Identity, Blatchford, Journalism, and Oz
July 5, 2010 by Paul McKeever
Christie Blatchford is a writer whose writings currently are printed in the Globe and Mail Newspaper. She is probably most widely recognized as a writer who reports the facts as they relate to court proceedings. She is well respected in that role and, in my view, such respect is warranted.
However, Blatchford writes (or, on radio, speaks) her opinions on non-legal matters (e.g., matters of politics or culture) at times and, in that capacity, she is decidedly weak. Those of her opinions I have heard or read are of the Joe six-pack “it just seems to me” or “I feel” variety, rather than being the result of a applying any consistent and coherent set of philosophical principles to the facts of a matter.
That weakness did not stop her from flashing her press credentials to take an unwarranted swipe at unpaid blog writers who attended and reported upon G20 protests and who think that they deserved to be treated with the same dignity and respect as paid reporters. Indeed, that weakness, in the face of the relative quality of the opinion pieces being written by some bloggers about the G20 mess, may well have given her reason to take such a swipe. In her column last Saturday, which ran with the headline “Self-anointed G20 ‘journalists’ should get real”, she whined that:
…just as you are not a physician or a lawyer merely because you say you are, much as you may want to believe it so, neither are you a journalist because you and your friends say you are or because your “writings” appear on a website.
But let us not pretend that these [bloggers who attended and reported on the G20 protests] are working journalists or that they are the equivalent. They aren’t, for the most part.
Their work isn’t subject to editing or lawyering or the ethical code which binds, for example, the writers at The Globe. The websites on which they appear don’t belong, as do most reputable newspapers in this province, to the Ontario Press Council, a body which hears complaints against traditional journalists and publications.
Ah yes, the mournful call of the 21st century newspaper writer. With news aggregators and google news making editors neither necessary nor desirable, with blogging infrastructure available for free to all, and with opinions being like a**holes (“everyone’s got one”), paid writing gigs may soon be a thing of the past. Blatchford, still clinging to one such gig, apparently is left unable to resist including, in her self-admitted and obviously “random thoughts”, some snobby sour grapes about unpaid bloggers and vloggers.
It would have been fine for Blatchford to write that those who work for newspapers sometimes get access to places that others do not because such paid writers are, in a sense, pre-screened. Some stranger writing as “Raging Banana” is not someone who, by merely being a writer of a blog, should be trusted as much as Christie Blatchford not repeatedly to yell “No Justice No Peace” at a political party dinner function, or to snap photos of the athletes’ private bits at the end of a game in the locker room. And one is rather unlikely to take a violent run at a world leader at the G20 if one is writing for a national newspaper. If one is writing for a newspaper, one has little chance of remaining employed if one acts in such a fashion, and such an anti-wingnut check and balance does not burden the unpaid blogger.
However, to the detriment of the many fine bloggers who are not wingnuts, Blatchford instead made the argument that she and other paid writers are somehow a cut above those who do not get paid to write. One who is paid to write for the Globe and Mail, Blatchford implies, thereby gains the status of a journalist, even if one writes little more than insulting nonsense. Conversely, she advises, bloggers – no matter how good their work – are not journalists; they produce not writings, but mere “writings” (in quotations). As a writer of “opinion”, the declaration of such a ridiculous credentialist standard for being a journalist puts Blatchford’s own credibility into question.
A writer of opinion, to qualify as a journalist, should know that a thing is what it is regardless of whether it is recognized to be such by a law, a bureaucracy, a guild, or an association. Obviously, there were physicians before there were whole colleges comprised of physicians, and before said colleges issued official declarations that someone is a physician. There were lawyers long before there were law societies (try to imagine a society comprised of nobody) that issued licenses to exempt the licensees from punishment for daring to sell informed opinions about the law. Likewise, there were journalists before there were press councils and schools of journalism (unless nobody was ever qualified to be the first teacher of journalism, which would explain a lot).
Blatchford’s obviously self-serving swipe at bloggers and vloggers puts her firmly into the Wizard of Oz school of thought:
SCARECROW: You promised us real things — a real…brain!
WIZARD: Why, anybody can have a brain. That’s a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the earth — or slinks through slimy seas has a brain! From the rock-bound coast of Maine to the Sun…. oh – oh, no — – ah – Well, be that as it may. Back where I come from we have universities, seats of great learning — where men go to become great thinkers. And when they come out, they think deep thoughts — and with no more brains than you have…. But! They have one thing you haven’t got! A diploma!
Presented by the Wiz with a Th.D. in “thinkology”, the scarecrow proceeds to recite Pythagoras’ Theorem, as though the diploma gave him the ability to do so.
In my view, the quality of Blatchford’s opinion writing would not suffer were she no longer to work for a newspaper that was a member of a press council, were she not to have the teeth taken out of her writing by timid or partisan editors (assuming her writings sometimes are toothy), and were her diplomas (assuming she has at least one) somehow revoked by the institutions that issued them. However, if I am wrong, Blatchford is but a few scraps of paper, and one notice of dismissal, from singing along with the Scarecrow.