Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Defining that which cannot be defined

Jacob Weisberg writes in Slate today trying to answer the question: Who is a journalist? He makes a number of really good points, one of the best is his closing statement that instead of trying to define "who" a journalist is and isn't, we should understand that in a democracy, being a journalist is a basic universal right. If we can't all investigate and speak freely, then it really isn't a free society. Weisberg, I think, makes the argument that if you engage in a journalistic practice, then you are a journalist. If an when you do not engage in a journalistic practice, then you are not. It is a lot more complicated than that, but that is a good framework that I think I would agree with. In other words, when I'm writing about how Democrats need to beat Republicans because the GOP is a bunch of God-less, evil old men, I'm engaging in partisan hackery and not journalism. When I'm writing like I am now about a subject, that's journalism. The point is, journalism is more of an abstract concept, unlike being a certified member of the Bar with a test score to prove it. Writing is an abstract excercise and it will always be such. But by understanding that being a journalist is more about what you do than where you went to school, we can begin to have legal protections for all of those who are in fact journalists, which is important in a democracy. Weisberg also has this passage which I think is great.

In response, many old-line journalists have tried to define their work in a ways that exclude the new aspirants. Insitutionalized journalists argue that bloggers don't do conventional reporting, aren't accurate, aren't responsible, or aren't paid—and hence are not genuine reporters. They fret that the current influx of amateurs will undermine professional standards or that seasoned professionals will be unfairly brought down by an electronic lynch mob, as some posit that Dan Rather of CBS and Eason Jordan of CNN were. Disregard all such self-interested whining. The breakdown of what once were formidable barriers to entry in the field of journalism is good news for democracy as a whole and for the press itself. The great cacophony of voices in the blogosphere means that more views are being represented, that more subjects are being examined in detail, and that more sunlight shines into institutions of all kinds. Thousands of bloggers ranting from their soapboxes mean that our political culture encompasses bracing debate about everything people disagree about. If you don't like this raucous clamor emanating from cyberspace, you're not really comfortable with democracy.
I couldn't have said it better myself. I think the MSM doesn't like blogging because of what the bloggers represent, people who read the news who are tired of not getting all the facts and not getting the truth. I think, also, the fact that they have to give up the biggest bias in journalism, laziness, or risk losing their jobs motivates them to attack blogging. And believe me, more than conservative or liberal political tendencies, laziness is the biggest bias. Some reporters are so lazy that they can't be bothered with even doing a Google search before writing. They just read the press release and call someone for a few choice quotes and turn something in. It's even worse for the 24-hour news channels. They will literally have 12 hours of experts talking about a routine check-up on a former president. And in between those 5-minute segments with experts explaining that everything will be fine and that "the routine check-up is indeed routine and I wouldn't read anything into it", they show the same video clips that they've been showing all day. It's ridiculous. They don't even read the press release; they just make shit up out of whole cloth. Not every reporter I know is like that. In fact, I would say that the guys here at the Trib are above average for trying to get news or find someone for the right quotes or information. But I read other newspapers, too, and the lack of dedication is very apparent in their writng. And it's blatantly obvious for televsion. Blogging is a new vanguard in journalism, and hopefully we will get some people fired who should have been better at their jobs. Democracy and freedom are at stake.


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