Tue Apr 30 2013
Hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, coverage of that tragedy coincided all too well with my recent posts on journalism.
Millions of words have already been written about what happened, so I simply want to leave you with this:
“There’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.”
To close out this series of posts, I wanted to talk about one last aspect of modern-day journalism: interaction.
In the old days, news was a one-way street. Reporters gathered the information — interviews, research, photos/audio/video — and then put out the stories. We read them. The end.
Well, I guess if you really wanted to respond, you could write a letter to the editor.
But nowadays we are not limited to that kind of silent consumption. We can be contributors, in a variety of ways. For better or worse. (Maybe both.)
- Thanks to the proliferation of digital cameras, smart phones, etc., it’s easier than ever to participate in “common man reporting,” as I called it earlier. We can gather the information now — interview, research, photos/audio/video. All at the touch of a button.
- Thanks to the internet, we can also publish the stories ourselves. Via Facebook, Twitter, email, personal sites, and more. The whole web is like a 24/7 broadcast, in a way, and each of us has our own channel, if we want it.
- And even if we don’t want to do any of that, we can still hold a microphone to our virtual mouths. Comments are like our generation’s letters to the editor. Only they tend to be a lot uglier, with worse spelling and more all caps.
In theory, I’m glad that everyone can have a voice. Because voice is power, voice is vital. Too many bad things have happened throughout history when people were denied their rightful voices.
But part of me wonders why some individuals feel the need to air such vile and vicious thoughts online. Why are they clamoring for their meanness to be heard, to be validated? And what do they think it adds to the news?
Maybe we all need to learn how to sit quietly within our own minds.
(And some people definitely need to be taught manners and common decency. Sadly, arguing or engaging with those people online is pointless — counterproductive, even.)
Anyway. Those are my thoughts. That’s my voice, being shared on my channel. For better or worse. Maybe both.
Fri Apr 12 2013
Part of what has inspired my recent reflections on how and where we get information is a developing news story that involves someone I vaguely know. Without going into details, I will say that the story is a sad one, and unfortunately there are many questions that we won’t get the answers to anytime soon, if ever. But even being two or three degrees removed, I have enough of an “insider’s” perspective to know that the media coverage can’t be taken at face value. Skewed wording, contradictory reporting, and flat-out misinformation. Each individual error is relatively small and forgivable — some are even well-intentioned — but added up they paint a worrisome picture.
It reminds me that we, the general public, cannot be content to believe everything that we read or hear. We must remember to take things with a grain salt, and ask questions when things don’t make sense.
It reminds me just how dependent we are on these news outlets* — whether printed on paper, broadcast on TV, or transmitted online. This relationship hinges on trust, on mutual respect for the journalistic process and integrity. Fragile things that work until they don’t, easily taken for granted or abused.
It reminds me of another time that I was close to a controversial news story. Much, much closer than I am now. Zero degrees removed. The story of my senior year of high school is a long one (probably a novel someday, no joke) but despite the nearly ten years that have passed since then, I can still recall with vivid emotional clarity how frustrating it was to have one’s own life publicly misrepresented, manipulated, mangled. How small and powerless I felt, yet ironically standing in a spotlight, trapped under a microscope.
And it reminds me most of all of our common humanity. How fallible, and how noble, people can be. How much we’re capable of doing, both ugly and beautiful. How we often come together when something threatens to tear us apart. How we are driven by a need for justice and truth, though we are sometimes blinded by (or blind to) those very things.
*”Common man reporting” via Twitter, blogs, etc., can provide a sort of check-and-balance on traditional news outlets. People “on the ground” can instantly broadcast their mobile photos and eye-witness accounts — and even more valuable than any one individual’s testimony is the conglomeration of them all. Facts emerge as patterns.
But just as easily as information is spread, so is misinformation. People jump to conclusions, often without the background knowledge needed to make them in the first place. And like a bad game of Telephone, things usually become more distorted with each transmission.
So democratized journalism is no more foolproof than the traditional kind. Everything above still applies.
Wed Apr 10 2013
A few weeks ago, before I went back to Texas to visit my parents, my dad asked me to pick up a couple issues of my local newspaper. They recently changed to a smaller format, and as a fellow publisher, my dad wanted to see how things had turned out. (Spoiler alert: There were both pros and cons. As with most things.)
From there, we got to talking about where people get their news nowadays, and the differences between the various sources. Print vs. television vs. internet. Accuracy of information vs. speed of getting it out there. Metrics for success; audience demographics; costs and revenue; etc.
I confessed to being thoroughly of the Millennial generation on this, and thus getting most of my news from Google and social media. For example, Twitter was how I had learned of Osama bin Laden’s death. (However, I did then stay up to watch President Obama’s press conference on CNN.)
“Okay, but what about local news?” my dad pressed.
“Oh. Truthfully, I don’t really keep up with it… I guess I catch the nightly news sometimes?”
My dad sort of harrumphed and said, “Most of the time that’s just who got stabbed last night. Newspapers are where you find out what’s really happening in your neighborhood — changes with the school district, what the congressmen are doing, new roads being built. The stuff that actually affects you.”
Honestly, I had never thought of it that way before, but I think he’s probably right. There’s usually lot more valuable information to be found in 16 inky pages than in 16 minutes between commercials. (And don’t even get me started on the gimmicky way that TV sensationalizes stories to reel you in. “What insanely popular new toy will kill your baby in a heartbeat? We’ll tell you 3 hours from now, so don’t change that channel.”)
