J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Archive for May, 2006

How I Get News About Iraq

Posted by chanders on May 31, 2006

Christopher Albritton stands by his argument that the "imprisoned journalist" narrative in Iraq has been greatly exaggerated (see his response to me in the comments). Meanwhile, the Burningman
writes (again in the comments) that "the journalism coming out of Iraq is among the worst I’ve ever encountered."

Rather than resolve the dispute here, I thought I’d approach the matter sideways and analyze my own news consumption regarding the Iraq conflict. In other words, how do I, concerned, politically active, internet savvy citizen get my news about the "Vietnam of our time"?

Here goes:

Getting the blow by blow: Yahoo News and Icasualites. I’ll admit it– probably the most frequently referenced source for my news about Iraq comes from the wire services, both of which are aggregated at Yahoo News and Icasualites. Yahoo feeds Iraq news in general, while Icasualites focuses on military combat and deaths. The wires are the news sources that are updated the most often, and they lay down what I’d call the "skeleton" of the Iraq story. It would be a disaster to stop here, but I also think that understanding Iraq would be impossible without this basic background knowledge.

The dailies: The New York Times, The Washington Post, the LA Times, and Knight-Ridder.  The three dailies are hit and miss. They’re the most useful when they’re getting scoops, but too often it seems like they fall into a pattern of blindly repeating whatever it is that the briefer in the Pentagon office has to say that afternoon. Nevertheless, I read them every day; they add context and flesh to the wire service stories. I guess i could have put the Knight-Ridder bit under the wire section, but Nancy A. Youssef and Tom Lasseter do such an amazing job with their coverage that they deserve special mention. Like I said, the dailies and the wires usually operate in a tight circle of "fleshing each other out," but the KR people almost always tell me something new or take a sharply different angle on a story I knew already.

Blogger analysis and Western reporting. Albritton’s Back to Iraq blog has been consistently good– though sometimes I find him a little too much of a "hey! I’m a war correspondent!" for my taste, but that’s an issue of style, not substance. His combination of new news and blunt assessments of "what’s actually going on" is really helpful. Reading Albritton, you sort of get this sense of , "here’s what journalists are writing as professionals, and here’s what they really think" type perspective, which I think is great. Juan Cole is obviously a must-read. His knowledge of Shi’ite Islam is unmatched, and he has a special insight into the various machinations of the UIA and the other Shi’ite political parties. Plus, his translations of Al-Zaman, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, and other Arab-language papers is incredibly useful. AK Gupta with the Indypendent has also been ahead of the curve on a number of Iraq issues, especially the militia stories– kind of amazing, considering he does almost all his writing from Manhattan and has never been to Iraq, at least as far as I know.

Iraqi bloggers blogroll. I started following Iraqi blogs regularly after the bombing of the Samarra shrine. Occasionally, they’ll actually give you real "citizens journalism," a blow by blow account of "what I saw with my own eyes today." The best in this regard has probably been Healing Iraq (check out this post on street battles in Adhamiya, for example. For a while, The Mesopotamian was providing similar coverage, though he hasn’t posted for about two months. Riverbend is a must read, though her posts are more essay-like and lyrical than "hard news." Hammorabi is also useful, if only to get a Shi’ite perspective in what seems to be to be a largely Sunni blogosphere. A Family in Baghdad is actually written in Arabic.  Two of the lest reliable and interest blogs on my roll are Iraq the Model and The Truth About Iraqis. As you could probably gather from anyone who calls Iraq "a model" for anything, ITM seems mostly like US government propaganda, though the author’s analysis is interesting in that regard– you kind of feel like, "this is how the US is spinning it." TTAI is on the other side– mostly anti-American ranting and not much substance.

What I don’t consume: TV news, weekly news magazines like Time or Newsweek. I don’t have a TV, and I find that blogs give me about as much perspective as the weeklies do.

With all this, do I actually feel like I know what’s happening in Iraq? Not really. Perhaps such knowledge is impossible.

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Posted in Personal Musings | 1 Comment »

Albritton to Bloggers: Shut Up Already

Posted by chanders on May 30, 2006

Chris Albritton of Back to Iraq is tired of the blogging class– both left and right– trashing the mainstream media. It has led, in his words, to a

distrust of all so-called Mainstream Media … [i]t’s almost heretical to defend “the press” in a blog these days. Well, fire up the coals and burn me at the stake then: I think the journalism coming out of Baghdad has been some of the best the international press corps has produced.

