The Raleigh Public Record is a new website dedicated to “nonprofit, independent news for the Raleigh community.” They recently held a fundraiser at the 101 Lounge, and between the speaker’s remarks and my conversations, I learned some quite disheartening news: The News and Observer is conducting yet another round of cuts/buyouts that include a core group of reporters and editors, whose removal more than any others yet announced, signals the beginning of the end for our fine local newspaper.
The Raleigh Public Record is preparing to step into that emerging gap with a new model of journalism that includes cutting edge presentation of public records, in-depth treatment of local topics, and a business model that provides maximum editorial freedom. Charles Pardo, founding editor, is looking for some high ground between the old and fast-eroding bastions of print news and the proliferation of admirable but highly uneven and unpredictable local blogs. The largest of these is prone to slipping into pop culture and advertiser-driven topics – nothing wrong with that, but it’s not quite community service journalism. And the most beloved local blog makes no pretense of presenting anything other than exactly what they feel like – or have photographed the night before! The Raleigh Public Record wants to use the blog forum to develop a juried and professional venue for high quality news. Their fundraiser attracted a strong showing of journalists and intelligentsia, well described at yet another new local blog. The site has changed significantly over its short life and will continue to evolve as it develops tools and sources for a new paradigm in local news.
Back to NandO, which has served this community so well for so long. The list of reporters leaving this week – Wade Rawlins, Ned Barnett, Joe Miller, Jon Peder Zane, and others – represents not trimming fat, nor even amputating trapped limbs, but cutting out heart muscle. Or, as a speaker at the RPR fund-raiser put it: ” The News and Observer has attempted to maintain height in a sinking plane by tossing out the engine – a strategy that will work for just a few seconds.” Doubtless the publishers will say that their younger (i.e. less expensive) reporters will pick up the slack, and they will say that their migration to an online model is going well. We must also remember that NandO is a fairly healthy paper – it is the financial woes of McClatchy, its parent company, that is creating most of the stress. But it seems clear that, in the end, McClatchy will suck the life out or our local newspaper and then sell it off to die a slow death.
In the wake of that tragedy, we will need new models for how to share and come together as a community about the issues of the day. The Raleigh Public Record is a good start, and it is a fascinating experiment in new models of journalism. It deserves our support – check it out!
And as a final disclaimer in this highly personal blog setting, I am thrilled to be part of the Raleigh Public Record with a column called The Natural View.
John Dancy-Jones is beginning an occasional column on Raleigh nature and the environment.
Jon Peder Zane is one of numerous dedicated, serious folks who are working to keep good reporting and good writing alive at the News and Observer. He was the book editor until the drastic changes under McClatchy’s management turned him into the Ideas Reporter, and I have actually very much enjoyed the products of his new beat. He has written about everything from banned Christmas trees to bioethics. He has also consented to create a series of videos for NandO’s website – Fist Bumping is typical. ( He really turns being stiff into a comic artform). But this guy’s writing is just downright stimulating! His book, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, has gotten a great, well-deserved response, and his 1999 Distinguished Writing Award proves he has been doing great work before and through all the changes at NandO.
He has outdone himself, in my mind, with his response, this year and several previous years, to the Edge annual big question. These highly provocative writings cast a huge net in searching for the meaning of our times. In the essay linked above, he sees hope in the prospect of vastly improved bodies, and justified fear in the idea of transmitted neural signals. He ends with the hope that science will continue to be of overall benefit, as in the past. Zane focuses on issues about which he has written before – stem cells and genomics. But he gave a sense of the wide ranging ideas contained in the series, and I went and downloaded and printed them. I will be processing what I read for a long time, but I will offer the notes below, with thanks to Jon Peder Zane for the motivation and stimulus!
What will change everything?
I love SF, and these essays skirted SF with regularity, while offering very real solutions for some pretty big problems – like death, endless energy, and radical transparency in the marketplace. The most sinister visions by far concern our growing ability to monitor and “tinker with” the mental experiences generated by the brain. Helen Fisher, an anthropologist from Rutgers, thinks Vance Packard’s “Hidden Persuaders” will take chemical and totally effective form. But we alter our consciousness with drugs and media all the time, and I think we’re more resilient than that.
The most practical visions derived from nanotechnology, with the idea that developing molecular, self-directing machinery would make materials goods as “free” as information is already fast becoming. An intermediate step in this process is suggested by both Chris Andersen and David G Myers: universal computers and all that implies.
