Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

media. music. feminism. food. city-dwelling. story-telling. and other things.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the zeitgeist

with one comment

Conor calls for ‘slow journalism’ over at The American Scene:

I think I saw something about someone wanting to start a Slow Journalism movement. I am on board. Or if no one said that, then I’m doing so now. We’ll wait somewhat longer to write up news and analysis, worry less about news pegs, blog about worthwhile books that were published four years ago and articles that appeared on the Web five months ago, or seven years ago. We’ll lose the morning, every morning, but we’ll win the week. Or the month.

He’s responding to Dave Weigel’s intro over at his new Slate blog, in which Weigel grapples with the speed of the political news cycle In This Day & Age (I do dig Dave’s elevator pitch: So: Who’s running the country, who wants to take it away from them, and what are they all doing wrong? Let’s find out.) Conor says he pays no mind to who publishes first; he gets his news from friends and those established voices he trusts:

The whole of Red State or Big Government could be writing about a story before anyone else, but having concluded that I don’t know when I can trust them, and it isn’t worth the time and effort to fact check their work before writing about it, I won’t see the story until Dave Weigel or Chris Beam or Tim Carney or Mark Hemingway or some other person whose work I follow gets to it.

And I really don’t care if it’s a day later.

It sounds a bit like a vote for “epistemic closure” (am I using that phrase right, boys? I willfully ignored that whole debate; Slow-Journo street cred, score 1 me …?), but I more or less agree. It fits the theory that the only currency journalists have In This Day & Age (god, I love that phrase; all the moral panic it breathlessly implies!) is their name, and they can contract that name, that voice, out to different publications, different sites, but they better maintain control of it, because it’s really their only card. Publications have been and will continue to rely on and invest in recognizable “voices” or “brands” rather than “the news,” per se. It’s why, in attempting reinvention, AOL snapped up name-brand political writers; or why it perplexes me that in Atlantic.com’s site revamp, it reorganized content away from a voice/blogger-centric layout (not that I doubt it had very good secret reasons).

And this is all reminding me of Clay Shirky’s latest book, Cognitive Surplus, which I am reading (slowly) right now. This is my favorite point so far:

The old choice between one-way public media (like books and movies) and two-way private media (like the phone) has now expanded to include a third option: two-way media that operates on a scale from private to public. Conversations among groups can now be carried out in the same media environments as broadcasts. This new option bridges the two older options of broadcast and communications media. All media can now slide from one to the other. An e-mail conversation can be published by its participants. An essay intended for public consumption can anchor a private argument, parts of which later become public. We move from public to private and back again in ways that weren’t possible in an era when public and private media, like the radio and the telephone, used different devices and different networks.

The point he makes is so simple, but it struck me, still; that is the root of so much of what we talk about when we talk about journalism, the Internet, writers, authors, amateurs, user-generated content, social media, social networks, email privacy, influencers, news … Everything (Dave Weigel’s Journolist emails; your facebook profile; a photo a girl from third grade found in her parents’ attic, the electronic love letters you really meant to keep between you and your intended, the rough cut of the song you send a few folks to preview) is public media. Which is why it makes sense that, amid this, you know, little social shift wherein a good portion of the world’s conversation became public media, trustworthiness is one of the few viable, remaining currencies.

Or something like that.

Anyway, Conor, count me in! Because I’d like to write about Georges Simenon mysteries and what sense, if any, can be made of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights. I want to hear your and everyone’s thoughts on this 2001 Nerve essay, and not feel silly blogging about this New York Magazine article on soldiers and YouTube even though it’s over 2 weeks old. Because, I tell ya, getting out of DC helped give me a little perspective. It can be paralyzing when your drinking buddies are among some of the most well-known political or cultural bloggers. It can make you feel like there’s no point in writing a thing if you didn’t get there first, or don’t have a perfectly unique take.

Now Brooklyn provides its own kind of weird (everything you and/or your friends do ends up a sort of product that is very palatable for certain media types, I guess, but then again, sometimes you ask for it). But I don’t feel as paralyzed by the news cycle here. Sometimes, the whole business seems like a cross between a research experiment I might have set up in grad school (as it was, my thesis tried to discover some sort of ideological metamorphosis in U.S. celebrity-tabloid coverage based on our changing political & cultural atmosphere between 1996 and 2006. um, yeah) and a private game being played solely by those with the power, or misfortune, to believe in it. Or worse, to think they don’t.

But maybe that’s just me.

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Written by Elizabeth

August 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

One Response

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  1. I love this idea of slow journalism, I read on the net, mostly blogs, every day but I am always interested in a longer deeper, more complex view of situations and the blogs tend to be so quick and dirty that there is no room for real meditation on things.

    Another advantage would be to let the outrage of the day float by–the whole Park 51 Muslim Center is a perfect example–and reexamine it more deeply even in two to three weeks, or longer.

    Besides getting some much needed perspective, all the dumb and irresponsible things people said in the heat of having to jump on board could be highlighted, and hopefully thereby improve the overall conversation. Make people embarassed for what they say, like conservative flame thrower Laura Ingraham who previously said there should be no problem with it. Or Newt Gingrich on the other side of that.

    There is way too much hysteria going on all over the place, and slow journalism could be one antitode.

    Michael Haley

    August 18, 2010 at 2:40 am


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