An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Posts tagged ‘Journalism’

The Lost Liberal

What can a person be, if they are unaware of who they are?  This is a question that has rattled around the base of the mind since this evening.  The great question that probably all people have asked themselves since the moment that people began to question their own existence, and to ponder the greater existential meanings of all of the things that life has to offer.

A friend of mine offered the perspective that one can never truly know themselves, since a person changes on a day to day basis.  This seems like a more intelligent perspective than most.  Most people tend to think that by a certain age, they will or have got it all figured out.  This, however, seems to be rather simple-minded.  Life isn’t so simple that just one night of sitting like the famous statue by Auguste Rodin, deep in contemplation.

Perhaps it is a curse to look at the world and be able to see what is true.  The truth doesn’t set you free.  Seeing the reality of the political and cultural degeneration over time really makes finding the points that one is to be happy about increasingly difficult.  I will agree with perhaps 5 out of 100 positions that my political philosophy teacher makes, but he made a rather poignant one last class.

The problem with the liberal mentality is that unlike conservatives, which tell you how to operate and move toward a given direction, there is little to no group to it, except where the common interests are shared.  We are only allied to the point where our needs and desires intersect, and after that, there is very little true camaraderie between us.  That was a rather profound way to look at things.  We are not a true brotherhood.

The reality of our situation has begun to sink in, now that the end of the college road is staring us in the face.  The reality is that we have no idea where we are going, or what we are going to do.  It’s a cold feeling, when one feels this absolutely lost.  Our advisor said that we are going to fail at life, because we don’t have all this stuff under our belt.  Well, she was wrong about one part.  We do have a portfolio.  It grows a few times every week.

We are lost, in a sea of confusion and uncertainty.  There is so little opportunity to be able to get by in this country these days.  Jobs are getting more and more scarce, and the competition is heating up.  Not being the most competitive person has really stuck us in that sense.  Where do we go?  What do we do?  These are not easy questions to answer.

I could see us ending up working at some company, writing up manuals, editing business documents.  I am a damn good editor.  I have a gift at spotting the problems with a document, that go beyond just spelling and grammar.  Those are actually kind of immaterial in a lot of ways, because most people don’t notice them.  If the essence of your work is flawed, the rest is for nothing.  Whenever I am writing something, I know exactly what I am writing for, and who I am writing to.  That is why we got an A on the last paper for that Political Philosophy class.  To be able to see the end goal, the true skill of an editor is to get at the heart of what needs to be said, and how it can be said.  Of course, spelling is another nice skill too.

There was also the idea that we could write about what we write about here – politics.  There is a mixed blessing in being informed.  To truly see what is going on is to accept the absolute ugliness of it.  To present things, after careful consideration.  You see, facts are meaningless.  William Faulkner once said, “Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.”  Any news group who gives you the facts, without any interpretation of what this all means, is just lying to you.  Of course, given our health problems, and the need for the green pieces of paper, writing biased work doesn’t present itself as too much of a problem, though that would be a last resort.

But the truth is, we are a lost liberal, drifting down this ocean of uncertainty and doubt.  We are a good writer.  We know this.  But, if that isn’t enough.  If having a passion for the truth, and a passion for following what fewer and fewer people care about isn’t enough to get by in this world, what can one do?

Maybe Fox News is hiring.  I could sell my soul for some serious dough.

Peace out,

Maverick

Advertisements

Discussions with a Brilliant Journalist (Part 2)

Once again, the Atwood Chair of the Journalism and Public Communications, Richard Murphy, department came to speak to the class.  He demonstrated his excellent knowledge in the field, a dedication to journalism almost unseen today, and showed a history that is not only important to Alaska, but left an impact all over the world.

It is still a memory that burns hard – the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Murphy talked about how he heard of it, with a phone call late at night.  At first, he didn’t believe it.  But he looked into it anyway, and because of that, started some of the great reporting in Alaska’s history.

The level of dedication to this story was absolutely amazing.  The reporters who went down to Valdez were living in a crampt apartment that they rented.  One story that was really telling of what a farce the reporting is with groups who are well-respected, like the New York Times was that one night, they just went to a press conference, and once it was over, hit the bar.