Albritton’s got a good point. A few lefty bloggers have tried to walk the line between a general attack on the mainstream press and what Atrios has called an "attack on the press when it screws up." But this is a hard and narrow road to walk: the opprotunities to trash the mainstream media are ever-present, fairly easy to do, and well-documented. In short, perfect its blog material.

It might be nice to see the left blogosphere distinguish itself from the right blogosphere by praising good journalism, by being fair, and by being merciless when, indeed, the mainstream press f—-s up.

Finally, I’m not so sure I agree with Albritton about the quality of journalism coming out of Iraq. After all, the meme of the imprisioned press didn’t just emerge out of nowhere. It was given a fairly vigorous push by Wall St. Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi’s infamous email and has been consistantly reinforced, especially in this article by Berkeley J-School dean Orville Schell. So is the notion of the "besieged press" totally off-base? How do we reconcile Albritton’s plea and Schell’s critique?

Posted in Current Affairs | 2 Comments »

James W. Carey Passes

Posted by chanders on May 23, 2006

Renowned journalism educator, media scholar, institution builder, and cultural historian and critic James W. Carey passed away last night at his family home in Rhode Island. According to the announcement of his death, posted to Romenesko by Columbia University J-School Dean Nicholas Lemann, Carey was with his family and not in any pain. I knew Prof. Carey personally: he was the founder of my PhD program in Communications at Columbia, and I was honored to call him a mentor and an intellectual inspiration. I am also happy to report that he was a truly wonderful and kind man. Brilliant and a wonderful person– those of us familiar with the world of academia know how rarely those two adjectives are conjoined.

Leonard Witt has a great post detailing Prof. Carey’s impact on the public journalism movement, and, by extension, his impact on many of the debates currently swirling with regard to blogging, democracy, and journalism professionalism. Many of the big guns of the blogging world have probably never heard of James W. Carey, but they speak his language, whether they know it or not. For myself, I have been continually surprised to find an old essay of Carey’s, usually from the late 70’s or so, which anticipates much of my own thinking, often without me knowing it.

Personally, James Carey taught me that it is OK to study journalism in an "academic" way; one only need to have witnessed the biting hostility often expressed by academics with regard to journalism ("you’re getting a PhD in journalism?? What does that mean??") and vice-versa to know what a valuable contribution that really is. Prof. Carey also reminds me that media is nothing without democracy: it might exist, but its existence is hollow. In these dark times, that’s a lesson worth keeping in mind.

Posted in Personal Musings | 2 Comments »

The Future of Local News Revisted: Josh Breitbart on the Pending Sale of the Inky and DN

Posted by chanders on May 22, 2006

Josh Breitbart has a thought provoking and informative post over at Civil Defense documenting the latest moves in the about-to-be-pending-sale of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. This is something I’ve followed with some interest ever since my attendance at the Philly NORGs conference in March. There’s a lot to digest here, so I thought I would largely leave aside the actual details of the sale (except when relevant to other points) and talk a little bit about some of the ways that I think concerned independent media activists should thinking about the economic, financial, and political changes shaking the news industry.

First, lets look at the big picture. As Josh notes, he’s someone who has "worked to de-professionalize journalism for his entire adult life." The increasing (and increasingly nuanced) attention that long time independent media activists are paying to developments in the mainstream, corporate media world is only surpassed by the increased attention that corporate media powers-that-be are paying to independent media. I talked a lot more about this in the aftermath of the NORG’s meeting, so for now all I’ll add is that there would have been a day when just about anyone who cared about alt. media would have barely mustered a shrug of the shoulders with regard to the pending Knight-Ridder sale. Indeed, there’s still plenty along these lines to go around, as  Rolando de aguiar writes on the Philly IMC site, in reaction to Josh’s post:

"I am very disappointed to see an Indymedia feature offering such a facile treatment of this situation. These two abysmal papers–faces of the same overvalued coin–have for many years been hostile to progressive issues … the idea that Philadelphia’s African American community would be "simply shut out of the world of information" is absurd and offensive; rather than crying about the quality of the potential suitors for these two rags, independent media should see this crisis as an opportunity.