The truly revolutionary nature of information technology is overshadowed by hyperbole about it. Kevin Kelly of “Wired” envisions a conscious intelligence arising from the Web – a “ubiquitous AI embedded in the feedback loops” of cyber civilization. Kevin Sloan, a “digital technologist,” predicts the accretion of a universal memory. As I read through the numerous essays that predicted the reality of artifical intelligence, I was always disappointed by the clear fallacies in the various positions, and comforted by the divining rod of clarity I received so many years ago from Coleridge. Clarity, that is, as to the certain uncertainty in defining the creative element that informs and energizes the human mind. They can map every darn neuron and correlate every one with a function, but that still won’t give them what they need to build a true thinking machine. Coleridge described it as a balance of “Fancy” and Reason – later Chomsky used the very methods of rational science to prove the uncatchable infinity that is human expression. Art represents a conscious presentation of creative forces that inform every aspect of human culture. That element will always be missing from artificial intelligence. Not that it’s missing from true science – which is the making of new knowledge. Timothy Taylor, an archeologist, points out the creativity generated in the “tension… between fixity and change” – science, in his view, being the major source of change. Science gives us our material culture, art attempts to re-present and name the meaning of that culture. The latter, for Taylor, is attempting fixity, but I think that’s true only for the linguistic scientist, not the poet and artist. Good art gropes to name and describe the changes, and thus makes in actuality a “new thing.”
The basic point is made by several writers in the series. Celebrating our “new” awareness of rationality’s limits, Randolph Nesse from the University of Michigan sees good science “recognizing that the body is not a machine.” Stuart Kaufman, a proponent of the value of “biocomplexity,” simply states: “the universe is open, neither fully lawful nor random.” Every artist, aware or not, assumes a non-linear infinitude of possibilities in order to work. These essays have taught me that scientist working in many fields have so much reason to feel the same. Closing with the words of Mr Nesse: “Some evolved systems may be indescribably complex.” For me, a comforting thought.
From the future to the past, J Peder Zane just wrote a couple of pieces for NandO that take a hard look at Southern culture. First he really stuck his Yankee neck out with a call for destruction of the Confederate memorial on Capitol Square. Several people were really ready to chop down on that neck! Today’s Sunday edition brings a look at Southern comic caricatures and what they say about the South. Keep up the good work, Mr. Zane! We natives need all the intellectual prodding we can get!
Here we go and you are welcome for the ride. Raleigh Rambles. A Raleigh native’s rambles. Raleighites making art and making good. The city of Raleigh rambles out to the big wide world. The big wide world rambles into Raleigh. All of the above. This is my personal blog – mostly art and culture, but whatever else as well, because it is all good, all is good. Everything we do is art – or can be. Welcome to my new blog.
This online world is a hoot and a holler, isn’t it? It’s been fun to watch and even more fun to join. I’ve been very lucky. My school had a Nando account, allowing us to use gophers and ftp’s to look at a few data bases, before the World Wide Web came to exist. I have watched my buddy Clyde take the Net by the horns and shake it like a money tree for some time, while building his hip hop web empire. My friend Richard has been hand-rolling a blog since before there were blogs – I guess that means he helped create the blog culture. Blogs seem very much to be the universal multi-media uberform that Clyde and I dreamed about in the late seventies. I like them very very much.
Raleigh is blessed with great local blogs. Raleighing was fun while it lasted. New Raleigh does a most professional job, as recently with their slideshow of Rebusfest, and a review of my new neighbor, Rosie’s Plate. And RDUwtf, of course, has my biased adoration, and is back in business after a nasty spamlink attack. Here, I’m not trying to review Raleigh – I’m portraying myself and my cultural mileu as a native Raleighite.
A fine cultural mileu indeed! World class museums, enough of a city to be a city but rural scenes a ten minute drive away. Greenways galore, which I blog about at Raleigh Nature. A decent music scene, I understand, but you will not read much about any music other than jazz here. My favorite piece of Raleigh is the whole scene anchored by The College of Design -with Sadlacks’s as its lodestone. I love to run into old friends or find out what young art entreprenuers like Sarah Blackmon are up to. And I still get to enjoy catching somebody up on The Paper Plant and being reminded it is still remembered.
So here goes my personal take on Raleigh, old and new, work and play – living the examined life in the New South. Join me when you have a chance!