On Journalism and Criticism

My friends and I used to run this silly (and great) blog back in college. On it, we’d tell long-winded stories and state half-baked opinions about the kinds of things that are of interest to college kids (mostly our joint Madden season and inside jokes no one else could possibly appreciate). I loved it because it provided an excuse to write, was a collaboration with a fairly large group of us, and would sometimes find its way to readers outside our college circle. I loved it because the kudos from friends allowed me to believe the illusion that I was a good writer. It was fun shitting on people and various things back then, and I was good at it. I was good at being mean.

Years later – the blog all but abandoned at that point – I came across a memorable idea in Chuck Klosterman’s otherwise forgettable book “Eating the Dinosaur”. He said, paraphrasing here, the easiest form of writing, the lowest and most basic style, is to shit on something that is clearly flawed. That it takes little to no skill to point out the blemishes and pelt them with your hottest burns. In other words, snark is easy. He’s right, yet my urge to criticize still remains (follow me on Twitter!), especially when it comes to print journalism. Despite my endless gratitude for the journalism field, there’s this bizarre tendency, now that I’m semi-retired from newspapers, to scoff at and mock the industry, to delight in the spectacle of its floundering, and I’m not sure what drives it. And the more I read of what classifies as media criticism, the more I learn I’m not alone. Everyone has a problem with The Media, but the true sadists it seems are some of those old newspapermen who – by choice or otherwise – no longer file copy for a living.

It doesn’t take very long to find hot takes and think-pieces, rants and raves, snide comments, and parting shots from past editors and reporters, each aired with this half-smug suggestion of a coming reckoning for the general public. As if the absence of quality local news will usher in some intellectual fallout, certain political corruption, and whatever else (Whether that’s true or not is a discussion for another time).

Perhaps it’s the ingrained cynicism so common among journalists, festering to the surface and joining with our inability to keep from running our mouths. A respected St. Bonaventure professor pens a manifesto, lamenting (excellently) the gutted press, and I think about it for weeks. It’s so precise and great that I feel the urge to jump in the mix, formulate my two cents, think of clever, pointed barbs directed at no one in particular, to lash out. And then I realize, a few hundred words into it, I have literally nothing to say, only this initial, nebulous glimmer of insight that manifests into a blah list of usual reporter grievances. Then comes another thought: I’m venting because I care, because I love journalism. I miss it, and I’m pissed that its current economics make it an impossible career choice right now. To prod that anger further is to veer dangerously close to writing one of those awful “Why I Left Journalism” blogs, or worse, yielding to that old base tendency to dump on what most know to be flawed.

And does the world really need another 1,000 bitter words about the state of journalism, the “changing media landscape”? Does the craft really need more criticism when it could use all the support it can get?

Some other time, maybe.

Correction: Because of my bad writing, it sounded as if Dr. Denny Wilkins, whose piece I reference here, is no longer teaching, when in fact he is. He wrote me to point out the error. Still learning, folks.

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