M. Alex Johnson – Journalist at Large

An analog journalist in a digital world

Huffington Post UK and Why It’s Not ‘Authentic’ to Pay Journalists

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Stephen Hull, the editor of The Huffington Post United Kingdom, appeared Wednesday on BBC Radio 4’s “The Media Show.” It did not go well.

The peg for Hull’s appearance was Kate Middleton’s campaign to raise public awareness for children’s mental health issues. The duchess wrote a post for the site and spent the day as its guest editor.

The interview starts off well enough. Host Steve Hewlett — who, like many media critics, doesn’t appear to understand that pixels are unlimited and that there’s room on the Internet to serve all tastes — asks Hull about some of the site’s clickbait content, like listicles about cute animals. Hull knocked that one out of the park, noting that it’s quite possible to “do the serious and the silly in the same place.”

(Disclosure: I’ve written hundreds of light features about weird crime and the unusual adventures of animals, so I’m predisposed to side with Hull.)

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Written by Alex

February 18, 2016 at 2:08 pm

This is what the ‘M.’ stands for, and here’s why I use it

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(Update, Dec. 30, 2015: The CMS issue has been resolved, and the M. is finally gone!) AJ in Rome-Woodcut

This blog was dead for about three months while I tried to work out a DNS conflict with my host. It’s back now only after I decided to throw in the towel and park it at WordPress.

To celebrate this auspicious return, I thought I’d answer the question I’m most often asked: Why the hell is your byline M. Alex Johnson?

Until about four years ago, I thought journalists who tacked an initial in front of their name — an initial initial, so to speak — were pompous. Then two things happened:

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Written by Alex

December 30, 2015 at 5:32 pm

Posted in Admin

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Dumber’n a Box of Rocks: How to Slime an Entire City

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Under the headline “US town rejects solar panels amid fears they ‘suck up all the energy from the sun,'” The Independent today picks up on a five-day-old local story from Woodland, North Carolina, where the Town Council’s rejection of a rezoning proposal killed plans to build a solar farm.

The Independent rewrite of the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald account does the town no favors, beginning with the headline, which suggests the councilors voted no because they’re ignorant of basic science. To support that spin, it picks up and slightly recasts two quotations from the original article:

“Jane Mann, a retired science teacher, said she was concerned the panels would prevent plants in the area from photosynthesizing, stopping them from growing.”


“During the Woodland Town Council meeting, one local man, Bobby Mann, said solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not go to Woodland.”

Of course, the “stupid hick Southern town” interpretation hit the snarkerati right in its sweet spot:

  • North Carolina town rejects solar because it’ll suck up sunlight and kill the plants (BoingBoing — complete with an illustration of Alfred E. Newman with his finger up his nose)
  • Woodland, NC bans solar farm out of fear it will steal sun’s energy … No, seriously! (Daily Kos, with the lead: “The stupid, it burns ….”)
  • Batsh*t Crazy NC Town Says No To Solar Panels That Will ‘Suck Up All The Sun’s Energy’ (Addicting Info, which concludes: “None of it mattered in the end, as a majority of the town council voted against the sciency stuff and sided with the ridiculous concerns of the people.”)

The lazy … it hurts.

If you take the time to read the source article, you find that’s distortion on a Hello Dali level.

The bulk of the article recounts legitimate economic concerns:




And even the casting of Jane Mann’s comments is tendentious, at best. Here’s the entire passage citing her:

Jane Mann said she is a local native and is concerned about the plants that make the community beautiful.

She is a retired Northampton science teacher and is concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the plants from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where the plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight.

She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn’t cause cancer.

Notice that Ms. Mann isn’t quoted as explicitly suggesting that solar panels redirect sunlight away from plants. She says that in her observation they sometimes restrict photosynthesis in plants.

Now, it might well be that Ms. Mann truly isn’t familiar with how photosynthesis and solar panels work. Or it might also be that Ms. Mann was reporting what anyone who has visited a solar farm has seen: Plants behind the panels — plants that are shaded by the panels and receive little sunlight as a result — do, indeed, go brown and die. Solar farm panels are quite large, and they cast significant shadows.

The Independent and its derivative traders stop at the mockable, however, and call it a day.

Indeed, the only clearly uninformed speaker in the entire source article is Bobby Mann — and even he raises other economic questions worthy of debate:

Bobby Mann said he watched communities dry up when I-95 came along and warned that would happen to Woodland because of the solar farms.

“You’re killing your town,” he said. “All the young people are going to move out.”

He said the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.

When you boil it down, the Independent article rests on that last single paragraph. The rest of it might as well not exist, because it soils the snootiness.

I’m from the South, and I used to live and work in North Carolina, so I’m afflicted by an extra-sensitive attunement to lazy “those dumb rednecks” stories.

But you don’t have to be a Southerner to recognize that The Independent cherry-picked two quotations from a straight report on a legitimate policy debate to poke thought-free fun at an entire town.

And as for BoingBoing and the other side-swipe pickup artists, we have a saying for them down where I come from: They’re so stuck up, they’d drown in the shower.

Written by Alex

December 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm

The Reader’s Guide to Journalists

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Rule No. 60: TV journalists never “interview” people. They always “sit down with” them.

Read all the rules.





Written by Alex

June 1, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Dear P.R. practitioners: Save my sanity by doing at least a smidgen of research

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Written by Alex

December 10, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Posted in Public Relations

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Dear P.R. practitioners: Please resolve to do better

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Written by Alex

December 3, 2014 at 1:05 pm

Dear P.R. practitioners: .’Tisn’t the season

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Written by Alex

November 21, 2014 at 10:50 am

Posted in Journalism

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Dear P.R. practitioners: Dictionaries aren’t expensive

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Written by Alex

November 20, 2014 at 12:23 pm

Posted in Journalism, Language

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Dear P.R. practitioners: At least try

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Written by Alex

November 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Posted in Journalism

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Dear P.R. practitioners: We are not idiots (Updated)

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Follow-up Nov. 19: The enterprising promoter behind this pitch wrote back today — not to complain about this post, but to “briefly followup” (noun as a verb from the original) to see whether I was still interested in the story. As a sweetener, he offered “fun behind-the-scenes photos and video outtakes of Morris being his adorably orange tabby cat self.”


Written by Alex

November 9, 2014 at 12:14 pm