The ugly secret of newspapers is that copy editors do a great deal of what non-journalism people think reporters or other editors, with fancier titles, do. They have for generations caught typos; deleted potentially horrifying factual errors; made 20 inches of bloated copy into a tight, bright, and juicy 12; noticed inconsistencies in a narrative and put a reporter on the phone to walk through fixing them; pushed back against the use of empty political jargon; made sure the photos matched the story; made sure stories get to the point before readers become bored; and done what is easily one of the most important jobs of all—crafting the headlines that make people read the stories.
Earlier today I tweeted: “Gap that needs to be filled: the journalism that journalists ignore while spending all day every day insulting each other on Twitter.”
I’m serious about this. I only follow one account on public Twitter (a truly vital one), but I had for some time a Twitter list called “Politics” that contained the accounts of some of the reporters I have the most respect for. I just deleted that list because all these people do is snark at each other and at commenters. They call each other names, they trade insults with random people who criticize them, they RT most such insults — basically, America’s political reporters think and act like sixth-graders. And they’re on Twitter all the time. You can’t learn a damned thing by following any of them — or any of the ones I know of, anyway.
Journalists are always saying that they have to be on Twitter because that’s where the information is. I think that’s bullshit. Twitter is where the childish bickering is, and that’s what seems to make journalists happy. I’m now going to begin my search for journalists who aren’t on Twitter, or are rarely there: those are the ones who are more likely to be doing some actual research and reporting.
Zoe Corbyn in the Guardian on Nick Carr’s The Glass Cage:
Not everyone buys Carr’s gloomy argument. People have always lamented the loss of skills due to technology: think about the calculator displacing the slide rule, says Andrew McAfee, a researcher at the MIT Sloan School of Management. But on balance, he says, the world is better off because of automation.
Ah, the perils of writing about a book you clearly haven’t read – either that, or the perils of a journalistic model that requires you to set up simplistic oppositions. By contrast, from my review of The Glass Cage:
It cannot be stressed too strongly that resistance does not entail rejection. Carr makes this point repeatedly. “Computer automation makes our lives easier, our chores less burdensome. We’re often able to accomplish more in less time—or to do things we simply couldn’t do before.” And: “Automation and its precursor, mechanization, have been marching forward for centuries, and by and large our circumstances have improved greatly as a result. Deployed wisely, automation can relieve us of drudge work and spur us on to more challenging and fulfilling endeavors.”
Carr could have said something like that on every single page of his book and people would still say, “I don’t agree with Carr that we should eliminate automation.”
And so one of the more bizarre moments in the Guardian’s long history occurred – with two GCHQ security experts overseeing the destruction of hard drives in the Guardian’s basement just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents. “We can call off the black helicopters,” joked one as we swept up the remains of a MacBook Pro.
Whitehall was satisfied, but it felt like a peculiarly pointless piece of symbolism that understood nothing about the digital age. We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London. The seizure of Miranda’s laptop, phones, hard drives and camera will similarly have no effect on Greenwald’s work.
David Miranda, schedule 7 and the danger that all reporters now face. Two comments to make here.
First, I’m fascinated to see how nakedly the UK government is attempting to intimidate Greenwald. There is no even remotely plausible alternative explanation for their behavior, which suggests a couple of possibilities: they may be supremely confident that they cannot be touched or restrained in any way from their violations of civil liberties; or they may feel desperately helpless to stop the ongoing leakage of knowledge. Possibly both.
Second, as Alan Rusbridger points out here, their actions are utterly pointless, unable to achieve any of their desired goals. I’m reminded of how, in the 1530s, the Bishop of London gathered up copies of William Tyndale’s translation of the Bible and had them burned in public places. He thought that by so doing he had eliminated his problem, but only because he failed to understand that he was creating more sympathy for Tyndale, and that the reformer’s sympathizers would soon send much more money to Amsterdam where more and more and more copies of the English Bible would roll off the presses. The bishop was assuming that book-burning would have the same effect in the age of print that it had had in the manuscript age. He completely failed to grasp that new technologies were changing the rules; and today’s London laptop-smashers aren’t getting that message either.