I think about the way journalism is portrayed in pop culture quite a bit, and yesterday for Slate, on the occasion of the swan song of Gossip Girl, I spent some time writing about how television and movies fail to deal with a phenomenon the media itself has adjusted to: bloggers. In particular, I was interested in a bit of a gender split that seems to be occurring. Female bloggers are shallow, or gossipy, or in need of tutelage by older reporters (male and female), who are presented as a distinct species. But men may have it worse: they’re crazed conspiracy theorists:
If State of Play’s portrayal of Della was irritatingly smug, the way USA’s miniseries Political Animals treated its young female blogger was downright insulting. The miniseries countered old-school journalist Susan Berg (Carla Gugino) with blogger rival Georgia Gibbons (Meghann Fahy)—not just a shallow, style-obsessed chronicler of D.C. nonsense, but a selfish slut who was sleeping with Susan’s boyfriend. To the show’s credit, Georgia at least got a shot at proving she was competent, scooping Susan on a story when Susan’s old-school focus on source development lead her to delay the news too long. But even if Georgia got the story, she was still a bad girl, if personally rather than professionally, and Susan was the hero, even if she got so cozy with her sources that she ended up sleeping with the First Lady’s son. In this formulation, reporters get a free pass on crossing ethical lines, but their blogger counterparts are dumb little girls who need to be taught valuable lessons.
Male bloggers don’t fare much better though: While their female counterparts are merely unsubstantive, men who blog for a living are loons, and sometimes ones who do enormous damage. In Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, Jude Law plays Alan Krumwiede, a disgruntled blogger who keeps getting his freelance pitches turned down by a newspaper editor. When a global pandemic strikes, Alan sees his chance to become a prophet: He spreads the rumor that he’s cured himself of the disease using forsythia as an herbal remedy, and urges his readers to ignore public-health officials. His misinformation renders the population more vulnerable—including that newspaper editor, whom he leaves to die in the street—and he’s ultimately found to be in the pay of a pharmaceutical company eager to profit off the crisis. When, at the end of the film, Alan’s arrested, he claims he’ll be bailed out: He’s evil, but the stupidity of his followers may be even more dangerous.
Either way, it’s interesting that movies and television haven’t accommodated themselves to the idea that bloggers and journalists can actually be the same thing. Maybe now that Hollywood went gaga for Nate Silver, we’ll get hero bloggers, or at least bloggers with integrity, in a couple of development cycles. I’m guessing Jim Sturgess ends up playing Silver.