Sunday, July 16, 2006


Lakshmi Chaudry in The Nation:

...the liberal blogosphere's general lack of interest in understanding the internal dynamics of news reporting was apparent in the marked paucity of actual journalists on the numerous journalism-related panels at the Yearly Kos convention. "It can be so patronizing. Somebody at Yearly Kos--a guy I know and like--said to me, 'We just want to help you be better at your job,'" says [Matt] Bai [of The New York Times Magazine], one of the rare journalists invited to speak at the convention. "It's like me walking into the emergency room and telling the doctor how to do a better job. Based on what?"

Er, Matt, that's really not the analogy you want to use if you want to convince me that bloggers are being unfair to journalists.

The fact is, doctors (emergency-room and otherwise) have quite a bit to learn from patients. If you've ever had a persistent medical problem, or a medical problem that didn't respond to what one or more doctors insisted was appropriate treatment, if you're smart you went off on your own and armed yourself with information, and also paid close attention to what was happening to your own body, until eventually you came to know more about what was wrong with you than any doctor. You still needed a doctor, but it's likely that office visits became dialogues rather than orations from on high.

I'm speaking from some personal experience (I'll avoid boring you with the details, but I'm fine now), as well as from conversations with other people who had to suggest diagnoses to their doctors (correctly) or become experts on possible treatments.

I think a lot of doctors are doing perfectly fine work based on the standards of their profession -- but that's not enough to help some patients who can be helped. Doctors, for instance, are far readier to say a patient has a common condition than a less common one; the aphorism is: "When you hear hoofbeats, think horses rather than zebras." That's what their profession tells them to do, but it isn't always what the patient needs. Sometimes a patient's condition is a zebra.

Journalists also do what they and their peers think is right, and it isn't always what the reader needs. With a doctor you have to say, "If I'm not getting better, then what you're doing isn't working." Doctors sometimes find this baffling. Journalists, too. If you say, "I'm getting two sides' spin from this story, when what I want is the truth," maybe Matt Bai gets offended -- Who the hell are you to tell him -- a journalist -- how to do journalism? Well, you're the reader, fer crissake. You're the reason his job exists. His work is to inform you, just as a doctor's is to help you get well. If this isn't happening, hell yes, you have a right to say something.

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