Murphy talked about what could be a film scene.  All of the journalists are in that bar, having only listened to what the company told them.  The camera pans back, outside.  It is raining like crazy, miserable weather.  Out there is a long Anchorage Daily News reporter, with his gear and a sleeping bag, headed to a ship where a group of volunteers, none of whom are getting paid, are going to collect birds to help.

This level of dedication served them well, and did change the conversation about this.  When Exxon’s people had a press conference, and they were assuring the press that no animals had been harmed by this spill, one reporter holds up a copy of the Anchorage Daily News with a picture of a dead oil-covered bird, and asks, “then what is this?”  A powerful moment in this discussion, and it shut everybody in the room up very quickly.

And the lies that Exxon was putting out there outrageous.  The dead animals one was bad enough, but when the ADN published that the ship’s captain was drunk, they immediately retaliated by saying this was a lie, and that they were trying to deceive people.  Never mind that the next day, they fired the captain for drunkenness.

What’s worse is that the government was also often complicit in their lies.  The Coast Guard started to work to keep reporters away from the actual ship.  They were helping to cover up the facts because they didn’t want to stop sucking at the tit of the money that these people brought in.  Of course, this isn’t unusual.  After the collapse of 2007, Congress very quickly came to the bank’s defense.  But that’s off-topic.

One thing worth mentioning was that there was a lot of faith placed in a lot of people that couldn’t be done post-9/11.  One journalist couldn’t get back to Anchorage to get his photos developed, so he grabbed a guy heading out on a plane, who he didn’t know, gave him the rolls of film in an envelope, and told him to call a number and get them to that person.  They never lost a roll of film.  That’s incredible.

Murphy remarked that some of the biggest news agencies just came and went, often doing no more than going to press conferences and listening to what Exxon told them.  Which, of course, isn’t journalism.  Not the good kind, anyway.  But the Anchorage Daily News stayed there all summer.

He polished off this tale of the coverage of Exxon Valdez by remarking that there was one press-conference where everybody was, and Exxon promised all the people that they would help them.  Now, 20 years later, they are in court still fighting to not have to keep their promises.

That remark led to the tragedy of journalism currently in Alaska.  Murphy said that if something like Exxon Valdez happened now, the ADN wouldn’t even be able to charter a plane down.  The top two floors of their building are being rented out to a film company.  It is a graveyard in their news room.  He seemed very saddened by this.

The leaving remark that Murphy brought was that journalists often thing that they can change the world.  They can’t do that, but (and this is very important), they can change the conversation.  They can direct what the nation is talking about.  And this leads to the ultimate failure of the mainstream media – they aren’t getting people talking about anything.  They are just saying stuff.

Murphy is a brilliant reporter, and has left a legacy most worthy or all the respect of journalists everywhere.  He is everything that this industry should be, and the journalism industry will be losing a piece of itself when he leaves it.

Peace out,

Lefty

Discussions with a Brilliant Journalist (Part 1)

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.

Peace out,

Lefty

Homeland Security tasked with watching American Journalists. RIP, Bill of Rights

There is a new initiative that is being taken by Homeland Security.  It is the National Operations Center (NOC) Media Monitoring Initiative.  According to this initiative, Homeland Security will be collecting information about journalists, news anchors, or anybody who –

traditional and/or social media in real time to keep their audience situationally aware and informed.

This basically says that anybody from Keith Olbermann to a small blogger like myself can be targeted.  They have written that their spying is only what is “public information,” but what really raises eyebrows with that statement is the fact that they seem to want to spy on journalists at all.

There was a time where journalists were the one who were tasked with watching government.  they were the ones who were supposed to keep the government accountable to the people.  But it seems the government doesn’t like that anymore.

Oh who are we kidding.  The government of this country has hated the First Amendment since it was enacted in the Bill of Rights.  They have always wanted to get rid of it.  And now, it is looking like they are going to do just that.  Along with the entire Bill of Rights.

