News and views from the award-winning author of the Class H Trilogy: AMERICA LIBRE, HOUSE DIVIDED and PANCHO LAND

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Doonesbury skewers bloggers

Gary Trudeau, the creator of Doonesbury, has skewered the foibles of contemporary U.S. culture for three decades. Through the strip’s now-iconic characters, Trudeau has given us a refreshing take on a succession of fads, trends, and political movements that have flashed through the national consciousness. Through it all, I sat on the sidelines watching this master of mockery ply his craft.

And then last Sunday, I suddenly found myself at the action end of one of his barbs.

In this strip, reporter Rick Redfern, recently axed by the Washington Post, has turned to blogging to survive. Redfern bemoans the fate facing many in the national media: how to cope with the competition of the Internet. As you would expect, Trudeau handles this with his usual sly wit.

"I'm competing for eyeballs with millions of narcissists," says Redfern, "... almost none of whom expects to actually get paid." 

As one of the millions of bloggers mentioned in Trudeau’s strip, I felt defensive. Was I one of the narcissists?

Here is what I concluded. Judge for yourself whether my logic is clouded by self-interest.

According to Trudeau’s reasoning, a professional is superior to an amateur. Therefore, a commercial illustrator is more worthy than a painter or sculptor. A writer of commercial fiction is more worthy than an unpublished poet. A paid politician is more worthy than a community volunteer. 

Perhaps.

But one can also argue that the Internet and its millions of bloggers are ushering in a new wave of democracy into the once-exclusive world of news and editorial opinion. Even with its abundant sources of misinformation and outright lies, the Internet gives voice to millions who were once unheard. Who is fit to be the arbiter of public information? Before the Internet, only those who were accepted into the cloistered ranks of journalists had the privilege of a public forum. Today, like the leap from monarchy to democracy, we have a messy, tumultuous, fractious, inefficient and gloriously free exchange of ideas over the world wide web.

No doubt this comes as a rude shock for many who prepared for a career in journalism and have plied their trade for years. But like the elevator operator and the gas station attendant, some jobs virtually disappear when technology overtakes them.

So my conclusion is this: Sorry, Gary. I love your work. But on this issue, you are on the wrong side of history. If journalists hope to earn their pay today, they will need to do more than show up at the office.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez