Friday, September 10, 2010

The Media and the Minister: Ode to 9/11

I lived in New York City nine years ago and saw for myself the smoke and ash of two burning buildings known as the Twin Towers. It was an awful day, one I still get shaky remembering. I even wrote about it because, well, I had to. It was my way of making sense of the tragedy, if there was such a thing as making sense. And as the story became a bigger story and then an historic one, it traveled throughout the world through a still young Internet news cycle, affecting everyone, it seemed, on the planet.

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

New Stories with Old Foundations: A Tribute to Professionals

At the start of a new academic year, journalism students across campuses—my own included—begin the hunt for stories. They dig into their communities and jump across ideas, hungry to report the latest trend or discovery or event. It's good work and good preparation for their lives, and careers, ahead.

But the new stories need old foundations. Truth as the primary pursuit for reporters has grounded the profession (for the most part) for nearly three centuries in this country. And such truth-finding and truth-telling is for one purpose only: citizens. Informing families and neighbors, business owners and teachers of the truths they need to know to govern their lives. The words, the stories, the sources, matter. The job itself is crucial.

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.