the sound of alternative journalism
Post #591 • July 28, 2005, 10:21 AM • 45 Comments
Artivistic accepted a proposal from Chris of Zeke's Gallery to set up an art blogging conference, so I'll be going to Montreal in late September at Chris's invitation to speak on it. Thanks, Chris, and congratulations.
This is forcing me to congeal my thoughts regarding the medium, which usually results in a tedious exercise in beard-stroking, so I'll try to spice it up with some scandal: namely, the blog-related troubles at the New Times (via an alert reader).
A controversy over publicly accessible blog observations about current and former staffers posted by two New Times editors - including managing editor Jean Carey, who writes a column called "The Bitch" - has caused major turmoil at the company. It generated weeklong, unpaid suspensions of the two editors and the paper's star columnist, Tristram Korten, who had confronted the editors over their blogs earlier this month.
The details are a bit hard to ascertain - I still don't understand why they gave Korten a time out - but this much is clear:
Last year, a former New Times staff writer who was terminated filed a gender discrimination claim against Carey with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint has since been dismissed.
Carey responded by posting a series of derogatory remarks about the former reporter, whom she supervised. Carey expressed jealousy over the former reporter's possible romantic relationship with a former New Times staffer with whom she also had a relationship. ...
In the post, Carey criticized the former reporter's appearance, professional skills, sexual conduct, and mental stability. Carey's blog also referred by name to other current and former employees and outsiders including a Miami Herald reporter as "totally nasty, mean, classless girls."
Earning her nom-de-plume, I suppose. NT calendar editor Lyssa Oberkreser also was in on the act.
In Oberkreser's blog which was subtitled "Sex and the Single Librarian" Oberkreser expressed relief that the reporter had departed and made nasty comments about her physical appearance, weight, and sexual morals.
Of course, New Times corporate came down and started handing out spankings. Corporations live in fear that something like the above is going to happen, and at the New Times, which often seems to better understand what alternative journalism sounds like than what it is, the probability of its employees publising something actionable spiked to 100%. It's not enough to hire nasty people - they have to provide smart content commensurate with its snarkiness. (Personally frustrating to me, I think I know the identity of the said former employee. If I'm right, Ms. Carey, you and I need to have a word.)
I also write occasionally for the New Times, and my blog hasn't been an issue. Of course, I'm not creating a hostile work environment for my employer. But back when I was writing for Street, it was a problem. My editor more than once referred to the "peanut gallery" on Artblog.net in the course of editing my work. She treated me to dinner after speaking on the New Criticism Bang panel at Snitzer last year, and this conversation ensued after she revealed some kind of tension (personal? business? don't know) over Artblog.net:
Me: Is the blog a problem?
Ed.: It would be if you were working for us full-time.
Me: Is there any danger of that happening?
Ed.: Not really.
Me: Okay, then.
Her erstwhile boss, Brett O'Bourke, recently appeared in the letters of comment at the New Times expressing indignation over the departure of some key journalism faculty at FIU:
Hall says Kopenhaver is out to ruin the J-school. Big deal. Last thing we need in this country is more journalists with integrity, passion, and professionalism -- the kind of journalists Hall, former dean J. Arthur Heise, and the rest of their ilk spent years churning out -- running around writing stories that actually matter, with all the words spelled correctly and in the right order. ... I think Kopenhaver is right about "revitalizing" the FIU J-school by censoring students, dumbing down the curriculum, and running off all the professors who actually care about quality journalism. ... If it weren't for Hall and his insistence on providing me with an education, I could be making the big bucks, firing off error-plagued press releases for some big company instead of being a real working journalist with integrity and passion.
Integrity? Professionalism? Street? They had a column called Ask the DJ. One of O'Bourke's top guys edited my last piece for them with a crowbar and threw a diva fit when I protested. I quit, because while I don't shrink from confrontation, I insist on working with grownups. Again, many journalists know what alternative journalism sounds like, but Street often made the insipid Miami Herald sound refreshingly sincere by comparison and had, shall we say, enthusiastic ideas about its own importance. (Street folded three months after I left. No causation is implied.)
Our last stop on this ramble is a podcast tour of the Met's modern galleries by Lee Siegel for Slate, which was duly slapped by Modern Kicks and Grammar.police. Quoth JL: "I pretty much gagged." Slate - alternative media, right? Podcasting - alternative media, right? But Siegel's product is insufferable. It sounds like alternative journalism, but it's inane.
Someone is going to ask the panel about the difference between art blogging and MSM art criticism, because someone always does. The central issue, I've decided, is not technology or writing tone, but freedom. I won't pretend the blogosphere is a meritocracy - if I was a 25-year-old bisexual woman with a bodacious rack, a high alcohol tolerance, and a romantic predilection for Miami's art scenesters, and was blogging about the sweaty details, my pageviews would soar. Nevertheless, I am beholden to no one. You get the real deal here, not the polite essaying going on at the regular paper, not the poseur edginess at the alternative paper, and definitely not the spineless prattling that fills the art magazines. Blogging is the least compromised publishing medium available, and art criticism, like art, thrives on freedom.