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Navel-gazing as journo trend?

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Sunday, Feb 4, 2007

As much as you might admire the New York Times or Salon, you have to wonder if some dictate from above is now steering their content to mention themselves as much as possible now. 
  
First, there’s Gary Kamiya’s The Readers’ Strike Back, a too-lengthy piece that rehashes points about how the Net is changing relationships between writers and audience though it does come alive strongly in the last few paragraphs.  Especially poignant is this passage concerning how writers’ have to overcome their fear of being wrong or going out on a limb:


“It’s about poetry. It’s about cadences and music and allusion and metaphor, about words that someone spends hours weighing until they balance perfectly. A world without soliloquies, without idiosyncratic essays, without pieces that don’t know where they’re going, without unanswerable questions, without language that bravely stands on its own like a tree or a Coltrane note, would be a barren one. It would be hyperbolic to claim that the reader revolution, one of the great advances in human history, is hurling us into that world. But it would be myopic not to recognize the danger signs.”


Beautiful and inspiring, isn’t it?  But before we get to that, there’s a few pages where Salon is mentioned again and again.  And again and again.  And again.  It’s as if it was the only publication out there dealing with the problem of responding to readers’- only one other publication is cited.  Yes, I’m sure that Salon has to grapple with this problem but so do 1000’s of other publications and hearing what they’re doing and what’s working and what’s not would be instructive.


Then there’s the Times.  Steve Smith, who also works at Time Out, is a good, smart writer (and a nice dude too) who knows his subjects well.  His piece about Charles Wuorinen confirms this: A Serialist Island Thrives in a Sea of Minimalism.  The problem again is how the article madly points at the publication you’re already reading.  The very first sentence cites another Times article and then later to cap off the composer’s rep, yet another Times article is cited.  Is that where Wuorinen’s whole rep lies?  No, but you wouldn’t know it from the piece.  (There’s a recent film piece that also follows this navel-gazing model but I couldn’t find it now)


It’s not that it’s the first time this kind of thing has happened in publications but you have to wonder when it keeps creeping up.  One reason this might be happening is branding.  When you’re holding a newspaper or magazine in your hands, you’re committing yourself to that specific pub for at least a while and you’re aware of that.  When you’re surfing online, you’re hopping around a bunch of links, maybe not always realizing where you’re going or where you’ve gone.  As such, is madly pointing to the publication one way to remind us of what we’re reading online?

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