Journalism Adrift

I’ve posted before on “the new journalism” found on blogs and websites and spurred by the internet and easy access to sound and video recordings.  Today, even an obscure video or blog posting can “go viral” and have an enormous, immediate impact that is difficult for newspapers or weekly news magazines to match.  There is simply no need to wait for your daily paper or 6:30 network newscast anymore, and with each passing day fewer people are doing so.

I think the rise of “the new journalism” has been baffling to the “old journalism.”  Deep down, members of the media can’t understand why people aren’t content to get the news the same way they did during the 1970s.  Mainstream media outlets want to be relevant given the rapidly shifting tastes of modern American culture, but they clearly don’t quite know how to achieve that goal.  For example, the Washington Post hired a blogger to cover conservative politics; he recently resigned under fire after his comments on a listserv didn’t match the objective standards expected of Washington Post reporters.  Why should it have surprised anyone that a blogger might not always display that mask of careful objectivity that is a hallmark of traditional journalism?

Another approach seems to be to have mainstream journalists try to write more like bloggers.  This model, I think, is even more misguided.  Eleanor Clift’s recent piece for the “Woman Up” section of the website Politics Daily, on Al Gore’s alleged massage incident, is an embarrassing illustration of that approach.  For years, Clift has portrayed herself as a respectable, knowledgeable commentator on national politics, although she is probably best known for feverishly trying to get a word in edgewise on The McLaughlin Group.  Whereas Clift used to quote “campaign insiders” and “highly placed Administration officials,” her entry linked above quotes an email sent by a colleague and describes how that colleague “imagined” a “scenario” involving Gore.  Clift’s piece also discloses that she went for a run in the morning and a “fellow jogger” confided that it was “nice to know that Gore had these urges.”  Still later, Clift states that she “doubt[s] Gore’s alleged late-blooming sexual aggression will manifest itself with a tally comparable to Tiger Woods.”

Isn’t it humiliating for Clift to write such drivel?  Why in the world would anyone want to read about the speculative imaginings of Clift’s colleague, or the awkward confession of a geriatric jogger?  By writing about such tripe Clift provides nothing that could not equally be provided — and probably with more honesty and immediacy —  by a blogger in the heartland.

Mainstream journalism is never going to survive if it strives only to produce pale imitations of content that already can be found in abundance elsewhere on the internet.  It would be like trying to compete with the Ipod by producing a ’60s-era transistor radio.

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