Sunday, August 9, 2009

Say My Name, Say My Name

Posted By on Sun, Aug 9, 2009 at 11:58 AM

Let me be clear. I'm just a blogger. I'm not a journalist. I am flattered as all get out and tickled
click to enlarge Silverman works for a big, important paper.
  • Silverman works for a big, important paper.
every time I go to write an entry here and my log-in still works, because I don't and can't do what the folks here at The Scene do.

And the truth is, I don't think it's my job.

We were having this argument last week about my post on Ian Shapira. Caleb Hannan thought I was being unfair to Shapira by typifying his whole piece as "Boo hoo, Gawker sent me an audience."

In fact, he said to me that when he clicked through and found that wasn't the case, he felt like it hurt my credibility.  And I was a little stunned by this, because, after all, I am a blogger. You're supposed to read what I write and read what I'm writing about and decide for yourself if I'm full of shit. And if I'm full of shit, fine, let's argue about it and see what comes of it.

Bloggers and journalists are doing two different, but overlapping things. I see my role as being an informed observer who hears people talking at the bar or at the grocery store or in the parking lot or wherever and brings that weirdly hidden public knowledge into plain view.  When I bother to call people or email folks in order to find out more, I only do it because I occassionally have to sit across from folks who do call and email and who will embarrass me half to death if I don't.

"Did you even bother to ask?" is a pretty big motivator.

But I do that out of pride, not because a loud-mouth blogger should.

Whew, this is a long introduction to my critique of Mark Silverman's publicly embarrassing himself today, but I want to be upfront on my biases.
Silverman is upset because it came out this week that the public relations firm the city had hired to inform people about the new convention center charged the city for helping Silverman's columnist, Gail Kerr, research her columns about the convention center.  He thinks The Tennessean's honor has been impugned.

There are a number of problems with his position, but I'd like to take on the most egregious.

1. He doesn't name names.  Silverman says

Those reports and subsequent chatter on some blogs suggested that the firm coaxed favorable coverage about the civic center from The Tennessean; some bloggers and story chat participants even suggested that a Tennessean staffer was paid to write positive reports.

Okay, who? Who are these bloggers who are suggesing that Tennessean staffers were paid to write positive reports? Where are the quotes from the blog posts that have maligned your paper? Who exactly are these nefarious assholes?

There are only two reasons to not name names. One is kind of understandable. You hate having to be a part of the online community and you don't want to have to understand it or give any more credibility to it than you have to. So you just conflate bloggers with commenters and posters on chats and call it all the same to you.

The other is that there are no such bloggers, that youre just pitching a fit because you're embarrassed and you want someone to blame and journalists love to blame bloggers, because you fear bloggers are putting you out of business.

Clearly Silverman is not making things up, so I guess we have to suppose that he can't actually bring himself to treat the teeming voices of folks who read him with respect, because they are on the internet.

2. So, Gail Kerr, in working on a story, discovers that she, an employee of the media outlet with an audience that "dwarfs that of a single television station's newscast and the most-read blogs in town," that she can't even get a reply from a government official and she doesn't find that newsworthy?

A newspaper writer can't get a city official to respond to her calls and so she has to go to a private entity in order to get information on a public project and that's not newsworthy? Not even worth mentioning? A private business had effectively wedged itself between the 4th estate and the government it's supposed to monitor and that's just how it goes?

I'm not suggesting that The Tennessean is in the pocket of developers. But I am saying that, when you find it so unremarkable that you can't speak directly to a government official, but get funneled to a private company that has no accountability to the public that you don't even bother to mention it, you are doing a disservice to your readers who have no idea that this is how things work.

It's not that you're in the pocket of developers or the government. It's that you think you're in their league, that how things work is something understood among peers, not something that has to be trotted out to the masses.

And by setting yourself up against the bloggers you won't even bother to name, you've done nothing to reassure most folks that this isn't true.

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