Saturday, June 16, 2007

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):



Blogger Lisanne said...

Hamill has also seemed to have forgotten that it is really difficult to get a "paying" job if you came up like him. The days where you start in the mailroom and work your way up are over. If you don't go to some fancy college (like NYU) you are not going to report for the big newspapers.The fact that he thinks no one has the right to get their voice heard unless you are edited and getting paid is pretty sad. He sounds fearful or maybe a little jealous!

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've long been admirer of Pete Hamill. It depresses me to hear him saying something so—I'm sorry—stupid. It makes me think he's become uninformed and out of touch, too stuck in his 1950s-1970s view of the journo world. Newspapers and reporting are in a very different place today than when he pounded the sidewalk. The main reason I started my blog "Lost City" was because those editors Hamill speak of refused to, or were not interested in, covering the New York stories that I felt were important.

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

props for the Hammill beatdown & Brooks, i'm puzzled where the respect for Pete comes from? what precisely has he done about BK in the last, oh, 30 years? he's been through the (gin)mill sure & mighta quipped about the non-existance of "Green-wood Heights" (i agree) but he's an ersatz everyman HACK who's not even in the same galaxy as Breslin, let alone. (having a passport with same stamps as 100s of other jokers doesn't impress me, sorry.) there's a great Brooklyn reportage book I suspect you've not read or else you would have been down on Hammill's wild Irish horseshit long ago.

as for blogs: yah, the ** potential ** is there, thank you for noting that, but the potential is, by and large... not even close to being realized. the race, class biases are not be understated either because every idea you have for representing Brooklyn can be extended to ... well, let's just say check the census (as much of a moving target as that is) and NOTE: immigration is still way greater (in #s, not power) than ANY of the jillion condo projects. which do need to be scrutinized but

1) not to exclusion
2) not with mere "irony"

the not-even-borderline racism of the Kensington & Prospect-Lefferts blogs is beyond loathesome too, and not for any "PC reasons," rather their intellectual failure to RECOGNIZE even the outline of everything else around them.

rememner, SOME people learned BK & the city thru friends, books (& Hammill's drinking memoir isn't even a good version of THAT schlock), the subway, bike, sneaker and... the community papers. The Times is almost always crap on the city, esp. Brooklyn (only good thing about Atlantic Yards is it finally woke some people up to that), the News a joke, Newsday in serious decline (but was excellent at their best).

The Post, because of their weird populist streak, is actually decent on corruption issues; They don't get as deep as the Voice at their best but they've done more than most, just ask Mr. Fig.*


p/s: the (total lack of) ethics (or street smarts) of dilettante 'photobloggers' who blow spots needs to be addressed also, but i'm not the gal to do it.

* name everyone reading this should recognize.

7:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the following, that you wrote, is true for print journalists as well, no?

"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."

10:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous: and your what point is what? In fact, as shitty as almost all of the papers are-- & as feckless shills for real estate, natch-- as a whole they are at least a LITTLE bit better than "the blogs," which are white white white and WHITE, with little apparent desire to discover what's beyond that in terms of all the PEOPLE (Red Hook food vendor tokenism aside).

artistically, i'm an absolutist so Robert can do whatever he likes but c'mon, L@@K at the photo he posted for his Sunday links...

Q: what is this crap, Home Simple?

awwwwwww, Brooklyn, so... COZY!!

(especially if you have your own fancy backyard furniture. how about photos of illegal dumping, Robert, or torched cars or homeless encampments or... lots of things (WORKING factories) instead, i.e. images that are NOT repeated ad nauseum everywhere by everyone ALL THE TIME (bc reality ain't good for the real estate biz or bloggers who call certain types of people "sketchy.")

since this blog takes its title from the canal, how about representative coverage of ALL of those who live and ** work ** between say Hoyt & 4th Avenue? if you want respect as an alternative than BE the alternative and that means linking up to THE STREETS as they exist, not a bunch of other mostly like-minded lily bloggers.

Debbie Hammill-- I think she meant DOROTHY, ooops-- dropped a jewel on youse too: Mr. Fig. one free beer to the first person who finds me a single blog discussing this (it might be out there, i don't know). and if you do NOT know who/what Mr. Fig is... than please don't think most blogs know SHIT.

because i'm feeling generous, i'll throw Brooks, Robert and Anonymous a bone:

read ALL of the late J.A. Lobbia's columns in the Village Voice, or as many are archived. the first one to look for in terms of local flava is here--,lobbia,6033,5.html

it's a little old school, i know, but you have to confront the old school to understand the new. youse owe me.

M. Poggi of Butler St

1:26 PM  

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