September 30, 2004

Profile of a Hobby Hack

By way of explaining why he - an apparently-boundlessly-angry and bitter columnist - is a journalist, and the likes of Ed, Rocket Man, Trunk, the Fraters, King, Lileks and I aren't, Nick Coleman relates:

I covered Minneapolis City Hall, back when Republicans controlled the City Council. I have reported from almost every county in the state, I have covered murders, floods, tornadoes, World Series and six governors.

In other words, I didn't just blog this stuff up at midnight.

Perhaps when Nick Coleman was a reporter - nearly 20 years ago - that might have been true. But for the past 18 years, he's been an opinion columnist - strong emphasis on opinion.

But we'll come back to that.

Coleman continued:

Do bloggers have the credentials of real journalists? No. Bloggers are hobby hacks, the Internet version of the sad loners who used to listen to police radios in their bachelor apartments and think they were involved in the world.
Sad loner? Bachelor apartment? Hm.

I started in radio when I was 16, Nick Coleman, and spent 13 years in the business. In that time, I was everything from teenage disc jockey and reporter to, at 23, the first conservative talk show host in the Twin Cities. So I learned a bit about the media and how it works. Reporters (and opinion columnists) know little of the world but the microcosm of the newsroom. I've looked at reporters from both sides now.

I spent a stretch as a freelance reporter; I didn't have the family connections Nick Coleman had, so my career didn't go that far, but I know a thing or two about chasing down politicians, interviewing businesspeople, riding with cops, confirming my facts (!), cultivating sources. Reporters (or opinion columnists) kvetch about bloggers. I've been both.

I spent three years working as a disc jockey in bars ranging from dumpy to sleazy - so I know a lot about deviant behavior; I've met a lot of people who claimed to be undercover cops, former SEALs, pop stars, can pick apart a sob story with one hand tied behind my back, and have a "baloney detector" that competes with Coleman's. Reporters (and opinion columnists) talk about the seedy underside of pop culture; I used a pool cue to get out of a jam or two on that underside.

I spent five years as a technical writer - so when I look at a "military memo" that screams "Microsoft Word" and "Proportional Font" and "Auto-Kern" and "displays no evidence of military doc SOPs", it's because I've been there and done that, and been paid for it. Reporters (and opinion columnists, or at least some of them) related the story. I contributed to it.

I've designed software for eight years; I observe human cognitive processes as they relate to computers and other complex systems. Reporters (and, almost never, opinion columnists) bloviate about "user-friendliness". I define it. Reporters and opinion columnists write about the new economy. It's where I earn my living.

I'm a parent. I've changed thousands of diapers. I've sat through dozens of school converences, class skits, bandaged a million owwies, helped with mounds of homework, and bought enough bikes to carry a small army.Reporters (and at least two opinion columnists whose new-parenthood is a constant topic) write about the stresses of parenting; I can describe the smell of pea-soup diapers on a 95 degree day, with the same authority as any of them.

I've been poor. The day my youngest was born, we got power shutoff and eviction notices simultaneously, after an employer shafted me on a month's pay. Reporters (and a few upper-middle-class opinion columnists who see themselves as modern-day Robin Hoods) write about the life of the urban poor. I've been one.

I've climbed the economic ladder. I taught myself first one, then another new trade, while raising kids on no budget. I've seen my income go from four digits to the comfortable fives. I've found reserves of ingenuity in myself that I never knew existed. Reporters may write about upward mobility (something opinion columnists like Nick Coleman and Laura Billings have never experienced). I did it.

I've been a small businessman. I've sold my expertise to other small businesses, stretched my budget as I waited for clients to pay up, watched prospects go from "hot" to "not" as I wondered where the next gig was going to come from. Reporters and opinion columnists try to write about it, not that most of them understand. It was my life.

I've been divorced. I've watched a marriage crumble from the inside. I've felt the acid rise from my stomach every morning as I contemplated the odds a man and father faces in the family court system. I've watched that system, the huge sausage grinder, make mincemeat of other people, families and lives - and, through the grace of God and a good lawyer, managed to avoid same for all concerned. Reporters and opinion columnists might try to address the issue, once in a while. Maybe. It was my life for a solid year.

I'm a single parent. I've had to juggle a job, sick kids, housework and my own sanity. I've had to haggle with daycare, spend my "vacation" time tending sick children, and spend evening after evening waking up next to my son's bed after passing out singing him to sleep. I've bemoaned my lack of social life, and watched relationships wither and crumble because I had no time to spend on them. Reporters and opinion columnists may write about the life of the single parent. I am one.

