Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Journalism

Curio: Back to Paying Attention to Things on the Internet Edition

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A few things.
And a few sentences about each.
[And because I’ve been out of the loop for a few minutes, we can pardon my lack of timeliness, can’t we?]

1. Just got around to reading this awesome faux-profile by Ann Friedman about Washington’s “DC Lady Mafia”—a parody and a rebuttal, of sorts, to this unintentionally hilarious New York Times piece about DC’s young male journo scene. Hell yeah.

In only a few years, these young women and others like them have become part of the journalistic establishment in Washington — but you wouldn’t know it from reading The New York Times. Once they lived in modest studio apartments and stayed out late, talking about grammar, feminist theory, and ready-to-wear collections while their male counterparts appeared on cable television. Now the members of this “DC lady mafia,” as they began calling themselves because no newspaper style section deigned to give them a nickname, have become destination reading for — and respected by — the city’s power elite. Indeed, arguably they are themselves approaching power-elite status. [emphasis mine]

While we’re on the topic, I’m also kind of sick of this whole ‘brave new world’ of digital journalism narrative. Ezra Klein may have been delighted at discovering the act of reporting after he’d already been finding success as a blogger —

“I came here, and I had no professional affiliation,” Mr. Klein, 26, said over lunch at Potenza, a decidedly grown-up restaurant in downtown Washington. “I just had a blog that was mine, but I came out here and was trained as a magazine writer, and that was just a much more formalized way of journalism. You made calls. People answered calls. You took down what was said in a respectable account, and that began to influence my blogging. It became a lot less of an ‘Ezra affair.’

— but a lot of bloggers and web journalists I know (myself included) still started off at daily newspapers or student newspapers or some sort of outlet that required reportage first, opinion second (if at all). As Conor has eloquently laid out before, one of the problems with movement journalism is that it encourages blogging and opinion and analysis from young journos before they even learn how to tell a proper story. But that’s a rant for another day, or another blogger.

Anyhow, we may be the last generation of journalists to come-of-age if not primarily in print than at least not exclusively web. Although another problem I have with this narrative is that it’s generally only concerned with young journalists following the DC-baby-pundit/Gawker-media-mouthpiece model. These are the writers that are most visible, the ones that have made Names for themselves, so it makes sense. But I’ve got a friend who went from beat reporting at the Boston Globe to beat reporting for AP to a newspaper fellowship in Abu Dhabi. Another who started at the same Columbus, Ohio business paper I did and now helps run an online business magazine. These kinds of writers go under the radar as far as the general media story about young journalists is concerned. Exhibit A:

[…] Douglas Brinkley, the Rice University professor and historian who is working on a biography of Walter Cronkite, expressed nostalgia for an earlier, more in-the-trenches generation of correspondents who didn’t rely on Twitter posts and linking to generate content. “I’m not making a judgment,” Professor Brinkley said [Ed. note: Really? Than what the heck do you call that statement?] .

“What I don’t like is that before, people would start in foreign bureaus all over the world before making their way to Washington. You would be pushing into your deep 20s and have a really deep global background. What you’ve seen is a devaluation of serious journalism in favor of reporters who are able to create a brand identity.”

Besides negating the identity of tons of 20-something reporters out there, this idea (which one hears from older journalists all the time) is quite insulting, as if we’d all rather sit in an office all day than actually get to see the people and places we write about. Give us an environment where more than the most well-funded media outlets can afford to send their reporters out in the field to report—I’m not even talking the bureau in Dubai, dude; how about something happening down the street?—and, you know, I bet a lot of us degenerate young turks would be more than happy. But there’s not time, or money, for that at most places, and so reporting takes place through emails and phone calls. I get tired of being told to live up to a model of journalism that hardly anyone is willing to support anymore.

Huh. That turned into more than ‘just a few sentences.’ Let’s keep the rest of this brief then, shall we?

2. Blisstree talks about “orthorexia.” Which was not a word I even knew existed, describing a concept I am very familiar with.

3. Megan Daum has an interesting take on folks’ ire towards Planned Parenthood:

Here’s my theory: When it comes to parenthood, the whole notion of planning can be so overwhelming that it feels better to leave it to fate.

