I think Lemann--and by extension Calame--gives too little credit to Internet journalism; then again, I have a very Atlantic Yards-centric view of the blogosphere, and I can point to numerous examples where the bloggers (not just myself) best the mainstream media.
The more ambitious blogs, taken together, function as a form of fast-moving, densely cross-referential pamphleteering—an open forum for every conceivable opinion that can’t make its way into the big media, or, in the case of the millions of purely personal blogs, simply an individual’s take on life. The Internet is also a venue for press criticism... But none of that yet rises to the level of a journalistic culture rich enough to compete in a serious way with the old media—to function as a replacement rather than an addendum.
Well, my blog offers much more original reporting and analysis regarding the Atlantic Yards project than can be found in the MSM and NoLandGrab aggregates everything related to the project, often with a corrective or analytical or even sardonic comment. I've covered public events in much greater detail than in the MSM, and broken story after story from documents. Jonathan Cohn's blog Brooklyn Views has led discussion of Floor Area Ratio and the project's scale.
After all, even the Times acknowledged--in an article that skated around many of the issues that the bloggers have raised--that this project has stimulated an enormous amount of criticism and response from the blogosphere.
New vs. old media
The most fervent believers in the transforming potential of Internet journalism are operating not only on faith in its achievements, even if they lie mainly in the future, but on a certainty that the old media, in selecting what to publish and broadcast, make horrible and, even worse, ignobly motivated mistakes.
Well, sometimes the mistakes are just miscues, arrogantly defended, sometimes they are corrected belatedly, and sometimes even the Public Editor doesn't see clearly.
Looking at examples
Lemann takes a jaundiced view:
Citizen journalists bear a heavy theoretical load. They ought to be fanning out like a great army, covering not just what professional journalists cover, as well or better, but also much that they ignore. Great citizen journalism is like the imagined Northwest Passage—it has to exist in order to prove that citizens can learn about public life without the mediation of professionals. But when one reads it, after having been exposed to the buildup, it is nearly impossible not to think, This is what all the fuss is about?
His examples are some often-amateurish stuff: most would be familiar to anybody who has ever read a church or community newsletter...but it does not mount the collective challenge to power which the traditional media are supposedly too timid to take up.
Well, he should be reading more widely.
It's about reporting
I believe in the "journalism of verification," and Lemann does too:
Even at its best and most ambitious, citizen journalism reads like a decent Op-Ed page, and not one that offers daring, brilliant, forbidden opinions that would otherwise be unavailable. Most citizen journalism reaches very small and specialized audiences and is proudly minor in its concerns.
...To keep pushing in that direction, though, requires that we hold up original reporting as a virtue and use the Internet to find new ways of presenting fresh material—which, inescapably, will wind up being produced by people who do that full time, not “citizens” with day jobs.
Well, I do this in (most of) my off hours, and that adds up to much more focus than the reporters that have to consider Atlantic Yards in the context of much-broader coverage of Brooklyn and beyond.
As journalism professor (and former New York Newsday Brooklyn Bureau chief) Paul Moses wrote in a column about Brooklyn and the media, "Nowhere in the country do so many people get so little local coverage."
Jeff Jarvis's response
Journalism professor and citizen journalism proponent Jeff Jarvis responded to Lemann:
So Lemann continues to paint this as a fight: bloggers v. journalists. He continues to try to define journalists as the professionals, to define the act by the person who performs it (and, implicitly, the training he has) rather than by the act itself. He continues to try to limit journalism to journalists, wanting in his last line for reporters (note, he didn’t say reporting) to move to citizens’ journalism....
I so wish I had seen him instead imagine the possibilities for news when journalists and bloggers join to work together in a network made possible by the internet. I wish he had seen journalism expanded way past the walls of newsrooms and j-schools to gather and share more information for an informed society. I wish he had used his lofty perch to see beyond the horizon to a new future for journalism and the students he — and I — are teaching now.
Once again: This is not about replacing the professionals. This is about complementing them, improving their work with additional questions and facts, doing the things they can’t do because there are not enough of them. I would hope that Lemann would see the opportunities for journalism schools and journalism to spread what they know so that journalism can be practiced more widely.
Indeed, what journalist in New York has the time to try to read and analyze the Empire State Development Corporation's Draft Environmental Impact Statement?