Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Iowa has "some of the skuzziest cities" (UPDATED AT BOTTOM)

ORIGINAL POST: If University of Iowa journalism professor Stephen Bloom had any doubt that his recent critical comments of Iowa would lead to an ascerbic response, well....

You might recall that Bloom wrote in The Atlantic that living in Iowa was less than exhilirating. Among the highlights (or lowlights, depending upon your opinion) of his editorial was this:
Mark Twain once lived in Southeast Iowa, in Keokuk, working at his brother's printing press. He also was employed nearby as a reporter for the Muscatine Journal. When Twain lived in Keokuk 150 years ago, the Gateway City was a sought-after destination; some seriously said Keokuk would someday rival Chicago as a metropolis of culture and commerce. Thirty-eight hotels crowned the intersection of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers. The coming of the railroads changed all that, and today, Keokuk, is a depressed, crime-infested slum town. Almost every other Mississippi river town is the same; they're some of the skuzziest cities I've ever been to, and that's saying something.
There were four people who also wanted to say something. And they are four of his colleagues. Writing in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, the foursome criticizes Bloom not for his decision to write the editorial but for the journalistic errors it contained.

Good journalism transforms the world by speaking truth to power, and, as our colleague Stephen Bloom wrote last week, shines “a light into dark corners.”
However, we have a profound and professional disagreement with Bloom concerning the practice of “good journalism.” We do not believe, as he does, that good journalism entails scathing attacks on powerless people, nor do we endorse any work riddled with inaccuracies and factual errors and based on sweeping generalizations and superficial stereotypes.
On the contrary, while we do agree that good journalism may reveal uncomfortable truths, it also illuminates the complexities and contexts of those truths. Good journalism offers multiple perspectives and discerning explanations of social problems and salient issues, be it poverty in Iowa or political caucuses. Good journalism takes time and thought, and in the end, it offers something of real value to its audiences.
Bloom is defending his editorial, including writing a defense in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
I’m a proud journalist. I still believe in the adage, “Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” Today, much of the state is afflicted by a ravaged economy. Iowa’s population growth has flat-lined. But I guess it’s just more comforting to some Iowans to condemn me for pointing out these issues and others.
Sorry if I offended, but that’s the real job of journalism. Or it should.
Nevertheless, Bloom is somewhere other than Iowa City tonight, and a reasonable question has to be asked: Can he return to his faculty position at the University of Iowa recognizing the heat he is facing? The number of letters in the Press-Citizen leaves no doubt that there are many people in Iowa City (and it's fair to say beyond its borders) who have little regard for Bloom's editorial.

What I think is missing so far in this discussion is a thorough examination of what Bloom wrote. Are his accusations valid? If someone has seen this kind of article, please send me the link. Such a story will allow us to better determine if Bloom engaged in an unfair attack on Iowa and its people.

1st UPDATE: 8:18 a.m. EST, Dec. 22: I think the "lesson" about this story might turn out to be something that is evident in the various letters to the editor but perhaps not being considered elsewhere. I'll call it "Don't you dare criticize my home."

People who are proud of where they live might not often speak about their city or state in glowing terms. However, when that place is unfairly or wrongly criticized, they are going to quickly come to its aid. Iowans are doing just that. And to them, Bloom -- not a native Iowan -- is therefore the ungrateful and unhappy outsider who has called Iowa home for two decades and appears to detest what it has become. 

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