Saturday, December 8, 2007

New UNEF Leader


The student union UNEF has a new leader. Bruno Julliard, who earned his stripes in the anti-CPE demonstration but has been a moderating influence in the student movement since Sarkozy's election, has quit to run for municipal office in the 13th Arrondissement of Paris. His replacement, the only candidate for the post, is Jean-Baptiste Prévost, 23, a history student at the master's level at Paris I and in his 5th year at Sciences Po.

"Influential Blog"

You are reading what The New York Times calls "the influential blog French Politics." The ways of influence are curious to observe. An intelligent, alert reporter gets wind of the fact that Alain Finkielkraut has said that Sarkozy's jogging poses a threat to western civilization. He decides to make this a story for his magazine's annual "Ideas" issue. He begins investigating further, to flesh out the piece. He stumbles on this blog and tracks down its originator. Flattered to have the attention of the nation's newspaper of record, the blogger chats amiably with the reporter for half an hour about this and that. Some time later, a fact-checker calls to ascertain in a general way whether what the reporter has taken from this conversation is accurate. In a general way, yes--but no actual quotes are read back. The story is written and published, and the blogger discovers, not for the first time, that the quotation mark has a different value in journalism than in scholarship. In journalism, the quotation mark indicates that the story has some basis in a dialogue with a person other than the journalist who wrote it. This other person may not have uttered the words attributed to him. He may not even agree with what he is supposed to have said. For instance: "Running is seen as a symbol of non-Frenchness." This was actually a statement made by the reporter and contradicted by the interviewee. "Thousands of Frenchmen run every day," would have been a more accurate quote. With l'esprit de l'escalier, I wish I had said something about Adidas sneakers and Bernard Tapie. But the conversation had already covered quite a bit of ground. The details in the lead about the confrontations with the Breton fisherman and the shop steward came from the interviewee, who even provided URLs, gleaned from his blog. But no quotation marks distinguish this part of the piece, which exemplifies leg work, not mere opinionating.

As always, it is interesting to see how sausage is made. And remember, most of what we know about the quotidian comes from eating this sort of sausage.