Dan Sinker: You call this the new journalism?

March 1, 2011

With maximum new media fanfare on Monday, Dan Sinker, the former publisher of the once indispensible D.I.Y. music and progressive politics magazine Punk Planet turned Columbia College journalism teacher (focus on “entrepreneurial journalism and independent media”) outed himself, first to the Atlantic magazine, and then to anyone with a microphone willing to listen, as the digital prankster behind the infamous “@MayorEmanuel” Twitter account.

Sure, we all laughed at the gloriously inane, poetically obscene Tweets from this obvious but nonetheless mysterious satirist as the campaign dragged on, especially when Emanuel’s ascension to the throne started to look all but inevitable. (“Lynn Sweet thinks she’s being cute publishing that old photo of me in a leotard. MOTHER----ING DANCE OFF, LYNN. LET'S GO.”)

But anyone who really cares about journalism past, present, and future surely would like to hear Sinker justify how this stunt doesn’t reduce the once proud legacy and noble ideals of participatory/new journalism—see: Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Michael Herr, George Plimpton, Hunter S. Thompson, et al—to nothing more than a solipsistic digital prank that has more in common with the desperate bids for celebrity regularly seen on reality TV than it does with either real political/investigative reportage or useful and meaningful social and political satire. And let's be clear: It's not the new media's fault. Just look at what it helped accomplish in Egypt, or the role it's playing in helping to motivate and organize people not far from here in Madison.

This is to say: Really, Dan? This one-note joke was your way to demonstrate the power of journalism's new tools and comment on an issue as vitally important as the race for the next mayor of Chicago? Go ahead, stick with the story that it all was just a little joke that grew and grew. In the end, you might as well have endorsed the guy: “I would have voted for [Emanuel] just because of that fake Twitter account,” one of Sinker’s journalism students told the Tribune. This is what all those years of serious and sometimes groundbreaking investigative stories, interviews, commentaries, and chats with Noam Chomsky in Punk Planet have come to: conspiring with a celebrity politician to make him look “even cooler” than his already immaculately crafted image, and to hell with that sticky, troublesome business of digging, probing, exposing, and reporting?

Harsh? Heck, yeah! But Sinker just popped up as the lead story on Monday’s 9 p.m. Fox newscast, cheerfully being interviewed in his living room and providing “B roll” of himself sitting there typing away on his Apple laptop, and the piece ended with him bragging about how he’s eager to meet the mayor-elect, at Emanuel’s request, some time in the next few days. Said Sinker (paraphrasing here but the quote is almost exact): I really just want to say “hi.”

Here’s a way to redeem yourself, Dan: How about pushing hard and asking our next mayor about his deep financial and familial ties to Ticketmaster/Live Nation and Lollapalooza and if he intends to take any of the positive actions suggested by this blog or anyone else to repair relations with the Chicago music scene instead of preparing to run roughshod over it while turning art in this city over to the corporate conglomerates?

You know: How about being a real journalist instead of just playing one on Twitter and TV?
 
For what it’s worth, this reporter contacted Emanuel campaign spokesperson Ben LaBolt again on Friday for comment about last Thursday’s post, and that request was greeted with the same stony silence that has met every request for further comment on the next mayor’s corporate concert ties. No doubt Emanuel is super-busy. But, gee, it sure is nice that he has time to think about much less meet with a Twitter prankster. Be sure to say "hi" for the Chicago music community, Dan, and everyone else whose serious questions have gone unanswered.