Monday, July 27, 2009

The Journalist's Job

Walter Cronkite died two weeks ago. Many people couldn’t care less. They were not alive in 1963 when Cronkite told the nation about the assassination of President Kennedy or in 1969 when he shared the national excitement about men on the moon.

After I learned of his passing, I went to the Internet to read more about him. There were many tribute articles and long lists of quotations. One in particular got me thinking. Cronkite said, “"It's not the journalist's job to be patriotic."

I disagree. One of the most patriotic persons I can think of is the journalist who is doing his or her job - ferreting out and telling the truth, however painful or unpleasant that truth may be.

Where would we be today if journalists had thoroughly investigated Wall Street or mortgage lending practices or the state of affairs in Iraq? Would not the country be better served by reporters who investigate facts and tell us the reality behind corporate or governmental press releases instead of parroting the words from them? What if all those talking heads had taken the time to explain to us derivatives, interest-only mortgages or Persia as Cronkite did Watergate?

There are people in broadcasting who call themselves journalists but who don’t have the faintest idea how to do the job. They spend a lot of time telling us how patriotic they are but they don't "present a detailed account" of anything but their own opinions.

Is the patriot the one who fawns over the emperor’s finery or is the true patriot the one who tells us the emperor is naked?

Communication is one of the most precious gifts we humans have. How we use it determines our fate. With Cronkite gone and those who followed him retired, who will communicate the facts to us? Where will we go to learn the truth so we have the knowledge necessary to be patriots ourselves?

Walter Cronkite and his journalistic integrity will be not be missed by most. The majority of people don't know what they've lost with his passing.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Video Tells the Story

For those who have been trapped in a cave: pop singer Michael Jackson passed away and there has been a media frenzy for the last three weeks. There’s a lot of communicating going on right now so I can’t help but analyze its effectiveness.

While I agree that, in general, the media coverage has been excessive and repetitive, there are nuggets of real information buried in the hype. One of those bits surfaced this week in the form of video footage showing Jackson sustaining third-degree burns to his scalp during the filming of a Pepsi commercial.

There was footage released to the public in at the time but it was shot from the front and the severity of Jackson’s injury could not be seen. I did not understand what all the fuss was about in 1984; as of now, I do. Because of one bit of film, I saw that Jackson was badly burned. Many medical experts have explained, in connection with other stories, that burned skin remains extremely painful forever. The injury does not excuse Jackson's apparent drug abuse but it explains it - in part.

The media had some facts about the Jackson case wrong from the start and probably still do. I guess I can’t fault that too much. A number of newspapers reported there were no casualties on the Titanic. Fact verification is not a new problem. This video is a good example of what happens when the media does its right – finding new information that provided perspective the audience did not have before.

I hope, as the Jackson story progresses, that the reporters and journalists will stop speculating and ferret out real information instead. I’m sure there’s plenty to be had.

I'll follow a story but only when it’s worth my time. Much of what has been communicated lately about Jackson's death hasn’t been. A rare exception was the video clip.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Iran, Michael Jackson, and the Internet

News events that two years ago would have had absolutely nothing in common were tied together last week by communication capabilities – the Iranian election protests and the death of Michael Jackson. Several articles have been written in recent days about the impact Twitter had on both stories. The information could not be contained and, although it was not always completely accurate, people had it instantly.

As news spread, through Twitter and other outlets, people hopped onto the Internet to learn more. There were so many Google searches conducted that, according to BBC News, Google thought it was under cyber-attack. In her June 26, 2009 article on, Maggie Sheils said, “Google’s trends page showed that searches for Michael Jackson had reached such a volume that in the so-called “hotness” gauge the topic was rated “volcanic.”

One newsman commented that journalists once confirmed stories like these with two reliable sources before releasing them. There would have been a potential delay of several hours as information was gathered and verified. Now, a member of the paparazzi on stakeout at the Jackson home alerts the media and the news is in Japan in seconds. A cell phone in Iran records a demonstration and people thousands of miles away watch it on Facebook moments later.

Technology is reshaping our world. The communication “cat” is out of the bag and nothing can stuff it back in. Governments and celebrity families must accept that no matter how hard they try to suppress it, news about them will be around the world before they can blink. Concealing information is almost impossible now. Whether the news is about a suppressive government, a crooked state politician or a troubled rock star, we will know about it in an instant. While this may be a terrible burden for the Jackson family and the Iranian government, it is a ray of hope for the rest of us.