Tuesday 11 June 2002

Blogging and Idealism

In a DaveNet titled What I’m learning about journalism, Dave Winer wrote:

PS: Today the New York Times ran a story about weblogs and used the word “journalist” to describe people who do what we do. That’s a milestone worth noting and appreciating. Thanks!

Doc Searls pointed out that the NYT story is essentially bullshit, based as it is on a non-existent rift between Techbloggers and Warbloggers:

But this story has no deep truth. It’s just another feature about another transient topic.

Meanwhile, blogs are still out of fucking control. And the fucking they’re out of control from is old fashioned journalism.

Doc still, however, categorizes blogging as “a form of journalism.”

This blogging = journalism equation drives me to distraction. I can better understand why Doc regards blogging as journalism; after all he’s a professional journalist. But why Dave? When he’s built Radio UserLand, one of the tools that allows us to route around the worn-out, corrupt world of mainstream journalism—not replacing it, but offering something else that is infinitely richer, subtler, and more engaging.

I’ve been racking my brains as to why so many bloggers have such a hard-on for journalism when the journalistic product so frequently:

  • relies on either non-existent conflict or manufactured outrage;
  • recycles press releases and marketing hype;
  • exhibits a wafer-thin grasp of the subject under discussion.

I needn’t have been puzzled. Both Dave’s and Doc’s posts provide the answer to my question.

Dave on journalists:

…many, maybe even most, got into journalism for the same reason people start weblogs. Hoping to make a difference. To have an intellectual life. To be where the action is. Idealism.

Doc on journalism:

Now before you go thinking I’m slamming old fashioned journalism here, I’m not. It’s full of ideals, principles and practices that are no less noble and important for blogs than they are for newspapers.

Idealism.

Dave, Doc, and other bloggers who want to be journalists are idealists in that they have faith in the “elevated ideals or conduct” of journalism and they believe that those ideals are worth pursuing.

Whereas I see pursuing ideals in relation to journalism as unrealistic, choosing in this case to define idealism as “impracticality by virtue of thinking of things in their ideal form rather than as they really are.”

If I’m not an idealist, I guess that makes me a realist, at least according to Brecht’s definition:

Realism does not consist in reproducing reality, but in showing how things really are.

I’ve already argued that blogging can offer infinitely more than journalism. What disturbs me about the blogging = journalism movement is the attempt to define a new form of expression in terms of an old one. It doesn’t matter that there are hundreds of thousands of weblogs. It doesn’t matter that people have been blogging since 1996 or 1997 or whenever. We still can’t really grasp the potential of blogging—particularly now, when tools for linking reader comments, building communities, and collaborating threaten to obsolete the traditional cite, link, quote, opine style that forms the heart of most “journalistic” blogs.

To base one’s (albeit idealistic) definition of blogging on a form such as journalism, whose ideals are so deeply compromised, suggests either wilful irrationality, an improbable infatuation, or—worst of all—a craving for mainstream approval. And as Jung wrote in Memories, Dreams, Reflections:

Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.

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Comments

I've always thought of you as a writer, not a journalist, until I found out that I can always get a rise out of you by calling you a journalist :-) Whether blogging is journalism or not doesn't matter a hoot to me. I just appreciate your blogging. Why worry about the label?

Posted by Marius Coomans on 11 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Because I think that most journalism is so mediocre and that blogging can be so much more, because...

Oh shit! You got a rise out of me!

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 11 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

That's the way I feel to Jonathan.

Posted by Karl on 11 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Written words remain ... and when the subject is a universal, appealing one treated in a unique way, the writing becomes timely, infinitely appealing.

Journalists, for the most part, deal with the here and now, the facts. Their subjects are news items.

Writers dig for the universal truths, the emotions, the opinions, the ephemeral.

Bloggers are a combination, as I see it. They deal with timely issues without the deadline and allow themselves time to dive deeper. The best of both worlds....and some of us aren't even timely. Ha!

Your Jung quote was perfect.

Posted by sharon o on 11 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Personally, I cannot see blogging = journalism. To me, blogging is a format and journalism a genre - and although I eagerly support the "the format determines the content determines the format" mantra, the FORMAT should not be confused with the GENRE etc.

Posted by Tinka on 12 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

One of those crystalline posts that illuminates for me a previously inchoate haze of unease about this whole blogging/journalism issue. Wonderfully well put, Jonathan.

Posted by Abie on 12 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I have been thinking about the blogger genre, too, starting with the observation that blogs fits the definition of satire pretty well: http://www.hairyeyeball.net/blog/archives/000028.html#000028. Umberto Eco wrote a review recently of a book in Italian on short literary forms in electronic communications that seems relevant: http://www.guardian.co.uk/saturday_review/story/0,3605,687231,00.html. I have been reading H.J. Jackson's book Marginalia as well and finding a lot of analogies to what we are doing. And finally, the Brazilian cordel: cheap newsprint booklets of oral formulaic poetry, on topics ranging indiscriminately from current political events to medieval story-cycles (you can't get elected in Brazil without having cordelistas working for your campaign) and sold by the hundreds of titles in the marketplaces of Pernambuco and Bahia.

Posted by Blind Lemon Wax with Jefferson Oil on 18 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

I have been thinking about the blogger genre, too, starting with the observation that blogs fits the definition of satire pretty well: http://www.hairyeyeball.net/blog/archives/000028.html#000028. Umberto Eco wrote a review recently of a book in Italian on short literary forms in electronic communications that seems relevant: http://www.guardian.co.uk/saturday_review/story/0,3605,687231,00.html. I have been reading H.J. Jackson's book Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books as well and finding a lot of analogies to what we are doing. Think of people sending books to Coleridge for annotating, a literary production that was eventually collated and included in his collected works. And finally, the Brazilian cordel: cheap newsprint booklets of oral formulaic poetry, on topics ranging indiscriminately from current political events to medieval story-cycles (you can't get elected in Brazil without having cordelistas working for your campaign) and sold by the hundreds of titles in the marketplaces of Pernambuco and Bahia.

Posted by Blind Lemon Wax with Jefferson Oil on 18 June 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour