I remember more than eight years ago when I began discovering the Internet and all it’s potential. There was no such thing as a “blogger” back in those days. The best computers were likely still running on 400 cpus, or less, and the idea of audio and video were seriously hampered by immanently slow connection speeds. If you wanted to write something on your personal website, you could do so easily. If you wanted to present some audio, the sound wouldn’t be very good, and if you wanted to present a tiny, tiny video you could even do that, as long as the viewer was willing to wait ten minutes for a miserable thirty seconds of 32 kb of mushy grain moving around nearly indistinguishably on the screen. But, being something of a techie, I saw the potential. I had already heard the promises of blazing fast computers and the eventual high speed connections to come. And, I was hooked.
I realized then that the world of Journalism and the media was about to change forever, for better or worse, and that more than a few balloons were going to be burst along the way. Now, finally, the armchair quarterbacks of journalism could actually do some about the liberal mainstream media bias other than just sit there and rant. It wasn’t long before I had my first “news & information” website up and running, and except for some deliberately placed obstacles, my site has been presented on a regular basis, exploring various formats, and I’ve been a journalist ever since.
I also knew right away that the mainstream was shaking in their boots. And they still are. In the August 20th edition of the Huntsville Times an associated press article appeared saying that some teenager is facing jail after impersonating a journalist. Seems the kid wanted to get in to rub shoulders with the big league ball players. He forged his credentials saying he worked for NBC. The problem with this story is that is fails to point out what isn’t so obvious to the public and, what The Huntsville Times and other mainstream outfits, wouldn’t like them to realize. That is, he was not even a blogger, and made no pretense of being an independent journalist.
Well, Virginia, I’m not a blogger, and I AM an independent journalist. Over the years I’ve noticed that everyone who doesn’t work for the mainstream news media, and posts on the Internet, is automatically dubbed as a “blogger.” The term comes from “Web” and “log” and in my opinion implies someone who keeps an online diary. The big boys don’t want you to think of the online journalist as credible or legitimate, so they set out to downgrade them all to the ranks of the family calendar keeper. Those who do keep a blog of their personal thoughts and activities are just fine, but they don’t generally hold out to be journalist, and wouldn’t want to.
What gives me the right to think of myself as a journalist? Yes, the freedom of speech, but also, the freedom of press. Similar, but not exactly the same; as guaranteed by the United States Constitution. When was the last time you heard of a journalist license? There isn’t one (yet), and there shouldn’t be one for that matter. I am because I say I am. “You have to have a degree.” A degree in journalism from Columbia University, accredited by who, and with what political motivations? Most colleges and universities are overrun with foreign students, and therefore foreign money — are they the most objective authority to determine a “legitimate” journalist? I don’t think so. Will W Bush soon be issuing government certificates to journalists? Why not then just start an official government news agency, and outlaw all the rest? Hello big brother on the horizon (and in your backyard). Or, should it be the national press club? No, that’d be the same old liberally influenced students. How about advertisers? Do you have to have advertisers in order to be a legitimate journalist? Actually, I can’t think of anything that would make you less credible as a journalist that a long list of wealthy advertisers.
Here I must interject that I was on the newspaper staff in high school. We had an hour long class, and of course we had a great deal of latitude in terms of where we could go and what we could do, since the job of reporting, and eating lunch with advertisers, meant getting out of “class” and pursuing the activity. And here, I will confess the most honest, dishonest, thing I have ever done. As a student writer I went through all the exercises required for writing grammar and punctuation (and, yes, I’m still working on it), when finally it came my turn to actually submit a story. I don’t remember now exactly how many I turned in, but it was only a few until the teacher called me aside and said I would have to rewrite the story. It wasn’t that she wanted me to correct errors, or even to slightly change the tone, she meant change the story completely to put an “acceptable” slant on it. Acceptable to who? I don’t even remember the content now, just that we had reached an impasse that my own moral and ethical considerations wouldn’t allow for.
After arguing and discussing, and my refusing to put a candy coating on the story, I found myself relegated to advertising duty. Selling advertising was about the last thing I wanted to do as a journalist, and yet it became clear that there would be no other opportunities for me to write. Again I approached the winch to express my misgivings. It wasn’t what I signed up for, and I expected to be able to contribute my stories. Finally, at her suggestion, we reached a compromise. If I would simply keep myself busy during that class, and away from school, she would automatically issue a mediocre passing grade “C” for the course. With that, we parted ways, and never again did I even set foot in that classroom. I got my “C.” No one ever questioned the arrangement, staff was unaware, the other students were busy, and not willing or interested.
In the long haul I certainly did learn my lesson, and many others from that situation. The first is the corruption in the school system. Even if the teacher’s point and motive are well taken., newspapers and media is in business to make money, and without it no one gets a job. True enough, but public education should teach the idealist concept, not the nasty real world. Education should teach students the best possibilities, not the worst. The more “journalists” that graduate and expect to operate in an objective and unbiased manner, the more likely the editors, and advertiser, will wield to the idea. The concept holds true across the board. If kids are taught the constitution, then they would expect democracy, etc. Instead, we now have a country where cynicism and corruption has risen to new heights.
