One of the first things Dan and I agreed on about blogging is that we wouldn’t go after the “easy” targets like Krugman because that kind of “fisking” is already all over the web and we aren’t adding anything to the discussion that hasn’t been done before.
However, this “free pass” does not apply to journalists. In general, we believe that most journalists are uninformed about the topics that they write about beyond a superficial level and as a result often miss the entire point of the issue. There are exceptions, of course, such as Michael Lewis, who wrote the great books Moneyball, Liar’s Poker and the Blind Side about baseball, finance, and football respectively. Michael Lewis represents the pinnacle of journalism in that he inhabits and deeply understands the topics that he writes about and weaves together a gripping tale of individuals that illuminates rather than obscures his topics.
In 2007 I attended a seminar on journalism sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs that I wrote about in this blog post. At the seminar I asked the journalists how they could compete against bloggers who wrote about a narrow range of topics that they understood exceedingly well while the journalists were mostly generalists who skimmed the surface and threw in “the human element”. Their basic answer is that the reader couldn’t trust someone like me because they don’t know my motivation but the journalist in the paper or through the official channel was a trustworthy professional by comparison.
While I thought then (and still do) that this answer is mainly bullsh*t it was a pretty thoughtful and effective answer on their part, because this cover of objectivity is better than trying to engage bloggers on their own terms who understand the topics that they write about (on good blogs, that is) far better than the journalist ever could.
The article above was in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune titled “NU (Northwestern) panel exonerates Medill dean“. The issue was that the DEAN (head) of the Northwestern journalism school recently changed the curriculum and summarized it in an article by saying that the students reacted favorably. However, subsequent research of the student body could not confirm this statement through notes or e-mails. The dean said that he should have kept notes and proof but that the sentiment was correct and thus he was exonerated.
What is strange is that the online link to the story that I link to above isn’t the same as the story in the paper; that is why I included a photo of the actual article. In the actual article in the print paper, a different professor at the Medill school says “if simply capturing the mood of unnamed sources is good enough to be used in quotation marks, then our standards as a journalism school are slipping.”
I agree with the last paragraph (not in the online version) and this goes right to the heart of their defense at the forum above; if the journalists can’t be trusted then we can see how they line up as generalist bloggers uninformed about their particular topics. I also find this whole dust-up to be rather astounding because Northwestern has one of the top journalism schools in the country and if their dean is unclear on these basic concepts I don’t know exactly what their degree is worth.
Give me a top journalist like Michael Lewis, some focused blogs (like this one), the AP wire and the Wall Street Journal (which is mostly pretty good) and you can be a pretty informed person. At least in my opinion…
Cross posted at LITGM