Brave new world of 'clogging'.
Roy MacGregor, whose day job is teaching the rest of us how to write with grace and wit, has been "repurposed" by the Globe and Mail. His "This Country" column will continue to appear in the Globe's dead-tree edition but also be posted online at globeandmail.com - a "bridge" between the old and new worlds that Globites have jokingly labelled a "clog." (Column + blog.)
It's an occasion for MacGregor, also an acclaimed author of children's books that take up an entire shelf at my local Chapters, to gently bemoan the acceleration of the news cycle since he first took up storytelling. "The 24-hour news cycle is 24 minutes on its way to 24 seconds," he writes. "If truth is the first casualty of war, then reflection, it might be argued, was the first casualty of the Web."
The drive-by journalism we're flirting with once was the province of struggling freelancers, who couldn't push their income above the poverty level except by tirelessly pitching media outlets with every idea that crossed their minds. And even then, in the case of Toronto poet and feature writer George Fetherling (or Doug Fetherling, as he was in the 1970s), having to teach a J-school course on the side.
I recall Fetherling's relief on making the last mortgage payment on his Albany Avenue house in the Annex. "Now, finally, I can indulge in the luxury of the unexpressed thought."
Odd, I imagined journalism would become more contemplative as the 21st century approached. So many of our multitudinous mistakes and misdemeanors of the past arose from getting a name wrong, quoting someone out of context, failing to understand the real point of a story, even plagiarism, due to a sheer lack of time. Yet the Golden Age of Repose never came. Instead, we now assume that our audience demands its news and analysis, combined, in a 24-second instant. Or at least we're quickly heading that way, and without much thought to the consequences.
We see this in other walks of life. No sooner had the wires reported last summer that Russia had invaded Georgia, then GOP presidential candidate John McCain pronounced: "We're all Georgians now!" It would be a few days before it became clear that Georgia's over-caffeinated president had been provoking Moscow for months, to the point where the Kremlin would lose face if it didn't come to the aid of Georgians in the north who identified with Russia rather than T'bilisi. Had McCain thought it through, it would have occurred to him that Stalin was a native Georgian (just as Hitler was an Austrian), and that perhaps there were complications in need of examination before making a declarative outburst.
Who knows? All the dust we're kicking up with our proliferation of rapid-fire media disseminators may be good news for books, magazines and for traditional newspapers that reformulate themselves as slender but must-read "daily magazines," for whom the passage of time alone imparts wisdom to the long-form work they produce. It's not a luxury to ponder the meaning of events. It's a prerequisite to meaningful journalism. Essential to magazine pieces like Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" in the New Yorker, four years in the research and writing, that helped launch the modern environmental movement. And it would dissauade a gifted columnist like Maureen Dowd from recently lifting with one minor word change a 42-word paragraph from Josh Marshall's "Talking Points Memo" blog.
One of the adages most true is the folly of expressing anger at the moment of the aggrievement, rather than giving the incident at least one night's sleep. Rushing to judgment, and committing it to the public square - whether benign, caustic or laudatory - has never been a good plan.
On reflection, Roy is right.