Friday, September 11, 2009

Something to Be Said About Real Journalism

More on Twitter, Iran, old and new media. Roger Cohen has done some great reporting from Iran in the past year, and incurred the wrath of right-wing Zionists such as Jonah Goldberg for suggesting that the country, and perhaps even its government, is not awash with anti-semitism. Here he elaborates on a previous column, written shortly after he was forced to leave Iran during the post-election protests. In that piece, he noted the limitations of tweeting, blogging and citizen journalism, and stirred a wave of irrational indignation from the likes of Ariana Huffington. Cohen, like David Simon, is not contemptuous of the capabilities of new media nor the endeavour of those that use them. But he correctly points out that amateurs, no matter how diligent and knowledgeable can only do so much; to 'bear witness' as he says, takes, time, money and the ability to be on site. Huffington might be correct to say that it's possible to miss a lot whilst there, either willingly or otherwise. And I would agree with anyone that says 'Old Journalism' counts among its ranks tens of thousands of charlatans, hypocrites and armchair thugs who, in a well-run world would be flipping burgers. But this doesn't validate Huffington's point about the likes of her, me or anyone pontificating from their keyboards thousands of miles from the action. Real journalism, Cohen continues,

comes into being only through an organizing intelligence, an organizing sensibility. It depends on form, an unfashionable little word, without which significance is lost to chaos. As Aristotle suggested more than two millennia ago, form requires a beginning and middle and end. It demands unity of theme. Journalism cuts through the atwitter state to thematic coherence.

In the making of the choices I have described, presence is required. Because part of the choice lies in something ineffable — the air you breathe, the sounds you hear, the shadow light as a bird’s wing that falls across fearful eyes — something that cannot be seized or rendered at a distance.

Technology has enriched journalism by expanding the means to deliver it and the raw material on which it is based. But technology has also diminished the incentive — and the revenue — to get out of the office. Understanding without the trained “view from the ground” (Martha Gellhorn) remains impossible. Nature abhors a vacuum, journalism even more so, and so it fills absence with windiness.

It's enough to forgive Roger Cohen the snide, condescending attitude he took towards the French in endorsing Nicolas Sarkozy's candidature using a 'tough love' rationale in the 2007 Presidential election.

Op-Ed Columnist - New Tweets, Old Needs -