisdom of posting a link in his comment section. If anyone out there agrees with what's been written here, then perhaps try doing it yourselves as well.

e said...

Mottel+Yehuda: Fight the good fight! Honesty is the best policy! Information wants to be free!

Yehuda said...

what is also weird is his newfound love for all things MBD. I mean, here he is gushing over "The King," when a short while ago he couldn't see himself buying another MBD CD!


Chaim said...

First of all, I never gave your permission to post private email exchanges.

Second, As I explained in my PRIVATE email to you, I would NOT say go get a CD or that I enjoyed a CD if I didn't.

You took a random comment and made a whole maisah out of it.

I told you if I dont like a CD I won't write about it.

Notice how few albums get reviewed on my site these days?

I dont have any obligation to post if a CD isn't to my liking.

Im just a guy with a blog who likes to write about something that I enjoy, music.

To make me out to be some sort of Huffington Post writer or contributor to a NY Times blog and this need to "call me out" or hold my feet to the fire or admonish me for not wanting to say negative things is very upsetting to me.

If I don't want to write when a song or a CD is bad, I DON'T HAVE TO.

As I wrote in our PRIVATE email exchange (if I had wanted it to be public I'd have allowed the comment though and engaged you in public) I do believe there is a Mentschlich element here that the goyishe world of journalism does not care about or take into account.

These ARE people who do work very hard to make an album and spend a lot of money. I will not be responsible for people not buying a CD or hurting someones Parnasah.

If the CD sucks, people will know, people aren't stupid. My blog and my reviews are meant for entertainment only, for fun, for some guy who loves music to publicly express when he enjoys a good song, or a good CD.

Yes, if you go back far enough you will see I started out differently, but as I did engage in lengthy and detailed conversations with many artists my conscious kicked in and I had many reasons to change what I choose to write about a CD.

I still hold true to my original comment. If you spent gobs of money and a project and spent months, sometimes years working on something only to have it publicly ripped apart on a site that gets over 1,000 eye balls every day, I think you'd be singing a different tune. Especially if said blog could cost you to lose tens of thousands of dollars and months (or years) worth of work.

... and you know what? I know there are holes in my logic, and news flash, I don't care.

I'm glad this is what you choose to make a big deal out of during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.

This is exactly why I don't post as much anymore, inane, pointless, self riotous, holier than thou comments and attack posts.

Gmar Tov, thanks for the public lashing. What a waste of everyones time. Don't take yourself so serious, it's just a blog, mine and yours and at the end of the day if you don't use your brain to make your own decisions then you're just sheep.

Chaim said...

... and for the record I never took one free CD from ANY artist, till today. I buy EVERY CD I review.

Mottel said...

Due to limitation in comment size, my response to your comment is in a new post here.
Chasima u'gmar chasima tova!