Story location: http://archive.pressthink.org/2004/11/09/welch_react.html
Los Angeles, Nov. 9. The bemused political writer Matt Welch, who lives in LA, is one of my favorite bloggers because he is one of blogging’s more independent thinkers— and he’s a journalist with an eye. After absorbing my last post, Not Up to It, he wrote in with some things newspapers can do as they “react to a world that increasingly ignores them & treats them with skepticism bordering on derision.” (MSM, for those who get their news by carrier pigeon, means “mainstream media,” which for purposes of this note could mean the daily newspaper in your typical American town.) Welch:
Jay: Here’s my advice for your rap tomorrow (or more precisely, for the dreaded MSM going forward.)
When ignored and derided:
1) Don’t make endorsements, make confessions. Forget looking down the mountain at the plebes & telling them how to vote. Instead, poll your newsroom about who they’re voting for, who they’ve voted for in the past, what parties they belong to, and etc. Give them the option of saying “fuck off.” Make that data as public as possible (by, for instance, noting that 96% of your staff voted for Kerry, and then providing the personal details of the 22% who were brave enough to weather transparency). The idea is not to advertise your bias, but on the contrary, to be as upfront and transparent as you demand of others. You’ll also be knee-capping the bias-hunters, and figuring out whether your news organization has some ideological blind spots worth addressing.
2) Don’t limit this transparency to politics. Why isn’t there a mini-homepage for every single bylined reporter, with links & headlines & dates on every last thing he/she has ever written for the paper? When that reporter calls, you could look it up, and you’d have a much better idea of who you’re dealing with. Increasingly, I call people who know me from my website (including the resume page), and their knowledge of me makes the interview much better for me. Why shouldn’t we know how old the copy editors are, or what they do exactly, or how many staffers have J-school degrees, or what teams the sportswriters actually root for? It’s a throat-clearing exercise, and it also allows readers to place the writers, and make them come to life. This is what the modern newspaper should do.
3) To hell with the ombudsman; put the editor out there, on the op-ed page, and in public, explaining with passion and humanity the decisions he or she makes.
4) Don’t be defensive. Look for the validity in the criticism, don’t expect the outsiders to understand your mores or speak in your language, and explain your position firmly.
5) Discover & co-opt the obvious blogging talent sitting in your backyard (18 months ago, I almost spit my coffee when an L.A. Times op-ed editor told me “yeah, it’s so hard to find talented people in this town.”)
Thanks, Matt. Based on nothing more than what I’m picking up between the lines of various conversations and interviews I have had with pro journalists lately, there’s at least some constituency among them—how big? don’t know—whose views are being radicalized by events.
They are seriousy worried about the “contraption,” as I called it— the rules of journalism as we know them. They understand that this equipment may not be up to the task of telling the world’s truths. And they are perhaps a bit surprised themselves at how open they are to new directions in journalism, other ways of defining the job. Heresies, even.
“What are we going to be doing in 2008?” one of them said to me. “I’m afraid we’ll go into that election with the same journalism we’re doing now, despite all this…” I could hear the strain in her voice, the disbelief.
Ideas like the ones in your note may find a hearing. I don’t know how many there are out there. They do exist. They’re alarmed at how poorly their profession has equipped them to fight. They’re not aware yet that the Internet makes it far easier for people of like mind to find each other.
Nov. 10, 2004
Don’t miss Matt Welch’s I Pledge Alleigance to … NOTHING!!!
Ed Cone writes:
Matt: “To hell with the ombudsman; put the editor out there, on the op-ed page, and in public, explaining with passion and humanity the decisions he or she makes.”
That’s exactly what the editor of our hometown paper is doing with his weblog. And he’s linking to and playing off other local blogs, too.
Cone is talking about John Robinson, editor of the News-Record, who blogs and has a natural feel for it. Definitely someone to watch. Here’s Cone’s post about Robinson taking up blogging.
And PressThink reader Anna points us to this blog post by the editor of the Greeley Tribune in Colorado, who is doing just what Welch recommended: explaining an editorial line-by-line.
Welch at his blog on how blogging works:
Last night I typed up some nonsense in an e-mail to Jay Rosen about how the Newspaper of Tomorrow should react to the New Reality or whatever, and he went ahead and published it on his site. This afternoon I get an e-mail from the publisher of Pegasus News, who tells me “that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
Among “the big loser was the press” pieces, this is easily the most frightening: Stephen F. Hayes, staff writer at The Weekly Standard, The Other Losers Tuesday Night. It’s about, “The failed media effort to oust George W. Bush.” Another is from Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal: 2004’s Biggest Losers: How Dan Rather and the media’s kings lost their crowns. “Big Media lost big,” he writes, “But it was more than a loss. It was an abdication of authority.”
Tim Porter of First Draft was at my presentation in LA (see Not Up to It for background) and filed a report on what I said.