A fantastic read on the past and present of journalism by Terry McDermott at the CJR, with some fascinating thoughts on the voice of old journalism compared to the voice of the blogging age. Here’s an extract:
I hated the conventions that bound daily journalism, the stilted, odd language in which it was written as well as the contrived structures into which that odd language was shaped. The common newspaper style is so heavily codified you need a Berlitz course to interpret it. More than formal, the style is abstract and artificial. I once (on the very first day at a new job) got into a frighteningly intense argument with a city editor who had objected to my use of the word “slumbered” to describe the behavior of two political candidates during a debate. They didn’t really sleep through it, did they? he asked. Of course not, I said. I meant it figuratively, not literally. We don’t use figurative language here, he told me. Then he changed the word to “lumbered.”
That was one benighted guy, but the problem was nearly universal. Until recently, you couldn’t escape it. Now you can. The advent of the Web and the proliferation of smart, aggressive bloggers around the globe have torn journalism loose from its hinges. The hounds have been unleashed.
While disliking it intensely, it is easy to forget there was a reason for the soporific style of newspaper writing. Newspapers were actually trying to do something good. They recognized that they held powerful, uncontested positions as conveyors of news to their communities. After much coaxing, they took it upon themselves to shed their partisan pasts and don a cloak of social responsibility—a practice that they called objectivity. They did it in part to sell papers—they thought if they made fewer people angry they would have more readers—but mainly they did it because they thought it was the right thing to do. [Read the rest…]