Democracy’s need for a free press transcends what you might consider an accurate or fair one…

July 14, 2017

NOTE: I’m reposting part of my last post, what I thought was the most important part:


(Freedom of the press is included in the very first, or First, Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, known as our Bill of Rights.)

And let me just say something about  (President Donald) Trump’s continual attack on what we call “the press”. The press is not sacrosanct. Or maybe I should say it is not beyond reproach, but it is vital to our freedom. I hope that does not sound like a contradiction.

Those who would take away our freedom, dictators, fear the free flow of information and ideas. In authoritarian regimes they either have their own official press or they only allow a private press to operate if it carries the government line or at least does not stray too far from it.

Sometimes it is not the governments or just the governments, sometimes extra-governmental forces intimidate or physically attack those who don’t tow their line or who expose corruption. This is the case in Mexico. Journalists there are routinely murdered.

I take it that real Trump supporters — as opposed to those who just put up with him because they at least hope he will carry their agenda — don’t much care for a free press if that free press is critical of their man. And they go along with the line that the press lacks credibility and publishes fake news. Actually that is what the press does under authoritarian regimes — publishes fake news — we used to call that propaganda.

But here is how I look at it. To me, even though I prefer a responsible and credible press, I am more concerned that there be a free and uninhibited press. I am intelligent and well read enough to sort through the bullshit, but only because there are no restrictions on my sources.

My question is: would those who prefer a docile press rather just get their news from government handouts from the Trump administration or Fox News (same thing)?

If you buy a car, do you just take the salesman’s word for everything? People who have a vested interest in the outcome (making the sale on a car or public policy) have a habit of leaving problems out and using sales puffery (also known as lying).

Again, the press is not beyond exaggeration and inaccuracy and partisanship. One just has to hope that there are reliable sources out there and enough to where one can compare reports and judge credibility.

(And when I write about “the press” I am referring to authentic news organizations, as opposed to bogus ones. And “authentic” does not refer directly to quality. You can be not worth a crap and still be authentic.)

 

 


Is the press in a feeding frenzy? Well yes, but where there is smoke there is usually fire…

May 17, 2017

UPDATE: After posting this below there was another development today (5-17-17), the Justice Department announced the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as Special Counsel in the Russian investigation.


 

Well there is no doubt the press is a little over-excited in its coverage of the possibly impeachable offenses of President Trump. But President Trump went out of his way to go after the press both in his campaign and into his presidency.

And too, I should note that the important thing in all of this is not the battle between the press and Trump but the survival of democracy in the United States.

But back to the press. I don’t think it is just my perception, I think the rules of journalism or the practice of it has changed. For instance, CNN and the New York Times (just using them as examples) seemed to have moved beyond the rule that straight news reporting depends solely on verifiable facts and of being able to attribute statements and points of view to actual persons — with a balance when practical or appropriate, and that opinion belongs preferably on the opinion pages or clearly-marked articles. This is more so for CNN, which had been or is a target for Trump. It is fighting back.

(There is no point in even mentioning or including FOX News in this for me because (a) I avoid it and (b) it was meant to be a partisan shill for the Rush Limbaugh-style hard right-wing nut crowd from the git go. It plays to a certain demographic for ratings and thus is subservient to it.  I do think it has had its effect, though, on other outlets — they are starting to play the same game.)

Now way back, it is true, newspapers (that is basically all we had then) were often partisan with little attempt at balance. I don’t think we’ve gone back to that yet in the mainstream.

And thanks to the internet we have the phenomenon of just outright fake news. Ironically, Trump, the man who claims he coined the term (pretty sure he did not) seems to go by it nonetheless. He has a habit of citing things out of the fake news (his minions call it “alternative facts”, as if truth is never clearly identifiable). So if he were to charge that he is being brought down by fake news (and it was true), wouldn’t that be poetic justice?

Right now, though, as far as I can see, the mainstream news outlets still have integrity. I just think that they may have loosened the rules a bit. And there is a school of thought I think that believes that the old rules (dating back to maybe mid 20th Century) sometimes forced journalists to write absurd things because they had to give equal treatment to statements that were obviously bogus in the name of fairness.

