Weblogging Writing

What is real journalism?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I had to read Jay Rosen’s idea over a couple of times to try to understand what it is he’s proposing for New Assignment. If I read him correctly, what he’s proposing is that someone suggests a story, others in the ’smart mob’ then dig up additional information (”How”, we have to ask) and when things ‘gel’ whatever ‘gel’ is, then an editor somehow scrunches it up and moves it to the New Assignment front page. At that point, the ’smart mob’ is supposed to blow it up, make it big, gather money, something. The end result is that money is gathered, a journalist contracted, and a story is born.

What forms the basis of that story? The questions the smart mob asks. Who does the research for the story? The smart mob. In other words, the audience takes over the tasks of the professional journalist (who is, we presume, trained in both knowing what questions to ask and how to do the research necessary to find the answers), and the professional than provides the ‘polish’ to make it into a quality story. Keep the smart, lose the mob.

Rosen’s idea brings up all sorts of utopian sounding concepts, but rather than play to the strengths of the new information infrastructure, it plays to the weakness–the mob is encouraged to be a mob, but thankfully the end result is refined under the civilizing influence of an editor and other professionals.

Why, on earth, would we do such a thing? Because we can’t stop sacrificing on the altar of journalism worship.

Recently I was able to participate as part of a media tour of the Johnson Shut-Ins area, to see the cleanup efforts associated with the flooding that happened last year. I was the only ‘amateur’. It was a fascinating experience, because it showed me how different I was from a professional journalist. Since I was mainly interesting in recording my impressions of the state of the park, I could disregard the facts and figures the park personnel were providing the media members and wander around taking photos; knowing that this important information would be reported by others and would not be my responsibility. I had that luxury, and because I did, I was able to provide a look at the park—unrefined and unedited—that differed from what the professionals provided.

This is where I’ve always felt we not-journalists—we people who love to write, to publish our viewpoints and interests—fit into the whole reporting/information cycle. We provide our personal impressions of an event while the professionals report the ‘facts’. It is incredibly liberating.

Much has been uncovered about Ameren since the flooding incident–including the fact that an engineer warned the dam was at risk. Plus we’ve found out there are hundreds of dams endangering people in this state, many of them not monitored by the government like the Ameren dam was. This sounds, to me, like a good story for the New Assignment.

It’s also one that I know would never make it to the front page. Why? It’s a regional story. It doesn’t take place in Massachusetts, New York, California, or Washington. There’s no famous people involved. It has nothing to do against Bush. It has nothing to do for Bush. Jon Stewart’s not interested. Not enough people have died. Even a couple of little kids almost drowning wouldn’t be enough to push this to the front of the sheets.

Luckily, we have local journalists who didn’t have to wait for the smart mob in order to work this story. Also, luckily, neither did I.

How about another story. Recently Mike Golby wrote on an incident that happened in his country, South Africa. It would seem an insurance agent, a Neil Watson, started up a web site to ‘expose’ to the world, and more importantly, to those who would travel to the country, how crime ridden his country is. Watson’s focus seems to be how people should not visit South Africa. Why he did so, I don’t know. Embarrass the government. Perhaps out of nostalgia for the good old days when whites ruled, and blacks knew their place.

One of the country’s politicians said to Watson that if he hated the country so much, why doesn’t he leave? The politician even offered to buy him and his family a one-way ticket, to New York. Of this, Mike wrote:

‘…’If you were wondering who Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula was addressing when he told the whingers and whiners to get the hell out of South Africa as they don’t belong here, Neil Watson’s your man. While I know nothing of this obvious jerk, any salesman able to afford a Camps Bay lifestyle is not earning his money; he’s taking it from the overwhelming number of South Africans either unemployed or paid a sub-standard wage by fat cats who grind their employees into the dirt with their sense of self-importance, self-entitlement, and over-priced SUV.

Interestingly enough, South Africa is actually on my top five list of countries I’d like to visit, primarily because of what Mike and another South African weblogger, Farrago, have written, and more importantly, shared in their pictures and stories. They’ve never hidden the problems facing South Africa, but they also write on the hopes, the lives of the average people, and show the exquisite beauty of the country.

As for safe places to live, I could suggest South Africa send Mr. Watson here, to East St. Louis. It might give him some perspective.

Mike wrote a follow-up post on Watson, and this one having to do with the local media.

The Independent story, under a headline showing the MSM to be more clueless than usual, carries today’s date. Megan Herselman was killed a month ago.


Do we have a crime problem in South Africa? Of course we do. Do we need bullshit like that published by The Independent, which reports her death as though it occurred on the weekend? No ways. Like a hole in the head, so to speak. Shoddy journalism does perhaps more damage than inept police work.


My advice to the editor of the Africa news desk? Fire your reporter, Basildon Peta.


As for the local media and their dim-witted readers, they’re milking Neil Watson’s little embarrassment for all it’s worth. One of his top stories? Non-whites Complain About Crime As Well. Glad to hear it Neil, you racist little shit. Black South Africans have always and will continue to bear the brunt of crime.

Are you surprised they respond like ‘us’? Christ. Enough. You make me puke.

Again, this would seem like a perfect story for the New Assignment. And just like the Ameren/Johnson Shut-Ins, it also would have no chance of making the front page.

The story isn’t in the United States or the UK. Not enough people have died, at once. It’s about continuing poverty and inequality, and lord knows, these are stories that don’t sell. There are no ‘web personalities’ involved. There are no ‘web personalities’ who even care.

The same people who would push the stories at New Assignment, are the same people who push the top stories the New York Times and the Washington Post; at the BBC and the Guardian; at and its cousin. Stories that allow people to have an opinion, to pick a side, to hold a placard, to experience the rush, and then go on to the next story. Hell, they’d probably be the ones promoting Watson–he sells better, you know.

Amanda left Rocketboom. Scoble left Microsoft. Some PR company files a libel suit against a weblogger. Someone is peeved at Dell. Some American politician said something stupid and scandalous. Some journalist wrote something about webloggers. You can repeat that last one a few times. Look at the front page at Memeorandum–there’s your smart mob. Here’s their story.

Now look at the photos of the South Africans Mike posted. Crap like that doesn’t sell newspapers, why would it be different because you shuffled the players about? Not enough bloody bodies. Not enough crying children. Not enough despair. The people Mike showed may be poor, but they had too much dignity, too much sense of humor, to make it past an editor. Besides, everyone knows the black people in Africa are poor. That’s no ’story’.

Luckily, there was Mike. There’s Adam Barnes. And now there’s me. And that’s the true power of all of this. Why the people–the ones who promote the new ‘citizen journalism’; who say they believe in all of this; who speak the ‘words’–continue to discount this, I don’t know.