Sunday, December 31, 2006

Journalism 007

In my last journalism posting, I wrote a little bit about the increasing censorship in Iran as seen through the eyes of the internet. But recently I’ve become aware of a far broader and perhaps more detrimental type of censorship, one that exists in every country and in every medium of journalism: self-censorship.

Self-censorship takes many forms, but it usually centers around repressing an idea for a story or an angle to take on a story. The simplest and most common reason for self-censorship seems to be when the subject matter is considered too complex to explain to the readership or audience, which seems just plain silly to me. And perhaps it is my relative inexperience as a journalist speaking, but I don’t think there is a single subject matter in the world that a good writer, journalist or not, should not be able to break down and explain easily for a reader. That’s an integral part of being a journalist, to explain. So it would seem that this basis for self-censorship stems either from deplorable writing skills or just plain laziness.

A more deadly form of self-censorship occurs however when the business and financial interests of the media strike “the Fear” into a journalist, deterring them from reporting on a subject that might raise some controversial issues (commonly known and referred to as a ‘conflict of interest’). Like ABC (which is owned by Disney) reporting on the wrongdoings of Disney Land’s hiring policies.

But at times “the Fear” is instilled not by the business interests of the media but by the editors themselves, either knowingly or not. Good journalists are constantly coming up with ideas and pitching them to their editors, some of which get pursued and made into stories, others find homes in the beloved newsroom wastebasket. But when an editor denies a story, there’s a manner in which they can do so that encourages a reporter to keep coming up with ideas even if the last one wasn’t so stellar. Or an editor can do so, with an air that dismays the reporter from ever again pitching an idea on a particular subject matter, which often results in self-censorship.

And sometimes “the Fear” seeps into the actual editor…I mean after all, it is more likely for an editor to get fired for running a controversial story than to get fired for not running it. And thus, self-censorship sometimes comes about as a result of not wanting to deviate from the norm of what the mainstream media deems newsworthy. But that’s, arguably, the heart of journalism: always looking for new stories and angles to take, reporting what the public doesn’t know but should. When a story’s hot, its hot and it becomes surpassingly popular, to the point where, unfortunately, if a particular media outlet doesn’t report on it, then they run the risk of losing their audience. So the media finds itself in between a rock and a hard place of wanting to publish alternatives to the norm and yet wanting to maintain a steady readership that can rely on them for coverage on the norm itself. Hence yet another element of self-censorship, where a story isn’t published or isn’t pursued because of the potential risk it could bring about.

All I’m saying is that when I work for a publication, I don’t want them to have the toe muscles of a ballerina from tiptoeing around “acceptable” stories. And while some people make the argument that in order for a paper to sell, it has to cater to its audience, I’m more inclined to argue that in order for a paper to sell it has to cater to the interests of the audience, and I think that the American public is interested in not merely justifying their own opinions in the news that they read, but in expanding their knowledge base and quenching the parching curiosity that festers inside them. Am I giving Americans too much credit? Or are we just so used to being droned into complacency that we think this is what we want…to read and watch shit for news?

The reading habits and desires of America will not change until the writing habits and desires of America change, and that will not happen until self-censorship is recognized, called out onto the plank and made to wobble before the entire world of journalism.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Journalism 006

Reporters Without Borders, an international media rights organization, recently reported that internet servers in Iran have unblocked the New York Times' website, which was blocked for the past couple of days.

The Iranian government, as of yet, does not directly control access to the world wide web. But instead the government administers orders to the multitude of service providers in Iran, who then block or disallow users from accessing specific sites. Wikipedia (the Kurdish version) has been blocked for the past several months in Iran as it has (the Chinese version) in China for over a year. YouTube has also been blacklisted in Iran, perhaps in response to the posting of
"Iran, the most dangerous nation" video. Ironically enough, the technology that allows internet service providers in Iran, which has more than 70,000 blogs, to block "controversial" websites was built by companies in the US.

This follows the Iranian government decision in October to block high-speed web access (above 128 kilobits per second). According to The Guardian who quoted Iranian officials, the denial was taken to prevent the “undermining [of] Islamic culture among the younger generation”.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Poetry 002

Chestpounding (pt.1)

As I witness sunsets
Grant Jersey a power
Neither Edison nor Watt could have ever fathomed,
I'm visited by candlelit memories
Of solitary sparks,

Singular moments
Where the light of the heart
Was able to eclipse a mind
Accustomed to the dark,

And waves run
Their salt-scented fingernails
Across the backdrop of big-city
Nightlife blackboards...


