A Blog Around The Clock

Bloggers vs. Journalists Redux, part N

Some guy named Mulshine, who is apparently an ancient journalist (remember: generation is mindset, not age), penned one of those idiotic pieces for Wall Street Journal, willingly exposing his out-datedness and blindness to the world – read it yourself and chuckle: All I Wanted for Christmas Was a Newspaper:

This highlights the real flaw in the thinking of those who herald the era of citizen journalism. They assume newspapers are going out of business because we aren’t doing what we in fact do amazingly well, which is to quickly analyze and report on complex public issues. The real reason they’re under pressure is much more mundane. The Internet can carry ads more cheaply, particularly help-wanted and automotive ads.

Bwahahaha! Good old days, when we were the deciders of what you, the proles, deserved to know. And we did it right because we went to j-school!

Frank Wilson responds, by debunking, right out of the box, two of the claims that Mulshine made in his article (apparently out of his own ass):

I don’t think someone who uses the word prophesized in place of prophesied (perhaps he was thinking of proselytized) should be so quick to complain about pundint (which I, by the way, had never seen or heard of before now).

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Actually, the people in a given school district are likely to be very interested in and willing to sit through such meetings and read such reports very carefully, since they are interested parties, more interested, apparently, than a cub reporter trying to keep himself awake during the proceedings “by employing trance-inducing techniques.”

Also good stuff in the comments there:

My principal objection to Mr. Mulshine’s lamentation is that blogs have not killed newspapers. Newspapers have been committing slow suicide for years. The elimination of book coverage means that a large group of people – called readers – no longer find what they are looking for in newspapers.

…and…

There is indeed often nothing more boring than a public meeting, which is why bloggers can attend the public meeting, report interesting details, and fashion a long-form report that is far more compelling that the sad dessicated prose that often serves as newspaper journalism.

There was a recent Pew Reports statistic for this year: in 2008, for the first time, people turned to the Internet for news more than newspapers. Not only has it not occurred to some newspapers to hire bloggers to provide a fresher perspective for journalism, but they willfully make themselves obsolete by getting rid of articles after three weeks, not bothering to tag them with keywords or categories, not provide RSS feeds, and not permit comments. You will find all this on the blogosphere. In fact, I think it can be argued that blogs are doing a better job at tracking stories than newspapers at times because of these active technologies.

And Mark:

Sure, I’m biased as well, as is frankly anyone who picks up a pen to write (sadly a lost art) or taps out a missive on a keyboard; I spend a bit of time every day blogging about issues relevant to the world of residential real estate. While I don’t spend time on “junk blogs” (other than some pretty silly but nonetheless very entertaining fly fishing blogs) that perhaps Mr. Mulshine is referring to in his piece- on the contrary I’ve found that serious thinkers and authors writing blogs have had a lot more relevant information to share than Mr. Mulshine’s colleagues in the mainstream press, particularly in the mainstream newspaper press.

And Griff Wigley:

Paul Mulshine, opinion columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, misses the point when he argues that citizens aren’t likely to voluntarily ‘cover,’ for example, city council meetings for their blogs in the same way that a reporter does for a newspaper.

Yes, it’s valuable to have Suzi Rook at the Northfield News, Dusty Budd at KYMN, and RepJ’s Bonnie Obremski sitting through public meetings and then reporting on them.

But it’s more valuable for their stories to be published in an eco-system of civic engagement where the media, public officials and citizens are all involved in the effort to inform so that better public outcomes can occur.

Official response from Herald de Paris:

The problem, however, is not that the Internet stole news from the broadsheets. First and foremost, dear Brutus (and here I am quoting another really good writer, of whom you have certainly heard), “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Sensationalized news, fictitious news, unconfirmed news .. Page Six – real newspapers did not go there. Ever. The death of the newspaper began the moment someone had the hair-brained idea to defy the public trust simply to increase circulation, because selling more papers meant higher advertising rates. Then, too, the newspaper has been dying a slow death for 30 or 40 years, and since this pre-dates the electronic format(s), this means CNN, and the proliferation of 24/7 cable news. The simple truth is, they could get the news to market faster and fresher than the broadsheets ever could. The problem, however, is that broadcast news doesn’t know what to do with itself on slow news days. This gave rise to ‘Breaking News’ stories about such vitally important items as what time Anna Nicole Smith’s baby had a bottle, and how much hair Brittney Spears shaved off. Blame OJ Simpson a little, too, for that riveting low-speed car chase on the LA freeway – complete with turn signals. The fatal blow, it would seem, might have been that newspaper executives took a cue from their school-aged grandchildren, and began to, “blog.” The B-word. *shudder*

