My writing tends to have a read-between-the-lines style. Many get it, and I was reminded recently that some don’t. So today I will be as clear as a San Diego/Santa Ana day. This is about journalism and its many flavors, be it citizen blogger or professionally trained student of the medium. It is about authority and responsibility, and about how the two don’t always coexist. It is about the learning curveballs that technology and our new ways of socializing have thrown us, and about how we are reacting to them.
All of us are living in a time of turbulence and uncertainty. What started as a housing crisis has evolved (or perhaps revealed itself) as something much deeper and far-reaching. There is little joy in Mudville. From my industry to yours, from high-income, white-collar executive to small-business owner, to employee to unemployed, we are all wound a little tight right now. None of us are immune to higher prices at the pump or at the "10 items or less" checkout line. None of us are untouched by the economic realities of what the experts call a once-in-a-decade event. We are all living in an emotional pressure cooker, and it tends to wear on us.
"When you aren’t feeling normal, do something normal." These are words I tend to live by and, today, they seem to carry greater weight.
So it was that this past week an article of mine was published that was, in retrospect, ill-timed. On the other hand, one could argue that it perfectly timed. It was admittedly "fluffy" given the dark cloud we have been living under lately, yet I tend to see a trip to normalcy as just what the doctor prescribed. Yes, we are in the throes of a pivotal presidential election; we are being bombarded by news of the impending collapse of our banking system; and we are being reminded daily of the delicate balance in which our financial and personal security hangs. Meanwhile, I committed the grievous crime of carelessly talking about something else entirely. I wrote about using this slower market as an opportunity to retool and revamp my business systems. Oh, and I wrote about dust bunnies.
"Blasphemy! What about WaMu?" Consequently, I was accused by at least one reader of being a monumental "waste of cyberspace." It was that one statement that got me thinking about where we are and what we have become with our new rules of social engagement. It also got me thinking about my right (and yours) to share ideas in this modern-day forum and the attendant responsibilities of our broader stage.
Obviously, my post didn’t strike a chord with at least one reader whose Internet apparently occupies a finite space. And of course, my musings won’t resonate with everyone. For instance, my husband loves books on international espionage and intrigue, and according to my Amazon bills, he can’t get enough of them. I, on the other hand, wouldn’t walk across the street to meet Clive Cussler in person. That is what makes the world go ’round. Instead of publicly declaring that Clive is a loser because he doesn’t speak to me, however, I simply read other genres. That is why writers write — and publishers publish — a variety of styles and subjects. That is why Barnes & Noble carries the works of many authors.
Then, there is the idea of credentials, which I have been thinking about a lot lately. Our new online medium affords each of us the opportunity to espouse our wisdom and ideas. The written word has always carried significant weight, yet we are now navigating treacherous waters. Drawing the line between opinion and fact, between news and commentary, is becoming more delicate. I personally fight the insecurity demons on a daily basis. I’m just a working girl, a real estate agent trying to make a living. Suddenly, I find myself writing among professional writers, yet I did not earn my degrees in journalism or even English literature; I did not intern at the New York Times or the Washington Post or the Fresno Bee. Suddenly I find myself writing among experts, experts in finance and economics and technology and big brokerage, yet I am an expert in none of these areas. Rather, I am an insider and an observer. I have concluded that those credentials are enough — as long as I don’t pretend to be something I am not. So when I write about my daily trivialities and struggles as a working real estate agent, I am writing about what I know. And being in the thick of the normal curve, I have to believe that my trivialities and struggles are widely shared.
Blogging is new by any modern definition, and we are still finding our way. Everyone with a keyboard and an Internet connection is grandfathered into the new journalistic environment. But with this empowerment comes responsibility, and this is my real bone to pick. If I fail to deliver hard-hitting news, that is by choice and because I know my limitations. Last time I checked, there were no Associated Press wires coming into my home office. I rely on the same media sources on which my clients rely, so I try to responsibly avoid overstepping my authority. Sure, I have opinions, but I can’t profess to tell you how to make Realogy profitable, how to save AIG or what the details of a promising federal bailout package should entail, because I admittedly lack the depth of knowledge to do so with confidence — with authority. And I see too many new-age journalists speaking without boundaries, writing opinion in the sheep’s clothing of indisputable fact. I don’t want to find myself falling into that trap.
So, I can’t tell you exactly what it will mean to long-term consumer spending when two-year Treasury notes drop by a basis point. What I can tell you is that I really like DocuSign and the AmongUs widget, and I can tell you that I haven’t realized any return on my Zillow EZ Ads investments (as much as I love the concept). I can tell you that 12 people who came through our open house last Sunday aren’t buying because of market jitters or financing difficulties and that my clients are having a harder time getting financing this week. I can tell you that home prices are down, that my business and living costs are up, and that emotions are running high. I am not a Harvard Business School professor, I am not a National Association of Realtors economist, and I am not a former equities trader. But I generally know wood rot when I see it, I can write contract terms to best protect my clients’ interests, and I can spot an over- or underpriced listing in my market a mile away. And I know the issues with which agents struggle every day, because they are my struggles, as mundane as they may seem to some.
I spent my first 10 prime earning years as an engineer and the last 11 as a real estate agent. Ironically, it is my daughter who is studying journalism with the sole intent of unseating Anderson Cooper. It is through her that I was introduced to Walter Williams’ Journalist Creed. Since we all find ourselves to be honorary journalists today, I will share my two favorite lines:
- "I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true."
- "I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman."
Our new social medium has empowered us all, and therein lies the responsibility. We have a responsibility when we post, and I would hope that we recognize that same responsibility when we comment. There are plenty of other books to read if you don’t like this story. At least this one is nonfiction.
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