Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

New media, old media, and the public interest

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Just as I’ve finished my post about the likely sad demise of the Bay State Banner here in Boston, something has erupted that’s essentially a food fight between old and new media. Long story short, Ted Diadiun, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, reacted to a blogger reacting to a Plain Dealer column by calling bloggers, “a bunch of pipsqueaks out there talking about what the real journalists do.” Predictably, the comment ignited blazing online reaction and won another embattled newspaper no new friends.

Here’s my take, for what it’s worth. Yes, there are plenty of self-serving bloggers with no idea what journalistic ethics are. Or rules of grammar, for that matter. Hacks exist in every field. If you count on the wisdom of the marketplace, you figure--some evidence to the contrary--that the cream will rise to the top and the sludge will eventually sink without a trace.

Meanwhile there are bloggers who are, like me, former print journalists who did not suddenly lose their professional standards when their newspapers downsized out from under them. And there are bloggers (maybe we should dignify them with the name online journalists) who are serious about finding and reporting news in this new forum.

Bottom line is a sense of responsibility to the public. A hissy fit, whether thrown by a blogger or a print journalist may make for fun reading, but it is of no use to readers of anything. Just looks like a bunch of pipsqueaks saying, “the public be damned.”

Meanwhile, consider switching from reading news to reading poetry:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems,
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams

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Another one bites the dust?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Here in Boston another newspaper voice seems about to go silent. Right now the Bay State Banner has just “suspended” publication, but unless a savior is found soon, that suspension will be permanent. The Banner has, since 1965, been a voice for Boston’s black community, which has often been city marginalized in the city's newspapers and broadcast media.

The Banner spoke to a community and community is one more thing lost, or at least irreparably altered, with the death of a paper. Picture the morning commute with a train full of newspaper readers, as opposed to a train filled with people glued to their Blackberrys (Blackberries? Sure wish my blog had a copy editor.) One is a communal experience, while the other is solitary. The internet’s paradox is that while we’re connected, we’re also detached. What’s the answer? If we’re linked to a thousand different news sources, isn’t that a good and healthy thing? But then we’re missing what we have in common when we’re all reading and listening to just a few outlets.

The internet gives us immediacy. On Friday night when Sarah Palin gave her less-than-articulate resignation speech, who would have thought for an instant of waiting for the next day’s paper to find out about it? And the protests around the Iranian election results, beamed around the world by bloggers and anyone with a cell phone camera make an indisputable case for the online news. Who would want to be without that?

But newspapers give us depth. I recently saw an HBO documentary called, “Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech.” One segment concerned the publication of the so-called Pentagon Papers, the documentation of the U.S.’s deeply flawed and manipulated conduct of the Vietnam War. I was reminded again of that with yesterday’s astoundingly worded New York Times headline about the death of Robert McNamara, “Architect of a Futile War.” The credentialed reporting, the extended following of a story, the publication of lengthy documents, even the publication of important stories on non-sexy topics--all things newspapers have done year after year, all things that online news sources have yet to prove themselves in, all vital to keeping us informed. No one imagines that newspapers will--or even should--continue unchanged and new media has a long way to go before it’s an adequate replacement.

I’m thinking that each of us has a role to play in how this story unfolds. Every time we choose to read a paper or not and every time we choose which online news sources we read, we are affecting it. And, in case we’re tempted to avoid the whole question, we need to remember that nothing of consequence rides on the answer but democracy, which requires a well-informed citizenry to function.

We live in interesting times. Stay tuned for breaking news.

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