SOPA, or the Stop Online Piracy Act, along with its twin sister, PIPA, the Protect IP Act, are effectively going to kill the internet.  Or if it doesn’t kill it, it will changed it beyond recognition.  While that is going on, the National Defense Authorization Act has made it so that the government can detain America citizens indefinitely without cause or trial.  While these people are imprisoned, they can also be tortured just like the other detainees we have at Gitmo.

There was a question posed on formspring.me –

Will Freedom of Speech eventually be oppressed to the point that it’s extinguished?

The reply to that questions was very good –

You can’t really view it as an on/off switch. It’s a gradient. Right now, we are on the freer end of the spectrum, but heading the wrong way. If we don’t have some seriously culture blowback soon we’re going to be firmly on the bad end of the spectrum. We can’t let SOPA or PIPA pass.

That’s the absolute truth.  We are headed in the wrong direction as a nation when it comes to freedom of speech and other rights.  The worst part is that there is no cultural blowback.  The Occupy movement is showing signs of having gotten people involved, but unless the public starts really getting involved in what is happening, our rights are dead.

There are ugly signs that things are changing for the worse.  The police who are cracking down on the Occupy movements are attacking protestors and specifically focusing on photographers and journalists.  What exactly do they not want people to see?  With place like YouTube showing the ugliness of what is going on, like with the recent video of soldiers peeing on dead Afghanis, it is getting harder and harder for the thugs who make the police forces of this country to get away with what they could before.

Groups like Anonymous are being treated like terrorists by the FBI, but thank goodness that doesn’t give them much pause.  But very quickly, we are learning that the Bill of Rights may have been on the chopping block for a while, but now the executioner is called.

NDAA passed the Senate with only seven people against it.  Seven people stood up for the Bill of Rights.  How many will stand up for the Bill of Rights with SOPA and PIPA?  In an election year, it’s worth mentioning that Obama backed NDAA.  He also said he would be closing Gitmo, but now it appears like he wants to make it a franchise.

The really sad part is that if somebody who doesn’t know what’s going on, or listens to Fox News reads this, they’ll think I’m fear-mongering.  It’s the tragic part when the even-minded liberals are the ones who are talking fear.  And people should be afraid.

Things have been bad for a while, and the greatest tragedy of all is that there no people with pitchforks.  There are no massive riots and massive calls to action to stop what is happening.  The Occupy movement has done quite a bit.  Now we need something more.  There needs to be public action because we are slowly slipping into a very ugly place.  As the question above said, freedom of speech is a gradient, and the gradient is getting darker.  That cannot be allowed to happen.

If it does, though, and SOPA and PIPA pass, and journalists become the first who are attacked, then RIP, Bill of Rights.  You were fun while you lasted.

Peace out,

Lefty

The Ultimate Truth about “Fair” Reporting

There was a great quote that was said by an equally great man.  It was William Faulkner, the American writer and nobel prize laureate.  This quote really symbolizes exactly what needs to be talked about when it comes to the news.  The quote goes as follows –

Facts and truth really don’t have much to do with each other.

Brilliant, isn’t it?  And he’s right.  The fact is that facts and the truth are usually mutually exclusive.  Centering this concept on the field of journalism, there is a great truism that journalists need to accept – objective reporting is worthless and impossible.

Addressing the second concept, it is impossible to seperate yourself from what you do.  Everything we all do comes from a subjective point of view.  If it were actually possible to seperate the needs of the self, then the problems in this country could be fixed in a day.  But it isn’t.  It really would be nice if it were possible, but there is no way that it could be.

To the first point, fact-based reporting, exclusively fact-based reporting, is nothing but a worthless joke.  Ted Koppel wrote an article in The Washington Post about how “real news” is dying thanks in part to the political commentators on Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN.  In his mind, there is this objective place where the news people only reported facts, and that was it.

But Faulkner was dead-on.  The truth and facts rarely have much to do with one-another.  And all the great reporters through history didn’t depend on facts to make their points.

When Edward R. Murrow was going after the McCarthy machine, challenging the government, everyone told him how he was editorializing.  Well, yeah, he was.  He was taking information in, digesting it, coming to his own conclusions, and giving them to the public.  He had the truth on his side, too.  What McCarthy was doing was wrong.  The war of words between the two of them was not only a testament to great journalism, but to a great man, fighting against all odds, and winning.  Murrow and his battle were part of what broke McCarthy, and brought sanity back to this country.

