Eli Ridder | Analysis

Seth Abramson, a journalism professor at the University of New Hampshire, posted a thread framing the investigation into alleged Russian meddling and potential collusion between United States President Donald Trump and Moscow as an overarching historical occurrence over a news story. 

Mr. Abramson works to show the reader that metajournalism has a place in the Trump-Russia story, and could be critical to connecting the dots conventional journalists have missed.

While readers can themselves access the Twitter thread via Abramson’s Twitter account, The Avro Post has also pasted the text in an easier-to-read format.

Abramson: Metajournalism

As the Trump-Russia investigation moves into its next stage, America must change the way we think about and talk about the investigation. This isn’t just a news story anymore, and that means media and non-media alike need a paradigm shift.

I teach journalism at University of New Hampshire, and one of the things we discuss is how—while many newsworthy stories are bounded in time, audience, relevance, and the expertise needed to cover them—others are far more expansive and require a different kind of journalism.

Earlier this week, I gave a lecture at The Pratt Institute titled “The Trump-Russia Affair As Generational Event.”

It framed the Affair as a historical episode rather than a bounded news story—more [analogous] to the Great Depression than a single federal criminal investigation.

A story whose scope, duration, and influence is bounded can be covered conventionally: it often requires no expert analysis, and even when it does require such analysis, it requires it only within a single discipline.

Media outlets locate their experts and they’re good to go.

The Trump-Russia Affair is different—it’d take 50+ scholars with 50+ doctorates in 50+ disciplines to become expert in each of its 50+ facets. Anyone claiming to be a “Trump-Russia expert”—and despite all the grousing, I don’t know anyone who does—is kidding themselves or you.

That’s one reason calling someone a “self-proclaimed Trump-Russia expert” is so damning—and why media uses phrases like that to discredit anyone it wants discredited. It signals that such a person is claiming a subject-area expertise that no one person—or 50 people—could have.

There’s a whole sector of the Trump-Russia Affair that demands cybersecurity expertise to expertly analyze. Another sector requires expertise in international finance. Another counter-intelligence. Federal criminal procedure. Government ethics. Russian politics. And on and on.

After you get through listing all the disciplines in which expertise is needed—those I’ve said, plus constitutional law, law enforcement tactics, organized crime, tax law, international banking, and much more—there’s another type of expertise that’s near-impossible to get.

I call this last sort of expertise—which can’t be learned in any school or academy—”timeline mastery.” The Trump-Russia Affair is so expansive that not just being a subject-area expert but a *subject-area expert with mastery of the Trump-Russia timeline* is almost impossible.

There are at least 400 individuals involved in some way in the Trump-Russia Affair. It extends across 5 continents and more than 20 years. It not only touches 50+ disciplines but will have profound effects on other nations, America’s future and things we can’t contemplate yet.

The problem we’re having in discussing Trump-Russia is that we haven’t figured any of this out yet. So media outlets are bringing in, say, a Trump biographer or presidential historian or white-collar prosecutor to discuss the “Trump-Russia case” writ large. That’s nonsense.

I don’t care if you’re a Watergate prosecutor, the world’s greatest authority on international banking loopholes or an election security expert—if you don’t know the Trump-Russia timeline backwards and forwards you’re going to be of gravely limited use on television or radio.

There’s only one thing—besides knowledge of the Trump-Russia timeline—that provides a sort of “foundation” for discussion of the Trump-Russia Affair: the fact that it’s the subject of a single (legitimate) investigation—that being the Special Counsel’s federal criminal probe.

But even though Mueller has 40+ of the nation’s top lawyers and investigators, and the full resources of the FBI and DOJ, and 2 years of work already done—if you count Comey’s work—he still couldn’t speak to the long-term domestic and international implications of all this.

It’s become the habit of not just media but freelancers to try to “police” or “gatekeep” the Trump-Russia conversation, when—as everything I’ve said so far substantiates—what we need now is exactly the opposite approach to discourse on this internationally critical topic.

Not only can we not, but we must not treat the Trump-Russia Affair as a topic a cadre of experts in one discipline or—if some had their way—experts on subtopics in one discipline can speak to.

Unfortunately, people want to fight turf wars and make their careers off this.

Some of you may know there’s a small gang of Russian Studies doctorate-holders on Twitter who are doing their best to discredit anyone who wants to speak on this subject who isn’t a Russian Studies doctorate-holder.

I know that sounds like a joke—unfortunately, I’m serious.

The sad truth is whole disciplines seek to bolster themselves through this international tragedy.

If you’re a Russian Studies doctorate-holder in a post-Cold War environment, you might feel pretty devalued. But wait! This new thing happened that’ll make you feel important.

Needless to say, Russian Studies experts are absolutely essential to discussion of the Trump-Russia Affair—but the claim I hear from some of them that no one else is is the sort of claim many disciplines are making and it’s killing our ability to discuss all of this wisely.

As I put it at Pratt, some topics are one-speaker/one-discipline topics. Others, multiple-speaker/one-discipline. Some require a one-day, single-discipline academic conference to discuss thoroughly.

And some require the development of entire new interdisciplinary disciplines.

The Trump-Russia Affair requires an international network of scholars, theorists, industry experts, law enforcement officials, political analysts (and on and on and on) to process—and those experts must, while speaking in their disciplines, speak to one another and often.

When and as those experts can’t dialogue with one another in the public view, they should engage in a form of meta-discourse—sharing with those in earshot of their voice the best possible wisdom they can find from people in other disciplines. Twitter is a great tool for this.

One of the reasons I developed “metajournalism” as a persistent journalistic practice, and give interviews and lectures on the subject whenever I can, is that it’s a complex way of covering “generational events” that can’t be matched by single acts of conventional journalism.

My goal, when I began to focus this feed on Trump-Russia in January 2017, was to gain as much timeline mastery as I possibly could; bring my several areas of expertise to bear as best I could; and to use metajournalism to give the fullest picture to readers I possibly could.

I sometimes hear cranks say I do no original research. That’s partly true, partly misguided. The tweets on this feed that are metajournalistic require some timeline mastery, significant awareness of what those in various disciplines are saying, and much open-records research.

Suffice to say that doing metajournalism well requires a structured view of the whole “field” (in this case, timeline mastery); an awareness of which disciplines, authors, and outlets are critical to the research; and an ability to do one’s own complex, open-records research.

I tend to be a small-d “democrat” as well as a big-d “Democrat,” so another thing I like about metajournalism is that almost anyone with time, energy, passion, commitment, focus, and a reasonably sharp intellect can do it. We’re seeing metajournalists pop up all over Twitter.

Trump-Russia metajournalism searches the Trump-Russia archive—two years of articles in major media on three continents, plus any open-records research the metajournalist can do themselves—to see if there are connections and metanarratives conventional journalists are missing.

A new angle

Eli Ridder | Analysis

The metajournalism described and presented by Seth Abramson is of the type taht I think could be critical in analytical coverage of the U.S. president but also in other stories, whether it be international, national or locally.

More details to follow. Image of Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump from NBC News. 

Written by Eli Ridder

Eli Ridder is a freelance journalist. He founded The Avro Post in October 2017. He writes for Breaking911 and Guelph Politico, among others. Feel free to connect at ELIRIDDER@ICLOUD.COM or at ELIRIDDER.CA

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