Poetic Intelligence and Traditional Journalism
A journalist is an artisan of communication. A man who aims at a mass audience. His writing should be characterized by a direct presentation of facts, a description of events without an attempt at interpretation . As his writings should appeal to the current popular taste, or public interest, this man's intellect is subject to a constant judgment. He can only be judged by the freedom of his pen and how the ink imprints itself on a leaf of expression. His idea of fairness comes from an ideological bias, a conservative position preoccupied with a desire for impartiality. The masses remain silent. The journalist's strength is contrived by his writings.
Without the infinite shredding of his words, this man has neither food, shelter nor the weapons to build his name upon. A journalist fails. He also conquers. His only tools are ornaments of literary insanity. An insanity of journalistic rules. An erudite derangement in selecting impartial words, in an attempt to translate facts into genuine and accurate style. A craft of a dreamer, who chooses no point to make a point. He writes the facts. He reports. He writes his eyewitness account. He gains recognition.
    A journalist is a grumbler, a censurer, a giver of advice, a regent of sovereigns, a tutor of nations. Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets. --Napoleon Bonaparte
He travels with the enemies. One that first sought to write in order to become a man of words, is the first to condemn the craft of his journalistic abilities. Rarely does a poet or a man of literary words reflect on the insight of the journalist. Often, will a journalist play the role of a creative nonfiction writer (such as Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, Joan Didion and Norman Sims) in his community, only to come off the barricades of traditional, conventional journalism, erasing that line of distance, to bring himself closer to his very public, and entering the communal discussions as a facilitator. He does not feel he needs to be judged. He writes with conviction. His artistic, literary achievements are the fruit of his imagination. He is more than an observer. He is aware of language aphorisms. At times, he will not be concerned with what he writes, but with what he gets in return.
    Lack of imagination is what is killing journalism in America. -- Jay Rosen
His conflict however, is a reflect of a tradition in journalism, a tradition that encourages his making, the maintenance of the barricade, keeping him apart from public values. His passion is the search for fairness.
SHe has read of two rivers passing through the knowledge of communicationS One of the rivers preserves the power of the publisher. The same power that George Seldes, the longest-lived Communist in the world and an American journalist, described so well in his book Lords of the Press, in the late 1920s. The other power is the scream of the masses. Could a journalist possibly please both? He knows his ammunition is limited. As he chooses his position, he shifts curiosity. He feels amputated. Yet, in an artful union, such, for the romantic poetic mind, lies the censorship and the voice of a tradition that dictates the composition his pen will fight for, or against. And up this conflict, he draws his first lines, sailing to a common fountain of mysterious sources. In a finer distinction of his contemplative mind, he sails on the junction-line of being and knowing. "I was there, let me tell you about it," or, "here is what I want you to see."
Not To Be, then is impossible: To Be, incomprehensible... In vain would we derive it from the organs of sense: for these supply only surfaces, undulations, phantoms! In vain from the instruments of sensation: for these furnish only the chaos, the shapeless elements of sense! And least of all may we hope to find its origin, or sufficient cause, in the mould and mechanism of the UNDERSTANDING, the whole purport and functions of which consists in individualization, in outlines and differencings by quantity, quality and relation. It were wiser to seek substance in shadow, than absolute fullness in mere negation.
Using his own approach, whether a creative take or a traditional obligation , this journalist has one account: give readers, or viewers, the news, the information that will shape society. That1s the danger of journalism. He knows, as part of his community, that his craft demands more than simply write: "It happened." His "traditional school" is not enough to help his community grow stronger. He knows he can be a voice for his own community. As he travels in his insanity in search of common sense -- as did a professional revolutionary, Thomas Paine, in the 1700s -- he risks taking an angle, his authority and condescending account, he sees society reclaiming its participation. Once passionately engaged in the craft, he is not alone. His lunacy grows further. He has to see the world and be instrumental without being influential. He makes his anecdotes and finds a technique that seems to work. He experiments. He involves the community. He involves the public. He involves the state. He changes the nation. He is no longer a journalist...
Lincoln Steffens followed the tradition into the beginning of this century. He used his talent as a crusade liberal, calling attention to current political and social affairs in a literary tone. He offered his political criticism, never ashamed or intimidated by governing figures. There are times that love for reporting makes no better journalism than the love for society.
