Wednesday, July 17

Of Rolling Stone, The Newsroom, and getting along to incite change

Rolling Stone has suspected bomber Dzhohkar Tsarnaev on its cover, and people are writing letters. The mayor of Boston and the governor of Massachusetts think the cover is in bad taste, that the magazine is giving the young man celebrity status by putting that picture, a picture used repeatedly in the media since the suspect was identified, on its cover. Let me note here that I don't think Rolling Stone is a news magazine, but I'm not sure everyone can differentiate that which is news and that which is infotainment.

There are protests and rhetoric in the wake of the Trayvon Martin case. Of the many avenues of response, some are purely emotional--and what follows is an oversimplication--fueled by whatever information they think they have as well as their own perceptions of what justice is and what justice should have done. Others are using the verdict as a call to action to change laws. I think I don't have enough information to know what really happened and I'd bet that every one of those witnesses who were confident of their testimonies might have some of their information right and some of it wrong, but their testimonies are their perceptions of what occurred and what they witnessed. We have to respect that. I also think that we will never really know what happened because, sadly, Trayvon Martin is no longer with us. We can never hear his side of the story from him.

I have lately become a fan of The Newsroom, and not just because of the kind of dialog Aaron Sorkin writes and the platform Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) gives Mr. Sorkin for his views on the news. Two of the last three episodes were about the news team having to prostitute their principles for ratings. Mr. Sorkin's target was the Casey Anthony story and how it became "news" simply because it was the train wreck networks and cable channels broadcast incessantly.

I recently read that we have "gone from 4 to 320 reality TV shows in a decade" (Davidson, 2011, Now You See It, p. 127). I was stunned. Really? I knew the proliferation of reality shows was a lot like kudzu, and as intellectually stifling. . .though, I confess, I watch a few and I'd like to think, with a certain degree of self-righteousness, that my indulgence is more intellectual than others because I watch "educational" reality TV like Food Network Star and the like. Okay, and several episodes of Duck Dynasty but only from Season 1 when a friend of mine shared the DVD.

My point is that infotainment makes it increasingly difficult for "serious" journalists. One of the reasons I like to listen to NPR is that the stories have more heft both in content and duration then most other so-called news shows, which often seem like a series of headlines with 10 seconds of explanation of the headline. Another reason I like to listen to NPR is that it seems like actual news: objectively reported stories that inform me, without being gussied up for a party; stories that give me objective context and information about events around the world. And when that comes with editorializing as to why the news should matter to me, the editorializing is generally identified as such. NPR rarely gives subjective and breathlessly shared droppings.

In the story cited above, Rolling Stone reportedly issued the following statement:
Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone's long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day. The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.
I haven't read the story and I don't know if I will. I think the observation about the age of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the age of the readers is an interesting one, and probably has some value.

In the time that I have written this blog post, additional reports about the Rolling Stone cover controversy have hit the cyberwaves. CBS News reports the waves of outrage and that certain stores, including Walgreen's and CVS, will not carry the magazine. Oy. So, in my opinion, Walgreen's and CVS are jumping on the self-righteous indignation bandwagon which means people will go elsewhere to buy the magazine.

So here's something else I note. We can't seem to have a conversation any more. The response on the CBS web site has its fair share of vitriol and outrage, though there are a few people who are responding with rational perspectives. I suspect that isn't the case on all sites carrying this story.

One more thing. In the wake of the Zimmerman acquittal, I heard an interview with someone who said that this whole thing reminded him of the Rodney King beating in LA. The man seemed to wonder why we still can't just get along.

Honor opinions and perspectives; respect an individual's views and experience; have a conversation rather a protest. When you talk to me and share your views, experiences, opinions, and perspective and when I listen with an open mind (no small task), perhaps you will change my mind and with that small change may come greater change. Yea, it takes time but that sort of change is more sustainable and is more likely to stick.

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