Back in the early 1950s the infamous Sen. Joe McCarthy claimed that he had a list of hundreds or 50 or 80, the number kept changing, of communists in our State Department. Strangely, he never produced the list. And I was but a baby or toddler at the time, but as far as I can tell the mainstream of journalism at the time did not push him for the evidence. In the meantime he made life rough and ruined the careers of many people.

Now there was at least one communist agent (evidence suggests) in a high level in the State Department, just in advance of the McCarthy episode, Alger Hiss. Richard Nixon catapulted from freshmen senator to vice president and eventually president, thanks to his pursuit if Hiss. As we know, Hiss served some prison time and proclaimed his innocence but evidence brought out through the years tends to incriminate him.

You can’t or should not ignore something just because there is no solid evidence but eventually you need to find some (they got Hiss not on proof of espionage or sabotage but on lying to congress about his connection to the Communist Party — and I think he disputed that too).

Okay, and back to the present, one Trump-defending senator lashed out at whoever tattled on Trump for reportedly sharing classified information with the Russians. He claimed that act, I guess because the nature of the information (even though no details were made public), was “treasonous” on the part of the source or sources. The Wall Street Journal in an opinion piece heavily criticized Trump but also took the line that reporting on what Trump did was treasonous, at least that is how I read it.

I’m reaching far afield perhaps, but between 1964 and 1973 the U.S. conducted a secret war in Laos. It seemed to go under the radar of the mainstream news gatherers for the most part. Would journalists have been guilty of divulging classified information and treason had they reported on that? And don’t the American people have a right to know what is going on in their name? And all those innocent civilians killed and villages destroyed by our bombs and bullets (and if you are not aware of it you can look it up). Yes, it was ancillary or an extension to the Vietnam War, but our government denied involvement to its own people plus the world. It was denied because of treaty obligations that would have precluded it. We dropped enormous amounts of explosive ordnance on the country, a third of which failed to explode so remains as a constant danger today that has maimed and killed children and adults and continues to do so.

Right now we have a president under suspicion of colluding with the Russians, of firing the FBI director who was investigating him because he would not close investigations against his administration and who reportedly tried to demand “loyalty” from the FBI director (look the other way, do what I say) and who seems to have had a bout of loose lips with the Russians and who has appointed people to dismantle environmental regulations and who had promised a major improvement to health care for the American people but who obviously never had a plan in the first place with the result being that hard-core right-wing Republicans want to make it even harder for those of modest means to get health care and who has displayed that he has no real knowledge of national and world affairs and no interest to learn. That is my honest opinion. This is a blog. I can say what I want. I have left a lot out.

With all the drama our government has been paralyzed.

Bottom line, Donald Trump was ill-prepared to be president, and he is steadily losing support because, for one thing, he constantly changes stories on his actions and contradicts his staff and then even himself. He has 0 credibility nation and world wide. His only allies are the Russians, and they are only pretending to be.

There will continue to be some or a lot of overblown or inaccurate reporting no doubt but really where there is smoke there is usually fire. I think if one sticks to mainstream media (I don’t usually use the term “media” because in some circles it is pejorative) and uses objective thinking one can sort through it all.

But how long do we all have before it results in disaster? This guy — who has the power to take action at an instant that would destroy the world in a nuclear holocaust — is holding the whole world hostage.

There is talk of using a provision in the 25th Amendment by which his cabinet in conjunction with the congress could remove him from office. In some ways that seems more plausible (and even quicker) than impeachment. I think the more likely outcome is that if things continue to snowball as they have, particularly in the past week, Trump will become disinterested in it all and figure out a way to bow out and claim victory even so (all this to score a conservative on the high court, he might say).

My record of correct political predictions is something like 0 for however many I have made but that is my story and I’m sticking to it.

 


On doing what you want and what you have to do and does social media replace journalism?

March 21, 2017

We need industry and the jobs that (still) come with it but maybe I’m glad I left the factory decades ago and then after less than a year. Being stuck on the factory floor was no life for me. But for a beginning job the pay was relatively good and I did have some health insurance with it. And I should not have left the way I did. I just left. But I used my GI bill and took some journalism classes, became a reporter (finished my college work years later).

