Journalism Gnostics

(This post is my , shockingly late, contribution to the January Carnival of Journalism. Your host this month is Adrian Monck. )

Predictably a lot of the recent chatter in the j-blogasphere has been around Paul Conley’s post . What did it say? I paraphrase here, suggested that you cant teach the web so if people are not embedded in it all ready – in that culture – then they weren’t worth training. They had chosen to leave themselves behind.

Opinion is divided. Some suggest that Paul is absolutely right – leave ‘em behind. Others say bring them in – assimilate them in to ‘the culture’.

As an Iain M Banks reader that has a slightly ominous tone. But I digress.

I’m not sure which side I come down on. I feel like I’m in a war film and I’m not sure which part to play. Part of me wants to be the defender of the weak, platoon leader screaming ‘No one should be left behind’. Another part of wants to be the embittered old soldier in the crossfire thinking ‘this waster is going to get me shot if we don’t get moving. Maybe I’ll shoot them myself’.

But one thing I do know is that I have heard parts of this discussion before.

I hear it every day from those who believe that you can’t teach journalism. It’s usually follows comments like ‘the web isn’t real journalism is it?’ or discussions on what makes a ‘real’ journalist.

I have a hard time putting my finger on what is that frustrates me so much about that conversation. But reading round the comments and discussion generated by Paul’s post I know what it is.

Some see journalism as gnosis.

Gnosis (from the Greek word for knowledge, γνώσις) is used in English to specify the spiritual knowledge of a saint or enlightened human being. It is described as the direct experiential knowledge of the supernatural or divine.

It’s a higher level of being and to try and explain it to mere mortals like me would simply make my head pop. Journalism is not citizen journalism, or blogging, or even reporting. It, well, er, is!

Sounds a bit esoteric? When this thought struck me I did a quick Google for Gnostic Journalism. Here’s Marvin Olasky in obit mode for David Halberstam:

The journalism he was the heart of, one where reporters claimed to possess gnostic wisdom, is also dying. We’ve entered an era of citizen journalism, where everyone has a camera and YouTube replaces You Believe What I Write.

Now I’m not saying that Olasky is attacking the new way or is anti-web. It was just interesting to see the term used in the way I was thinking about it. Proof of concept if you like.

So armed with that knowledge I can confidently say that in the discussion around Paul’s post I hear a lot of the language of the jourgnostics; an oppressive enlightenment from the technotrati. You don’t get it, you can’t be it and if you don’t know what it is then you don’t get it. So you can’t be it… etc. etc.

So, on reflection (and before this gets far to quasi-religeous) I’m putting my cards on the side of ‘everybody gets out alive’. Let’s train everyone. Why? Because if there is one sure fire way to create entrenched views, dare I say extremism, it’s to isolate those who don’t agree.

I can see all those Gnostic journalists banding together, and it’s bad enough that I have to listen to their brand of mystical journalism crap as it is. It will only get worse if we force them in to some sort of puritanical stance. But can I also ask that perhaps the techgnostics* amongst us avoid the same trap.

There isn’t any mystery about what you can do on the web just like there is no mystery or monopoly on journalism. It’s all out there to see and do. If some of us think it’s so important that we are prepared to sacrifice those who don’t quite get it that would suggest it’s more important to see that they do.

*I wish I had invenetd that word but I didn’t.

[Update:] More freaky feed reading connectedness. I post this and first thing in my feed reader is this article by Shawn Moynihan uncovering an early article by David Halberstam article. Almost supernatural!

[Update 2] Bryan Murley pointed me to an essay by Jay Rosen from 2004: Journalism Is Itself a Religion which I hadn’t seen before. “The newsroom is a nest of believers if we include believers in journalism itself. There is a religion of the press. There is also a priesthood. And there can be a crisis of faith.” Obviously given this much more thought than me.

2 Replies to “Journalism Gnostics”

Leave a Reply