Tuesday, December 01, 2015

On navigating the media landscape

Every year or so, I try to take a look at how I know what I think I know amid the news deluge. Here's an update, focusing on what I get from internet reading (and I still hate videos!).

Paul Waldman, who is seldom trivial, writes about the presumed triviality of contemporary journalism, especially of the oped and blog variety. He defends the proliferation of "hot takes," insta-commentary on current events.

Today, the internet has created a golden age of journalism (even granting how some kinds of journalism, like coverage of local politics, have been hollowed out) and a golden age of opinion writing. Off the top of my head I could rattle off a dozen extraordinary writers whom I regularly read for their powerful insights and fluid prose, but who never would have had the chance to reach a significant audience, or any audience at all, before the internet. Newspaper columns used to be the reward for 30 years spent in the newsroom, which sometimes produces an excellent columnist and sometimes doesn't. Now anyone with merit can potentially reach millions.

Of course, that also means that people who have nothing to say are also out there, potentially making it harder to find what's good. Those who criticize the hot take have no trouble finding a thousand examples to support their claim. But as science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon replied when he was asked why there's so much bad sci fi, 90 percent of everything is crap.

... competition and the need for hotness can actually spur one to produce better takes. If I'm not just passing on new information every time I produce a take, I have to ask what it might add to people's understanding. Do I have some particular insight that I haven't seen elsewhere? Is there a perspective that's missing? Can I link disparate ideas and facts together in a unique way? Will my readers finish my take and say, "I think I understand this issue a little better than I did before"?

Once you find a few writers who offer you those things, you can ignore all the other takes, unless someone you trust vouches for their merit. ...

I like that suggestion, perhaps because it describes how I consume media these days. I've assembled a list of writers whose commentary often sparks my thinking or adds depth on topics I care about. I don't much care what media outlet is paying their salaries. Only a few (think Charles Blow and Paul Krugman at the New York Times) are "traditional" columnists in "traditional" media. Some of them move around between web venues. (Here's where Ed Kilgore's gone off to if anyone was wondering.) I follow them on Twitter, link to their byline pages at various websites, and notice when others refer to them. I run across new writers and add them to the roster.

And I agree with Waldman (who is a favorite) -- this is a golden age of opinion/commentary. After all, here I am sounding off.


Rain Trueax said...

I have divided my own blogs into categories. I mostly save my political opinions for one that is just for that. I kind of blended the writing one into the major one but still less writing there than in the one just for writing. I think a lot of people make a mistake by assuming if some blogger said it, it must be so. Blogs are a place, for me, to acquire insights into other people's thinking. Facebook is the same. I only read one or two blogs regularly and yours happens to be one of them. I just don't have the time to read as many blogs as I find of interest. I try to be responsible in my own political one as I can see the damage they can do if they promote hate. I don't have time for that even when I agree with the writer.

Brandon said...

I read various commentators, even if I don't always agree with them. James Howard Kunstler (Kunstler.com) for peak oil, Louis Proyect (Louisproyect.org/), and Nancy Nall (NancyNall.com). I also check out the Twitter feeds (although I'm not on Twitter) of Mark Ames, Thaddeus Russell, and Armond White.

janinsanfran said...

Brandon: thanks for sharing your commentators. I'm way behind today, but I did look at Nancy Nall and will again ...

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