The truth is, the electronic media is a wonderful tool for news, but only if you know what you are doing. At the Herald de Paris, we have what we call a virtual newsroom. Our writers and reporters provide us the latest news, sometimes written on a PDA or a mobile phone, and complete with photographs. We have a way to go in providing local media coverage, but we will get there. Since the print media printed yesterday’s news the night before yesterday, they can not touch the timeliness of the electronic media. But it does not stop at the Internet. The real brilliance of electronic media is in mobile technology – when the latest news, information, and features are all in your pocket – available for your reading at your will. To date, however the converse detriment to this new age is that there are economic barriers to electronic media that have yet to be overcome. As it stands, access to information is, and remains, a commodity. At the Herald de Paris, we think this is wrong, and so we are working on ways to overcome this. We don’t know if this is your so-called new model or not, but if you wish to call us geniuses, we’ll take it. You see, the newspaper industry at-large has been trying to mold the electronic information age in its image, when instead, they should have been learning how the technology could/can make what they do better. Geniuses or not, that’s what we are doing .. and so far, it is working brilliantly.

Internet Guru:

Acting as if NO Internet news is trustworthy or professional is just as illogical as assuming that all print media work is the most perfect model. The truth of the matter is a large part of the product that the Old Media is trying to sell us is junk. Most journalists fail at their job. There are a few, of course, that are great. But, this is an illustration of humanity itself, isn’t it? Some will be good, the rest will fail. It’s Jefferson’s “aristocracy among men” defined.

The Internet is already producing its stars just as print media has, and it will continue to evolve, getting better with each succeeding day. Additionally, there’s no reason to expect that professional journalists will forever go away. There is also no reason to blindly believe in some fantastic future of every citizen becoming his own journalist. Somehow a new business model will find its way to the net and professional journalism will continue unabated.

Susan Duclos:

Well here is the deal as I see it… Reynolds is right, if enough independent, lowly bloggers, with a good vocabulary, were strewn our across America and willing to attend local meetings and go through documents which now are usually all published online, then yes, old media can and will be replaced.

Sure, many times, we bloggers find the news, paste important paragraphs and give our opinions which if we were real “journalists” writers would calling “analysis” instead of opinion, and bring the news to people who come to our sites.

Other times bloggers have been known to get their hands on PDF documents, produce them, go through them and show the blog reading public the portions of the reports that the major media “journalists” deliberately do not mention in their all important “analysis”.

The reason I started blogging was simple and addresses this whole debate in my mind.

Bloggers do give their opinions or analysis of any given situation, agreed, but bloggers do something that the professional journalists do not….we provide links to the original sources to which we use to determine our opinions and analysis.

We give our readers a chance to read the original reports, data, PDF’s, court papers, whatever the case may be, then those readers can decide for themselves if they agree with our “analysis” or if they come to a different conclusion.

We don’t hide relevant facts to make the pieces match our preconceived ideas….we provide sources, we link.

Before I started blogging, I heard the news, read some online news articles, but found what I was getting was the writers opinion and when I looked for the original source to be able to form my own opinion, you know where I found the links to the original sources?

Bloggers. Blogs. Before I even knew exactly what a blog was.

So, to Mr. Mulshine, a quick note….. if journalists want to stay relevant, they need to stop thinking their opinion is the only opinion, they need to start providing links to the original sources and stop expecting people to take their word as the word of God.

Otherwise, those army of Davids, are definitely going to start reporting original pieces and they will be trusted more because they will provide something the old media, the mainstream media, refuse to….. the facts to go along with a “journalist’s” opinion.

Cranford Pundit:

A lot of newspapers are taking steps to make themselves even less relevant. Like the food section that canned it’s editor and now cuts and pastes recipes from cooking.com (my sister’s paper does that), or the editorial page that cuts and pastes items from the DailyKos (my brother’s area newspaper is guilty of that). If they are supplying even more content that we can get for free who will their customers be besides the elderly and computerphobic?

