Friday, December 11, 2009

Why I love blogging. . .

I just finished doing a piece for NPR's monkey see blog. It's generally on Picador's re-issuance of a whole slew of Tom Wolfe books; specifically on his just re-issued first book, a collection of essays called The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.

If you're interested in reading the piece, here's a link to it on NPR's website.

To write about any book, one has to read it first. And although I've read quite a lot of Tom Wolfe over the years, I'd never read this one, so into it I dove. The first essay, "The Marvelous Mouth" (written for Esquire in 1963) is about Muhammad Ali.  Or, more accurately, it's about Tom Wolfe hanging out with Muhammad Ali and reporting the experience in great detail.

Oh golly, did Wolfe's experiential take on Ali take me back in my own life. And seeing as I was writing for a blog and not for a more formal entity, I could begin my own snippet of a piece this way:
Many years ago, say in 1966, I ate dinner in the same Rice University college dining room as Muhammad Ali and fell in love with the man's mouth, his attitude, his playfulness, and his ability to make us lily-white, well-mannered, certifiably intelligent college kids a wee bit nervous. We were of one culture; he was of another. Or rather, we were of one culture; he was Muhammad Ali -- a culture unto himself.
What fun I had writing that! Because I was blogging, I didn't have to not include a personal experience because of journalistic conventions.  And so it was only while reading Tom Wolfe's essays and writing about them for that I realized why I resonate so with blogging.

Tom Wolfe, and the other New Journalists, bodaciously, flagrantly insert themselves into their stories. Yet once you stop and think about it, reporters are present in all reporting, whether acknowledged or not. A reporter's personal experiences, prejudices, education inform their use of language, their decision to include some facts and exclude others, their selection of detail.

There's no way to avoid this -- to keep reporters out of their pieces -- because all reportage, no matter how objective its format, is limited in scope, because it's limited in time on the air or space on the page. Yet conventional, formal journalism demands that we disguise our presence as thoroughly as possible. And claim it isn't there.

Tom Wolfe, and the rest of the New Journalists, took a truth out of the closet and flaunted it; boldly recognizing that every report of the news has a human being's point of view embedded in it; that the reporter's education, experience, knowledge and, yes, prejudices cannot help but come into play.

Blogging is New Journalism unchained. It's relaxed, it's personal, it's driven by personal voice; it's honest about being only as honest as the person writing it.

Plus, it's fun,

And so, for this reporter, blogging is the bomb!

1 comment:

  1. Isn't this interesting! Having been an English major at NYU when Jacques Derrida taught there and was still all the rage (what is he now? I'm not sure, other than dead), along with Stanley Fish, it has always cracked me up a bit the way journalists take themselves so seriously, and the way Americans almost religiously buy into the myth of impersonal or a-personal reporting. I was more or less trained to treat such concepts as "truth," "objectivity," or "neutrality" as conventional constructs without stable or intrinsic meaning. So whenever people invoke this notion of the pristine, unbiased journalist to support an argument (e.g., the validity of a news item or freedom of the press), I feel my internal eyebrow cock slightly. Anyone who purports to tell a story "straight" is -- if not suspicious -- at least no more above scrutiny than the person who offers an opinion.

    On the other hand, it was Derrida (I think) who argued the fallacy of "auctorial" intention, saying that we could never infer anything about a writer from his work, and that we shouldn't attempt to do so. Words -- once they left a person's mouth -- are no longer owned.

    All this is to say what? I'm not sure except that I'm always more comfortable and ready to be persuaded by information conveyed to me when the teller admits, and includes, the fact of her agency in in the equation (which, incidentally, I think good journalists do in a whole variety of ways).

    This post makes me think of your last one on the Mara Liasson flappette -- a number of people thought it bad that her and Williams should appear on Fox, and then a number of people thought it bad that NPR should think so, too. Both arguments (against the reporters and against NPR) seem motivated by concerns for journalistic integrity, and they are both, also, concerned with "appearance." So I wonder, what does it mean to be fair or impartial? Is it just a matter of convention?