Saturday, December 31, 2011

'War Horse': Stories Beyond the First Draft

There are some stories journalism just can't tell with the same impact. At least, after that first draft of history. World War I, of course, is one. Chronicled well by numerous 'embedded' reporters, the war led humanity into new directions of horror: horses suddenly were no match for early versions of tanks and machine guns. New industry meant new military advantages, and greater heartbreaks. Still, the animal's loyalty—as well as the humans who cared for him—somehow occasionally surpassed that of the atrocities.

And modern audiences are the better for one such story. Though first a novel, one specific tale of a boy and his horse during the war was best told not through newspapers. Or even films. But on the stage. Theatre at its finest takes those same truths that journalism holds so dear and invites—as does the fourth estate—the people to engage in it. It reveals each side of the story, and sets forth characters, conflict, and emotion that teach us far more than the who, what and where. In fact, it's such raw emotion, communicated through the artistry of theatre at its most imaginative, that viewers see the war as they never could in black and white newsprint.

My recent visit to New York's Lincoln Center production of the story "War Horse" moved and stirred me in ways equal to the best reporting, but requiring of me much more. It was truth-telling at its most revealing, where language came up short but the message remained stunningly profound. It is a story worth seeing well beyond any draft.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Difference a Day Makes

Yes, the next generation of reporters—and veteran reporters as well—still get inspired when coming face to face with the history of journalism. These photos of a recent trip to Washington D.C.'s Newseum reflect the importance of field training!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Occupy . . . 24/7 Media!

A recent college graduate I know decided—rather spontaneously—to explore for herself some of the recent "Occupy Wall Street" protests in her nearby city. Along with a few of her friends, she arrived at a park, grabbed a pre-fab sign and stood on a corner expressing her right to protest what she saw as "economic inequality." It was a personal participation in democracy for a political science major.

Within a few hours, a reporter from a major daily newspaper stopped by to chat. The grad expressed appreciation for her college education, felt well prepared and given great experiences, but that, alas, she had yet to secure the job of her dreams. The reporter scribbled and nodded and walked away. The grad held her sign higher and when evening came, traveled back to her apartment with her friends, glad for the opportunity of solidarity.

Until the next day. The grad read in horror one lone quote out of all she'd told the reporter. Out of context, she appeared in print as other than she knew herself to be. And her education continued as 24/7 bloggers and lazier reporters grabbed that quote (without one calling the graduate to verify if she'd really said it) and recycled it for their own—often ugly—purposes. One lone sentence ripped from the bigger story of this graduate's life threw her into a tailspin of doubts: maybe she hadn't looked hard enough to get a job. Maybe she wasn't qualified. Maybe she shouldn't have protested.

When reporters get it wrong, especially in this 24/7 news cycle, more than just a story goes awry. Talented and well meaning young people who want to make a difference are affected, their vision to contribute is compromised, their voice diminished a little more than it should have been. They begin to think twice about what they can and can't do, and worse, who they can and can't trust in the media. Without truth in context, the news defeats the very purpose it was supposed to provide: reporting accurate information that helps citizens draw their own conclusions about what should or should not be occupied.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kudos to Local Journalism

Local editor Dave Olson of the Salem News recently reminded readers and students alike of the important role a community newspaper plays. But he also focused on the need for verification and on the record sources, aspects of a story that maintain the integrity of a newspaper. Without those fundamental components of journalism, readers lose trust in the paper . . . and the industry. But as long as good reporters (and editors) pay attention to these, communities are served with the information they need to draw their own conclusions.
Kudos to Dave! Read his op ed.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Journalism in the Movies

There's a lot to be said about Hollywood's ability to teach, instruct and inspire. Yup, I think we can learn volumes about journalism from watching some of the industry's top 'reporter' movies. Whether it's how to chase a story, or what not to do when reporting, journalism films can be a helpful—and sometimes hilarious—guide.

