Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Just weeks before, I'd felt again the virtual power of high tech journalism as word jumped across the Internet of the publisher's page-one editorial confronting the drug cartel in Juarez, Mexico. He had good reason to run the piece on the front page of his newspaper: he'd seen two of his own—a reporter and a photographer—killed trying to cover the thugs. The international press from his column brought much needed attention to the issue and place that has become one of today's most dangerous places for journalists.
Sometimes I loathe the immediacy and glut of news these days. But when I see these stories, I'm taken out of the smallness of my own scenario and reminded of a bigger story. I'm richer for it. That's the impact today's journalism can have. It can bring inspiration, attention, and hopefully, change.
Such images, such stories, confirm for me that honest reporting is still the stuff of freedom.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Since then, the news cycle has morphed into a monster, crushing us with more news than we know what to do with. And this past week, its influence on a once obscure Florida minister seems almost greater than the book on which he says his faith is based. From the media monster, he somehow came to believe that all Muslims were related to those who flew into the Towers, and that they needed a warning in the form of a torch to their holy book. As if burning sacred paper would fight terrorists.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Unfortunately, in our viral world, news organizations can have short memories when it comes to the industry's foundations. That's why we need professionals who will remind the next generation how the cornerstone of truth builds both a story and a culture. Like Salem News reporter Steve Landwehr did a year ago in my class. He looked right at those young reporters and said, "Journalism is the best job in the world. You get to make a difference every day. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!"
How'd he know that? Because he made a difference each day: with stories that uncovered government corruption or inspiring local heroes. We've lost Steve's byline; he died unexpectedly last month. But his commitment, like the foundations for journalism, never will. They ensure our truth telling for the future.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
But we need to know, don't we? If a ban on handguns is lifted, it'd be a good idea to know that, especially during the next road trip we take through the wild west. Or if sedentary lifestyles are fattening the culture and ruining our kid's health—in the summer no less—that information could shorten our grocery lists. Which might be a good thing in this economy anyway.
In other words, the news might be dark, and lightning sure enough will strike, igniting all sorts of information fires. But I reckon it's better to be armed with some sense of life beyond our own doorsteps than to, well, miss the glory and horror of a stormy sky. Reading the clouds—like reading the news—helps us know a little better how to navigate the day, how to care about the next step we take.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
2. For an engaging reminder of the thrill of discovery, and of bearing witness to a story: “Whale Song: elegy for a leviathan,” Christian Science Monitor, May 12.
3. For finding news in nature and reporting it for urban dwellers as compelling and relevant: “Take a walk with a warbler,” Providence Journal, May 13.
4. For “exploring the connection of people of faith to the natural elements” in an engaging multi-media special report: “Elements of Ritual and Renewal: Air, Earth, Fire, Water,” Medill News Service and Religions News Service, May 12.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
These four aspiring writers have chutzpah, vision, integrity. I'm not sure who gained more from the other these past three months as we worked together on stories—them or me. And I'm all the more delighted that others felt the same—our media partners (The Salem News, The Boston Globe, etc.) have published their stories, and in so doing have validated their efforts as young professionals who are making important contributions to the community.
In fact, their work and voices are worth introducing to you, so meet Alysa Obert as she reflects on being a journalist, and Amanda C. Thompson as she ponders things we have lost. Both college juniors (our other two reporters are graduating on Saturday) care deeply about language and good stories. Kudos to the next generation!
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
1. For a fascinating look behind the scenes of prize winning (literally) investigative reporting, "Covering 'Tainted Justice' and Winning a Pulitzer," NPR—Fresh Air, May 3
2. For reporting a different voice in a red hot debate, "Residents defend Arizona after immigration law," the L.A. Times, May 5
3. For surprisingly charming and dogged reporting/writing of the story behind one of my favorite New York emblems, the blue coffee cup: "Leslie Buck, Designer of Iconic Coffee Cup, Dies at 87", New York Times, April 29
4. For hard hitting research, perspective, and context on a growing—pun intended—concern: "Beating Obesity" The Atlantic, May 2010
Thursday, April 29, 2010
As promised, here are my top four Good Stories celebrating the Fourth Estate for this week. Good journalism IS happening and we are all the better for it. History's first draft . . .
