Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

23 April, 2010

Dear Vincent O'Hern and Bill Lueders: Go Light a Candle

A couple of Isthmus' grizzled veterans, with the emphasis on grizzled, have decided that now is a good time to coordinate efforts at lashing out at many of the publication's readers by denouncing blogging, social networking sites, and the like.

Bill Lueders launched the first salvo a week or so ago with his invocation of Henry David Thoreau. This was followed up yesterday with the bloviating of publisher Vincent O'Hern in a spectacular display of hypocrisy worthy of Isthmus' own (gasp!) blogger David Blaska.

O'Hern uses as his starting point the cover story of this week's issue, a profile of Madison blogger Ann Althouse which isn't even a profile of the woman. The beleaguered publisher writes:

Judging by the title of the article, "The Ego Has Landed," and the fact that Ms. Althouse would not stand still for a typical interview, we'd have to say that camaraderie is not a part of the ethos of the blogosphere.

Judging by O'Hern's use of the hasty generalization, I'd have to say that critical thinking is not a part of the ethos of Isthmus. Would he publish an article that generalized in order to traduce the character of other groups with a nebulous membership? Using O'Hern's logic, it is completely fair and consistent to say that Jayson Blair represents the whole of journalism.

Furthermore, his whole tirade smacks of hypocrisy. On the one hand, we bloggers are a paperless menace to the pulpy arbiters of truth in addition to lacking camaraderie but, on the other, O'Hern has recently bolstered the Isthmus stable of bloggers so that there are now three. To make matters worse, he launches his SCUD missile of opprobrium as a preface to the paper's cover story: a blogger, Jack Craver, pouring over someone else's blog. O'Hern describes himself as someone who "labor(s) at turning dead trees into public knowledge". With such a grand epistemological purpose in life, you'd think he could dedicate the front page story of his publication to something more than a profile of a blog. Thanks, Mr. O'Hern. Your paper's fluff piece has enhanced the realm of public knowledge immeasurably and we are forever in your debt.

Lueders, to his credit, is more considered. Still, I find his "you're either with the print culture or against it" mentality sad. He says:

The pace of modern information dissemination has become blindingly fast, which has blinded providers and purveyors to considerations of quality. And yes, I blame Twitter and Facebook and the blogosphere, mediums that glorify shallow expression. Our pretty toys have become toxic.

Either you use the Internet in handy, wholesome, Lueders-approved ways or you're hurried, shallow, and unwise. I can't help but think of Glenn Greenwald who maintains a blog at Salon.com and whose posts are lengthy, researched, and well-written. Well, lo and behold, Greenwald now has a Twitter account.

Another thought: when was this golden age of wise news-givers, anyway? How far back must we go to find a news utopia? As was noted in Slate, The French statesman Malesherbes railed against the fashion for getting news from the printed page, arguing that it socially isolated readers and detracted from the spiritually uplifting group practice of getting news from the pulpit." Am I supposed to look at the Hearst newspapers from the first half of the 20th century for a good dose of fair and balanced? Does Lueders seriously mean to say that CNN and the 24-hour news channel didn't make information dissemination much, much faster? I recently read Heat Wave by Eric Klinenberg and he had some choice words for the pre-Internet media of 1995 in terms of shallowness and an unwillingness to let important in-depth reporting happen because of time constraints and people's desire for the novelty of the new. Neil Postman was inveighing against the primacy of image over the word and the ascendancy of shallowness in our news back in 1985 yet Lueders maintains that Twitter, Facebook, and blogs are to blame.

Lueder's quote above comes in the context of the mainstream media's coverage of the Tiger Woods brouhaha. He references an article which

recounts how major media organizations essentially shucked all standards of responsible journalism in covering the Tiger Woods eruption. While the central fact of Woods' infidelity was affirmed, much of what was reported (including the ever-escalating number of women with whom he allegedly trysted) was unsubstantiated and, it now appears, untrue.

And it's all Facebook's fault. Since when has the media not tried to create the most sensationalistic stories out of the personal lives of celebrities? Has anyone ever studied how the media dealt with the Lindbergh baby case? Was it a paragon of slow, deliberate investigative reporting? Or did it have its share of sensationalism? Did Hearst papers give Fatty Arbuckle a fair shake during his scandal?

If journalism has declined – it is shallow, gives primacy to images instead of words, and the like – it is not Facebook's fault. Perhaps all the parts of the Internet that Bill Lueders hates have exacerbated things but the trend started long before the World Wide Web. Instead of laying the collapse of civilization at the doorstep of bloggers, perhaps Lueders can start looking in his own backyard. Because, if anyone has made the news less informative and more prone to sensationalism, it is the journalists, editors, publishers, producers, etc. You make the news, not us. You run hours and hours and pages and pages about Tiger Woods without any blogger or social networking person holding a gun to your head. You wrote the articles full of anonymous and virtually unchallenged sources that galvanized support for invading Iraq. It is you who follow every step of Brett Favre and put his every move on the front page and not us bloggers.

Perhaps instead of cursing the darkness by insulting a chunk of your readership you can light a candle instead.
|| Palmer, 2:06 PM

2 Comments:

Well said. And here's some candle-lighting from the editor of the MKE Journal-Sentinel and recent president of the American Society of News Editors: http://www.jsonline.com/news/92026639.html
Blogger nichole, at 10:18 AM  
Thanks, Ms. F. I shall check out that editorial later today.
Blogger Palmer, at 6:01 AM  

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