Sunday, August 06, 2006

Once again a major magazine analyzes the blogosphere and falls on its face when all they needed to do, really, was some reading

I love The New Yorker. It's a great magazine, and where would Seymour Hersh find a home to continue his probing reports without them? They even use the Internet, grudgingly it seems, by usually posting major stories like the Hersh reports online. But like all print publications, they feel threatened, their business models are quaking in their boots, and they periodically wrestle in print with the issue of the blogosphere's new upstarts. The latest effort involves putting Nicholas Lemann on the case, in an article titled "Amateur Hour: Journalism Without Journalists."

The essence of Lemann's methods in "Amateur Hour" is to identify some straw men (and women) he calls "citizen journalists" and then beat the shit out of them.
The category that inspires the most soaring rhetoric about supplanting traditional news organizations is “citizen journalism,” meaning sites that publish contributions of people who don’t have jobs with news organizations but are performing a similar function.

Citizen journalists are supposedly inspired amateurs who find out what’s going on in the places where they live and work, and who bring us a fuller, richer picture of the world than we get from familiar news organizations, while sparing us the pomposity and preening that journalists often display.
Unfortunately, Lemann doesn't find that "fuller, richer journalism." Instead, he finds small town suburban gossip.
Barista of Bloomfield Avenue, the nom de Web of Debbie Galant, who lives in a suburban town in New Jersey and is one of the most esteemed “hyperlocal bloggers” in the country, led with a picture from her recent vacation in the Berkshires. The next item was “Hazing Goes Loony Tunes,” and here it is in its entirety:

Word on the sidewalk is that Glen Ridge officialdom pretty much defeated the class of 2007 in the annual senior-on-freshman hazing ritual yesterday by making the rising seniors stay after school for several minutes in order to give freshmen a head start to run home. We have reports that seniors in cars, once released from school, searched for slow-moving freshman prey, while Glen Ridge police officers in cars closely tracked any cars decorated with class of 2007 regalia. Of course, if any freshman got pummelled with mayonnaise, we want to know about it.
Come on, Nick! Open your eyes. If all you're seeing is unfiltered, trivial gossip, that's because you seem to find it reassuring to find just that. There's a whole world out there, connecting in ways it never has before, but if you don't have the time to find something good to read, here are a couple you can start with:

How Do You Know What You Know? by Meteor Blades. It's just the best thing I've read, bar none, about the tragic conflict in Lebanon -- personal, deeply knowledgeable, sensitive and heartbreaking, all while managing to sidestep the name-calling on all sides that keeps sabotaging discussion of the issues.

Summer of Goodbyes by Riverbend in Baghdad Burning: I’ve said goodbye this last month to more people than I can count. Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were hurried and furtive- the sort you say at night to the neighbor who got a death threat and is leaving at the break of dawn, quietly. We've had many brave journalists in Iraq, and many have died doing their jobs. But there's nothing like the first-person account of someone who has to live there and cannot go back to a (semi)safe hotel at night and increasingly has to worry about masked men coming to the door with death on their minds. From the beginning, Riverbend has been sending out these notes in a bottle over the internet, and if you want to know what George Bush and his gang have done to this country, just sit down and read her blog from beginning to end and watch the early flickers of hope dim and go out.

That's just a couple, Nick -- but there are more than you could read in a lifetime. This is why people are so passionate about the blogosphere and will never again settle for a few gatekeepers as the arbiters of what is important and true.


Jeff Martinek said...

The writer's last name is spelled Lemann. I agree with your analysis, by the way. I was expecting a trenchant analysis of a current trend a la Malcolm Gladwell with the political insight of a Henrik Hertzberg. Instead, we got a very embarassing performance by a writer who ought to know better. If the Dean of Columbia J-School really thinks that netizen journalism is essentially indistinguishable from church bulletins, he needs to let his students teach him about what's going on at places like DailyKos.

TJ said...

The poor bastards feel threatened because there are a lot of intelligent people NOT pulling down a paycheck for reporting what they see, feel, think.

For several thousand years, a small group pretended it had a mortal lock on The Truth. The lie is coming apart. The scam is threadbare. Thank Internet.

Madison Guy said...

Not being a fan of J-schools, I don't follow them closely and was unaware he was Columbia J-school dean. I suppose that accounts for his emphasis on "authority" in journalism and his taking refuge in Stuart Britain.

Societies create structures of authority for producing and distributing knowledge, information, and opinion. These structures are always waxing and waning, depending not only on the invention of new means of communication but also on political, cultural, and economic developments. An interesting new book about this came out last year in Britain under the daunting title “Representation and Misrepresentation in Later Stuart Britain: Partisanship and Political Culture.”

He could probably learn a lot from his students if he'd really talk with them.

tom said...

This has been informative Madison Guy. It puts his slashing of CJR Daily's budget in a whole new light. What a codger.