Wick Communications

From Citizen Kane to citizen journalism

In journalism on 8 Oct 2010 at 8:09 am

Leonard Pitts Jr. makes me proud to be a journalist. He is a wordsmithing wonder. For years I have read his column and practically nodded my head slap off in the process. He writes things I think, only more clearly and with a razor’s edge.

A couple of his recent columns have focused on what we do for a living.

The first was a ditty he apparently penned in honor of National Newspaper Week (which is this week, by the way.) I can’t find it online. It appears to be nothing more than a Word doc on a hosted Web site. It’s more important than that.

It opens by noting that our current partitioned news environment — with partisan reporting from either side — is nothing new.

… Harper’s Weekly once described Ulysses S. Grant as “a drunken Democrat dragged out of the Galena (Ill.) gutter.”

Which was positively charitable compared to the magazine’s take on Abraham Lincoln, “a filthy story-teller, despot, liar, thief, braggart, buffoon, usurper, monster, ignoramus, old scoundrel, perjurer, robber, swindler, tyrant, field-butcher, land-pirate.” …

He goes on to say that, such history aside, newspapers are one of the few things binding Americans together these days. Here is how he ends this one:

… Whatever the cause, the effect is that in what some fear are their waning days, newspapers assume a paradoxical significance.  Because they do not deal in designer facts, because they still try and occasionally succeed, in getting it right, in telling the story fully and fairly, they become the closest thing American political discourse has to an honest broker.  That function has seldom been more critically important than it is now.

A nation where everybody acts upon his or her own “facts” is a nation pulling apart.  By behaving as if truth is not multiple choice, as if facts are knowable and knowing them matters, newspapers pull us together.

Some days, it feels as if they are the only thing that does.

Powerful stuff. Earlier this week, Pitts tackled the concept of “citizen journalism” in a column penned for his home newspaper, the Miami Herald. He stakes his position firmly in the opening sentence: “I do not believe in ‘citizen journalism.’” He puts it like this: “… Citizen journalism is to journalism as pornography is to a Martin Scorsese film; while they may employ similar tools — i.e., camera, lighting — they aspire to different results.”

He says a guy with a wrench isn’t a “citizen plumber,” nor is a woman with a badge a “citizen police officer.” He argues that the word “journalism” applies a standard of professionalism.

I know where he’s coming from. And I’ve bristled at the term, too. But I think he’s wrong on this one — wrong to get hung up on titles. You know a professional by his actions, not what he calls himself. Which, again, is why I’m so very thankful to ply this trade alongside the Leonard Pittses of this world.

If you don’t read Pitts, you are missing something special.

– Clay


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