Saturday, December 31, 2011

No apologies from journalists. This is what we do.

Here in central Maine a 20-month-old girl is missing. Her dad put her to bed on a Friday night and she was gone when he went to check on her the next morning, he told police.
That was two weeks ago.
Several days ago, I was discussing the story with a non-journalist acquaintance and she remarked -- with disapproval -- that I didn't seem too feel very bad about it.
I gave some quick and generic answer.
But I've been thinking about it, and I'm going to try again here.
There are thousands of people out there daily saying how bad they feel about Ayla Reynolds' disappearance. You can see them in the grocery store and at vigils and on national TV.
I don't need to add my voice to that chorus.
But I can say, as a journalist, there aren't nearly as many people who can do what we do. Very few, as a matter of fact. And that's tell the story with accuracy, professionalism and credibility.
It's something that's gotten lost in the past decade with all the noise out there coming from the Internet and cable TV and the gotta-keep-talking 24-hour news cycle. A lot of noise going on, but not necessarily a lot of telling the story the way it ought to be told.
Good journalists are keenly aware of their commitment to their audience. Our job is to tell you what's going on. If knowledge is power, it's our job to bring the best knowledge to the people -- whether it's stories about what your government is doing, what's going on in the streets of your town, the halls of your school or the aisles of your grocery store.
It doesn't have so much to do with "selling papers" -- that old accusation we hear any time we jump on a big story. Of course we want to sell papers. It's a business. But few reporters or editors are thinking about that when they're working on telling the story.

And when an important story has to be told, every journalist worth his or her salt wants to be the one to tell it.
It's like playing for the Red Sox and wanting to have the bat in your hand when Game 7 is on the line.
And when that story is happening in your town, you HAVE to be the one to tell it. No one is going to tell it better. And nothing compares to the excitement of being part of a team of talented professional journalists who can't wait to get out there and tell it the best way they can.
We know a lot of people don't understand it. You don't have to understand it. Just be glad we do.
Two weeks ago today, a 20-month-old child vanished from her bed.
How do I feel about it?
It goes without saying.
Two weeks ago today, a child vanished from her bed. In my town. And I'm a journalist.
How do I feel about it?
Put me in, coach.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Journalism: A Day in the LIfe

This is a true story. Every quote is accurate. It carries no moral, no conclusion. Enjoy.
Scene: Augusta, Maine, supermarket. The newspaper editor (me) puts several newspapers on conveyor belt, along with various groceries. Cashier and bagger both in their 20s or 30s.
Cashier to bagger (looking at newspaper headline World Looks Warily at North Korea): "Oh, that's right. Kim Lee Duck or whatever died."
Bagger shakes her head and shrugs.
Cashier (trying again): "Dong Duck Lee? Whatever?"
Bagger (putting one pound can of peeled tomotoes on top of loaf of bread) shrugs again.
Me: "Kim Jong Il."
Cashiner: "Right!"
Bagger: "I don't know who that is."
Me: "The leader of North Korea."
Bagger: "Oh." (pause) "That's sad."
Me: "Not really. He didn't like us. Dangerous guy. Maybe could have blown us up."
Bagger (brightening): "Then that's good!"
Me: "Not really. No one knows what's going to happen next."
Bagger: "I'm confused."
Cashier: "It's confusing."
Me: "You can read all about it in the newspaper."
Cashier laughs, like I made a joke: "Whatever!"
Bagger wrinkles her nose in disgust (yes she did!): "I don't think so."
Cashier: "Whatever. Have a nice day!"
I take my groceries and leave.

Friday, December 16, 2011

In America, all religions are equal. Some are just more equal than others.

The religious fervor of constantly genuflecting Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow is getting a lot of press and airtime these days.
The devoutly evangelical Christian explains his on-field praying, "If you believe, unbelievable things can happen," with an aw shucks this ain't about me humility.
What's not to love? The media has certainly eaten it up with coverage in the mainstream press, web and television almost universally laudatory aside from the ineffective nod to balanced coverage. Even the Boston Globe, in a story that aimed to be neutral, but didn't hit the mark, can't help but beam at the all-American boy.
In the article Tuesday headlined "Hail Mary passer: Broncos' Tebow is all the rage, whether it's his playing style or spiritual belief," the newspaper gives lip service to opposing views, while most of the lengthy feature is given over to a variety of people explaining why Tebow does what he does and why it's ok.
And New England Cable News led into its glowing piece this morning with the intro that Tebow is "winning hearts and minds" with his behavior.
Both reports had the obligatory religion professor asking "what if he were a Muslim?"
But the coverage from both reports, like most others, then slid fully into pure Tebow love. NECN spent the last minutes of the report having a young female Tebow-obsessed fan showing the reporter how to genuflect Tebow-style.
Sure the Muslim question gets asked. But the issue with it is that in every single media report it's rhetorical.
It's asked, then the story moves on.
No one asks that question of all the people who righteously, defiantly -- and correctly -- point out that Tebow has the right to practice his Christianity on the field. No one says to them, "OK, he as a Christian has the right, but how would YOU FEEL ABOUT IT if he were Muslim?"
And so the moment passes.
But what if he were?
Farther back in the newspapers -- for instance, on the business page of that day's Globe -- buried on the websites and not evident almost anywhere on television, is the increasingly succesful effort of a group called the Florida Family Association to get sponsors to pull out of the TLC reality show "All-American Muslim."
The most notable sponsors to leave the show are Lowe's, whose reason is that the show is a "lightning rod" for controversy., a travel website, also pulled out, explaining this week that it's not because the show's about Muslims, but it's because it "sucks."
As far as reality shows go, "All American Muslim" IS a little bland. No sex, no bling. Just regular Americans getting through the day and life in Dearborn, Mich. Recent episodes dealt with the high school football team's big loss to Central Catholic in the season-opening game, hampered by the fact many of the players were fasting because of Ramadan; a character's post-partum depression; another's desire to open a nightclub despite the disapproval of her conservative mother; and a soon-to-be married couple's conflict over whether the man's aging dog can live with them in their new house.
The show also includes the characters sitting in a group, discussing their beliefs and explaining why, for instance, women live at home until they're married or why Muslims generally don't like having a dog in the house.
In other words, it's a show about regular people who are anywhere from devoutly religious to not very religious at all living their lives.
One thing that's ironic, given that the Florida Family Association is fighting to get the show off the air, is that the obvious theme running through every episode is family love and devotion.
Kayak sponsors a lot of shows. Some are much better than "All American Muslim" and some certainly are worse. Is whether a show "sucks" really that company's standard for sponsorship?
The show that features the football game against Central Catholic has a Central Catholic player saying after the game that his team respects the team they just beat and religious beliefs have nothing to do with the game or how his team feels. "Everyone's a football player on this field."
Lightning rod, indeed.

Lowes and Kayak are businesses. They exist to make money. And they've determined that in America, more customers will be behind religious intolerance than equality and religious enlightenment.
So, what if Tim Tebow were a Muslim?