What else gives me the right to think of myself as a journalist? My own criteria consists of several things. First, I have published regularly, and over a period of time. I don’t impersonate anyone. When I wanted to cover the 30th celebration of the moon landing in 1999 at the US Space & Rocket Center, located in Huntsville, I sent an e-mail to then media director Al Whittaker and told him who I was, and gave him the address to my website. I made no bones with him, “Take me as I am;” or not. He said ok, and I showed up.
With a brand new 35 mm SLR camera in hand, I had no idea what to do, where to go, what to say…or for that matter, since I hadn’t done any photography in several years, exactly how to use the camera. (Point and shoot works, but you know indoor lighting, outdoor lighting, fill flash, no flash, etc.) I had already made my own identification card, and he gave me one of their official press cards when I arrived. I should point out that I never was on a “big game” hunt per se, nor have I ever been attempting to pursue employment as a professional journalist with some big outfit, I might if the opportunity was presented, but neither of those have never been my aims. In spite of my lack of experience, I got some nice snapshots, including notable astronauts like Buzz Aldrin, and Alabama governor Don Siegelman. I didn’t cause any raucous, and after getting the photos developed, and scribbling a few words, I posted my report on the Internet.
My snapshots are real, my scribbles are accurate. When I am unsure of facts, I say so, and when I post my opinion I say so. Over the last eight years I have covered other events that required advance permission, including events at the Von Braun Civic Center, and an Elton John concert in Oklahoma. In short, I am honest, accurate, and as comprehensive as I can be. (Where the coma goes is important, but it isn’t what makes a journalist.)
Noting a letter to the editor in today’s USA Today, John Singh from Oakland says to stress the distinction between bloggers and journalists. He brags about his formal training and closes saying “if the journalism profession is to continue to thrive and be meaningful to our society journalists will need to quickly begin making distinctions between the great care it takes to do their job well and the fly-by-night, poor “reporting” of bloggers.
What unmitigated gall. First, just as there are some professional journalists who don’t deserve to be painted with the same broad stroke as liberal and corrupt, there are also many bloggers whose “reporting” is fair and accurate, and who are and should be considered “journalists.” I am one such independent journalist. Consider this, John. If you had to see a doctor for a heart attack, would you rather go to a well trained professional who intends to let you die on the operating table, so he can get a cut from your widows estate; or would you rather take a chance on a good witch doctor? Might have only been indigestion.
If you’re not yet convinced, then consider this. There are things that I can say as an independent journalist that a so-called “professional” journalist wouldn’t even dare to touch. As evidence, I present this editorial written in response to black Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin’s intent to drive the homeless black men from downtown Atlanta.
Oh! I used the “n” word. It’s called sarcasm. In context there is no insult to an African American, except the reflection of Mayor Franklin. It’s also satire. A black woman denigrating the black men she’s helped to displace to begin with. It’s also maniacal, because it’s just crazy enough to make the point. It is also simile and metaphor. Etc. But, it is not gratuitous. Was it really necessary to be so crude? You bet. Because it is a reflection of the crude indifference exhibited by Mayor Franklin at the time. In fact, looking back at the editorial, I think it must be one of my best, and most appropriate. But, you’d never see that on CBS.
What you would see on CBS, however, is Katie Couric. Ah, a white woman for the white man’s network. Or should I say, the white folks network. Apparently I’m not the only one who realizes that CBS is catering to racial bias. I suspect the upcoming Survivor Island being cast into racial groups is an effort to shift racial scrutiny from Ms. Couric. Here is another article I posted more recently in regard to CBS and Ms. Couric:
The point is that the subtle inequities by CBS are actually more culturally damaging than something blunt and straightforward because they deliberately obscure the point. It’s not about whether white folks should have their own network, it’s about transparency. I am, they are not. Whose journalistic standard is higher in that light?
Even at 50, Katie’s got them legs and sex appeal. I don’t know of any journalistic experience or credentials that she’s got, other than I still think she’d make a good talk show host. “It’s gotta sell!” Frankly, after last nights debut, I’m not sure she will. But, I don’t think a host most suited for playboy is the right stuff for the CBS Evening News. Is that a journalistic standard? I wonder if they’ll keep her around when SHE hits 75. Will she look good enough then?
Ah, but again the irony.
In the mean time, and in closing, I think it apt to point out, as Rumsfeldt recently did, sometimes the naive and gullible can work in both directions. Maybe we American’s will catch on before it’s too late. Until then, I’ll be editorializing just like a regular journalist.
And by the way, and not unlike a self-proclaimed Alabama preacher, I wouldn’t mind at all adding you to my short list of not-so wealthy sponsors (middle-class is fine). If you’d like to make a donation, click on the Paypal button in the far right column.
© 2006, 2012 – Jim Casey
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