Or what about Walter Cronkite and his reports talking about how the war in Vietnam was a lost cause?  He didn’t just give facts.  He told America that there was no way that we could win this war.  The only thing we could do is to walk away, not having failed, but having done the best that we can.  Stalemate was the best that we could hope for.  It was a very unpopular thing to say, but it was truth.

While we are talking about unpopular statements, how about H.L. Mencken and his reports about what was happening in America during Prohibition?  His reporting was viciously cold and very real.  He knew from the beginning about what a farce this new law was.  He knew that the business would continue, unemcumbered by these new laws.  It was all a complete joke.  As you can imagine, this was incredibly unpopular with the pulse of the nation which, at that time, was very pro-dry.  Booze was bad, and if you printed that it wasn’t, you were not the friend of the system.

The fact is that Faulkner’s quote was appropriate.  You can’t possibly think that the facts and the truth are connected.  During the beginning of the Iraq War, the news reported a lot of facts, but it took the BBC to report that all of this stuff was bogus.  People watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report to get their politics because they don’t trust the people we have in politics now.  The independent media is growing because the average American is getting fed up with just being told “facts.”

Keith Olbermann was right when he responded to Ted Koppel’s article.  He had a very nice quote that surmizes this whole affair rather nicely.

These (great reporters listed) were not glorified stenographers.  These were not neutral men.  These were men who did in their day, what the best of journalists still try to do in this one – evaluate, analyze, un-scramble assess, put together a coherant picture or a challenging question using the facts as they can be best discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.

That’s the ultimate truth.  great reporting is done from a place of subjectivity.  With the internet, we now have a point where great reporters can get us their positions, while giving us the ability to look at the information that they got, and come to our own conclusions.

Don’t just report “facts.”  It is too easy to fail to understand that the truth and facts are so completely different.  We are a better people than that.

Peace out,

Lefty

Politically Powerful Films and Society

There is something about a great piece of film that sends a message about all of society.  Finding out about the great parts of history through good film is something that people often overlook.  But it is a great thing to see.  Most of these films are often controversial, but that is one of the reasons that they are so important.

When the film Green Zone came out, a lot of people were screaming about how this film was anti-war, as if that was a bad thing.  The recent attitude that every piece of film about the war in Iraq must show America as the heroes is actually a little distrubing.  Since when has this country been above scrutiny?  Since when has America been so perfect?  The fact is that the lies that got this country into a war need to be talked about.

Part of what made that such an interesting movie was the fact that it was based on a true story.  All of the stories about weapons of mass destruction being in Iraq were lies.  Lies that our government let happen, because, well, the reasons for that will probably never be clear.  It is that way with a lot of our military actions.

Take the film Salvador, which tells the story of a photo journalist in El Salvador.  It is a depressing story about how America is helping dictators stay in power, even though the people tried to free themselves.  At the same time, it showed how easy it is for power over others to corrupt you.  The people tried to take control of their government, but the lies that they were Communists kept the military aid flowing.  It still does to this day.

Another point that Salvador made was the hatred of journalists by the military.  This is an absolute truism.  The fact is that our military and our government hates journalists.  The good ones, anyway.  The corporate media has never been something to fear, because they will never stand firm against the status quo.  Our government has always hated forces that can second-guess them, and show their lies.  Of course, thanks to the corporate media, there is no longer revolt against them.  This is one of the thing that has made the Occupy movement so very cool to observe.  These people are standing tall to fight oppression.  People in this country are oppressed, by a corporate and banking system that answers to nobody.  They are also oppressed by cops who don’t uphold their mandate to protect the people, and instead put them down.

Then there is the fact that politically poignant films tell us the stories about the groups of peole that we don’t want to think about.  Take a look at the film Blood Diamond.  It tells the story of the diamond trade in Africa, and how blood diamonds are driving countries that are hopelessly impoverished, and the people are brutalized by ruthless dictators that nobody seems to care about.  We can talk about spreading freedom all we like about Iraq and Afghanistan, but the fact is that people are being brutalized all over the world, and nobody cares here.  Nobody ever cares about the suffering other places.  We only care when we can blame them for attacking us.