William Beutler:

All right, well this question about usage of “pundit” vs. “pundint” is easily testable. Let’s go to Google BlogSearch:

* For a search on the single word pundit we find 705,874 results. Sorted for relevance, here are the top three results as of Sunday afternooon:
1. Daily Kos: Your Abbreviated Pundit Round-up
2. Gateway Pundit: Israeli Gaza Strikes Called ‘Holocaust’ By Hamas …
3. Daily Pundit » Sweets for the Sour

Already we can see that Mulshine should have chosen a different word to illustrate the alleged ignorance of Internet political commentators. Thanks to those like Instapundit, the word has enjoyed a strong currency in recent years, perhaps more so than any word besides “meme”.

* For a search on pundint we find 1,320 results with the top three by relevance as follows:
1. Campaign Retrospective: Goofiest “Pun-dint” Remarks
2. Dec 18, Pundint or Pundit : Common Errors in English
3. MacBigot Cached Glances » Blog Archive » It’s PUNDIT, not PUNDINT …

Remember, these are not necessarily the savviest bloggers (let alone, strictly, bloggers), just those which (the increasingly unreliable) BlogSearch coughed up first.

Pwned!

evolution-nextstep:

People like Mr Mulshine — which I suspect are numerous among the 50-and-up age bracket of the profession — don’t really like5 that the stupid, misspelling people he’s forced to sell his product to have the right to spout their opinion as to its quality. Unless you’re a really tony club, you don’t get to choose your customers.

Your goal for the Internet is the same as it was in print — produce content that’s either superior to or different than anyone else. You can now do so at a much faster rate — and if you were to take control of your product as I’ve suggested above, you could indeed do it better than anyone else. Make sure that you are not in the opinion, the “framing”, or the “shaping of opinion” business, for you now have tons of competition on the Internet and you’ll get6 creamed. If you, as an individual journalist, want to be in those businesses, fine. Separate yourself from journalism. I suggest above that journalism should separate itself from you.7 It is much harder to make the current model work on the Internet than I think it would be for the model I have described. A few companies are trying it; but I think someday soon the novelty will wear off if it hasn’t already.

A journalistic outfit that can produce the kind of content that I’ve described in this post — the hard news — reliably, according to a documented standard, by tightly-knit, trained, and (perhaps) certified professionals, and deliver that content and reliability on the Internet can cream the Internet competition. In addition, I think it can turn a profit for itself and its employees. There is little doubt in my mind of that. I’m not a sentimental person, though; I won’t cry at all if the current journalism industry’s business model collapses as seems likely. They will learn someday.

JD Johannes:

The subject of the quote from Glenn’s book, Army of Davids , was about how someone who actually understood the law and legislative process would make a better State House reporter than a recent college graduate with a journalism degree. In other words, an expert in law and legislation should be covering the State House. I even explained to Glenn how the business model would work–old fashioned syndication.

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The hear-say quote, and this particular usage by Mr. Mulshine, is one of the reasons why blogs have succeeded–the core news consumer does not like hear-say quotes and does not want bland executive summaries for the “casual reader.” The core news consumer wants hard news without bias, and expert opinion. Mr. Mulshine’s use of a misleading hear-say quote explains well the demise of his beloved newspaper.

Fausta Wertz defends the article, but when creamed in the comments pretends that her praise is actually criticism, just in polite language. Yeah, right. Her article begins with:

My friend and fellow NJ Voices blogger Paul Mulshine has an excellent article at the Wall Street Journal…

Karen De Coster:

So many articles like this, so little time. Yes, here’s another one of these articles from the parade of old men who can’t understand why young people (and a lot of older folks) don’t want to read their irrelevant rags any longer. “Real journalist” Paul Mulshine bemoans the loss of the censured, state-fed, boorish organs called newspapers. Another horse breeder making a plea against the automobile. His rant in the Wall Street Journal is bitter, and he seems especially jealous of the success of Instapundit (Glenn Reynolds). The days of censured news organs are disappearing, so get over it, Mulshine.

