In other words, they’ve built their own brands, which put their selves at
the center of their work—as Maureen Tkacik writes in the cover story of the May/June issue of CJR, “one’s humanity is inescapable when one commits to blogging all day for a living.” It’s easy to see the economic advantages to them in doing so, and to see the advantages to the Post in acquiring those brands. It’s also easy to see why some Post staffers would object for reasons beyond self-interest: when one’s humanity is always on display, there are going to be some embarrassing moments, no matter how much “toilet-training” has been
provided, and those moments will reflect poorly on the institution.
But what the complaints don’t recognize is that this approach isn’t only about self-aggrandizement or a license for punditry (which, actually, didn’t appear often on Weigel’s “official” blog). It’s a response to the straitjacket of “traditional” journalism, which presumes that there is only one way to tell a given story, and that all professional journalists will converge on it. It’s a tool to get past false equivalence and he-said/she-said reporting and blandly written, conventional-wisdom-spewing “news analysis” stories, and of saying, “Here is what I, an intelligent, critical observer who has earned your trust (or not) by virtue of my prior work, find to be interesting, newsworthy, and true—and, as important, what I find to be not true.” It is one response to the very real editorial failures of political journalism, which too often result in mummified, sterile accounts that fail to inform readers of what is actually at stake. Here’s Tkacik again:
From a commercial perspective, “branding” has consistently bestowed its greatest rewards on those capable of projecting a kind of elusive authority that turns consumers’ fears, insecurities, aspirations, unarticulated dreams, etc. into healthy profit margins. But a sense of humanity is also a kind of authority. And maybe the best policy for our beaten-down population of journalists just naturally involves letting down the old guard of objectivity and letting go of illusions of unimpeachability. Rather than train journalists to dismiss their own experiences, what if we trained them to use those experiences to help them explain the news to their audience? Allow their humanity to shape their journalism? This isn’t some radically profound notion—it only seems that way in the context of the ridiculous zero-sum debate over the relative merits of “straight” news versus the self-absorbed nature of blogs. Maybe there is a way to combine the best of both.
Of course, the existence of this model does not mean that there are no rules (Weigel was right to apologize for some of his comments, and he’s now offered futher reflections on what he calls his “hubris”), and it does not mean that the journalist is allowed to be complacent and incurious (here,
Amy Sullivan, a frequent critic of media coverage of conservatives, presents an argument against Weigel on these grounds). Nor does it mean that we all must become persona-cultivating, brand-building bloggers in order to live up to our mission as truth-tellers—there are plenty of political journalists, including some at the Post, who pack insight and discernment into the standard forms.