Casaubon's Book

My Dream Job, Opening Up?

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 ;-)!

Comments

  1. #1 darwinsdog
    August 30, 2010

    It’s none of my business what you do, of course, Sharon, but my $.02 is that you should concentrate not on writing but on farming. What you have to say may be interesting but it doesn’t feed people. Perhaps Poi Dog Pondering said it best: “Put away your tongue and roll up your sleeves, pick up that shovel…” but Kurt Cobain repeated the sentiment: “Who needs actions when you’ve got words?” The farm is life; blogging, after all, is just graphorrhea.

  2. #2 Vicki
    August 30, 2010

    The Poi Dog Pondering quote might work better for those of us who don’t know the context: that “pick up your shovel and bury me deep” isn’t from the viewpoint of a tree, it’s the singer talking about what will/should happen when he dies.

    It’s a viewpoint I’m sympathetic with (organ donor first, but after that, is there room on Lee Hays’s compost pile?), but what we do with our dead bodies isn’t going to make a big difference unless we’re Egyptian pharaohs.

  3. #3 Betsy R
    August 30, 2010

    Your combination of global thinking and practical skills is exactly what is needed in these difficult times and you deserve a broader audience. And bringing truth to the saying, “do what you love, the money will follow” may require income from a more mainstream source. I say pursue this dream!

  4. #4 scottinwisconsin
    August 30, 2010

    Credibility to “climate deniers”.
    You mean the people who care about actual science, rather than let their political agenda corrupt their science.
    You mean the people who don’t think Ludites should pretend to be scientists.
    You mean the people who care about the facts, rather make them up to support their neo-hippy socialism.
    You mean the people who lie, distort, and fabricate, and when caught have friends in the media to cover for them.
    You’re wrong. Just plain wrong.
    And it will be more and more clear as time goes by. But you’ll deny THAT, won’t you?

  5. #5 Emily
    August 30, 2010

    I disagree, DD. Sharon causes much more change writing than if she just farmed. I live my life very differently now than I did three years ago, due in large part to Sharon’s writing.now I’m feeding people, too.

  6. #6 curiousalexa
    August 30, 2010

    I second Emily.

  7. #7 clew
    August 30, 2010

    Well, I recommended you to the Christian Science Monitor; I thought the similarity of practical worldview was more important than a slight theological mismatch.

  8. #8 risa b
    August 30, 2010

    I third Emily.

    BTW, I told Dr. Romm two years ago that I was becoming concerned that Mr. Revkin might be, or be becoming, a “concern troll.” I can only hope, for his sake, that it’s not true.

    I am reminded of a curious article in which the NYT admitted, without really naming names, that they had accepted someone on staff only to belatedly discover the “reporter” had been feeding articles into the paper to “prove” Iraq had WMDs, so that Mr. Cheney could (and did, on schedule) say, “well, it was in the New York Times.”

    This is how power keeps power; and the disinformation is likely to keep shouting down the science long after the glaciers, the aquifers, the reefs, the low-elevation islands, the shorelands, and the crops are gone. They will do it because it works. And they will have helped to ruin a world.

  9. #9 Greenpa
    August 30, 2010

    “Andy Revkin has been granting credibility to climate deniers” -

    You’ll be astonished, I know Sharon, that I’m in complete agreement with you here. A year or so ago, I was a mainstay commenter on DotEarth; well regarded if you check it out.

    I actually confronted Revkin both on the blog and via private emails about the extent of the damage he is doing by allowing paid thugs and certifiable morons access to the “prestige” (if any remains) of the NYT. He responded with 1st year Journalism School dogmas; and no actual thoughts. I’m pretty sure I said, in public, that he’s breaking his Journalist Vows.

    About 8 months ago, I quit commenting there; on anything to do with climate. I have, I blush to admit, still commented on non-climate things from time to time.

    Yeah. You’d be better. :-)

  10. #10 Sarah
    August 30, 2010

    So, now that your dream job is vacant, or about to be, why not contact the New York Times and ask for the job?

  11. #11 Greenpa
    August 30, 2010

    oh, yeah, check my current blog post for a little denier wisdom…

  12. #12 scottinwisconsin
    August 30, 2010

    CLIMATE CHANGE LIES ARE EXPOSED

    THE world’s leading climate change body has been accused of losing credibility after a damning report into its research practices.

    A high-level inquiry into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found there was “little evidence” for its claims about global warming.

    It also said the panel had emphasised the negative impacts of climate change and made “substantive findings” based on little proof.

    The review by the InterAcademy Council (IAC) was launched after the IPCC’s hugely embarrassing 2007 benchmark climate change report, which contained exaggerated and false claims that Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035.

    The panel was forced to admit its key claim in support of global warming was lifted from a 1999 magazine article. The report was based on an interview with a little-known Indian scientist who has since said his views were “speculation” and not backed by research.

    http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/196642

    Wake up, hippies.

  13. #13 jerah
    August 31, 2010

    I fourth Emily.

  14. #14 jerah
    August 31, 2010

    Please delete scottinwisconsin’s troll posts. And this one, so that no trace may remain of his troll posts…

  15. #15 Brad K.
    August 31, 2010

    Sharon,

    I was told . . There are three ways to get your boss’s job. 1) Do a lousy job so your boss looks bad, and gets transferred. 2) Do a super job, so your boss look great and gets promoted. 3) Send your boss’s name to a headhunter.

    That third way might be worth trying, even though the NYT Environmental Reported isn’t your boss right now.

    @ darwinsdog,

    It seems to me that the different activities – living toward preparation, farming, and blogging – each inform and direct the other.

    Thinking that one particular source should be feeding the masses is the downfall of agribusiness and the welfare state. This is nothing but Obama’s “redistribution of wealth” – which sounds a lot like Marx requiring “the workers” to destroy existing power structures to make way for a “more equal” (communist) way of life – in microcosm.

    We need to be learning to fend for ourselves, since we cannot be assured of living within sustenance range of a local “Sharon”, if the economic decline turns worse than the inconvenience we still seem to expect.

    What is needed is not farmers an growers making more food. We need more people making hoes for those that don’t have one. We need more people that turn from the highly marketed hybrid and GMO “round up ready” crops and seeds, to open-pollinated and stable varieties that are sustainable from year to year.

    We need people to find an interest in producing food, in clothesline drying, and we need places to explain and motivate a transition ahead of the curve of industrial decline.

  16. #16 Sharon Astyk
    August 31, 2010

    Just in case it wasn’t clear, folks, I wasn’t really very serious about the Times. I don’t suspect I’m Times material – that part was meant as a joke.

    Greenpa, I knew you’d have good stuff to say about Revkin – I’ve never loved his blog, but in the last year, it has gotten egregious.

    Jerah, I’m not deleting Scott’s posts – he hasn’t violated my commenting policy. You can be an ass in comments here, it is perfectly permissable. If he crosses the lines, I’ll get rid of him.

    DD, they aren’t incompatible with one another – I suspect I do better by both farming and writing, even if figuring out the balance is hard. Besides, variation on an old joke – what would I do if I got a cushy job writing a blog for the New York Times and was well paid? Just keep on farming until the money ran out!

    Sharon

  17. #17 Mike Cagle
    August 31, 2010

    Hey, they snagged Nate Silver — it’s not inconceivable that they might be calling you, too.

  18. #18 darwinsdog
    August 31, 2010

    DD, they aren’t incompatible with one another – I suspect I do better by both farming and writing, even if figuring out the balance is hard. Besides, variation on an old joke – what would I do if I got a cushy job writing a blog for the New York Times and was well paid? Just keep on farming until the money ran out!

    I hope you keep farming and writing, Sharon. I enjoy what you have to say; if I didn’t I wouldn’t bother to read it & comment on it. My only point is that if time or other constraints limit the ability to do both, tangible results are to be valued above intangible. Food before ideas, etc., after Maslow. After all, everything that needs to be said already has been said. Pretty much any literate person can write but not too many can provide food by his or her own effort to a family and for market. Your best posts, in my opinion, are about gardening, goat husbandry, food preservation.. If writing left you with little or no time for farm chores, you’d lose your best material for writing about!

