June 15, 2010

Journalist FAIL

I was not among those who criticized the article James Risen wrote about the $1 trillion mineral find in Afghanistan. I was content to fret about the conflict trap in which countries dependent on primary commodity exports often find themselves. But if James Risen -- one of the nation's leading national security journalists, to be sure -- seriously thinks those who criticized his reporting are simply bloggers "jerking off in their pajamas" he could use an extra dose of humility today. In this Yahoo! interview with John Cook, Risen is apparently oblivious to the fact that some of his pajama-clad critics include serious scholars and analysts who, while younger than Risen and hip to teh interwebs, have studied Central Asia and spent a lot more time on the ground there than he has. Just read what a self-important jerk he sounds like when asked to defend his reporting:

"The thing that amazes me is that the blogosphere thinks they can deconstruct other people's stories ... Do you even know anything about me? Maybe you were still in school when I broke the NSA story, I don't know. It was back when you were in kindergarten, I think."

What phenomenal arrogance. What a jerk.

I really respect the men and women who report on national security issues for our daily newspapers and still subscribe to an old-fashioned newspaper that arrives on my doorstep each morning. And I grew up in the newspaper industry. (My first job, at 14, was running text through the old wax machines at our family newspaper and pasting stories to the pages with an exacto knife and scissors.) But one of the things I love about the blogosphere is that instead of reading soundbites from experts in a 1,000-word story (cut down to 400 words to make room for an advertisement), I can read lengthy commentary by subject matter experts. Have a question about depression-era economics and their connection to the contemporary financial crisis? Click here. Want in-depth, informed commentary on what's happening in Kyrgyzstan? Click here. This may come as a shock to James Risen, but some of the people he is mocking know a hell of a lot more about minerals in Afghanistan than he does.

You want to hasten the end of your industry? Then by all means, keep doing what you're doing: consider yourself unaccountable and scoff at the blogosphere. Yes, I understand bloggers are changing the newspaper industry in fundamental ways. (Ezra Klein, to use one example, does not blog with the same tradition of objectivity in which the Washington Post's print journalists report. How that changes the culture of the newsroom, then, is interesting.) But if you think you don't need to answer to bloggers, some of whom have spent years doing field research or working in Central Asia and now blog as a hobby, the invisible hand of the market is going to find you out. And before you know it, you'll have taken a buy-out from the New York Times and be teaching creative writing in Maryland. And, let's face it, probably blogging on the side.