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Comments by YACCS
Saturday, April 30, 2005

Not a member of the club


Not a real whale


I am not a "real journalist"!

My friend David Pescovitz recently appeared on a panel addressing the question of whether bloggers were "real journalists." Then I had one of those experiences that made that abstract question all too shockingly real.

I was preparing my application for a USC Annenberg School for Communication media fellowship, which paid tuition for a weekend seminar on "Covering Entertainment in the Digital Age." I noticed that the application required a lot of information to come from my "supervisor," so I called them up to ask how I as a freelancer should handle this. I'd already obtained a letter of recommendation from my editor of six years at Photo District News, for whom I've written dozens of features about how digital technology was transforming the visual arts. Several years ago when I was awarded two media fellowships from CASE, including one on art and technology, they were extremely accommodating, so I was not prepared to hear that while USC would accept applications from people like me, I might as well not bother because they really couldn't prove I was a "real journalist." When I listed all the publications I've written for over the years, they said it didn't matter. If I didn't work in a newsroom, I apparently wasn't a real journalist in their book.

I was angry at first, of course. But on further contemplation, it made a little sense. The "real journalists," newsroom reporters who are responsible for some of the sloppiest, most fear-mongering reporting around when it comes to the digital/information age we live in, are probably more in need of a thoughtful, informative seminar than writers such as myself, who cannot cruise by knowing my paycheck will come every two weeks no matter what half-assed dreck I publish. It made me realize that the most thoughtful, provocative journalism today is, in fact, coming from independents writing for magazines, writing books, an in some cases maintaining blogs. That's not to say all television and news reporters suck, of course, but I'm not the first to intimate a serious decline in standards.

In fact, I can't even remember the last time I referred to myself as a journalist. In my view, the word has an almost tawdry ring to it. I consider myself an independent writer who, in addition to writing fiction, doing some creative consulting and fun stuff like this blog, provides high-quality journalism for some great publications. If USC doesn't think that's even worth investing in, then I hope they enjoy going down with the sinking ship they've chosen to cast their lot with.


Ah, it's a quiet, cool Friday night and when I read this, I just shake my head. Because while I was thinking about the joys of blended drinks, I was saddened to see yet another example of how the MSM is missing the boat. There are few rules left. The modern Casablanca of journalism, the White House Press Corps, is so corrupt that Jerry Springer pointed out something simple: they are slaves to power. The fact is that they aren't just not doing the job, they are failing so badly that people are refusing to even engage them. They just stop watching CNN, MSNBC.

How cluless are they?

Jon Stewart is probably the most respected newsman in America, and he does fake news. While the media does glowing portraits of him, they don't seem to get his mere presence refutes them.

Unlike the British news satires, like Public Eye and Not the Nine O Clock News, which goes hammer and tongs after celebrities and politicians, The Daily Show goes after the media. It is a daily cry for a responsible media, one which does what it should. But the newsmen keep laughing. They don't get the joke is on them.

When the clowns of Crossfire realized people were laughing at them and not with them, they were shocked. They didn't get that people didn't like the screaming and thought Stewart was dead on. They didn't get that people were happy to cheer him on berating these people.

The reason that being a journalist matters is that it has legal implications. It wouldn't matter if there wasn't the law behind the rights of journalists. But other than that, the MSM is in need of reform. Not just a bullshit here and there patch. But deep and serious reform where the way they cover the news has to change.

But this post indicates something else, journalism is moving away from the corporation and to the individual. It was one thing when newspapers were owned by the rich and crazy, now they're just profit centers and the romance of reporting, that one thing which draws people in and keeps them around, is disappearing. It's not that politics and crappy editors have ruined the day, they've always existed. But there is just something fowl, like rotten chicken skin deep in a pile of garbage, which is coming from today's journalism. It's incomplete, it's dishonest. When a long time liberal like Sheryl McCarthy can cheer on taking money from a disability check, in the liberal Newsday, and no editor said "woah, this is kinda mean, and not in the good way" then you know you can smell the stink.

A mentally unbalanced lunatic like Nancy Grace gets two hours a night to rant about crime, nearly on the verge of a breakdown every freaking day on a news channel. It's like watching a speeding car crash into an exploding building. But this is a news show. On a news channel and no one cares. Once upon a time, people would have been embarassed to have this show on. Paddy Chayefsky was partially kidding with Network, but even he would have recoiled at Fox and freakshows like Grace.

You watch this shit, night after night and you want to beat your head against the wall, because you know this isn't what is supposed to be on. American journalists can rise to heroism when needed, but too often, their deskbound editors are undermining them. And this isn't new either. The Vietnam era had the same conflicts and people quit in frustration over the same issues. Peter Arnett hung on the longest, but was eventually backstabbed out of a job in the end.

And commentary? Shit it's turned into a partisan nightmare. Once, it was the establishment, now it's cruel pikers like Ann Coulter and Bill Kristol. They lie without pause or remorse. Every word they utter is as tainted as day old tuna. And they have gotten rich from it, obscenely rich.

Jenn Shreve is, of course, as much a journalist as me or anyone else. It has nothing to do with a newsroom. But the fact that some people think so is well, as sad as it is frustrating.

posted by Steve @ 1:05:00 AM

1:05:00 AM

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