Rob Schoon was born in Indiana, interned for On the Media, and is now a freelance writer on media and culture living in Brooklyn. His twitter is @rkschoon.
Profile of Anonymous Wins at Magazine Awards
Tuesday, May 08, 2012 - 01:18 PM
The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) held their annual awards ceremony last Thursday in New York City, and among the usual winners – Time, The New Yorker, etc. – was Tim Rogers, writer for D Magazine, a small monthly magazine in Dallas. Rogers won “best profile writing” for his piece about one of the public faces of the famous internet hacker group, Barrett Brown. Rogers's profile is called “Barrett Brown is Anonymous.”
In his acceptance speech at the ritzy gala, Rogers declared that the only reason magazine writers work so hard is to get laid, and that, after winning the award, he was looking forward to getting lucky with his wife.
Rogers, in method and matter, reflects the Anonymous style.
For example, Rogers’s profile begins with Rogers and Brown conspiring to essentially “hack” a mainstream journalist’s interview.
Brown was being interviewed by Michael Isikoff for NBC News. During the interview, Rogers hangs around at Brown’s apartment. He sits in Brown’s kitchen with his iPad, chatting with Brown (anonymously, online) in an IRC chat room – the kind used by members of Anonymous. Isikoff, trying to conduct the interview, watches the chat take place on Brown’s computer screen. So Rogers anonymously makes jokes about Isikoff right in front of him. Just for the fun of it, or as Anonymous might say, just for Lulz. All while Isikoff tries, on camera, to tease out the idiosyncrasies of Brown and the hacker group he tenuously represents.
Brown is an inscrutable subject – an ex-heroin junky prone to telling wild stories which are probably true – and Rogers is often unable or unwilling to pin down the seriousness (or lack thereof) of his statements: “Until you’ve spent some time with him, it’s hard to know what to believe. When you’ve gotten to know him better, it’s even harder.” And, “Here he is entirely kidding. I think.” And, “He’s mostly joking. Maybe” The loose handling of the sincerity, the unprofessional trolling of other journalists, the snarkiness, the hacker lingo…
Cue the familiar sighs of journalism’s old-school about the blog-ization of the written word.
Rogers’s profile won an award, but that doesn’t mean everyone is on board with this kind of journalism. Last year, for example, Maud Newton attacked the style of this new class of writers: the “stylized mess that is Gen-X-and-Y internet syntax” and the creeping “blogger lexicon.” Newton’s particular bugbear concerned the use of qualifiers – “sort of,” “pretty much” – to soften commitment to any particular argument. “It begins to seem not just sloppy and imprecise but argumentatively, even aggressively, disingenuous,” Newton writes.
She would hate Rogers’s piece. Probably.
I don’t know if you’d call it a trend, but Rogers isn’t alone in his unprofessional behavior (by some standards, anyway) and unorthodox writing. In fact, he’s in good company – there’s even a journalist who trolled the New Yorker with an unauthorized profile and started a flame war with them (please excuse the hacker slang). And Rogers does do some conventional journalism in the piece. For example, when Brown claims to have gone to school with George W. Bush’s daughters, Rogers, the reporter, fact-checks the assertion. It’s ironic that to verify the claim, Rogers only needed to ask his mom, who taught the Bush twins in elementary school. But still, due diligence.
Roger’s style – the ironic, nebulous attitude towards sincerity in his writing and fluency with hacker-speak – has its advantages: It introduces the uninitiated to the world of Anonymous. For example, I learned what “dropping dox” means. I also got a snapshot of what it is to be a spokesperson for a group with no hierarchy – a group which will relentlessly prank a teen for creating the “No Cussing Club”, a website against profanity, while also aiding the Arab Spring by disrupting the internet activities of the Tunisian and Egyptian governments.
“Barrett Brown is Anonymous” has something else going for it. It’s timely and important. Hacking was a huge story this year – bigger than the subjects of the other nominated profiles. Like it or not, the chaotic, disingenuous, unprofessional, and intelligent manner of Anonymous is seeping into the rest of the world – now including profile writing. But, actually, it’s nothing particularly new that conventional editors and writers need to worry about.
That journalist who trolled the New Yorker? Tom Wolfe, in 1965.