Sure, we know that the respectable, socially responsible thing to do is to think hard about when and how many children to have and to take the necessary steps – abstinence or birth control – to avoid producing a child that cannot be properly cared for. But as any parent will tell you, there is no “perfect” time to have a baby. It’s always going to be a showstopper.

And I suspect that’s why a lot of people, pro-life and pro-choice alike, like to think of parenthood as something that was foisted upon them rather than actively pursued.

Thoughts?

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Written by ENB

April 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm

How I learned to stop worrying and love the zeitgeist

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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.

Written by ENB

August 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

the trouble with personal essays

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I’m taking a personal essay writing class from MediaBistro right now. For my second assignment, I wrote an essay about getting back together briefly with an ex, and the comfort that provides.

My instructor and classmates’ comments were helpful. Some details of the timeline and relationship were fuzzy; I did need to provide more context, and make my point of view more clear. But a lot of the assumptions implicit in the comments surprised me.

Where I wrote about our initial breakup, my teacher asked, “Why did you break up? Did you want more from the relationship than he did?” Where I wrote about meeting back up initially a year later, she asked, “Did you contact him?” Where I wrote with mostly nonchalance about the initial breakup, she asked, “Did you really feel this way?”

Okay, I thought. Gender assumptions aside, I just need to clear these details up. But when I turned in the revised draft, I continued to get these sorts of comments from classmates. “You two seem to have a connection that is still there,” one wrote. “Did you really not care?” Everyone seemed to want me to feel more than I felt.

I’m not sure how to handle this. I know that personal essays, at least in the commercial market, are designed to provide just enough glimpse of a perspective to make the story unique while still managing to be relateable/digestible to a large audience. But I can’t (or won’t) conjure emotions or attitudes that didn’t exist.

I’m not sure if there’s a larger extrapolation here about commercial personal essays, or if I’m just musing …

Written by ENB

February 17, 2010 at 10:27 am

Posted in Media

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Sleep as Social Process; The Sadness of Science Journalism

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I have a friend whose job is, basically, all about communicating science ideas to the public for a major science organization. In grad school, he was the only non-communication-major in my group of friends (I think he studied environmental biology or chemistry, though I can never remember which), and we used to like—on boring, late-night, slightly-drunken metro rides—to play the game, “Ask Dr. Science!,” where we came up with inane, vaguely scientific questions and demanded answers from him. These days, I often send him science-y articles that catch my interest, and he tends to write me back lengthy responses about why this article is crap, or that finding is not as great as it’s being touted to be, etc. Which got me thinking: I think my blog needs an Ask Dr. Science! feature, obviously.

Because my friend wishes to remain anonymous, we shall heretofore refer to him only by the utterly ridiculous “Dr. Science,” or, if you’re into diminutions, the Doc. The subject of our our very first Ask Dr. Science! column is this New York Times article on a gene mutation tied to needing less sleep.

Researchers have found a genetic mutation in two people who need far less sleep than average, a discovery that might open the door to understanding human sleep patterns and lead to treatments for insomnia and other sleep disorders.

[…] Although the mutation has been identified in only two people, the power of the research stems from the fact that the shortened sleep effect was replicated in mouse and fruit-fly studies. As a result, the research now gives scientists a clearer sense of where to look for genetic traits linked to sleep patterns.

The lead researcher says her “fantasy” is that this might lead to a drug that can help people get by on less sleep without negative health consequences.

As someone who needs a full 8-hours or more of sleep per night (or copious amounts of caffeine) to feel decent, I have always regarded jealously those kind of people (in which category, unfortunately enough, all my boyfriends have always seemed to fall) who can get by on 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night. I seethe with envy at insomniacs. I pine for a safe upper stronger than coffee or red bull. I see my sleepiness as some sort of personal failure. And so: I am always interested in things that promise a possible end to this shameful shortcoming. Ah!, to cut my sleeping time in half! A girl can dream …

I sent the article to Dr. Science eagerly. He was not impressed.

