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Journalistic paranoia

Matt Yglesias on the status anxiety of conventional media heads:

Here’s the thing. I’ve never actually heard a crack investigative reporter tell me that the essence of good journalism consists of your work appearing in a non-blog venue. Similarly, I’ve never heard that from an intrepid war reporter. I think those people understand that if you uncover a major secret and write about it in a blog, or in a magazine, or on a newspaper that it’s all the same. Similarly, if you risk your life to get a first-hand account of events in a confusing war zone nobody will care if it’s a blog from the battlefield or a TV report. That’s because those people are doing journalism at its best and they know that their work stands or falls with the information contained therein.

But what Mike Barnicle and Mika Brzezinski and Pat Buchanan do isn’t like that. I say this as someone who likes their show and watches it almost every day, just like I hope people like my blog and read it every day. The three of them, and Joe Scarborough, are all in the same boat with me—we’re providing what we hope is an informative, entertaining product that’s fundamentally derivative of work being done by other people. But a passel of TV chatters and newspaper columnists and guys are accustomed to basking in the glow offered by people doing real reporting. There’s a lot of status anxiety. And this gets to be its worst, in my view, among the kind of people who do the sort of pseudo-reporting associated with following the President of the United States around. Convention dictates that if I sit at a desk and read a transcript of what the press secretary said and then write about the transcript, I’m a lowly cheeto-eater. But if I sit in the White House press room and transcribe what the press secretary said, and then write about the transcript then that’s journalism. Similarly, if I travel around with the president and then read the pool reports that my colleagues write and then write about that: Journalism. But if I read the newspaper account of where the president went and then write about that: Cheetos.

The comments get pretty mean, but one commenter makes a good point about accuracy:

(B)logs with comments–and a healthy commentator population–can de facto have the most fact-checking of any outlet, at least for daily or more frequent news and commentary.

I have heard Blogs (with a capitol B) slammed so many times by right-wing pundits (George Will, Cokie Roberts, etc) with such regularity that I have to think these people don’t actually read these blogs.

I’m just a commentary blogger, and I would almost always defer to investigative reporters and those who bother to research a subject in depth (whether they write professionally or not). It’s suprising how often the name of the writer can be tied to high standards and journalistic integrity. If I read an article by Matt Yglesias (or Seymour Hersch, or Jane Perlez, or  Dahr Jamail or dozens of other well-known names), I pretty much know I’m going to get a high quality article.

My advice is to look at the byline of these articles. That’s why it seems so insidious for publications like the Economist to insist on anonymous bylines.

Back in college, I thought I would make a lousy journalist. Over time I’ve come to think I could make a decent journalist, not so much for my writing talent (although I am swimming in it), but because I have a knack for smelling a good story and not being satisfied with the whitewash.  I heard Helen Cooper being interviewed the other day where she expressed her deepest admiration for the journalism profession. Her praise was not just self-serving, but I think journalism brings tangible results to the society you inhabit. You make a difference. It’s funny how in an age of more media choices, I still seem to enjoy articles by the reporters in the Houston Chronicle.  Never rushing to judgment, always seeking both sides of the story, trying to do research before running a sensational headline. I appreciate it.

Bloggers also tend to be excellent for reading between the lines and sorting out the truth among conflicting accounts. (The main positive effect of bloggers is that they have undermined the authority of political columnists who don’t do their research or think their logic carefully.  I’ve seen several takedowns of Thomas Friedman and TheNonSequitur has made me lost any kind of respect for George Will . Oh, well, George Will hails from a different generation of journalists (one unused to being corrected). Even as a little known blogger, I’ve had to write with circumspection about political issues; people will eventually call you out (not to mention potential girlfriends and employers).

On the other hand, Yglesias has to deal with educated dissenters every day on his blog (I do not). He has to address issues in a way that won’t invite scorn or a commenter with a better link. Ultimately this experience of dealing with dissenters makes for better columns and better journalistic standards.

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