January 18, 2006

Authentic Voice of Journalism

Few professions are as obsessively self-absorbed yet so stubbornly averse to honest self-criticism as the news media. This combination produces plethora of blather about the press, journalism and the future of all things media (to which I confess to contributing.)

This is why authentic voices of journalism ring so true. They emanate from people who care about news, care about community and care about finding - or preserving - the journalistic means to connect them.

Deborah Galant speaks in that kind of voice in her essay on Pressthink about the founding and flourishing of Barista, the hyper-local, blog-powered community news operation she started in Montclair, N.J., where she lives. Galant, a former non-staff columnist for the New York Times, writes about the joy of local journalism, of news writ small but smack-full of personality. To me, her words brought to mind my first newspaper days, which I spent reporting and photographing on a small daily in Carson City, Nev. Journalism was personal then - for me because I brimmed with idealism and intensity (the latter survives), for the community because nothing was too "small" not to be news, and for the newspaper staff because we all lived among the people we wrote about. We heard about what they liked and we heard about what they didn't - often in person, either in the office, at the local saloon or sometimes while getting a hair cut.

Above all, as Galant points out below, this type of journalism is fun. She writes (emphasis added):

"It's a tremendous amount of fun to be the Barista of Bloomfield Ave., or as I sometimes call myself, "the Walter Winchell of Montclair." It's fun to be a professional smart aleck, to be a big fish in a small pond, to cut through the exasperating bureaucratic mumbo jumbo. It's satisfying, when you find yourself standing in a long line in the new $8.6 million parking deck on a Friday night because there are only two pay stations, to be able to whip out your cell phone, take a picture and then post it on the blog - and to have the mayor write in almost immediately with a promise that he'll look into it.

"Power of the press? Maybe. But not power of any press with newspaper covers going back past the Titanic. Not the power of anyone with a special press pass, or access. Just the power of anyone with a cell phone and a computer, who has also taken the time and energy for 20 months to build and nurture a readership - even a sometimes rowdy one."

All reporters have had these feelings (at least I hope they have). But, somehow over the decades, somehow in the march toward bland professionalism (even at the smallest of papers) we drove the fun out of journalism - both for our readers and for ourselves. [Read: Mood of the Newsroom.]

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Posted by Tim Porter at January 18, 2006 07:46 AM

Every time I read First Draft I feel equal parts inspired and frustrated by journalism. As a freelancer I sometimes feel paralyzed to make any difference even as I see the problems that lie before our industry. But Debbie's column on Press Think emboldened me to continue my push to pursue local stories, even if those stories only get published on my blog. Thank you for giving journalists -- whether we work on a news staff or independently -- the nudge toward thinking differently about how we do our jobs.

Posted by: Wendy on January 18, 2006 11:15 AM
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