In my Writing and Producing for my Electronic Media, there was a guest speaker. He will be coming back on Thursday, but today’s discussion was something that got me thinking. I have said a lot of smack about journalism. But he really put into perspective what is wrong with modern journalism – it doesn’t care anymore.
The guest speaker, Professor Richard Murphy, is the Atwood Chair of the department of Journalism and Public Communications (JPC). He came to the class to talk about photo-journalism. The example that he was using to show the power of photo-journalism was a story that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. It brought some incredibly difficult realities to the fore-front, while not taking the liberties with itself to believe that they had the answer. It was journalism at its best.
This story was a series of reports, that took up about 10 issues of the paper. The entirety of it is called “People in Peril.” I encourage you to look it up. It brought to the Anchorage community the tragedy of what was, and still is, happening in the native villages. There was rampant suicide, and accidents which had the statement – “alcohol was involved” in the police report. They sent several reporters all over Alaska, and they got a story that nobody could have imagined.
They showed the ugly realities surrounding the native villages problems with suicide and alcoholism. It was rather impressive that they just gave the facts, as they believed people needed to know. But really, as interesting as the written reports were, it was the visual story that carried so much weight.
Some of these pictures were heart-breaking. There was one of a native man, drinking at a building where a ceremony had been held not that same night. That was one of the most powerful pictures ever put in a newspaper, and it came from the Anchorage Daily News. That’s pretty impressive.
But there was one photo, and a response that followed a statement, that symbolizes my respect for journalism. The picture was of a village resident, using a pick-ax to dig into the ground, so they could bury their child. It was hard to look at, because if you knew how small these villages populations were then you’d know just how terrible the loss of one person can be. Not to mention having to dig the grave of your own child.
There was a comment after he showed the picture. A student remarked that he would have found it hard not to help the person dig. That to just stand there, and take a picture, it sounds very hard. However, Murphy had one of the best quotes that has ever come from a journalist in response. I had to write it on my arm, because I didn’t have paper.
Your job is to tell this guy’s story, not to dig his grave.
That kind of journalistic integrity, it goes beyond words. There was a time when journalists were able to do that. They would go to a place, and learn the truth about what is happening. Not to report on what they see, but to report on what they feel, and how it looks. To get the truth of a story, not just the facts.
And that is what is truly missing from journalism now. When was the last time that MSNBC did that kind of journalism? What about CNN, or Fox? The truth is that none of them do it. It is becoming an increasingly rare thing, and that is the most heart-breaking part. So few respect this field because honestly, it has become a first-come, first-serve, all-you-can-eat buffet of information. No feeling, just mindless facts. The images are totally bereft of visual poetry, and great stories in one image.
It is a sad day for journalism. Yet so few mourn its passing.