But that factory was hard work. And unlike the small newspapers I worked at no one ever made me feel that my job was not important. This was in what most people just called “the mill”. It was a lumber re-manufacturing facility. We made the parts for the now old-time fruit lug boxes (yeah a box factory) as well as molding strips for construction. I remember during an orientation a plain-talking no-nonsense mill manager said: “some of you might find yourself sweeping the floor and think that your job is not important — that’s a bunch of bologna sausage (he really said that); we wouldn’t have hired you if it was not important”. And I guess a Republican might say that is the difference between the private sector and the public sector.

But what made me think about all this is that I was talking to a handy man in the apartment complex where I live and he was telling me about the factory he worked in before his present job. He told about 12-hour rotating shifts and about being left out on the line by another employee who decided he wanted to goof off. The stuff kept coming and he could not keep up.

Heck I had help and could not keep up at times. Machines are relentless. They never tire. They just keep spitting stuff out at you. And being cooped up in a building all day long is not for me anyway. Where I worked the sun beat down on the metal roof in the summer and sawdust got all into your clothing and stuck to your sweat-drenched skin.

But it was honest work. It was work and even then not everyone had work, even those who wanted it.

But the stuff I did at the small newspapers was work too. But I enjoyed it for the most part. But too much of a good thing can be work too. And it was not always enjoyable because one person can only write so much and that one person likes to go home now and then and visit the family but in that kind of work there are no regular hours and for the most part overtime rules don’t apply or if and when they do they are ignored. But the worst of all is that in the small time they actually see you as necessary but bothersome overhead. I’m talking small newspapers often run by small-minded people or big corporations that operate them as cash cows. No wonder so many have gone out of business. The same attitude affected some of the bigger publications (just some). And the internet has changed everything.

And I have just discovered something to add onto what I just wrote concerning changes in journalism but I’ll save it for further down in this post.

But I did not mean to go into all that.

Another thing that got me thinking along these lines is the conversation I had with my dental hygienist. She said that she and her husband want to move somewhere else where they think they could have a more suitable lifestyle. They are not sure what the job prospects would be where they want to move (and we are not talking big city, just the opposite). But I’m thinking like I think they are: settle where you want to live and make it work. No job can take the place of that.

I did not originally aspire to be a newspaper reporter. I just wanted to write. I was thinking more along the lines of novelist. Who knows? I just might write a novel sometime. But I think the secret to writing is to write. And the secret to writing novels is to write one. People who are meant to do it do it.

And one should do what he or she is meant to or what he or she would like to do if at all possible.

Okay, so I settled for truck driving for survival. And it has indeed sustained me. And there is a lot of independence hour by hour (by hour by hour….).

But, whatever, we need those factory jobs, even if automation is taking over. Technology is even moving into the heretofore protected world of the so-called cerebral jobs and professions.

I think we are destroying our own humanity.

I suppose that if the machines and computers take over that will free us all up to do what we want to do if we know what we want to do or if there will be anything left to do.

And now that thing I discovered: I had mentioned the fact the internet changed journalism. Well some people apparently think that it is obsolete, that social media makes it unnecessary. I just lifted the following paragraph out of a publication (to which I will give full credit at the bottom):

But here is what one man thinks:

With the rise of social media and the internet, journalists are becoming irrelevant.  After all social media has made everybody a journalist.  We no longer need for journalists to act as a middle man and report what someone said or what event may have happened.  With social media we get it straight from the horses mouth (sic).  No journalistic comments are required or even welcomed. We are now in a position of having to make up our own mind.  And that is scary for people who run on a high level of emotion. They are used to someone telling them how to think. (By Larry Oscar) full article: http://haulproduce.com/2017/zinger-8/


Well okay, I say, if you want to wade through the hodgepodge of items (including posts like my own) and decide what is true and what is not or what makes sense and what does not without any gatekeepers and fact checkers and with computer hackers filling the web with fake news and put up with the illiteracy that further confuses communication, have fun — not for me. We do need responsible journalism, though. And it is indeed helpful to have access, especially video, to what the professionals do — if makes us more aware and keeps the professionals honest. But we need journalism still I believe.

