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Straddling Journalism and Advocacy

The Deal with Palin | Talking Points Memo.

An interesting post from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo, sort of laying out a justification of how often they post articles on Sarah Palin. But what it reveals more than anything else is the sort of twisted logic that accompanies the strange world that perhaps all of us bloggers inhabit, some more deeply than others. TPM straddles a variety of mediums and fulfills audience needs that do not always harmonize together.

Because of course, he’s a blogger. “Blogging” is a term which was at one time artificially loaded with meanings, but in the simplest sense, it really only means self-publication. The ability to take thoughts you might write on paper, type them into a web interface and publish them for the world to see is blogging. It might also refer to specific types of software you might use; it might also refer to a certain style of writing which I have often referred to as “stream of consciousness.” Blogging is often the process of discussing the events of the moment without necessarily painting a complete picture; that complete picture is contained within the blog as a whole rather than the post.

That someone is “blogging” does not by itself mean they are or are attempting to do anything approaching journalism. Some blogs are poetry. Others are deep discussions of web standards or programming techniques. But at this point, Josh is definitely a journalist. And he’s the editor of a web news publication. Many of us regularly get our news from TPM. Accuracy is important. As is context, a thing which news blogging generally ignores, post to post.

But here’s the thing: Josh Marshall is an advocate for his political point of view. I generally argue that the term “objective” is a horribly mis-used word in journalism, bordering on a myth. But in this case, there is not now and never was any real sense of impartiality, which is perhaps closer to the meaning of the word “objective” as applied to journalism. In fact, in terms of where he got his audience from and what at the core is his primary audience, the advocacy is much more important than the reporting.

So it kind of gets to the point where things become quite confused, as indeed this article suggests. When Josh says, for example, that “TPM has its news section and its opinion pieces, most of which are here in what we now call the editor’s blog,” it suggests an entirely false separation between the two. There is a huge amount of commentary and even humor in the news articles which would be entirely inappropriate in a conventional news room, and meanwhile the moment-by-moment breaking news generally finds its way onto the editor’s blog long before a formal piece is written. The middle section of the article not only veers off the original topic – why Sarah Palin is featured on the website so often – into a thumb-sucking introspection into the problem of Liberal messaging, but actually defies the logic of the entire article: that the decision making is based on readership and journalistic ethics.

I love TPM. And while I kinda think he’s a bit of a priss – some of that is also in this article – I like what Josh Marshall does and can even admit to the more-than-obvious inspiration I’ve taken from him over the years. But I’m glad not to try and put my two feet into three different buckets at one time like he is. This article is just embarrassing.

By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.