There’s a tendency amongst some of the more excitable cultural commentators at the moment to declare that journalism is dead. It’s been outsourced, apparently; handed over to the blogosphere, where legions of Citizen Journalists churn out interesting and informed commentary on everything from cakes to quantum mechanics. It doesn’t help, that at the same time, media organisations have more or less turned their back on journalists. Traditional journalism is expensive and time-consuming, and prone to being legally risky. Besides, we all know that people nowadays have attention spans to rival the average goldfish, and only really want to read bright, shiny, calming, bite-sized celebufroth about Britney’s pussy or how rude Kanye is.
Fragmented, meaningless information breeds a lobotomised readership who crave only further fragments. It’s self-reinforcing, and best of all, it’s cheap.
So when talking heads babble meaninglessly about bloggery out-competing journalism, they’re really talking about the new journalism — 100 words on today’s stock-market dip, or 250 words on how to have a shinier orgasm, maybe as much as 600 words on a day in the life of a fictitious Rwandan orphan made up by some jaded hack who’s never even been to Paris, let alone Africa.
Sure. I can churn that sort of mindless crap out all day long, and so can anyone else. We’re all journalists now.
But it’s important to remember what real journalism feels like. Done well, journalism is as creative and powerful as any writing of ‘literary merit’. In fact, some might argue that it even takes greater skill, because it has to remain entirely within the scope of what is real. That kind of constraint adds complexity.
I’ve never really tried to produce any real journalism. I simply don’t have the resources — the funding, the contacts, the time to travel and research. I’ve done some magazine and newspaper articles, sure, but they’ve been the kind of froth I mentioned above. I write books, and I blog. That no more makes me a journalist than it makes me a surgeon.
This means I can’t turn to my own files for an example of what I’m taking about. Instead, here are a few links to some pieces of genuine journalism. They’re all fascinating, and I suspect that the first one may well be extremely important to all of us in the years to come. You can’t get through any one of them in five minutes. They’re not safe, bland mulch. These pieces will demand your attention, shake your certainties a little, and possibly challenge some of your assumptions. In places, they even attain a sort of beauty.
Please, read them, and remember what it is we’re losing.
Ennui Becomes Us: Randall Schweller’s masterful analysis of the inevitable growth of disorder in global and cultural affairs.
How I Convinced a Death-Row Murderer Not to Die: Michael Finkel writing on his complicated relationship with the death-row killer who stole his name when going on the run.
They Killed My Lawyer: Financier William Browder’s simple tale of the death of Sergei Magnitsky, an honest man who was brave and foolish enough to stand up to corruption in Russia.
A Rough Trade: Martin Amis’ classic ’01 report from the trenches of the American porn industry.