Journalism

Journalists die. NBC fans the flames.

raging fire waiting to spread

Systemic tragedy demands radical media critique

Once again, America is faced with another greater-than-1 body count. As you, Dear Reader, are undoubtedly aware of by now, tragedy struck yesterday. Journalists paid the final price…for something. The details are as yet unclear.

Undoubtedly, since their lives were brought to a tragic halt by means of a firearm, this will be a prompt for more national discussion about gun control. I leave that issue to others at the moment, both pro and con.

First, a deep breath. Before we get lost in the weeds, let us remember that our neighbors died. “Thoughts and prayers” may be useless dodges or just one side’s flavor of virtue signaling, but in our own hearts those (or at least “thoughts” for the nones/others) are part of what help keep us human. Take a moment for empathy. People have died. They leave behind other of our neighbors who will be stricken with loss, grief, fear, and anxiety, perhaps for the rest of their days. Some children might have lost parents. Spouses may have lost partners. Friends lost friends. Colleagues lost colleagues. However disingenuous “thoughts and prayers” may be when lobbed as a deterrent to action, those still inclined to them won’t suffer for the effort. Just don’t let them stop you from the work you need to do, whichever side you’re on.

Second, we know how tragedies like this play out in the news. Tragedy is sensational, even spectacular. Any editor tasked with gluing revenue-generating advertising audience eyeballs and ears to their stories is likely to have that in mind as they flog news of the latest tragedy. There’s a 24/7 internet/cable news void to be filled every second of the day, and breathless, slipshod “process” coverage (journos, please feel free to correct my bad jargon) does the job remarkably well.

Breaking news! One new out of context detail has just come in! You decide! Here’s that new detail with some ancillary context bullet points at the end. Please don’t notice our cherry picking or how remiss we are in our responsibility to the republic to provide responsible, professional coverage. Stay tuned for the next detail. News at 7.

This will keep up until another spectacle comes along, because we’re the American news consumer, and we’ll be bored with these deaths soon enough. That’s who we have become, en masse. Those of us who are exceptions lament the rule. And what does it say about us that the new and more exciting news may very well be the next object that Gwyneth Paltrow decides to insert. This is us.

That said, let’s take a peek at a bit of responsible journalism from the Baltimore Sun:

Ramos’ dispute with the Capital Gazette began in July 2011 when a columnist wrote about a criminal harassment case against him. He brought a defamation suit against the columnist and the organization’s editor and publisher. A court ruled in the Capital Gazette’s favor, and an appeals court upheld the ruling.

Now I’m going to pick on NBC, because they just happened to be the first news of this I woke to this morning as I blearily scrolled through Facebook over my first cup of coffee: At the center of their own tragedy, Capital Gazette journalists get to work.

NBC did, indeed include mention of the potential motive:

The suspected shooter’s apparent motive is extremely idiosyncratic, based on a personal vendetta he had with the newspaper for covering his arrest on harassment charges. Jarrod W. Ramos sued the paper in 2012 and lost. Over the years, he also made multiple threats against the news outlet.

One might note, however, that they buried this vital bit of relevant information, then steamrollered over it and covered it with largely unrelated agenda.

“Something like this might happen in Afghanistan or Iraq … but you don’t expect it to happen in a little sleepy office across from the local mall.”

Journalism has been a dangerous profession abroad, but not here.

Seven journalists were killed in the U.S. while on the job over the past quarter century, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. But on Thursday, nearly as many were killed in a single day.

“It’s an eye-opener that the U.S. is not exempt from this,” said Alison Bethel McKenzie, the executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists. “For a long time we thought we were.”

But many experts were quick to note the political climate has become extremely hostile to the free press.

“We don’t know whether the suspect’s actions were triggered by this climate. But we cannot ignore that this climate exists,” said Stephanie Bluestein, a journalism professor at California State University, Northridge. “I hope reporters will not let something like this get into their psyche and affect the way they do their jobs.”

By my count, that’s one salient fact about the alleged murderer [guilty as sin, but awaiting a much-deserved conviction in front of the only court that matters], a bit of sympathetic coverage of the victims of the madman’s wrath, and six, count them, six bits and pieces that reveal the story NBC preferred to tell instead, packaged in a very specific and likely unrelated tragedy.

I refer Dear Reader to this list from Wikipedia of journalists killed in the United States. It is a catalog of tragedy on top of tragedy, but not all of the tragedies are the same. Some were killed as an act of political terrorism. Some were killed under other circumstances, often bravely in the pursuit of a noble mission to report the news from the scene of danger. Some were killed by criminals because of a specific vendetta.

I repeat the graf from the Baltimore Sun for emphasis:

Ramos’ dispute with the Capital Gazette began in July 2011 when a columnist wrote about a criminal harassment case against him. He brought a defamation suit against the columnist and the organization’s editor and publisher. A court ruled in the Capital Gazette’s favor, and an appeals court upheld the ruling.

