Monday, July 11, 2011

My opinion, and I do have one...

Into the second half of the year, and it still looks like the downward circle, not just for newspapers but for anything in the economy that isn’t based on corporate profits – which are being kept up by the fact that companies realized, after laying all these people off, that they actually didn’t need them, because one programmer with a good application can eliminate 20 people. Or something. That’s just an unsupported opinion. No facts whatsoever. Me being a blowhard. And that should qualify me to comment on the Caylee murder case as well. One of my local newspapers today ran a column by Scripps-Howard’s Dan K. Thomasson saying the jury did its job well, under a letter saying that those people were incompetent to be jurors.

As a journalist for decades, I believe that Dan Thomasson has more professional background and analytical skill to parse the verdict than does a letter writer from Lumberton, N.J., whose Web profile consists basically of "Camden Catholic High School, Class of '76. His view is based in years of reporting, interviewing experts, being on the scene. But in the end, his “the jury didn’t say she didn’t do it, just that it wasn’t proven. Like it or not, that’s the law” is no more based on verified reporting in this case than is Noreen Errigo-Hoff’s “We need to learn from this case that not everyone is competent enough to understand the modern-day complexities of a trial.” Both are just expressing opinion. Thomasson is saying that the law, as he understands it, demands that the jury find beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's the way it should be. The writer is saying that people know in their hearts what a reasonable doubt really should be, and that regardless of the lack (UPDATE: SEE BELOW) of evidence, the case was proven because “mothers don’t go to Blockbuster with their boyfriends … after their children die accidentally.” In a way, the point isn't in the end whether Casey killed Caylee; Casey thumbed her nose at society, at every self-sacrificing mother in the land, and should be punished for something. As Errigo-Hoff wrote, "Even if the jury didn't believe any of [the evidence against Casey], they are supposed to apply common sense. A liar is a liar; you shouldn't believe them." Q.e.d.

Ask anyone and you’ll get an opinion. You’ll have to trust me on this – I can’t find the article, so it's your opinion whether to trust me  – but there was an article in the last couple of weeks that noted that you can get 30 percent of people to express a view on a nonexistent candidate’s nonexistent policy statement. Well, why not? They’re not expressing their view that Sen. Mythical B. Chimera actually said something. Some are just being know-it-alls; others are saying, here’s what I think about this and I don’t really care if Sen. Chimera exists or not. What he’s saying is right, even if he didn’t say it.

So, looked at another way -- the classical-journalist way -- much of the populace is blowhards. That’s how we would traditionally see it. Back then we could confine the blowhards to the “Letters to the Editor” column and then say, the rest of the paper belongs to us, with our finely honed understanding of journalistic fair play, defendant rights, the moral obligation of the majority not to oppress the minority, our training in news values, and the like. But who now is “us”? If journalism is simply nonfiction writing about timely events of concern to the public, then both Dan Thomasson and Noreen Errigo-Hoff are journalists.

The crisis of journalism is not that newspapers can’t pay their bills. That’s the crisis of newspapers. The crisis of journalism is that 1) journalism has been defined down and outward in so many ways that no one can really say anymore what it is, and therefore every high-church article can be rebutted by an off-the-cuff posting and one cannot trump the other; and 2) that the crisis of newspapers (and magazines and all-news radio and the like) has eliminated a main definition journalists used for decades to define themselves as professionals, which is: Someone who has a printing press or a licensed transmitter paid me to write this.

More to come as I emerge from a few weeks of encyclopedia articles, book forwards, travel, and trying not to think for a while.

UPDATE: I received a letter from Ms. Errigo-Hoff, my neighbor in Burlington County, which she also attached as a comment, severely taking me to task and feeling that nose-in-the-sky attitudes like mine are why the press is getting its deserved comeuppance. First, let me acknowledge that it was a cheap shot to refer to her as I did in terms of her web profile. At the same time, as I said to her, perhaps it is a professional bias, but I would defer to the opinion of an experienced journalist over a regular citizen on a matter involving judgment from years of news judgment, as I would defer to a lawyer vs. a journalist on courtroom procedures and the law. But I phrased it in such a way as, in retrospect, to be sneering about someone I do not know, which was not only dumb, but stupid.

Second, I did mischaracterize her position in one regard. She referred to the "preponderance" of evidence against the accused mother. I used the word "lack," thinking more of the column as well as the quotes from jurors about how the prosecution had not made its case ironclad. But in doing so I put a word into her mouth that was 180 degrees from the word she had used. So in both cases, my apologies to Ms. Errigo-Hoff, who, I am glad to say, wants printed newspapers to continue despite all of our lacks.

1 comment:

Noreen Errigo-Hoff said...

So we are nothing more than our internet profiles? That would mean that you are either David Sullivan the pornographic magazine publisher from Britain, or the Phila. Inquirer assistant managing editor from Moorestown, NJ. From your blog post 7/11/11, I can't tell which. Since you misquoted me, and you were reading the Burlington County Times yesterday, I'll assume the later.

"...regardless of the lack of evidence, the (Casey Anthony) case was proven because mothers don't go to Blockbuster with their boyfriends...after their children die accidentally." was not in my letter to the editor. It may help you make your point about "the crisis of journalism", but it never happened. "Lack" of evidence is your word, I described the prosecutions case as an "overabundance" of evidence. The fact that you make up facts while calling civilians expressing their opinions "blowhards", is what created your "crisis of journalism". The rest of us don't see it as a crisis that people can now easily hear a variety of voices through the new media, and are not kept on the intellectual plantation anymore by "professional journalists" who say things like the following in your blog:

"As a journalist for decades, I believe that (Scripps-Howard's) Dan Thomasson has more professional background and analytical skills to parse the verdict than does a letter writer from Lumberton, NJ whose web profile consists basically of Camden Catholic High School, Class of '76."

You have no clue what I have been doing educationally or professionally, or what my life experiences have been since I hung up the plaid uniform skirt. You have no idea who you are talking down about, or to. This is your crisis of journalism. You are no longer the only game in town. As an industry, if you really want to make print work, and I hope that you do, you and your "high-church" journalism are going to have to co-exist with us- the unwashed masses beneath you. You will have to admit that sometimes, but not everytime, what we have to say may be just as important and true as what you have to say. And sometimes, more so.

Noreen Errigo-Hoff, Camden Catholic High School, Class of '76, and so much more!