El Chapo, journalists and readers
I liked the Rolling Stone story about El Chapo, the Mexican drug lord.
It’s is a big story. He’s the kind of person we rarely hear directly from. That the story was reported by Sean Penn, who is not a professional journalist, is of no concern to me as a reader, as long as it’s reasonably clear what happened. There are disclosures on the piece. Of course we can’t know if everything was disclosed, we have to guess. Being a news reader involves a lot of this kind of guesswork.
I’ve been an insider enough to know that reporters sometimes don’t disclose all their conflicts. There are times when you can’t. I understand that.
As readers, we try to figure out how much to trust a report. Often it’s not at all clear what the story really is, it’s so obscured by all the egos that seem to have been tweaked. Pubs gain reputations. I tend to believe that Ars Technica, for example, isn’t worried about access, and I tend to believe some of the older business pubs are totally about access, and tend to not pay much attention. (Caveat: That doesn’t mean I believe everything I read In Ars. Not at all. I had objections to their story about the origin of podcasting, for example.)
In tech, the high regard reporters have for people with big money has led to a market defined by silos and lock-in. It’s shameful how this medium has been handed over to the super-rich, and the people who did the handing are also some of the people who are complaining about Rolling Stone.
I would like journalists to accept that news comes from all directions now. Readers are not docile non-participants. I think that’s part of what makes the Trump phenomenon so disturbing to the real conservatives, people invested in the current political system — the incumbents of journalism and politics.
That’s why Twitter is such a phenomenon among news makers. It does flatten the playing field as we predicted it would. And because the existing political and economic structures haven’t adjusted well, it means change comes in fits and starts.
The El Chapo piece will probably be considered historic not because it’s an interview with a news maker that typically we never get to hear from, but rather that it happened at all, and that was largely made possible by the new technology.
My guess is there will be more to say about this.
PS: This post came as a result of a comment I made to Mathew Ingram about his criticism of this story. Part of the reason I wrote this is I wanted to get to the heart of my concern, which clearly couldn’t have fit in 140 chars. Ingram’s response.