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Barbara Lombardo of Saratoga Springs, NY, is a journalism adjunct at University at Albany and retired executive editor of The Saratogian, The Record and the Community News. Follow her on Twitter @Barb_Lombardo.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Stand up and be counted

A few years ago we had a reporter who discovered after a while on the job that while she enjoyed writing, she didn't enjoy writing controversial stories and didn't like the way she could never really be off duty. She wasn't comfortable covering news where she lived. She changed her line of work and still lives in town.

I could empathize with her reason for leaving the news business. We work long and crazy hours. Our work is out there for anyone to see and critique. You have to be willing to make people mad or sad. And when you work and live in the same relatively small town, you can't do it semi-anonymously. There's no escaping people who have something to say, good or bad. Usually, I don't mind. When I do talk with someone, though, I like to know who I'm talking to.

That's why I'm not exactly leaping into the world of blogging.

Would you answer your telephone and then get into a conversation with someone who not only was a stranger, but who had no intention of identifying himself? If you received an anonymous letter in the old-fashioned U.S. mail, would you write back?

As the managing editor of The Saratogian, I hope to use this space to converse with you. I like talking about the news business and explaining how and why things work. But I don't intend to engage in lengthy defenses with any single, anonymous, would-be pen pal.


Blogger Horatio Alger said...

You make an astute observation with regards to your friend, who just couldn’t cut it in the bitter-cold world of news journalism; she saw
her limitations and reached for the ripcord. This is where your insight ends and your ignorance to the world of so-called new media begins.

Life in the blogosphere isn’t life on the streets or life in the newsroom. It’s a medium several degrees of separation from reality; a sort of Wild West forum where ideas are exchanged free of pretense. Sure, there are those who treat it just like the prototypical letter-in-the mailbox interaction. But there are others less comfortable with this level of intimacy for whatever reason.

Perhaps because modern mass media is so cold and impersonal, it has given rise to this counterculture seething under the prim crust of society. Perhaps it’s easier for insecure people to lob bombshells from several miles away, where they are far removed from the carnage. Perhaps it’s because society has grown far less tolerant of free speech and the aforementioned exchange of ideas.

Like it or not, this the way the blogosphere interacts with you. Sure you can try to change it; tame it in some way that you can clutch onto a false sense of confidence in the individual or group claiming to interact with you. Hell, you can even do it in the prototypical letter-to-the editor fashion: Demand telephone numbers, verify identities, make sure everyone is standing and accounted for. But then you simply end up running a blog that is a carbon copy of something already in existence.

This is why the analogy you proffer is ludicrous, but somewhat telling of your misguided understanding of the new media’s ever-changing tide. Would you write a letter back to some random face in the crowd; someone you didn’t know? Well, no. Not unless you were one of the many folks who engaged in the by-gone practice of maintaining a pen pal.

Then again, few people these days write letters at all (hence the somewhat pejorative moniker “snail mail”). The cyber-equivalent is much easier, much less personal and bears not even a remote semblance of its historic predecessor. This isn’t to say either medium is better than the other. It’s saying this is the way it is; embrace this fact and get on the bus or else it’s leaving without you.

No, it’s better to allow those who want to “stand and be counted” do so at their leisure through op-ed pieces or in your letter column. For all those who aren’t up for such rigid standards, there’s the blogosphere. Try to tame it and you’ll be on the outside looking in fairly quickly. Lastly, I’ll leave you with this sage advice: just because you don’t interact with bloggers doesn’t mean any one of them won’t interact with you.


December 25, 2007 at 11:50 AM 

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