This has to be one of my all-time favourite comments about something I’ve written on this blog.
There was certainly something slightly hypocritical about that last post. It is itself formulaic. Regular readers probably noticed that it’s basically an article that I’ve written before. I might have added:
11) Criticise everybody else
Identify some common threads in current reporting. Describe each one in terms of the similarities between articles, ignoring their many differences. Act like this is all there is to it.
Still. This doesn’t really undermine the central proposition that a lot of arts reporting (and a lot of other reporting) is extremely formulaic.
Is that really surprising, given the extremely high output required from many professional writers?
It’s very hard to come up with 1,500 honest, true, useful words in a day, but who do you blame when the bullshit starts to creep in? Writers with deadlines? Editors under pressure to maintain sales? Readers who want to be entertained? Perhaps it’s inevitable.
It’s certainly true that writing 2,000 words a month is easier than writing 45,000 words a month*. Does that mean we shouldn’t call out bad reporting? Should we give media outlets a pass on the huge number of stories that are misleading or untrue, just because the writers are busy?
I don’t think so.
A free press is an essential part of any functioning democracy. We rely on the things we read to make important decisions about the way we live our lives, run our businesses and elect our government. It’s important.
If we’re going to make good decisions, we need good information. That, in turn, means we need to be able to tell the difference between good information and misleading waffle. That’s why I allow a blog that’s ostensibly about classical music to spend quite so much time talking about the ways we separate fact from fiction.
* That’s why I only write 2,000 words a month. Since nobody pays me to write this blog, I’m not under any pressure to cut corners. I can take my time. Get my facts straight. Stick to stuff I know about. That’s one of the advantages of being an amateur. I won’t claim that I write better stuff for free than anybody else writes for money. I do know, though, that I write better stuff for free than I ever did for money. Still, this isn’t about me. You can infer a weak ad-hominem challenge in the comment above: “What qualifies you to criticise us?” but where would that get us? Everybody gets out their resume, and before you know it, somebody’s asking to see a birth certificate.
He’s right! How dare you criticize a body of work that you, yourself, would be incapable of duplicating? No professional music critic would DREAM of doing such a thing.
Phew! Look, I was feeling a bit grumpy I should mention a small bit of personal context: I’m in the midst of a low-level Tweet-war with a team of good but chippy local amateur bloggers [non musical] who frequently proclaim their superiority to outmoded dead-tree hacks, and whose habit of jumping on minor typos to prove this point gets a bit trying when you’re trying to pay a mortgage from writing. And I’ve had some run-ins with a music blogger who routinely makes hay with the failings of print journos – but quietly deletes their own slip-ups and disables the comments when they think no-one’s looking.
It wasn’t meant as an ad hominem criticism, more a slightly world-weary aside at the fag-end of a long afternoon. Damn you, my restless Twitter-finger!
I think you’re dead right and I couldn’t help laughing. Sloppiness, laziness and inaccuracy all need to be pulled up – ideally before they reach the page, by a good editor or sub with the time and knowledge to do their job thoroughly. But that’s increasingly rare these days.
I’m not a full-time freelance writer, but it’s a large part of my livelihood and I’ve a lot of respect for those who do depend upon it absolutely. Most of them genuinely love music, know a great deal about it and are mortified when they know they’ve not written at their best. I (ahem) “feel the pain” of those who sometimes slip up in the race to the deadline, or reach for a formula just to get the words flowing.
Love your stuff; please, keep telling it like it is.
Thanks for the thoughtful feedback.