Friday, June 6, 2008

"the internet is full of nut jobs."

“The [controversy over the] title was the first red flag,” admits Leslie Bennetts of her best-selling-yet-contentious book, The Feminine Mistake: Are We Giving Up Too Much? “It was just a play on words off The Feminine Mystique, but women thought I was claiming that their whole lives were mistakes.”

The many debates over Bennetts’ book, which discusses the economic, emotional, and psychological repercussions that potentially occur when married women leave the workforce, mirror the extent to which the issue has been argued historically – it almost seems like an unsolvable puzzle. Bennetts, however, approached the topic in a methodical, fact-based manner that opposed the emotional standpoint from which it had previously been viewed.

Though one may think that The Feminine Mistake was one of the biggest accomplishments of Bennetts’ renowned career (which boasts five years at The Philadelphia Bulletin, ten at The New York Times, and twenty at Vanity Fair), she claims that merely “surviving as a journalist” has been her proudest endeavor, especially in the face of what she refers to as the “imploding” nature of journalism as a career.

Journalism has faced profound changes within the past thirty years, some so overwhelming that they have rendered the field “scarcely recognizable” to Bennetts. First and foremost, she believes that my generation is so caught up in the glamour of magazine jobs that we sometimes forego the necessary training one acquires by working at a legitimate newspaper.

“Kids don’t realize that you have to learn the basics of the job first…many people start their careers at magazines and screw up because they don’t have a strong skill base,” she says.

Many of the changes in journalism have, inevitably, come about due to the Internet, an “information delivery system” that Bennetts believes has little to no authority. Whereas esteemed papers such as The New York Times employ professional hierarchies to ensure that only the most qualified journalists convey information to the public, “the Internet is full of a lot of nut jobs” writing without validity or even skill.

Bennetts thinks that when you combine frivolous writing with the fact that “people would rather scour the Internet for news about Paris Hilton than actually pay attention to what’s going on in the world,” legitimate concerns arise about the “quality of the information that’s reaching people these days.”

This issue is only underscored by the fact that the Internet provides numerous venues used to comment on the news rather than actually convey it. Whereas The New York Times notoriously finds writers with strong literary voices and “bludgeons that voice right out of them,” the world of blogging has opened up a whole other can of worms in which “attitude, snarkiness, and snobbery [are what sells].”

Having been both a reporter and an editor myself (albeit for a high school paper – but at my age that’s how the resume tends to read), my question is whether a fresh voice is necessarily a bad thing. It can certainly go awry on many occasions – it’s hardly appropriate to use frivolous or sarcastic diction when reporting on Rwandan genocides – but I think there is some wiggle room when writing in a venue as casual as blogging.

No one would argue that blogs could possibly trump The New York Times in terms of validity, professionalism, or thoroughness. However, as long as blogs don’t replace their more the more legitimate counterparts, I think the two can coexist peacefully in their respective cyber-schools of thought. Maybe they shouldn’t even be compared because they are so fundamentally different. Readers must simply remember to take blogs’ content with a grain of salt – or perhaps an entire saltshaker.


dgold911 said...

While Ms. Bennetts is right that there are all sorts of sketchy writers out there in cyber- land, there are also plenty of legit bloggers (ie YOU) who, by virtue of the internet, are given the opportunity to express their voices. There have been quite a few bloggers who have even been offered book deals after their blogs have taken off. So I definitely agree with you that there is a place for both"serious" journalism and blogging etc. in today's literary world.

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