"Some time ago, in the last century and in what now seems like a personal universe that is far, far away," veteran newsman Danny Schechter writes in the foreword to his newest book, "I was dubbed "The News Dissector." The "Nom de Media Guerre," as Schechter puts it, gave his "compulsive media addiction a vocational role, and maybe even the aura of a higher calling."
Schechter's self-dissection is as keen and clear as his ongoing analysis of our broken media system, available daily at his long-running News Dissector blog and now, in collected form, in Blogathon: Reflections and Revelations from the News Dissector, a compilation of critical media counterpoints that Schechter has been busy blogging and slogging through every day for eleven years -- every day, in fact, since that fateful one of 9/11, as the World Trade Center towers came tumbling down.
Since then, Schechter has offered a consistent counter-narrative to the daily news -- "posts, rants and raves" -- to the tune of some 3000 words a day. While others may be reading their morning paper, Schechter is busy writing, editing and aggregating his own, slicing below the surface of current events to "pick away at the sinews of what passes for journalism."
He differs from many other bloggers in several respects: for one, he is a professional journalist of high caliber and great experience; for another, he has a worldview and analysis that enables him uniquely to dig deep into the mainstream media's "institutionally established routines and patterns of coverage." This also allows him, as he notes, to "see structural biases and an ideological orientation."
It is this ability that distinguishes Schechter's body of work from that of the millions of other bloggers now practicing their own forms of journalism. Add to that his unparalleled decades of experience as a media critic and media maker of all sorts -- from on-air radio personality and television reporter to producer/director/writer -- and as both a privileged "insider" during stints at CNN and ABC to his previous and current status as an independent and "outsider" at Globalvision, the small international media firm where he (and, full disclosure, I as his co-founder and partner) continue a labor of love in order to "make media that matters."
"I moved from blasting network TV from the outside to trying to change it or at least influence it from the inside," Schechter recounts. "I came to know and like people in the industry, and learn from them. And yet at the same time, I felt estranged. I felt that I didn't really belong, because I wasn't an insider and didn't aspire to become one."
Thank heavens for that, because the rest of us have greatly benefited from Schechter's status and work as an outsider. Part of his success is due, as he notes, to class matters -- his DeWitt Clinton High, Garment Center, working-class upbringing brought with it an invaluable way of looking at the world and its power structures, as well as an outsider's consistent concern with important issues such as human rights, fights for freedom and social justice.
The insiders never cared too much for those issues, since, as Schechter observes, "as decision-makers they avoided being too controversial and shied away from rocking the boat" -- something the Dissector has rightly never been accused of! Instead, "TV programmers would tell me how much they admired me, but then explained that the programs I wanted to cover were, well, 'not for us.'" (One great example: PBS executives' infamous refusal to become involved with Globalvision's award-winning news magazine Rights & Wrongs: Human Rights Television because, as they explained, human rights was considered "an insufficient organizing principle" for a television series -- unlike purple dinosaurs, cooking and stock tips, apparently!)
The strength of Schechter's blog -- and of Blogothon itself -- is, as he reminds us, "also its weakness." It is often -- perhaps too often? -- "a personal outlet, and a form of uncensored expression...It is also a platform for sharing personal experiences and passions." Although some may find Schecter's dissections at times too passionate and personal, many others will agree with his observation that "the blogs I like are outlets for independent voices, often offering dissenting perspectives that can rarely compete with branded corporate products for audience attention."
No blog is more of an outlet for an independent voice than that of The News Dissector, and none offers a more informed and informative dissenting perspective. Blogathon, the book, is also necessary; although Schecter's blog has 'only' been around for eleven years, " and as Schechter writes, it references work that "has its origins in the 1960s and even earlier." Given the ephemeral nature of the World Wide Web in general and online journalism in particular, much of the material in it might otherwise have been lost to time had this collection not been published.
Blogathon in an indispensable alternative to the commoditized corporate news food now being dispensed daily from the media outlet stores so many have already become inured to. Read it -- and share it widely!
(Rory O'Connor's new book, Friends, Followers and the Future: How Social Media are Changing Politics, Threatening Big Brands, and Killing Traditional Media, has just been published by City Lights.)