1. For a near perfect example of giving voice to the voiceless, and for sheer staying power (I woke up thinking about this story): "Here to Aid His Family, Left to Die on the Street" New York Times, Tuesday, April 27.
2. For shedding new light on a hot topic (but stretching my old-school brain): "Social media reshapes journalism" the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, Saturday, April 24.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Maybe we should.
Maybe we should teach listening instead of speaking skills. Reflection instead of strategic thinking. And for that matter, principles of following instead of leading. I'm not talking about doormat stuff here, or the mindless hoopla of mob scenes. No, I'm talking about thoughtful followers with character, integrity, patience. Those who don't feel compelled to lead a company or star in a movie, but who know—really know—their contributions are just as insignificant.
The thousands of graduates this spring entering the workplace might feel equipped to climb the ladder of success but I'm not sure they know how to hold it steadily in place so others can climb. Or want to. But we need good followers—smart, insightful and self aware citizens as much as we do leaders of the same ilk. We need those un-ambitious types who can watch the crowd swept up in the latest political movement and question its goals and language. Not because they want to take over or even join, but because questioning is the right thing to do.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
1. For old fashioned (local) inspiration:"City leaders thank 94-year-old Charlotte Blood" The Eagle Tribune, April 20, 2010
2. For solid reporting as a 'voice for the voiceless' on an underreported story: "Fighting in Congo Displaces 100,000 Civilians" Voice of America, April 20, 2010
3. For making potentially complicated (but certainly relevant) information accessible and interesting: "Scrapes on a Plane: A veteran pilot talks about what it's like to fly through volcanic ash" Newsweek, April 16, 2010
4. For using fun language to help shed light on an important topic: "Joe Biden, No. 1 Fan of Women's Sports" The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
Last week, I also attended a gathering of writers, not in NYC but in the mid-west. There, I heard from a few too many folks (more on that later) who seemed convinced that all mainstream journalists are biased liberals (whatever that means), out to get the rest of us. They think the media are the enemy and have deteriorated to one giant spitting machine. And admittedly, there probably are too many sensational stories in today's news for my liking. But boy, oh boy, that sure ain't the whole story. At least from where I've been sitting.
So this week, I've decided to begin my own prize. I'll call it, well, just what it is: the "Good Story" prize. Each fourth day of the week (that'd be Thursday) for the next four weeks, I'll give my Top Four Good Story Prizes, links and all, just to prove to the cranky "non-liberals" (whatever that means) that there still is some hope in what we're seeing in today's coverage. What qualifies? Good writing. Important coverage. Credible sources. You get the idea. Maybe my little experiment in four weekly prizes will help start a movement that reminds folks of this one simple truth: that we'd all be sunk without this great gift called the Fourth Estate. See you Thursday!
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Or the other horrendous earthquake in Chile which happened only a month after Haiti's. Or the more recent news of the first woman in Academy history to win an Oscar for best director—of a war movie, no less. Or the unthinkable massacres between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, a story largely off the radar of most news outlets, its details so grim that they seem to get bumped instead for coverage of, say, a Utah senator's resignation over a sex 'scandal' that happened 25 years ago. Not to mention the story of another actor overdosing on prescription drugs, or that of a California straight-A high school senior murdered, the ubiqutious health care debate, or the cooking classes that have seen an increase in enrollment because of the recession. The landscape of news this past month has been strange indeed.
But one recent story (I came across in the print version of my local paper) is finally worth noting, a model piece of reporting that simply and patiently told a story I needed to hear. It lifted me out of the paralyzing blur of the media to remind me of one simple truth: families still make room for their elderly members, quite literally by building new rooms on their houses. It had dignity, compelling writing, and mostly, staying power, the kind of story that makes you stop and actually reflect, the kind I think we all could use more of. It's worth a read for that reason alone—to stop and reflect—and I hope you will: In Peabody, In-Law Aparments Popular.
