When Jane Mayer spoke about the troubled war on terror a few weeks ago, Neil Henry interviewed her. Henry is currently the Dean of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism, after many years on the faculty and a distinguished career at the Washington Post. During his introduction, I learned that Henry had recently written a book called American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media (2007, UC Press). Being a peripatetic and self-styled student of modern journalistic culture, I had to read it.
I finished it yesterday, and agree with Russell Baker's assessment that American Carnival is "genial and rambling." Henry's thesis is not fully coherent; he faults "new media" for devaluing the image and worth of journalism, but many of his examples of how media has failed come from the days before blogs. Despite this Henry's passion for the role of journalism in democratic societies, and his zestful writing, swept me right along.
Henry supports a view you often hear from traditionalists: that bloggers are parasites who rely on the resources of the dreaded "mainstream media" to do their legwork. If there were no news from that boring old press, then there would be nothing for those flashy new bloggers to work with.
There is some truth to this. I do not do any original reporting for this humble dispatch; instead I cobble together links from major media sources, and offer an analysis with (hopefully) an engaging point of view. And I'm under no illusions that my blog has extensive reach!
Henry doesn't fully account for the fact that many bloggers are modest like myself (although there are certainly some blowhards), or for the fact that most serious press organizations now have extensive blog content. All that said, I still thought he had a point that many bloggers (especially about politics) like to bite the hand that feeds them.
But then I read David Carr's column in yesterday's Times (which is the very essence of establishment media, and which now supports many outstanding blogs.) Carr reports about the media scrum at the recent Democratic convention: "Old media have often (not always) regarded bloggers and their ilk as fleas on the dog...But the new media players who came to Denver were not there just to annotate mainstream coverage: they're in the hunt themselves." Because the bloggers are really in the game now, not merely crashing the gate, the pace has greatly intensified compared to four years ago: "Now reporters and editors jack in when they wake up and stay there."
Carr tells a more complex and nuanced tale than Henry, whose book--however genial and rambling--is ultimately a raging against the dying of the light. This makes Carr the more valuable chronicler of our evolving media landscape. Nothing's wrong with longing glances in the rearview mirror, I say to Dean Henry, as long as they don't keep us all frozen in time.