February 28, 2005

Slip-sliding away…

A question occurred to me yesterday while reading a book called Taking Journalism Seriously–a brief, recent history of interdisciplinary academic research in journalism. I found myself wondering if journalism has become absurd.

The interaction between journalism and politics is the focus of this weblog. And much academic research involves studying journalism in regard to its role in civic life. Indeed, many contemporary definitions of journalism include some notion of helping civic and/or political life work in a democracy.

There’s no denying that the press-politics relationship is important. But as I read the Sunday editions of the News-Leader and The New York Times today, I was reminded of something that I often forget: Journalism is about so much more than politics.

Now, another question occurs to me: If we are entering a post-press world (i.e. delegitimation of mainstream journalism–Rosen uses the term “de-certification”), what might this mean for the rest of what journalism does?

Further, what happens if de-certification takes hold in the culture before we complete the metaphor shift from “journalism as lecture” to “journalism as conversation”? This shift in metaphor is by no means inevitable. And while we really do not yet understand what it can or will mean, I believe such a shift is made necessary by advancing technology. I think no such shift can occur if the culture believes that journalism has lost its legitimacy.

Journalism, as we have been practicing it since about 1880, is an expository form of discourse. It is the rhetoric of journalism’s unique form of exposition that creates the feel of a lecture. Further, the epistemology of the profession and its pedagogy in the academy teach young journalists how to understand the world and lecture in regard to it in journalistic ways. As I have said, I think journalism is (was?) the most important discoursive practice in our culture. If the metaphor change fails to occur here it may not occur elsewhere.

Let’s be clear about what I’m claiming: If the metaphor doesn’t shift for journalism it might not shift for the internet. The reason: Despite the possibility of creating online social networks (complex conversations), the internet still exists in the old, expository noetic field. If I am correct about the cultural importance of journalism, then it must shift if other forms of discourse are to shift.

Do you suppose that what you read in the blogosphere is a conversation? I contend that much of it is another form of exposition–a lot of mini lectures from bloggers and readers who respond with lectures of their own. I see very little that actually looks like a conversation (there are notable exceptions among the mass of bloggers). Perhaps it’s time to define this term “conversation.” In order for it to make sense as opposed to a lecture in terms of civic discourse, a conversation must mean that the interlocutors are willing to exchange ideas and learn from that exchange (a noetic field such as this). Those immersed in the propaganda of partisan political struggle are loathe allow ideas to challenge their precious ideologies.

The blogosphere, however, has proven itself to be an excellent venue for the exchange of partisan rants for the purpose of…tell me please, just what is the purpose of all this ranting? It sure isn’t creating understanding, which is the purpose of a conversation.

Journalism could become absurd if delegitimation continues and the metaphor shift fails to complete. We will merely exchange one form of lecture for another one that has none of tradition or craft of the journalistic effort. But the lecture of the internet may fool us with an illusion of conversation. And that means we’ll fall further into the dark.

17 Responses

  1. I believe the comments section of many blogs are the most telling element about the nature of blogging. A blogger may initiate a ‘conversation’ but without comments what remains is, as you point out, lecture or, rant. How a blogger manages the comment section tells more about the intent and purpose of the blog than any other aspect. In conversation there is an exchange of ideas and views, the asking and answering of questions, clarification, and definition. How many bloggers do we find who take the time and effort to reply to comments? Few, in my experience. A pity, too.

  2. I agree. And the frustrating thing for me has been having to use TypeKey–it cuts down on the number of comments.

    While the technology allows for conversation, we’re a long way off from achieving it consistently. And I suffer no delusion that I handle it much better than others. But I would claim that I make better use of qualifiers than many bloggers :-)

    What bloggers do you think run the best comment sections?

  3. Its The Dialogue Stupid

    Friends, this is an excellent piece that introduces the dialectic from which this blog takes its name: reading between the lines of democracy.

  4. Its The Dialogue Stupid

    Friends, this is an excellent piece that introduces the dialectic from which this blog takes its name: reading between the lines of democracy.

  5. rgrafton 

    In my continuing role as Village Idiot, I don’t get all the gloom and doom about blogs. You seem to focus on the political ranters, but why do you read these when you can find any level of political discourse you want on the internet? I have happened (accidentally) upon think-tank level blogs on foreign policy and history (and quickly retreated!). Ranters are not the whole blogosphere, and I don’t understand why you continue to cast them as the norm. Before the internet, you had to go to your local tavern or coffee shop or UAW hall, or wherever like-minded souls congregated to do your political ranting. Nothing has changed except the table has gotten bigger.

    I don’t pretend to grasp the concept of noetic fields and mettefer (do you know what a mettefer is?) shift, but being old has it’s (few) advantages. When news first moved from radio to TV (sorry, I don’t remember the shift from print to radio ;-), it was just a radio news broadcast with a single tv camera; a news reader, a desk, a desk mic and a cigarette burning in an ashtray. TV news was imitating radio news because that was the model. Now we are moving to a new technology, and in it’s early stages, internet/blog news apes the journalism/news we have now. I have no clue what lies ahead for news and political commentary on the internet, but just as there has been an orderly shift from print to radio to tv, so will the shift be orderly to the internet. It’s the Wild West right now on blogs, but there will be a shake down cruise, and I am not fearful of the future, I am excited.

    Sometimes you can think too much.

    PS: I agree with you about your use of qualifiers. ;-)

  6. acline 

    R- Gloom and doom serves a rhetorical purpose here. Don’t take this attitude quite so literally.

    My main concern in this post: Wondering if the blogosphere (i.e. its human inhabitants) is ready for the very “metafer” shift that the technology appears to be forcing on us. And is this shift possible if journalism becomes absurd?

