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...