Showing posts with label journalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label journalism. Show all posts

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Peace must be built on truth nurtured by reality

Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial
Boston Marathon Bombing Memorial (Photo credit: AnubisAbyss)
Once again, life in our seemingly peaceful nation has been shattered. This has to stop. Perhaps it would if we could just start being honest with ourselves. Perhaps we aren't living in a peaceful nation after all. Perhaps life in 2013 America simply isn't what we perceive it to be. Just like the alcoholic, we must first recognize that we have a problem before we can ever begin to solve it.

One thing is for sure--our problems will not be solved by censorship--not by the media and certainly not by our elected officials. The notion that a few have the authority to 'protect' the rest of us is just, plain wrong. We are all in this together. Give us the information and we will make our own sense of things. 

People should have choices. If some want to live in a bubble where life is beautiful all the time, so be it. They have that option to simply turn off their television sets, not read newspapers, and not contribute anything to the life we all share on this planet. Personally, I think that is irresponsible, but that's just me.

It has been nearly two full weeks since the Boston Marathon bombing and I am still trying to sort out how I feel about it. I know I want my psyche to forget the images I've seen. I don't want to revisit them  uninvited in my sleep or during quiet moments. I don't want to close my eyes and see a person grimacing in pain, dazed by the horror of seeing his own legs ripped apart from a bomb blast. I don't want to see a bloody sidewalk where lives were lost on what began as a pleasant spring day. I don't want to witness the face of an attractive young man only to learn that his is the face of a terrorist bent on killing innocent people. I don't want to hear the deafening explosion that changed lives forever or the cries of the wounded. I don't want to hear the hail of gunfire on a suburban street in a seemingly civilized country. But that was the reality of April 15, 2013 in Boston. 

What I want is for these kinds of things to never happen again; I want no one to ever have to suffer. Reality has been much too ugly of late, but it doesn't have to stay that way if we all work together to change it.

As much as I deplore the raw scenes I hate seeing, I know they were necessary to convey the story--a story that must be told. If we are ever going to change today's reality, we have to be inspired to change. There is no denying that we were inspired to catch and punish the perpetrators. Like darkness brings light; our pain must bring about our peace. 

News isn't always pretty, but it is reflective of life, which isn't always pretty either. So just what kind of responsibility does the news media have to present information to the public? That question has been made much more difficult with the advent of cell phone cameras and social media where everyone thinks they are a journalist. The phenomenon has even been given a name--citizen journalism. I'm here to tell you that everybody isn't a journalist. Everybody isn't a photographer. Most of the people driven to play Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are more akin to the National Inquirer than the New York Times. Don't quit your day job folks--even good journalists are out of work these days.

How to handle graphic images are just one more topic for the staff in newsrooms across the media spectrum. Their decisions are compounded by knowing the images will be caught on somebody's cell phone and posted on Facebook, Twitter, and elsewhere. Raw footage is hard to compete with, so some professionals don't bother trying. 

Some get around it by completely doctoring images to make them appear less violent. Isn't that dishonest? In my view, that is a cowardly and untrustworthy manipulation. It shows a complete lack responsibility and shows no respect for its audience.   

Other more professional journalists might consider cropping such images, artfully, while not taking away from the story that needs to be told. I believe that is honest. Even knowing that images are available, if I ran a newsroom, I would never try to compete with on-the-scene photographs. If professional journalism is ever going to stand above the online picture-takers, there is going to have to be an adherence to trust, accuracy, and all the other tenets of journalism that have earned credibility. 

I think we need to have it both ways. I believe the truth can be conveyed without quite so much shock value, yet this incident took place in full view of thousands of people who were horrified by them. Telling a news story is to convey that horror to viewers and readers. Often times the words can be just as telling as the pictures, as was evident during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012 when 20 first graders and six adults who worked at the school were assassinated by a crazed gunman. Pictures of the tiny bodies were not seen, but the horror was just as palpable. 

For me, the bottom line is that news must never be censored, even if photographs depicting the reality of a scene are considered offensive by some. 

The same is true for suggestive images or specific words. Network television is the worst. I am here to tell you there is no need to protect us from the things that we see and hear everyday. 

One thing that comes to my mind about censorship and the lengths the media will go, is the time delay on live television ever since Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' during the half-time show at the Super Bowl a few years ago. The network went half crazy because Janet Jackson's boob was seen on television. Everybody has boobs. We've all seen them. What is the big deal? 

Then there are those seven dirty words the late, great George Carlin talked about. Have you heard what kids say on the playground lately? We now use the term 'f-bomb.' Oh please, can we grow up now? 

I'm not sure just what it says about a society that will accept seeing a man's extremities blown to bits, but Janet Jackson's boob better not be out there for public consumption. Except that it is! Just google it. We cannot say 'fuck' on television, but we can sing it in songs? 

Our society needs to grow up. If we cannot solve these little things, how are we supposed to be able to keep ourselves safe from people who want to do us harm? 

