Journalism meets basketball

An article by Nicholas Lemann in the New Yorker ( “Amateur Hour”) makes some thoughtful observations about citizen journalism but goes astray by setting up a false dichotomy between journalism and blogging. “There is not much relation,” Lemann writes, “between claims for the possibilities inherent in journalist-free journalism and what the people engaged in that pursuit are actually producing.”

How preposterous that would sound if “basketball” replaced “journalism?”

Every day schlubs try to dunk and dribble “with not much relation” to the action in an NBA game. But while amateur and professional hoopsters are hardly in the same league, no one would deny they’re playing the same game.

Both amateur efforts are beneficial. Couch potatoes and chubby kids get a cardiovascular assist by shooting hoops even when they don’t swoosh. Likewise our flabby body politic needs more journalism. It’s the connective tissue of politics. Even when amateurs botch the facts or write poorly, they gain a sense of political efficacy. And I think everyone improves with practice. It’s the potential of citizen media, not its current state, that excites me.

And to the extent that the blogosphere is shallow, angry and self-indulgent whose fault is that? To paraphrase Lemann:

“You have to be very media-centric to believe that the press blogosphere established the tone of national life rather than vice versa (strike-thru replaced by italicized word).”

Professional journalists — and I get paid to write though less, I suspect, than Lemann, owing to his awesome jump shot — should help the amateurs along by teaching their craft as a form of persuasive writing. They should not mock citizen jornalists for their long leads and trivial topics. NBA stars are not, generally speaking, intellects of Lemann’s caliber. But if they hold wannabe hoopstars in contempt, they have the good sense not to make a public sport of it.

(Postscript: I corrected a misspelling in Lemann’s name. That’s worth at least two free throws.)