Saturday, January 29, 2005

goodness and mercy



Is this site genuine? It purports to be images of the war uploaded by US troops, offering us a glimpse into their war story, through photos they've taken and uploaded via email: Kaleidescopic and seemingly unedited views of the war in Iraq as seen by some US citizen-participants. Surely newsworthy or worthy of investigation.

It's that pesky problem of images again. Some of the 1,024 offered just don't measure up to US media standards of decorum. There's a full range, from the picturesque, affectionate and jocular to quite a few that no self-respecting US news organ would or could carry. These begin on or about page 52 (you have been warned), and they baffle our ever so civilized sensibilities - not just in what they represent, but through the spirit of the representing, as conveyed via caption and depiction.

The question of the genuineness of the site is important, for if it is what it claims to be, it is a primary source for those far from the war to begin to see it through various soldiers' eyes -- instead of through those of embedded reporters, or ideologues of whatever persuasion -- and to see what lies behind those eyes, glimpsed in an unpolished mirror of the war.

The site, entitled Under Mars, is the sort of thing US media should not be able to ignore if they aspire to the gold ring of credibility. Its existence was noted on blogs a while ago, and reported in the Australian press the other day, and is now being linked by various blogs. It contains photos dated back to 2003. They are not in chronological order, and the names of the photographers are not included.

Under Mars could be what it claims to be: an open wound, offering unembedded fragments of freedom on the march. It could be agitprop. What's beyond question is the need to address this question. US news institutions that ignore it risk having no face left to save.

[Parenthetical afterthought: To me, this is relevant to Jack Shafer's saying "I think most practicing journalists today are as Webby as any blogger you care to name." Shafer sees that US news institutions have access to information. Among other things, he fails to see the elaborate system of rhetorical customs, conventions and constraints that govern not only how sources are used, but whether they can be acknowledged or presented, i.e., "seen." The ongoing debate between blogs and journos has more to do with niceties of decorum than with standards of credibility and truthtelling.]

4 Comments:

Blogger Blind Tangerine Jones said...

I am thoroughly on the side of journos in the debate you mention, I feel compelled to say, though not necessarily on the side of the senior editors--the ones with the higher salaries and offices with doors that close who play golf with the marketing guys--who apply those aforementioned standards of decorum and thereby "separate the wheat from the chaff, and print the chaff." Thank goodness you did not use the neoconologisms "MSM" or "IMM" (for 'international mainstream media') here. I would have had to stop being your friend.

All the attention focused on the blogosophere as an alternative to MSM emphasizes the "smart mob"--the 10,000 pyjama-wearing couch potatoes with the same mass e-mail from the Claremont Institute in their inbox who blog about what they are seeing on TV, flooding the search engines with 'content' and thereby making opinion. It's like they found a way to hack the Nielsen ratings and drive "Desperate Housewives" to the top, boosting their own ad revenues. This is blogosphere as DYI mass media, or what in Flintstone times we called a "rumor mill."

The real challenge for journalists--as opposed to news and content managers, which is not a job title self-respecting journalists generally wind up holding--is to tap into the ten gazillion bloggers writing about the ten gazillion things they saw with their own eyes that we didn't have a photographer at. Case in point: Your link here. Thanks for that!

So much is written and so many conclusions are drawn about the miniscule universe of English-language Iraqi bloggers, for example, but no one is reporting on the much larger pool of Arabic-language blogs, message boards, forums, and the like. (Unless there's shock video to download, of course.) If they did, we'd be holding televised Senate hearings on the Bremer kleptocracy.

So I respectfully disagree with you about 'decorum.' Journalists write the way they do, partly out of a tradition that evolved with the per-word-billed, a-cow-tipped-over-a-pole-in-Tupelo-and now-we're screwed telegraph, and partly because writing is only about 10 percent of their job, a part they only get to use about 1 percent of their time doing. That means a repertoire of shorthand rhetorical mannerisms hardwired into the brain is absolutely essential to keeping the union guys at the printing shop from starting the shit flowing downhill in your direction.

The rest of their time, if they're lucky and don't have to sit in BS "content strategy" meetings or be on TV, is all about FINDING STUFF OUT. Do I need Andrew Sullivan to write 1600 words on what I myself am watching on TV, concluding that 'it's not about the content, it's all about how the images play in Peoria, bay-bee'?

I COULD use 500 short, Anglo-Saxon words fact-checking the speech. The Iraqi elections haven't been certified yet, so technically the country doesn't have an elected govenrment yet. That sort of thing. That would add value to my user experience.

But most of the prominent bloggers don't do that, and are constantly arguing that that's not part of their self-defined job description. Fuggem. Those that have no reporting skills to market market the panache with which they belabor or blithely obfuscate the obvious. The Wonkette excepted. She's got that extra added ingredient, Pynchonian irony.

Johnny Carson: "In a just world, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead." Me: "In a just world, all the natural reporting talent in the blogosphere would get job offers and all the professional blog pundits would be buying cat food with their PayPal tip jar--even though they don't own a cat."

Thank you for renting me this space! Long time I no bug you (I'm also the Blogalization guy and Colin)

2/03/2005 2:01 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Hey C. - no need to remind me who you are - where did Blogalization go? I keep getting some oddness when I try to go to it.

I know you are being a bit pajama-ish yourself in painting all blogeurs with the broad brush, while holding up the only definition of journalism worth a damn.

Journalism is very hard to practice because one does not always turn up new primary sources, or know how to read them when one does. Or bother to look at them, as in the case of Under Mars, when they are right in front of Journalism's nose.

If US journalism were honest, it would pay people who can read and communicate in the languages of the world it is supposed to be discovering. Instead it almost never shows any awareness of the difficulties of translating, say, Arab or African "views" of the US. By failing to acknowledge the problem of beginning to translate, US journalism reveals that it has ceased trying to access anything at primary source level. It is content to regurgitate what someone else wants to be the case. US interests intact.

I hope you are liking it there.

2/06/2005 7:45 AM  
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