Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The constraints of print journalism

I think Kevin may be on to something here about the differences in reporting he sees in print journalism and blog journalism:

One of the problems with print journalism is that there are certain stylistic constraints on how stories are written, and this one is a good example: in order to sound like professional writing, it weaves around the story in an oddly circuitous way, starting with a quote fragment, then an opinion, then a longer version of the quote, then an aside about Kerry's Vietnam service, then another piece of Clark's statement, and then finally a passing reference to the question that this was a response to.

This is typical of news writing, in which it is somehow forbidden to just flatly get to the point and explain exactly what happened (a problem, by the way, that is especially acute in any story with numbers in it). If this had been a blog post, it would have gone something like this:

We were talking to Clark after a house party and someone asked him [fill in text of question here]. Here's what he said:

Complete text of Clark's response here.

Then one of the reporters followed up and asked [fill in text of question] and Clark said blah blah blah.

The difference is pretty obvious. This kind of writing seems perfectly natural in a blog post but is completely out of place in a professionally produced piece of newspaper writing. And yet it's the blog style that actually does a better job of giving you the context for the quote.

A corollary to this thesis is that the unfair implications that sometime sneak into print journalism may not necessarily be intentional but just the consequence of the constraints of print journalism. Michael Cousineau, the writer of the original article that inspired Kevin's rumination, may not have necessarily been trying to imply that Clark was dissing Kerry. The constraints of print journalism that Kevin has identified here may make it difficult for all but the best writers to avoid this kind of mistake.

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