“Our House is on Fire”

December 13th, 2015

In journalism, especially, cooler heads will prevail. Scott Pelley’s words of chagrin before Quinnipiac University during his acceptance of the Fred Friendly First Amendment Award ring as true today as when they were spoken in 2013.

Pelley was the herald of sad truth, truth we still see today, when he warned: “our house is on fire.” News media’s obsession with being first is as bad as it has ever been, a rabid compulsion that continues to produce junk news.

As Pelley said, a democracy’s health can be measured by the quality of its information and therefor its journalism. The standards and bedrock principles of journalistic integrity preserve the quality of our information, preserving our quality of discourse, thought and liberty.

The Friendly quote he referred to is especially vital today: “If you’re first, no one will ever remember. If you’re wrong, no on will ever forget.” The crux of the matter is that it is the issues that news outlets (blinded by infatuation with the commercial prospect of news as entertainment) feel the need to be first to report for which it is most critical to be reported with fastidious care.

For the first time in nearly a century, an editorial has made front page in the New York Times. Saturday’s edition marks the first time this has occurred since June 13, 1920, when the publication ran a front page editorial expressing dismay at the Republican nomination of Warren G. Harding as presidential candidate.

The editorial, “The Gun Epidemic,” proclaims it is a “moral outrage and national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency,” going on to describe weapons like the assault rifles used in the San Bernardino shooting as “weapons of war, barely modified” that along with certain forms of ammunition must be prohibited for civilian purchase and use.

Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. described the editorial as a choice “to deliver a strong and visible statement of frustration and anguish about our country’s inability to come to terms with the scourge of guns,” in a public statement. “Even in this digital age, the front page remains an incredibly strong and powerful way to surface issues that demand attention.”

“The editorial reflects the intensifying debate over gun laws that is taking place in the days following two recent mass shootings” Naturally, this  urgent and authoritative call for stronger gun laws from such a preeminent publication has been received by Republicans with distaste. Presidential candidate Chris Christie referred to the piece as “typical liberal claptrap.”

What have Republicans offered, beyond prayers, however? What are their solutions to domestic terrorism? How long can they bide their time with the mental illness red herring? On the other hand, what do you think about a news outlet making such an emboldened, arguably partisan statement?

Once again, the killing of a black youth at the hands of law enforcement has incited mass indignation; Once again, the media’s coverage of such an event has been criticized as insufficient and partial.

In an article for Poynter, James Warren explains how Chicago media outlets dropped the ball on reporting the death of Laquan McDonald. The article highlights two key figures in the narrative of the shooting: police union spokesman Pat Camden and Jamie Kalven, founder of the Invisible Institute nonprofit.

Jamie Kalven. “In recent years, he has reported extensively on patterns of police abuse and impunity in Chicago,” the Invisible Institute’s website proclaims.

Kalven, a freelance writer and activist, has been instrumental in providing the public information that goes beyond the limited coverage of mainstream media outlets, like when he leaked word that the footage of the shooting was damning long before it was released to the public and when he was first with news of the autopsy, which detailed the 16 bullets fired into McDonald’s body.

Kalven has also been exposing union spokesman Pat Camden’s role in molding the coverage of the shooting, as well as that of previous shootings, by traditional media outlets. Camden’s is usually the first word the media receives on these shootings, which has led Kalven to notice a concerning trend.

“They follow a familiar recipe. Pat Camden assures the reporters that the shooting was justified. Perhaps the voice of a friend of the victim, a relative, or a witness is briefly heard. IPRA announces it is investigating. Then silence falls.”

One of the biggest take-aways from this article, to me, has been the creeping suspicion that traditional media is failing to meet the expectations of the public in covering socially critical stories. That Kalven’s voice has been so clear and poignant while traditional outlets have almost served as lapdogs, as James Warren puts it, is very concerning.

What do you think? Is this unfair to news outlets, who have to wait for proof, check and then double-check, or do you think they have simply dropped the ball?

Language is powerful; the words that we casually use can garner tremendous power through cumulative use. No one should be more keenly aware of this fact than a journalistic writer.

