I want to say this without sounding too, well, gushy, but I can’t get past the feeling that someday the creation of Joshua Micah Marshall’s website, Talking Points Memo (actually now several associated sites), may well be remembered as one of the signal events in the evolution (or is the word salvation) of modern American journalism. I can even imagine a time when journalism students, or at least the kind of journalism students who can’t get a date, will ask their professors to tell them what it was like back in the days of yore, when Marshall was first starting out, working on a shoestring, publishing the site that would one day change the face of journalism.
Rats. There I go getting all gushy.
And if anything isn’t cool on the political Net, it’s gushy.
Still, here’s my point. TPM is unique. It breaks all the rules. Or maybe it’s writing a whole new set of rules for a whole new journalism. Unlike most political websites that tend to emphasize commentary, TPM dishes out honest to God investigative journalism, written by honest to God journalists, published in, of all God-forsaken places — someone cover young children’s ears please — a blog!
May William Randolph Hearst have mercy on our souls.
Sure, Drudge, who preceded TPM on the Internet, sometimes posts important “scoops” (every once in awhile they’re even true), but Drudge is no more an investigative journalist than George W. Bush is a statesman. He’s a rumor monger — a sewage pit into which “more respectable” conservatives drop sleaze they want to get out, but not under their own names.
TPM, on the other hand, is almost always right in what it reports. And as anyone who follows the site regularly knows, they do yeomen’s work digging into many important political stories — doing so without the happy fiction of objective reporting. Josh Marshall is openly and unapologetically a Democrat (if at times a bit too moderate for the tastes of his lefty readers) and TPM is an indisputably partisan blog. Working more in the tradition of the British paper the Guardian, than, say, The New York Times, TPM demonstrates that advocacy journalism can still be good journalism.
Here’s a story that I think’s relevant: Back during the New Hampshire primary race in 2004, Marshall posted an offer to travel to the Granite State to personally report on the closing days of the campaign if his readers wanted to cover the costs. He said:
Now, the normal way to do this would be for me to go to one of the publications I write for, get them to pick up the tab (hotel room, transportation, etc.), and write it up for them.
But that would mean saving most of the reporting for some magazine or website or newspaper and not doing much or any of it for TPM. And, frankly, I think blog coverage is much better suited to covering something like the New Hampshire primary than magazines or newspapers. Because it’s really about moment-to-moment reports, running commentary, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t easily fit into the rubrics of conventional journalism. Besides, you want to know what’s happening while it’s happening, not in a lazy summing-up a week after the votes have been counted.
What happened, as I recall, is that about 7.2 milliseconds later, Marshall posted a follow up message saying to stop sending contributions because he had already received more money than he needed.
Think about it: What could be more empowering? A rag tag collection of progressive web enthusiasts, in effect, hired their own journalist — not so that he would be beholden to them, but so that he would be beholden to no one.
Nerds of the world unite!
With the corporate media increasingly walking away from investigative reporting, doesn’t this suggest a world of possibilities — as grand even as the founding of a whole new generation of muckraking journalism, one stripped from both corporate dominance and the fallacy of objective reporting? This would be, if I may be forgiven the 60s-speak, a people’s journalism — a movement journalism, living on both the web and in other more traditional forums, that would advocate, but at the same time remain firmly committed to a “let the chips fall where they may” philosophy of truthful and accurate reporting.
The progressive community could use the organizing power of the Internet, not only to nurture this new journalism, but also to help spread its work product to a broader audience, with popular websites like (our parent site) BuzzFlash acting as a bullhorn. Liberal pundits and politicians could then work to push the stories into the broader media.
And yes, of course, to a significant degree this approach would copy the techniques of the right wing noise machine, but with a significant difference: Our stuff would be true.
And even though it can sometimes be hard to see today, there is power in truth.