In an attempt to move his reader's interest or call for the reader's vigilance, a journalist is strengthening his community. But the more he makes his craft an assertive role to change reader's opinions or views, the larger is the conflict against the power of the capital. Reconstructing the lives of the public he writes for and/or about, may become his highest dilemma.
Corporate concentration of media ownership -- Disney acquires ABC, GE takes over CBS, and so forth -- can lead to disastrous results: readers and viewers missing out vital information. Corporate story-telling becomes an alienation in the daily lives of the common people.
For every passive reader there will always be an intellect at work. Once readers and viewers leave their passive position as spectators, they become participants in the journalist1s work. "Why did the journalist changed my words?" The journalist quoted the expert and neglected the citizens. The journalist wrongfully chose the words. He manipulated. He again, took a position. He is now choosing a point, to make no point at all. He then writes satires. The journalist uses a combination of styles. His roles may seem unlimited and his tools are many. He can be more powerful than an entertainer. A journalist accustomed to battling with his own interests becomes a slave of his own argument. His traveling is restricted to his maneuvering weave. The public1s gain is the publisher's pain. The publisher's earning is the public's agony. Participation of media critics makes journalism an improved art form. It grows into a social science.
    ...I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy Child well Nursed is at a year Old a most delicious nourishing and wholesome Food, whether Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie, or Ragoust.
    -- Jonathan Swift, A MODEST PROPOSAL
Aware of his infinite possibilities of writing, the journalist selects his final tools. He embraces a style and confronts its challenges. He invites the reader to be part of his experience. Now it is the image of his extensive research put into words that will attract, inform or transform his audience thinking. Using his voice, he can compose understanding and place his reader where he wants. It is the crossing line between traditional journalism and imagination. Now, it is his style at work.
Charles Dickens used his descriptive form and style to provide the reader with a feeling of ambiance. His writings reveal to readers the atmosphere of the events. He dramatized. He did not call for a social reform. His urgency was to engage his readers' attention into his powerful details. His report was his vision. "Unattachable account" was not Dickens' approach. Yet, he saw his audience as readers not citizens. He did not call for public participation.
Using his powerful tools to attract his reader, the journalist focus on his making. The events are important, but no longer dictate his craft. The essential of his reporting is his ability to activate participation. He wants to grab his readers' attention. He gains confidence. Rather than solving a problem or dealing with an important social issue, his love appears to lead observers to passively watch a controversy unfold in the news pages. Once he is known for his technique, he can then move on and involve the observer to build in opportunities for interaction. He breaks his pipeline of information to his audience to interact with his public. He calls for a two-way process of communication. He fears to be left alone.
Such is the personal involvement of readers and viewers that they become the journalist1s source of information and opinion. They become the solution for the problems the journalist once confronted himself. Finally, is the reader the expertS the most important contributor to the journalist1s authenticity. The reader is not a neglected, passive observer. The journalist wants to be alert to his readers' reasoning and concerns. He personalizes his writing. As he stimulates the reader's attention he finds his deepest love: his interaction with the world. It is his expression of self into nothing else but the art of conveying the meaning appropriately, dueling the obscure to find a glimpse of clarity. He wants to be heard.
Using such a style that cannot be translatable without injury to the meaning, Jacob Riis wrote with discernment about the misery of the New York slums in his selections from How The Other Half Lives (1890). As an immigrant from Denmark, and a journalist, he had the eyes to capture and the brains to report on the slums and tragedies of social inequality. His work did become a call for social reform. His work created an impression of cleverness by never saying anything in a common way of reporting. Dramatic, sarcastic and biased he reserved no fear to leave an imprint of self and help his readers seeing things they had no chance to see.
The biggest mistake a journalist can make is not self expression, but the usage of his writing to be more than it can possibly be. A journalist should be no more than a man of sense. His eloquence depends on his simplicity of being. A journalist has a single compromise: his love for veracity and a truthful awareness of the habits of his mind. Without an investigation of his own weakness a journalist is a dead writer. With no other privilege than that of recognition of his own exhortation to his craft, grounded on his learning experiences, a journalist may soon converge to one charge: Never pursue journalism as a trade. Become a nonfiction writer. Big names in American journalism have done it. They contributed to the mushrooming of book publishing: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Richard Harding Davis... Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe.
