Citizenship, Values

write, and write back

Recently a fellow artist asked for advice on how to respond to an unfavorable blog post. I hope that in sensitive cases, upholding bloggers to journalistic procedures would benefit everyone—blogger, subject, and readers in the end.

A few weeks ago, This American Life aired Mike Daisey’s special on working conditions in Apple factories. It turns out Daisey’s story was largely fabricated. TAL just aired a retraction episode, which was fascinating because of its:

Integrity. Devoting a full episode to retraction must have been a difficult choice; less-embarrassing options would have been easier. Countless reasons—editorial schedules, marketing goals, funder mandates, political implications, etc.—would have provided easy justification not to act, to hope that it would all be forgotten by the next news cycle. However, TAL acted swiftly, decisively, and thoroughly to respond, be transparent, and report from multiple sides of the story. In doing so it demonstrated to me its journalistic integrity even in light of this mistake. It seems anachronistic to bring up this virtue, but I thought it was an honorable thing to do.

Analytic coolness. Host Ira Glass invited Mike Daisey back on the show to parse what was true or fabricated, and why Daisey would mislead listeners and TAL. Glass’ and TAL‘s reputations could be badly damaged by Daisey’s fabrications, yet Glass did not confront Daisy aggressively nor try to embarrass or discredit Daisey. He conducted the interview in a a cool, collected manner, simply trying to get to the truth.

So much news media has devolved into screechy punditry, while much media in general seems to contend with only reality-show-style self-dramatization. Fame trumps truth. For TAL to focus on substance, not style, on facts, not rhetoric, is refreshing.

It’s very inspiring because citizen journalism can take valuable cues from traditional journalism. In art writing, I would love to see further, deeper dialogues and conversations—letters to the editor or op-ed pages. Readers should respond to critics, and critics should write back in return. It needs to happen at a deeper, more thought-out level than endless troll-filled comments sections, or like/dislike Facebook buttons. Social media is not a substitute for long-form journalism.

For example, Art Practical only publishes reviews of exhibitions that will be open for at least one more weekend following publication; this is to allow readers to view the exhibition and form their own opinions. Furthermore, anyone is welcome to submit Shotgun Reviews. For any artists dissatisfied with the state of art criticism or particular reviews, I’d recommend taking advantage of outlets and opportunities like these to shape the critical discourse you would like to see. Media can seem hopelessly sensationalist, but there is hope yet.