For Gordon's May Term, I taught Journalism in the Movies with our film professor, Toddy Burton. Here's a list of some of the films we watched (I bolded some of our favorites). If you haven't seen them, pick up your notebook (and popcorn) and take a look:

"Citizen Kane" Classic classic classic Wells (1941);
"His Girl Friday" The fun and the terrible aspects of old school journalism (1940);
"Sweet Smell of Success" Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis go dark in NYC (1957);
"Ace in the Hole" Kirk Douglass gets prophetic (1951);
"Deadline - USA" Bogart is a perfect editor in a perfectly bad film (1952);
"Network"  Faye Dunaway is evil and beyond 'Mad as Hell' (1976);
"All the President's Men" Redford/Hoffman make tenacious reporting look cool (1976);
"Broadcast News" Reporters IN the stories?? (1987);
"The Paper" Print lives . . . and makes you stressed! (1994);
"Shattered Glass" What young reporters should NEVER do (2003);
"Good Night and Good Luck" George Clooney's tribute to Edward R. Murrow (2005);
"State of Play" Russell Crowe's calloused but noble reporter (2009).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Admiration for a Reporter

I've followed his work for some time and even if you're the type who doesn't pay attention to bylines, this name is one worth noting: Jason DeParle, senior reporter for the New York Times, is the real deal. The stories he pursues—that obviously take serious time/patience to find—reveal dogged reporting; it seems he talks with just about everyone who has an insight on whatever subject he's covering.

And while his clear writing and thoughtful framing of issues are model stuff, I'm most impressed with the subjects he takes on in his work. Why? Because he writes about the matters that are off of most people's radar.

From welfare reform and poverty issues to migrant workers and now immigration reform, DeParle's nose for those on the fringe is what reporting should be. Period. Though his recent page one story in the Sunday NYTimes was an impressive (and important) look at the "most influential unknown man in America," his inspiring portrayal of Allan Tibbels, an urban wheel-chair bound Christian worker, was equally thought-provoking.

DeParle gets at truth, he gives voice to the voiceless and he watches the powers that be with an eye for context as well as the big picture. I only hope his work can inspire a new generation of reporters to follow suit.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

News from the next generation

Alas. It's not that news hasn't been happening since my last post . . .  it's that it's been getting done! And delightfully so by a few aspiring reporters from the next generation I've watched develop over the past few months. Check out the Gordon College News Service, now in its second year and one of many new partnerships springing up between community newspapers and local colleges.

If good journalism is to continue, such partnerships will be crucial to insuring the integrity of the profession for the public trust. That term—the public trust—is one I've been thinking about lately. Email me and let me know how you would define it.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hope for a Happier News Year

It happened again. Barely a week into 2011, an otherwise respected news outlet broke a major story by reporting that a U.S. Congresswoman in Arizona had been shot “and killed.” Within minutes of the report, others followed suit and the instant news of the “assassination” spread around the world. Though he claimed reporters had confirmed the “fact” with state officials on the scene, the organization’s chief editor was later forced to apologize for the error, which thank God, was not true.

At the same time on the other side of the world—in Australia, to be exact, where I was visiting in-laws—record-breaking floods consumed the local news coverage. Though headlines of the Arizona horror dominated front pages for a day (i.e., “Bloody Spangled Banner” or “Hatred, Anger and Bigotry in U.S. Rampage”), it was the constant updates of flash floods and torrential rains that locals cared about. Warnings were issued through the media of which towns to evacuate, fundraising efforts were televised for the Queenslanders whose homes were lost, and forecasts were announced along with locations where people could receive immediate help.

As one who both studies and practices journalism, I find the coverage of these stories instructive for the new year. Of course, with today’s technological tools, the news landscape has become a 24/7 tsunami of information, a virtual force to be reckoned with—albeit an enormously complex one. One day it can jump the gun (pun intended) while the next it can aid a storm victim. It can enlighten citizens, and it can destroy careers. It can inspire and dishearten readers. Coupled with current economic pressures, ratings wars and instant access, journalism’s very mission—
to provide people the information they need to be self-governing—can be both its success and its demise.

bad journalism is hardly news.