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Never The Same River Twice

Never The Same River Twice

October 31st, 2007  |  Published in Reporting commentary

In this recent post I discussed how we tend stay focused on content in a new media environment and fail to notice how the new forms change the rules of the game. Naturally, I came across a striking example shortly after posting.. A McClatchy (formerly Knight Ridder) reporter named Bobby Calvan bragged on his blog about how he had bullied his way past the soldiers guarding the green zone in Baghdad. He quickly copped it from the right side of the blogosphere, but that isn’t the point. What interests me is that he was unaware of the public implications of his blog. He evidently thought of it as a kind of group e-mail for family and friends. Then he made a second mistake – he took the material down evidently trying to stem the blogstorm he had stirred up. His blog was cached of course. In the end, to his great credit, he understood the new rules of the Internet and put it back up – ironically recovering it from the cached version rescued by one of his attackers. Here he speaks for himself in the aftermath:

Consider this my apology.

Overwhelmed by the e-mails, many of them vitriolic, I initially edited the post, then blocked further comments. Finally, I took down the site. Unfortunately, my actions were yet another faux pas, I was told; I should have left up the post and created a new one to share my reactions and issue an apology.

Yes, I am getting well-deserved criticism. But surprisingly, not all of the subsequent e-mails I got were vitriolic. Some were thoughtful. A few gave good advice.

A mature version of the story from one of his critics, Doc Weasel, is here and includes an email from a colleague at the Sacramento Bee who actually helped Calvan set up his blog. And just to show that the blogosphere can surprise here is a follow on story about journalistic arrogance by Fox News reporters from the frankly pro military blog Mudville Gazette.

But I want to take this example a little further on the matter of how we interact with changing environments. The pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus said ‘you never set foot in the same river twice.’ Bobby Calvin discovered that the river – the world – had changed as we all discover from time to time. But as Heraclitus implied, it isn’t just the river that changes. Bobby Calvin will be different too. He will be aware that he is less alone as he frames a story. That a host of watchers – not just his familiar editor- is out there waiting to pounce if he takes liberties. So will those reporters from Fox if they find out that they have been outed. He will feel the presence of the blogosphere as he writes knowing that his readers have other recourse than a letter to the editor. Reporters are often the last to know but they are discovering that they are no longer as in control of the narrative as they have been in the past.

Now here is counterexample from the perspective of the blogosphere. In a perceptive piece entitled Stop the Presses: Writing in the Interenet Age Brad Rourke makes the point that bloggers publish too hastily and tells a story on himself that illustrates the point nicely.

Just a couple of days ago, I sought in vain for a “recall” function on my email application. Of course there was none. My message had already been delivered, to the wrong recipient and containing thoughts I wished it hadn’t. That person had sent me a note earlier, critiquing a community activity I am involved with. I thought I was forwarding the note, along with some commentary that, had I had my wits about me, I would not have committed to writing. Instead, I had replied. Intending my words for someone else, my commentary had opined that the original writer had sent the message in haste.

A bit closer to home for myself is this paragraph:

Like many writers, I typically ply my trade around the margins of a workday. Writing for pleasure, after all, pays little. So I write in the late evenings and in the early mornings, before the sun’s up. When I am on a roll, in the dark, with my coffee, there’s a certain adrenaline-charged intimacy. I craft and cut, finally reading the piece over a few times to make sure it’s right. The essayist’s euphoria, of having said something clever and in a clever way, mounts. I push the button, and you see it.

Guilty as charged I have to admit. Brad continues:

Too, too often, the piece would benefit from sitting, if even a few hours. When I save it and return later, I invariably find an unsupported point in my argument or an intemperate sentence that needs to be ratcheted back. Mostly, though, I don’t wait. It’s done. Get it out there!

Yup, that’s the way to goes. But encouraging in a way, because it helps us distinguish between the traditional essay and the blog post. In one way, Brad is judging blogging by the higher standard of duly considered, not to mention skilfully edited, published material. I don’t make this observation to undermine his point – we always have to strive to do the best we can. I know from experience that looking at posts later I see both big and little things that I want to change. I also know that process is endless and without an editor to tell you when it is finished, I have to make the call myself – and push the button. Lacking editors, bloggers have to find that line that lies somewhere between self wounding irresponsibility and time wasting self paralysis. I know as a blogger, that human nature being what it is, blogging isn’t going to generally reach the higher standard of well considered and edited work. But I also understands the new rules of the road. Defensiveness doesn’t pay. If you make a mistake admit it and move on.

Crossposted at Yankeewombat.

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