The Blatchford brouhaha

I’ve known Mitch Joel for a while now.  Unlike Jaffe, Mitch is pretty even tempered.  Calm, cool and collected.  So imagine my surprise to hear unmistakable Jaffe-esque frustration in his voice as he started to talk about Christie Blatchford’s recent Globe & Mail article in this week’s episode of Six Pixels of Separation, the Twist Image podcast:

I’m not blogging this, mark my words.

… says the headline.

Now I don’t know if Blatchford herself comes up with the titles for her columns.  After all, news rooms often have someone specifically tagged for this purpose working like the Wizard of Oz behind the proverbial curtain.   I’m not sure she could have come up with better.  This headline kinda says it all, doesn’t it?  A nice, neat and succinct taste of what is to follow which, as you can imagine, is an article that puts down blogging, bemoans the increasingly ‘lost art’ of journalism and pretty much freaks out about the impact the Internet is having on the profession.

Commenting on the fact that a colleague blogged about watching the triathalon with her in Beijing.

I’m not sure if my hair burst into flames, but I wanted to burn something down.

She describes that moment as

The official end of journalism as I know it.

Christie Blatchford, for those unfamiliar with her work, is a columnist for whom moments of high drama are rather familiar territory.  High drama and Mitch Joel? Maybe not so much.  Very interesting. Very revealing. I’m curious to hear what he has to say on the subject.  Curious, because I’ve stopped listening to the podcast to write these words, so as not to be influenced by his arguments. 

I find it interesting .. though hardly surprising .. that ‘traditional’ journalists like Blatchford might indeed freak out over the explosion of the very meaning of news reporting.  To push the euphemism further, We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.  It is no longer media as we once knew it.  Now, ‘citizen journalists’ have easy access to a powerful communications platform.  The average Joe can climb on a soapbox that carries his point of view much farther than the sound of his own voice in the town square might once have done.

I find it interesting .. though hardly surprising .. that this new reality isn’t being heralded far and wide by journalists who will fight and die for their First amendment and fourth estate rights as a good thing.  After all, if everyone is talking, is there anyone left to listen?  Christie Blatchford might be surprised to learn that the answer .. at least from my point of view .. is a resounding yes.

I believe that there will always be a place for ‘traditional’ forms of journalism.  I just think that journalists will need to adapt to a changing climate.  We’ll need fewer generalists, and more specialists.  We’ll need fewer reporters and more analysts.  More good writers, with compelling insight and commentary.  More journalists like Christie Blatchford, for example.

Blatchford compares the journalist’s craft to the skill of a surgeon, drawing the conclusion that blogging is paramount to a patient conducting self diagnosis.  Who is she kidding here?  If we were to conduct a survey of journalists who have manned news desks and won Pulitzers over the last, say, 50 years, how many of them could we categorize as ‘classically’ trained?  I suspect that until fairly recently the majority would have honed their craft on the job.  Talent is talent and the cream rises to the top.  It has been true for journalists and it is true for bloggers.  You write well? Are considered to be a credible source of information? You’ll have followers.

Blatchford quotes Michael Farber as follows:

« I have only a finite number of words in me. » He is guarding what’s left, properly determined not to squander them.

It is perhaps because I’m not a journalist that this statement is simply beyond me.  As a professional writer, however, I can tell you that blogging on a regular basis and putting thoughts to ‘paper’ — or the digital equivalent of it — allows me to keep my particular talents honed.  My blog posts might not all be gems, but there are enough of them for me to continue to think the endeavour is worthwhile and for my readers to continue to follow me.  Practice, as the saying goes, makes perfect.  The more I write, the better I get.

A lot of digital ink has been spilt in reaction to Ms Blatchford’s column, both in blogs and in the comments section of the article’s online incarnation.  The article was published on August 21st and remains accessible.  Just like the blogs that have been archived on the Web for the past ten years now.  Accessible for review, citation and comment.  Not too bad for something supposedly ephemeral. Ephemeral? On this point, Ms. Blatchford choice of adjective only serves to underline the fact that she is completely disconnected from the online reality.

