All I Know Is What I Haven’t Read in the Papers

I just posted this at another blog.

Concluding that someone you’ve never met personally is arrogant, or any other adjective, on the basis of one magazine or newspaper story is pretty naive. To go even further and publically scold someone you’ve never met personally on the basis of that one story is just silly and presumptuous.

Journalists often make up their minds about what story they’re going to tell very early in the process, pick the quotes that support their take on things, and insert running commentary of their own to glue it all together and make sure the reader knows what story the writer is trying to tell. All too often the writer is hellbent on telling a story, imposing some kind of mythic structure he or she is often not even conscious of, that isn’t really justified by the material.

“Flying in the face of conventional wisdom,” the writer writes, “Smith believes that X is almost always Y. ‘Sure,’ Smith said in a recent interview, ‘once in a while X is Y.’ But others disagree. ‘X is only occasionally Y,’ pooh-poohs Jones …”

And even if that’s not what’s going on, people are complex and a story has to reduce them to a few main traits. So making up your mind about someone whom you only know through the filter of the perception of someone else whom you don’t know at first hand either, is a pretty foolish thing to do.

As a for-instance, Dave was just recently interviewed by a local paper about Cody’s Books move to downtown Berkeley and how it would affect other bookstores in the area. Well, Dave’s store is a genre bookstore (mostly science fiction and fantasy), and Cody’s is a general bookstore, and having several bookstores with different characters in the same area, if they aren’t carrying the same kind of stock (and one of them isn’t some huge corporation that’s able to handle losing tons of money in the short run by deep-discounting bestsellers in order to drive the others out of business and take over the field in the long run), generally helps all the bookstores, because more booklovers, including those from further away, will come to the area to visit three or four different stores in one trip than will come to visit just one.

Yet the lead-in to the quote was more or less like this (and I’m repeating from memory but this is close, it really was just about this bald): “Other downtown bookstores see Cody’s new store as healthy competition. ‘I don’t see Cody’s as competition at all,’ says Dave Nee, owner of The Other Change of Hobbit….”

Same sort of thing has happened more than once to me, too. It’s just very hard to tell — and on the basis of a single article, pretty much impossible –the extent to which what you’re reading has been bent to conform to the writer’s agenda.

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