And yeah, I'm a blogger - one that's made the jump back into the dreaded "right wing hate radio". Reporters ignore both fields, and opinion columnists are vocal in their ire over both - but neither really understands why they have become the institutions they have. I'm a bit player in both fields - but no more a bit player than opinion columnist Nick Coleman is among journalists.

So - am I a hobby hack, as Coleman puts it? Some loser sitting in a "bachelor apartment" (what the hell is he talking about?), pretending to be "involved in the world?" I'll let you be the judge on the "hack" part; I have 2,000 readers every weekday; I'll let them judge. Is it a hobby? Yep. I do it because I enjoy it; the reader can take what he/she needs and leave the rest.

Like most bloggers - like everyone in the Northern Alliance - I am up to my neck in a world Mr. Coleman can only observe. I have a life, including 41 years of experiences in avenues of life you, Nick Coleman, can't imagine. I have beliefs I've arrived at after serious research and soul searching. I know things because I've wanted, or had, to learn them. It's why I blog.

And as for being a political stooge, unlike the bloggies, I don't give money to politicians, I don't put campaign signs on my lawn, I don't attend political events as anything other than a reporter, I don't drink with pols and I have an ear trained to detect baloney.
Leave aside the transparent, overwhelming stench of bias that has permeated every Nick Coleman column I can recall, going back to 1986; it's true, I'am a partisan.

I'm honest about it. Most bloggers are, which is why I filter the information I get from Powerline differently than that I get from Jeff Fecke; they are both honest about their beliefs, and they can be taken into account when reading.

Nick Coleman and the Strib, and most of the mainstream media, however, either deny their biases (which with Coleman are patently obvious) or declare that they are above such things. Which had led us to abuses both great (Memogate) and small (nearly every Nick Coleman column in memory).

Yesterday, Coleman sneered that journalists were like astronomers, and that bloggers were a howling mob of supersitious yokels. I won't bother to challenge Coleman to show us an example of our yokelism - he can't and he knows it, and he (like his pusillanimous colleague, Jim Boyd) doesn't have the balls to confront the people he's defamed.

But the invitation is still good. Nick Coleman - join us at Downtown Jaguar this Saturday. Noon to 1PM, or 2PM til 3PM are all wide-open. We'll have a chair and a mike all warmed up for you. And since we're just a bunch of ignorant buffoons, it should be short work for you.


Posted by Mitch at September 30, 2004 01:38 PM | TrackBack

Does Coleman still have his radio show on KSTP? That was some serious sad-bastardism right there. The couple times I heard it, it made me want to extract the radio from my car through the exhaust manifold, just for the novelty of a new unpleasant noise.

Posted by: Dylan at September 30, 2004 02:32 PM

And Coleman is down for the count...1,2...

Posted by: Jo at September 30, 2004 03:01 PM

While I don't have the depth of experience that you do in the media, I do have a voice that deserves to be heard. I have had my hackles up since reading Nick Coleman's opinion piece. We live in the real world and "professional journalists" such as Mr. Coleman (and, dare I say Dan Rather?) have lost their grip. Our readers read our stuff because we are just like them. Keep up the great work! Thanks.

Posted by: Kurt at September 30, 2004 03:23 PM

Very nice, Mitch. Keep the faith, and keep having fun.

Posted by: Dan S at September 30, 2004 07:32 PM

Wow! Rebutting commentary is one thing. But after reading this, I get the sense that Coleman's immature rant has just been nuked.

Posted by: Doug at September 30, 2004 11:22 PM

Just in case anybody was worried, Nick Coleman has verified that the world is continueing to spin in his latest hard hitting edgy commentary.

Nick Coleman: Politicians, world keep on spinning

Man, does this guy "know stuff" or not?

Posted by: Master of None at October 1, 2004 08:33 AM

Wow. WOW.

If this isn't the biggest flaming F*** Y** to Nickieboy. You've got 3 lives worth of experience in there, Mitch. Maybe more. I'm still on my first career, oldest kid is 2.5+, never worked in media of anykind.

Nice Job. Someone needed to bitchslap Nick with a rolled up StarSickle like a disobedient mutt. Mitch just did.

Posted by: Bill at October 3, 2004 12:28 AM