Saturday, February 6, 2010
The same can be true of journalism, for both those who report the stories and those who read them. Just as there are many parts of a house, so are there multiple sides of a story. To write one with only a few sources is the equivilant of signing a mortgage from the sidewalk without ever stepping foot in the place. And to read a story and believe it simply because it's in print (or online), well, is like buying a house from a photo simply because it looked nice.
Here's what I mean: A young journalist recently showed me an article in a local paper that troubled her. She was bothered initially not by the reporting but by the subject: a man she'd interviewed and respected had been arrested on charges of stealing. She couldn't believe he'd do such a thing but there it was in print. The details in the story, though, didn't add up; only one disgruntled source was quoted and information about his employment and character—which she knew first hand—wasn't mentioned. It was a sloppy piece of reporting, we decided, and a good opportunity to remember that every story has many 'rooms.'
In a culture crushed by instant news, and reporters competing for more breaks with less support, I worry that we're getting a lot more sidewalk glances, if you will, than we are wise investments. What we need—from both editors and readers—is patience. Patience to look. To ask. To dig. And then to look again, so we get as much of the information about each side of the place as possible. Because hurrying through a story will surely mean we've missed the details that matter. And that could lead to a crisis just as serious as the housing mess we're in now.
Saturday, January 23, 2010
In his 90-page opinion, dissenting Justice John Paul Stevens, an 89-year old soft-spoken Republican and former antitrust lawyer from Chicago, wrote that, "The court's blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression." His 5 colleagues, in other words, were wrong to treat corporate speech the same as that of human beings.
Which worries me. Considering the economic disarray of journalism today, how will we afford to pay reporters to do the one thing most necessary for a democracy: report? But with this new ruling, maybe the better question is, how can we afford not to? Because ultimately it will be the majority of citizens across the country—the 'human beings'—who will be the losers here.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
This is not news. The news is the earthquake, the grieving families, the leveled homes, the enormous loss of lives and gifts and assets to an already impoverished people. Maybe editors or reporters themselves did not know how to process the sheer horror of the story so they looked instead to an off-the-cuff comment from a man with a lifetime of personal convictions and public expressions of them. Maybe he'd sell papers, they thought. So their coverage of Robertson spiraled to an absurdity as senseless as the one they claimed of him; in short, it was a whole lot of thoughtless reporting, more tired attempts to paint evangelicals as insensitive morons.
Really, who cares what a television host believes about such a tragedy? We need updates on the rescue efforts, not distractions. We need information about relief and families—much of which will be coming from workers in Christian agencies—not stereotypes. We need stories of what's happened and how we can help. Not little comments of why it happened at all.
SO at the risk of sounding, well, preachy, the media is in need of a renewed sense of purpose. Lately, many of its representatives seemed to have suffered from a memory lapse of their primary role in reporting the real news. For journalism's success will never be found in economic terms, but only in useful service to its readers. God help us. God help Haiti.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
It's an odd but interesting tradition in journalism to pause (for a nano-second) at the year's major stories, in hopes, I guess, of gaining some fresh perspective we might have missed the first time around. Sort of like glancing at an abstract painting in a gallery where we notice the lines and colors, shapes and patterns, but we don't necessarily 'get' it. So we go back to it, lean in close to the canvas, put our hands on our hips and say, "Hmm, that's interesting."
hate crimes and racial threats escalated across the country. A moonwalking singing icon died but few concerns about prescription-drug addiction seemed to emerge. Town Hall shouting matches over how to care for sick people drowned out the treatable but still-killer illnesses of millions of families in developing countries, not to mention the children in this country who've never seen a doctor, all while celebrity affairs, political sex scandals and desperate grasps at fame distracted us from the bullets and famines, poverty and machetes of communities beyond our borders.
Of course, there were a few noble reporters who narrowed in on these otherwise absent stories. But maybe the better year-end list by the mainstream media should not be what stories were reported in 2009 but which weren't. And maybe the resolution for 2010 could be to pay more attention—all of us, reporter and reader alike—to those that really need to be told. That would be a resolution worth holding to.