Posted August 23rd, 2007 by Lisa
If you get off I-83 in Harrisburg at the North Front Street exit, you’ll see them all in a row: a Wendy’s drive-thru, a three-story Days’ Inn painted sea foam green, and the headquarters of the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association. I arrived in Harrisburg near midnight and didn’t actually see the PNA until the next morning. It was a gray day in December and the parking lot was empty except for some standing water near a storm drain. The front door was locked and I considered how stupid I would feel if I had driven from Boston to Harrisburg on the wrong day, and what, exactly, my husband and I would cook up for childcare if I had to stay an extra day. The two-story building was new, and two white stone columns flanked the formal front entrance. Maybe it’s like a house where people always go through the back door, I thought, and I started walking around the building. I’m a compulsive reader. I once was taken off the job of wrapping a friend’s dishes for a move because I kept drifting off into reading the three-year-old alt-weekly I was supposed to be wrapping the dishes in. As I went around the building I looked up and noticed a band of limestone just about where the separation between the first floor and second floor should be. Words were engraved on the band. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” read the front of the building. Around the east side, it said, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech,” and above the back door it read, “or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” The back door was locked so I proceeded around the west side of the building back to my car toting my laptop and my cubic meter of anxiety. The west wall read: “and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” I sat in my car facing the building. First thought: That engraving must have cost serious money. Second thought: Bloggable, let’s get out the phone camera. Third thought: My friend Jay Rosen, who teaches journalism at NYU, wrote a piece for his blog, PressThink, called Journalism Is Itself a Religion. Hey, Jay, you were more right than you thought: I just found the Temple of Journalism. But I’m not a journalist. I’m a blogger. I suddenly realize that I’m here for an interfaith dialogue. To say that I’m not a journalist isn’t enough: it’s not about where the paycheck comes from. It’s about the fact that I don’t share all the values commonly shared by journalists. The church of Journalism’s holy trinity: Objectivity, accuracy, The First Amendment. Blogging? Authenticity, transparency…The First Amendment. So at least we have something in common. But billions of pixels had been flipped about what we didn’t have in common, and the criticisms corresponded to the creeds of the critics. Bloggers aren’t objective, said the journalists, they can’t be trusted to be accurate with their newfangled electronic First Amendment Machines! They do not do Real Journalism, it is said. Beware, o Reader! Turn Back! Bloggers fire back, mocking the media’s weirdly stiff and animatronic presentations, crafting classic blogospheric rants about failures of transparency – unrevealed biases, a hidden world of flacks and unnamed sources. Comment threads end up looking like Pentecostal revivals with the great pseudonymous horde witnessing and occasionally speaking in tongues: “l33t! Woot! First Post!” I see a white Honda Accord drive into the rear lot. A woman gets out and hurries to the back door, keys in hand. I pick up the Great Big Bag of Blog in one hand – laptop, digital still/video camera, internet-enabled phone, an iPod, a GPS, cables, cables, cables. In the other I have a red box with some Italian pastry. Now I know why I brought it. Let us break bread together, we First Amendment faithful. Lisa Williams lives in Watertown, MA, with her husband and two children. She runs H2otown.info, a local news and community site where every resident can get their own blog. She recently launched Placeblogger.com, the largest directory of local weblogs.