The week (February 9th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

As the legendary columnist Jimmy Cannon used to say: nobody asked me, but…

NYU’S MITCHELL STEPHENS HAS RE-IMAGINED THE ROLE OF MAINSTREAM JOURNALISM in his provocative Columbia Journalism Review essay “Beyond News.”

Stephens believes that the Internet and the 24/7 news cycle has made obsolete the traditional next-day reporting of newspapers and the broadcast media. He argues for a new approach to avoid irrelevancy:

But the extra value our quality news organizations can and must regularly add is analysis: thoughtful, incisive attempts to divine the significance of events — insights, not just information. What is required — if journalism is to move beyond selling cheap, widely available, staler-than-your-muffin news — is, to choose a not very journalistic-sounding word, wisdom.

Stephens calls for more “analyzing and appraising” by reporters and for “insightful” journalism, where editors and reporters draw conclusions and share them, abandoning their traditional neutral observer role. Stephens at one point in his essay talks about how journalists must “connect the dots” to remain relevant.

There are some intriguing ideas in the Stephens piece. In practice, however, I don’t see how you could keep this aggressive news analysis from sliding into outright opinion or commentary once reporters start drawing conclusions (vide: Lou Dobbs). You can find this sort of journalistic hybrid currently practiced by cable commentators like Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly and while it is entertaining, I’d question whether it provides readers and viewers any “wisdom” per se, or simply serves to confirm partisan prejudices.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t room for Dobbs, Olbermann and O’Reilly’s approach—or for the commentary in the Weekly Standard, New Republic, and The Nation. But, despite the erosion of circulation and audience the mainstream media is experiencing, there remains a strong need for objective-means reporting—“mere journalism“—that offers readers and viewers a balanced account of events, places them in context, and explores their significance, without abandoning impartiality. A journalism based on accuracy, balance and independence still has a lot of mileage left.

NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF HUMAN COMPETITIVENESS, which is why the $25 million “Virgin Challenge” climate prize offered by British entrepreneur Richard Bransonfor anyone who can find a better way to “suck greenhouse gases out of the air” is a very clever idea. Branson knows it’s not just the money that will encourage prize-seekers to pursue innovation in mitigating greenhouse gases—he is counting on our innate drive to finish first in any contest.

And Branson’s no piker when it comes to environmental issues: he’s pledged some $3 billion in fighting global warming. At the same time he is seeking more environmentally-friendly Virgin airplanes, even as he looks to develop space tourism.

CAN IT BE THAT BASEBALL’S SPRING TRAINING OPENS next week? Already? In Florida and Arizona, pitchers and catchers will report for the start of yet another season. Tempus fugit!

THE POLITICO’S ANDREW GLASS has offered advice to new Capitol Hill reporters, including this tip: “When you go after people, do so in a classy way.” The veteran reporter gives an example of his own “kinder and gentler” approach from his days at the old New York Herald, when Glass observed of a “tipsy” Sen. Russell Long that he had “lunched well, but not necessarily wisely.”

ONE OF AMERICA’S LAST WORLD WAR I VETERANS, Antonio Pierro, has died at the age of 110 in Salem, Massachusetts. Pierro once told the Boston Globe“It’s all up to you to do what you want in life. There are pleasant things to do, and there are terrible things not to do, and that’s the way I see it.” Pierro was described by his niece as a “real charmer who lived a wonderful life.”

It’s easy to forget that World War I was seen by its participants as the “war to end all wars.” Unfortunately human spiritual development has lagged behind our technological advances in building and employing weapons; we remained plagued by the “dogs of war.” Is it too much to hope that by the end of the 21st century that war will have the same status as slavery—universally condemned and geographically isolated?

WHAT WOULD MY SWEDISH-AMERICAN GRANDMOTHER, who believed cleanliness was next to Godliness, think of the trendy fascination with dirt floors, reported in the New York Times this week (one of the Grey Lady’s most e-mailed stories)? Not much. And she would have made a few tart comments about the foolishness of rich people.

THIS WEEK’S QUOTE IS FROM English novelist Jane Austen: “For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?”

Copyright © 2007 Jefferson Flanders
All rights reserved

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2 thoughts on “The week (February 9th, 2007): Nobody asked me, but…

  1. When I think about all those trees wasted on newspaper production… it’s unbelievable! In this day and age, people should turn to internet and forget about newspapers! Or at least we should stop wasting natural resources on most of them, the ones that don’t bring much quality or value.

  2. Zebra,

    A tree is wasted when someone reads their news on it, but not when they build a house out of it, make a napkin out of it or create any other paper product from it?

    Not everyone can afford a computer to access the internet with. More importantly, however, not everyone views newspapers as things lacking in “quality and value,” as you have so eloquently put it, as evidenced by the fact that they continue to buy them.


    I think the direction journalism is heading is one of de-centralization, as evidenced by services such as the Politico. I am encouraged by news agencies who choose entrepreneurship and specificity. One reason people don’t use traditional news services anymore is because these services don’t have the resources to do a good job of reporting on EVERYTHING they cover. Another reason is that people don’t CARE about everything they cover. In that sense, a service that specializes in one topic and gives people a chance to come get only what they want from it is ideal.

    “A jack of all trades, master of none.” That’s traditional journalism. The internet is tearing that one apart, thankfully. (There’s also RSS and aggregator services for people who DO still want it all in one place!)

    As for the dirt floors, I found this quote most telling (among many telling quotes):

    ‘Some aficionados see a spiritual aspect to earthen floors, too. Mr. Rowell said his floor would help create a “sacred space.” Mr. Meyer agreed. “I think people are craving the earth,” he said. “They want to be more primal. How much more primal can you get than dirt?”’

    I’m of the firm opinion that environmentalism is simply a new kind of religion for the secular, “post-modern” man who feels strangely lost in this godless world he has helped to create. What’s perhaps most comical about environmentalism as a religion, however, is its inherent anti-humanness and rejection of the sanctity of human life.

    Whereas a traditional religion such as Christianity claims human life to be sacred and suicide a sacrilege, environmentalism embraces large-scale suicide of its willing adherents (and many unwilling, non-believers as well) as perhaps the first and most important commandment, in its never-ending attempts to prostrate man in front of Holy Mother Earth and all her other children, who are somehow deserving of equal or even superior status to thinking, reasoning, creative man.

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