Mulshine points to the fact that only the print newspapers can produce “real journalists.” This kind of vindictive arrogance only gets these dinosaurs the opposite of what they want. They hate their customers for evolving with the times and desiring a different product. So guess what? Their (former) customers are telling them to stick it. What he really means by “real” journalist is one who is employed by an approved voice in the mainstream media. Note his reference to “alternative” media – the quotation marks convey his contempt for people who haven’t had to spend 40 years moving their way up from floor sweeper and runner to “real” journalist because the glory of the digital age creates open access and possibilities for all, and at little or no monetary cost.

Mulshine doesn’t believe that people who get their news on the Internet can appropriately distinguish between good and bad journalism. Apparently, there exists a distinct definition of real journalism that is escaping me. He wants us to trust that which comes from the printed press, because surely, that must be “real.” A newspaper is a source you can trust.

Planet Moron:

The problem runs deeper than that, but it is not that all newspapers are terrible or that all bloggers are better. It’s that most newspapers are, by definition, average, as are most professional newspaper reporters and is why so many alleged news reports read like warmed-over press releases or why so much commentary is little more than half-informed political proselytizing. When we covered the TARP debate, we at least actually read the original 130-page document, the first 70 pages of which we were even sober. Judging by the professional news coverage that put us in a distinct minority (at least on the reading part).

The problem for newspapers is that people simply have more choices. There are excellent news reporters out there, but there are also excellent bloggers. Not here, but other places. And if you want to hold and attract readers, you’ll have to do more than talking about how you do “amazingly well,” and start actually doing amazingly well. It’s hard work, but if bloggers are willing to do it for a few Google AdSense pennies, professional newspaper reporters shouldn’t mind doing it for their day job.

BGrey:

I would suggest that rather than spending their time arguing the merits of their craft, “professional journalists” should embrace the digital migration that is well under way. And how might they do this? They should publish as much of their “high quality” journalism as they can through as many digital distribution outlets as they can so they get their fair share of those online car and job ads!

Now, the funniest part of all – Paul Mulshine responds! Oh my, oh my! Check out how nice and welcoming he is to his readers! How many comments he added a note to, calling the commenter a “moron”?

I’ve received so many comments from people who failed to read the Moron Perspective Warning that I am now starting this entry with it. Please read it and follow the simple instructions.

Ha? Giving instructions to commenters as to what to say? Who’s moronic now?

Robert Ivan has a great response:

To answer Mr. Mulshine’s question; What is the New Model for generating revenue? The answer for general interest newspapers and news sites is that there is none. NONE. That’s no mystery.

I heard Jay Rosen once say; “What would have been the correct business model for Tower Records when the Internet arrived? The correct answer would have been NONE”.

Correct. A hundred-and-change years ago you got paid to drive a pair of horses and a cart around. Now you pay if you want to do it – big money as this sport is expensive. Yes, there will be aficionados who will print their own personal newspapers just for fun, as a hobby. And there are still people who collect and know how to use slide-rules.

Newspapers will die. News-gathering and news-reporting will not. But it will not be done by people with J-school degrees. It will be done by people with expertise in the topic they report on, with fire in the belly to go out and do it, by people who perceive a need as they see a vacuum, a lack of coverage. That’s what motivates bloggers as well.

But Robert Ivan is onto something else, as well:

Will his insular remarks further hasten the decline of the newspaper industry? For the people that have not already been convinced, I feel they might. Journalism and Communications students are encouraged to create and explore blogs as viable forms of communication and reporting. They are encouraged to explore any new form of communication and business model. Mulshine craps on this exploration. Now what? we’re all wrong? None of us can spell pundit? What? Mulshine’s article does not insult an entire generation and a community 125 million strong, it reaffirms their notion that newspaper are clueless and irrelevant. What the heck was he thinking?

Yes, every time one of the journalistic dinosaurs (sorry, I love dinosaurs, but that word has become a synonym for large, lumbering lizards who are too dumb and too slow to adapt to avoid extinction) writes one of these articles about “dirty, ignorant bloggers”, that article is itself a stark example of exactly what is wrong with journalism and why people are dropping their newspaper subscriptions in droves. It is an unsupported, blithering lie which most of the audience knows is a lie. Way to go to lose the last crumbles of authority….

