Dec 5, 2008

What Mark Blankenship Said

I don't share his love for Roger Ebert—I'm something of a Paulette myself, and Ebert's dismissal of Raising Arizona was what made me write him off years ago—but I do second Mark's wary optimism about the unfolding future of arts journalism (which very often looks more like an unraveling than an unfolding). Taking on a post by the senior critic conflating the death of print newspapers with the end of thoughtful criticism, Mark writes:
What surprises me is the sense of hopelessness in Ebert’s writing. Like many people who built careers in “old media,” he equates the death of newspapers with the death of thinking, as though people who don’t want to get their information in the traditional way are people who don’t want to think at all. For a man who pushed criticism into a new medium (television), I would expect him to see that American thoughtfulness isn’t dying but changing.

And the change is right there in Ebert’s hands. He wrote his essay on a blog, after all, and he even responds to some of the comments about it...So… what’s the problem, then? Ebert wrote a lovely, forceful essay. Even better, he’s discussing it with his readers. How exciting for them and for him! If you scroll through the comments, you find excellent arguments and counter-arguments, and you find Ebert clarifying his points. To my ears, the canary isn’t dying. It’s singing louder than before because it’s harmonizing with a flock of birds.

Yet Ebert makes a sour prognosis about the death of thought, and throughout the comments section he vehemently defines himself as a “newspaperman.” He’s one of many people who feel this way, but I’m singling him out because I’m surprised he doesn’t see how his own work is forging the path for the future.

Because really, newspapers may be familiar, but they aren’t necessary. There are many valid ways to think through problems and process information, and we’re simply in a transitional period toward a new model.

And again, this new model–the web–is helping criticism, not hurting it. It’s giving us more space to voice our thoughts and find our thinking challenged. On this very site, reader feedback has helped me evolve my outlook on several things, and the site’s limitless format has allowed me to dig deeper than any of the mainstream publications I write for.

So isn’t it time to stop bemoaning change? We’re building a new model at this very minute, so of course we haven’t perfected it yet, and of course it will be different than what has come before. But that’s okay. That’s vital.

I couldn't agree more.

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