First off, from a technical standpoint, how full of shit are the researchers here? And to what degree is this just hyping up a single study to justify continued funding for research? Nevermind the fact that the length of sleep people require is tied to far more than a single gene, the article states, “Although the mutation has been identified in only two people, the power of the research stems from the fact that the shortened sleep effect was replicated in mouse and fruit-fly studies.” Which begs the question,”How appropriate are fruit-flies and mice as models for studying the nature of sleep in humans?”

The article also has a quote from Dr. Fu,“When they wake up in morning, they feel they have slept enough,” Dr. Fu said. “They want to get up and do things. They arrange all their major tasks in their morning.” I hope the two women were subjected to more rigorous psychological testing than a couple of questions about their subjective state of feeling. How strong is their ability to consolidate memories after 6 hours of sleep? What about alertness, ability to concentrate, and willingness to exercise?

Anyway, I think it says something that at the end of the article that Dr. Fu chose the word “fantasy” to describe her hopes for the long-term outcome of this study.Namely, risk-free treatments for people who want to sleep less. I would like the article to have described exactly how the discovery will contribute to the development of such a technology. Skepticism about the actual significance of the discovery aside, the article glosses over the much more interesting question of “how much sleep do we actually need?” There was a related article about this in the same issue of Science. But it was (understandably so) restricted to a purely physiological discussion of the subject without any acknowledgment of how culture defines and influences what we consider to be the “appropriate” amount of sleep.

I admit, I glossed over his technical objections. But “how a culture defines and influences what we consider to be the appropriate amount of sleep?” How fascinating. I suppose I’ve never thought much about it before. What does Dr. Science know about different standards of sleep in different cultures, I wondered?

When I originally wrote that statement about cultural norms influencing sleep length I was in part thinking about how the adoption of certain technologies (in this case, artificial light, alarm clocks, and stimulants/sedatives) is itself a cultural practice. I did skim over a Wikipedia article that mentioned the “anthropology of sleep” before I wrote it just to make sure I wasn’t completely pulling something out of my ass, but it does appear that there is a small field of scholarship on this subject. Maybe its helpful to distinguish between an appropriate amount of sleep from a biological perspective from that of cultural expectation. So for instance, I think a neuroscientist would argue that the “appropriate amount of sleep” is the amount such that it doesn’t affect any of your cognitive faculties, alertness, attention span, and ability to engage in physical activity. But defining the optimum capacity for cognition, alertness, attention span, and ability to engage in physical activity is itself a social process. Although I would be willing to wager that most people feel more is better in each of those cases. So the questions becomes, at what point is enough enough? Where is the line between treating somebody with a disability and enhancing somebody who is already functioning at “normal” capacity? The baseline is dynamic and historically and culturally defined, so notions of treatment vs. enhancement are continuously being renegotiated by society.

I had to pause here and tell the doc about a play a friend of mine is writing, about a near-future society in which a test-batch of people begins on The Regimen, essentially a drug that only requires humans to get about an hour of sleep per day, or one full-night of sleep per week. He’s focusing on what this would do to not only work expectations, but how it would affect the relationship between a couple where one person is on the Regimen and the other isn’t. I love this kind of hypothetical stuff, and it also reminds me of the very-non-hypothetical debate over cognitive enhancement drugs.

But this is neither here nor there. Back to the Doc. He’s skeptical that Dr. Fu’s “fantasy” would be very good for society:

Let’s imagine for a moment that Dr. Fu was able to develop a risk-free treatment that allows people to comfortably rely on 6 hours of sleep a night without the use of an alarm clock to wake up and then function normally for the rest of the day. Why should we assume that would mean people would stop using stimulants and alarm clocks to further reduce the amount of sleep they need? So instead of going from an average of 8-8.5 hrs/night to 6 hrs, then let’s say people go from 6 to 3.5-4 hrs/night. How might that affect our culture? What would people do with all that time? Would businesses use it as an excuse to extend the work day by a couple more hours? How might it redefine what we refer to as “nightlife”?

