Sunday, April 30, 2006

Google journalism

During Lent I went through a phase where I read Catholic blogs every day. I got tired of them after a while. I thought I was a conservative traditionalist, but wow. There are still a few I read, including Dappled Things by a priest in the Arlington diocese who is orthodox but politically moderate, as far as I can tell, and maintains a very mild tone on his blog. (Possibly because he doesn't allow comments. I have heard the criticism of Instapundit and other major blogs that barring comments is a way of squashing dissent. As if there's no other place to dissent on the Internet! It's just a way of keeping things simple and non-chaotic. You don't have to waste your time banning trolls, or play to your fan club, or take sides in debates between commenters.)

Anyway. So Father Jim opens the Washington Post one morning and reads in an article called Blogs Give Voice to Dissenters in the Flock that he's a dissenter. This is news to him. Also he can't remember when he posted the snippet of quotation from his blog that's mentioned in the article. This is the sentence:

In the Diocese of Arlington, the Rev. Jim Tucker speculates in his blog about why Catholic bishops do not welcome disgruntled clerics from other denominations, a practice he describes as "an opportunity being terribly missed."

Dude, if that's the best example of Catholic dissent you can find on the Internet, then you really aren't trying very hard. Also, the quote in this context is a bit misleading: the Catholic church already allows Episcopal priests who convert to Catholicism to become Catholic priests, even if they're married; Father Jim was only wondering why this option wasn't promoted more.

Part of this journalist's problem, as Tucker points out, is that "In Catholic parlance, 'dissent' typically means 'public disagreement with Church teaching,'" which the author of the article doesn't really seem to grasp (and as his article is about Christian dissent in general, and this is his only quote from a Catholic "dissenter," it might be a fine distinction to make, but still important!).

And the other problem is, as far as I can tell, none of the quotes in this article are identifiably from actual conversations with people. Now I know this sort of makes sense when you're writing a story about blogs, but still, shouldn't journalism involve a little more effort than Googling a few quotations and maybe shooting off an email or two? I mean, I could have written this story, sitting naked in front of my computer. (Justin and I do, in fact, know a journalist who claims to do his work sitting naked in front of his computer, but I know he at least gets on the phone once in a while. For one thing, he's the only person I know who has some reason to be concerned about this whole wiretapping business, because he calls people in exotic Arab-sounding countries.) But I'm not getting paid to do this stuff. I don't want to downplay the importance of blogs in the New Media, but it seems like there should be some difference between people like me (except with more readers) and people who draw a paycheck from their writing.

It seems to me that journalism is becoming more professionalized (a degree makes it easier to get into, and our naked journalist friend has one) but yet simultaneously requires less skill and, oh, I don't know, work. I always imagined reporters to be like Kermit the Frog, you know, with the trenchcoat and the hat and the notepad, walking their beat in the skanky underbelly of society. Now you can do it with a laptop and a cell phone at home or at Starbucks, although if you do it at Starbucks you can't be naked. I would think all you need to be a decent journalist is facility with words and the chutzpah to get people to talk to you (the second of which I don't have, which is why I never worked on papers after high school). But if you can write an article without getting people to talk to you, then why do you need a professional degree to use Google?

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