Journalists my age and younger (I’ve been in the business since 2005—right around the time digital media emerged as a plausible career option) have never operated under the illusion that a staff job at The New Yorker or a New York Times column was in our future. But nearly a decade into the digital-media revolution, another shift has occurred. It’s not just that journalists understand former “prestige” jobs will be nearly impossible to get. Now we don’t even want them.
Freelancers are second-class journalists—even if there are only freelancers here, in Syria, because this is a dirty war, a war of the last century; it’s trench warfare between rebels and loyalists who are so close that they scream at each other while they shoot each other. The first time on the frontline, you can’t believe it, with these bayonets you have seen only in history books. Today’s wars are drone wars, but here they fight meter by meter, street by street, and it’s fucking scary. Yet the editors back in Italy treat you like a kid; you get a front-page photo, and they say you were just lucky, in the right place at the right time. You get an exclusive story, like the one I wrote last September on Aleppo’s old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site, burning as the rebels and Syrian army battled for control. I was the first foreign reporter to enter, and the editors say: “How can I justify that my staff writer wasn’t able to enter and you were?” I got this email from an editor about that story: “I’ll buy it, but I will publish it under my staff writer’s name.”
Francesca Borri, Columbia Journalism Review. Woman’s Work.
FJP: A fast-paced, fiercely heartfelt essay on the downsides to freelance work abroad and the madness of war.
Reading these pieces, the question I came away with was not whether Facebook is making us lonely or whether the Internet is making us crazy but whether the Web is making journalists stupid.
Michael Massing in The Media’s Internet Infatuation. Massing believes much current writing about the Internet offers “sweeping speculation” about the effects of web and social media on our identities, health, and ways of being. He goes on:
In some cases, the press’s Internet absorption can seriously warp our perception of important events. A good example is the Arab Spring. From the Western coverage, one would have thought that the Internet was the main cause of the Mideast uprisings. On a recentFresh Air, Terry Gross, interviewingTimesCairo Bureau Chief David Kirkpatrick, casually mentioned “the Facebook revolution.”
“I should tell you,” Kirkpatrick quickly put in, “I hate this Facebook revolution stuff.” Asked why, he said that “you can sit at your computer all day long and you’re never going to get anything done in terms of bringing down a government.” What caused the change in the Mideast, he said, was people going into the streets. While Facebook and Twitter are an advance over the old tools of putting up a flier or passing out a pamphlet, he said, “to put the technology in the forefront and not the individuals really misses the point.” Such labeling is unpopular in the Mideast, Kirkpatrick added, because it’s seen as an attempt to put a “Western brand name” on the event.
In the United States, meanwhile, the press, while writing endlessly about the Internet, has failed to examine some important questions about it. Much has been said about the democratizing effect of the Web, but how real is that effect? Has the Web delivered on its promise to empower ordinary citizens and give a voice to those who don’t own a printing press? It hardly seems so.
FJP: It’s an interesting thought piece, so keep reading to get a grip on the questions Massing believes we ought to be asking. To be honest, I enjoyed reading most of the pieces Massing cites in his criticism, but there are questions he raises that are worth thinking about. —Jihii
This month Columbia Journalism Review has been sharing mini-lists of what their staffers read on various topics. Here’s today’s, “the neat-o list,” most of which we read too.
•Alexis Madrigal: A senior editor atThe Atlanticwho writes with playful enthusiasm about innovation, entrepreneurship, and creative uses of technology.
•Atlas Obscura: Brainchild of one of the obnoxiously fabulous Foer Brothers, this site lives up to its billing as a “catalogue of the singular, eccentric, bizarre, fantastical, and strange out-of-the-way places.”
•@brainpicker: A bit thick on inspirational quotes, but Maria Popova also delivers the steadiest stream of “interestingness” anywhere on Twitter.
•Ideas Market: Chris Shea’s excellent handbook of research being done will refashion your head into the shape of a satisfied egg.
•@kottke: One of the longest and best continuously running blogs on the Internet; a source for uplift and delight that rarely disappoints.
•Marginal Revolution: A showcase of the wide-ranging, urbane tastes of economists Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, it’s the go-to blog for polymaths and aspiring James Bond villains.
• @wired: Still the hitchhikers’ guide to the future.
Who’s getting what at the oil pump? With all the frenzy over oil prices, I’d like to see a simple but definitive story that takes a gallon of the gasoline Americans buy and breaks down exactly who gets how much of the $4.00 (or whatever the price is), starting with owners of the oil fields and including drillers, shippers, refiners, distributors, retailers, and, of course, the tax collectors. And which of these parties benefits the most when the price goes up?
There are some great recommendations on this list. It’s too long to post it here but if you are like me and you like to plan your summer reading list as soon as halloween passes —happy reading!! ~ Chao @cli6cli6
We asked some of our favorite journalists, scholars, and critics to recommend books and other works that could help the next generation of reporters become better observers, storytellers, and thinkers. Here is an edited list of the titles they suggested. For full lists from each recommender, click here.
Joel Meares writes in the Columbia Journalism Review about criticism leveled against the New York Times for watering down the WikiLeaks Iraq War Logs, and takes a look at how it’s now reporting stories around the cable dump.
To do so he compares their lede with those of the Guardian and Der Spiegel for a story about US State Department spying on UN Leadership.
Here’s the Guardian:
Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.
Now comes Der Spiegel:
The US State Department gave its diplomats instructions to spy on other countries’ representatives at the United Nations, according to a directive signed by Hillary Clinton. Diplomats were told to collect information about e-mail accounts, passwords and encryption keys, credit cards, biometric information and a whole lot more.
And finally, the Times.
The United States has expanded the role of American diplomats in collecting intelligence overseas and at the United Nations, ordering State Department personnel to gather the credit card and frequent-flier numbers, work schedules and other personal information of foreign dignitaries.
Revealed in classified State Department cables, the directives, going back to 2008, appear to blur the traditional boundaries between statesmen and spies.
Watered down? Or, as Meares writes, just a “a buried lede in need of a thorough edit?”