By and large, I agree with the thrust of Josh’s post, but I think Rolando also makes some good points. A couple of specific reactions first, before I get to the punch-line, so to speak. First, with regard to the professionalization of journalism. Josh writes, regarding the Newspaper Guild:

"The Newspaper Guild came into existence at a time when journalism was in ill repute. In the 1930s, the Guild brought a new professionalism to journalism and established a sense of respect for newspapers in the eyes of the general public. They set as their mission "constant honesty in news, editorials, advertising, and business practices; [and to] raise the standards of journalism and ethics of the industry." They won pay raises for reporters who were getting paid less than unionized drivers and printers, giving birth to journalism as the professional occupation we know today.

Readers know that the professionalization of journalism is a particular interest of mine, and I wanted to point out (yet again) the ambiguity of the professionalization project with regard to journalism. There’s no better way to do it than to quote James Carey, who has argued that the professionalization of the reporter, along with fostering a growth of objectivity, also helped to create journalists as a separate class increasingly distanced from, and standing in for, the public at large. In other words, while the growth of objectivity and professionalization may have raised the quality of information received by citizens, it undermined both their trust in journalism and the very fabric of public life that made public deliberation possible in the first place.  I think this is a fundamental insight of the independent media activists, even if they don’t often frame their arguments this way. This isn’t to say that professional journalism is bad, just that its a double-edged sword. Can one witness the truth emerge via a deprofessionalized conversation? What about the quality of information? There aren’t easy answers to these questions, but they’re worth asking, at least.

My second and broader thought has to do with Josh’s recommendations. This is related to Rolando’s point that media activists should see the Inky’s sale as an opportunity, not a disaster. Josh points readers in several direction if they hope to comment on the pending McClatchy sale: they can submit comments via 2papertown.com. There’s no reason not to make this kind of noise, but I think its a bit late. Not just with regard to the McClatchy sale, but by and large, with the entire state of the American newspaper industry. Are we just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic here?  Michael Shapiro has an amazing story in the March/April CJR about the rise and fall of the Inquirer which can stand in for a much larger collapse of the newspaper business under the weight of its own conservatism (in both senses of the word) and greed. In other words, does it really matter much who buys the Inquirer and Daily News? There’s no easy way to answer the question, "is journalism possible under capitalism?" but an easier question to ask is, "is journalism possible under the current stage of corporate, investor driven, globalized capitalism?" Jeff Jarvis says yes, and thinks all the talk about evil corporate journalism is bullshit. I say that I’m not so sure.

I’ll take off my ill-fitting Marxist hat for now; it doesn’t really fit me very well, anyway. But I’ll just say this: we are in a moment of opportunity, no matter who buys the decaying remains of the Knight-Ridder empire. This isn’t to say that we can’t try to make the best out of a bad situation, and that the folks in Philly don’t deserve the best, most progressive, most racially forward-looking news they can get. But I don’t know if they they’ll get it from Brian Tierney, or Yucaipa, or Mort Zuckerman, for that matter. Something new is being born in the journalism world that we can see the vague outlines of but can’t quite recognize, exactly. Its not exactly the world that either old-style journalists or their alt. media antagonists expect, I don’t think. But its coming.

Posted in Current Affairs | Leave a Comment »

Embedded Knowledge in the Blogosphere

Posted by chanders on May 19, 2006

Interesting comment from Matthew Yglesias regarding the nature of knowledge in the blogosphere; in brief, blogging knowedge may not be journalistic knowledge, but it’s often knowledge of another kind.  He makes the point with reference to ex-Clinton hack Mike McCurry’s failure to "spin the blogosphere around" to his own paid views on the net neutrality issue. But sadly for him:

The blogosphere is full of people who know a lot about the internet and could handle a grown-up argument.

Bloggers may be experts, but not the kind of experts journalists are (if we can ever figure out what kind of experts they are):

One of the most neglected aspects of the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that precisely because it’s (mostly) composed of people who aren’t professional journalists, it’s composed of people who are professional doers of something else and know a great deal about what it is they "really" do. Consequently, the overall network of blogs contains a great deal of embedded knowledge.

Posted in Projects: Random Musings | Leave a Comment »