Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On "Letter to Workers World Newspaper"

My letter has elicited a few responses already. I will post them here anonymously, as I think both correspondents make some very useful points.

Here is a note I received:


I'm glad you asked.

I have privately directed similar criticism, regarding his own writing for the paper, to our .... comrade .... The tack I took with this was, unassailable factual arguments (when they are available) are stronger than emotional arguments.

When the factual basis of writing is weak, an emotional appeal does not make it any stronger. Skilled journalists, outside the tabloid media, seem to understand this well enough.

What is perhaps less well appreciated is that the emotional basis of an argument is weakened when print media veers in the direction of telling the readers what to feel. When the factual basis of an outrageous situation is presented with the precision and control worthy of a laboratory worker, the readers can be trusted to feel their own outrage. While perhaps counter-intuitive, clinical detail (with rare exception that always entails a level of writing skill unavailable to nearly all who practice the craft) numbs the senses of the readers and dampens proper outrage.

I suspect that even as you posted this you were perhaps aware that your critical letter to WW was, in a sense, itself violating the editorial standards (your own as a disciplined writer on the one hand, the paper's on the other) you were advocating for, and that may be why you called for a sanity check.

Each of the things that you called for, and that the WW paper lacks, is needed in a workers newspaper and should therefore not be dragged out in this context. It would have been sufficient to simply state that print media space and readers' attention are finite resources that are in short supply in the revolutionary press-- they should be used with discipline.

While on this subject of what the paper lacks, both the cases that you argue here (i.e., Cottin and Mumia) would perhaps be better placed in a Letters to the Editor section such as that of the Morning Star. That is a proper place for comrades to vent. Editors should require a more disciplined use of limited resources outside that context.

Mumia, both for the merit of his cause and for the best of his writing, deserves the imprimatur of the paper. Who knows, the same may be true of Cottin, though I am ignorant of her other writing. But this does not require that their every jot and tittle should be exempted from editorial discipline. Furthermore, it is precisely in the reporting and analysis of those events replete with the lurid detail that is the stock-in-trade of the capitalist tabloid press that the greatest editorial discipline is required of the revolutionary press. After peeling such an onion there is often very little onion left-- and it is for this reason that I would argue against such an exercise for a revolutionary newspaper.

PS Why not a Just for Us half page for very young readers such as the Daily Worker once had? At the age of 7 I was climbing all over the Old Man to get my hands on the paper every day just to read that part.

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