As I was under attack by two of the city's mainstream news editors last week, I took some blows in the interest of our common futures that I really should not have abided. I was accused of taking words out of context, which I did not do. I responded only to the claim that I was a nattering nabob, and defended the only claim I made which was that horse race journalism does not improve our political situation (never answered by Mr. Brewer), and suggested that my voice (unfortunately calling myself a blogger, rather than the citizen of Nashville that I am) was relevant in helping the mainstream press to ask good questions on our behalf. Everything else I was accused of by Mr. Brewer was hyperbole and distortion, and I will leave it to those who read my posts to confirm that. Because I believe so strongly in the power of reasoned discourse, I resisted the urge to engage in a shouting match when I was falsely accused of misrepresenting a post by Clint Brewer, and I let that accusation go for awhile, rather than to deny it outright.
As I have reflected on the experience and the exchange, I have increasingly felt that my responsibility to the people and the future of this city and my responsibility to my own family demands that I lay out my concerns clearly. With two recent and intervening days of posts about mayoral candidates who are in no political or rhetorical position to debate the real needs of this city that have received virtually no response, it occurred to me that I had let the citizens of Nashville down. While I originally entered the discussion with Mr. Brewer in the hope that we were basically seeking the same accountability from our politicians, his response convinced me that little could be further from the truth.
I speak now to point out that blog, blogosphere, and blogger are terms that are being used to silence citizens with opinions. Much like Reagan used liberal to silence any reasoned disagreement with his policies, many now use the label blogger to imply that the author of a blog is a wacko, siting around writing in his underwear. That impression is offensive and wrong, and while I have come to expect that kind of heavy-handed silencing rhetoric from politicians who don't want to address the specifics of their education plans, I was surprised to hear it from the editors of our papers. I understood journalism to be a noble craft and journalists to assume the weighty responsibility of making our officials answer to the concerns of real citizens. Just because I do not edit a paper does not mean that I do not take my words seriously or that I am somehow less entitled to speak my mind on the future of the city in which I have chosen to raise my family. Many bloggers have credentials that rival or exceed those of the journalists who lodged the attacks I endured last week, and while my initial impression was to play nice and try to convince Mr. Brewer and Ms. Garrigan of my basic humanity, all I got from them was scorn.
With all due respect to Sean, I am not eager to be fast-tracked into journalism, especially if it means that I must start disparaging legitimate opinions and questions from citizens in order to uphold "journalistic standards." Ms. Garrigan is right that I would not last an hour in journalism because I could not stand silent while I simply printed the press releases of the candidates and call that news. I could not take a victory lap for a poll that "nailed it" when all that was accomplished was fortune telling or prognostication. I would expect that I could only look the citizens of the city in the eye and say I "nailed it" when I managed to point out the superficial responses and manipulation of the process that the candidates so easily undertake. I am a citizen. I live here. I love this city. And just because all CNN and FOX News give us on the national level is prognostication, that does not mean I have to be grateful when I get it on the local level.
As a citizen, I need good journalists. That's why I tried to be so indirect and humorous in my criticism, but the subsequent attack was not funny. Not because I can't take criticism...I can, I do, and I expect it; but because I need so much better from the mainstream press. Mr. Brewer and Ms. Garrigan hold positions that privilege them to ask the questions that we citizens cannot ask. With that power comes responsibility, and I understand it is hard to bear, but turning on citizen voices, credentialed, experienced, compassionate, and well-meaning voices, undermines the very hope I have and abdicates that important responsibility, letting candidates off the hook.
Likewise, I believed that responsible journalists would want nothing more than engaged readers. These are the people that make it possible for them to ask the tough questions and print evaluations of the campaign press releases instead of simply being manipulated into printing whatever the campaigns want them to print. For the record, I offered critical evaluations of the coverage of all three papers, even though the Tennessean did not take me on. That is not to privilege the Tennessean, because citizens of Nashville deserve better coverage than our papers are giving us.
Horse race coverage means that the best the papers can do is accurately predict a winner before an election. I have pointed out the counterproductive side of that (with NO RESPONSE AT ALL FROM MY CRITICS), but even without the counterproductive side, what does that give us? In what way is that a public service worthy of celebration? That coverage might be useful if you were in Vegas gambling on the outcome of the contest rather than living in Nshville gambling you future on the policy decisions of the eventual winner during the next 4-8 years. Let's move to celebration of a press that makes the mayoral candidates tell us what they will do in the real budget crunch that we all know is coming.
Mr. Brewer gloated that he was 48 hours ahead of me on NCLB...WRONG! People who have been active in supporting public schools (including specifically me) have known that result was coming for some time (I mean years). Reactive journalism and reactive politics are supportive of each other. Anyone who asks the tough questions in advance is labelled a cynic or a doomsayer, and yet, invariably the events unfold, and all of a sudent, they are reported as news. We are not drawing this information from our overly-active imaginations; we draw it from careful, consistent, and reasonable assessment of the data.
This is not a personality contest, and it is time the so-called war between "bloggers" and journalists be called what it really is: a serious appeal by real, involved, active, experienced, and qualified citizens for a press that will ask the tough questions for us. We need you, Mr. Brewer and Ms. Garrigan. We cannot do it without you. Our voice is limited, but it is not illegitimate. Every time you label well-meaning citizen voices as radicals, liberal, or bloggers, you attempt to silence the people and play into the hands of the campaigns that manipulate your coverage.
This is not a personal attack, although I know I will be accused of that. I will not answer nitpicking manipulations and get into a further struggle. You say your door is always open, although you have no desire to have lunch with a real person. You would rather ridicule and attack me with false accusations than deal with my legitimate concerns.
I have a family, and we love Nashville. I care about the education this city provides, and I know first-hand how crucial the complete support of the mayor is to achieving the education for Nashville's kids that they all deserve. I don't know the family status of either of my detractors, but I suspect we share in common a desire that this city will grown and prosper, and everyone pays at least lip service to the notion that universal education is a key component of that growth and prosperity whether we are parents of public school students or not. I know I believe it, and
I will not be intimidated by labels and attacks from journalists who act as if they have my best interests at heart when they successfully tell me who will win an election before it actually happens. When journalists tell me that candidate A will deal with the impending school budget crunch this way and candidate B will deal with it another way, then I will congratulate and thank them for their work. It is hard work, but it is essential work if our city is to move forward.
Until then, please do not label me a blogger. I am a citizen. You say your door is always open? Well, the only thing the new technology has done is to make THIS your front door. If you do not deal with these challenges on their merits here, and if you do not demand that the campaigns answer tough questions rather than expecting their press releases to be printed every day without evaluation, you can expect to see me at this door. I invited you to lunch, and you treated me like a misguided child. I am at your front door right now asking for more challenging coverage.
You and I would both be better off if our candidates were held to higher standards. You have the power and time to make it happen for both of us and all of the other citizens of Nashville. I am simply here as a citizen and reader to encourage you to do that.
We can't do it without you; andwe certainly can't do it if you treat us like an enemy.