I’m not sure why Ms. Blatchford is so wary of receiving comments and seems to prefer the ‘monologue’ of traditional journalism.  Maybe it’s because I’m not a journalist, but if I were in her position, I’d run with it and enjoy the ride, instead of debasing my readership as she seems to do in her article:

And journalism wasn’t meant to be a conversation, anyway. It was maybe a monologue, at its most democratic a carefully constructed dialogue. If readers didn’t like or agree with the monologues in paper A, they bought paper B. What was most important about their opinions was that they thought enough to spend the coin.

All in all, I find the position Ms. Blatchford has taken to be rather regrettable.  More for her than for the rest of us, mind.

The passion in Mitch Joel’s voice has moved me to write these words.  To document my impressions for the record.   Once I return to his podcast and finish listening to his point of view I may just call in to leave an audio comment.  Like everyone online who is reacting to Blatchford’s column, I’ll add my voice to a conversation that goes beyond my living room.  That goes beyond my city, my country, my continent.  This is the power of social media.  This is the reason we live in exciting times.

It might be worth reminding ourselves that Blatchford’s argument is nothing new.  When television news hit the scene in the 1950s, print journalists had a similar reaction.  Yet who among us who has watched footage from the Vietnam war or September 11th can deny the compelling impact of television news?

These is a place for every news platform and every communications tool. 

How grateful I am not to be facing the present and future with dread.

4 réponses à “The Blatchford brouhaha”
  1. Avatar de Éric Bolduc

    I keep this line for myself :
    These is a place for every news platform and every communications tool.

    I strongly beleive in the zoo analogy, I use it for almost everything that ressembles a system with parts. We’re all different animals and it’s thrilling to see differences in the world .. I think 😉

    That’s why my blog is call the visual arts’ « diversity » webzine ..

    All the love Michelle – keep up the good work (does that sound condescendant ?)


  2. Avatar de Michelle Sullivan

    Not at all – thanks for commenting Éric.

    Everyone: Check out Éric’s webzine – I help him out once in a while with some communications strategy and I’m very proud of how he has gained notoriety through his blog. Eric is now a local art scene reference for mainstream media and has been interviewed for radio and in print.

    Some day soon I’m going to have to write a blog post about how Eric has leveraged social media to great result.

  3. Avatar de katherine

    Even if I try to play l’avocat du diable and suggest that there’s something to the argument that there’s something to be said for trained, educated, thoughtful professionals to be working as journalists, I still end up coming down on the side of the argument that says, if we instead educate our citizens to be thoughtful, to be able to look at facts and examine arguments and form opinions instead, then it doesn’t matter who is reporting, trained journalist or citizen journalist, because then even average folk will be able to winnow out the wheat from the chaff, and select for themselves the work of the best journalists, « official » or « citizen ».

    What does worry me, though, is that we spend less time and money educating people to be thoughtful consumers.

    That argument of « having only so many words in me » stumped me, as well, but I consider words one of the delightfully perpetually renewable resources, too.

  4. Avatar de Michelle Sullivan

    I’m in complete agreement with you, Katherine. The year I taught high school History and Economics, I tried to instill in my students the need for critical thinking. As historians, we know that the sources we read in our research are biased. In fact, even the historian, despite his or her best efforts to be neutral, is plagued by an innate bias. I see journalists in much the same way. I remain vigilent to the editorial line of any publication I read and never take a single source at face value. The best example, in my mind, comes from Quebec : discussion about politics here is often polemic. The same event or incident can be (and generally is) reported very differently by the Montreal Gazette (our city’s English language daily) and Le Devoir (French language daily). I read both, listen to in-depth analysis by political experts whose opinions I respect, check out La Presse Canadienne and then make up my own mind based on everything I’ve read and heard.

    The last thing I want is for journalism to disappear as a profession. I count on journalists I respect to give me the information I need to make informed decisions about the way I interact with the world around me. I just don’t share Blatchford’s alarmism and prefer to see the democratization of media through online platforms as a positive evolution.

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