As of January 1, 2010, this blog will be in its third year. Including the columns written for NPR while ombudsman, I've been doing this for ten years! It's been (mostly) therapy for me and I hope, occasionally illuminating for readers. The feedback has been continually enlightening and once in a while, unsettling (which is as it should be, I suppose).
George Steiner (among others) says of writing that it is an addiction. At a time of diminishing optimism on the future of journalism, writing is an act of assertion that there are ideas worth sharing. And to share them is a counter-balance to the immodest trivialities of journalism and the nervous enticements of media organizations.
In 2009 media organizations believed that by serving our needs, they might restore themselves to some sort of financial wholeness. And the definition of our needs often had less to do with how we see our lives, but how these media organizations imagined us.
Steiner asks "how are we to grasp psychologically, socially, the capacity of human being to perform, to respond to, say Bach or Schubert in the evening, and to torture other human beings the next morning...? I am still waiting for the answer," says he.
Neil Postman suggested that by using media to avoid reality, we are "amusing ourselves to death." Both Postman and Steiner ask the tough questions that intellectuals must. But most human beings who consume media don't ask those sorts of questions because we don't have the answers.
Instead, the rest of us look to media to represent some sort of moral and aesthetic landscape that confirms our own sense of reality. It is a form of intellectual comfort food and not a bad selection from the smorgasbord of life. It may be escapism, but to paraphrase Eliot, "mankind cannot stand too much reality." For the progressive journalists among us who wish only to offer nutritious morsels, we can only respond that the "Broccoli Broadcasting Corporation" may not be ultimately satisfying. The audience will always be a disappointment to the ideologues of left and right.
If media could only offer a palette of well-told stories full of information, culture, human events with a side of humor. To do any less is to defeat our needs as citizens and diminish our ability to make sense of the world. In 2010, I hope that media can recover their sense of what we need along with what we want.
A word of thanks to you all. And best wishes for 2010.