Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Pro(b)logue - Development of principles

I recently watched Citizen Kane through the magic that is TiVo - it remains an incredible movie that is remarkable in new and different ways each time one sees it. Given our current state of the world, the scene where Kane buys the New York Inquirer stood out in sharp relief from the rest of the film (appropriately, given the incredible use of light and shadow in the scene). Indeed, in many ways, that scene was one of the sources of inspiration that led to this blog.

In that scene, Kane takes over the flagging NY Inquirer and sets out a Declaration of Principles for the paper. Of course, by no measure do I hope to make this Inquirer as important as Kane hoped to make his. But, his two key principles are excellent guides on this particular journey.

1) "I'll provide the people of this city with a daily paper that will tell all the news honestly."

It is to dream to believe that there might again be some paper that might reflect or at least attempt to achieve this principle. Indeed, I think much of the blogosphere, at least that part of it devoted to politics, exists because too many of us have come to feel like there is no such paper and has not been for some time or truly, perhaps, ever. Still, whatever they once were, newspapers increasingly appear to have been replaced by typographical megaphones for a combination of public relations flacks, communication directors, and advertising-synergistic articles. Or what some might call news-related program activities.

Kane continues after being interrupted.

2) "I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings."

Putting it together sounds like a good campaign soundbite actually, something Gore might have said in 2000 when his progressive populist groove was working (contrary to the pundits who panned it, not surprisingly – see the archives (e.g., here) of Bob Somerby's The Daily Howler for all the gory - bad pun, unfortunately, intended - details).

Imagine a president that could look us in the eye and say "I will provide the people of this country with a president that will speak to them honestly. I will also provide them with a fighting and tireless champion of their rights as citizens and as human beings." In some ways, I think this comes close to capturing the ethos of Edwards primary speeches.

But I digress. The point was the inspiration for the blog and what I hope will be it’s guiding principles.

Principle 1 - Comment honestly.

I'd like to say, "Report honestly" but that principle would immediately be self-contradictory because I can't honestly claim to be a reporter in any sense of the profession.

Principle 2 - In commenting, seek to advance the fulfillment of basic rights of human beings - life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (broadly construed).

Some of the other parts of that scene are also relevant to the birth of this blog.

First, Kane clearly seeks to make the Inquirer important

"I've got to make the New York Inquirer as important to New York as the gas in that light."

A laudable but, frankly, unrealistic goal in this context – the blogosphere is already heavily populated with both meaningful (and meaningless) discourse. Though Margaret Mead’s words, that one should, “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has,” resonate strongly here, leading me to hope that I might contribute to/be a part of such groups, leading me to Principle 3.

Principle 3 - Work in concert with others in fulfillment of Principles 1 & 2.

In espousing his principles, Kane is interrupted which leads him to elaborate further on his first principle.

“Now they're gonna get the truth in the Inquirer, quickly and simply and entertainingly and no special interests are gonna be allowed to interfere with that truth.” (I always find the use of “special interests” there illuminating – it reminds us that the idea of “special interests” does not represent a recent phenomenon and, as a result, that they are really anything but special.)

Principle 4 – Where it does not conflict with Principles 1 through 3, communicate briefly and entertainingly.

(Although you can probably already tell that the first part is really going to be a struggle).

The scene continues with Kane’s “friend” Leland asking to save the original hand-written principles.

“I'd like to keep that particular piece of paper myself. I have a hunch it might turn out to be something pretty important, a the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution, and my first report card at school.”

My suspicion is that these principles will likely end up closer in their import to my child’s first report card at school (recently received) – of value primarily to myself and others close to me. Perhaps if I and all of you mutually keep our expectations appropriate, this blog might contribute in some small way to our ongoing national conversation.

One parting note on the scene in Citizen Kane – we see the initial meager circulation of the paper as the scene concludes. I suspect that there will be stronger parallels with the implication of that part (miniscule impact) than the actual circulation (26,000) for some time but welcome all of you to enjoy whatever meager knowledge and merriment I am able to provide.

Whew - glad that's over with. On with the show.

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