On Twitter, advocacy, hostility and objectivity

My Dad was an intellectually rigorous man. He majored in philosophy, racing through college so he could lead a platoon in Korea, then returned from the war to get his doctorate in the emerging field of biochemistry. He remained in the Marine Reserves, rising to the rank of colonel, and was a stern but beloved faculty member at the University of Georgia for more than 40 years.

At one family holiday gathering, he demanded to know everyone’s views on abortion. The answers ranged from the biological (we had one doctor in the room) to the theological (one Episcopal priest) to the anecdotal. For the most part, he was impressed.

So what was his position? “Oh, I still don’t know,” he said.

Dad was certainly opinionated about some things. In other cases (abortion, Israel, etc.), he saw a difficult balance of legitimate views. The common thread was the process.

The point of the story: I was raised to believe in the Socratic method of asking questions, sometimes taking it to the extreme. Journalism was therefore a logical (but frustrating) career choice.

It’s also a misunderstood career, especially these days.

Granted, objective journalism isn’t really in vogue these days. In sports, more journalists are embracing homerism. In journalism at large, Jay Rosen has raised pointed questions about the legitimacy of the “view from nowhere,” which is unrealistic. In my experience, blind adherence to airing “both sides” is ripe for abuse. Sometimes, one “side” is telling the truth and the other is lying, and it’s a journalist’s job to say so.

In my own work, I’ve certainly felt emboldened to be a little more opinionated in the last seven years or so. One reason: I think we’re in danger of losing the war on bullshit, so we need to be a bit more aggressive in challenging the liars. Another reason: I left USA TODAY, where the management of the time wanted to rock the boat as little as possible, and I found freelance clients (bless you, The Guardian and FourFourTwo) who offered a bit more freedom. And getting older gives everyone a bit more freedom to speak up.

But at heart, I’m still someone who likes to get to the truth. That sometimes means challenging people with whom I’d usually agree. I questioned the women’s soccer national team in their labor dispute over a few misrepresentations and lack of clarity — their lawyer refused to say anything beyond “equal pay for equal play” in comparison with the men’s team, even though the men don’t draw salaries and play different competitions.

A lot of people don’t get that. Anyone who asks questions must be the enemy. Scorn them. Mock them. Attack their credibility.

And, of course, some people are just jerks.

My default on Twitter is to engage. I do learn a lot from the discussions, and they help me get my thoughts in order, like an ongoing rough draft.

But I’ve spent too much time in the past year engaging with jerks. Or people who just don’t get it.

I’m actually going to do the opposite. I’m going to declare a Christmas amnesty and unblock a lot of people. Not all. I blocked an “Infowars” guy, and I’m not going down that road again.

We’ll see how long it lasts. If I had eternal patience, I’d run for a soccer board position.

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