On a more personal level, it made me really proud to realize/remember that my dad truly considers that to be his job. Not just to sell advertising or increase subscriptions — but to keep his readers informed about their communities, about the news that will impact their lives.
(Please note: I’m not trying to hate on television news. I think it’s great for certain things. But the “we must get high ratings” aspect does have an impact, just like “we must get high pageviews” does on the internet.)
So while technology is changing a lot about the way we do things, hopefully we can all stay focused on and driven by the heart of why we do them.
Mon Mar 18 2013
This is not usually a space for politics, but the Steubenville rape case has hit the YA community hard, and I have thoughts.
(Note: I did blog about this previously, though not as directly as I’m about to.)
When the verdict came down yesterday, I was not happy. I was not pleased. I did not feel that justice was served or that anybody had won. I believe it was the correct decision, but I do not believe it was a victory or a cause for celebration.
Because nothing can truly right such a wrong as this.
Twitter had some strong opinions. Apparently no one is allowed to feel sympathy for the two boys whose lives have been forever altered. Apparently the girl is a slut and deserved what she got — was asking for it, even. Apparently it’s a conspiracy and the whole world is against one small town in Ohio. Apparently this is really about alcohol, or football, or privacy in the digital age.*
Sometimes Twitter is stupid.
I worry that for most of America, this will be the end of the Steubenville case. I worry that the wave of righteous indignation will crest and then ebb, and we will go back to whatever else we were doing before. I worry, because this should be just the beginning. The beginning of an important nationwide discussion — and a million smaller conversations in homes, in offices, in schools. This should start a movement to understand and educate one another.
That would be the only silver lining to this overwhelmingly sad situation.
If I’m being honest, I do feel sorry for the two boys. What they did was reprehensible and inexcusable, hence the verdict and the sentences. But what now? Do we wash our hands of them, let them “rot in jail”?
I find that attitude particularly abhorrent coming from the YA community. We, who immerse ourselves in teen stories, should know better. We understand exactly how mature teens can be, and at the same time we recognize how young they still are. We know the tremendous power and turmoil of coming-of-age, and we believe in the opportunity for growth and redemption. We know that life is not about picking sides like a dodgeball game. When it comes to improving teen lives, we are all supposed to be playing on the same team.
What I’m saying is, people are not born monsters. Monsters are created. I hope that these two boys will not be sent farther and faster down the path to monster-hood. I hope we will do everything in our power, over these next few years, to find them, turn them around, and bring them back here with us where they belong.
The survivor, too, must learn and grow. (I think it’s possible to express concerns over her decision-making without saying she caused or deserved her rape.) In my training as a sexual assault advisor in college, I learned that we call them survivors, not victims, because of the strength they show in dealing with and hopefully overcoming their assaults. This girl has endured much more than anyone should have to, and I hope she will continue to draw from whatever well of courage has gotten her this far. But of her I also ask, What now? Will she try to put this behind her and return to her “normal” life? Or will she perhaps find an even better course to pursue from here on forward?
Those are the questions that I hope everyone involved will be asking themselves. The other partygoers who saw and said/did nothing. The parents. The teachers. The town.
Indeed, those are the questions we should all be asking, as I said earlier.
And to those who say, “They’ll never change,” I say in reply, “They sure won’t if we never try.”
*As an aside, I know a lot of people worry about the younger generations and how they use social media, how they view privacy or lack thereof. Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’s not such a bad thing for their lives to be open books. Yes, their mistakes will haunt them — but maybe then they’ll learn to make fewer and smaller mistakes as they mature. At the very least they may not be able to hide things as easily, and that leaves the door open for people older and wiser to keep an eye on them, and step in when needed.
Sat Mar 9 2013
The subway isn’t too crowded at mid-afternoon, but it’s busy enough that there are no free seats. We all shuffle around the metal posts, angling for a handhold. Our bodies sway as one whenever the car stops and starts.
At Antón Martín, a white-haired couple comes on, looks around, and settles for leaning against the wall. A woman in her 30s notices them and stands, offering her chair. When the older woman shakes her head, the younger woman gestures to insist. The older woman declines once more, this time with a wave of her hand. Her husband smiles at the younger woman, who nods and retakes her seat.
Courtesy, pride. Youth, maturity. All of this passes in a matter of seconds. Then it’s on to the next stop. We shuffle and sway.
We wait in line to enter the small Egyptian temple that sits in the middle of Madrid. (A gift from one country to another, says the official story. A pity purchase during poor economic times, says the rumor mill.) Beside us, sandstone arches rise out of the water. Scattered around the pond, a group of students sketches.
Inside the temple, there’s more waiting. The old passageways are so narrow, only a few people can pass at a time. In line behind us is an American family with a Midwestern accent. “Meep,” says the older son. “Meep,” echoes the younger son. “Meep. Meep. Meep, meep. Meep, meep. Meep meep meepmeep MEEEEEEP!”
The parents scowl and tell the kids to hush. Andy and I turn to each other and share a silent laugh.
An autumn stroll through Buen Retiro park. It’s a quiet way to close out our trip. My choice. My favorite place.
We walk past the lake, through the twisting green paths, down to the Palacio de Cristal. There’s barely enough sun — but barely enough is better than none — and dim rainbows glisten off every pane of glass. We circle the pond, stepping around teenagers who hang about as confidently and unconcerned as the cats.
From here we will go back. Back to the subway, to the hotel, to the States. But for now, the leaves are changing, and the air is cool and damp. I’ve never seen Retiro like this before. I wish I knew it better. I wish I knew it year-round.
But barely enough is better than none. I soak it in.