When this tragic mass murder makes its way to the Wikipedia list, how would you categorize it? NBC has its own ideas, apparently.

Now, none of this is to say that deadly attacks on journalists as attacks on capital-J Journalism is unworthy of news and editorial. It is to say that, as a consumer of news, I don’t see the current story as part of that story. In my estimation, responsible coverage would remain cognizant of that, and for the sake of decorum, if not for the sake of objective coverage, would report accordingly, not transform the personal tragedies and suffering of yesterday’s victims into a new whip with which to flog a different, even important, agenda.

Compare. Not all cancer is the same. Some cancer comes of genetics and family history. Some mesothelioma is caused because some unscrupulous contractor had exploited labor working under unsafe conditions. We would not report on those two cancers in the same way.

I’m beating this drum today because the results of NBC’s less than objective coverage has entirely predictable results.

comments on NBC post at Facebook

In the greater scheme of things, yes, the media is under continued assault. Famous prank rubber turd Milo has said horrible things, fails to hold himself responsible for anything ever, and speculation runs wild that there’s somehow a connection between his comments and the shooter, even when there still seems to be a) no evident connection, and b) plenty of reason to think that Ramos was already unhinged and didn’t require any help from Milo and his ilk.

See that reportage I linked from Slate? That’s the kind of job NBC could choose to do.

That is not the kind of job that NBC chooses to do.

We already have a problem with uncritical news consumers consuming media content uncritically. We already have a problem when the MSM legitimately reports on the relatively new phenomenon of people creating counterfeit “news” pages and foisting wholely fabricated lies on an unwitting public and calls such frauds fake news, only to have Trump and the more openly mendacious side of the news spectrum co-opt the term as a pejorative for a biased press that can only report negatively on a man that deserves only negative coverage.

This is op-ed right here. I can get away with that. And you know, I like to think that I’m still significantly more objective and impartial than what passes for journalism from the likes of NBC.

Furthermore! *ahem*

When I spotted the NBC story on Facebook, I commented. Funny thing, social media. People do that. When I did, Facebook prompted me with a button (that I cannot trigger at will for a screenshot) to let NBC know my thoughts directly. Up pops Messenger when I click it. After quoting the Baltimore Sun at them, I added some observation. YMMV.

NBC news chat screenshot

I got this in reply.

NBC02

Advertising. “Why,” I wondered, “must I click Top Stories to start a conversation with someone at NBC?” But I clicked anyway. They call it Top Stories. No, it is advertising. It is an advertisement for their curated news of the moment, which, if you click through, will undoubtedly count as eyeballs for their advertisers.

This is how NBC chooses to utilize the social media tools at their disposal via the Facebook platform. One of the critical flaws of broadcast journalism is just how little mechanism there has ever been for the viewing public to respond. Once upon a time, at least, local affiliate broadcasters maybe dedicated five minutes in the evening news to commentary from the viewership. My older New Orleans contemporaries might remember Phil Johnson, love him or hate him. Family Guy fans might recognize the phrase “grinds my gears” from McFarlane’s depiction of that news feature. NBC (as well as the other major MSM consolidated media players) has no such thing for us, the passive and uncritical advertising audience. What a treat it is to finally have some way to reach right back out to them, courtesy of Facebook.

And I get advertising. So I replied thusly. I am now aware of my error that they did not completely elide the salient bit about Ramos. Buried is so much more appropriate. I’m not sure which is worse. See, I do retract when honor calls for it.

NBC news chat screenshot

Their response was telling, if a little surreal. David Lynch would have difficulty writing this two-line exchange into a movie without looking stranger than usual. And there’s another advertisement. Act now to consume more of our curated coverage for the uncritical audience! I replied with a link to an example of their “news” that I recently critiqued because their clickbait headline seemed almost tailor-made to be the kind of red meat usually thrown to a right-wing audience by Fox while running entirely counter to the content of the story.

NBC news chat screenshot

NBC replies. My, I should really give them credit for the professionalism and patience exhibited by this poor social media schmuck. It’s probably just some intern that just got thrown like chum into shark-infested waters, and here I come, rows of teeth jutting out from my face.

NBC05

On the other hand, maybe this person actually is daft. My apologies for the typo in “And we can’t thank FB for the confusion.” We obviously can. I would be confused, too, poor, daft chum-intern. And thank you for the continuing !!#$!# advertising while I try to reach you. That’s more annoying than a repeated email sig line in a long thread of emails.

NBC news chat screenshot

And suddenly it all becomes clear. NBC delivers its punchline, because that’s what this story needs is a really damned good punchline.

NBC07

Wait, what? I confess right now before you and whatever you hold dear that I had not, until this writing, even noticed that little bit of truncated line at the bottom.

NBC08

Any point I wanted to make about NBC just withered in comparison to any point NBC could make about itself.

 

 

 

Categories: Journalism, Media/Entertainment

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