Thursday, November 20, 2008

Stimulating vs. Persuading

Nate Silver got into a tiff with a conservative radio host the other day, interviewed him, and posted the contentious transcript. That's not important for our purposes (I'm in political detox right now). What is important, however, is that today Nate has a post up in which he works through why this particular interview subject was such a problem, and he concludes that it's mostly due to the fact that the guy (whose name is Ziegler) has a radio background:

. . . the distinguishing feature of radio is that it exists in a sort of perpetual amnesiac state. In a book, you can go back and read the previous page; on the internet, you can press the 'back' button on the browser. In radio, there is no rewind: everything exists in that moment and that moment only . . .

. . . Moreover, almost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work really hard to sustain their attention. Hence what Wallace refers to as the importance of "stimulating" the listener, an art that Ziegler has mastered. Invariably, the times when Ziegler became really, really angry with me during the interview was when I was not permitting him to be stimulating, but instead asking him specific, banal questions that required specific, banal answers. Those questions would have made for terrible radio! And Ziegler had no idea how to answer them.

Stimulation, however, is somewhat the opposite of persuasion. You're not going to persuade someone of something when you're (literally, in Ziegler's case) yelling in their ear.
Again, I couldn't care less about Nate's spat of the politics behind it, but I am struck by the observation about radio in that it certainly explains why I find sports radio so unlistenable. While the shows -- even the least obnoxious ones -- are cast as conversations about sports, there is no conversing going on. It's all about eliciting emotional responses instead of intellectual ones.

If I want to respond emotionally to sports, I'll watch Game 1 of the 1988 World Series. If I want to think about sports -- to persuade or be persuaded -- I'll certainly not listen to sports radio.

17 comments:

Alex K said...

I listen to a lot of sports talk radio. I find that really for me, it depends on the host. I enjoy Mike and Mike because they don't try and take themselves seriously most of the time, and I feel they pass that along. They seem to genuinely have a good time on air. On the opposite end of the spectrum I find Micheal Kay unlistenable because he takes himself WAY to seriously (IMHO).

mooseinohio said...

So I take it 1460TheFan is not a pre-set station on the Shystermobile? I liked them years ago when Terry Smith hosted a show but that was before the more recent version you reference.

Tried listening to WEEI in Boston to stay abreast of the Boston sports scene and could only handle it for about a month. Not all the shows were the bothersome but in general I struggled with both the negativity and self-rightousness.

I guess I like informative talk radio and can easily listen to Terry Gross interview folks, the Car Talk guys make auto repair sound enjoyable or locals like Fred Anderle talks about issues and interview some interesting folks. However I struggle with the Colin Cowherd and Gerry Callhans of the world.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Nope, no 1460 for me. Or 610. Or any other sports or talk radio.

I do listen to NPR, but mostly just for the news as opposed to the commentary/opinion/whatever shows.

jason said...

Researcher: The average radio listener listens for eighteen minutes a day. The average Howard Stern fan listens for - are you ready for this? - an hour and twenty minutes.

Pig Vomit: How could this be?

Researcher: Answer most commonly given: "I want to see what he'll say next."

Pig Vomit: All right, fine. But what about the people who hate Stern?

Researcher: Good point. The average Stern hater listens for two and a half hours a day.

Scott Simkus said...

Years back, when he coached the Bulls, Phil Jackson called sports radio "mental masturbation." He took a beating from the electronic media here in Chicago. "Big Chief Triangle" may or may not have been a beloved figure here, but after the radio folks turned their fangs on him- it was over. Phil's a pariah here in Chicago. For better or worse, sports radio continues to be the primary opinion-shaper in the windy city.

rob said...

I was thinking this very same thought today, in relation to Nate's post no less. Sports talk radio and political talk radio are basically the same format with different subject matter. They're both utterly detestable.

Keith Law said...

This was the funniest part of Nate's piece:

There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

Right, because there are no liberals like that. Or communists or libertarians or religious people or atheists or Red Sox fans.

There are people like that in every area of life where there are strong opinions on both (or multiple) sides of the divide.

Good sports radio, like good radio of any sort, makes you think. Bad sports radio makes you mad.

