the suicide of Journalism Excellence

Journalism isn’t dead. But I don’t see it running any races.

You could say it’s still on life support, but even the chronically ill are fed oxygen. This appears to be asphyxiation on it’s own propaganda.

The corpse I see now more closely resembles Jeff Goldblum in the final scenes of the 1986 “The Fly” – a lump of the greatness it was, the pollution of what it became, and the death of them both.

It was 1996 when I entered the world of newspaper journalism. I was 19. You could say I was naive, but that would be an understatement. The profession opened my eyes, then threw dirt in them.

I started from scratch, from a beat reporter, from making ignorant mistakes, from facing unimaginable horrors and then required to write objectively about them, from spending hours in a dark room with only the red light and the stench of fixer fluid to keep me company.

I loved it.

Despite the pathetic pay, insurmountable hours, and even sporadic public animosity, I viewed the profession as valiant, like a tidier Sherlock Holmes without the tobacco addiction. I was a truth-seeker and educator, combined behind poorly fitting clothes and a curious glance. Each new discovery, new story, was a well-earned Girl Scout patch I could iron on to a jacket, if only I could afford the jacket.

Not all that much has changed. I still can’t afford the jacket. But a certain portion of the idealism is long gone. I don’t respect journalism as a whole. Instead, it’s like a favorite necklace that ceased to be my favorite after falling into the sewage drain. I have no intention of rescuing it. Instead, I’ll stand upwind and admire what it once was.

The last 48-hours of news coverage hasn’t shocked me. It’s really just another line in the obit. But it brings me a level of revulsion when I consider the integrity of what it once was, what it should be, what Americans need it to be, and what it will never be again.
The free press, ladies and gentlemen, has been imprisoned. And that leads me to my first example.

Example 1: the arrest of John Zeigler on the campus of USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism. If irony is a feather, this blew it away.

Zeigler is a journalist and independent film maker, recently releasing his documentary, “Media Malpractice: How Obama Got Elected and Palin Was Targeted.” Standing outside the reception for the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism awarded this year to Katie Couric for her lopsided interview of Sarah Palin (an example of journalism buffoonery but I only have so much time to write this article so we’re sticking to the last 48-hours), Zeigler had planned to ask attendees questions and hand out free copies of his DVD.
Instead, he was handcuffed and kicked off the campus…the journalism campus…for journalism…during a journalism award banquet…for journalism excellence.

The entire video is worth watching. Zeigler keeps a running dialogue during the entire escapade about the absurdity. And when he directs his questions, while handcuffed, to the college administration about their idea of journalism, they answer by turning their back and walking away.
Roll tape!

Oh Walter. Look at what’s become of your beloved profession.

Example 2: CNN reporter Susan Roesgen’s overtly biased report of the Chicago Tea Party, claiming it is “anti-government, anti-CNN”, promoted by the “right-wing conservative network Fox” and “not family viewing”, then patty-caked by her fellow CNN reporter in the studio.

Roesgen not only became part of the story, a journalism no-no, she antagonized participants by countering and arguing. Also a big journalism no-no.
Here’s a Journalism 101 lesson for Roesgen: REPORT. That’s it. This is a rally, a protest, all you have to do it report. Put a microphone in their face and let them speak. Show the crowd. TADA! Done. The job of a reporter is not to agree or disagree with an event they are covering UNLESS they are a political commentator or columnist. She is not.
Her job is to report, thus the title “reporter”. Show the event. Let the people speak. It’s their moment, not yours. Then go home.

The video of the report I grabbed is from Founding Bloggers via HotAir, who happened on the scene immediately after the broadcast to show a female rally participant explain to Roesgen her job. And Roesgen’s response? “You know, you really don’t need to be so antagonistic.”

Is it the pinched mouth, hands on hips, or snotty attitude toward the crowd that gives me the impression Roesgen doesn’t like these people?

Example 3: MSNBC’s David Shuster decided the description of a grassroots effort by taxpayers to protest against excessive taxation could be perfectly complimented by using profane terminology.

Not frequenting the social circles of Shuster, I had no idea what “teabagging” meant. But after his report about the 2009 Tea Party, I got a pretty good idea.

Yeah Shuster, we get it. Oral sex. Hilarious. How crafty and crude of you to use all those double entendres. You did nothing but demonstrate your ignorance about the Tea Party protests and embarrass your mother.

Example 4: CNN’s Anderson Cooper, also well-versed in the “teabagging” definition, makes an oral sex joke while interviewing David Gergen, who found the nastiness quite amusing.

This vulgar joke has been repeated a few times with other reporters, but unlike these low-class journalists, I’m going to spare you. And spare myself while I’m at it.

I’m no prognosticator. I cannot tell the future of journalism, I can only report it.
But I know a thing or two about human nature, as most anyone does. There is a tipping point.

Everyone has a limit. And one day, which we may have already reached or are nearing, the public – the consumers – will have extended their last second chance to the news profession.
They will turn it off. Tune it out.
First, however, they’ll start by simply not believing anymore. And this is where we’ve arrived. Long before the newspaper offices close and the television pundits are silenced, the life of mainstream journalism will be snuffed out by irrelevance.

I won’t mourn it. I may not even go to the funeral.