Well… comparatively, we were.
The editor-in-chief my first year there had a photo above his desk of himself presenting to President Reagan a model of Mount Rushmore he had made with Reagan’s face added. He once told me the story of a Christian conservative college prep camp he had attended in high school, where he had signed up for classes in journalism. The people running the camp pitched the journalism classes as a way to encourage Christians to take back the news industry from the evils of secularism. Anyway, at his first class he had gotten in trouble because the first assignment was a faux press conference where someone the teacher had brought in would pretend to be the spokesperson for a company that had just rolled out a new product, and the members of the class would be reporters who had been assigned to write stories promoting the new product. “I got in trouble,” he said, “because I objected right away. Reporters aren’t assigned to write stories promoting something. That’s marketing, not journalism.”
Over the course of the next several classes, he said, it became clear the teacher had no idea what news reporting was. And he eventually got the teacher to admit that he had a degree in Business Administration with a minor in Pastoral Studies, and had never taken a journalism course in his life.
I had to tell him that it didn’t surprise me. A lot of people think that journalism’s job is to promote things—never critique, never present unflattering facts, et cetera.
Unfortunately, for the last many years, a lot of those people have been journalists.
I used to subscribe to a daily newspaper as well as several news magazines. One reason I cut back was because the piles of partially read publications would accumulate around the house faster than I would read them. But another reason was that it became harder and harder for me to ignore the conservative bias of most publications. They still got accused of being the “lib-ruhl media” by a lot of people, but after I came out of the closet, learned to check my own white male privilege, and became in general more aware of how things worked in the world, I came to realize that society at large had a lot more in common with that conservative Christian campus that I had realized. The Democrats only looked liberal in comparison the the arch conservatives who held a deathgrip on the Republican party. The news media only looked liberal if you accepted that the middle ground, politically, law somewhere between those archconservatives and the Democrats.
So I haven’t subscribed to a magazine other than science fiction and fantasy ‘zines for some years.
Until now. After watching the incredibly poor job most professional news sites and publications did covering this election, I now subscribe to two publications that consistently did real journalism, asked the hard questions, and ran hard-hitting questions: Teen Vogue and Mother Jones. I’m particularly proud to now be a paid supporter of Teen Vogue, because I’m convinced, now, that if anyone can save us from this authoritarian nightmare, it will be the Millenials and Generation Z.
To be fair, since the troompa loompa had his so-called press conference where he shouted about fake news and filled the room with his own staff to applaud his ridiculing of some reporters, much of the rest of journalism has begun to remember that their job is to inform the public, not cater to the whims of people in power in hopes of retaining access. Let’s hope it isn’t too late.
I have other hopes, particularly after seeing the incredible turn-out all around the country on Saturday:
Welcome to the Resistance!
It’s easy to forget that professional athletes are people. And, despite the fact that for a while I majored in journalism, I sometimes find it very hard to believe that most journalists are even slightly human. Let me explain why.One of my favorite players on the current Seahawks roster is Marshawn Lynch, a big running back who is just amazing to watch on the field. Despite him being my favorite, I was unaware that earlier this year, the League had threatened to fine him because he kept ducking out of press conferences. Player contracts require them to be available to the press, because most of the money the League makes comes from the networks and so forth.
Anyway, you only have to watch a couple minutes of this video of him to see that he isn’t being some sort of prima donna about the press. He is clearly extremely uncomfortable with all the mics and cameras. As he says early on, “I’m just here so I won’t get fined, boss.”
The other player in the clip, Michael Robinson, attempts to take the heat off by answering for Marshawn. He does a fairly humorous imitation, and gets Marshawn laughing. Eventually Marshawn makes what I think is an excellent answer to several of the reporters asking why he doesn’t want to talk to them, since the press is supposed to be a bridge to the fans: “If y’all say y’all is a bridge from the players to the fans, and the fans really ain’t really tripping, then what’s the point? What’s the purpose? They got my back. I appreciate that. But I don’t get what’s the bridge being built for.”
The thing is, I don’t understand how anyone with a gram of empathy in their souls can watch Marshawn squirming in that chair and not understand how deeply uncomfortable he is. Not just understand, but squirm a bit yourself!
I understand about the need to get the story in order to keep your job. But when three or four other guys have already asked almost exactly the same question—including that phrase about a bridge to the fans!—what’s the point of repeating it?
If he was a public official, and the reporters were trying to get answers about an incident where it seems action by the official or his underlings had caused harm to the public, then it’s perfectly understandable for journalists to keep asking the same question. In that case the subtext is, “None of us are going to quit bugging you about this until we get an answer.” In that kind of situation, they’re serving a public interest. But this is football, for heaven’s sakes!
The really interesting thing is that Lynch gave an interview later in the week, in a one-on-one situation, where he was quite talkative, and he didn’t just spout of a string of sports clichés:
“And I’m not as comfortable, especially at the position I play, making it about me. As a running back, it takes five offensive linemen, a tight end, a fullback and possibly two wide receivers, in order to make my job successful. But when I do interviews, most of the time it’ll come back to me. There are only so many times I can say, ‘I owe it to my offensive linemen,’ or, ‘The credit should go to my teammates,’ before it becomes run down.
“This goes back even to Pop Warner. You’d have a good game and they’d want you to give a couple of quotes for the newspaper, and I would let my other teammates be the ones to talk. That’s how it was in high school, too. At Cal, I’d have my cousin, Robert Jordan, and Justin Forsett do it.
“Football’s just always been hella fun to me, not expressing myself in the media. I don’t do it to get attention; I just do it ’cause I love that (expletive).”
There’s this silly “alternate weekly” here in Seattle, the Stranger, that I read all the time. I admit, sometimes I read it to see what crazy thing one of them is going to say this time. But I also read it because several of the writers are good, and even when they aren’t, they often cover stories no one else does. The story I’m about the link for you was covered by lots of people. It was about a horrific double-rape, murder and attempted murder. About a pair of women waking up, one with a knife to her throat, the evening after they had a fitting for the dresses for their commitment ceremony. Only one of the women survived, and eventually she testified before a jury about that night.
Eli Sanders wrote a series of stories about the crime, the investigation, the perpetrator, and the process of how we, as a society, investigate and handle horrific crimes. All of the stories were good, but he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for the tale of testimony the surviving partner eventually was able to give.
He called it, The Bravest Woman in Seattle. I cried the first time I read it last summer. I cried when I tried to explain to someone about the story that made me cry. I cried when I read again today after learning it had won a Pulitzer. I cried when I tried to tell Michael the link I was looking for.
Back in the days I was writing for college newspapers and thinking of possibly going into journalism as a career, that’s the kind of story you hoped someday you would get to tell.