Our faulty elder journalists sacrificed their passion and passionate flow of opinative reporting, to become distant from the events they once covered. They gave up the refinement of their intellectual interlude for the tragic events of the capital. Giving space to the heterogeneous imagery of the capital, readers or viewers are presented with abstract meanings of reality. The cruelty is not reporting the facts without literary flavor, but the inability to present the facts accurately. Often, after a news story appears with information that does not fit into the official picture of the world, the systematic tradition will "correct" the record -- not with information the reader ought to know, but simply by distorting or ignoring the facts as presented in the very same media, be it print or broadcast.
In the early '80s, when AIDS was still a question mark around the world, most newspapers referred to the disease as "the gay plague." An editorial move that displays malice and deceiving facts. A journalist who allows his poetic inclination to flow uncontrolled is highly contributing to a disservice of public information. Among with manipulative editorials, such style indicates which data out of the tide of information presented daily are most important and should be remembered. A journalist should never forget his primary task: fight against selected information that can only serve to establish a single view of the world. If a journalist sees himself consigning facts that threaten such view, his intentions are malicious.
Public understanding of sensitive issues are the arenas in which sensationalism will viciously create unnecessary and improper propaganda. The abuse of such powers by "press lords" may well be dictated by governments, media owners, advertisers, publishers, even editors. The more a journalist spread calumny, incitement to hatred and war, inaccuracy and rumors rather than facts, the greater the gap with the public and less credibility he produces. The journalist is confused. He pleases his public and hurts his craft. A journalist will use a news wire service, and by doing so, his reporting is of non existence. He was not there. He cannot tell you about it. He becomes a victim of unethical practices. Irresponsible. Incompetent. False. Dangerous. And sometimes, a criminal.
Visitors to the editorial pages are often overwhelmed by the number of views on display from paper to paper, and by what they take to their own culpable inability to absorb from all of these views. In fact such a process is altogether reasonable. History of the news has totally failed to come to terms with the problem of the relationship between the outstanding work and the average work of the journalistic tradition. The notion of "impartitiality" is not in itself an adequate answer. Consequently, the confusion remains on the soiled pages of daily journalism. Biased works surround an outstanding reporting without recognition -- let alone explanation -- of what fundamentally makes journalism a constant search for fairness. In this tradition the difference is not just a question of accuracy and fairness, but morale. In this constant contradiction between the rules of the art of journalism and the demands of the capital, that the explanations must be sought for what accounts for the accredited journalist and the nonfiction writer.
    ...I took the pen and spread this muck out in words and phrases and made it cover as much acreage as I could. It was fearful drudgery, soulless drudgery, and almost destitute of interest... Usually I didn't want to read in the morning what I had written the night before...There was fire in it and I believe it was literature...
    -- Mark Twain, from Mark Twain in Eruption, pp. 254-260
The two categories of accurate reporting and literary form are essential to the craft of journalism. But they cannot be applied as critical criteria. The critic must understand the terms of the antagonism. Every story should be the result of prolonged, exhaustive and successful reporting. Writing to the public1s concerns may shape a community, and at the same time create a form of journalistic fragility. Innumerable reports however, involves no passion. And sometimes, to become reportable, events are transformed into artistic words to illustrate, primarily, the single passion of a writer: his ego. To be a journalist, a writer needs to recognize the tradition of the craft he wants to enter. To be a writer a journalist needs to be passionate about his visions. And then, to distant himself from such insanity, he needs practice, practice, practice.
With no other privilege than that of choice, a journalist is responsible to write his account using notions of matter, spirit, soul, body, action, passiveness, time, space, cause and effect, consciousness, perception, memory, and habitS as he feels in his mind completely at rest concerning all these, and completely satisfied with the threads of his journalistic tradition, he may then, subordinate his pen to his plausible and apt arrangement of words. As he confronts the excitement of love, fear, and vision of the world, he justifies his account to the vividness of the descriptions or quotes from the fervor of his reflections, forms, and incidents. His craft is damned the minute he seats to write, and he will rapidly learn to fight the very demands of such hostility.
Conflicts are many in journalistic tradition. It is a culture of partisianism in itself. If one voice is the voice of all, the larger the distance between the journalist and the public to whom he writes. By searching for his form of persuasion, a journalist becomes less factual. As he constructs his rhetorical device he formulates an opinion at an involuntary level. He uses his imagination and reveals the atmosphere his society lives. He will always tackle against difficult issues and will always take a stand. No position is immune of impartiality.
A journalist is a risk taker, a dreamer. His ideas aren't always the will of his audience. Boldly, a journalist fears not the words of power.