Then there was the film that showed a culture for what it is.  It was called Lord of War.  The monologue toward the end by Nicholas Cage about how the law will fail, because this country is involved in dirt was a very harsh statement about the realities of the world we live in.  America is sending guns to scummy people, and all because we want to remain on good terms with them.

Really, the ultimate statement that is made in these politically-motivated film is that America likes to believe that we are the end of the line, that we tell other nations what’s what.  But the fact is that we don’t.  One of the greatest lines in cinema was delivered in Green Zone.

It is not up to you to decide what happens here.

That’s the truth right there.  America wants to believe that the rest of the world conforms to what we want, but that isn’t the truth.  And until people can wrap their tiny little minds around that very fundamental truth, this nation is going to be the biggest pot of lies, and nobody will care.

Peace out,

Lefty

Accepting Inevitable Failure? I Hope Not…

There has been a recent episode that I have been involved in that has brought me to question what I am doing right now and the future that I have.  Honestly, when these issues are critically examined, the fact is that my future doesn’t look so good.  Now, this will sound like a very unprofessional and very personal little rant, but it isn’t.  Really, this is a critical examination of the future and the fact that my future doesn’t look so good.

I have thought, for years, about what I wanted to do.  On paper, it sounded pretty good.  Surely, I thought, there are lots of areas that I could find employment.  Now I realize that that was just a childish notion, and now I am beginning to realize that maybe there isn’t much of a place in the world for one such as me.

I love politics.  I love it.  As horribly flawed as the system is, as screwed up and rigged as the game is, I love it.  I love every single bit about it.  What happens here, what happens in this country, it affects the world, and each of us.  It affects everybody in the world, and people in this country often forget that little detail.  For some, like a friend of mine, it is because they are too busy with their own lives to pay attention.

Part of the reason I want to be so involved in the national discussion of politics and hopefully working to affect real change is to help people like my friend Emily.  She is a great person.  She’s one of a rare breed who can help others, or try and help others, and asks nothing in return.  She is also the victim of the way things are in this country.  Every time a Libertarian comes at me talking about how people succeed based on their merits, a huge talking point of their little savior, Ron Paul, and his angel, Ayn Rand, I want to kick them in the face.  She busts her ass, and she is barely getting by in the world.  She may lose her home at the end of the month.  When the GOP talks about how the poor are lazy, I just want to scream.  My friend busts her ass (I used that word because I mean this that strongly, not to be unprofessional) every single day, trying to get ahead.  She is going to college but, like me, her degree that she is shooting for may leave her with nowhere to go, so don’t talk to me about how the poor are so lazy!

Sorry to get rantish there, but that is a button-issue of mine.  The bulk of the poor in this country are not sponges who are leeching from the system, but people who are trying their best to make something of their lives.  But the fact is that it is becoming harder and harder to make anything of one’s life anymore.  It is a tragic fact of life right now, and people are not as accepting as they should be.

And this is where I find myself.  I want to talk about politics, to report on politics.  The problem is that while I have a column in the newspaper with my name and this moniker, Lefty on the Left, I haven’t done any straight reporting on this subject.  Well, honestly, I don’t really believe in completely objective reporting.  Bias is always there.  I make no effort to hide mine.  Edward R. Murrow, “the Moses of broacast news,” as Bill Moyers called him, said that it is okay to have a bias, as long as you don’t try to hide it.

Although, maybe, just maybe, I can find a niche to belong to, a place to exist.  Maybe there will be a publication or something that can see the work that I have done with The Northern Light and they can be willing to give a guy a chance.  It’s all I can hope for at this point.  But the future looks kind of bleak.  I don’t want it to look so bleak, but it does.  I feel very much like Charles Kane, and missing the days of my childhood, when I was truly happy.  Although, I believe that most everybody does that.

Seriously, if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane, see it.  That film was truly a classic, and lately, has been how I am feeling, minus all the financial success that Kane had.

Peace out,

Eli

Tag Cloud