Craig Calcaterra said...

Yeah, that stuck out at me too. I have a distinct liberal lean about me, but I am the first to admit that no party, orientation or disposition is immune from the "how can you POSSIBLY believe that?!" phenomenon.

Justin Zeth said...

As a card carrying Libertarian myself, I can assure you there are a lot of the 'you'd have to be a total idiot to not agree with me' types around in our own fold, which in my opinion is holding back the party from its opportunity to go to the next level while the Republican party is mighty unstable.

But on the other side it's just as bad, maybe worse: The number of 'you'd have to be a total idiot to not be a socialist' types is astounding, and not just that, but the number of those types who really don't know enough to intelligently support their own arguments. So they resort to mudslinging.

That's a diversion, but short version: Keith's right, and I think in this supposed age of enlightenment the problem's growing worse. (Because we're distracted too much these days and unable to think longer than five minutes at a time, perhaps?) It's kind of alarming.

bigcatasroma said...

Sports talk radio is absurd. But a question for Ziegler, or whomever: if we get misinformed from the media, or MSM, where do we get our information from?

It's a simple question. But if everyone is not informed, how shall they get there? Read *the right* newspaper, watch *the right* show. I just don't understand the argument about this. It's both simple and more complicated than we like to think . . .

Anonymous said...

It's that time of year again!

Time to mark your Calendars for 2009 -

Black History Month - February

Asian Pacific Heritage Month - May

Native American Heritage Month - November

National Hispanic Heritage Month - Sept. 15 to Oct. 15

Happy Holidays!

The Diversity Group

Craig Calcaterra said...

Um, OK.

rob said...

Reminds me of the bumper sticker I used to see around that read:

If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention!


Um... Yeah, well maybe we are and maybe we're not, but that kind of attitude isn't going to help anyone.

As smart as he his, Nate Silver really did himself a disservice in that interview. I mean really, does the inability to name relatively obscure U.S. senators really help prove his point? (Apologies to all those from the great state of South Dakota.)

At the very least, he should have read that D.F.Wallace piece first. By the end, the only thing anyone accomplished was proving that each of them was right about the other.

That's not reconciliation we can believe in.

Scott Simkus said...

I could care less what Nate Silver said regarding conservatives, but I *am* interested in the sports radio phenomena; and in particular: how it relates to blogs. Blogs, it seems, are basically white collar sports radio; as they have a similar shape and feel to the AM dial stuff. The format is essentially the same: the hosts (or viewers) suggest a topic- a link- and then conversation begins in the comments section. The difference, of course, is it's a slightly more *erudite* medium. You have an opportunity to think before you respond. You can research, then craft something you know will (for better or worse) be accessible for a long time. But just like sports radio: there'll be the occassional non-sequitur with a silly little list of ethnic holidays thrown into the mix. That being said, there probably aren't too many auto mechanics and garbage men tinkering on the internet during work hours, responding to sports questions and conversations. Sports radio is for those who are actually doing work, blogs are for those of us in offices, avoiding it. Keep distracting me Shyster!

matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Leo said...

I listen to sports talk radio only because I used to listen to NPR and now listening to the news depresses the shit out of me. War, recession/depression, global warming, hunger, terrorism, energy crisis, etc.

With that said, the problem with Silver's analysis, is that it melds radio into the concept of actual journalism. Sports radio is entertainment, and on rare occasions a radio reporter might break and/or report actual news. If it's entertainment, there is no reason to be consistent, to be persuasive, or to express reasoned and cogent analysis.

We Americans love to listen to guys babble about sports, even if these guys have inconsistent opinions, cannot make persuasive arguments, and say stupid stuff.

Anonymous said...

Eh, I would not read too deeply into Nate's column. He is trying to explain conservative radio and how there is not a liberal alternative that is just as successful. He then tries to explain why . . . which I imagine he did without writing an outline or anything like that. Looks like a wandering blog piece which we are all capable of. I think the part where people think he has done a disservice is maybe because his politics differ from those who think he has done a disservice.

Honestly, he is just commenting on a phenomena and has not tried to conclusively prove anything. I'm not sure how that is a disservice to anyone.