And where in this chain of events in the development and deployment of such a sleep-reducing technology would people be given a choice about whether or not this is the type of society we want to live in? Or would we just sleep-walk (ok, maybe pun-intended) our way into this new world until it has become so entrenched that we can only attempt to create to a few modest regulations after the treatment has already become well established in the market and culture. How well has that approach worked for industrial agriculture and the way we eat food?

Anyway, it raises so many broad questions and I would just like to see science journalists raise a few of the issues rather than just congratulate the researchers. It looks like the author of the article only solicited one second opinion on the paper and it was from another physician doing sleep research. Why not ask a social scientist, an ethicist, or a historian about their thoughts on the subject? It’s a bit too important to simply leave it up to physical scientists to opine on the value of this research. So yeah, I’m not saying that a society where people only sleep 3.5-4 hrs/night would necessarily be a bad one to live in, but it warrants a broader debate than it will probably ever receive.

The sociology of science journalism! I hadn’t yet thought about that either. Sure, I publish “health discoveries” everyday on the Bulletin Web site, and wonder, vaguely and instinctively, what the point of reporting on these sort of things is, if it really creates any value, since findings seem to contradict each other and wind back and forth and get all twisty and bold and retracted every day or week or month. Oh, and I’ve read The Sociology of News, and I’ve thought about the way we cover press conferences and politics; I’ve wrote my graduate thesis on how we cover celebrities; I’ve pondered many times The Meaning of style-section articles … but I have never thought about the way we cover science. Or, if I have, it’s been with a vague assumption that science and health discovery reporting had to be kind of nebulous and shallow. Do you think the science journalism in the mainstream press in general is in a sorry state?, I asked Dr. Science.

Yeah, science journalism is definitely in trouble. Clearly not all journalists write these “gee-whiz, scientists discover X!” stories, but its pretty prevalent. Andrew Revkin at the NYTimes does a lot of good coverage of science. He has an interesting article on the phenomenon we’re talking about here with regard to slowly evolving research and contradictory results–what he refers to as the “whiplash effect.”

In it, Revkin writes:

When science is testing new ideas, the result is often a two-papers-forward-one-paper-back intellectual tussle among competing research teams.

When the work touches on issues that worry the public, affect the economy or polarize politics, the news media and advocates of all stripes dive in. Under nonstop scrutiny, conflicting findings can make news coverage veer from one extreme to another, resulting in a kind of journalistic whiplash for the public.

But with the current state of newspapers and journalism, can we really expect anything better?

Written by ENB

August 19, 2009 at 11:21 am

Community Newspapers Doing Well

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Conor’s latest post about newspapers sparked my interest in finding out how local and community newspapers in my home state (Ohio) are faring.

[I’m totally guilty of thinking about “the failing newspaper business” and whatnot only in terms of the major papers—even though every time I go home, my dad (a daily Cincinnati Enquirer subscriber for ages) talks about how much worse the paper is getting, how much more sparse. And the Enquirer is still a major city daily; what about papers like The Lima News? Or the business papers? Or the suburban weeklies? They’re still around, and sometimes they post jobs on journalismjobs.com, so I guess I just always assumed they’re doing fine. But are they? And do we only think no one is talking about these kinds of papers because we’re too busy reading about the NYT and Chicago Tribune? Are there, perhaps, blog posts and articles all over Ohio (and Tennessee and Nebraska and Wisconsin and …) discussing local newspaper hardships?]

I did some googling.

Try as I might (which, admittedly, was not very hard—but the quest will continue) I couldn’t find much about how newspapers in Ohio specifically are faring. But I did find a blog about community newspapers overall. A post from yesterday reportsJournal Register Closes Dozens of Newspapers:”

.. the company said Wednesday that it is closing eight weekly newspapers in upstate New York … The company is also closing several other upstate weeklies …

It goes on to list closings in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Connecticut as well. But a post from Jan. 29 notes that “overall, community newspapers performed well in 2008 despite the challenging economy.” According to Suburban Newspapers of America and the National Newspaper Association:

Financial results for community newspapers were tracked quarterly last year for the first time ever, in an attempt to measure this segment of the industry … Community newspapers are not experiencing the massive ad revenue declines that are being felt by some others in the industry nor are they experiencing massive layoffs.

