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September 20, 2007

Filed under: journalism»new_media

We Get Letters

I'm having kind of a hard time with the feedback on the AudioFile article. If I'm having a hard time with it, it's easy to see how more entrenched print journalists must be losing their minds.

Basically, I wrote in one paragraph of the article that higher bit depths offer improvement for bass frequencies. I based this on a Roger Nichols article in Sound on Sound, in which he explains his own experience in going from 16 to 24 bit recording with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Several people have chimed in on the Ars Forums to say hey, good article, but that bit about the bass is just wrong. I haven't fixed the paragraph, though.

It's not that I think they're wrong, and it's not that I necessarily insist that I'm right, because I'm under no illusions that I'm the most knowledgeable person on earth. But as well-spoken as the Ars forums are, and as much as I have read them in the past, they're still anonymous people in an Internet forum. Whereas Roger Nichols is a guy who mixed Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan, and Placido Domingo, and also invented a new kind of atomic clock because he didn't like the digital synchronization he was getting before. I'm going to take his word, for now, and err on the side of caution.

But it's hard, getting immediate feedback from people on something you've written, especially if you're not an expert--and most journalists, as far as I'm aware, aren't. When I went in for a job interview recently, the interviewer and I talked for a little while about how blogging has affected editorials, where there's a proud tradition of writers discussing issues that they know nothing about. And nowadays, there's a whole Internet filled with people who are happy to talk about things they know nothing about, so there's a lot of competition for those editorial jobs. Not to mention, a whole Internet that's also full of people who can write e-mail and forum posts about how the editorial was wrong. Sometimes those respondents do know what they're talking about. I can only imagine the panic of some poor economic journalist being pulled under the microscope of Brad DeLong in his ongoing Why Oh Why Can't We Have A Better Press Corps series.

This is just something that journalists and writers are going to have to get used to. Feedback comes fast, online. It comes strong, too, because people are not sheltered from giving you their opinions. And a lot of it's right, but a lot of it's going to be wrong, too. To my mind, you don't just throw that feedback away. It's a valuable thing. It makes you better. And more importantly, you don't respond to it with a hissy fit, the way that some writers have done. It's a goad to either A) know what you're talking about (which is the optimal solution), or at least B) be able to cite someone who knows what they're doing, and give good reasons why you believed them.

In a way, this makes every outlet, even the largest, into a small-town newspaper. I don't know from experience, but I hear you've got to have a thick skin to work a small town beat. People run into you on the street, they're going to tell you what they thought of that story you wrote last week. And they're not going to treat "journalist" like a big-time profession or a position of authority. They know better, and they know you better. Overall, I think that accessibility and lower status is a good thing for journalism, which has gotten a bit big for its britches at times. But it doesn't make the letters much easier to read right now.

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