Ari Goldman bids you farewell

It’s been two months since I began blogging for GR and I’ve learned something very important: I don’t like blogging. And so, I am writing to bid the GR crowd farewell. This will be my last post.

Terry has built up a very respectable site that smartly looks at the way that religion is covered in the mainstream media. He has assembled a great team and I was honored earlier this year when he offered me a place on the team. In some ways it seemed like a perfect fit. I’ve been a religion writer for most of my career and I now teach an entire course in religion writing at Columbia.

What I found, however, is that I am more of a reporter and teacher than a press critic. I got into journalism because I love learning new things, meeting new people and telling stories. These are things that rarely happen to bloggers. To be a good blogger one needs to constantly be on top of the news (preferably while sitting in front of a computer), have strong opinions and be unafraid to express them instantly. This is simply not my style. My favorite days are spent visiting churches, synagogues and mosques. Not their Websites.

As I wrote in my initial 5 Q +1, I prefer my newspapers the old fashioned way: on paper. I like to chew over an issue before forming an opinion. I like to consider a story from different angles. I know that mine is not the current journalism model, although I’ve adjusted to the new. Every article I write for the mainstream media also appears on its Website. And I teach my students how to write for the Web and how to tell a story in pictures, audio and video. But, above all, I employ, and teach my students, the traditions of good journalism: of fact-checking, fairness and accuracy. I think we can safely say that journalism has standards but blogging does not. Too much of blogging, I find, is “gotcha” journalism by a writer who wants to show that he or she is smarter than the journalist in the field.

On more than one occasion over the last two months I have killed blog posts that I was writing because I felt that I was being unfair to the writer. (I should also add that I knew many of the writers either as colleagues or as former students.) I found myself calling people to get more information, either to find out why a reporter did something (did the editor take it out? was there just no room? why didn’t they think it was relevant?), all of which slowed down or simply destroyed the blogging process.

Two months ago, Terry wrote very warmly and about my joining the GR team. “Ari Goldman is in the house,” he wrote. Thank you for the hospitality, Terry, but Ari Goldman has left the house. I’m heading back into the trenches. And I wish you all Godspeed.

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  • Jerry

    Ari, best of luck to you.

    On more than one occasion over the last two months I have killed blog posts that I was writing because I felt that I was being unfair to the writer. (I should also add that I knew many of the writers either as colleagues or as former students.) I found myself calling people to get more information, either to find out why a reporter did something (did the editor take it out? was there just no room? why didn’t they think it was relevant?), all of which slowed down or simply destroyed the blogging process.

    It’s perfect hindsight now but I really wish you had written specifics about this. Because I think it would have been really helpful at least to me to read what you found out.

    I know it’s not the blogging process as you saw it, but personally I think it is really blogging, just blogging about what you learned.

    I think what you wrote also outlines a trap in not evolving. The trap is repetition. After a while, does having a 500th example of a specific kind of error really provide a service to the profession or to the readers? Or is there a process of growth in understanding that the writers here can facilitate.

    At least for me, the first step was realizing there was something wrong with the stories I was reading. The second step was reading specifics about certain kinds of mistakes. The third step is learning how to spot at least some kinds of errors. The next step for me would be to learn why these errors are made. Answers to the questions you were asking would have helped deepen my understanding and hopefully others would also have profited.

    So I hope someone will take that next step.

  • http://www.augustiniandemocrat.blogspot.com John Brandkamp

    Thanks Ari, and G-D speed! Maybe someday I’ll find myself back in NY and stop by Columbia to take a cool class!

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    I’ll miss your posts.

  • michael

    Ari, we hardly knew ye!

    Thanks for your work here and good luck.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I think it’s crucial for GR readers to know that, as another journalism professor, I agree with about 95 percent or more of what Ari has expressed here and in earlier statements that he has made about blogging and new media.

    In terms of basic journalism, I think the emphasis has to be on the reading, reporting and writing. I also think that standards do vary from blog to blog, which is one of the reasons that I keep trying to steer GR work back to basic issues of journalism.

    All around us, the technology keeps changing, while those skills are constant. That what I teach my own students at the Washington Journalism Center, where we stress traditional reporting, but also require the students to learn the basics of blogging. Bogging is one thing to one journalist and something else to another. We try to model most of our work on what we see on the better websites, linked to the best publications. That’s all we can do right now.

    At best, the blogging template is a rough draft of a multi-platform, multimedia future with news and commentary flowing at the 24/7 pace of wire services. That’s going to be hard, hard, hard, especially in light of the declining size of the staffs in our newsrooms. This also makes it harder to do work on complicated, nuanced topics like
    religion news. From our discussions, I know that Ari and I share many of the same concerns and, frankly, fears.

  • michael

    TMatt,

    I agree with the concerns you and Ari have expressed. We are seeing the future, and it ain’t pretty.

