I have a haiku for Tony Kornheiser, host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and ESPN DC 980′s The Tony Kornheiser Show:
Beware the Blogger, for he’s only right sometimes, but wrong all the time.
This not only sums up Kornheiser’s sentiment regarding bloggers, but those of many veterans of professional journalism. But since Kornheiser’s the most recent dissenter who’s used his microphone as a weapon to whack all bloggers over their heads about blogging, I’ll work with him. Apparently a person who wants to become a print journalist today must, absolutely must, “pay their dues” in order to be great at the profession. By Kornheiser’s definition as a long-time beat sports reporter, that means years of lousy pay, traveling to godforsaken towns and villages, staying in crappy motels and eating artery-clogging food in order to hone the craft of gathering sources and doing interviews.
I have no argument against honing one’s craft. We all should do it, regardless of profession, in order to make the most of our talents and eventually become successful. What I do have a problem with, though, is the idea that bloggers somehow are taking a shortcut. It’s as if we’ve all decided to warp space-time itself instead of seeking to break the speed-of-light-barrier in order to become successful journalists and writers.
All we do, according to Kornheiser and numerous others, is “spew” and “spout opinions,” not based on anything except our guts. Apparently we’re all supposed to become old, gray and grizzled in order to have the privilege of making a decent living and being able to have a radio show and a half-hour TV gig. Still, I get it. Andrew Breitbart’s blogging crusade against anything that he considers politically left managed to drag Shirley Sherrod, Ben Jealous and NAACP and the White House along for his pitiful ride into the mud.
Yet I don’t remember too many people complaining about the blogosphere when the story about former presidential candidate John Edwards broke into the mainstream two years ago. A story that bloggers and the National Inquirer had been banging around for eight months before the real professional journalists got a hold of it. I don’t recall Kornheiser and his buddies giving folks like Mitch Albom (Detroit Free Press, bestselling author of Tuesdays With Morrie) or Bob Ryan (long-time sports reporter and columnist for the Boston Globe) too hard a time over stories that they should’ve never filed or were completely inaccurate. I don’t remember Kornheiser complaining about the plight of print journalism when the Jayson Blair plagiarism scandal (New York Times, 2003) or the Mike Barnicle fabrication scandal (Boston Globe, 1998) broke.
I take offense to any journalist or writer insisting that every blogger is an unadulterated hack with zero skills necessary to be — or become — good writers or journalists. I take offense because I’ve paid my dues, thank you very much. I’ve been writing on the topic of race, culture and diversity for more than twenty years, and have been a published writer for the past seventeen years. Five and a half years of graduate school to become an American and African American historian, and the past ten years to make myself more than an academic writer. Maybe I just imagined my days without food and with holes in my sneakers back then.
Within that, years of archival research hunting for sources much more obscure than “Deep Throat.” Interviews with people in authority, with people long forgotten by the press. A year of my life just learning how to do statistical analysis. Two and a half years of post-graduate unemployment and underemployment, taking crap work and teaching part-time in order to become a better writer and a better historian. But, alas, I haven’t “paid my dues.”
I blog for three reasons. One, because it serves as a form of a journal for me, to be able to track my mood, my progress as I pursue the publication of my memoir Boy @ The Window. Two, because as long as I have something to say about a subject I know quite a bit about — and through my years of experience, I know quite a bit about a lot of things — I can write about that subject. Three, I blog because I want to build an audience, to have an honest presence in the blogosphere, where I spew more than vitriol, where what I have to say is based on research, interviews, sources, and, of course, my biases and my opinions.
To Kornheiser, I say, based on a quote from Vernon Jordan’s memoir, Vernon Can Read! (2001): “Read, Tony, Read!” Read an occasional blog like mine. Don’t just spew your opinion, you dope!