Where today’s lessons
Tomorrow’s guesses for sea’s to
And the clouds chase the streams
Of our undying manifest dreams,


"Go west my son
And you will find the mothers
From which we’ve come,
You’ll find the one in the rest
And rest in the one,

And listen to the crazy one’s
For signs of things to come",

Because as an adolescent
Our lessons are filled with questions,
And now that time has unleashed its blessing,
We turn from searching to stressing,
Looking for the next dollar from the next man,
So eager to holler at him
We forget to listen...

Copyright 2006

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Journalism 005

Shortly before 7am on November 3rd, four days before election day, Chicago’s 25-foot-tall sculpture, "Flame of the Millennium", served as the backdrop for Malachi Ritscher as he stood overlooking the morning rush hour on the Kennedy Expressway and lit himself on fire.

When authorities reached him, he was already dead and beside his charred body lay a homemade sign that read, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”. It was later revealed in statements written by Ritscher that his self-immolation was a political protest of America’s war in Iraq.

Ritscher is the ninth person to ever ignite himself in an act of political protest on American soil. You would think that this would make the news, and yet almost a month after the fact, CBS2 and the Chicago Sun-Times are the only major news media to have devoted minimal blurb coverage to the event. In the past week, news organizations (the Gaurdian, the Nation) have begun to report on his death, thanks to the efforts of one woman.

Jennifer Diaz, a graduate journalism student at the University of Illinois, has taken to the task of publicizing not only Ritscher’s suicide but also the startling lack of news coverage that has come of it. She has created a website and has been involved in a mass emailing campaign to help spread the facts of Ritscher’s death, his cause and the deficient amount of reporting on these elements.

Friday, December 1, 2006

World Aids Day

...hold a hand, give a hug, wear a condom...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Iraq 002


Two Sunday's ago, November 19th, Lisa Jensen and husband Bill Trimarco decided to hang a wreath in the shape of a peace symbol on the side of their Pagosa Springs house, which is part of the Loma Linda Homeowners Association.

"I just wanted to put a message of peace out there," said Jensen, who said that she put the wreath up to honor the Biblical call for peace and goodwill toward men.

Shortly thereafter, they received a letter stating, "Loma Linda residents are offended by the Peace Sign displayed on the front of your house." Fellow residents were reportedly disturbed by the message of peace while our country is at war in Iraq and thought the wreath to be unpatriotic. The letter also stated that unless they remove the wreath, they would be charged $25/day in violation of a Housing law that states: no-signs/no-billboards without prior committee approval.

But when the five-person committee was asked to approve the decision for the requested removal and fine, all five opposed and were consequently fired by Homeowners Association President Bob Kearns.

"The peace sign has a lot of negativity associated with it," Kearns told the Durango Herald. "It's also an anti-Christ sign. That's how it started."

Journalism 004

Joe Sacco's comic,
The Fixer, is a behind the scenes look at one of the most overlooked, yet invaluable, positions in foreign reporting...the fixer. A fixer is more than just someone that can translate between the native language and whatever language it is that you speak. A fixer, quite literally, fixes things, by understanding local law well enough to know how to move within it and around it.

While we, the readers of a conflict, view journalists as our inside men and women, fixers are a journalist's inside man. They are the currency-exchanger (preventing you from getting ripped off), local mobile phone-getter (people don't like to call foreign numbers when they need to call you back), affordable lodging-finder (I mean the Holiday Inn's great and all, just not when it's being shelled), beat-up car driver and most importantly the fixer usually serves as a form of bulletproof-ness. Which is not to say that a fixer would be willing to take a bullet for the journalist, but only that a good fixer will make it possible for the journalist to avoid getting shot at while simultaneously getting him the story that he needs.

It is only in the reporting of the Iraq war that fixers have started to get bylines in italics at the end of the article, usually saying that they contributed to the piece. But, truth be told, if the craft of journalism was sweatshop labor, the fixer would be the six-year-old kid or the pregnant single mother. They are the legs that make foreign reporting possible. But most times, they don't do it to help provide a voice for the voiceless. For them it usually just comes down to survival.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Journalism 003

Atlanta --

Kathryn Johnston was killed last week. In her own home. By police. She was 92.

"You don't know who's in the house until you open that door," said Assistant Police Chief Alan Dreher last week. "And once they forced open the door, they were immediately fired upon."

Police officers claimed that they were serving a warrant on a man known only as "Sam", who had allegedly sold drugs to an undercover officer earlier and was believed to be in Johnston's home. He was not. But Johnston was. And she was holding the six-shot revolver that her niece had bought her for protection in "Georgia's worst neighborhood."

Johnston shot and wounded three of the officers in their legs and arms -- one officer was shot in the leg, on the side of his face and his bulletproof vest -- before they returned fire and shot her to death.

