What GL Said to BL About Blogging, Pete Hamill, Etc.
We were on the Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC yesterday and had the chance to expound on blogging, journalism and column writing. The topic choice wasn't ours. The invite came from BL's staff of superb producers because of some remarks renowned columnist Pete Hamill made about blogging on the show earlier this week. What Mr. Hamill said was this:
You know blogging, the blogosphere. When I teach at NYU I try to tell these young potential journalists: don’t waste your time with blogs because you need to be somewhere where there are editors, where you are getting paid. A blog might be useful therapy, but it’s not, at this stage of its development, journalism. I think that is a big mistake to be doing that kind of stuff.To which we say: Not so. About the only thing which Mr. Hamill said with which we can agree is that one should be getting paid for his or her work.
Therapy? Hardly. Certainly, there are very personal blogs, but there is also very serious reporting on blogs. Bloggers post stories precisely because blogs lack newsroom hierarchies and editorial priorities that may have nothing to do with the news. We constantly hear from both reporters and from community activists about good, solid stories in Brooklyn that are killed by editors or that are discouraged in the first place. (It reminds us of an editor many years ago, from whom we learned a great deal, but who told us not to write up our Q&A with Slobodan Milosevic during the war between Serbia and Croatia because we'd already written too many stories from the war zone and no one cared that Milosevic guy. Excellent call.)
On Brian's show, we said that perhaps five percent of the important stories in Brooklyn are reported in the press every week. We seriously misspoke. The figure is probably less than .5 percent. The fact is that there are countless stories in Brooklyn from environmental issues in Williamsburg and the demolition of historic structures to neighborhood development fights and illegal construction that wouldn't get any coverage without blogs. At the very least, the stories would never see the light of day unless they were written up in blogs like Brownstoner, Curbed, Gothamist and GL first.
Could the coverage be more in-depth? Absolutely. Could there be more "shoe leather" reporting? No question. But the fact is that without blogs there would no coverage or reporting of any sort, either facile or in-depth.
Few writers today approach the genius of Mr. Hamill, Jimmy Breslin, Murry Kempton and their peers. There are many reasons for that, one of them being that the editorial marketplace doesn't place the same value on that sort of writing, analysis and column writing anymore. That having been said, there are some damned good writers and thinkers plying their trade online. To the extent there are reporting limitations, they stem from the fact that most bloggers also have day jobs (another story in and of itself) and that they simply can't devote the time that someone earning his or her primary living from a news operation can. This is going to start slowly changing, we think, in the next several years.
Are there shortcomings? Absolutely. There is not enough diversity among bloggers by race, ethnicity, socio-economic background and even neighborhood. There are too many newcomers to neighborhoods writing about them and not enough lifelong residents. We are all creatures of our own backgrounds, and like it or not, we see the world through the glasses we wear.
That having been said, blogging is nothing short of the ultimate democratization of journalism. We said on Brian's show that Mr. Hamill would go into a bar and talk to someone and tell that person's story. Today, the person in the bar has the ability to go online and tell his or her own story without having to wait for Mr. Hamill to find them and tell the tale.
That is nothing short of a revolution.
(You can listen to the full segment here. We are in the second half):
Labels: Brooklyn Blogs