April 17, 2005
All Regimes Are Founded on Opinion: Two Letters to PressThink
A pastor in Ohio says that mainline churches have had the same model of professionalism that is causing such problems in mainstream journalism. A volunteer in Northfield, MN says that when public officials start weblogs, it makes local blogging more vital.
NOTHING appears more surprizing to those, who consider human affairs with a philosophical eye, than the easiness with which the many are governed by the few; and the implicit submission, with which men resign their own sentiments and passions to those of their rulers. When we enquire by what means this wonder is effected, we shall find, that, as FORCE is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion. It is therefore, on opinion only that government is founded; and this maxim extends to the most despotic and most military governments, as well as to the most free and most popular.
Among those to discover the truth of Hume’s maxim, the most spectacular case in recent times was of course Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, whose power crumbed before his eyes. Bruce Nelan in Time magazine made note of it a week after Ceausescu’s execution on Christmas Day, 1989.
“A dictator falls when fear changes sides, when individuals coalesce into crowds and defy him,” Nelan wrote. “Emboldened by the discovery that they are not alone, they take to the streets and squares to protest, and they learn — though sometimes at great cost — that no tyrant can kill or arrest an entire nation.”
“Opinion” in Hume’s sense, which is not yet “public” opinion, was the decisive factor in the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe, where the reluctance to attack one’s own people among policemen and soldiers—their opinion that this would be a terrible crime, and a stain on themselves that would last forever—led to peaceful regime change.
But it’s not just government. Bill Gates is speaking Hume’s language when he says that Microsoft is always three years away from extinction. As it was for the regime in Romania, so it is for the regime in Redmond, and so for the professional regime in journalism: it too is founded on opinion, in a far deeper way than polls can ever measure.
Yesterday I received a letter from Jeff Gill, a pastor (Disciples of Christ) in Granville, OH. It’s about how all newspapers—and all churches—are founded on opinion; when opinion shifts the foundations will rock. Those who have built their professional house on it may forget what the foundation is made of. They start to see themselves as the solid thing.
Gill is also a “Faith Works” columnist for the local daily, The Newark Advocate. He says, “As a pastor I have a very real sense of the importance of local dailies and even crappy ol’ free weeklies to build community, or foment division if that’s what clarity brings. Some regular platform for cueing the 20 percent of any town, village, or city that actually get things done as to what needs doing, or stopping, is incredibly important. I can’t figure out what that would look like in Midwestern communities without a newspaper, but I’m afraid that folks who are concerned about big-C Community had better start imagining, fast.”
Here’s his letter:
“There is no loyalty to the mechanism, not because loyalties changed, but because they were never loyal to the mechanism in the first place.”
OK, so i’m late to this party, but as a columnist in two papers and a 20+ year pastor, i couldn’t not share this thought with you after reading this quote from Matt Welch in your post, “laying the newspaper down” gently or not…In case you didn’t notice, Shaw thinks he and his colleagues are “accurate and fair”…. This, I believe, is the nut of his real objection — that the weird, ahistorical 1960-2000 period of newspaper consolidation, and the “professionalization” that came with it, produced a monochromatic culture of trying-to-be-fair newsgathering that Shaw believes is basically the only legitimate form of journalism. It’s an incredibly conservative and arrogant view.
Another letter came yesterday from Griff Wigley of Northfield.org, (Citizen Wig) who could have been featured in my citizen journalism survey post, Are You Ready For a Brand New Beat? He wrote to tell me about his nonprofit, which is trying to get the civic leadership in town to start blogging, under the theory that while having a few local bloggers and an aggregator page may not mean much, it starts to get interesting when the police chief, a member of the local school board, and a state representative, to name three, are actively participating. Even local governments, after all, are founded on opinion. A public official’s weblog is a recognition of that, but also a new way of imagining the job. Here’s Griff Wigley’s letter:
“We’re getting a view of these leaders in a way that’s not typical. And their blogging gives the citizen bloggers good stuff to blog about.”
I’m a volunteer for a community web site called Northfield.org in my hometown of Northfield, Minnesota. It’s run by a non-profit, Northfield Citizens Online. In late 2003, we started a Civic Blogosphere Project, where we began putting weblogs in the hands of the local citizenry.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
… public education is in the same boat as journalism. It’s an institution founded on opinion, rather than specialized technology of a profession. Thus, it’s under fire. Although educators rose to prominence in the Progressive Era, using IQ tests as their professional technology, rather than “objective” reporting.