Oh, by the way Larry, my own spell check just reminded me that what is displayed in your article as horses mouth should be horse’s mouth (possessive), but we know what you meant.


If you fall for fake news you are being careless, but news is often an intepretation…

November 19, 2016

Fake news is in the news now. I’ve been reading about fake news but I am not sure that I understand what I have been reading. Apparently, the thought is that a lot of voters may have been influenced by purposely misleading news sites on the internet that masquerade as legitimate news sites.

Why people would believe everything they read is a mystery to me. I mean you can’t. If you believe what you read on a fake news site then would you not also believe what you read on a legitimate one? And this even if they seem to contradict each other? There is a break in logic there.

Of course there are people who believe that what is normally considered legitimate is not really. They believe it is all a conspiracy to disseminate propaganda. Some people even believe there is one secret cabal that spews out propaganda under the label of legitimate news.

And this gets complicated. I mean even I believe that, say, the New York Times, which I read a lot, while presenting what passes for legitimate and objective news reports, nonetheless probably let’s a little liberal bias into it all by selection of stories and positioning and by loading stories with information that might seem to discredit those who do not adhere to its opinion page policies.

I don’t consider Fox News totally legitimate. It seems to be a mouthpiece for the political right. However it does put on a show as being objective and may be to a degree (can you even be objective by degree?). I don’t watch it much, mostly just when I am stuck somewhere and it is blaring at me.

(I’m adding this after originally publishing this post an hour or so previous. Just chanced to see an interview on Fox News. The person speaks and offers a view on a controversial subject. The Fox interviewer responds “sure, good point, well put”. Couldn’t he just let the person’s words speak for themselves? Sure sounds as if he were taking sides — and this was not necessarily a right or left thing — Just does not sound like objective or professional journalism to me.)

I love public television and especially public radio (PBS and NPR respectively). I consider them to be the most complete and objective, but even there the hint of liberal bias shows up.

Of course my take on that is that it is hard for anyone who has been exposed to different cultures and types of thinking not to be somewhat liberal in their attitudes (not impossible but difficult).

There is being conservative as being careful and as not deviating from what seems to work. I can buy into that. But there is also conservative as in preserving the status quo while denying others because you fare well under the status quo. That is not as appealing to me, although I as anyone else would not necessarily want to ruin a good thing for myself. But my conscience and human compassion also tells me to think of others. I also know that if the needs of those others are not met there can be trouble on the horizon.

(And if the narrative we are hearing is correct there was a backlash of sorts from the white working class, once okay with the status quo but not when it began to shift and change in their lives. I think there is more to it, but that is for a future post maybe.)

But now I have wandered off my original subject. Fake news.

One thing, I don’t think I am liable to fall for fake news. I try to make sure what the source really is. I mean if the source mislabels itself, well then, yeah, I might temporarily be taken in. But If I see it does not seem to match at all what other sources I am seeing indicate, then I would know something has to be up.

I suspect the people most likely to fall for fake news are those who prefer only to read things that coincide and validate their own beliefs and appeal to their prejudices and suspicions.

But I see it this way: if you have always driven one make and model of car and have liked it and go to buy a new one but read that the newer models have something wrong with them do you disregard that information because it goes against your past experience and beliefs?

And beyond the problem or phenomenon of fake news I think there may be a misunderstanding about news reporting methodology.

Well, before I get into that, I have to note, as I have so many times previously in my posts, these days what passes as journalism, especially on the airwaves, and I guess in the printed words on our computer screens too, is a hybrid composed of entertainment and opinion and some factual material.

In a previous post I made reference to a journalism text book of which I said I did not recall the name and that I thought had a slightly misleading title anyway. Well I don’t have the book in front of me but I think it was “Interpretive Reporting”, by Curtis D. MacDougall, Robert D.  Reid.

(Still not sure that was the book but I think it was.)

I bought a copy of that text in I think 1972 or 73 when I took my introductory course into journalism. I could have saved the money. I later discovered my dad had the same book, and he went to college in the 1930s.

