Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I want my, I want my, I want my NYT!

Has it actually been over two months since I posted? Yikes! Well, after a feverish period of rejection letter solicitation and much hounding from my loyal readers (hahahahaha!) I am here with another post.

I know relatively little about journalism as a field, except for what I read and discuss with those people who are in the know. But I do know the death of newspapers is a much bemoaned topic these days. This report in the Columbia Journalism Review (which I found in a re-tweet of Nicholas Kristoff's) paints a bleak picture of state of the media. And I can tell you how journalism has disappointed me lately: it seems like there are more and more pieces that sacrifice nuance, accuracy, and any acknowledgment of complexity for the sake of a strong thesis and an uncomplicated narrative. Journalistic essays seem to be posing as investigative journalism. Maybe this has always been the case, but to me, it seems worse lately. I am all for a good journalistic essay, but sometimes, I want just the facts ma'am first.

Back in November 2009, in my vaccines & science series, I touted this article in the Atlantic, only to find out later that while the narrative is compelling, the facts and accounts of the science are off.

Being an education person, I immediately saw this article by Amanda Ripley in the Atlantic for what it was: an infomercial for Teach for America. Amanda Ripley is a bona fide journalist who does good work, especially on natural disasters and epidemics, but she seems to be dabbling here. I found this article in the New York Times Magazine to be much more balanced, detailed, and informative on the topic of teaching.

In this piece in the guardian.co.uk, Naomi Klein shows creative thinking and challenged my own, but only once I was able to wade through the sensationalist, conspiracy-theory-minded theme. In this piece in The Nation, Lawrence Lessig does a much better job of showing the insidiousness of corporate influence in American politics. This essay on 3quarksdaily (a blog I read religiously) on a similar theme, is interesting and makes some of the same points that Matt Taibi does in this meticulously researched article in Rolling Stone, but Mr. Strabone's thesis is over-reaching and lacks evidence, and hence fails in the end to be convincing. I later found out that Jeff Strabone is not a journalist or academic with expertise in political science or economics, but an English professor, although to be fair, he does hold a degree in political science and appears to be an active citizen.

This article in Time managed to be both amateurish and condescending; Dan Fletcher decided to decry the faddish but harmless Doppelganger Week on facebook by comparing it to groupthink, a most disastrous and ill-thought out analogy.

Finally, I hate to pick on Nicholas Kristoff because he's a good guy, a great journalist, and, you know, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, but this hysteria-inducing column on BPA (bisphenol A) was full of misinformation, which is evident in the comments, where several people more knowledgeable than Kristoff set him straight. Lately, I've noticed more and more columns in the Washington Post and New York Times that are written like model A.P. essays, which may be a triumph for a high school student trying to place out of Expository Writing 101, but looks rather jv on the editorial page of a major newspaper.

Why is this happening? I don't blame the journalists here and I don't meant to bash them. First of all, it seems like as journalism is being replaced by the likes of blogs and opinion-based "news" (think of words that rhyme with "crocks lose"), journalists are being driven to publishing bits like the ones I was critical of above because of pressure from investors and the need to compete with publications like The Huffington Post, which, by the way, while flush with funds, pays their columnists and bloggers $NOTHING. Smells like exploitation to me. (To get a beautifully-researched whiff of Ariana Huffington's hypocrisy, check out this article about Fiji Water in Mother Jones.) Furthermore, it seems to me that as news publications are forced to cut positions, journalists are forced to abandon specific areas of focus or expertise, spreading themselves too thin. Michael Kinsley argues in this Atlantic piece that many newspaper articles are simply too long.

Personally, I am praying for the the rejuvenation of investigative journalism. A healthy democracy needs strong investigative journalism and we need journalists who are trained and experts in what they do. We bloggers can provide analysis of and links to journalistic work, but we shouldn't try to replace journalists. And I know many journalists maintain blogs, but if they're done right, they serve as a forum for expansion and discussion of their work.

We need to start reading and supporting again publications that feature investigative journalism and stop getting our news from the likes of Fox News and The Huffington Post. We need to get used to the idea of paying for our news again or donating to non-profits that will, and we need to start paying our news reporters in a way that matches the importance of their work (I used to think teachers were paid poorly until I saw reporters' salaries). Subscribe, subscribe, subscribe! Despite ripping on two Atlantic articles here, I just recently ordered a subscription. And I unsubscribed from The Huffington Post--until they cease their sweatshop-labor-like practices, I encourage you to do the same.

Let's leave the investigating and reporting to journalists and the dabbling and blabbing to us bloggers.

(photo by flickr user Ricardo Francone)