A Part Way Meeting of the Minds

Earlier this week I spoke to my nervousness for hearing from the founder of Legal Insurrection, William Jacobson. While I disagree with much of the content and political views of the material Jacobson’s blog presents, I admire his drive to go against his environment and continue to report on what he thinks is morally correct. He explained that Cornell University is a fairly liberal-leaning institution and that his position as a conservative professor and blogger has garnered a fair share of criticism, with some going so far as asking the school to shut down his blog. Thankfully, Cornell University seems to value free speech and has protected Jacobson’s rights as both a blogger and an ordinary citizen to present dissident opinion without the fear of being prosecuted. 

Jacobson explained that before he started Legal Insurrection, he didn’t even know what a blog was. This is a testament to the fact that the blogosphere has, in many ways, radicalized the accessibility of journalism. It speaks mounds that someone who didn’t even know what a blog was at the beginning has witnessed so much success. (Indeed, his blog is very heavily trafficked.) It reaffirmed the fact for me that journalism should not just be something presented to the public by a ‘specialized class’ as Walter Lippmann might have liked. Rather, our journalism should be for everyone, by everyone. On this Jacobson and I agree.

But, of course, there were a number of red flags that arose to me when he spoke, the first being that Jacobson himself admitted that his blog does not produce a significant income for him that he could do it full time. This is a scary reminder, but also an important one. It’s far to easy to glorify the idea of a blog as allowing everyone to make a living off of journalism, but the truth is you still need to know how to work the system. Jacobson’s blogs are loaded with advertisements and still he says at the end of the day Legal Insurrection is breaking even (though this could be partly due to the fact that he doesn’t offer his readers any incentives to donate.)

Another problematic point, as well as a point of Jacobson and my disagreement, is that Jacobson is under the belief that all mainstream media aside from that of Fox News has a left-leaning slant. I implore him to realize there is a difference between the democratic party and left-wing progressives. Indeed, both parties since the Reagan era have shifted dramatically to the right leaving true left-wing politics out of the United States political structure. I would hope Jacobson keeps this fact in mind in the future before saying that all mainstream news outlets aside from Fox have a leftist slant. He’s wrong, but I think I’d like our media better if he were right. 

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3 thoughts on “A Part Way Meeting of the Minds

  1. I think it’s easy to misunderstand the difference between news and op-ed by lumping them both under the word “journalism”, as if they were equally valuable for providing information. Ever since TV news was first expected to be a profit engine instead of a public service, back in the 80s, there’s been a constant shift away from news and toward opinion. And opinions are like assholes…

    This professor is entitled to his opinion, but without generating original investigative material, he can’t be considered a “journalist” any more than a blogger can. Bloggers, even the best ones, are still only the digital age equivalent of newspaper columnists.

    • Hey! First and foremost thanks for taking the time to read and respond to this post. I’m always down for a good discussion, and I appreciate you raising the point that you have. It would appear you and I disagree in terms of journalistic values. You seek to draw a distinction between news and op-ed’s whereas I think that the two can be one in the same. You might be interested to read David Carr’s piece in the New York Times where he explores the idea of the line between journalism and activism. He reaches a similar conclusion to yours, but I think this quotes from Glenn Greenwald speaks mounds to my way of thinking: “All activists are not journalists, but all real journalists are activists. Journalism has a value, a purpose — to serve as a check on power.”

      I think too often we strive after a false notion of “objective news” that actually, in practice, is anything but objective. The mainstream media establishment reports on what those in power are saying,we only need to look as far back in the War in Iraq to see this. Indeed, there was a media consensus for the war in Iraq over false intelligence, but it was presented to us as “objective coverage.” Our nation’s founding is due, in part, to a “biased” piece of journalism, something you would classify as an “op-ed.” But this “op-ed” was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, and it is accreddited with helping incite the American revolution.

      So the question I have for you is this: what is the point of a free and independent press if journalism doesn’t take a stand? How are we expected to evolve as a society? History has shown that journalism NEEDS to take a stand in order for progress to be made (the New York Times was once in favor of lynchings under the guise of objectivity and it was “opinionated journalists” who broke the true factual nature behind lynchings.) I respect your views of objectivity, and I respect your distinction between an op-ed and news, but I think anything that is backed up by CONCRETE FACT, even if it ends with an opinion, is still journalism.

      Remember, Glenn Greenwald is a blogger, but he also is the journalist who broke the NSA story.

      • I already said “generating original investigative material” in reference to the professor, therefore Glenn Greenwald meets the standard. I didn’t say journalists have to be objective. But to be one, they DO have to investigate and uncover facts themselves in service of what they advocate. Most media now just reprints stories, no matter if reliable sources are involved or not, and passes them on and on and on. To me, that’s not journalism.

        I admit I’m old school about defining the subject. I’ll be 60 in a few months. I grew up when TV news WAS a public service, and I’m married to a five-time Emmy-winning TV news writer. But I can accept that terms change as culture changes. My “journalism” might not be yours.

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