Thursday 17 January 2002

Journalism and trust

Flipping back and forth between Doc and Tom as they discuss the relationship between blogging and journalism made me conscious of certain beliefs I absorbed from my parents. I recall asking my mother in my late twenties whether she’d been disappointed when I chose to become a photographer rather than a doctor, a scientist, or an architect. Not at all, she replied, the only way you could possibly have disappointed me is if you’d become a lawyer.

For my father, it was journalists. It’s too late to ask him why he held them in such low regard but, as far as dad was concerned, if you scraped the absolute bottom of the barrel, all you’d wind up with was a spoonful of journalism.

Although, to their credit, neither Doc nor Tom frame their arguments purely in terms of American journalism, I wonder whether they take journalists more seriously than I do because American journalism is—to put it bluntly—superior to the Australian strain that my father deplored and I lost interest in a long time ago.

It’s not surprising then that I find myself at odds with Dan Gilmore when he writes:

Now, I don’t necessarily trust what I see online. I have more skepticism about what I see online from a random source than what I read in an article from a traditional publication that employs professional reporters and editors. We’re developing hierarchies of trust, and we’re learning that we need to check things out for ourselves.

Well, as Mandy Rice-Davies famously remarked, he would say that, wouldn’t he. For as far as I can figure, the recipe for an awful lot of journalism consists of equal portions of:

  • Recycled press releases
  • Manufactured outrage
  • Wafer-thin understanding of the subject under discussion

If you don’t agree, recall an article you’ve read or a TV news segment you’ve seen about a subject you know intimately. Then grade it for accuracy. More often than not, you’ll realize that the piece was flawed by at least a few minor errors, possibly a major gaffe. Journalists are, for the most part, generalists. They know bits and pieces about lots of different things but hardly anything at any depth. And you find yourself thinking, somehow that just didn’t hit the mark.

Unlike Dan Gilmore, I have more skepticism about what I read in a traditional publication than what I read online—not from a random source but from someone who has built a reputation for accuracy and reliability.

I was a photographer for 20 years. I know a lot about photography. Sites like Phil Askey’s Digital Photography Review or robgalbraith.com leave “traditional” photography magazines in the dust. How would you even dream of comparing Askey’s and Galbraith’s astonishingly rigorous reviews with the farcical Which is better, Nikon or Canon? Well, they’re both big advertisers, so they’re both fantastic approach of the major magazines?

I’ve used Macs and PCs for 17 years. I know a reasonable amount about computers. Why would I bother with PC World or Computer Shopper—whether in print or online—when there’s Tom’s Hardware Guide, Macintouch, and Dan’s Data? Well, Dan (Gilmore), I wouldn’t.

So, after all that, I find that I’m my father’s son.

What else is new?

[Later] I realized that I might feel differently about this if I lived in Zimbabwe. <edited />

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