Read about the rising demand for accountability in the PR world, another regime founded on opinion.
Greensboro News-Record Editor John Robinson on Welcoming the public policy makers to blogging.
My hope is that, as public servants, they embrace the potential before them, and they use their blogs to further the principles of democracy, and develop the sites as places to give and get information and knowledge. What a wonderful way, for instance, to illuminate the council’s thinking on a contentious issue or perhaps reveal some of the civic conversation that takes place behind closed doors.
Here’s the newspaper’s list of local politicians with weblogs.
Texas State Representative Aaron Pena (Austin area) has a blog, which recently linked to PressThink in a post about shield laws for reporters and bloggers.
“The boat may be leaking, but I prefer it to a cruise with Kathy Lee.” Jeff Jarvis’s sister, Cindy Jarvis, is a Presbyterian minister (here.) She had this reaction to Gill’s letter:
Utilitarian religion that “works” (meaning numbers—headcount plus bucks) has always had sex appeal… well, you know what I mean. The mainline churches have looked to the mega-churches for technique, forgetting “the substance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” that have, over the centuries, given people both a ground on which to stand (a perspective both complex and comforting) and lent to daily life a meaning that does not rise and fall with the NYTimes best seller list.
Brother Jeff Jarvis says we’re at a tipping point with citizen’s media:
I know of the heads of at least three national TV news operations who are eager to incorporate citizens’ media; I know of more newspaper editors who are finally sidling up to the concept. I hear less and less of the dismissive jabs from big-time editors about small-time citizen journalists. Blogs are now a regular feature on MSNBC and CNN. Bloggers are getting quoted in newspapers and credited with big stories (Trent, Dan, et al). Newspapers are getting published with citizens’ news.
Alan Mutter, at Reflections of a Newsosaur, on the big companies in the newspaper industry:
So, not only are credibility, circulation and market share crumbling, but stock prices are falling, too. Why?
In other words, stock prices are founded on opinion.
Reporter Michael Liedtke of Business Week on the meeting of the Newspaper Association of America (publishers group):
“There are pockets of people within every (newspaper) who think we should be doing more on the Internet, but there are also other pockets of people who wish it would just all go away,” said Ian Murdock, senior vice president of the San Francisco Chronicle.
OhmyNews is going global. The citizen journalism sensation in South Korea “has started a citizen reporter login system where anyone around the world with an internet connection can participate,” according to this account in Editors Weblog. Equally informative is this interview with Jean K. Min, Director of OhmyNews International.
Barista of Bloomfield Avenue—featured in Are You Ready…? — pointed me to Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn, a sharp, witty and good-looking neighborhood weblog for the Park Slope area of the world’s most famous borough.
Eight is Enough. Copy editors, take note:
I think that’s enough for what was a pretty bad pun to begin with.
One piece of good news is that arts journalism is being transformed before our eyes by the rise of Web-based new media—and just in the nick of time. The old mass media were and are zero-sum operations, as advocates of literary fiction have been discovering to their dismay in recent years. Allocate more space (or air time) to one topic and you have that much less space available for all other topics: novels compete with memoirs, classical music with jazz, theater with film, indie flicks with special-effects extravaganzas. Now that most of us live in one-newspaper towns, and now that newspapers themselves are struggling for survival, that’s turned into an iron law.
Read Teachout’s Eternally obsolete. It’s about art, technics, cultural shifts and what the Web has wrought in his lair. I love the way this discussion is exploding.
Via Ed Cone, this from Howard Fineman of Newsweek: “Professional journalist is an oxymoron.”
First the bad news from Howard Kurtz: Reporters are facing a “growing tide of personal attacks by bloggers and e-mailers.” Now the good news, from the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank:
Milbank says there are “nasties” on the left and right and during the campaign “both decided I was full of it and hopelessly biased. There’s so much noise that you have to tune it out.”
Right Wing News generates some news by asking “A List” webloggers on the Right side of things to name their own A List of Right side bloggers. Interesting, if you know the blogs…
Posted by Jay Rosen at April 17, 2005 10:57 AM Print