Edward Said’s interesting 2001 Alfred Deakin Lecture on the role of intellectuals and writers. Can we consider these as questions for journalists and the task of journalism as well?
Central to the changes has been the deepening of an unresolved tension as to whether writers and intellectuals can ever be what is called non-political or not, and if so, obviously, how and in what measure. The difficulty of the tension for the individual writer and intellectual has been paradoxically that the realm of the political and public has expanded so much as to be virtually without borders. We might well ask whether a non-political intellectual or writer is a notion that has much content to it.
The intellectual’s role is first to present alternative narratives and other perspectives on history than those provided by combatants on behalf of official memory and national identity, who tend to work in terms of falsified unities, the manipulation of demonized or distorted representations of undesirable and/or excluded populations, and the propagation of heroic anthems sung in order to sweep all before them.
Said discusses the rather sudden reconfiguration of the “imagined community” aided by virtual space and the consequent changes in imagining an audience.
For whom then does one write, if it is difficult to specify the audience with any sort of precision? Most people, I think, focus on the actual outlet that has commissioned the piece, or for the putative readers we would like to address. The idea of an imagined community has suddenly acquired a very literal, if virtual, dimension.
Who do we write for as journalists? And, if the role of the field is intricately tied to the functioning of a democratic-state, how does the fact that our interlocutors may be outside those boundaries reshape our role?