Thursday, August 07, 2008

Favorite Quote of the Week

'There will always be a place for the journalist who can craft a story better than anyone else, but there will be a bigger place for the journalist who can help media consumers find the information they want.'
--Journalism professor Clyde Bentley, during a presentation a couple of weeks ago at the Future of Journalism conference at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.


At 9:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

... and that place has been taken by the National Enquirer, since mainstream journalists are too politically biased to tell the truth.

At 9:59 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Snore... Your boorish comment reminds me of how this blog has been so blessedly free of right-wing nut-job comments. I'm guessing your comment is based on the John Edwards story, which is a non-story, since he's no longer a candidate. I'm proud of the quality serious media for ignoring it as long as they did. Let the lowbrow idiot culture media outlets, of which there are many, tend to those non-stories.

At 12:01 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

It strikes me that this was an argument in support of master reference librarians, and has nothing to do with journalism per se. How very sad, and how rather cynical about the aims and goals of journalism.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, I'm torn about this quote. As a purist, I was faintly alarmed (at least on one level) that a journalism prof would say this. On another level, it is indeed where the web is taking journalism. In his defense, note that he's not setting it up as an "either or" proposition but rather an "and also" thing. Having only moments ago enthused yourself about the subject of Paul Newman, prompted by a link to a story about him that I noted and shared with you and others, it strikes me that this is a good example of what he's talking about. As a writer, I like to both have something original to say to readers, as well as share great material I find by others. What's wrong with that?

It's interesting that you bring up reference librarians. I've always prided myself on using a handful of these golden resources to find material I wouldn't otherwise find. Another word for that is reporting, and it's a key building block in good writing. So again, I think those two things go hand in hand.

Anyway, I'd love others to weigh in on this as well, by the way.

At 2:37 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I'm all for both/and. I practice my entire life by that paradigm, actually, in alternative to the either/or paradigm.

I think of Dave Lull, master reference librarian, who uses the Web as a tool for spreading the word about many interesting topics. So your point about sharing information AND great journalistic is one I agree with.

I still have to shudder a little at the cynicism of the "media consumers" attitude, though, even if it does accurately represent the current state of affairs. It's an approach to journalism that strikes me as creating dittoheads rather than independent thinkers. It turns journalism into another service-oriented "content provider" (a term I as an artist hate being called) rather than into informative literary exercise that it CAN be. I guess I still tend to think of investigative reporting as the pinnacle of journalism, although I've always also thought that the well-written essay (op ed or column or otherwise) is a great artform. I aspire to write good essays myself; that's what my one blog is about, in part.

So, maybe I was responding to the situation that the quote highlights as much as to the quote itself. Hmn. I just don't think journalism should EVER pander to the audience. But then, I don't think art or poetry should pander, either. Maybe I'm missing something.

At 2:47 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Yes, there's simply no getting around the fact that how we interpret even a simple one-sentence quote is utterly dependent on a whole bunch of other stuff and lenses we bring to the material. Obviously, I'm anti-pandering too. And while we writerly purists tend to react viscerally against the idea of readers as consumers, it's getting increasingly harder to escape that notion, and publications that ignore that element do so at peril to their continued existence. I'm four-square in favor of publications and individual journalists doing what it takes to not only survive but flourish (obviously, while staying within ethical boundaries).

One other (until now) unspoken thing I was reacting to when it comes to journalism school is the fact that a lot of these schools, including even once-vaunted places such as Northwestern, are spending half or more of their resources training people for careers in PR. So by that standard, a j-school prof talking this way seems like a mild problem, relatively speaking.


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