Yes, it is important to make a distinction between beat reporters (I always think they got that name because the editor beat them into going out into the rain to report), op-ed writers (aka pundits aka bloviators) and expert journalists (people who work on a single story for a long, long time, doing in-depth research and usually having their own expertise in the topic).

The thing is – bloggers can and do all three. Many bloggers are better thinkers and better writers than David Brooks, so David Brooks will need to get smarter and better if he’s to survive. Many bloggers are also bad, but most professional journalists are just as bad PLUS they have bad editors to answer to.

Many bloggers have expertise in the topic they write about. Look at my SciBlings – when one of them blogs about a science topic, that is written by a scientist who actually knows what he/she is writing about, unlike some poor journo who was told by the editor to do it and do it fast. Sure, some people mouth off idiocies about topics they know nothing about, but those bloggers will never be respected as voices of authority on that topic anyway. Getting a salary from a media organization does not guarantee that the journalist is any less idiotic and any more respected by the readers.

And yes, bloggers are doing beat reporting. I’ve been watching the hyperlocal blogging here in Orange County, Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Durham, etc. for several years now and there are lots of bloggers who go to town hall meetings and report, in great detail and with great expertise, about those meetings or other local events. Mulshine just never bothered to familiarize himself with the topic he was supposed to write about…

And then, there are accidental reporters. All of the people who write and read blogs, are on twitter, facebook or friendfeed, mostly posting techie or pop-culture stuff, or about food or knitting, nonetheless are getting a training in new journalism, however subconsciously – taking in, by osmosis, the ethics, the forms and the etiquette of online journalism. And when the opportunity arises, they know how to rise to the challenge. Examples?

All the folks who just happened to be in Mumbai at the moment of the attack? They are not journalists and do not think of themselves as journalists. Most probably do not want to be journalists. Yet, at that moment, they were witnessing something important, they got on Twitter and did the journalistic job marvelously. It is through them that we learned, faster and better than from MSM, what happened there. They were journalists for a week. They are probably back to “what I had for breakfast” tweets, and that’s fine. A lot of citizen journalism will not and need not be full-time.

Remember the Denver airport accident last week? Well, a guy twittered from that airplane. The world learned from him that it happened, some 18 minutes before any news organization did. Then, after just having survived his second airplane crash, his couple of tweets were mostly about his need for a strong drink and who could blame him. But then, once he recharged his batteries, had a stiff drink, and perhaps a short nap, he went back on twitter and gave a series of reports that no professional journalist could match, because he was actually there, and he has no editor to dictate what is and what isn’t appropriate.

Remember when the bridge fell down in Minnesota about a year or so ago? Where did we get the first news? From a blogger who lives in the first house next to the bridge. Is he a journalist? No, but for a couple of weeks he was – he went down and helped with recovery, interviewed people, took pictures, and posted all of that on his blog. And none of the professional journalists – print, photo, radio, TV – that showed up on the scene later could match him. Not just because he was the first. But also because he knew the geography better than they did. He got people to tell him stories they would never trust a journalist with, because he was a neighbor. His blog was a place to go for a week or two, because no journalist on the scene could come close to the quality of his reporting. Did he earn any money on this? Probably not (though some readers probably hit his PayPal button at the time). And then he went back to his normal life and his normal blogging topics.

Being online all the time, consuming and producing content, is sufficient training for quality journalism. We all constantly train each other, by providing examples, and by criticizing each other all the time. Add to this the expertise in the topic that a generalist journalist will not have, and read why Jay Rosen wrote that If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn’t. So Let’s Get a Clue, and you will realize that graduation from J-school is not needed for quality journalism, and may even be a hindrance as the students there learn the ropes of doing the False Equivalence, Fair&Balanced, He-Said-She-Said journalism (which they brazenly defend in public – no shame!) which sucks and that’s why the readers are leaving the professional media and instead are trusting bloggers who have proven themselves with their honesty and expertise.

Who will provide the news? Some journalists will become bloggers. Some bloggers will become journalists – some full-time, others when the opportunity arises. All will be equal and will be judged by the quality of their work, not by degrees they got or companies they work for. Some old-style journalists will swim, some will sink when finally and suddenly encountering such stiff competition, and forced to abandon their schooling in order to do journalism right, for the first time in their lives. With or without them, the news will get reported anyway.

