The true value of journalism
This is from Mike Boehm, the hard-boiled (meant with ironic affection) arts reporter at the LA Times. He comments on Flyover regularly. What he has to say matters. Like Gary Panetta's comment today, this comment is too good and too relevant to be lost in the comments section. Mike B. was inspired to write to us by one of our Hinterland Diary entries on Molly Ivins.
Ivins expressed her wish that all bloggers -- or "opinion-mongers," as she calls them -- were required to spend time as beat reporters. That way, she said, they'd have more understanding of the difficulty of gathering facts and writing about the truth. Per the usual, however, Mike touches on an array of topics, mostly the true value of committed, impartial and ethical journalism. Thanks, Mike. -- J.S.
God, I wish all the bloggers who think they can generate the news as well as comment on it were forced to spend a month interning as cub reporters. See what it's like to cover a cop shop or a courthouse, folks, and smell a news story in the flood of daily crime reports, lawsuits and indictments. Or try to get at the facts of an environmental rape being covered up under reams of verbiage in a developer's bogus environmental impact report.
Just because you can punch up the info in a few keystrokes on your computer doesn't mean the info itself was easy to come by, or to shape into clear and coherent form, complete with context that makes its significance intelligible. It takes skill, commitment, experience and a passion for the democratic process to be a good reporter.
It can't be done properly from the sidelines, when your day job permits, and, I.F. Stone notwithstanding, it is very rarely done without the support of a well-funded corporation or institution.
Molly Ivins, rest her soul, surely knew that; there wasn't anybody more independent and feisty, yet she was not, to my knowledge, a freelance journalist.
Yes, the corporations and institutions devoted to the news are in a panic, er, a period of transition, so it has become fashionable to declare them easily replaceable on the cusp of a great new era of cheap and easy information.
New technologies may make it easier to extract oil or precious metals, but to say that they alone permit the extraction of facts against the wishes of those who have an interest in hiding facts is to take a naive leap of faith.
A society that's naive about the capital and personal commitments required to mine pertinent facts (I'm deliberately not saying "truths," because pertinent facts are hard enough to come by) will get the kind of information and the kind of governance it deserves.
The end of the press as an Estate standing apart from the other powers that be will make the other powers more powerful and immune to public opinion (and yes, I'm aware that all too many news outlets fail miserably to maintain the independence and skepticism toward power that our system presumes as the press's role, but many good ones are still up to the task).
Can you imagine a blogger trying to report on a car company, or a drug company, or a corrupt sheriff, or the iffy business practices of a major arts philanthropist, without the backup of libel lawyers and a corporate budget to pay them?
Can you imagine what would have become of Woodward and Bernstein's newsgathering if they'd been independent freelance reporters and the Nixon administration had the DC police trump up some penny-ante trespassing or drunk-driving charges against them?
Maybe the future lies in large new newsgathering institutions based on the Web -- newspapers by other means -- but I certainly hope it doesn't lie in some fanciful utopian free-for-all of passionate amateurs whom the powerful will be able to swat away at will.
The bottom line issue is: How much is information worth, and will the public ante up what it takes to supply the local/national/international/cultural information needs of a robust democracy?
Bloggers We Love
Bridgette Redman and Lansing Theater
Drew McManus' "Neo Classical" at the Partial Observer
Marc Moss (Missoula, MT artist)
Mary Louise Schumacher's "Art City"
Other Great Sites
American Composers Orchestra
Arts & Letters Daily
Center for Arts and Culture
Cultural Policy and the Arts National Data Archive
National Arts Journalism Program
NEA Arts Journalism Institute for Dance Criticism
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Classical Music and Opera
NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater & Musical Theater
New Music Box: American Music Center
USC Annenberg/Getty Arts Journalism Program