What I do is what I do

By Razib Khan | August 29, 2012 12:31 am

This morning on Twitter the estimable Carl Zimmer stated that I had “reported” on the recent paper on European skin pigmentation evolution. I wondered, wait, am I a reporter? I don’t really know, and this really is rooted in the “am I a journalist” thread. I’m starting to get worn down by those who claim I am a journalist. My main issue is that once you’re pegged as a journalist, you’re held to journalistic standards. So, for example, people might demand that I selectively misquote and misrepresent the opinions of others, because I might alienate readership by telling them what I think, instead of using mouthpieces who I don’t even bother depicting with any accuracy. I’m only half-kidding here. I’ve had great experiences with journalists, and not so great experiences. I really, really, hate it when people go fishing for quotes to fit their story arc.

In regards to papers, I don’t exactly take the tack of someone like Ed Yong or Dave Munger. I’m just a guy offering my own unvarnished opinions, and the reality is what I do “on the blog” intersects strongly with the way I talk and behave in “real life.” If this blog is journalism than a huge portion of my time chilling with my boys is journalism And, a substantial proportion of the posts here emerge directly from reader questions. Oh, and sometimes I tell readers what I really think of them, which is often not much. All of this just doesn’t seem right to me as journalism. So I don’t feel it is. Randall Parker suggests a new word, “rifting.” Though that got me to thinking: a lot of what I do is “sifting.” The content of others, but also my own thoughts.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Blog
MORE ABOUT: Navel gazing
  • http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com Neuroskeptic

    When the question arises, I call myself a “science writer”. Certainly not journalist.

  • IW

    What you do is what we like (but don’t feel compelled to adopt my take on it…).

  • http://sjespositoweblog.blogspot.com S.J. Esposito

    I would never describe you as a journalist nor would I say what you post here is reporting. I don’t even think science writer fits you all that well, either. I think the best way to describe what you do here is commentary. That is, most of your blogs are primarily written to assert your stance on an issue, paper, pop culture, etc. and not to break complicated things down for consumption by the general public (a la Ed Yong, Phil Plait, etc.). Of course, sometimes you cut through esoteric stuff and present an issue in a more palatable way, but I think that’s just a function of you dissecting the issue itself and not really your primary motivator for writing the blog.

  • http://carlzimmer.com Carl Zimmer

    Note that I said you “reported,” not that you are a reporter. I use the word as the dictionary defines it: “to relate, as what has been learned by observation or investigation.” Suits you to a T!

  • http://rxnm.wordpress.com miko

    Maybe you opine?

    Though I think you have done some fantastic posts that explain quant genetics ideas for interested lay readers.

  • Siod

    Given Zimmer’s comment, this is obviously one of those sticky issues with communication. One person intends one thing, the other infers something else. And often what is inferred is reasonable given the context in which it was inferred.

    Unfortunately, in the modern world there’s less of a back and forth to reduce communication errors, and those errors inherent in communication are often entirely blamed on the receiver rather than on communication process itself (but I don’t think there’s any blame going around here — I’m just ranting).

  • DK

    I’m starting to get worn down by those who claim I am a journalist

    But that does not change the fact that, fundamentally, you are a journalist.

    First two definitions in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language:

    jour·nal·ism (jûrn-lzm)
    n.
    1. The collecting, writing, editing, and presenting of news or news articles in newspapers and magazines and in radio and television broadcasts.
    2. Material written for publication in a newspaper or magazine or for broadcast.

    You are writing for a mass media and bulk of your posts deals with presenting or commenting upon some news. Certainly that does not cover 100% of what you do but that does not cover 100% of what large proportion of “official” journalists do either. There is also a definition #6, also a close fit:
    6. Written material of current interest or wide popular appeal.

    Almost all bloggers are journalists – and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

  • Sandgroper

    “You are writing for a mass media and bulk of your posts deals with presenting or commenting upon some news.” That’s ‘a mass medium’, and no, that is not an accurate description of what he does – he does far more than just present ‘news’ and comment.

    “Written material of current interest or wide popular appeal.” Are you kidding? What % of general readership understand most of what Razib writes about, or can even be bothered to try to understand? Popular appeal?

    I think you have just managed to demonstrate some of the reasons why he is not a journalist.

  • DK

    Razib writes for more than this blog, so that’s still media (or are you picking on that indefinite article?)

    Re: % of general readership.

    Don’t be ridiculous – it’s not an indication of anything. Someone regularly writing for Packaging Machinery Technology is still a journalist (writing about things popular in the trade). Besides, the regular surveys here do show broad appeal. In a grand scheme of things, not a lot of people read The New Yorker either.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    “. Someone regularly writing for Packaging Machinery Technology is still a journalist”

    i think this is a good analogy 4 wut i’m doing.

  • https://plus.google.com/109962494182694679780/posts Razib Khan

    except i tell the subscribers to fuck off a lot :-)

  • Sandgroper

    I simply repeated what you wrote, which was “a mass media”.

    How many journalists do you know who collect and analyse scientific data, and present their own analyses? I like both Carl and Ed, but do they do this? No, not that I have ever seen. Do they write to make the subjects of science news items intelligible and appealing to a wide general readership? Yes, they do; very well in my opinion. Does Razib do that? Not that I have noticed – not as *the* objective of his writing.

    What do the survey results reveal about the regular readership of this blog? Does that fit your own words “wide popular appeal”? I don’t think so.

  • Sandgroper

    @11 LOL. Game, set, match.

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Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

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