Data collected in 2008 showed a 1.7% decline in advertising for the third quarter, 2.4% in the second quarter and 2.7% in the first quarter (all were measured against the same reporting period from the prior year.) Fourth quarter results will be available in late February. These results compare to industry-wide double-digit declines of 18.1% (third quarter 2008), 15.1% second quarter 2008, and 12.8% (first quarter 2008), as reported by Newspaper Association of America.

Written by ENB

February 13, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Posted in Culture, Media

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Recession-Career Musical Chairs

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Last night, I learned that because of These Trying Times, a milliner acquaintance of mine is giving up the biz to become a bartender. This is good—clearing up space in the haberdasheries for when we journalists are forced out of writing by the dental hygienists.

In the future, all dental hygienists will become journalists, all journalists will become hat-makers, all hat-makers will become bartenders, and all bartenders … will become dental hygienists? Or maybe they’ll just start pulling people’s teeth out after plying them with whiskey, like in the good old days.

[Yes. Maybe I will only post nonsense from now on.]

Written by ENB

February 10, 2009 at 10:29 am

Posted in Culture, Media

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Fending off the dental hygienists …

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Singing in this nation is almost 100 percent volunteer. That’s what will happen to newspapers. In the future, a dental hygienist will take two days off, travel to Berkeley to interview the latest Nobel Prize winner, write an article, then return to her job. […]

[Former journalists] will get ordinary jobs: in bowling alleys, Wal-Marts, hat shops.

I’ve seen a lot of crackpot theories about the future of journalism, but this may be the silliest. Well, aside from the hat shop part. In the New Depression, I could see a lot of journalists picking up extra cash in the haberdasherial arts, sure.

[Fun fact about haberdashers from Wikipedia: I am using the word wrong. “A haberdasher is a person who sells small articles for sewing, such as buttons, ribbons and zippers. In U.S. English, haberdasher is another term for a men’s outfitter. Obsolete meanings of the term “haberdasher” refer to a “dealer in, or maker of, hats and caps.”]

Written by ENB

February 9, 2009 at 10:18 pm

R.S. McCain Chastises Us Whippersnappers …

with 6 comments

… and rightly so, I think. The man may, overall, be marginally despicable, but he makes some good points in the comments to this League of Ordinary Gentleman post:

When I was your age . . .If you’re under 26, I was working as a nightclub DJ or driving a forklift or playing in rock-and-roll bands. At 26, I got a $4.50-an-hour job as a staff writer for a tiny weekly tabloid in Austell, Ga. After another 18 months of job changes, in fall 1987, I landed a job as sports editor of a twice-weekly paper in Calhoun, Ga. By June 1989, I was 29 years old, married, with a newborn daughter.McCain

So I was closing in on 30 and considered myself doing well to make $300 a week covering prep sports in North Georgia. I was 38 years old when I was hired in November 1997 by The Washington Times.

Now, try to see all this from my perspective, will you? I don’t give a hoot in hell what your SAT Verbal scores were, some of you youngersters appear mighty doggone ridiculous trying to run before you’ve even crawled. As someone even more grizzled than myself said in an email yesterday, self-publishing software has made it very easy to think of yourself as a writer.

Prior to the widespread availability of the Internet (mid-1990s), your choices at age 23 would have been (a) take an entry-level staff gig at a newspaper/magazine, or (b) dwell in that sleazy semi-pro twilight of doing record reviews for crappy weekly “alternative” tabloid or maybe Xeroxing your own crappy “zine.”

Well, hello, WordPress and now, without benefit of filling out an application or sending “over-the-transom” submissions to publications, you get that short feedback loop: Megan McArdle linked me! or: Did you see my exchange with Larison?

Think, dear boys, how ludicrously vain you appear to a 49-year-old who worked his way up through the trenches of local straight journalism to arrive in Washington at age 38. In short, I am insanely jealous to think what might have been if, when I was a senior in college, it might have been possible so much as to send an e-mail to a magazine editor.