What I mean by misleading is that when you read “interpretive” you might get the idea that someone goes out and then comes back and writes a story not from the straight facts but from something conjured up in his mind — an interpretation. But no. Without referring back to that text, which I noted is not in front of me, I would say that legitimate reporting is not transcription. For instance, If I covered a meeting of the county board of supervisors (and I did that so much) I did not simply come back to the office and produce a transcript of every word said. For starters that would not be possible for so many reasons. Not enough space and I don’t take shorthand and who would read all that anyway? Also, a written transcript or a voice recording would leave a lot of gaps. Anyone who has ever sat through a long meeting knows that people begin talking without a complete introduction of subject and make references that only those familiar with the background would understand. In short it would be meaningless. So, there has to be some understanding of the subject matter and some amount of background has to be supplied for the reader.

Now all of this does not necessarily apply to spot news stories such as a house burning down or a traffic mishap or plane crash. There it is more a matter of straight-up facts (of course you can get the facts wrong or come to false conclusions on the causes). But I am addressing reporting on things that have more to do with policy and the process of making policy.

More than once when I was a reporter I heard someone say after reading a story that the reporter (and sometimes it was me) must have attended a different meeting. And of course I was accused from time to time of misquoting someone. To protect myself from that I took to using a tape recorder. And one time, I think before I began using my own tape recorder, I sat through a recording of a meeting done by a secretary for the board of supervisors. I did this to find a quote of which I was accused of getting wrong. But alas, I quoted word for word. And this was the case, as I recall, in other instances where I was accused of misquoting. But I will say that even I could be guilty of misquoting or misleading if I was not careful. And someone with malice could selectively quote to indicate something that is not honest because it is out of context, you know, quote the portion of someone’s utterances that seem to indicate one point of view while leaving out others that show the opposite or fill things in better. For sure I had no malice.

And I may have used this before in a previous post (a long time ago), but once I covered a meeting of the county board in which my then dentist spoke. He was objecting to a plan to allow mobile homes next to his country property. I quoted his exact words (but of course not every word he said, just a line). The editor decided to use the thought in the headline. I don’t recall the exact words but something about the good doctor not wanting trailers next to his property.

The doctor accused me of misquoting him. He also subsequently looked at my accumulated bill for services at his office and asked me to make increased monthly payments (I had no dental plan at the time). And I think he held a grudge against me from then on. Probably fortunate for me I moved elsewhere and had to change dentists (I will say that other dentists upon looking in my mouth said he had done excellent work). And I did often wonder if I could have toned the story down a bit by not using that quote. But he definitely was on record as opposing the mobile homes. And really, if it would lessen his own property value, who could blame him?

(And if I was his press secretary I could have said you know sir I think that will not sound right. I don’t think you meant that people who would live next to you are trailer trash. Could you give me another quote? And then I would really be guilty of dishonest reporting.)

But my whole point is that two well-meaning people can see and hear the same things and come away with different stories. We all know the thing on eye-witnesses not always being reliable.

You have to be honest going in. And readers and listeners have to be honest to themselves and compare stories and not believe everything they see and read and be able to sort through things.

p.s.

There is also the concept among some in journalism that one should just tell it like it is and not wind up wasting space to balance a story with obvious inaccuracies or false interpretations in the name of fairness to both sides. But that puts the journalist up as the only one who can discern truth. I don’t think so. But I do see the point that too much attempt at balance as if a news story was some kind of mathematical equation could be counterproductive to the truth.

 

 


If you want people to like you, real journalism is not for you…

August 10, 2015

If you want people to like you don’t be a journalist.

I have some limited experience in this, having worked as a journalist in my past.

I mention this in light of the wrath inflicted upon Fox News person Megyn Kelly by Donald Trump and his followers and apologists. It seems that maybe they thought her job was to just look pretty and ask softball questions that set people up to push their point of view across. From what I had seen of Fox News in the past they could almost count on favorable treatment.

(In the interest of clarity here, I think it has to be noted that Ms. Kelly is both a glamour gal and performer of sorts and a type of journalist. I mean look up her photos on the internet and you will see what I mean.)

But in the interest of show business, ratings, and I guess real journalism or something approaching it, the blond beauty with her perfect smile and teeth and hair and body asked some biting questions, including one concerning Trump’s habit of making sexist remarks to and about women.

