Monday, September 28, 2009

A Glimpse of the Future of News

The coverage of the slaying of an abortion protester in Owosso, Michigan, on 9-11 (the date alone should have grabbed editors' attention) proves, once again, that the first casualty of war is truth - especially in a cultural war. The story provides a glimpse in to the future of the gathering and distribution of news. What I see isn't pretty.
Unless you are involved in the abortion debate, you might have missed the shooting death of James Pouillon, who, in life, gained local, limited notoriety by picketing at schools with bloody photos of aborted fetuses. The story may not have been in your area's papers, but it's all over the 'net, giving Pouiloon much more than his allotted 15 minutes of fame.
The story wasn't in my papers. I've asked the San Francisco Chronicle's John Diaz to explain. So far, no answer. Editors at two free Peninsula dailies I read were far more honest. Both said they didn't know about it.
I wrung my hands when I heard about the killing. Not because I was happy. {I'm not that hardened). It was a newsroom habit developed over the years, one that signaled that we were going to have a big story. "Boy," I said to myself,"this one REALLY has a local angle."
The local angle is named Ross Foti, who has drawn the wrath of many for carrying similar signs at Peninsula schools - even a Catholic school - and clinics. Like Pouillon, Foti has become the center of debates over free speech as well as abortion. Yet I saw nothing in our locals about the Michigan killing. Seemed a natural to me.
Why didn't the local editors know about this story? My guess is that we are paying the price for letting UPI become moribund. News hinges on what AP does with it. I wouldn't have known about the killing if I hadn't seen the first, slim AP story that moved automatically on sfgate, the Chronicle's online edition. The giant news agency usually does an outstanding job in the early, developing stages of major "breaking" news. Does it, however, try to promote similar stories equally on its news budget, which becomes the stories we will talk about? I've asked for comment, but, you guessed it, still no answer to my email.
This has happened before. About three months ago, the killing of a late-term abortion doctor in Kansas was all over the news, followed later by a killing at the Holocaust Museum in the nation's capital. Around this time I spotted on sfgate an AP story reporting that a military recruiter had been shot to death. While the first two garnered strong Bay area coverage, the recruiter's death was virtually ignored, even though there was a good local angle - the Code Pink picketing of recruiting offices in Berkeley.
There's plenty on the Internet about all these killings. All seem to be written by lawyers or PR people who want you to know certain facts but leave out others. The stories by backers of legal abortion try to beat down those by anti-abortion forces that see media bias in the extensive coverage of the Kansas killing and the comparative slim amount given the Michigan killing.
"The truth is the sum of the facts" was something I was taught years ago by a former AP political writer turned journalism teacher. "If you want to tell one side of a story you're in the wrong business."
Now the news business is the "wrong business" to be in if you like eating. I can't help think that one of the reasons newspapers are so emaciated is that too many journalists forget some early lessons.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Does AP stand for Agenda Pope?

There's an epiphany in "Philip's Code" where the central character realizes the wire service he works for is so powerful it is "the Vatican of news," meaning it has the last word on, well, words. The coverage of the Sonia Sotomayor trek to the Supreme Court serves as a good example. Sotomayor was billed as the "first Hispanic" on the court, a term the Associated Press ran with, which meant just about all news outlets followed. But, hold on. Is a news reformation going on? Bloggers brought up the name of Benjamin N. Cardozo, named to the court in the 1930s. Was he the first Hispanic? Pretty much depends on how one defines "Hispanic," which set off a lively, and interesting, debate on the Internet. Some insisted Cordozo qualified because his ancestry could be traced to Portugal, which butts up against Spain. Others said no way. Cardozo probably never heard the word "Hispanic." I'll bet he thought of himself as an American who was Jewish. Which brings up another interesting point. Cardozo was appointed at a time, which is in living memory, when religion played an import part in selections for the court. There were "Jewish seats" and "Catholic seats." Little noted, except by bloggers, is the fact that Sotomayor gives the court six Catholics. Not an issue - if the Catholicism of other nominees hadn't been controversial.
The AP could have noted the blog disputes, not with some meaningless sidebar, but, briefly, in its main story. What we need is a news counter-reformation instead of a reformation - one in which trust is established. Otherwise we will continue to see individual interpretation of the news.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama: The road to Morocco wasn't smooth

Bush was bashed for calling the fight against terror a "crusade," but Obama gets away with trying to rewrite the Marines Hymn. That's pretty much what he did in his speech in Cairo when he said Morocco was "the first nation to recognize my country" and then pointed to the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796. Sounds like Morocco was a good guy, not a nation backing pirates and forcing us to pay tribute and ransom. A few years later we would be at war with these pirates and the Marines could sing about the shores of Tripoli. Someone in the news media should have wondered about this. Guess it's the Clinton years again when it comes to history. A book called "On Bended Knee" recounts how the press was dazzled by President Reagan to the point of genuflection. I think I will write a similar book about Clinton. The title, of course, would be "On Bended KneeS."
Obama also said "Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance" and went on to add that "we see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition." We could all use a history lesson on that. What about before the Inquisition?
The line that bothered me the most, however, was the reference to Al Qaida, which "claimed credit for the attack" on Sept. 11. "Credit?" A first-year journalism student knows the term is "claimed reponsibility."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Should I sue over "State of Play?"

I just saw "State of Play," the suspense movie about the fictional moribund Washington Globe, like so many newspapers on life support, kept alive by a few dedicated reporters. Anyone know a good lawyer? Just kidding, but the parallels with "Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer" are difficult to ignore. Yes, I know I'd be in line behind the BBC. Nevertheless, I had the feeling as I watched the movie that someone behind the credits read my book.
In both, the reporter is personally involved. In the book, there's the death of the main character's son. In the movie, the reporter "shagged" a source's wife. Both get major breaks from the coroner's office, both deal with technological changes, and both use reporter's tricks to get information. I expected Russell Crowe to use lines from the book - "Truth is the sum of the Facts," "NEWS is the important part of newspaper" or "news is what the newspapers say it is." Not only that, there are main characters who are military vets who lost faith and hope.
And, of course, there are the surprise endings. I may be biased, but the book's is better.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Is Obama Getting a Press Pass?

Looks as though Obama has been issued the same kind of press pass Clinton was, at least when it comes to history. The latest slip came in the President's first interview, the one with Al-Arabiya, which broadcasts to the Arab world. Obama said he wanted a return to "the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago." Those wonderful days brought us the Iranian hostage crisis, the Beirut Marine barracks bombing, the Pan Am flight 103 bombing, etc. etc. etc. Respect??? We backed the Shah in Iran. Nuff said.
I saw very little media reaction to his seeming lack of knowledge about history. Perhaps today news outlets lack enough reporters to go after all angles. I'd buy this, except the watchdog press was licking itself during the Clinton years as well as the Obama-Biden campaign, (See earlier postings.) All of this would matter little except for the fact that Dan Quayle became the national punching bag for misspelling potato. Not to mention Bush's pounding, which spilled over to TV comedy. (BTW, when will we see Obama's initials in headlines a'la Bush?)
I guess this is the coverage we can expect when we are down to one major wire service. Is "liberal bias" the problem? I'm not so sure. I think it's possible to be have liberal bias and still do the job. That's the problem - professionalism, or lack of. Come to think of it, the reason is that there is no spell check for history.