So I see you young ‘uns with these infinite opportunities, and doing so damned little with them, and watching you fritter away your time makes me angry at the idiotic waste of it all.

E.D. Kain mocks:

Did you know, back in my day before the printing press we had to shout our thoughts from atop a large boulder! Now you damned vainglorious youngsters can actually participate in the conversation! And you don’t even have to walk seven miles through the snow to do it… You damn kids should be working in, er, journalism with all those great journalism jobs being created each year….because 2009 is just exactly the same as previous pre-internet decades when people actually still read newspapers.

While that’s some mighty fine snarking there (and I—unlike Sonny Bunch and others in the pissing contest discussion that spawned the post on which McCain was commenting—am a fan of well-used snark), I don’t think McCain was suggesting that all bloggers/young writers should have to go pay their dues for five years at the Lima Daily News or something. Rather, I think he was making a good-faith effort to explain the complicated relationship he has to watching today’s young writers or would-be writers and the ridiculous advantages we have over previous bright young things (and disadvantages, as E.D. mentions); the ways we capitalize on them and the ways we squander them; and the sense of ‘what if’ that must pervade many in the older generation of writers who came about things a different way.

By the by, I’m sure we are all aware that there are plenty of young journalists who still get their starts at small, daily papers (hey, I went through, uh, a year of journalism boot camp at a daily Ohio paper) and work their ways up there the old fashioned way (I sometimes think I should have stayed longer. These are (and I mean this neutrally) just entirely different creatures than the majority of species Blogger.

Written by ENB

February 3, 2009 at 1:44 pm

Fashion Writing

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My friend Melanie is offended by my post on women journalists. She writes:

“Love Liz, but I find her response really condescending. Good fashion writing is not “fluff stuff.” Need proof? Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan won a Pulitzer for her work in 2006. While I agree fashion is not a “serious” issue, that doesn’t make it unimportant or render fashion writers second-class journalists. I follow politics, but I don’t have an interest in writing about it. My ability to grasp “‘real’ political issues, like military endeavors, campaigns, taxes, etc.” has nothing to do with it.”

So—for the record—I never meant to imply I think all fashion (or fitness or celebrity or beauty or relationship) writing is fluff (nor that all business or news writing is non-fluff, for that matter). But I think we can all agree “5 Ways to Get Beach Hair” or “14 Ways to Surprise Your Valentine Feb. 14” is. And that’s the kind of stuff there’s a bigger freelance market for than the type of fashion-writing that wins Pulitzers. That said, I also never meant to imply that it doesn’t take a certain skill to write even the fluff (sometimes writing short can be sooo much tougher than writing long), nor that the writers of said fluff were writing it because they weren’t capable of grasping more serious stuff. All I was saying is that because women journalists have the option of writing—and getting paid for—this stuff, less of them may tackle military endeavors, campaigns and taxes.

This conversation was somewhat spawned by Phoebe’s post here (“I still think there’s something to the idea that fashion-as-shallowness is a sexist construction”), and she’s on about fashion again today, asking ‘What makes good fashion writing?‘ Meanwhile, I just read today (via Joanne McNeil) that “1/3 of U.S. women recently surveyed by America’s Research Group said they plan no clothing purchases–none–in 2009.

Written by ENB

February 2, 2009 at 12:34 pm

Posted in Culture, Feminism, Media

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My Culture 11 Eulogy

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There have been enough eulogies for Culture 11dismantled last Tuesday—in the circles of the blogosphere I frequent, yet I’m compelled to add at least a thought or two of my own.

I’m very glad to have gotten to be a small part of this short-lived endeavor. I feel for the staff—several of whom I consider friends—who are now without jobs. I’m disappointed at the loss of what seemed a very worthwhile project (intelligent, non-hackey conservative journalism! a place where conservatives and libertarians could play together—and, a lot of times, not even scare off the liberals!)

I’m annoyed by suggestions the real downfall of the site was not economic but the result of “allowing their self-referential hipness to get out of control,” or conservatives not knowing how to write about arts/culture. Whether or not these are valid criticisms (I think the first isn’t; the second may be), C11 was still in beta, and was not yet relying on advertising revenue, meaning any possible problems stemming from content/traffic were, still, essentially moot points. The investors pulled out. That’s that.

