Batting One Down: Leonard Pitts on Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism is not journalism. So pronounceth Leonard Pitts Jr. in an op-ed published today and dutifully republished on the D&N’s RocNow domain. Because as we all know well, nothing says “real journalism” like republishing a story without so much as brief editing.

Low-hanging fruit aside, what are Mr. Pitts’ points on the demerits of private, non-professional journalism? How do they stack up against the reality of citizen journalism? How do they stack up agains the reality of professional journalism?

Mr. Pitts chooses as the focus of his ire one James O’Keefe. Mr. O’Keefe is the privateer that blogger Andrew Breitbart arrogantly paraded as a member of his team right up till the moment he haughtily denied ever paying for his services. This is the guy who dressed in what his Midwestern television-fed virgin mind thought of as “pimp gear” and video taped conversations between himself, his remarkably unscathed “bitch” and members of ACORN at various locations. This is the guy who also bugged the phones of a Federal building, not realizing there might be some complications and the guy who just recently got busted trying to “seduce” a CNN anchor aboard his boat – because, you know, he’s that hot.

I think it’s fair to say that arguments are always much easier to win if you have a convenient straw man, and James O’Keefe certainly fills that role nicely. He is, of course, one single Boy Wonder of the Right, not necessarily representative in any way of the polyglot group of writers, fact-checkers, subject experts, ranters, ravers, wingnuts, historians and yes, people living in their parents basements that are represented by the term “citizen journalist.” But O’Keefe has committed a few high-profile crimes and is semi-recognizable from television, so I guess that’s all the investigation that is required.

Leonard Pitts’ chief complaints against O’Keefe’s concept of citizen journalism are that simply having the tools and the platform to do a job does not make you qualified to do it; that journalism is about endless fact-checking and laboring over context; that stories, visa vis the Valarie Jarrett story, do not get the necessary scrutiny they deserve; that of course, the O’Keefe stories seem now largely to be falsified and cleverly edited.

Holy shit, people. Do I even need to continue writing? Is it really this easy? No less than two reporters at the New York Times have been busted for fully-falsified stories. Other “reporters” have been regular contributors to White House press briefings that were flat-out stooges for the Bush Administration. The modern media – not simply television media, but across the board – is overrun with people like Harold Ford Jr. and Sarah Palin, with no journalism experience to speak of and running their own shows or columns. Mr Pitts, according to his own biography on his own website, was apparently writing for newspapers before he’d even earned his own degree. Opinion pieces which, while credit is certainly due for having won a Pulitzer, are not exactly Vietnam-era mud and blood reporting, are they?

But the worst of it is this: Mr. Pitts chooses to use Mr. O’Keefe as a straw man. O’Keefe, a man whose exploits you might never have heard about but for the fact that the mainstream media – so overworked with “obsessing over nit-picky questions of fairness and context,” and “hours on the phone nailing down the facts” – guilelessly and credulously reported on them without ever bothering to “nail down” anything. His muse for all things irresponsible was made possible entirely through the irresponsibility of those vaunted supposed professionals.

But as entire paragraphs of his op-ed reveal, this is really just another spoiled-brat attempt to down play something that I understand perfectly well has a lot of professional journalists worried. I think that worry is entirely misplaced: the whole economy is shrinking and journalism is shrinking right along with it, but that’s not because of DragonFlyEye.Net, I assure you. Still, elitism and snobbery are available to every industry, and this post is really no surprise, beyond simply being a disappointment as an intellectual pursuit.