When Eric Black, a journalist who for three decades served as a "humble and obedient ink-stained wretch" in the Star Tribune newsroom, announced in June that he'd be taking a voluntary buyout and going it alone in the blogosphere, he told Minnesota Monitor his quest was to find the "sweet spot" between traditional journalism and blogging -- that "best combination of the reporting and verification discipline of the old with the energy, immediacy, honesty and candor of the new."
Since then he's been searching for that gratifying overlap as a National Fellow for the Center for Independent Media, writing for Minnesota Monitor and the CIM's other sites, and at a beta blog of his own that he's been testing for several weeks. Up to speed and with glitches ironed out, he officially launched Eric Black Ink earlier this week.
Black says he hopes the site will be noticeably guided by ideals of fairness and intellectual honesty, but he's doing away with some of the rigid tenets acquired over 30 years as a newspaperman. In the "creed" he's writing for the new site, Black states, "the objectivity paradigm, as evolved and practiced by mainstream journalism, is a spent force" and needs to be jettisoned. "One of the things I think simply doesn't work anymore in mainstream journalism is the idea that you can have this huge wall between facts and opinion," he said Wednesday, "or the idea that it's somehow helpful to the reader and helpful to the reporter's
credibility to not answer basic questions the readers have in their mind about where the reporter is coming from, ideologically, let's say. That's very liberating under the new medium."
At his new home, that freedom has given birth to an array of diverse discussions,
from a piece marking last week's anniversary of the Lincoln-Douglas debate (with a comparison, complete with Neil Postman reference, to today's abbreviated brand of public dialogue) to a query into whether Bush's is the "most politicized administration in history" to an essay entitled, "Question: Are most journalists liberals? Answer: Yes."
The founder of the Star Tribune's blog The Big Question, Black is accustomed to prolific and dedicated commenters and the major-league traffic a top-30 newspaper website can garner (his Big Question post on Rep. Michele Bachmann's assertion that she knew of a plan to divide up Iraq into distinct states attracted more than 200,000 unique visitors in a day).
He realizes his one-man enterprise might not initially have that kind of draw.
"This is a pretty scary for someone like me, who for more than 30 years had a claim on an audience I hadn't earned myself," he said. "Just having a story in the newspaper got me quite a large number of readers, many who didn't have a particular interest in the topics I was addressing but were just people who read through the newspaper. With a one-person blog, you won't get very many accidental readers."
But he revels in the complete independence of it. "It would be easy to overstate how much I was told what I could and couldn't do at the paper, but there were a lot of rules that apply to the whole enterprise of writing for a newspaper. They're almost all gone now. I suppose the exciting -- and scary -- thing is that I have to take complete responsibility for what I write, because I can't claim somebody made me do it," he said. "On the other hand, if I have something to say that I think is worth saying, nobody can stop me from saying it."