Journalists, Bloggers, and Status Anxiety

Ta-Nehisi Coates, taking note of a White House pool reporter’s decision to include a weird jab at bloggers remarks: “The more I read those sort of backhands, the more I think it’s just job anxiety.”

I think that’s just right. There was a great example on Morning Joe this morning:

BARNICLE: [S]omeone ought to tell governor palin that there’s a distinction between blogging and what she refers to as journalism. Blogging –

MIKA: Is not journalism!

BARNICLE: I would say 95%; maybe 99% of blogging is basically therapy for the blogger.

MIKA: And it’s anonymous, isn’t it?

BARNICLE: Yeah. You know.

BUCHANAN: Right. Writing letters. Getting it off –

Here’s the thing. I’ve never actually heard a crack investigative reporter tell me that the essence of good journalism consists of your work appearing in a non-blog venue. Similarly, I’ve never heard that from an intrepid war reporter. I think those people understand that if you uncover a major secret and write about it in a blog, or in a magazine, or on a newspaper that it’s all the same. Similarly, if you risk your life to get a first-hand account of events in a confusing war zone nobody will care if it’s a blog from the battlefield or a TV report. That’s because those people are doing journalism at its best and they know that their work stands or falls with the information contained therein.

But what Mike Barnicle and Mika Brzezinski and Pat Buchanan do isn’t like that. I say this as someone who likes their show and watches it almost every day, just like I hope people like my blog and read it every day. The three of them, and Joe Scarborough, are all in the same boat with me—we’re providing what we hope is an informative, entertaining product that’s fundamentally derivative of work being done by other people. But a passel of TV chatters and newspaper columnists and guys are accustomed to basking in the glow offered by people doing real reporting. There’s a lot of status anxiety. And this gets to be its worst, in my view, among the kind of people who do the sort of pseudo-reporting associated with following the President of the United States around. Convention dictates that if I sit at a desk and read a transcript of what the press secretary said and then write about the transcript, I’m a lowly cheeto-eater. But if I sit in the White House press room and transcribe what the press secretary said, and then write about the transcript then that’s journalism. Similarly, if I travel around with the president and then read the pool reports that my colleagues write and then write about that: Journalism. But if I read the newspaper account of where the president went and then write about that: Cheetos.

It’s a little silly.