By Jan Caldwell’s standards, I am a Very Serious Journalist.
This has very little to do with the fact that I run a news publication.
It has more to do with the fact that I’m nice (almost always), svelte, not disabled and have a fancy journalism school degree. Oh, one more thing: As a Very Serious Journalist, I always wear Very Serious Footwear.
Caldwell, the spokeswoman for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, spoke earlier this week at an event called Grade the Media, put on by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional journalists. (I didn’t attend the event — I caught Caldwell’s remarks on YouTube.)
There, she warned reporters of her No. 1 rule if they want to get information about the county’s chief law enforcement agency: “My first point I want to make is: Be nice to me. I mean, seriously, be nice to me. Because I’m a mirror, and I will reflect how you treat me. If you are rude, if you are obnoxious, if you are demanding, if you call me a liar, I will probably not talk to you anymore.”
Golden rule, got it. There’s something a little unsettling about someone sternly ordering niceness and demanding that reporters not demand. But taken at face value, those aren’t unreasonable requests.
Then Caldwell takes a turn. She says that it’s time to revisit the issue of journalist credentials, because “you can sit with your Apple laptop in your fuzzy slippers, you can be an 800-pound, disabled man that can’t get out of bed and be a journalist, because you can blog something. Does that give you the right, because you blog, in your fuzzy slippers out of your bedroom, and you don’t go out and you haven’t gotten that degree, should you be called a journalist?”
Disregard the fact that Caldwell went from insisting on niceness to vilifying the obese and the disabled in the next breath.
The stereotype of bloggers as slovenly basement dwellers is incredibly antiquated. Seriously, people were complaining about how antiquated it was years ago.
Bloggers rule the world. The New Republic wrote this month that blogger extraordinaire Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog has, “arguably become the [Washington] Post’s most successful project, bringing in over four million page views every month.”
But blogs that aren’t hosted by the Washington Post are still perfectly legitimate. It’s the journalism that’s produced — how it’s presented, the service it performs — that matters.
Voice of San Diego itself, by virtue of being an online-only venture, is probably considered a blog by some people. Kelly Bennett has admitted to occasionally wearing slippers while working from home. On her Apple laptop.
And though Caldwell described bloggers with by far the most disdain, she wasn’t alone on the panel in expressing old-school notions of the media.
Darren Pudgil, who served as spokesman for former Mayor Jerry Sanders, said he too is very discerning about who he gives information to.
“We look at the entity. What type of audience does a media outlet have? What type of reach do they have? … Most of the bloggers are a little out there, and aren’t informed and have agendas,” Pudgil said.
I may be a Very Serious Journalist, but I think I’m missing something.
Even if there are thousands of these elusive, basement-dwelling, slippers-sporting, uninformed bloggers beating down the doors of local public affairs officers (I mean metaphorically, of course, you can’t beat down doors in slippers and without leaving the basement), wouldn’t they be precisely the people whose writing would be improved with the help of a robust, accurate source of information from their government?
This database lists the position of “public affairs officer, sheriff” for the County of San Diego at an annual salary of $68,640 to $131,040. If the county is paying someone upward of $130,000 to disseminate information, he or she should feel obligated to answer anyone with a notepad and an earnest question (asked nicely), whether they live in a basement, a mansion or a storm drain.
Caldwell and Pudgil aren’t the first to confuse legitimate, journalism-performing bloggers with the rest of the vast, amorphous, anonymous internet. But given that they communicate with the press for a living, you’d think they’d have a better idea of who the press is.
I asked a few of my Very Serious Journalist friends what they thought made someone a Very Serious Journalist.
One, a journalism fellow at Harvard, said his criteria included “curiosity, tenacity and skepticism. … I think serious journalists must have a sense of civic duty and believe that their work serves the public interest.”
Weirdly, he didn’t say a word about plush footwear.
Sara Libby is VOSD’s managing editor. She oversees VOSD’s newsroom and its content. You can reach her at email@example.com or 619.325.0526.
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