April 2, 2012

An Apology

I owe a deep and profound apology to conscientious journalists everywhere because of my sloppy and dismissive attitude on this blog toward the profession ~ the calling, really.  I lumped hacks who phone it in in with serious journalists who do it because they truly believe in it, despite low pay, long hours, dwindling resources, and a hostile world.

On Saturday, I watched the documentary Page One about the New York Times, and it seriously underscored what I was talking and thinking about last week, about how the internet in some ways is making us dumber and how we NEED long-form journalism to save our very souls, if not our bodies and our lives.  Yes, what I’ve said in the past is true ~ there are limits to what the written word can accomplish ~ but I’m here to acknowledge that it’s the best tool we have and in the hands of the masters it’s a mighty tool.

Reporters, those who take their responsibilities seriously, are heroes in so many ways.  While the rest of us cower behind anonymity, they stick their necks out to have every Tom, Dick, and Sherri take potshots at them.  They stand up and stand for something.  They put their money where their mouths are.  They think deeply about things.  And it’s not just their reputations; sometimes it’s their bodies on the line when they report from a war zone or about the Mob.  And the deadlines, OMG.  Could you imagine having to write a story a day?  Or more than one?  Or long-form in other unbelievable short time spans.  We whine about writers’ block ~ I’m sure they’re all, like, grow a pair, will ya?

In the documentary, the legendary Carl Bernstein, of the Watergate story (with Bob Woodward for the Washington Post), said that what a journalist aims for is “the best obtainable version of the truth.”  There are a lot of obstacles.  The best version?  The closest to on-the-ground consensus reality.  Obtainable?  Ay, there’s the rub.  They have to really work sometimes to obtain that truth.  And I love the fact that they call it a story, conflicting narratives, because it acknowledges the fact that it is a constructed thing.  Yet for conscientious journalists it’s as comprehensive and as close to “the truth” as they can make it, as they are able to make it in the space and time allowed.

They are not only our front line of defense against tyranny ("the Fourth Estate"), they also literally create our reality.  Do you realize?  The stories they tell become the stories everyone tells each other about who we are and about our reality.  And the big papers like the New York Times report on stories that go all over the web.  Even at online “news” sites that are openly or slyly critical of the New York Times and other establishment news organizations, many of their stories originate at or are repurposed from the exact places they dismiss.  If these large establishments folded, there would be no news, and hence no check on the power of so many large organizations in our world. 

And finally, I want to say, I’m putting my money where my mouth is ~ in some small way. I am now subscribing to the New York Times online.  As I mentioned last week in the Clay Johnson post, we need a model where we pay for it.  It’s not free, even though we’ve been able to get away with it for a long time.  My measly subscription won’t do much, but it’s a token, standing up for a belief, and henceforth I hope to talk more on this blog about good long-form journalism.

With the zeal of the newly converted, or at least the severely chastened, I would urge you to purchase a subscription to the hard-hitting newspaper you read.


Ken said...

Thank you for your words of explanation, encouragement and support for long-form journalism. By long-form, of course, we not only talking about having enough room to tell the the most complete story, but the time and the resources to gather the information from reluctant or resistant sources and to thoroughly double check what is as close to facts are a journalist can obtain. In addition to flagship newspapers like the New York Times, there are several magazines also still providing great long-form journalism. Rolling Stone goes well beyond the music scene to provide in depth reporting on everything from the wars to environmental issues. The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Men's Journal, even Vanity Fair all have done great work.

Tamara said...

Thank you so much! It wasn't that I didn't believe in it at all of course! I was just being unforgivably sloppy, and as a writer I'm too aware of the shortcomings of the written word.

Thank you so much for pointing out some of the other great venues.

Hey, have you seen Byliner at all? What a great place to explore long-form from all different places.

And of course your long-form is spectacular. (Check it out when you get a chance, everyone!

(PS And yes I know you weren't fishing for a link. :-) But I'm honored to provide one.)

Ken said...

I have not seen Byliner. Thanks for the suggestion.
And for providing folks the blog link.

I didn't think you were unforgivable or sloppy. I appreciated your "mostly facts" post. We need to confront the flaws of a citizenry only informed by sound-bite and shout radio.