Posted by: cantmisssd | November 12, 2010

It isn’t about art this time

After a week of setting a certain subculture abuzz (of which I’m certainly a part), I guess I’ll put everything down in one place about the U-T arts blogger kerfluffle. Cause otherwise, what else would you talk about all weekend? And how would I get to use the word “kerfluffle” in a sentence?

Already, this has been covered from multiple angles in various blog posts, twitter debates, and comment threads. Conversation has ranged from gradations of personal righteousness and responsibility to the general state of the arts and arts criticism in San Diego to journalistic ethics. And it’s all been more or less interesting and on point. But what I haven’t yet seen discussed in depth (maybe I just missed it), is the fundamental challenge to journalism that’s reflected through all of this.

The Union-Tribune decided for economic reasons to discontinue its arts coverage over the summer. It’s certainly unfortunate, and to some a violation of community altruistic demands that a regional newspaper has. But when it decided to replace that section with a host of unpaid non-professionals, it changed the game significantly. No matter how smart, insightful, well-connected or provocative those bloggers ever were, they would not be journalists in that space. They would not be professionally engaged in producing objectively true reports which accurately portray the reality of the community in the way that a journalist does. They would be pursuing personal agendas as self-styled critics, boosters, catalogers, opinion makers.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. When I write this blog (and in a number of other places), I’m writing as an advocate, as a commentator, as a firestarter, as a thought provoker. But I’m not a journalist. I don’t want to be. And I’m guessing that most of the UT arts bloggers weren’t aspiring to be professional arts beat journalists themselves. But when a journalistic enterprise starts replacing journalists with non-professional discussion forums (and no matter how good the writing was, let’s be clear- that’s all this was), the line between journalism and opinion is further wiped away. Which matters a great deal.

What the UT was doing- out of calculation, obliviousness, or desperation- was moving us all further away from the notion that there can be accuracy in the world; that there is an objective reality to events; that some things are true and others not; that a loud opinion shouldn’t supersede a quite fact; that there is, in fact, a difference between being a commenter and a journalist. And the further down that road we go- to where all that remains is shouting unsubstantiated opinions back and forth- the worse we all end up.

I don’t criticize any of the bloggers for this- neither those who left nor those who stay. Everyone has to pick their battles for themselves, and I’m not going to tell any of them how to prioritize the legitimacy of the UT vs elevating the arts community vs striking a small, principled blow for the legacy of Ed Murrow. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with someone, brought in as an unpaid provocateur, being as loud and public as possible in making a strongly-held point. One would frankly hope everyone would do that every time.

But if the U-T is going into the business of providing a platform for conversation instead of gathering and presenting news, let’s talk about that. And if the only economically feasible model for a regional journalistic outlet is to cover three things professionally and throw up its hands at the rest, then let’s for sure talk about that. But let’s not presume that these issues either outstrip this situation by scale or are too inevitable to bother wrestling with. In fact, it’s the one point that matters here.

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