For that she got threatened on air by Trump who warned her he could be mean to her, and then after the debate he implied that the woman journalist was in a bitchy mood because it was that time of the month.

The job of a journalist in these candidate debates or forums or cattle calls or whatever you might call them is to elicit responses that might enlighten the public and to show whether the respondent can think on his or her feet and can support his or her assertions or case. It is not to be simply partisan and set the prospective nominee up in a positive way that ignores any potential concern for voters.

Now there is a fine line between asking probing questions and loaded questions full of bias by the questioner. But that aside, if a candidate cannot stand up to hard questioning, he or she should not be in the race. This is the real world. This is serious business, not Celebrity Apprentice or whatever that Trump TV show was called.

I am a guy and I was never at the level of journalism that Ms. Kelly is at, but I did face the rejection of people who expected me to write nothing but fluff and nothing but stuff that made them look good.

Now this is going to sound petty, corny, small time or whatever, but I think it deals with this phenomenon nonetheless:

In my first job as a photographer/reporter for a small daily newspaper (well six days a week) a side job of mine was to edit (actually do all the writing for) something called the weekly “farm page”. It had some run-of-the-mill farm news, a lot of handouts that were thinly veiled advertisements or propaganda (you gotta fill that thing somehow), and usually a nice fluffy feature story written by me about some local farmer or rancher or some project conducted by the local state farm advisor (some places call such a person a county agent). The feature stories often had good information in them, but particularly when they were about an individual they were almost always positive — I mean there was no controversy and nothing to be negative about.

Well everyone loves you when you play them up in the paper.

But I wanted to be a real news reporter. So I began to cover the county courthouse beat.

I recall a certain county supervisor (some places call this a county commissioner) liked it when I chanced to take a cute photo of a dog in the back of a pickup truck standing atop bales of hay. Turns out it was his dog. I did not know that when I took the photo. We got along well. The supervisor and I that is, I did not actually meet his dog. I had gone to high school and was in Future Farmers of America with his son, that helped.

But then I began to do serious reporting and quoting what he and others said at meetings and supplying the necessary background in my stories to make sense of it all. And I have to say here: print journalism is often interpretation. It is not transcription. You would not have enough room in the paper to fill it with a verbatim transcript every time there was a meeting, even if you could produce one in a timely manner, and no one would have time to read it and without background it would likely not all make sense anyway. To cover the meetings of elected bodies I found it takes about a year to get acquainted with the procedures and the recurring issues and all the background.

It seems that the supervisors did not always agree with my interpretation. Sometimes they even said they were misquoted. I took to using a tape recorder. While it is certainly possible I could have misquoted someone nonetheless, in cases where we went back and checked the recording I had not done so. There is always the argument, though, that comments were taken out of context. That is where you must trust that the writer is being honest in is or her interpretation. But if the writer is not honest, I think it soon becomes apparent and there goes the writer’s credibility.

I’m taking a long time here to get to the point. One thing that used to stick in my craw was that the elected supervisors had a penchant for going into closed (secret) session. Such is allowed under California law if the subject of personnel or litigation is being discussed, although there are supposed to be limits on secrecy even then. The supervisors seemed to go into secret session at the drop of a hat as soon as the words “personnel” or “litigation” were even mentioned. Actually just discussing personnel in general, not individuals, is not a valid reason to go into secret session. Same for litigation I think.

But anyway I was always after them on that.

One time the board of supervisors went into a closed-door session and I listened at the door. I cannot say for sure, but I thought I heard that supervisor I mentioned say something to the effect that I was a pest. I took that as a compliment. That did not hurt.

But once I did a piece that he considered unfavorable to him. Well it seems that the local farm advisor was chums with him and that the farm advisor wanted to keep on good terms with the board because his department received some funding from the county.

I had always had good rapport with the farm advisor (there was actually more than one and we all got along well). He gave me a lot of good stories or leads for my farm page and I played up all his projects. He was a big and tall man and he was like an uncle to me almost.

But after I became what I considered a real reporter not just a fluff writer (although fluff has its place) he caught me by surprise one day and wagged his finger at me and said in a stern voice:

“You sure say unkind things about (supervisor so in so).”

I was stunned.

