As journalism tangoes between old-school, shoe-leather reporting and in-your-PJs-opining, I think of irrigation and what our stories are meant to be and to do.
I think journalism’s essential and unchanged job description is to offer smart, nuanced, researched, accurate information (and, yes, some entertainment value, but maybe 10% relative to these other components) — the intellectual equivalent of fresh, clean water gushing into the fields whose produce feeds us and keeps us alive and healthy. If all you consume, intellectually, is Doritos, you’re fat, happy — and consistently malnourished.
We are not the water. We are the pipe. From the beginning of my career as a college undergraduate, writing for national magazines, I knew my job was writing a story, not being it. Today, when I write for print, the same rules still apply: I’m just the conduit for the story, and my role in finding, researching, reporting, writing and revising it should be as invisible and seamless as the miles of pipe conveying water. I’m ideally bringing the reader something they need, and it’s my role and my responsibility to deliver it untainted by my views and opinions. (Every news story, I’m well aware, is colored by the inherent biases, and multiple filters, of the editors and writer, but each knows it’s also their job to leach these out as best they can.)
But I feel this as strongly as the air in my lungs, which is why blogging, (which I enjoy), sometimes feels to me like marathoning in ski boots — do-able but a little awkward and weird. Every time I use someone else’s reporting and ideas (credited!), I’m playing water, not pipe. The story is what matters most. I think many readers remain desperate for clarity, insight, analysis, history and context. No, not all readers, all the time.
Can we say “media hoax?” Can we say “What a (**&^%#@^^##! waste of time, energy and attention”?
But those of us who thirst for this clear, fresh water too often get a mouthful of PVC pipe instead — what now passes for journalism, in any medium: a toxic mix of ego, whim, fantasy, drama, posturing, eye-rolling and hand-flapping and chicken-necking.
Do you care if you’re the pipe or the water? Which would you rather be?
Which would you rather read or rely on?