I’m a debater, not a journalist

I’m pretty secure in the knowledge that a blogger is not a journalist. Bloggers don’t generally report to anyone, we don’t usually have editors, and our publication is not competitive. We have a dedicated outlet for our voices and can put up pretty much whatever we want. If you don’t like it, tough, and if it’s not accurate*, well, it’s the Internet. Deal.

But my articles are usually self-contained, which is to say that I’m usually writing about an experience or thought I’ve had, or writing about how to accomplish something with a computer. I’m not critiquing anyone directly, so journalistic integrity isn’t something I have had to deal with.

That is until recently, when I lambasted a writer for ZDNet about his article on texting. I was a bit conflicted about the piece because I wrote it somewhat hastily and with a touch of frustration†, but I still didn’t think much about it until the original author commented on my blog entry, accusing me of not reading his article closely. I’d also been reading a few apologies from newspapers in recent days for mistakes they had made and failures to check facts, and it all had me thinking.

Maybe I should have contacted Chris Dawson to ask for a clarification on his article. I could then have written a complementary piece to his own, extending his observations and clarifying his points. Through instant message and Twitter conversations, I knew that I wasn’t the only person to reach negative conclusions about the piece he had written, but perhaps my response was unjustified.

As I read just such an apology in our campus newspaper about an inaccurate headline, something clicked for me. Or snapped. I’m not obligated to contact people and find out if they had meant to sound as stupid as they did or ask what they had really meant so I can clarify on their behalf. And if someone disagrees with my conclusion, that’s fine. I’m not here to report the news. I’m not a journalist, I’m a debater.

When we were just novii in Deana Butcher’s debate room, we were told quite bluntly that we would be attacked. We would be told we didn’t know jack, our intelligence would be insulted, and our carefully crafted and researched cases would be torn to shreds. No respect or quarter would be given to us based on our personalities, looks, or effort. The other team’s job was to attack us, and they would. Our job was to defend, and we must.

As I recalled the moment–my nodding contrasted with the somewhat shocked look on my squad mates’ faces (for where they had grown up somewhat wealthy, well-liked, and respected, I was the quiet nerd who had been beat up and shouted down throughout elementary and junior high school)–I was reminded of a similar concept shared by my religion professor of several years, Dr. Charles Hedrick.

Dr. Hedrick wrote a number of critical and scholarly books about Christianity, all of which received negative criticism and praise in equal measures, and all of which were easily argued against. As he wrote, Charlie knew that there were valid arguments against his statements, just as he knew the counter-arguments, but he elected to not include that discussion in his book. Rather, he left those points open for other people to raise in their letters to newspaper editors and in books they would, in turn, publish.

Attempting to pre-empt every argument would be both futile and boring. The book would be very long and, for those who hadn’t conceived those arguments, boring. And for those who would have raised such attacks, they no longer would. Pre-emption would lead to stagnation of discussion and debate. Better to leave an opening for someone to attack than to stifle them and prevent them from raising their voice.

Inciting discussion, dialogue, and debate is more important than always being right. When I enter a conversation that is more than just sharing pleasantries–when it is more akin to a debate–I am not interested in proving myself right or in showing how my conversational partner is wrong. Rather, my goal is for us to discuss, to share our passion, and to hopefully find some sort of understanding. I debate not to win, but to learn. If I attack someone’s ideas, it is because I want them to defend and explain them to me, to sell me on the concept, and to help me understand their point. Conversely, I would expect them to listen openly to me as well.

When a conversation degenerates into a closed-minded roundabout where each side is just trying to prove the other wrong, no progress can be made. Understanding cannot be reached when both parties feel, not only that they are right, but that there is no possibility that they could be wrong. Such bloody-mindedness is something I neither desire nor seek out, and I do my best to eradicate the vestiges of it in my own soul. I will defend my points, because that is my job, but I will not refuse to concede defeat if I am wrong.

I do not claim to truly understand the definition of a “journalist.” I feel that their calling is somehow greater than that of a “reporter,” but I also feel that the way has become clouded, the verbiage murky. Journalism, in my perhaps idyllic view, is not what it once was, but I do think that it is something great.

It is simply not what I do. I’m not here to dig into people’s words and minds and find out what they really meant or what really went down. I don’t have the time or resources for that, as interesting as it sounds. I love the truth, but I’m not going to drag it out of you. If you can’t communicate your truth clearly and succintly, I will attack you, shredding what you have said and exposing it for the rubbish it is. And if you feel that it is not rubbish, that your points were valid, and that there is still something worthwhile to uphold, then do so. Defend. Parry. Riposte.

I’ll be waiting for the 2NC.


* I always attempt to be accurate. In this paragraph, I am relating what seems to generally be the case among bloggers as a whole. If I write something that ends up being inaccurate or wholly incorrect, I will always (and have in the past) issue a correction.

† In this particular case, when I say “hastily and with frustration,” I do not mean that I regret the core of what I wrote, but rather that I didn’t polish the piece as I normally would and might, in retrospect, have phrased some things differently. I still feel like Dawson’s article was poorly done and insulting of an entire demographic, failing to take into account that texting is just the latest take on a well-established method of using text messages to communicate and collaborate that spans BBSes, telnet, IRC, talkers, email, and instant messaging. Dawson’s ideas are not new ones, but he presented them as if they were, and essentially said that everyone of a younger demographic were wasting their time and we, on our mighty pedestals, must educate them on the proper use of these tools. I stand by what I wrote; if I wrote hastily and out of frustration, it was somewhat to vent what I believed (and still believe) to be true.‡

‡ This concept, of educating those younger than us, and why it often annoys me, probably deserves an article of its own. I’ll write one this weekend.


If you’ve made it this far, thanks for sticking with it. Please drop by again on Monday when I continue this development by comparing debate and discussion. The piece above, despite being written and posted, represents something developmental–these ideas form and change as I grow and learn more, and continue to change this very minute. I stand by what I write, but that doesn’t mean that any piece represents 100% of me or what I think.

So, check in again Monday to see another piece of Matthew.

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