As many people have pointed out, almost all of the editors/ bloggers/ contributors from C11 can be found writing at other various outposts around the Internet—James Poulos, Peter Suderman and Alan Jacobs will be returning to The American Scene, and bringing Conor Friedersdorf and John Schwenkler along with them; almost all of the Ladyblog ladies have personal blogs—but it was just sort of nice to have all these writers in one place (not to mention, getting paid for their efforts). It was also nice to have a place where young and less-established writers (like myself) were encouraged to write.

Anyway, I wish luck to the C11 employees in their new-job searches; look forward to having more of a reason to check out The American Scene; hope the commenters and community that built up around C11 will continue to congregate at everyone’s individual/group blogs (or find new ways and places to engage each other elsewhere); and hope, like Andrew Sullivan said, the whole ethos/mission of C11 mission will perhaps inspire more interesting projects in times to come (or, as C11’s favorite troll, matoko chan, said in the comments here: ” Culture 11 wasn’t a zine or a website…not static or fixed in time……it is a process. And the process goes on.”).

Speaking of going on, Ladyblog is still up and running for the next week or so, and there is a possibility some of us will continue at some kind of group-blogging endeavor.

Written by ENB

January 31, 2009 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Culture, Media

Tagged with

Whose Fault?

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In response to Maureen Dowd’s Nov. 29 column about a Pasadena newspaper outsourcing its reporting and writing to India (a link which my computer-server-testing boyfriend sent me with, I think, some glee), someone has written a letter to the editor basically saying today’s reporters reap what they sow:

Unfortunately, many news organizations, particularly small papers, now publish what is little more than a regurgitation of press releases, public statements and items off the national news wires. It is work that anybody with an Internet connection could do equally well. Little wonder, then, that this work is being outsourced!

Those who long ago abandoned real reporting are now discovering that what they produce has very little value.

What about those who were never given the chance to do “real reporting?”

I got my first reporting job in 2005, at a small daily business paper. With only four reporters and two stories to write daily, we never left the office, doing things entirely via faxed press releases, emails and phone calls. Every now and then we got to leave to go to a press conference at the state capital or courthouse up the street, but this was frowned upon (“Can’t you just call and see if you can get a quote or a summary beforehand?”) because then we probably wouldn’t be back ’til 1 p.m. and completed stories were supposed to be to layout by then.

When I started at my current job, I met one 70-year-old lady who would often lament to me about the decline of “real reporters,” the kind who went out there and met with people face to face and saw things first hand and all that. “You can’t become a good reporter just talking to people on the phone or sending out emails,” she would say. “I remember when I used to fly all around the country to get the story; if something was happening in Iowa, I would be going to Iowa.”

The irony? This was one of my editors. You know, the one assigning me stories? The one with the power to afford me the kind of experience she was sure today’s young scribes were woefully lacking? And forget Iowa; if something was happening down the street, she wouldn’t send me out to cover it. So accuse me of impertinence if you will, folks, but I’m more inclined to say that the journalistic system has failed today’s young reporters than the other way around.

Written by ENB

December 5, 2008 at 1:05 pm

An Efficient Journalistic Machine …

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Via Tomorrow Museum, Momus on “a 1:1 ratio of experience to writing:”

Obviously I enjoy writing. If I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it here for free. The kind of activities I’d be doing if I weren’t writing are also, in a sense, writing. I’d be making songs, books, performances which are really nothing more than writing in real time, or acting out bits of writing I’ve done beforehand. It’s not writing I’m getting sick of, but journalism.

Actually, it isn’t even journalism. I think it should be compulsory for aging rock stars to take up journalism, just to get them engaged with the world, keep them learning, wean them off drugs and booze, give them a bit of mental discipline. That or pottery. No, what I worry about is the ratio of experience to writing. It’s rapidly approaching one to one.

A 1:1 ratio of experience to writing means that you’ve become an efficient journalistic machine: nothing you do ever goes to waste. Every single thing you experience gets written about somewhere. It doesn’t have to be experience in the real world; it almost seems like I write, now, about every website I visit too.

