Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Forgotten Man on the Street

In "Homeless advocate brings his message to the masses through social media" from the Los Angeles Times, there are a number of rhetorical issues raised by what seems to be citizen journalism focused on the plight of the homeless by Mark Horvath, whom the paper calls with obvious irony a "darling of social media." For starters, there are the barrages of plugs for sponsorship from blogger Horvath and the fact that what he offers is hardly in-depth reportage, as the following sample passage shows.

At first I didn’t get Whrrl and broadcast some feedback over twitter. Yikes, be careful whenever you do that, ya just may get a response! Whrrl listens and immediately engaged me into conversation. I was a little shocked and to be honest standoffish. Lots of brands talk about listening, but from my experience it is still very rare. Plus, I didn’t want to come across as this weirdo “homeless guy” complainer.

Horvath doesn't quite use the royal "we," but his appropriation of the language of branding and rhetorics of market research might not do much for his status as a would-be journalist. He's not the first one to use social media to document the experiences of transients, since there have been a number of blogger-transients, but his use of Twitter and cell phone cameras seems to be attracting public attention.

But the newspaper also doesn't come off well either, since it mistakes the name of at least one Los Angeles institution, the Union Rescue Mission, and it provides little analysis of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is given credit in the story. (For those interested in information aesthetics, note the fact that the NAEH provides a map of the problem of its own.)

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