    I really do need to post a primer on this metaphor shift and what rhetorical forms it might require–something like a one-to-one comparison between old noetic field rhetoric and new noetic field rhetoric.

  7. rgrafton 

    It really pisses me off, Doc, when you try to gaslight me by saying that I shouldn’t take you literally, but should look to your “rhetorical purposes”. Do I look like Nostradamus?

  8. “I really do need to …”

    Ugh. Lord save us, his list grows longer. You just can’t help yourself, can you?

    Question: Why not “Post Press” as a part of the process or even the engine of change?

    Curiously, I looked but could not find “journalism” or press in your link to the noetic field you provide as the example of “a conversation must mean that the interlocutors are willing to exchange ideas and learn from that exchange”.

    Perhaps you should examine with greater skepticism this sentence: “If I am correct about the cultural importance of journalism, then it must shift if other forms of discourse are to shift.”

    In fact, I would argue that the trends that have led to “post press” are part and parcel with “journalism as lecture” creating the void needing to be filled with “journalism as conversation”.

    But I think you should seriously consider the Information Age trend of conversational flow around gatekeepers.

    That a current incarnation of journalism can be replaced, or at least supplemented. That “journalism” (in some form) exists outside the walls of any newsroom and might lead where “journalism as lecture” spewed from within those walls is bureaucratically slow to change.

    That the hundred year tradition of a White House press corps has been witness previously to such a metaphor shift and change in noetic field. And before that, the country managed more than 100 years without a resident White House press corps.

    It’s just a thought. Perhaps seasoning for your thesis by distinguishing between Time’s Arrow/Time’s Cycle (also here and I included it in analysis here).

  9. “Post Press” as Engine of Change

    Andrew Cline wonders what “post press” means for his metaphor shift to “journalism as conversation”. Don’t worry Andy, it’s alive and well. But it probably won’t come from the “traditional press”. In fact, it might well rise from the ash heap of the …

  10. Sisyphus 

    Oops, I almost forgot …

    -40-

  11. acline 

    R- I’m not trying to piss you off. I’m just saying that I do things other writers do. Sometimes I use tone as a rhetorical tactic.

    S- The Greek history from the Primer doesn’t mention noetic field specifically, but I give a good description of their noetic field. Its rhetoric allowed something like a conversation in civic discourse.

    Remember to take into account my qualifiers :-)

    Re: can’t help myself

    Apparently not. But this is something that needs to be done. So perhaps I’ll actually do it :-)

  12. re: “doesn’t mention noetic field specifically”

    Um, ok, I guess I screwed up my point by trying to be cute. Let me try again.

    I am not clear what all qualifies as “journalism” in your thesis. Specifically as it pertains to your paragraph beginning, “Let’s be clear about what I’m claiming:”

    I am skeptical of the importance of said “journalism” if narrowly defined in the metaphor shift.

    I used the Greek example to question the importance of “journalism” in achieving a conversational noetic field.

    I tried, perhaps unsuccessfully, to use your example of a conversational noetic field that predates what you have defined as “journalism” on Rhetorica to question whether such a metaphor shift could occur as part of a changing noetic field in the Internet age. That “journalism” as you define it might be a lagging indicator rather than a leading one and because of social-technological changes … no problem.

    I say this because I perceive that you and Jay have a “traditional press” (especially print) bias. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but that you may subscribe qualities to something you care for that might not actually exist in new and unknown terrority.

  13. acline 

    S- Without question I have a traditional press bias. And I suspect Jay does, too. That doesn’t mean that I do not appreciate the great potential of the internet and blogging. I do (it!). In fact, I have such a high regard for it that I want to see it evolve in certain ways (that I think are good). That’s an evaluation, i.e. I am specifically assigning traditional press values to a new medium. And, yes, I understand how intellectually dangerous that is. But I have rhetorical and political (in the academic sense, not the right-left sense) reasons for this.

    I prefer to define journalism narrowly. For me it must include an editorial process. But I am quite willing to accept a wide range of media and styles. And I don’t necessarily think journalism requires an organization although it may require an institution (i.e. rules of some sort).

    It’s the Greek noetic field I was trying to highlight. Their rhetoric was conversational (yet highly contentious) in the way I suppose could be made possible by the internet. They did not practice journalism as we understand it. But what they did practice was far more conversational than anything we have ever practiced.

  14. Dilys 

    >what rhetorical forms it >might require–something >like a one-to-one comparison >between old noetic >field rhetoric and new noetic >field rhetoric.

    Yes, please

  15. Sven 

    I think it’s time for another Calvin & Hobbes commentary on the media.

    Ok, I’ll force myself to be constructive. In my far-ranging travels across the blogosphere, I haven’t come across anyone who’s put more effort into building online conversations than Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

    She takes it very seriously, and truly believes reader interaction is the best part of blogging. She’s convinced the only way to nurture conversation is to tend it like a garden, weeding out the chaff and nurturing the newbies. Here’s her moderating manifesto.

    The conversations are wide-ranging and very informative, on subjects from politics (decidedly liberal, although she encourages constructive, non-abusive dissension) to knitting. Unfortunately, the current posts aren’t the best examples of what happens when everything’s hitting on all cylinders, as she’s been a bit under the weather lately. If you’re interested, you might ask her to point to some of her favorite posts.

  16. Sven 

    Oops, my Calvin link punked out.

  17. acline 

    Sven… C&H was my favorite cartoon. I cried like a baby when Watterson quit. I use several of his cartoons to this day in class. He did some great ones about writing and academic writing.

    And thanks for the heads-up on Hayden.