April 12, 2004

"US Declares War On Porn", versus journalism thoughts

The report of "US declares war on porn" has been generating much blog chatter. This post isn't about that article. Instead, it's a meta-post about "unpaid", I mean, "citizen", journalism connected to that "war" (inspired by recent blogs and journalism discussions). As I mentioned in my item Bruce Taylor, Declan McCullagh, and "rotten little kids", I recently attended the debate " New Media Forums and the First Amendment", where I had the opportunity to ask questions and discuss issues with one of the key figures in that "war on porn" (the aforementioned Bruce Taylor).

Now, in terms of ordinary people doing journalism, this is a fine case study. A Senior Counsel of the United States Department of Justice was quite willing to talk with me, even "on the record". He didn't ask me for my press credentials or name, rank, and serial number. He was in fact very nice and personable. I didn't need any special access or status. What I needed was time. Time to spend the day attending the Harvard symposium (which was free and open), then going to the reception. Then of course, there's the time spent if I wanted to write it up. I only wrote about one small part, rebutting where Declan McCullagh did another hatchet-job, as only a few people were going to read what I wrote. There was much more. But I'm supposed to volunteer all the journalistic effort, likely to go to waste, just for the joy and happiness of it? I'll pass. Because: Nobody is reading (comparatively).

Of course, I could have put in the time, and then put in even more time trying to get it accepted by an editor for a large audience publication, I mean, linked by an A-lister with a large readership. From this perspective, I'm a freelance journalist doing the same grind as every other freelance journalist. With the additional disadvantage that I won't even get paid peanuts if my article is accepted. Whoopie. Am I routing around Big Media yet?

This all takes effort. Flaming is easy: "The US government has declared war on porn, the fascists, isn't this just like those Religious Right fanatics in power to fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun. But they can't win, because The Internet will defeat them through its magic anti-censorship powers ..." (with a little polishing, that would even pass as some net-pundit's commentary).

Moreover, that mass of flaming forms a barrier - who is ever going to find my diamond of journalism amid the dross of all the sounding-off? A million vanity presses do not add up to a single well-researched report. But they sure can make that report hard to find.

Before someone tries to play 'gotcha!', and says I could have written the report instead of this very message, no, this message is much simpler. I don't have to fact-check it. I don't have to take extensive notes on another person's statements. I don't have to do any research.

I dislike a temptation I see by certain interests, to dispense with all the costly, difficult, expensive work - and replace it with the cheap stuff, your opinion, your comments, rant, rant, rant. Because that's very easy and far more popular. It's similar to talk radio. National Public Radio style issues discussion is boring, so get some shock-jocks instead. The voice of the people can be a euphemism for lowest common denominator.

Anyway, as I'm demonstrating, the question isn't if nonprofessionals can do journalism, in terms of ability. It's whether they can afford to do journalism, in terms of all the costs.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , journo | on April 12, 2004 08:21 AM (Infothought permalink) | Followups
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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In Jay Rosen's intro to his pre-bloggercon discussion, he suggested that in a real sense, anyone can do journalism. He also distinguised "professional" journalism from whatever it is bloggers are doing. What you say here develops that point in greater depth. I wish to underscore your point about time and money because both sides of the "journalism/blog" polarity regularly seem to ignore the fact that a highly developed and inherently for-profit corporate infrastructure underlies the institutions that house US journalistic products. Instead of ignoring it, perhaps it would be adviseable to "follow the money" and see how what we think of as the news is related to what we know about corporate profit making.

Posted by: tom matrullo at April 12, 2004 08:06 PM