Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Don't Blow It Again!

In Slate today, Jack Shaffer morphs into Jim Brady's apologist and vastly underestimates two factors that played a part in the Domenech Debacle: Ben's age and his lack of journalistic ethics.

First, let me clarify that I'm not going to jump on the Brady-bashing bandwagon. Of all the editors that are working cyberspace, Brady's one of the more web-adept, and also one of the few interested in helping The People gain a voice in mainstream media.

But I will point out where Shafer's notions are screwed up.

So, once again, on Ben's age: does the voice of the people have to be someone young enough to be the son of a lot of the people? Sure, Shaffer can say:
Domenech's critics have cited his youth and relative lack of experience in their various excoriations, but promoting writers to do work beyond what their age and résumé would recommend isn't necessarily a bad idea. Look at the careers of Michael Kinsley, Michael Lewis, Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, and Ted Conover, who accomplished much in the field when still green. Or look at current tyro Joshua Foer, a former Slate intern. (I offer no comment other than this on the career of the young Stephen Glass

But dammit, Jack! There are more voices out here in the blogosphere that aren't young. Picking Domenech might have had more to do with looking at demographics that state that the 18-34 age group are the ones that get most of their news from the 'net, than it had to do with Ben being smarter than the average 24 year old bear.

Wouldn't it have made *some* sense to call on someone who's doing the whole citizen journalism thing, and maybe has some control not only over his/her partisan emotions but also a sense of ethics? Maybe someone who's a tad older and would be eternally grateful to have a second career in media?

The other bit of Jack's essay that just makes me want to scream:

Bad journalism, I fear, is a necessary byproduct of good journalism. Unlike the legal and medical professions, no guild or licensing board exists to prevent people from penning opinion columns or articles. This free entry means that nobody need present a credential if they want to spout off or report a piece or pursue a journalism career. The more authoritarian a society, the more likely it is to license journalists.

hello, Jack! have you missed all the back and forth debates about how "citizen journalists"--people who are blogging and use the term--have no right to call themselves journalists of any kind? Jack! where have you been lately! The journalism profession is, at this point in time, is clamping down on any "free entry" and lashing out at "amateurs" left and right. Might I point you in the direction of this nasty little piece in Poynter OnLine that talks about the "problem" of citizen journalists? Would you like me to bring up more sources from other organizations that are focused on the threats to journalistic credibility from the vast regions of the blogosphere?

Most bloggers know that what they are doing is, in large part, opinion. But with all the squawking from the journalistic community, you'd think that they have lost sight of what we all out here are acutely aware of. They're running around like chickens with their heads half-off, worrying about losing their jobs because of The People...

If the McClatchy/KnightRidder deal is any indication, journalists have more to fear from the sale of their papers than they do from "citizen journalists." But because they can't see the forest for the trees, they're lashing out and insisting that the journalism degree is what separates the journalist from the citizen/grassroots journalist.

Without the journalism degree--graduate or undergraduate--we The People have very little of what a newspaper editor might consider "credibility."

In other words, we out here in the blogosphere don't have a snowball's chance in hell of getting anywhere near an editorial column at a mainstream media publication if we are not in that vaunted 18-34 age demographic or if we do not have the requisite journalism credentials. It's the standard Catch 22, Jack--and if guys like Brady don't find their way around it, Mainstream Media is going to lose a golden opportunity to bring fresh blood that could save the vaunted, degree'd profession of journalism.

My best advice to Jim Brady, and to you, Jack Shafer is this: The new blood and the new voices are out there. But think outside the box: think beyond age *and* beyond professional degree. Now's the time. Don't blow it.

Also: Jay Rosen hasthis worthy read on the Domenech Debacle.



Neal Moore said...

While I might disagree with your assertion that the word "journalist" can not or should not be used by a citizen reporter, I heartily agree there are mature voices in the blogosphere that are routinely ignored. And, you're right on the money about most bloggers offering nothing more than opinions. In my jdugment, however, I believe they and the vast majority of their readers see it for what it is. Further, I think those who are trying to do serious "journalism" understand they will (and should) be held to a higher standard. Finally, I think Citizen Journalism has great promise, but only as an extension of the traditional craft. That is to say, MSM outlets that embrace their readers/viewers/listeners by providing them opportunities to "report news" at its most basic level - their neighborhoods. There are just too many camera phones and simple blogging tools for CJ not to continue its exponential growth. The genie is out of the bottle. Hopefully, market forces will come to bear, and quality CJ work will be separated from the dross.

Tish Grier said...

thanks, Neal! As one of the folks who does (what I consider anyway) "citizen journalism," and knowing many other people in the W. Mass region who also delve into it, I can attest to the fact that we do indeed take what we do seriously. And, since most of us have degrees in english or something that's related, we often apply the same sorts of "tests" to our blogging as we did in school--don't plaigarize, cite sources, and ask if a statement is on/off the record are three things we think about most. We're pretty scrupulous about them, too.

Right now I think we're at a time when alot of people are trying out bloggging and, along with it, some kind of citizen journalism. With that, a huge boost in the "noise" over the "signal." When many realize that readers don't flock to you right away, that it takes time and alot of tool manipulation *and* community building to get readership (no one starts out like Kos or Reynolds), many will drop away. You are right, though: in time the quality work will show up .