I think our first task is to recognize there is indeed a problem. Before we start worrying about other people, we need to look to ourselves. The very least we can do is attempt to be honest with ourselves. And by all means, let's keep it real.
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Friday, September 7, 2012

Newspapers need to step up

MSNBC's Chris Hayes, "Getting Past the Fa...
MSNBC's Chris Hayes
 (Photo credit: thecommongoodusa)
One of the best show on television, for anyone who cares about current issues and events, is Up with Chris Hayes, on weekend mornings

I find this young man to be energetic, optimistic, enlightening, and highly intelligent. I've seen more of him lately, what with all the political goings on as we move closer to the November 6 election, which to me translates into hope for the future of journalism. I had feared that our best days were behind us. I find Chris Hayes' the MSNBC contributor whose off-the-cuff analysis in many cases, is downright genius.
I tuned in to UP recently where the discussion, while centering on fact checking spurred by the Paul Ryan speech at the Republican National Convention, morphed into a talk about news media, journalism, one-newspaper markets, and how it all relates to politics. It was a fascinating program. With a guest panel that included various journalists, like Bob Herbert from and who also writes a column in the New York Times, the discussion made me feel like I was at home. I wanted to jump into the television to join in; I would have loved to relate my experience, working at a local newspaper that cornered the market in the small town where I lived. With no competition, I wanted to explain how often times I had to fight for a story that didn't follow the deeply-engrained thinking. I usually won, except for twice when the owner pulled a story that he thought to be politically damaging even though it was true. He was a Republican; I was a Democrat. Another one told the truth about a school election. He couldn't afford to harm those people. They were all friends and advertisers.

Small local newspapers with no competition worked when a town was small enough that everybody knew one another. It worked when the local gossip mill was as informed as the morning headline. But when the town started to grow it became a different story. About the time when the townsfolk realized they really should start locking their doors at night, it was also time to bring competition to the news market. But that didn't happen.

"WATCH YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER^^" - NARA - 535653 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Objectivity, which was never the priority anyway, ceased to have a chance. What happens is people are so concerned with the obvious changes in their town that they never even considered the below-the-surface needs that they have come to take for granted--like the lack of objectivity in their newspaper. When they finally did notice, the local newspaper was among so many other pressing problems that it became relegated to bottom rung of the priority ladder. As the town grew, more and more people became subscribers, it certainly not for the news value. Folks kept up with shopping ads, little league scores, and the latest obituaries. They were unaware of how things had always been and they didn't care. Often times, they continued subscribing to the newspapers from where they came from, recognizing that the local newspaper was nothing more than an extension of the good ole boy network that ran the town. The news was completely skewed and self-serving to its owners. As long as the small paper's owners didn't lose business, they didn't feel a need to change policies. The status-quo worked for them.

It never worked for me. I have long said that a lack of objectivity in the local newspaper contributes to the decline of understanding, information, and ultimately the politics of a region. This allows the local leaders to completely take advantage of the public for its own gain. News is force-fed in the form of one-sided opinion and commentary through what was once a valuable resource that exposed such behaviors. Today, they are contributors. The political leanings of the owner of a newspaper has become evident in all his editorial decisions. He has the ability to sway the better part of an entire populace, if they aren't paying attention. 

The problem has only been exacerbated by the economic downturn of the newspaper industry, which further denigrates what newspapers used to be--a trusted source of fact. With the focus shifting from the readership to merely selling advertising, newspapers as we have known them have ceased to exist.

I always believed that the local newspaper, an information and education resource, is the basic form of communication in a community. It must be balanced to cover the community it serves, but with a much broader perspective. If the perspective of editorial content remains too narrow, readers are left uninformed or worst, misinformed.

In the town where I worked, most of the people have a narrow focus, believe and rarely question what their parents and grandparents believed. They go about their daily lives unaware of what they are missing. They are confidant that all is well as they live in a bubble away from all outside influence. That is until something happens to burst that bubble. Where I lived, it was a state-sponsored proposal to build a huge airport, displacing some of the region's best farm fields with concrete and asphalt.

That bubble and its naive sense of well-being makes whole populations completely vulnerable to outside forces that recognize their innocence and take full advantage of it.

It is my hope that newspapers can retain their profitability if they recognize their value is less profit-oriented, and more of a social and education necessity.
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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chicago Sun Times shows how bad news travels fast; wrong news travels faster!

Chicago Sun Times              Chicago Sun Times 
Two of the many things that are wrong with journalism today is a total disregard for correctness and a new ambivalence toward an informed public!

Both examples were evident when the Chicago Sun Times attempted to report on the Peotone Airport.

Steve Metsch, a Sun-Times Media reporter, who writes for the Southtown/Star, which is owned by the Chicago Sun Times, covered a meeting Friday, July 27, of at the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp. The resulting story was entitled, "Top IDOT official says third airport will be built."

He quoted Susan Shea, IDOT Director, Division of Aeronautics when she said, "To the naysayers, this is it. The FAA would not tell us this is the preferred place. This is where it's going to be," Shea said. "...I's going to be such an economic engine for the community out there, for the state. It is going to happen. It's just a matter of when. It's not a matter anymore of if."

The proposed airport being decidedly imminent would be pretty big news since it is a project that has been languishing on the IDOT radar screen for more than 27 years, if it were true.

Trouble is, it isn't true, as evidenced by Monday's story in the Chicago Sun Times refuting it entitled, "Despite report, Peotone Airport isn't a done deal yet."

Because the Peotone Airport has long been a hot topic, any news about it is often picked up by other media outlets across the country. The Peotone Airport is a national story, mostly because with a negative spin, such as its receiving the Golden Fleece Award, one which highlights government's wasteful spending. The Peotone Airport has been compared with IDOT's other failed accomplishments, the downstate Mid-America Airport, which has sat virtually empty for years.

If the story Shea tried to tell was true, it isn't hard to imagine that the initial story would have news value. That explains why it was picked up by Chicago TV news, and in local papers across the state. I saw it online at Yahoo News!

Trouble is, the initial story was picked up. The retraction was not.

This situation isn't new. IDOT has been counting on the media to do their public relations work for their pet project since a new airport was envisioned in 1985.

That is why opponents have had an uphill battle trying to fight the project. Despite having truth on their side and the project having a lack of merit, it is difficult to compete with a well-oiled public relations machine. The government uses the media every chance it gets.
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