I was going to add my own commentary here, but that’s just so perfect a description I’ll let it stand unmarred.

Written by ENB

December 4, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Posted in Ephemera, Media

Tagged with , , ,

An Efficient Journalistic Machine

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Via Tomorrow Museum, Momus on “a 1:1 ratio of experience to writing:”

Obviously I enjoy writing. If I’m not doing it for money, I’m doing it here for free. The kind of activities I’d be doing if I weren’t writing are also, in a sense, writing. I’d be making songs, books, performances which are really nothing more than writing in real time, or acting out bits of writing I’ve done beforehand. It’s not writing I’m getting sick of, but journalism.

Actually, it isn’t even journalism. I think it should be compulsory for aging rock stars to take up journalism, just to get them engaged with the world, keep them learning, wean them off drugs and booze, give them a bit of mental discipline. That or pottery. No, what I worry about is the ratio of experience to writing. It’s rapidly approaching one to one.

A 1:1 ratio of experience to writing means that you’ve become an efficient journalistic machine: nothing you do ever goes to waste. Every single thing you experience gets written about somewhere. It doesn’t have to be experience in the real world; it almost seems like I write, now, about every website I visit too.

I was going to add my own commentary here, but that’s just so perfect a description I’ll let it stand unmarred.

Written by ENB

December 4, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Journalism as Morality Play

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The Nanny Stole My Husband … But who’s really to blame—him, her, or you?

You, of course! Because, you know … evolution and stuff.

Gag.

Written by ENB

November 14, 2008 at 1:23 pm

In which I get all caught up in Vanity Fair and New York articles …

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about magazine journalism. When it’s bad, it’s very, very bad—the soppy, anecdotal leads; the mid-article-bullet-point-lists-as-substitute-for-coherent-narrative; the weird agreement that so many publications seemed to have settled upon in recent years to cram as many short sidebars and lists and boxes in a feature story as possible, because heaven forbid people have to read anything longer than 500 words, ever. But when it’s good—oh!, when it’s good … Well, you get sentences like this:

Youth and beauty have their privileges, among them being the ability and agility to roll out into the hazy dawn following the squalors of the night before and still possess the throwaway glamour of a Bryan Ferry song. (Vanity Fair, “Hollywood’s Next Wave”)

I think maybe it’s just what could broadly be considered newsstand magazines that I hate. ‘Cause I’ve long been a fan of the Big Idea political magazines, and the snark-and-immediacy, the glorified-blogginess of online magazines like Salon and Slate. But lately I’ve also been kind of obsessed with literary magazine journalism as a form, and maybe that’s why I’ve been really appreciating articles like the one above and this Christopher Hitchens piece also from Vanity Fair (“Bohemia … should instead be the preserve of—in no special order—insomniacs and restaurants and bars that never close; bibliophiles and the little stores and stalls that cater to them; alcoholics and addicts and deviants and the proprietors who understand them; aspirant painters and musicians and the modest studios that can accommodate them; ladies of easy virtue and the men who require them”).

Although neither of those articles are really what you’d call “literary” or “narrative” journalism in the 60s-New Journalism-sense, are they? So what would you call them? Journalism that employs very pretty prose?

They are, regardless, the kinds of pieces that make me all romantically-woozy-headed, make me want to be a better writer, make me pause–that pause that comes so sporadically–and think about journalism not as information-decimation, not as content production, not as punditry, not as a popularity contest, but as as a craft. And because I was in that place already last week when the latest issue of New York magazine arrived in my mailbox … well, I have found myself absolutely smitten with Tom Wolfe’s piece about New York founding editor Clay Felker. I didn’t know much (read, anything) about Felker before this, but the story of how he came to found New York magazine in the 60s and how he and Wolfe and the others trial-and-errored in this whole new type of news medium … it makes me all manic-excited about all the stories there are out there to tell. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. I think sometimes in this world of blogs and breaking news, we forget how very pretty and interesting journalism can be.

Written by ENB

July 15, 2008 at 12:37 am