Blatchford pines for the monologue

by Mathew on August 21, 2008 · 26 comments

At the risk of causing an inter-office brouhaha, I can’t resist commenting on the piece that my Globe and Mail colleague Christie Blatchford wrote for the paper today, about her dislike of this whole “blogging” phenomenon, and how it is ruining journalism (at least I think that’s her point). Ms. Blatchford has carved out a reputation at both of Canada’s national newspapers for being a crusty, “things were better back in my day” kind of columnist, so this is very much in that spirit — but it’s more than that. You can tell by reading it that Blatch really believes that something special about journalism is dying.

It’s more than just not having time to blog after writing newspaper stories, although that’s part of her complaint, and it’s more than just the fact that blogs are filled (she believes) with meanderings and ephemera of little value. There are two key portions of her rant, as far as I’m concerned. The first is where says that:

“Everyone’s a writer now. Everyone’s an editor … this is the democratization wrought by the Web [and] its chief effect, at least upon journalism, is to diminish whatever craft, and there is some, is left in the business.

It is not true that anyone can write. It is not true that anyone can write on deadline. It is not true that anyone can do an interview. It is not true that anyone can edit themselves and sort wheat from chaff.”

We’ve all heard this one before, many times — and it still doesn’t hold water. How does blogging, or the fact that anyone can be a writer or an editor, diminish whatever craft is left in the business? If anything, it should make real craftsmanship even more obvious, since there is so much drivel out there. And as I said to someone on Twitter after a discussion of Blatchford’s piece came up, the fact is that everyone can write now, and we had better get used to it. Not everyone can write well, obviously, and not everyone is worth reading. That’s a different question.

The second key part of Christie’s rant is where she says:

“Journalism wasn’t meant to be a conversation, anyway. It was maybe a monologue, at its most democratic a carefully constructed dialogue.”

This is the least defensible part of her argument, in my opinion. Who says journalism wasn’t meant to be a conversation? It wasn’t one in the past, that’s true — or only a “carefully-constructed dialogue” — because we didn’t have the ability to create a real two-way discussion. Now we do. Do some people use it to hurl mud, or for self-aggrandizement, or other useless purposes? Of course they do. So do some columnists and op-ed writers, and we seem to cope with that pretty well.

Loren Feldman told me that he agrees with Christie, and that he likes to read what I write, and doesn’t care about the comments. That’s very flattering. And as I said to Loren, there are some things that deserve to be monologues — obviously, we wouldn’t want Shakespeare to have to wade through dozens of inane comments on the weaknesses of his plays, or subject Shelley or Keats to the same thing every time they came out with a new poem. But you know what? Most people, Christie included, aren’t Shakespeare or Keats, and in many cases there are valuable opinions — and Lord knows, even actual facts — that emerge from comments. That has value.

And speaking of comments, here are some good ones:

“You mean mere readers aren’t allowed to dare comment on the written work of their betters? Get out of the ivory tower. Newspaper writing has long been sub-par (yours is a rare exception) and readers are starting to get tired of being fed hastily-written pap.”

“Ironic criticism from a reporter who, over the years, has subjected her readers to page after page after page of verbose prose ABOUT HER DOG.”

“Tom Stoppard once said that a journalist is ‘someone who flies around from hotel to hotel and thinks the most interesting thing about any story is the fact that he [she] has arrived to cover it.’ You should chew that over Ms Blatchford.”

and one of my favourites:

“Well I didn’t think too much of the article; but I did find some of the comments very interesting, entertaining and insightful.”

The really ironic thing, of course, is that Christie was born to be a blogger. Many of her pieces, even the ones that revolve around news events and more traditional reporting, have a lot of Christie herself in them, and many of her columns are intensely personal. She also writes a lot — way more than the average reporter or columnist. She is a blogger without a blog. I think she just doesn’t want to have to do it all the time, and doesn’t like the fact that people can comment on what she writes.

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