Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Journalism, war and high school

A week or so ago one of my mom's neighbors, a high school kid, wrote me an e-mail asking me to answer a few questions for a class project. He was working on something having to do with the media and public perceptions of the war, and because Mom told him that Mich and I are journalists he contacted both of us.

OK, fine, happy to help. But Michele and I both thought the questions were a bit loaded, as in biased against the press. We answered separately and then compared our responses to find that, as on so much else, our takes were nearly identical.

Here's the kid's note. What do you think? How would you have answered?

Hello my name is ---- ----. I live across the street from Rita, I am a senior at sheldon high school and i am in the International Studies Program.
I am writing a paper for graduation on the subject of the relationship
betweeen the media and the military during wartime.
Since you work for a newspaper i was wondering if you could help me by
answering some questions. If these questions do not apply to you
please leave blank. I f you know of anybody who has reported on
stories on iraq or has actually been to iraq, and would like to
contribute to my
paper i would appreciate a email address or contact. If you have time
i would appreciate your help. If possible a response by the 15th
would be appreciated.


1. Well written interesting storeis bring in more readers. Do you
know of any instance where a
reporter has embelished a story (published or unpublished) for a
competitive edge or for ratings?
Was it in general news or during a conflict?

2. During invasion of Iraq in 2003, when the war was fast, the
urgency to be first with a story,
has a reporter ever misinterpreted the facts?

3. What is the percentage of reports coming from Iraq that are
positive reports concerning the
good that is taking place there? What about the negative reports? Do
you hear more form
the negative or positive reports? Why do you think that?

4. Do you think the public's right to know the information on the
Iraq War overrides the military
objectives for winning the war?

5. What do you think the positives and the negatives are for having
embedded reporters during war?

6. Has a reporter or editor ever been ordered to cover up information
in order to sway the public's
opinion in a certain way?

7. Do you think media reporting during the war affects military startegy?

8. Have you ever seen different stories or accounts of the same event
by the military reports and the media reports?

9. To your knowledge, has a reporter ever recievedmisinformation from
the military to sway the public in another way?

10. Do you feel that the public has the right to know EVERYTHING?

11. Is it hard to not be the least bit biased when you are writing an article?

12. How did you feel about the continuous 24 hour coverage of the war
when it was on TV?

13. Do you or your colleagues have any short stories from the
reporters in Iraq?

14. Do you know any war correspondants that i could interview for my paper?

Thank You for your help!


kateco said...

I actually have lots to say about this, but I am completely jammed for time.

But re war coverage check out this bbc story about a pulitzer winner accused in "terror plots" -- http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7103239.stm

kateco said...

er click here for the story ref-ed above

Mark said...

Thanks, Kaye.

Gosh, now I feel kind of bad. I basically just lectured the kid on how noble the profession of journalism is.

kateco said...

I thought a couple of things:

1) This guy has had some teacher in high school, or maybe a parent, stress that he should not believe everything he reads or hears. And that is a good thing. Especially if you are watching Fox News... and now, sadly even CNN.

2) I also see in his questions the blurring what I used to believe was a very clear and broad line between television news and newspaper journalism. And I, too, had the immediate reaction to say, "look, the people I worked with at newspapers were just trying to do a good job getting the truth out to the people ... it is a noble, humbling and important profession ... there are a few isolated instances of people like Jayson Blair who doll-up and fabricate things, but they are the most rare and hated figures in newsrooms across the country ... and don't lump newspaper journalists in with those TV people who hawk scandal and quote TMZ in single source stories about Britney's HORRIFYING transgressions ..." And, that's where I had to stop myself.

I started to wonder about that line between newspapers and television that has been so clear in my head. It might not be so clear in the head of a high school senior -- and maybe that's because it really isn't so clear anymore. Maybe it is old think.

Maybe, even though Michelle and Mich go to newsrooms everyday that still have a set of ethics that we were all brought up on professionally, a way of working that seemed obviously right, immutable -- it is a system that's under enormous pressure right now. One big pressurizer is the 24 hour news network news producer/network market executive who knows that fear-mongering, lurid scandal coverage and general sensationalism is the product his network is selling. Not only is this guy competition, if the FCC chairman gets his way, more and more that producer or some creature like him will be in the chain of publication -- jaundicing all corporate journalism. Will it happen tomorrow, next year, in 2525? Is it happening now?

A high school kid might already be seeing all news sources as one kind of thing and might find our ideas about news judgment to be upstanding, but old fashioned.

Does that mean that I am hearing the voice of doom for all good things in journalism? Um, no. But I do hear the train-like roar of the Tornado of Change -- and goddamn! the roof just blew off the house next door. Will the kid's questions be more valid in 5 years, 10 years? 20? Would they have been valid in the 1880s?.

How, then, will our side win? How will good journalism beat out evil corporate news-o-tainment? Maybe like this. I know I hope so.

Sorry for the length of this mother of all comments, but I'm just sayin' ...

freda said...

wow, I think you just did the kid work for him. If I were him I would just print that out and turn it in.

Mark said...

Kaye, this is an incredible comment: smart and thoughtful and generous, and so much better than my Level A answers for the kid. Really, I'm blown away by the way your mind works ... so big-picture expansive and at the same time so real-world experienced.

I wish in my last job I'd worked with anybody who had half your brains and heart.

Ronelle said...

I have to weigh in in this discussion - late as I am - from a totally different perspective. As a middle school teacher I have to say that I feel this kid is being taught to think critically and to be aware of the potential for and dangers of bias. Critical thinking is a very difficult skill to teach. Kids, and I fear most people, are quick to believe and accept without question anything they hear or read. As an outsider, I have to agree that the line between news and entertainment is getting more and more difficult to find. Young kids today do not have the experience of the tough, hard nosed, though provoking investigative reporter or the "most trusted man in America" anchorman. Unfortuately, it is important for kids to recognize the power of words to influence behavior and to learn to question and gather infor and decide to themselves. I admire the depth of thought in his questions. I can see how they might seem accusatory to a good honest news guy - but to a teacher trying to help kids learn to think for themselves - they were an indication that this kid is learning to hold his news providers - print or tv - to a high standard.

I hope this made sense and lent a different point of view to this thread.

Mark - interestingly enough -I spend quite a bit of time on these issues in my class. I was thinking of asking you and Michelle and Michele if you might be interested in experimenting on some ways of sharing your knowledge with my kids. Maybe a video, powerpoint, interview...however, this kid beat me to it and it doesn't seem as though you enjoyed it..ha ha. If you think you might me interested in bicoastal lessons let me know.

Mark said...

Ronelle, thanks for this. Your comments, like Kaye's, help me see I reacted a bit defensively to the student's questions. And I do appreciate the idea of encouraging students to question authority, even if that means me or my colleagues.

On the other hand, I worry a little bit that questioning authority is coming to mean, first, doubting news reports about what the government is saying or doing, and not doubting the government's statements or actions themselves.

I don't think I was mean or rude in responding to Mom's neighbor, by the way. I answered his questions as honestly and straightforwardly as I could, and acknowledged problems inherent in reporting. But I also tried to defend a profession that's so much under attack lately.

Anyway, I'd be happy to contribute to any of your class projects in any way that you think would be helpful.

kateco said...

thanks Mark ... i love this blog