April 15, 2003

Why Quote Journalism Profes...

Why Quote Journalism Professors? Jeff Jarvis flags a NY Times story on the CNN-Baghdad suck-up, and finds it "boring." Why?

The story quotes professors. If they were wise, they'd quote weblogs -- not just because the weblogs were the first to jump on the story (it happened so fast that I was left out because I was away from my computer for a few hours that day) but also because the weblogs are far more quotable than profs. The story is boring. The blogs were not.

If I ran a paper, I'd have reporters reading weblogs and forums all the time. The closer you get to quoting the people (not the obvious spokesmen and professors and retired thises and thats) the closer you get to getting the real story.

This is painfully obvious when it comes to stories about media. Almost all current-events blogs are, in some way, journalism-criticism sites. This is normal -- I think in every journalistic new medium, when the outsiders suddenly have a voice, they vent some pent-up ideas about what the Insiders are doing wrong. The New Journalism of the 1960s was built on a foundation of exposing boring conventional newspapers for sucking up to power, lulling readers to sleep, and missing the Truth. Bill James, now a baseball executive and occasional contributor to the New York Times Book Review, started out by ridiculing nearly all baseball executives and journalists. Punk rock was obsessed about the old frauds playing arena shows, etc.

I'm sure in every new tech-fueled spurt of media criticism, the ratio of noise to song has been less than pleasant to the ear, especially to refined folk (like the ones being criticized). And when the once-refreshing act becomes formulaic, like most modern-day alt-weekly criticism of the local daily (or nu Metal, for that matter), it can be painful to endure. But the initial energy is undeniable and addictive, and chances are the next revolution will emerge from the cacophony, not the panel discussion.

Whatever, all I wanted to say was that, as someone who has both written a bit about the media and been written about, it boggles me more than ever that the standard newspaper formula about any trend in journalism -- especially something new, like blogging; or something dynamic, like launching a new business -- relies on bland quotes from aging journalism professors whose main non-professorial experience has been working at a monopolist newspaper. Sure, some professors have historical knowledge and perspective, but if you look at 90 percent of the quotes, it's just some jackass whose title confers authority on any old mediocre, half-cocked opinion. Jeff's right -- if that's all you're looking for, quote the blogs. At least they'll be entertaining, and less moored to professional cant.

Posted by at April 15, 2003 11:33 AM
Comments

In free realms, aren't all sources of information critiqued? In grade school it goes like this:

Gertrude: "Rita says Shoshana kissed Ricky at recess."

Maria: "Rita is full of shit."

In yet another crisis, blogs have brilliantly sidestepped the limitations of print and broadcast. (And we won't even talk about speed.)

First by resisting what Matt calls professional cant. At the NYT it's professors. At the LAT it's psychotherapists. Years ago Seipp had great fun ridiculing Spring Street's insistence on consulting psychologists for an emotional appraisal of any event or trend.

But I think blogs are less boring because their enthusiasm is heartfelt and sincere, not professionally shoveled and sifted. Links are made when genuine interest is found, not when there's another column to fill. George Will's prissy sentences and inane, shoulder-banging historical citations are SO over. Den Beste guided me through a sandstorm: Hersh's work of that week is a laughingstock.

In blogging, critique (not just editorial discrimination) is inherent. At the blogger panel awhile back someone noted that their first, best take on the day's news came from Reynolds. During this war the partial attention from the Tennessean meant much more to me than the full concentration of Howell Raines.

Posted by: Cridland at April 15, 2003 12:42 PM

Damn straight. Matt, your LA paper is going to seriously rock.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 15, 2003 03:06 PM

In fact, the three profs quoted by the NY Times discussed the ethical implications of the trade-off between covering the story vs. sacrificing the life of a source. The quotes may have been boring, but they were at least germane to the topic. Unless the blogger is also a journalist who has some comparable point of reference, I fail to see why that opinion would have been more appropriate in this instance. It would be like having a journalism professor opining about the credibility of John Lott.

Posted by: Steve Smith at April 15, 2003 05:56 PM

The article I saw quoted a Harvard prof of journalism who said absolutely nothing of interest, and, somewhat more disturbingly (but typically) informed us that we viewers would have to have been in the shoes of the CNNers to know what we thought we were criticizing. Nowhere did he (professor Max somebody) claim to have been in those shoes himself; he was simply letting the rest of us know that we couldn't possibly know what we were talking about, especially since 99.9999% of the readers of the article are probably yucky people who have never even spit-polished a Harvard prof's apples.

Media critics shouldn't stop at the failures of 'big media' but should also note the arrogance and institutional big-shot poses of authority dwelling within the Houses of Department Titles. These profs often do think the rest of us are stupid and tiresome.

Posted by: gregor at April 16, 2003 09:10 AM
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ion) is inherent. At the blogger panel awhile back someone noted that their first, best take on the day's news came from Reynolds. During this war the partial attention from the Tennessean meant much more to me than the full concentration of Howell Raines.

Posted by: Cridland at April 15, 2003 12:42 PM

Damn straight. Matt, your LA paper is going to seriously rock.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at April 15, 2003 03:06 PM

In fact, the three profs quoted by the NY Times discussed the ethical implications of the trade-off between covering the story vs. sacrificing the life of a source. The quotes may have been boring, but they were at least germane to the topic. Unless the blogger is also a journalist who has some comparable point of reference, I fail to see why that opinion would have been more appropriate in this instance. It would be like having a journalism professor opining about the credibility of John Lott.

Posted by: Steve Smith at April 15, 2003 05:56 PM

The article I saw quoted a Harvard prof of journalism who said absolutely nothing of interest, and, somewhat more disturbingly (but typically) informed us that we viewers would have to have been in the shoes of the CNNers to know what we thought we were criticizing. Nowhere did he (professor Max somebody) claim to have been in those shoes himself; he was simply letting the rest of us know that we couldn't possibly know what we were talking about, especially since 99.9999% of the readers of the article are probably yucky people who have never even spit-polished a Harvard prof's apples.

Media critics shouldn't stop at the failures of 'big media' but should also note the arrogance and institutional big-shot poses of authority dwelling within the Houses of Department Titles. These profs often do think the rest of us are stupid and tiresome.

Posted by: gregor at April 16, 2003 09:10 AM
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