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Reader Email
2004-01-10 22:28
by Will Carroll

Sometimes the email I get is so good, I feel shamed to have the "reader-writer" equation work the way it does. Luckily, Derek Smart - a regular poster who lives up to his name - allowed me to share this one with you. I've neither edited nor changed anything here:



I hope I'm using the appropriate email, and my apologies if this is long-winded and a tad rightious, but this incident with the "national writer," combined with my reading of the journalism article that Dan linked to last night, have put me in high dudgeon.  I had originally intended for this to be posted in the comments section of the post on your blog, but it got far too long, and by the time I finished it, did not fit with the tenor of the discussion in the comments anyway.  I sincerely hope it's not too preachy or off-topic (particularly in the third section), and that you find it worthy of your time.


There are several things which I find troubling in this national writer's criticism, both in the delivery and the mere fact of it.


1)  If someone does their job poorly, but is a part of "the group," they are above reproach.


While this may not be the situation in extreme cases - for example, I can't imagine if one of the brethren wrote a blatantly racist piece that it would be allowed to slide - the day to day failure to bring your readers the product they deserve is not only deemed unworthy of comment, but is a taboo subject.  It is nearly like speaking ill of the dead ("Have you no decency!").  Yet what healthy institution builds such a wall around itself?   This is the attitude of people who have a grasp on power and are unwilling to yield, even if others prove more able in the field.  It is an attitude fed by a sense of entitlement, and while I would agree that those who have "been through the wars" deserve some benefit of the doubt, how far should we be willing to extend that benefit when their failings become debilitating?


While I know the context for this discussion is sports journalism, the questions raised move beyond that specific realm into journalism in general, and simply allowing opinion-makers to continue their work when they have obviously become inept, refusing to speak up for fear of breaking an unwritten rule of conduct, is not only cowardice, but a breech of the public trust.


2)  Anything published exclusively on the internet is little more than the electronic equivalent of bar talk.


The national writer in question stated that what Will wrote would be "okay saying to friends or on your blog, (but) it has no place in print."  In this mode of thought, talking to your friends, say in a bar, is the same as writing out your thoughts in an expressive, interesting and coherent way and putting it on the internet.  I will grant you that not all bloggers take the time or have the talent necessary to be expressive, interesting and coherent, but the good ones do.  The implication that everything written for distribution on the web is dismissable is not only insulting, it's preposterous.  There are a great number of internet-based sources, for sports or politics or any variety of subjects, that many find to be more reliable than their establishment media counterparts, and while the institutional media might object to the lack of any editorial influence, it is precisely the unfettered nature of the endeavor that attracts so many to the electronic medium.  After all, who is more likely to have undue corporate or governmental influence exerted upon them, the syndicated newspaper columnist, or the gentleman blogging out of his living room in Poughkipsie?


What this does, more than anything, is point up the need for bloggers of quality to organize in a way that enhances their credibility, while still maintaining the essential spirit of free expression that is inherent in the practice.  Without that, I fear that too many truly original and important voices will continue to be discarded and ridiculed by an all too threatened mainstream press.


3)  The public's opinion of the work of journalists is irrelevant.


According to the writer's criticism of Will, there is nothing wrong with thinking a sports journalist is a hack, or even expressing that opinion to a number of friends, but the moment that same opinion gets in print, a line has been crossed.  This is a natural recognition of the power of the written word - there are still many for whom reading is believing, and if such an opinion is libelous or expressed in a tasteless or mean-spirited fashion, there is ample cause for objection - but it also regards the public as dullard outsider, unable to truly understand the depth of genius bestowed on a daily basis by the Professionals, and therefore better left unlistened to.


Yet, isn't the basic mission of all journalists, even sports journalists, to serve the public trust?  By holding the public's opinion in such disdain, are not these Professionals spitting on the ideals they profess to hold so dear?  Their arrogance is astounding, and the implied belief that they are here not to serve, but to dictate, is dangerous in the extreme.  The press exists to inform so that we may decide, yet they seem to continue to work to shape public opinion rather than facilitate its formation.  It is the idea that they may view this as necessary that I object to most strongly.


In the end, it is the arrogance, the sense of entitlement, the hoarding of information and its distribution implied in this exchange that is so troubling.  If we as journalists, as bloggers, as citizens want our best interests to be served, we must break them of their arrogance, strip them of their entitlement, and take back the information that is rightly ours.  The press must not be a monolith, cold and unassailable, but rather, a many-eyed extension of us all, looking where we otherwise could not see and giving us the variety of knowledge necessary to acheive enlightenment on our own terms.


Again, Will, thanks for reading, and my apologies if I've rambled.


-Derek Smart

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