This morning, the Washington Post had an article by star reporter David Finkel that talked about the American political left beging “online and outraged.” It’s a rare occurence to see such a personal angle in a story about blogs — especially in a newspaper the size and scope of the Post.
As a journalist, I thought Finkel did a nice job, picked an engaging angle and told one story without peppering it too much with context graphs about what a blog is and what blogs on the political right are doing.
Here are two great things that journalism can learn from this episode.
The first one is transparency. Journalists would do a better job if they started telling people how they know what they know, what is it they don’t know and let readers in on how the story came out. Finkel doesn’t do that in his piece, but Maryscott O’Connor, his subject, talks about the reporting on her own blog. Below is an excerpt from her posting and it makes the story so much more complete:
A week later, he was here in my living room. He sat on my couch and explained that he didn’t yet know what he was going to write, didn’t have in mind any angle. He did have a phrase weaving in and out of his mind: “The Angry Left.” Apparently I am the Angry Left personified.
Nevertheless, he sat on the couch with a notebook and we conversed. He watched me work on the blog, he asked me a million questions, some quite provocative: for a while there, I got the feeling he thought my writing on My Left Wing and all my passionate, vitriolic rhetoric was so much pissing in the wind. What did I hope to accomplish? Why was I so… “mean?” That was the word he used, too, which didn’t bode well for my eventual representation in the article, I mused.
Finkel asked what time I woke up. 5am, I replied. That threw him a tad, but he was game: we agreed that the next day he would wait outside my house until I turned on the porchlight, to signal he could come in and be with me for an “ordinary day.” That plan kind of fell by the wayside, though — there is nothing ordinary about having a Washington Post reporter watching your every move and taking note of your every random exclamation and mutter…
The second one is that journalism still creates conversation and just as we are there for event, we should be there to observe the conversation. In the age of Internet communities, so much information gets passed along through blogs, message boards, chatrooms as opposed to the traditional venues journalists were used to cover (PTA meetings, public forums, campaign rallies etc). Twelve hours after the Post put Finkel’s story online Friday night (it ran in the paper Saturday) Daily Kos already had more than 400 comments to it and Maryscott’s own blog counted more than 100. Some of these comments didn’t add much to the conversation, but many did:
* This guy spent hours interviewing someone with such a powerful and stimulating personality and that’s what he comes up with? I could have done better when I was feature editor of my high school newspaper. Really, I wonder if there is any way to save journalism. I’m sticking with the blogs where I get real, thoughtful analysis!
* I actually don’t think we came off as nutty at all. Angry as hell, yes, but not off our rockers. The feeling I had at the end of the article was hopefulness. Hopefulness that people screwed by TWO shitty wars and by unfathomably shitty leaders really do have a voice, and have meaning, when they come together in democracy.
* WaPo is trying to claim equivolency. Mary should demand continued dialog. The papers want to paint you in a corner, reach a conclusion, black-white world painted with their ambiguous lead to a predetermined outcome. Well it’s time to extend the invitation. Make this your chance to get on the editorial page. Do yourself a favor, find true republican centrists who have misgivings about AWOL’s policies and highlight their contrast. Bush isn’t even a republican. He’s a radical. The best starting quotes would probably be a group of generals recently to have served post in command of the war on terror™ being waged with eurasia.
* I took some time to read the whole article..I didn’t know about your father. I am so sorry. I was a constant demonstrator against the Viet Nam war from 1968(age 17) on, and I wish we had stopped it in time for you to know your father. Do know that a great many of us were as enraged about Viet Nam as you are about Bush. We didn’t have blogs, we took to the streets. I have a couple of small scars from those days. We tried, we tried hard. And I think we had a lot to do with this country finally pulling out. I just hope that some of the guys came home to pretty little girls born while they were gone, like your father should have. Keep yelling, honey, one day they will hear you.
* This is not the only story to be done on the Left blogosphere. Stories can and should be done on TPM and on FDL for that matter. But from a jopurnalistic perspective, MSOC and those like her absolutely are a big story — “man bites dog” in a sense in that people think that anger comes from the Right. It’s newsworthy — and important, and not harmful — to show that it’s coming from the Left as well, and a fair reading of the piece is that we were driven to it. (And wasn’t it nice that the piece that she ends up writing that day, getting good responses and all, is one on Darfur, which people know is important and yet tend to overlook? Anger about Darfur — hell, that’s practically holy.)
* This article, in my opinion, frames Maryscott as a fucking psycho nutjob. Now, I’m no fan of Maryscott, but this was a hatchet piece, plain and simple. I don’t give a fuck what the Republicans think about this article, I’m more concerned what “normal” people will think when they read this, and most likely they will think, “Wow, I guess I’ll just have to skip this whole blog thing, looks like they’re all a bunch of psycho nutjobs”.
* From the photo and the liberal references to [expletive] I was a bit concerned that this would be a ‘OH MY GOD! LOCK UP YOUR CHILDREN! THE LIBERALS MIGHT GET THEM!’ sort of piece, filled with shock and condescension. I think the interviewer’s very factual style manages to make it compelling without oversensationalizing the rage. I don’t think she sounds unhinged at all — she sounds frustrated and angry, but there are reasons. Issues and betrayals that have pushed MOSC and many others past the breaking point and beyond polite teatime discussions. He even lists some of them out — and they are real. Wiretapping, Iraq, Darfur.