Monday, October 13, 2008

Why write?

When I agreed to join the staff of my current employer almost a year ago, I felt like I was initiated into some prestigious journalism fraternity. During my interview, I spent more time talking about the actual craft of journalism than I had at any point in the previous eight years.

It was nice to talk shop with serious practitioners, you know? It was even nicer to be invited into the fold to learn and pursue the craft.

Obviously, since then, everyday hasn't been the same. Some days are better than others, some are worse and most often I've been merely preoccupied with keeping myself useful and on the company payroll.

Well, this afternoon I came across a link to this speech by an alum of my newspaper. Needless to say - cornball that I am - I was all renewed with appreciation and ardor, not only for my employer, but for the trade.

There’s absolutely no substitute for being there and experiencing something. The hope is that this felt experience of what the subject is feeling is what emerges in the story, and the facts of it will be unassailable, because you were there and you were an eyewitness.

... But if there’s anything I can promise to keep doing, it’s to go out with the empty notebooks and to try and document what’s going on in the country—and I promise to do it even as the ground shifts beneath the newspapers.

Those words mean something very deeply to me, especially as I watch our punditry class rely on tired old narratives about "Main Street" and "Wal-Mart Moms" and the "Black Vote" and "Joe Six-Pack" and on and on. These phrases presume to mean something but are mostly lazy-ass cliches that come from lives spent in an office on the phone and not in the field. And the field is where everything is happening and unsuspecting people are waiting to fill the pages of notebooks.

Anne Hull, keep on preaching and writing. And thank you.

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