February 13, 2012

Journalism is on the wrong side of the lawn…

I had the predictable misfortune of spending half of today in the waiting room of my local automobile dealership. I say predictable because I just got my tax refund. But I can lament the fleeting fantasies of steak dinners, a couple of new shirts, some toys, and so forth at another time. Right now, I’d like to spit and snarl about what was on the television in that waiting room. For hours.

I don’t think I watch as much as four hours of TV in a week, let alone in one sitting. I generally watch the local evening news and a few things on Public TV or the Science channel and that’s about it. Now I know why that routine is highly unlikely to change.

I didn’t pay much attention at first because I was passing the time by reading. Other customers were coming and going as well, so it wasn’t my TV to turn off or commandeer anyway. After about an hour, however, I began to get the feeling that I had just sat through three or four presentations of the same material over and over. From that point on, it was impossible to ignore.

It was a “news” channel, I’m not certain which one. Understandably, they were talking about the tragic death of singer Whitney Houston, but it was hardly “news”. I wondered, do they get a full day’s pay for fifteen minutes of work? It was the identical loop, over and over and over. And it wasn’t even well done except for a few spots where they showed her singing and the reporters shut up.

It became clear that at least some of them, especially the schmuck in California who obviously was determined to turn it into some sordid expose about alleged relapse and her struggles with substance abuse instead of about the unfortunate loss of one of the finest pop vocalists in decades. That alleged reporter should get a farm job somewhere cleaning up dairy barns or something. He has no business behind a microphone if that’s the limit of his depth, creativity, and humanity. He’d have been a rip as the Hindenburg crash reporter. He’d have talked about the gory details of each and every death, and then gone on to talk about which ones had cheated on their wives, earned poor grades in school, and had bed wetting problems as children.

Journalism has a serious void to fill. The “old pros” have died off or retired and the number of exceptional, professional journalists could be counted on the fingers of one of my great uncle’s hands. I forget whether it was one or two fingers he’d lost in some industrial mishap in the early twentieth century.

I am amazed that the station actually passes as a “news” provider since they had the Whitney Houston story and a couple of others they just kept repeating. Surely there are other things going on in the world! But for them to keep grinding away in hopes of either discovering or creating a sensational item out of nonexistent data was an insult to Houston, her family, and those who knew her or who just admired her talent. It was an insult to their own audience as well.

Journalism appears to be dead. With the technological advances that have been made in just a few years, the print news media is struggling to find their niche in this strange new world, there’s been no new source or “boot camp” for newcomers to the field, broadcast formats and the internet are swiftly merging. I’m not sure what they teach in journalism classes these days, other than how to push the Spell-Check icon, but they need to stop. Few of them can write worth a damn and few have any sense of “story”. “Journalism” should be an elective for English majors rather than a course of study in its own right. I swear, most of them come across as if they interned with some defunct supermarket tabloid if indeed they interned at all.

I do have some sympathy for those few true Journalists remaining. They face some impressive challenges in making the transition from the Giant days of twentieth century media to whatever will emerge from the compost, but I wish those saddled with the job of filling available positions would bump their standards up a notch from the “warm body” level.

As for those snagging their thirty seconds of fame by speculating about the cause of Whitney Houston’s death and blowing off about her recovery, if they are “friends”, they should shut up and at least give her family time to bury her and grieve before resuming their cackling; if they are “professionals”, as one seemed to allude, they should know enough not to open their sewers at this point in the first place, and certainly not to divulge any personal knowledge at all.

So here’s to Whitney Houston, the human being, the mother, the daughter, the Diva. May she rest in peace.

….and here’s to twenty first century “journalism”. May it learn discipline and dignity while it struggles to complete its toilet training.


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