When news outlets referred to Abdelhamid Abaaoud as the mastermind behind the Paris attacks, news consumers were quick to criticize the unintentional connotative flattery of the term.  Journalists were understandably drawn to the convenience of this old and familiar cliché, in the frenzied race to cover the most important developing story in the world, but that’s all it is: a mindless cliché.

mastermind

“Especially skillfully,” according to dictionary.reference.com…

Journalists who settle for the term mastermind are unwittingly portraying Abdelhamid Abaaoud as a criminal genius adept in planning and organizing, when opening fire on a conglomerate of unsuspecting civilians is actually quite crass, even for a war crime.

Benjamin Mullin has curated 11 terms for Abaaoud in this article for Poynter, and I think they suffice:

  • Ringleader
  • Planner
  • Architect
  • Leader
  • Organizer
  • Coordinator
  • Engineer
  • Commander
  • Orchestrator
  • “Homicidal wacko,” h/t MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell
  • “Gigantic f*cking assh*le,” h/t John Oliver

I think I, personally, will stick with Oliver’s apt description.

No tragedy is ever neatly contained; the recent attacks in France are not a national tragedies, but tragedies against humanity that afflict all decent people.

It deeply distresses me that so many were slaughtered at the Bataclan. Music is a force that collects people in shared joy and passion, and it is obscene that at least 100 people were killed during a peaceful recreational event. All of the attacks are egregious, but as a music lover, the Bataclan attack cuts deep and personal.

nick

“I remember him always very content with being on tour. It was what seems to make him the happiest … He was just a sweetheart, that guy.” Patrick Carney of the Black Keys to Rolling Stone.

Eagles of Death Metal was scheduled to play a sold out show that night. While it has been confirmed all the band members are safe, merchandise manager, Nick Alexander, was killed by terrorist gunfire. It is also now reported by Pitchfork Media that Les Inrocks reporter Guillaume B. Decherf and Mercury Records staff member Thomas Ayad were killed in the attack. The article comprises the official statements of bands and artists that knew Alexander and others who lost their lives, statements that expressed grief, heartache and shock.

I am also very saddened to see these atrocities being politicized and channeled into far-right vitriol towards immigrants. This type of thinking is immature and dangerous. My thoughts remain with those who lost their lives at what was supposed to be a night of peace and joy.

My Top Ten: Travel Destinations

November 15th, 2015

I swear I tried to embed this, but it just isn’t properly converting. Anyway, here you can view, in no particular order, ten of my current travel destinations…

  • Multnomah Falls, Oregon: This is a beautiful waterfall in Oregon. The bridge at the foot of the waterfall, Benson Footbridge, was constructed by Italian stonemasons in 1914. I visited this location when I was in Oregon, for a wedding. There is a trail you can take to the top of the fall. The view from there is incredible.
  • Mount Hood, Oregon: In Oregon, I spent a lot of time in Mount Hood, and on clear days got to behold its namesake, a lone mountain. Though it has been classified as a “potentially active stratovolcano,” it is widely considered dormant, these days.
  • Timberline Lodge: Here’s Johnny! The external hotel shots in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” were filmed at Timberline Lodge. This is another place I visited in Oregon and it’s fantastic and stately, inside and out.
  • Grand Canyon National Park: Who doesn’t want to see this; The Grand Canyon receives around 5 million visitors, each year. This natural wonder is certainly on my list.
  • Venice, Italy: I’ve wanted to see Italy since I was young and learned there was Italian in our heritage. Venice is one of the places I couldn’t resist seeing, if I visited Italy. Obviously, it is famous for its canals and bridges, that create an overall atmosphere that exists nowhere else.
  • Strawberry Field: John Lennon used to play in the overgrown garden of this orphanage. The orphanage itself is gone, but the surreal gate stands the test of time. Obviously, it influenced the Lennon composition, in my estimation, the finest song The Beatles ever recorded. That is one of my all-time favorite songs, so one day I’d love to visit this magical spot.
  • Abbey Road Crossing: This scarcely requires introduction. This is where the cover for the Beatles’ final studio LP was shot. It would be fun to see, after seeing the iconic cover, all these years.
  • Abbey Road Studios: Abbey Road Studios is where the magic happened. This is where the music of The Beatles, The Zombies and many others was recorded.
  • New Zealand: New Zealand is a place I would love to visit, for its unspoiled natural majesty. I would like to see the spots that were used in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • Tom’s Restaurant (“Monk’s Cafe”): The outside of this restaurant was used for the cafe prominently featured in the TV series “Seinfeld.” Seinfeld is my favorite show, so it would be cool to see this place. Just looking at it, you can hear that funky slap bass theme. Additional perk: no soup Nazis.