Update: Blogging Advice for the Frustrated Journalist :

I took a Mass Communications class at Moorhead State University in 1982. The professor, Marv Bossart, was a television anchor. One day he was discussing the future of journalism, and talked about how one day people would be reading the newspapers through their computers. This was back when graphics were rudimentary and computer terminals produced green screen with green text characters only. I couldn’t imagine how this would be appealing, but I was excited at the prospect. Long before Compuserve, AOL and Prodigy, Marv Bossart had seen a future in which instant publishing would be ubiquitous. Now, it seems as though print newspapers are going the way of blacksmiths.

Correct – do not conflate news with newspapers. Newspapers are news on paper. That model is dying. There are better ways to get news now that do not cost as much as paper, ink, presses, trucks and delivery men.

Update – a couple of interesting responses:

Tom Levenson:

All of this is prelude to the argument I want to take some time to craft, which is to push back- not all the way, but partly — on the notion that the blogosphere in and of itself is sufficient to take on the role traditional journalism has (at least in myth) played in the past. The reason why efforts like those undertaken in Minnesota and across the way from my office matter is that in a finite day the ubiquitous and self-correcting nature of what might be called the informal journalism of the internet exists synoptically — but people don’t. They — I, we — have finite time to perform the editorial work of chasing down contending versions of reality until some resolution sets in. We have only so much time to put together the range of stories we might find interesting or important in each day.

Someone will take care of all that, whether it be some part of the civic journalism movement, or mutating mass media. If we don’t create and use the tools that make the totality of our efforts accessible, then it seems to me likely that people like Rupert Murdoch et al. — who aren’t dumb, not matter what other qualities may attach themselves to them — will create the filters, packaging, production values and aggregation work that will capture much more of a share of audience than they should.

Dan Conover:

Most newspapers AVOID serious “watchdogging” on a regular basis and limit themselves to re-writing, publicizing, and (in the best cases) critically examining the substantive work of volunteer or non-profit watchdog groups.

Why do these groups give their work to newspapers and TV stations? Until recently, it was because those were the communications channels available to them. Why do they do it now? 1. Because those channels are still the biggest, and 2. Habit.

What percentage of your local news media bandwidth is actually devoted to ORIGINAL watchdogging by local journalists? I don’t have figures, but after 20 years in the business I’m here to report that the percentage is tiny. Watchdogging is expensive, it angers people with power and influence, it pisses off huge swaths of the audience you’re trying to serve, and effective watchdogging requires sustained study and careful analysis.

So even when a newspaper takes a couple of reporters and applies them to an “investigative” piece for months, their finished product typically relies on data sets that were developed over years by non-journalists watchdogging one particular institution, agency or industry. In most cases these studies were paid for not by “business models,” but by donors.

Which brings us to a fairly obvious conclusion:

Now that the real watchdogs have access to worldwide networked media and can go directly to the audience, why should they even bother going through the traditional news media filters?

Comments

  1. #1 BikeMonkey
    December 30, 2008

    and let us not forget what we got from mudflats when Palin hit the scene… MSM was caught flatfooted even though any sub-normal could see by about March or April that any tan- or woman-Republican who occupied a State house or US Senate seat was automatically on a shortlist for McCain’s Veep pick…

  2. #2 Coturnix
    December 30, 2008

    Correct – I also thought of Mudflats, but then, there are so many other examples, I had to stop somewhere.

  3. #3 dollslikeus
    December 31, 2008

    I quit taking the paper everyday when I found out it was for the democrates only if oyu are not a democrat in my town two papers a week are plenty and that is all I take . I felt like throwing up when they had the nerve to push their political views which are different from mine in the horscope of all places.
    I hope they either go back to balanced news both sides or they go out of business and someone else takes over who believes in balance.

  4. #4 Lee J Rickard
    January 2, 2009

    Personally, I still like newspapers for reading while lounging on the couch, and for reading in the bathroom. Also, I’ve never used my laptop to kill a bug.

  5. #5 Valhar2000
    January 5, 2009

    Balance? That is the most disgusting element that ever entered news reporting. It is the one reason why I hope the whole putrid edifice falls down and chokes lazy ignorant gasbags like Mulshine to death.

    Now, if by “balance” you meant objectivity, I agree with you.

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