Blatchford pines for the monologue

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.

26 thoughts on “Blatchford pines for the monologue

  1. Perfectly put. I couldn't agree more. The “democratization of the Web” doesn't mean you are bound to read every blog and opinion out there and take it as gospel, any more than I am required to watch Fox News.

    You use your judgment, you choose what you believe. Reading blogs is no different than reading OpEd anywhere.

    I think she wants to be honored somehow as someone who got a job in an industry, rather than someone who presents their opinion without a byline and a photo in a newspaper. But there are tons of idiot hacks working in mainstream journalism, too.:)

    It's only an honour if you have honour.

  2. Blatchford stated:

    “The thing that I know, as all the editors I have had also know, is what I didn't get to confide or write or commit to paper, because someone else had the good sense to put on the brakes.”

    It is unfortunate that her “brakes” didn't get to her before this post. History will judge this as one of her worst pieces ever.


  3. These pieces are the mainstream media's equivalent of link bait, eh? Summer has the visitor count down a bit to Write a piece that all the bloggers will link to–that ought to help.

  4. You captured my thoughts exactly with “She is a blogger without a blog”, although I might add that it seems more like she is a blogger in denial.

    Hopefully she'll realize that people aren't interested or in awe of monologues anymore–often I have something to add to stories that interest me, and I'm interested in seeing how other people react to the story as well.

  5. For years, journalists had it all their own way. All we, the intelligent populace could do, was read/watch/listen and howl at the moon. Blatchford is one of the more provocative, readable journalists around. But here she betrays the conceit and arrogance of her traditional mindset. Sad.

  6. In any of these “now vs. the Golden Age” debates it's always interesting to dissect the reality behind the nostalgia. The prevailing wisdom among Blatchford's set seems to be that the fragmentation of news ultimately means we know less, particularly about things that are actually important, but I just don't buy that.

    For example, the average teenager has ALWAYS known or cared very little about domestic politics, world affairs, economics, and so on. The difference now is that this information, though it may be surrounded by a lot of mindless drivel about gossip and celebrities, is actually accessible.

    Blogs give a voice to idiots, but their proliferation means that it's virtually impossible for any piece of fact-based news to escape being reported upon.

    I suspect the reality of the “curmudgeon” (“curmudgeoness”?) persona has more to do with the radical shift in the economics of producing and monetizing content. That is to say, it has more to do with initiative and focus than being within the safe walls of the establishment.

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  8. Silly me, I thought the “Letters to the Editor” section was the peons trying to have a conversation/ dialogue with the ivory tower before comments on blogs came into play.

  9. I don't understand what kind of “born blogger” you think Blatchford should be — someone who comments on the next 2.0 IPO or whether FriendFeed is better than Twitter? Respectfully, those are the only subjects I see discussed here, and in your column.

    A columnist dealing in human experiences and emotions is not going to get very far playing to that audience. They wouldn't understand it anyway.

    • If those are the only subjects you see discussed, Roll (or should that be Troll?), then you obviously haven't read very much of this blog. As for appealing to that audience, why would Christie have to do that? There are plenty of blogs for plenty of different audiences.

      • Why don't you write a post outlining what her potential market would be? I'm sure it would be useful for everyone.

  10. The reason I read Christie Blatchford's column in the first place is because she writes so personalized and I as though she's speaking directly to me. It's a shame she has such disregard for blogging. At last glance, her article had 98 comments. Not too shabby although I suspect they'd be more meaningful if they were part of a community she cultivated on her own blog.

    • That's part of what I think Christie is missing by being so dismissive of blogging, Eden — if she gave it a try, I think she could really develop a great community around her writing.

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  12. I read her piece with my mouth aghast in horror. What a train wreck of a piece. She really showed herself to be a bit of a dinosaur. And for someone with apparently only a finite # of words which she does not want to waste on blogging, she can be verbose.

  13. I think you mischaracterise her argument slightly, Matt. The first thread of which is not an attack on the democratisation of journalism (that comes later) but instead a theory of why the act of blogging is bad for journalists:

    Most important, Michael Farber is right. We all have a limited number of things to say, informed opinions, funny lines, quirky observations. We have only so many words in us. Do we really want to spend them on something as ephemeral as a blog?

    Her point is that blogs, in encouraging and rewarding a near-constant stream of new material, set up a situation where it is all but impossible to consistently ensure quality journalism. Consistently good journalism requires time. Time to do the research, time to talk to the people involved and, most importantly of all, time to write. Blogging, with its emphasis on post now, ask questions later, all but precludes this. Moreover, the increasing pressure newspapers put on their reporters to churn out content is turning them from journalists into bloggers and from producers of quality writing to producers of poorly written drivel.

    While I think you do correctly identify the second strand of her argument (the democratisation of journalism is bad), with all due respect, I think your counter-argument is a little weak. First, if you're looking for someone let me be the person to say that journalism is not supposed to be a conversation. Just because a technology has come along and created a related field doesn't mean the related fields are equivalent. Journalists may now be bloggers but that doesn't mean that bloggers are journalists.

    Second, that we now have the ability to have a two-way dialogue is great and I'm all for celebrating that but let's call a spade a spade. A two-way dialogue? That's a conversation. It's people putting forth different points of view and modifying their position (or not) based on what the other person says. Journalism is the act of investigating a story (often one that's topical), doing the research, and writing it up in a way that informs the reader. Does that make journalism and the Internet mutually exclusive? No, of course not. What it means is that you can't just call any form of writing about current events journalism.

  14. Hi Mathew – we don't speak much, but I do follow your blog. Loved the post, and was feeling the same thing when reading the Globe this morning. The old-school writer in me vehemently sides with Christie, and the anybody-can-do-this-but-it's-harder-than-you-think blogger in me sides with you. It's messy, but I love the conversation – that's how you really know you're reaching your readers.

    On that note, I just wanted to add one thing. What I love about the online version of papers like the Globe is the ability for readers to comment on a specific article. That's the messy part of all this – it's both journalism and blogging mashed up together, and I think it's the best part of the online edition. I don't ever see people talking about this, and whenever I cite something from the Globe in my blog, I almost always talk about the comments as they provide a real barometer of the article's value that you just can't get in the print edition.

  15. blatchford's a fine writer and a provocative thinker. if she challenges convention, so be it & more power to her

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  17. I quite agree with you Mathew. She write in a very personal fashion. But I am very fickle when it comes to her articles I have loved some of them and think others are absolutely dribble.

  18. “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…”

    I don't always read the comments either. But sometimes I do, when I disagree or when I want to dig deeper into a story.

    But, more importantly, *you* read your comments. Even if the majority of readers don't participate in the comments thread, the fact that you as the writer engage in discussion benefits your future posts! Even the readers who never read the comments will benefit from them as they help you fine tune your points and alert you to new stories and perspectives.

  19. I don't know if journalism is in decline or if I am just getting more perceptive. It would be giving myself way too much credit to assume it is entirely the latter. I don't think it's fair to blame blogging. There is simply no commercial application for good journalism. Journalism is about educating your audience, which is completely contrary to how commercial media thrives. The larger the media company, the more journalism is likely to conflict with its best interest. If journalism is going to survive, it is going to have to somehow slip its commercial chains. Blogging is one way it could do that.

    I understand that in the past, we took pains to avoid the sorts of conflicts that are occurring today. We didn't allow such consolidated ownership of media, media outlets wanted to be seen to be operating their news departments at arms length, etc. Why did all that change?

  20. TWe get papers at the office, so the only time I buy the Globe is when Christie B,. writes about her dog. THAT'S the book I'd like to see.


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