Friday, November 19, 2010

On False Equivalencies, Dichotomies, and Golden Ages in the Media

Still taking a much needed break from the behemoth in the room that is corporate influence. . .

When I first heard about plans for The Rally for Sanity and/or Fear, it kind of annoyed me. What's it about? What's Jon Stewart trying to do? Do we really need another rally? Mobilizing thousands of people--for what? The explanation that it was going to be a "festival" didn't squelch my grumpiness, either. Then why call it a rally?

Upon my neighbor's recommendation,  I watched Jon Stewart's speech and I thought: Okay, he did a good job with that; I enjoyed hearing what he had to say. I liked what I saw and what I heard from folks who had gone. But still something nagged at me about it. Although his speech was stirring, he looked rather undignified. I know, I know, when does Jon Stewart actually look dignified? But there is an authoritative dignity in how he metes out criticism, regardless of party affiliation or views, of those he satires, and I admire him for that. His rally undermined my high estimation of him. To me, he's not the guy who is supposed to organize or host the rallies; rather, he's the guy who is supposed to critique them.

When the more lefty pundits responded to his rally and the statements he made with the criticism that he was making false equivalencies between the right-wing television media, such as Fox News, and the left-wing television media, such as MSNBC, although it was not my particular quibble, I thought they had a legitimate point. As Bill Maher said, "two opposing sides don't necessarily have two compelling arguments."

After defending himself against the criticism, Stewart agreed to an interview with Rachel Maddow, which was quite lengthy, so I won't reflect on all of it, but one thing he did say was that he organized the rally in response to what he sees as the false dichotomy the media portrays between, for example, red states and blue states, and that what he hoped to bring attention to were the real problems, for example, of corruption and of deception. This is exactly what I like about his show and what I think he compromised--he should have known better than to expect to maintain that message during and after such a rally. Of course, then Stewart went on to make more false equivalents, this time between Republicans' seeing President Clinton through rose colored glasses and the Democrats' viewing Reagan much the same way. "Come on, you hated these guys," Stewart chided. No you come on, Jon, were the Iran-Contra hearings really the same as those of impeachment?

As  I was pondering the death of journalism and my own role as a blogger and writer after reading this article in The New York Times Magazine and this one in the Columbia Journalism Review, this op-ed by Ted Koppel came out in The Washington Post, entitled, "Olbermann, O'Reilly, and the death of real news." I think I was kind of bemoaning the same thing in this post about the death of true print journalism. But I realized after watching Olbermann's response that just as there was no golden era of television journalism, there probably was no golden era of print journalism, either.

Come to think of it, as I explained in my comment (scroll all the way down) on Ted Genoways's "Death of Fiction" piece in Mother Jones, I'm usually suspicious of false golden era claims or what I sometimes call "the kids today. . ." complaint. Conditions change, perspectives change, technology innovates, and transitions occur, but human nature and the need to write and report stay the same. In his response to Koppel's piece, wise lowkell over at Blue Virginia was able to express way better than I could, especially at 9:21 on a Friday night, how this is all coming together here and now.

On that note, good night and good luck.

UPDATE I: I forgot to mention this excellent article in the Atlantic by Michael Hirschorn about what happens to facts as they go through internet reports and social media.

UPDATE II: I'm waaay too sleepy to write coherently about this seven-year-old article in the Columbia Journalism Review that I just read about journalism and objectivity, but I will say for now that man, is it good and man, is it still relevant. If only anyone had or would follow author Brent Cunningham's proposals. Unfortunately, we're more entrenched than ever in a journalistic culture that includes major holes in coverage, lazy reporting, balancing coverage (as opposed to truthful coverage), and dearth of varied perspectives, aka, economic diversity, in newsrooms. But, hey, that's what happens when investigative journalism is not funded or valued as an integral part of a healthy democracy. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

From Writer to Blogger to Writer

I have been quite busy with my education blog, but I wanted to take a break to write here about writing, a.k.a., the reason I started this blog in the first place.

Recently,  I was a guest blogger on Valerie Strauss's blog on The Washington Post website, "The Answer Sheet." I sent her this, the original post, a critique of Michelle Rhee's tenure as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools. 

Valerie wrote back and said it was "terrific" and that she wanted to run it. Yay! After a day or so she wrote back to let me know that she still wanted to run it but that her editor said it was too long and needed to be cut and reorganized. I agreed, given the context and audience. Since I was tired of looking at the thing and knew she could do a much better job than I could of molding it to fit her particular blog, I let her do the edits.

The final version of the revised piece came out more strident and less contemplative than the original post, as it should have been, but the experience caused me to do some thinking about writing, blogging, voice, and what my goals are.

When I started this blog, my purpose was to self-publish and get feedback on my writing, to hone my craft, same with the food blog, just that the topic merited its own blog. I got good feedback on the writing, but many told me, including my own mother, that the posts were too long. One friend asked me if I could provide cliffs notes. Valerie's editor was essentially saying the same thing. As I've sent my education blog around to education people, I've gotten some additionally similar feedback, for example, one guy told me the posts should be "shorter and punchier."

This feedback is right on, for blogging, but when I started this blog I had no intention of becoming a blogger, per se. I just wanted to work on being a writer. On her own blog, education journalist Dana Goldstein discusses what it means to be a blogger and a writer in the digital age. I thought it was she who said (I can't locate the sentence now), "why can't blogging just be called writing?" Indeed. But I have come to realize that I should be writing in one way for my blog and in other ways for other publications.

This article in The New York Times Magazine explores the world of online journalism and blogging (and I just discovered another good one on the same topic in the Columbia Journalism Review). One line that really resonated with me was, "Opinions posted on blogs are cheap. Great journalism is expensive.” That's basically what I was trying to say in this post on journalism. For me, though, I am blogging to become a writer. It's so challenging to get anything published right now for reasons I won't go into here--blogging keeps me writing, publishing, and keeps the discouragement at bay that the constant stream of rejections bring. 

But blogging is cheap, or rather, uncompensated, and I can't go on doing it indefinitely. People say, "do it for yourself," or as Ted Genoways, the infamous editor of The Virginia Quarterly Review, spat at writers last winter, "Treat writing like your lifeblood instead of your livelihood." I agree with that in principal, but one has to eat. Does that mean only independently wealthy or comfortable people can afford to write? Is that fair? What will that do to the richness of our country's body of journalism and literature?

I suppose I could move to Norway where, I read in McSweeney's Issue 35, writers are heavily subsidized by the government. I found, though, that the stories in that Issue 35 collection (and perhaps that collection wasn't representative) were rather, well, boring. Is that what comfort and security do a country's body of literature? Does the system in the U.S. weed out the crap and publish only work with the most vital sense of urgency?

I don't know. In the meantime, I'll keep writing, and blogging, until I either can't or won't any longer.