Fellow columnist Mark Judge published an article on Acculturated on Monday with the sensational title—“Where Have All the Manly Journalists Gone?”
In describing his father, a 30-year veteran writer and editor of National Geographic, along with a number of high-profile men in the field, Judge advances his personal and highly biased understanding of journalistic idealism (emphasis added):
“A journalist—like a good male novelist—was a man who would go away for several months on a story assignment, usually to exotic-sounding places: Borneo, Australia, Thailand, the North Pole. He would have adventures and, if he was single, might even experience a James Bond-like liaison with a lady or two.”
Judge went on to argue that, in contrast to the Don Juan heroes of a bygone era, a modern journalist “just has to go to the right schools, and have the right opinions and he’s given a cubicle, a computer, and access to an audience.” Throughout the piece, Judge implies, although not explicitly, that “he” (the proverbial, macho journalist described) has to have a penis in order to be respected in the field of journalism.
Sorry if you’re a fan of female pioneer, Nelly Bly (1864—1922): She may have launched the type of “investigative journalism” that Judge describes in his article, including a groundbreaking, global investigation that took her by ship, horse, rickshaw, sampan, burro, and other vehicles around the world in 72 days. Unfortunately, Bly didn’t have a penis, so she is overlooked, along with any reference to any female journalist. In Judge’s worldview, women don’t have the balls, or the left hook, to dig deep enough to tell a hell of a good story.
Judge’s argument wasn’t entirely flawed: “Discipline, the ability to change one’s mind and learn, depth of research and reporting, a challenging period of apprenticeship” are worthy goals for any self-respecting journalist, and certainly, the wild west of the Internet blogosphere is teeming with amateurs who lack the fundamental skills of classical journalism.
Nevertheless, Judge could have used the term “adventurous,” rather than “manly,” if he wanted to advance an argument with merit. But “adventurous” isn’t sexy unless “adventurous” implies having “slept with women,” “been drunk,” or “gotten into fights”—according to Judge anyway.
Judge’s thesis appears halfway through the article: “Being in danger, or even knowing that someone you wrote about might want to confront you physically, made you care about honor and accuracy.”
This is a misguided premise: Physical endangerment doesn’t ensure honor; conscientiousness does. Confronting your adversaries “mano a mano” doesn’t make a journalist more accurate; thoroughness does. True, qualities like conscientiousness and thoroughness can be developed by getting one’s hands dirty, so to speak; but there are unlimited, non-life-threatening ways to fulfill the need for greater honor and accuracy in reporting, too. Roger Ebert won the Pulitzer Prize for critical commentary, and he was rarely seen outside the comfort of his theater chair.
The worst offense in Judge’s argument wasn’t his flawed logic: It was his decision to equate honorable journalism with manhood. If “manly” journalism is dead, then it passed away without much fanfare for a reason: No one misses chauvinism, sexual exploitation, and aggressive machismo in reporting. I am sorry for the loss of Judge’s own father; I enjoy National Geographic’s commitment to excellence and tradition of world-class journalism. His contributions will be missed.
As for the loss of “manly” journalists Judge laments, I say: Good riddance. Virtue in journalism is a worthy goal, independent of gender. Training young journalists to seek adventure and a great story beyond the confines of their cubicles is an excellent suggestion in our devastatingly immobile, high-tech society. But having a penis is not a prerequisite for the job.