Scott MacKay on the De-enhancement of Journalism

As an active local blogger, departing Projo reporter Scott MacKay’s citation of the Projo’s decision to allow anonymous and largely-unmoderated commenting on the Projo’s news blogs as contributing to his decision to take his employer’s buyout offer, quoted by Ian Donnis at the Not for Nothing blog, naturally caught my eye. The two-deep quotes are from MacKay, the intervening statement is from Donnis…

“The emphasis has been on the web site, which would be fine if the same standards applied to the web as those that govern the newspaper. If one sends a letter to the editor commenting on a story, that person must sign his or her name. Abusive language is not permitted.”
Yet MacKay points to two “ridiculous examples of how the standards of the Providence Journal have dropped,” including “a racist comment published [as a comment] on our web site after the death of Eileen Slocum.” The other, also a blog comment, was made (and later deleted) about a local athlete.
“This is the kind of thing [editor] Joel Rawson used to warn about. Since his departure, the newspaper has apparently diluted its standards to the point where none should call it journalism.”
There are multiple issues here. One is the wisdom of allowing anonymous commenting and its associated problems. The anonymous commenting that many blogs provide does tend to get abused and maintaining a civil and worthwhile flow in a comments section is a continuing battle for any blog moderator.
But beyond that, there’s a larger issue involved: why should what appears in a mostly open discussion forum attached to a news story, even in a forum that allows for anonymous commenting, be seen as detracting from the “journalism” of a newspaper website? The idea that presenting unfiltered comments to the public on journalism somehow hurts journalism itself seems to rely on some questionable assumptions about the value of journalism, that it resides not in the information being provided, but rather in the access to the public that established journalistic organizations control. After all, the information in a good story remains there for the public to learn about, whether or not nutty comments are added beneath it, right?
Moving over to a different medium, aren’t the old-line journalistic objections to talk-radio in Rhode Island rooted in a similar conception that access and not information is the real source of journalistic value, and that talk-radio allows people outside of the establishment journalistic elite, from hosts to callers, to control their own access to the eyes and ears of the public?

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15 years ago

I’ve never been a huge fan of Charlie Bakst or Scott McKay; nonetheless, I will miss them. It is a sign of the end of an era, and a sign the MSM is being transformed by new media.
But McKay has a valid point, and it’s about civility in the public square. Certainly, new media has provided for a much wider forum, but not a deeper one. Although the MSM is overwhelmingly influenced by liberal commentators and reporters, in my opinion, most often – not always – but often they provide valuable detail, facts and analysis which is helpful to thoughtful conservatives like me (and you). I often do not agree with the analysis of the MSM, but they provide perspective and food for thought and debate.
The gradual loss of civility in the public square is not a good thing. Civility in public fora is a virtue to strive for.

George Elbow
George Elbow
15 years ago

As someone who has typed many a nutty comment, you can imagine what my opinion is of Scott McKay’s opinion on this issue.
Let’s be honest. Forever, people have discussed in “uncivil” terms the articles they have read in newspapers.
In fact, I am willing to bet that Mr. MacKay himself has had a salty & uncivil discussion or two with a colleague, family member or friend following his reading of an article in a newspaper.
Did that detract from the “journalism” in the underlying article?
Indeed, me thinks Mr. MacKay’s real problem is that he is disturbed by the fact that he and his professional media comrades no longer have a monopoly on the public discussion & debate of important issues & ideas.
In terms of “civility”, Mr. MacKay and his like minded friends ought spend their new-found free time studying some history to see how “civil” even our Founding Fathers were.
I guess Mr. MacKay, had he been in charge, would not have accepted Ben Franklin’s numerous letters and books written under various pseudonyms such as ‘Silas Dogood’ and ‘Richard Saunders’.
The Federalist Papers were written by a couple of slouches by the name of Madison, Hamilton and Jay under the anonymous name Publius. All 85 of the Federalist Papers were published in New York newspapers. Had Mr. MacKay been in charge, these critical opinion papers would not have been published.
Political correctness, and all that it avoids, is what Mr. MacKay & Co. should really be concerned with.

15 years ago

I like Scott MacKay. He is definitely left of center, but he usually tried to be fair.
Some of Scott’s points are well-taken. It’s one thing to promote ideas and thought anonymously. It’s another thing to attack people anonymously.
The shift to web-based journalism was inevitable and the Projo’s decision to develop its own website is probably a good one. It’s one of the less readable newspaper websites.
Unlike Bakst who really retired several years ago, MacKay always tried to keep on top of the pulse of Rhode Island.

15 years ago

Good rule of thumb: if you fear it might get you arrested for threats or sued for libel or slander, don’t say it. Sooner or later, somebody spending a week in his parents’ basement will figure out who you are (pray that the cops or lawyers don’t).
It’s probably better for all of us that we never know who took the cheap shot at Elizabeth Biesel (one of the two comments Scotty referred to).

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