We never had a good relation after that. I felt bad about that.

Even I liked to be liked.

P.s.

I no longer work as a journalist but I have found that people tend to dislike your profession almost no matter what it is. I mean I’m a truck driver and I get the finger every day. I have a brother who is a lawyer, and you know all the bad things said about that profession.

Now I never have been a car salesman and never will be and I have nothing good to say about them. But someone has to do it I suppose…


I miss real paper newspapers; the web has no soul…

July 7, 2012

I miss real newspapers. I used to subscribe to my local daily newspaper but dropped it, partly because I am not home a lot because I am a long haul truck driver and because my wife passed away a couple of years ago — she read everything in it — but also because it got so small and lacked consistent content. The chain that owns it gutted its staff.

So these days I just surf the net, to include my local paper’s website, but I hate getting my news that way. I mean it’s up to date, up to the minute, and I have all the news in the world at my finger tips, plus reference material and so on, but I would be a lot more comfortable with a real newspaper. And sometimes my computer does not work right, especially out on the road. And even when it does, it is an uncomfortable way to read and the electronics of it all can be cumbersome. And you must have a power source (the battery does not last long). And it has been written, and I will confirm, that when you surf the web, for some reason, you find yourself just skimming and not taking it all in (although even with the conventional printed form we all do that to some extent or at times).

What I really miss is reading a paper with my breakfast. A lot of places don’t even sell newspapers anymore, or if they do, they might have USA Today, not much of a newspaper (if I just wanted headlines, I’d listen to broadcast, which I am forced to do anyway).

Real newspapers do survive, however. Now I don’t know how good of a newspaper the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) is, but when I read, on my computer, that a restaurant owner died after being visited by President Obama (not his fault, even though Mitt Romney will probably try to blame him for it), I went to the Beacon-Journal’s website and read their story — quite informative and interesting. Seems this elderly woman ran a restaurant that has kept more than one generation of her family busy (and employed). She died of a heart attack — she had been feeling ill recently. But she adored Mr. Obama, the story said. (Gee, to hear Republicans tell it, entrepreneurs have to be Republican by definition, but of course she must have been a Democrat; well at least she was a fan of the top Democrat).

Oh, and the restaurant reportedly served up soul food. Now I noticed in a photo that this woman was apparently not black, but it looked like some of her family may have been of mixed race, which has not much to do with anything, but I have to put this sentence in here to go with my concluding sentence and to support my headline.

There was also a story in the same issue of a driver of a runaway dump truck who managed to steer his rig clear of parked cars, children and adults, and buildings as it careened down a hill (apparently losing its brakes), finally hitting a tree, and then sliding into a river. The driver died, but was hailed as a hero by his family and friends, who said it was his nature to think of others. I originally picked that story up on the web.

That’s another reason for wanting to turn back the tide in the decline of newspapers. These stories have to come from somewhere. And the web does not have soul.

P.s.

I had always wondered how newspapers thought they were going to stay in business when they started giving away their material for free on the web. Just read a story (on the web) in Editor and Publisher that says the trend is for newspapers to build a pay wall, something I was already aware of — charging you for access (often just offering a teaser) — but it reinforced that message. I don’t blame them and if  it saves the industry, good (don’t know what I’ll do. I already pay quite enough to AT&T for my computer access, and the cost goes up steadily).


Chuck Colson dies and the free press is ailing…

April 22, 2012

Well first this week it was Dick Clark of American Bandstand fame, and now Chuck Colson, of Watergate fame is dead. Two totally different stories of course.

But just as Dick Clark was a seminal part of my growing up, so was Colson. Well not really Colson himself, but the Watergate scandal he was involved in. Actually I was grown up when it occurred. But I was just out of the Army and beginning my so-called career in journalism. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein broke the story about Watergate that eventually brought down the presidency of Richard Nixon.

That was back in the days when there was something called journalism, not just “media”, and when students still majored in “journalism“, not “communication”  or whatever name they have given it now (there used to be something called “publicity”, which reporters got into to make more money, kind of like prostitution).

