Rolling Stone’s flawed story and its reaction to a critical report make teaching journalism to the ‘instant gratification’ generation even more difficult
• It’s okay to write 9,000 words and base the principal thrust of the story on only one source.
• It’s okay to take instructions from your one source to not speak to those who might undermine the source’s claims.
• It’s okay to shop for the best circumstances to write a story based on your own biased, preconceived narrative.
• It’s okay, because when the story blows up as dead wrong and leads to national and international condemnation, don’t worry: You won’t get fired, and your publication will feel no need to address the gaping holes in its “editorial apparatus.”
Does disaster loom, brought on by population increases and a governing economic system predicated on ever more growth?
Scratch a problem involving homo sapiens. Smog choking cities. Carbon dioxide and methane warming atmosphere or ocean. Forests rapaciously slashed. No fish where fish used to be. Nuclear waste with no safe home (ever). Pollution everywhere. Children without education. Billions of poor without hope or safe drinking water or adequate food. Disease and death induced by the absence of health care.
And wars. Plenty of wars.
In such examples of human trauma amid conflicts over life-sustaining resources, there’s a centrality rarely discussed.
Too. Many. People.
When I was born, in 1946, America housed just over 141 million people. Today, the 50 states approach 320 million people. Despite a declining birth rate, America gains a person every 16 seconds, thanks largely to the admission of about 1.5 million legal foreign workers each year.
When I was born, the Earth had about 2.5 billion people. The Census Bureau anticipates 9.3 billion people globally in 2050. That would be almost a four-fold increase in the people Earth would seek but likely fail to adequately support.
Magazine’s story on college assault claim burdened with shaky sources, biased choice of UVA
Critics are panning Rolling Stone’s 9,000-word account of a sexual assault, an account that preceded protests at the University of Virginia and vandalism of the fraternity house at which, the article claims, the assault occurred.
The chief complaints: First, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Nov. 19 story about a woman identified as “Jackie” relied too heavily on the woman making the accusation and failed to show attempts to interview those accused. Second, Erdely “shopped” for a context that best fit her own agenda in proposing and crafting the story. Here’s Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple:
Rolling Stone thought it had found the “right” campus and the right alleged crime: Following her Nov. 19 story on Jackie’s alleged assault in a dark room at the Phi Kappa Psi house, the university suspended all fraternity activities and a national spotlight fell on the issue of campus rape. Continue reading
Happy Thanksgiving from the staff at Scholars & Rogues.
You’ll vote for a person who will put the interests of the monied few above yours
Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
Post that over every voting booth next week. Hope and change, promised most recently by our current president and in different verbiage by politicians everywhere since I was born, do not lie ahead. Unless you are a rabid, frothing Democrat or Republican obsessed with ideological purity and achieving a stranglehold on power, choosing a member of Congress, for most of us, represents futility in the hope-and-change department.
I just don’t give a damn any more about Congress. It doesn’t give a damn about me — and most of you. Congress has amply demonstrated for at least two decades its grotesque inability to intelligently and compassionately perform its principal duties — to legislate fairly, to levy taxes sensibly, to advise and consent wisely on treaties and executive branch appointments, and to produce budgets competently.
I have remained rationally ignorant about the coming multi-billion-dollar partisan apocalypse. That’s because no matter who controls the chambers of Capitol Hill, Congress will produce nothing meaningful that will positively affect the remainder of my life. Or yours.
Why won’t that happen?
Congress has become a self-perpetuating, integrated system of bribery and extortion fueled by amounts of money mere mortals can no longer comprehend. Congress is inhabited by men and women who are at worst corrupt or at best willing, perhaps eager, to embrace moral ambiguity. In an institution populated by 535 powerful men and women who are supposed to legislate for the benefit of all, moral clarity is difficult to find. Result: The few get more; the many get less. Much less.
As I age, what I read and why has changed markedly over time
If you’re a reader, you probably have a list of “fave” books. Or of books you found “influential.” Or of books you liked because each told “a good story.” Or maybe because the books were filled with vampires and such.
I’m surrounded by book listers. I lurk on a listserv of really bright people, and one of the topics du jour is “what’s your book list.” (Thanks to them, I’ve picked up several to add to my own list.)
Jim Booth, one of my fellow co-founders of Scholars & Rogues, compiles a list of books each year and reviews them here. (He’s done more than 50 reviews this year alone.) A faculty colleague has from time to time posted outside his office a list of “books I spent time with this summer.”
I never thought much about book lists.
Then the Time of My Great Disenchantment with Mega-Corporate-Run Journalism began to descend on me about seven years ago. I realized that the grist of daily journalism no longer dealt at length or in depth with the gnawing questions I need answered:
How does the world work? Why does it work that way? What are the consequences of the answers to the first two questions?
First, the unaltered, unedited image direct from camera (a small Panasonic Lumix) …
What should replace the crap that passes for much of journalism today?
The daily print journalism I know and love is breathing its last gasps. The craft I practiced for 20 years, and have taught for another 20 years, is limping toward the grave. The newsroom values I have believed in for close to half a century face burial under a morass of corporate arrogance, a flawed business model, and a digital “content” that caters to our shallowest instincts instead of lifting us toward wisdom.
I don’t read as much news as I used to in the nation’s dailies anymore — either in print or online. Nor do I get much authentic news I need from local and cable TV. That’s not the same as saying I don’t get much news — as defined by the bastardized news judgments of managers of dailies and TV — from those sources. Surveys show we get something passing as “news” from those media.
But do we get the news — or sufficient explanation or interpretation of issues and events — we sorely need? Remember, much of what we receive via media, especially mainstream media, is secondhand. We need far more credible news about events we cannot or do not experience firsthand. “Our experiences are shaped by ready-made interpretations,” wrote sociologist C. Wright Mills in the ’50s. (See his “second-hand world” warning.) So we depend on journalism to convey events and issues to us secondhand. But we need clearer, more cogent interpretations than the press provides these days.
Like Mom’s admonition to ‘eat your spinach,’ my sophomores should dine on basics
This week I will teach my sophomores how to write a useful sentence.
A car hit a pickup today at Smith and Wesson streets, injuring both drivers.
I will tell these tablet-toting, smartphone-lugging students that this is perhaps the most efficient sentence structure in journalism.
I will tell them this: “Car hit pickup” tells what happened. “Today” is an adverb telling when it happened. “At Smith and Wesson streets” (and NOT “Smith and Wesson Streets”) is a prepositional phrase telling where it happened. “Injuring both drivers” is a verbal phrase explaining to whom “car hit pickup” happened and the consequence. Yep – action and consequence, all in one sentence.
Then I will conduct a mock press conference in which I play the roles of police accident investigator, hospital spokeswoman, and witnesses. (Incidentally, I get killed in the accident, bringing great joy to my sophomores past and present.)
I will do this repeatedly for the semester. Mock press conferences. Subject-Verb-Object Comma Verbal Phrase. Over and over.
And you’re thinking: Yo, Doc. It’s the digital age. What’s with the horse-and-buggy approach to writing news?