Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Professional Journalism

You cannot make good decisions with inaccurate or very incomplete information. If you try, you will fail. This isn't my rule, it just is. You may accidentally make a good decision, but it's a fluke. How many major decisions do you want to make on a foundation of quicksand?

Now, how good is your source of information for local, regional and world events? Is it Yahoo or Google or Fox News or the local radio station between songs?

If you ingest primarily junk food, you get fat and unhealthy. Whether you inhale (breathe in) actual junk food, junk movies, junk books, junk news, junk opinion, junk friends, or junk religion, you will see predictable results.

Walter Cronkite's passing two days ago was a sad moment, tho I was generally too young to remember his tenure as one of the most famous television anchormen of all time.

I'm doubly sad to hear of this loss because the state of our country is so very dependent on professional journalism.

How do you find good solid information? The internet? How many of us check multiple quality sources for information on major issues of our times, such as "cap n trade" legislation, which is an attempt to limit pollution emissions? The issues involved will affect every man, woman and child for possibly centuries and could hold the future of our survival - both economically and environmentally.

I've taught my kids: be very careful with whom you associate. Your friends will help define you. They will be smart and loyal and watch your back, or they will draw you into trouble and bail on you when their self-interest is at stake. Good friends will challenge you at times by telling you something you don't want to hear. Honesty and dedication to the friendship is crucial for real trust and credibility.

I propose that your source for news is just as critical a decision. It defines how you think, who you are in your world, and what you believe.

Further, you can't overstate the critical importance of accurate information to support democracy. It is one of the most fundamental underpinnings to our form of government for and by the People. I would rank it as high as the Rule of Law (meaning we have laws and follow them, and don't tolerate rampant corruption or favoritism) or habeus corpus ("show me the body" in court, and file charges or let them go) or the framework of the Constitution itself.

Think about it. If we cannot rely on professional journalists to give us accurate and unbiased information, how can we make informed decisions on any issue?

My deep suspicion of all radicals stems from two things: I usually cannot discern their point thru the filter of rhetoric, and their agenda creates bias that cannot be trusted.

In short, they make me work too hard.

Why should I pay any attention to a news source that is questionable (biased) if I can simply get good reporting from an organization that is still dedicated to the facts, "Just the facts, ma'am." as Agent Friday politely requested.

Why should I have to question every assertion and research their twisted facts because they cannot maintain the journalistic standards to stay out of the story as much as possible? The whole point of journalism is to report the news, not skew it.

Cronkite was not unusual except in his huge popularity. Indeed in his generation the "infomercial" quality of modern journalism would have been beaten back into the swamp from which it slithered.

My father was a journalist - award winning in his writing for south Florida newspapers. I was very sad when he left the profession. Of all the things he did in his life, I considered it the most powerful and important. My mother has also been a successful reporter. Like Cronkite they considered it imperative to keep personal agendas out of the story.

Has anyone noticed how even the evening news on the major networks is now conducted by "anchors" walking around, ad libbing and being "personable"? Anchors are more like ringmasters, than true conductors, with performing seals and amazing animals to wow us. Has our short attention spans actually reduced us to mere entertainment sponges? Do we expect to be simply spoon fed fascinating tidbits of zero substance, sound bites and oversimplified "analysis"?

If so, then we will get what we have asked for, or allowed ourselves to be lulled into... apathetic passive watered down democracy, run by only the radicals who give a damn enough to pay attention and push their agendas.

It is an ethical issue, because so much is riding on holding high journalistic standards. And remember, the FIRST thing to go in countries that are losing their right to self-determination is credible public news sources, ergo their freedom of information. Witness Hitler's Germany, the (former) Soviet Union, China, North Vietnam, North Korea, and countless other war-torn countries. If you control the news, you control the people.

I have to be blunt: any extreme news source is the equivalent of Howard Sterns (altho I do defend his right to be morally decrepit and a poster child for idiocy) and well paid strippers. It's just entertainment. It isn't journalism.

If you don't get the difference, then please do consider yourself part of the problem. :)

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