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Shooting Straw Men, Again, in Journos v Bloggers 'Debate'

Nicholas Lemann, dean at Columbia University’s journalism school, takes to the pages of the New Yorker to rehash the same old bloggers-v-journalists straw man, contributing practically nothing to this long-tired conversation, though he does come up with some interesting items from journalism history.

The best responses:

Steven Johnson, tired of this, too, briefly offers “Five Things All Sane People Agree On About Blogs And Mainstream Journalism (So Can We Stop Talking About Them Now?)

Jeff Jarvis, meanwhile, rises to Lemann’s bait at considerable length here, saying he “would have hoped for something more expansive, imaginative, open, creative, generous, constructive, strategic, and hopeful from the head of one of America’s leading journalism schools…”

Then, again, Jeff is an optimist.

6 Comments on “Shooting Straw Men, Again, in Journos v Bloggers 'Debate'”

  1. #1 Seth Finkelstein
    on Aug 1st, 2006 at 7:00 pm

    Quote: “That’s the catechism, but what has citizen journalism actually brought us? It’s a difficult question, in part because many of the truest believers are very good at making life unpleasant for doubters, through relentless sneering.”

    All in all, I think he’s got the better of the argument. That certainly matches my experience.

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Aug 1st, 2006 at 8:18 pm

    The sneering seems as much to come from the traditional side…if not more so.

  3. #3 Seth Finkelstein
    on Aug 1st, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    A rhetorical moral equivalence is not necessarily a factual rebuttal.

    More importantly, logical burden of proof issues may be obscured by that sort of equivalencing.

  4. #4 Dan Gillmor
    on Aug 2nd, 2006 at 10:22 am

    The rhetoric is his, and yours, Seth.

    I and many others in this arena have been painstakingly pointing out the difficulties, and arguing for better practices among those citizen media folks who are practicing what might be considered journalism. We’ve argued for collaboration with, not decimation of, the traditional media. We’ve been making specific suggestions on how this could be done. (I devoted a significant part of my book to it.)

    Lemann ignored all of that. You picked up on a line that is true only in part and provably false in lots of cases, then complain when I point out the overwhelmingly sneering attitude in “mainstream” media to what we’re trying to accomplish. Not helpful.

  5. #5 Seth Finkelstein
    on Aug 3rd, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Dan, you have created an unfalsifiable system, which automatically discounts critics, *by definition*. To wit:

    1) A writer is *required* to agree with the idea to some extent, because otherwise, they are then negative to the idea.
    2) If they are negative to the idea, they can then be charactered as “sneering”
    3) If they are “sneering”, it’s fair game to personally attack them, because, hey, they did it first, or even, someone *else* did it, by their criticism (note the shift here from idea to person, the comparatively rare bona-fide ad hominem argument)
    4) When it’s pointed out that this is not a refutation of the criticism, go to #1, repeat.

    Do you see the problem? This is cult thinking (I can hear the response now: “He said cult! Get him! Get him! That’ll show him!”).

    Lemann is critically assessing the marketing rhetoric. You’re absolutely right, that he is not paying much attention to what I’d call the fine-print disclaimers. That makes his piece less comprehensive than otherwise. However, he is also writing in a context where the marketing rhetoric is overwhelming, and the fine-print disclaimers are not heard nearly as much. So on the balance, I don’t think the existence of those disclaimers is much of a rebuttal to what he’s saying.

    I don’t feel free to address the deeper points you bring up (collaboration vs. decimation), which I view as the conflicts in the structural problems of trying to appeal simultaneously to both the outsiders and the insiders (I’m out on a limb enough already!).

  6. #6 Dan Gillmor
    on Aug 3rd, 2006 at 11:38 am

    I’m not going to speak for everyone else in this arena. But what you call fine print is a fundamental part of what I’ve been talking about for the past few years, and I think you’ll agree that I’m among the more visible people in the field.

    It’s not fine print, and to ignore it in a major article is not merely “less comprehensive.”  It’s “less good” journalism.