Their efforts were made famous in the book and movie “All the President’s Men”. Of course reporters from the New York Times and other outfits did a lot (even more, perhaps) to tell the whole sordid story of Watergate too. It was about a presidency and re-election campaign gone way out of control, with Nixon using the power of his office and the government to stifle or intimidate political opponents or anyone who he or his staff thought might threaten his power.

I did not decide on journalism because of Woodward and Bernstein, though. Actually I thought it might be easier than work at the wood products mill and more suited to my talents or abilities. But that summer of the Watergate hearings, the summer before I entered into the actual workaday field of journalism, I was working in sugar beet and bean fields moving irrigation pipe — I had left the mill job. But every chance I got I listened with rapt attention the live broadcasts of the Watergate hearings. And I knew that something had gone terribly wrong with our democracy but the power of the press had been used in a good way and had set in motion the wheels of government oversight to set things right. And after I had become a newspaper reporter, I recall watching what I considered one of the most historic things I had ever seen — the President of the United States announcing his resignation of nationwide TV. I actually took a picture of the TV tube (I think at a 30th of a second shutter speed), just for my own remembrance (don’t know if I still have it).

Colson did prison time and then found God — that’s the nice thing about sinning, you can always later find God, or at least claim you did — I’m not sure how falsely claiming it will work at the pearly gates, though. Colson may have really been repentant or he may have just been sorry he got caught. I don’t know. Never paid much attention to him.

Nixon was able to regain some of his stature and reputation after time, not all of it. Ironically, I think he was an extremely able politician and leader, but he had a major character flaw (to say the least). And if he had just owned up to Watergate in the beginning I feel certain he would have gotten away with it, but covering up bad activity is sometimes as bad or worse than the actual bad activity and increases exposure to jail time — just ask Martha Stewart.

But anyway, when I watched the movie, “All the Presidents’ Men”, there they were, Woodward and Bernstein (well of course Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman playing them) hunting and pecking away at their manual typewriters. I never hunted and pecked. I at least used a my modified touch typing method, based on that taught in school, but I used manual typewriters for years. I thought it great that at the little paper where I worked at the time we were no further behind in that score than the Washington Post (my time frame is a little messed up in that the actual Watergate scandal pre-dated my entry into journalism a little bit, I think, but I saw the movie after going to work at a paper).

I often note (to anyone who might care) that newspaper newsrooms moved from manual typewriters to computers, while other offices had already been at least using electric typewriters for years or decades. Once when I was covering the local county board of supervisors meeting during a yearly budget session, the sheriff requested an electric typewriter for jail bookings. When asked by one of the supervisors why they could not just keep using the manual one since it would only be used by deputies not clerical personnel, the sheriff said he did not want to make his deputies labor at those manual typewriters — and you can just picture a deputy or jailer booking someone, hunting and pecking away, like on the old Barney Miller TV Show. I was nearly incredulous. I mean I knew I was headed back to my office to type out my story and many others on an old Royal manual typewriter. But hey, you know, they’re county workers, they get better pensions too.

And back to Chuck Colson and Watergate. Politics is dirty. Always has been. Always will be. And where there are elections (and even where there are not) there is politics — you just can’t take the politics out of politics. Colson and the others probably for the most part did little worse than had been done before and is still being done — except, I think in Watergate President Nixon and his henchmen did cross the line, using the power of government, such as through IRS harassment, and even the disruption of free elections, to thwart our democracy. They thought that because they felt they were supporting the right cause the ends justified the means. That thinking still often prevails today. Actually, it’s really scary. We even have people implying that we ought to do away (and I’m using a euphemism) with our current president (and you can’t get me to believe there isn’t some racism there). Colson is dead. Dirty politics will never die.

P.s.

Watergate made me feel good about the role of the free press in a free society. I was not too surprised to learn that in the small time newspaper owners were not so keen on investigative reporting, especially if it involved advertisers. But I have been saddened that with the advance of technology and competition in news reporting from the internet and the decline of newspaper advertising, the bean counters have taken over much of the larger segment of the free press. There is not as much money or enthusiasm to do real reporting — it’s more like who can be first with the tweet with the most banal comments. On the other hand, with the ability to instantly disseminate information worldwide and the pervasiveness of texting and You Tube and so on, it’s hard for anyone to get away with anything.