  19. #19 DennisP
    August 31, 2010

    Several Comments:

    1) I really appreciate your writing, Sharon. You provide some really interesting perspectives I haven’t encountered before. [And I am fairly well-read!] In a sense, you are helping to develop a new language and set of ideas for talking about these issues.

    2) I shudder that Scott comes from Wisconsin. We’re better than him! I would delete him, myself. Thoughtful comments are always welcome, but truly ignorant, trolling comments I would not allow. But you set the rules for your blog.

    3) I agree that writing and farming enhance each other. You’re a better writer given your farming. And your ideas are important – many of us have not encountered them before, and your particular insights enlighten many of us. Keep up the good work.

  20. #20 Greenpa
    September 1, 2010

    “Please delete scottinwisconsin’s troll posts. And this one, so that no trace may remain of his troll posts…
    Posted by: jerah | August 31, 2010 12:12 AM”

    I’m with you, Jerah. :-)

    On my own blog, that crap is over the line. Sharon, like many sweet young things, is a tad naive, I fear (LOL!! god, Sharon; kidding; don’t haul off and belt me!) :-)

    I’m well known, in certain circles, for jumping immediately to the assumption that twits like this are NOT actual humans; but rather just paid “disruptors”; tiny puddle scum paid by Big Scum to prevent simple civil dialogue.

    Why would I assume that? Inside information, you may assume.

    There is arcane art involved in telling the realies from the fakies; this one reeks of fake to me. We had a big long noisy situation on The Automatic Earth about all this kind of thing over a year ago; lots of reluctance to ban people; but… lots of people eventually got banned, so genuine thoughtful discourse could proceed. Sad. Alternative? Troll Eden.

    The harm they do is real. Not all of us here are thickskinned and thickskulled; so crap can penetrate, and fester.

    Anyway; fingers crossed, Sharon, that the scum don’t overwhelm you, as they did TAE.

  21. #21 Kermit
    September 3, 2010

    Posting several days late…

    The InterAcademy Council is indeed a respectable institution, and for those who are interested, the opening statement of their report on the IPCC can be found here:
    http://reviewipcc.interacademycouncil.net/OpeningStatement.html

    Excerpts:
    “Before I get to our key recommendations, I would like to note what our charge was and how we approached our task. We were asked by the Secretary-General and the IPCC Chair to focus on the processes and procedures of the IPCC, and to make recommendations aimed at strengthening the process by which future climate assessments are managed and prepared. We were not asked to re-referee the last IPCC assessment or to review the basic science of human-caused climate change.”

    “As you know, the request for our review was prompted in part by the few errors discovered in the last assessment, and thus part of our charge was to look at the review process and guidelines for assuring the quality of data used. We concluded that the review process is thorough but that stronger enforcement of existing IPCC review procedures could minimize the number of errors. This can be accomplished in part by encouraging review editors to fully exercise their authority to ensure that all review comments are adequately considered. At the same time, we made some recommendations for streamlining the review process to somewhat ease the burden on authors given the sheer number of reviews – there were 90,000 review comments on the last draft assessment, for example.”

    From the report itself, the conclusion:
    “The Committee concludes that the IPCC assessment process has been successful overall and has served society well. The commitment of many thousands of the world’s leading scientists and other experts to the assessment process and to the communication of the nature of our understanding of the changing climate, its impacts, and possible adaptation and mitigation strategies is a considerable achievement in its own right. Similarly, the sustained commitment of
    governments to the process and their buy-in to the results is a mark of a successful assessment. Through its unique partnership between scientists and governments, the IPCC has heightened public awareness of climate change, raised the level of scientific debate, and influenced the science agendas of many nations. However, despite these successes, some fundamental changes to the process and the management structure are essential, as discussed in this report and
    summarized below.”

    It is hardly an excoriating review.

    ScottinWisconsin, did you actually read this report? Or even the summary?

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