About a year ago I was sitting around with a couple friends and they asked me where I thought my career was going. They were genuinely curious – what does blogging actually lead to? What kind of career advancement might a blogger get eventually? Can you transfer from blogging to journalism? Get a job at a better blog? Where does all this take you?
My comments was that in many ways, I don’t know the answer to that. I think in the longer term, journalists and bloggers are going to reconnect, but how that connection may happen, or what the future of that connection might be is extremely uncertain. So they asked me “ok, so what’s your dream job.”
After thinking about it for a while, I said that I could conceivably become a blogger and opinion writer for some major news media source that would actually pay me a living wage for writing down my thoughtful and considered musing/the stuff I pull out of my ass. My friends pressed me – ok, which job. And that brought me up against a problem – you see, I know most of the environmental bloggers and opinion writers for major news media. I like them – and since realistically there’s only one at most major sites, for me to get a job would mean that one of them would have to quit (let’s leave out the part where the entire planet would have to reorient on its axis before I’d be acceptable as a mainstream columnist – we’re in fantasyland here ;-)). I suppose I could wish that they get appointments that make them richer and more famous still, so that one of their jobs opens up but otherwise, it seemed rather malign of me to wish they depart so that I could have their job.
Still, this was one of those conversations fueled by long friendship, good wine and no real reason to anchor oneself in reality, and finally, when pressed further to name my dream job, I told them that since I don’t think highly of Andy Revkin’s blogging, I was fine with taking Revkin’s job. I should clarify – I think Revkin is a pretty good environmental reporter. On the other hand, I think he’s a really boring blogger, and one who often shies off from the actual implications of the material he’s dealing with.
Now my readers will know that I have a bit of history with the New York Times, but they are my local paper of record, and I’m willing to be a big woman about it if a suitably hefty salary were to come with it ;-). At the time, Revkin was both the Times Environmental reporter and ran his blog, Dot.Earth – and I expressed my willingness to take over his position when the Times comes calling (any day now, I’m sure).
Revkin left the environmental reporting job at the Times a while back, but he kept his blog and its association with the Times, and frankly, his always wishy-washy and rather bland blog has gone a bit off the deep end, as my colleague James Hrynyshyn reports over at Class M
Frankly, I think Hrynyshyn is being a bit soft on Revkin when he says:
A common thread in the reaction to Revkin’s decline seems to be that journalists need to spend more time learning about the subjects they cover before they actually begin to cover the subject. I’ve come to that conclusion, too. If someone as experienced and talented as Revkin can still, at this late date, fall into the trap of providing unjustified “balance” by quoting discredited sources, journalism has a problem.
This is a much kinder analysis than the one I’d make – I don’t think Revkin is making a mistake of not understanding the interdisciplinary nature of the scholarship – in order to believe that you have to believe the man doesn’t actually read the papers he reports on. Any good literature survey in the field of climate change will make clear that what Revkin said about the field is wrong – and I don’t think Revkin can be accused of not reading the papers.
Instead, I think the problem is actually more serious – I think Revkin isn’t a blogger, he’s a journalist – and when he’s actually pressed to express a real opinion, to render judgement, or actually explain what the consequences of taking an stand are, his analyses tend to go mushy and weak. Most of his posts are regurgitations of something someone else did that he found interesting – which is fine, we all do that – but there’s very little Andy Revkin in Revkin’s blog, and what there is of that was never all that impressive.
That studied blandness is probably why he gets so many people’s general respect – he’s not taking a stand, he’s acting as a reporter. But the thing that’s important about blogs is that they aren’t traditional journalism – they aren’t just a way of getting someone to write more frequently. Traditional journalism has a number of weaknesses, as well as strengths – and blogs can function as a corrective to those weaknesses – which is particularly important in cases like climate change where there is a strong case and a weak case with a lot of money and ideological power behind it.
Blogs aren’t better at traditional journalism all the time, or for everything – in some ways they aren’t as good. But they are free of the obligation to provide equal time to the weak case, to feed the bullshit. Moreover, journalists are great at describing what is happening, or what information is out there – but they are terrible at telling you what to do with that information. And that’s fine – with the exception of some muckraking journalist traditions, that’s not most journalists’ job. But it is what bloggers do – they connect the facts to an interpretation, sort out how to use those facts, and usually take a stand on what they mean.
Andy Revkin says it himself in his latest post, as he backpedals on the critiques he’s gotten – he’s acting here as a journalist, not a blogger:
And some of my critics will quickly pounce, asserting that I’m equating the proclamations of hoax in recent months with the exhortations of crisis that came before. I’m just describing the pulses of interest and attitude, both of which were transitory and — as polling has shown — have had little sticking power. To see one indicator of the transience of all of this, click here to see what the Google search trend has been for “climategate.”
Do I trust climate science? As a living body of intellectual inquiry exploring profoundly complex questions, yes.
Do I trust all climate scientists, research institutions, funding sources, journals and others involved in this arena to convey the full context of findings and to avoid sometimes stepping beyond the data? I wouldn’t be a journalist if I answered yes.
This is a diversionary tactic, and not a good one. What’s being asked of Revkin isn’t the false distinction between his journalistic integrity and loyalty to a whole subject – because no one has ever expected him to trust “all climate scientists, research institutions, funding sources, journals and others.” Doing so would be idiotic, and has never been on the table. Neither has his credibility as a journalist because he’s overly credulous – he’s expected to treat scientific research as research, to hold it up to critical scrutiny – but pretending that’s the issue allows him to avoid the real one.
Andy Revkin has been granting credibility to climate deniers in the name of journalistic balance *on a blog.* That was just stupid – it would be stupid in a journalist, since standards of journalistic integrity don’t actually demand that you give every bit of raving bullshit equal time, but it is unimaginably stupid in a blogger, who is freed precisely from the constraints of putting in false balance.
Maybe Revkin just doesn’t get the distinction, I don’t know. But he’s crossed the line in giving climate deniers credibility once too often – and he’s never been an interesting read. My hope is that he’ll go on to teaching or reporting, or writing bland summaries again, and the Times will produce an environmental blog worth reading. And just in case the editors were wondering, I’m totes available ;-)!