This news is disheartening. I’ve always considered National Geographic a “dream job,” and have thought of it as a sturdy journalistic institution.

The announcement of 21st Century Fox’s acquisition of National Geographic, earlier this year, and now news of layoffs and what CEO Gary Knell refers to as “restructuring and transformation veil the publication’s future in uncertainty.

Picture of a glacier

A view of Alaska’s Malaspina glacier, derived from National Geographic’s latest “Week’s Best Pictures”

National Geographic has always provided what I consider to be poignant photojournalism, but whether this reputation can survive these changes, I cannot say.

National Geographic remains the most powerful, informative part of my Instagram feed. Through the platform, National Geographic has brought foreign crises to me in a way that is incredibly modern, immediate and provocative and has shown me the wonders of the world I have yet to witness first-hand.

As Kristen Hare writes in an article for Poynter, the company is undergoing huge changes. This news is troubling, but maybe the quality of National Geographic and continue. I’m not sure. What do you think?

 

If you have been keeping up with the Republican presidential debates, you are probably aware of the latest installation, a debate hosted by CNBC which was meant to emphasize economic issues. While some policy was discussed, the real result of the debate was an all-out assault on the ‘liberal media’ by the Republican candidates.

As Al Tompkins points out in an article for Poynter, the pithy, closed-ended questions posed by moderators gave Republican candidates like Marco Rubio plenty of ammunition against what they call the liberal media. The questions and accusations, meant to embarrass the candidates, horribly backfired and have become a great opportunity for the candidates to score political points.

debatepic

You know you were simply not prepared when you get bested by Donald Trump in a contest of intellects…and you were right.

Quick: “You have talked a little bit about Marco Rubio. I think you called him [Facebook founder] Mark Zuckerberg’s personal senator, because he was in favor of the H-1B visa.”

Trump: “I never said that. I never said that.”

Quick: “So this is an erroneous article the whole way around? … My apologies, I’m sorry.”

Trump: “Somebody’s really doing some bad fact-checking.”

Moderator Becky Quick didn’t need to work on her fact-checking, however, because she was correct. Trump’s own site reveals that, in a hilarious twist. It turns out what she really needs to work on is her dialectic wit.

 

I think the moderators should have been able to get in a couple pithy licks against the candidates, without completely derailing. What happened, instead, is very odd. What do you think? Were the moderators the ‘losers’ of this debate? Was their conduct unprofessional?

According to journalism professor H. Iris Chyi of the University of Texas, maybe they should. Chyi, author of the mini-book “Trial and Error: U.S. Newspapers’ Digital Struggles Toward Inferiority,” states that over the past two decades in which news publications have become infatuated with technology’s promise of relevance “bad decisions were made, unwise strategies adopted, audiences misunderstood and product quality deteriorated.” Chyi argues that digital simply isn’t the forte of most publishers.

Alan D. Mutter, author of the “Reflections of a Newsosaur” blog, disagrees. While he agrees with Chyi that print is more profitable in some ways than pixel, he argues that its readership is aging, print advertisement are drying up and manufacturing and  distributing economies are more constricting in the print world.

Extra, extra. Read all about it!

I think the truth is likely in the middle of these two contradicting opinions. People always look like Chicken Little crying the sky is falling, when they insist the end of print or journalism altogether is nigh. At the same time, to do anything but beef up technology emphasis in the news today seems ill-advised.

After another tragic school shooting, the media again faces scrutiny in what now feels like a very old conversation: is the media somehow complicit in the violence by giving killers the attention they are killing for?

This is a moral dilemma that should haunt every journalist. Can doing your job and identifying a killer in name become irresponsible in some cases? As Steve Buttry writes in his blog: “Journalists need to discuss the incentives and rewards we provide to attention-seeking mass killers.”

What is irrefutable is the fact that these killers are very desperate for attention, as a few of them have expressly stated in their own writing. There is also, I would argue, no refuting that the media obliges. Rolling Stone infamously giving the Boston marathon bomber the cover treatment comes to mind.

 

This controversial image was widely received as Rolling Stone glamorizing the murderer.

This controversial image was widely received as Rolling Stone glamorizing the murderer.

Continue in Buttry’s original content, where he makes compelling points for this argument. What do you think? Is it unethical to give these killers attention, or is it unethical to make information we may learn from anything but ubiquitous?