Al Harley, a 50-year-old homeless man who hangs out in front of a neighborhood convenience store, said residents follow a sort of credo: "Don't let anyone disrespect your door."

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Personal 002

The other day, for the first time in a while, I pulled a spontaneously dope move: I was in class doing some gold-diggin and got caught by a girl from across the room, and instead of acting all embarrassed and immediately switching course, I froze and just stared at her, finger still embedded, until she felt uncomfortable and looked away and perhaps even started to doubt what she had just witnessed.

P.S. Was there ever really any doubt as to why I'm single?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Poetry 001

Chestpounding (pt.1)

As I witness sunsets
Grant Jersey a power
Neither Edison nor Watt could have ever fathomed,
I'm visited by candlelit memories
Of solitary sparks,

Singular moments
Where the light of the heart
Was able to eclipse a mind
Accustomed to the dark,

And waves run
Their salt-scented fingernails
Across the backdrop of big-city
Nightlife blackboards...

Copyright 2006

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Iraq 001

James Barker pleaded guilty today in Kentucky court to raping Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a 14-year old Iraqi girl, and murdering her and her family. The 23-year old former soldier received 90 years in prison as part of a plea deal with prosecutors in which he promises to testify against the others that participated in the rape and murder.

Barker was stationed at a security checkpoint with three other soldiers on March 12th. They decided to go in the middle of the night to the nearby home of a local family in Mahmoudiya, a village 32km south of Baghdad, where they proceeded to rape fourteen year-old
Abeer Qassim al-Janabi who they had seen earlier in the day while on patrol. Former Private Steven Green, the ringleader, then shot the girl to death after first killing her mother, father and six-year old sister. They then tried to burn the house down to destroy the bodies and any evidence of them being there and threw the gun in a nearby canal.

Barker's Attorney, David Sheldon, attributes the actions of these men to a dehumanization pressure that soldiers in Iraq are undergoing. "The dehumanization that took place for Barker was real," Sheldon said. "The dehumanization that occurs throughout Iraq today that is causing these types of incidents is a responsibility that the United States must bear."

Asked why he did what he did, Barker said that he hated Iraqi's, "They can smile at you and then shoot you in the face." After sentencing Barker, weeping, said, "I want the people of Iraq to know that I did not go there to do the terrible things that I did. I do not ask anyone to forgive me today."

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Journalism 002

Yesterday, Dexter Filkins of the New York Times spoke at Boston University about his experience as a journalist in Iraq for the past three and a half years. War journalists are a different breed of person, able to ensconce themselves in strife indefinitely and leave thoughts like, "maybe I'll get shot today" back in their bed as they chase story after story in a land whose language and culture is almost always completely foreign to them.

When someone asked Filkins, "What makes it all worth it for you?", he replied, "I don't know that it is. Maybe it's like Churchhill said, '
There's nothing quite so thrilling in life as to be shot at without result.'"

While in Iraq, Filkins lived in the New York Times' "fortress" of a compound, which has 45 armed guards, mounted 50 cal. machine guns on the roof, 3 armored cars (worth $1 mil) at their disposal and of course some barbed wire.

Filkins said that there doesn't appear to be any real leadership to the insurgency, or if there is, then it's horribly unclear who it is. "Everyone's just going around and causing as much mayhem as possible."

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Journalism 001

In this month's issue of CJR, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, David Halberstam, writes about his friend and fellow journalist, Peter Arnett, who is most recently known for his controversial comments on a state-run Iraqi television show, while employed by NBC in March of 2003, the beginning of the US invasion of Iraq:

"Now America is reappraising the battlefield, delaying the war, maybe a week and rewriting the war plan. The first plan has failed because of Iraqi resistance. Now they are trying to write another plan...
So our reports about civilian casualties here, about the resistance of the Iraqi forces, are going back to the United States. It helps those who oppose the war when you challenge the policy to develop their arguments."

...he was fired.

But, as Halberstam writes, Arnett is anything but foreign to challenging our government. There are those that would argue that as a New Zealander it's easier for him to point his finger of blame...but they would not have done their homework. Arnett knows American foreign policy better than most Americans, for he has been covering America's wars since Vietnam, literally. He was one of the few AP correspondents who reported from the South-East Asian region many years prior to the war and who continued to file stories throughout the entirety of the war, reporting facts that the government in its desire for propaganda denied until it no longer could. He is truly a rare breed. Not only to have survived amidst war for so long, but to have not lost his edge or to have gotten complacent with cynicism as war-reporters often do. If nothing else please read the last two paragraphs of Halberstam's piece...they inspire me to be a better journalist.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Personal 001

So this right here is my first blog posting...What to say? What to say? I love to love and I love to swing on the pendulum that shows me just what loving really means...