‘Journalism Values’

Via Romenesko, Stanford prof Howard Rheingold asks one of the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard:

“But now there needs to be more involvement between mainstream media and the digital world. If you don’t learn from an editor or a newsroom, where do those values of journalism come from?”

The linked article is a take on the whole “blogging versus journalism” debate, an article that is neither the worst nor the best I’ve seen done on the subject but nevertheless falls into the same stupid fucking trap of Zombie Facts (bloggers want to be journalists, all blogs are the same, all blogs are anonymous) that every single thing ever said about either blogging or journalism seems to fall into.

Let’s just deal with Rheingold for a moment. My first and finest education was in newsrooms, so I know what he’s talking about, where he’s coming from. When you have the kinds of bosses I did, who talked sincerely and unpretentiously about going out and getting the story and telling everybody, it’s easy to wonder how people who didn’t have this kind of luck even manage to tie their shoes in the morning much less write a coherent nut graf.

But the other thing my Very Good Bosses did was to flat-out refuse to create some kind of nobility and mythos around the job itself. One used to scream at me, paraphrasing Bull Durham, “This is a very simple job. You go out, and ask questions, and Write. Down. Answers.” The rest of it? Smoke-filled coffeehouse crap designed to make us feel special, imbued with some mysterious power. A monkey could do this job. A monkey would be smart enough not to want to, but he could.

So “journalism values?” Give me a fucking break. Journalism values are the values of an upright and honest human being. Tell the truth. Don’t take money or food or presents or sex from people in exchange for influence. Show people the world as it is. Ask the hard questions of those in power and use your access on behalf of those that don’t have any. Where will people get those values if they don’t get them from journalism school or an editor?

They’ll get them the same place I did. At my father’s side on long car rides. In the church pew, with my mother. In the stories my grandmother tells. From friends on dark nights cruising back and forth at the beach, talking about what we wanted to do with our lives. On every page of every book I’ve ever loved. In listening to every teacher who ever taught me.

Journalism values aren’t some mystical secret. Journalism mechanics, you could argue, should be more widely taught if millions of people are gonna blog; some of my favorites on the interwebs could use copy editors and people to talk about proper comma placement and spelling checks. And journalism practice is a thing apart, and every type of media has its own customs and acceptable behaviors. But journalism values?

Listen. Remember. Tell everybody. Those aren’t rules for Medill or Harvard grads only, to be used in connection with special instruments and alchemical potions. Human beings are storytellers. Those aren’t just journalists’ values. They’re everyone’s.

And the sooner people like Rheingold stop inflating their own self-importance and realize just how simple a job this really is, the better they’ll be able to teach the next generation of kids who want to learn it how to just go do it already and stop stroking themselves so much in class.

A.