    Where I disagree is with the esteem that you both seem to accord to journalism in its ‘pristine’ form, which is understandable given that you are both committed journalists. My disagreement comes not from the usual accusations of ‘bias’ or ‘agendas’. I assume good-will for the most part, and I freely acknowledge that a great many journalists are highly educated and very talented professionals. But I am frequently frustrated by the limitations, largely unacknowledged, built into the craft of journalism itself as a result of its hidden philosophical assumptions, limitations which often serve to enforce a rather ‘cramped’ view of the world and inhibit thought in the name of promoting it. Various print and broadcast media treat us to journalistic navel-gazing, with closed circles of reporters and pundits reflecting and commenting upon their craft. But never does one see journalists calling journalism itself into question even when it appears to be in good working order.

    Might I suggest that things would be much more interesting (and more of a service) if we could sometimes get you guys to discuss that question, rather than limiting the questions you put to journalism to questions of bias, fact-checking, use of sources, etc.

  • http://divinitypraisedance.com Davina Stallworth

    Good luck to your journey, ARi. We will missed your good critic about religion/s!

  • http://rjhargrav.wordpress.com/category/journaling/ James

    You’ll be missed.

  • deb in MA

    Bummer! I was looking forward to your postings on religion from a Jewish perspective. After doing a “Jewish Roots of Christianity” class one year, I was stunned to learn how much of Christianity is very Jewish. And like Jerry, I wish you had posted what you learned anyway. That information would have been interesting and added much to any discussion that insued.

    Well, God speed, Ari, and maybe you could do the occassional post for GR.

  • http://www.gaelicgopher.org Greg Perreault

    No! So soon? Thanks for your contributions Ari!

  • Dave

    Ari, I’ve enjoyed your posts and I will miss your stuff.

  • Chip Smith

    I am also sad to see you leave, Ari. One of the things that GetReligion needs is more diversity from both a religious and political perspective. It is true, however, that the role of a journalist and the role of a media critic are different.

    And blogging is a new medium that encompasses things like the original reporting at TalkingPointsMemo, a platform for experts at The Volokh Conspiracy, or pundits like Andrew Sullivan letting readers see the messiness of the thinking process.

    On more than one occasion over the last two months I have killed blog posts that I was writing because I felt that I was being unfair to the writer. (I should also add that I knew many of the writers either as colleagues or as former students.) I found myself calling people to get more information, either to find out why a reporter did something (did the editor take it out? was there just no room? why didn’t they think it was relevant?), all of which slowed down or simply destroyed the blogging process.

    The things that you say destroyed the process of bogging sound to me like a fascinating blog post. Shouldn’t that be the model for media criticism? I think there ought to be room at GetReligion for a contributor to approach their criticism with the kind of depth you describe, even if it means they only post once or twice a month.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    Thanks, Ari! I enjoyed your posts and will miss your perspective.

  • Sarah Webber

    It really is our loss. Best wishes, truly.

  • Eli

    Ari, Sad to see this post and think it’s a tremendous loss for this site as well as a sad commentary on the future of journalism and blogging that you’ve come to this conclusion.

    You said:

    “But, above all, I employ, and teach my students, the traditions of good journalism: of fact-checking, fairness and accuracy. I think we can safely say that journalism has standards but blogging does not. Too much of blogging, I find, is “gotcha” journalism by a writer who wants to show that he or she is smarter than the journalist in the field.”

    Just to challenge your decision for a second, I would actually argue with you that much more often it seems that the “traditions of good journalism” are falling by the wayside and a rudderless albeit ‘interesting’ “gotcha” journalism is taking its place. As a result, the “standards” you attribute to journalism, but not to blogging, become themselves suspect. As a counterbalance to this movement away from good solid journalism by both journalists and editors for their own various reasons, sites like GetReligion would ideally serve as an important counterpoint. When I look at where our intellectual tradition is headed it is disappointing to me to see folks of your caliber almost nihilistically just hanging it up.

    Still, given that your leaving seems to be a foregone conclusion, all the best to you and your family with your future work. Your strong expertise and perspective will indeed be missed in this forum.

  • http://www.arigoldman.com Ari Goldman

    Thank you, Eli, and many other writers for your kind words. I had told Terry that I wasn’t sure I needed a farewell column. I didn’t think I had that much impact in my short time on GR. It’s nice to know that I will be missed. To Eli’s point about GR and other good sites becoming the check on journalism-gone-soft: I don’t see it happening. I don’t think it is up to the blogs to police journalism. It is up to the teachers of journalism and the editors of the mainstream media to enforce standards. By the time everything is printed and produced, it is a bit too late. Of course, GR can have an impact on future coverage, but news outlets have got to get it right from the start. Readers deserve good coverage and not endless debates. Journalism is going through a rebirth. No one knows what will ultimately emerge, but I hope that the smart and responsible publications will be left standing.

  • Chris

    With all due respect “it is up to the teachers of journalism and the editors of the mainstream media to enforce standards” betrays a very strange understanding of American society.

    All the same, best wishes!

  • http://tzvee.blogspot.com tzvee

    why quit? why not just do it your way? there is room for you here on a much less frequent basis. we’d like to hear you voice, a more modulated, may i say, more mature and seasoned intonation of ideas and reflections. you do not have to be like everyone else. be yourself and stay around as a guest contributor or something of the sort. negotiate your own terms. the electrons are free, you know. and this greenberg guy says he is not jewish….we need a jew here ;>) good luck, tzvee