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Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Journalism and Blogging

To start: Voucher Ankles with a fabulous send-up up the Mike Daisey affair.

One thing I think is telling, speaking of the mainstream media, is how this whole affair exposes, in many ways, the strengths and weaknesses of the blogosphere. It's fast to the trigger.

Obviously, the blogosphere helped to get the word out that this was an important story, and drove the conversation quite a bit. It was, though, actual journalism (remember that?) which uncovered the facts that now begin to shape the truth behind the story.

It goes to the heart of the matter in many ways. As of now, blogs are a place to create a sense of urgency and activity that might not have existed beforehand. Then again, they are easily driven to a sort of distanced outrage. It's not, obviously, my job to call up public schools, write up articles, and go through fact checking. So it's my choice to take certain facts at face value, or reject certain facts, and my responsibility to respond when new facts arise. It's also a perfectly reasonable response to wait until the facts are out there before commenting on them second or third hand.

What I think Playgoer was actively responding to was the sense that this incident amounted to a mythic cultural standoff between Daisey and the Christian Right. It's noteworthy, though, that Eisler's independent response garnered as much, if not more, actual response than the incident itself. The story became, rather quickly, dissention in the unofficial ranks, from one the blogosphere's leaders, as opposed to a true interest in what actually happened.

We became far more interested in our own commentary than we became interested in what happened in Boston. Probably because argument is more entertaining (and drives more hits) than is reporting.

Perhaps that's because as the story unfolded, the facts appeared far more mundane, less sensational, and even a little depressing. This wasn't a battle about free speech, it was an isolated incident between a confused, uncommunicative school group and an artist whose work depends on conversation and a sense of openness.

I think Daisey's response was absolutely understandable. He felt accosted, hijacked, and fundamentally dismissed. He takes himself and his work seriously, and he is focused, clearly, on getting something new from this. He's a storyteller, and for better or worse, this is grist for his mill.

From what I've read thus far, though, I think the school group seemed also a bit hijacked and dumbfounded. In a restrictive and quiet setting, with no easy exit, they made a group decision that was probably one I wouldn't have made. And the individual (called only David on Daisey's blog) who acted with the most vitriol is clearly someone who needs to think hard about how he acts out in public and what he's so afraid of. Why, for example, does this man feel able to walk right up to Daisey and pour water on his work? Because, it seems, that he feels superior to Daisey or in the midst of a conflict with Daisey's choice of language and values.

I certainly don't think that everyone in that room was looking for a fight. If anything, they were looking for the doors. Maybe that's the wrong impulse...maybe for a group chaperoning students, they felt it was the only choice they could make.

Nonetheless, this isn't a case of Us versus Them. The more we can refuse that sort of language (a language the offending party, David, seems comfortable with), the more we can get to the actual conflicts. People are still afraid of certain words, certain attitudes, and that's a shame. But David, a father of three, clearly feels as if he is holding the line against a world that he sees as corrupting his kids and challenging his worldview.

If we're going to keep this kind of thing from happening, we need to address David's concerns, not treat them as so much bigotry. He needs to know that people like Mike Daisey are the good guys, people who want to spread experience and tolerance and a sense of a larger world. That's good for kids, and good for all of us.

Even David.


Mike Daisey said...

This seems very well reasoned--thanks so much for posting on all this.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Matt.

Playgoer said...

I concur with above, and my feeling about the arc of the whole last few days is pretty much the same.

One point, though: Journalists can get more news due to their access and credentials. I doubt the principal of Norco Public HS would have taken a call from a just theatre blogger.

I did, though, have no trouble getting responses from the ART rep who promptly answered my emailed questions. So I did what I could to get some facts established where I could.

Freeman said...

I'd say, of anyone on the theatrical blogosphere, you're probably the one that consistently drives himself with a standard of journalism and reporting.

There are both perceived and real differences between mainstream journalists and bloggers. It's not that I think bloggers should act more like journalists or vice-versa. My goal, more than anything, was to point out how this incident highlighted those differences.

Anonymous said...

Matt, this is a great post. I wrote on something similar this morning. I would agree that bloggers are under no obligation to carry out journalistic actions like phone-calling and fact-checking (for one thing, we're not being paid), but I do think we have at least an intellectual obligation not to express an opinion on an event we don't yet minimally comprehend.

Playgoer said...

Agree with both points above, and did not want my words to be construed as saying more bloggers SHOULD do more "journalism." Just wanted to point out I tried.

Thanks to Matt and Mac for the appreciative words in both their recent posts.