Aaron Sorkin on Journalism

It feels odd to say, but it may well turn out to be the case that the major literary figure of my generation (or the one right after me, depending how thinly you’d like to slice the generational lines) is Aaron Sorkin. No one seems to have done a better job of capturing the underpinnings of a certain section of the late boomer generation: theoretical idealism mixed with theoretical ruefulness mixed theoretical cynicism mixed with theoretical hipness. Those guys on The West Wing–that’s certainly how I like to see myself, although the distance between myself and Sam Seaborne is chasmic. Regardless–Sorkin was talking to The Atlantic the other day about what he reads and why, and as far as I’m concerned, he makes the defense of Old School journalism brilliantly: it’s all about elitism.

“The upside of web-based journalism is that everybody gets a chance,” he said. “The downside is that everybody gets a chance. I can’t really get on board with the demonization of credentials with phrases like “the media elite” (just like doctors, airline pilots and presidents, I prefer reporters and commentators to be elite) and the glamorization of inexperience with phrases like “citizen journalist.” When I read the Times or The Wall Street Journal, I know those reporters had to have cleared a very high bar to get the jobs they have. When I read a blog piece from “BobsThoughts.com,” Bob could be the most qualified guy in the world but I have no way of knowing that because all he had to do to get his job was set up a website–something my 10-year-old daughter has been doing for 3 years. When The Times or The Journal get it wrong they have a lot of people to answer to. When Bob gets it wrong there are no immediate consequences for Bob except his wrong information is in the water supply now so there are consequences for us. As the saying goes, the problem with free speech is that you get what you pay for. Obviously there are great writers and thinkers publishing on the web and there have also been times when citizen journalists have made a positive contribution to the public discussion, but I think the cost/benefit is way out of whack. Like saying that graffiti is good because somewhere in there is a Banksy.”

[Cross-posted at JamieMalanowski]

Jamie Malanowski

Jamie Malanowski is a writer and editor. He has been an editor at Time, Esquire and most recently Playboy, where he was Managing Editor.