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Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Professional Disaster, and Other Opinions

Okay...get ready for another one:

By now, we have heard and seen the sadness of yet another tragedy in this world. The sinking of the "Sewol," a South Korean ferry that has left nearly 300 people still missing. Even sadder, nearly all the passengers on this particular voyage were high schoolers headed for a field trip to an island.

Ferry disasters are not uncommon in this part of the world. It is too soon to tell exactly what happened: it appears that the vessel struck a reef or something, listed sharply to port and sank very fast. Boats like those are not built with the watertight integrity of modern ocean liners; belowdecks is cargo area and space for vehicles.

You can imagine the damage the boat took, and how quickly things changed.

From what we also know (from the sad and eerie messages texted from some who didn't get out), the passengers were told to stay put. An order to abandon ship did not come for 35 minutes, and survivors say they never heard it.

Staying put at first is standard procedure. You don't want to start a panic and a stampede, I get that. Efforts to correct the list failed; only then, did the order get made to abandon.

That seems to be about the size of it all. Now, why am I going on about it?

The media coverage, which I have tried to avoid apart from the sources that I felt more trustworthy. While I do not understand the language, I watched the Korean Broadcasting Network's coverage online. They did special coverage, and as I note below, they ran it in an interesting way.

They run like a PBS station, or Japan's NHK. A very professional, low-key and proper presentation. NPR would be the same way, as would the BBC. Yes, I am biased, I am part-time employed by an NPR affiliate, but I know how they work.

I know how the other side works, too. 

I made a point of keeping an eye on how the Beeb, NHK, and the Asian networks handled the matter. They have done it for the most part with confidence in themselves, calmness, and yes...PROFESSIONALISM.

Something lost on far too many of my colleagues.

Now, I was prompted to write this and include comments I made on this site:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/south-korea-ferry-prosecutors-seek-arrest-warrant-for-captain-1.2614660

Commenters are furious over the CBC's usage of footage, photos, etc. They are getting in a lather over it. Well, they have got some justification, I see it.

They don't watch much American TV, I don't bet. Look at what we have, and what our broadcast media has mostly degenerated into.

I do not mean to sound like an old guy, nor do I wish to slag my colleagues, but I'm not impressed with even the veteran behaviors exhibited by people you'd think had more of an idea of how to act before a camera.

I'm putting the finger on the TV side, which I don't have much experience in, but have enough to know.

Here's what I wrote (whether or not they'll permit its use, I don't know):

"Look, I fully understand the complaints you have, regarding the use of the grief of the families who are still wondering if their loved ones are alive. I would feel as devastated as they. If you think the CBC is bad (not to defend them), I suggest you watch American cable networks if you can stomach it. 

I work in this media. I agree, we all too often use the suffering of others for our own egos, gain, ratings, etc. That's why I don't work in television. In a 24/7 news cycle you are going to see the same stories and the same footage, over and over again. The days of the six o'clock news with the National or what have you at seven, with a ten o'clock update are long gone. That's why you see the recycling. There just is not enough content to fill it all. 
 
Now...I have watched the Korean Broadcasting Network's coverage. They were going with special coverage during the unfolding events, but they get high marks for professionalism, and keeping their emotions in check. They did damned well. Same for NHK and the BBC; they did not go "wall to wall" with coverage. In comparison, CNN's obsession with the Malaysian airline disaster shows how bad we can get. 
 
I've spent 30 years in this business folks...I don't like the way it's gone anymore than you. I cringe every time I see a cable news host lose their s--t and do what their bosses tell them to, and whore themselves with emotional ranting, and blame-tossing. And yes, they will do anything they can to stir emotions and keep people watching. 

 
The last two generations of "media people" (my term) are largely a bunch of smart-assed little brats who have grown up on talk radio, fake reality TV and Fox News. They think this is news. Most of these kids wouldn't last 15 minutes in a proper newsroom. Today, I can name colleagues whom I like as people, and who have the tools but don't get the application. We call them, "Book Smart, Street Stupid." 

This is how it is. If you do not like it, let them know, and not just on a comment board where no one is paying attention. It would also do to stop watching that s--t. I grew up near the Canadian border, and I always admired the way the news was presented. To some extent, I still hear it being done well. 
 
Forgive my going off, because I hope you understand why things are done the way they are. Honestly, if I were in charge, I might well use some of the same footage you are complaining about, because it does help tell the story. All the time? No, probably not. 
 
That all said, I remain saddened by the stories of those people who are lost and their families. We can't imagine their grief unless we've lived through it. Don't think we in the business like these stories: we don't! We would love nothing better than to just tell you about mundane, and yes, even boring happenings. 
 
Like your countrywoman sang, "A little good news," yes, we'd rather do that."


Well, there you have it: our own addiction to knowing everything right this minute, and the pressure we face to get it out there, right here, right now and without delay.

We don't have the resources, folks. We don't have the money, we don't make the revenue to do it the way you think it should be done. Absent of that, I know people in newsrooms who work their asses off day in and day out to do it "right." Even if they don't get it first, and it's not breaking news anymore.

Too many in this business do it in a way that is wrong: "GET THE STORY FIRST, BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WHO CARES IF IT'S INACCURATE? THE PUBLIC HAVE SHORT-TERM MEMORIES, THEY'LL FORGET."

No, actually they won't. And they don't. They don't forget when we fuck up. Whether or not they actually turn away, well, that's another matter for debate.

Guess the thing I'm getting at is: do you think we have too much of it? It's up to us to decide to turn it off, and come to it when we need or want it.

As it stands today, I am on the edge of this business. I am outside looking in, for the most part. What I do makes a difference in small ways, and I am thankful that what I do provides a service. A real one: if you want it, it's there. If not, that's cool, because you may not need it.

Addiction. Yes, we are addicted to some pretty crazy things. News (mostly which confirms our own ideas), so-called Entertainment, brain-numbing shows, and obsessively watching every move so-called celebrities make. Though for the latter, most of them really don't do anything I would consider to be that spectacular.

In the end of this...it may seem a rather unusual step away from the topic, but here it is. We lost one of the great authors of our past century. Gabriel Garcia Marquez left us at the age of 87. The key adjective to describe his work is "imaginative." He mixed real life (much of it around his native Colombia) with fantasy. Imagination...not something you need to live by, but something to make you think and give you a little of what we all need. Not too much, but enough.

We all need to think about it, really think about what is important. I am trying to shed light on this for you. While I also try to figure out how much I need...and don't want.

Thoughts for the day, and hopefully for a bit longer while I sort out my own issues. My own writings are not meant to shake foundations and destroy worlds; they have their own place, and I hope to live long enough to see the day that stories like "Parasite Girls" get their day. I'd like to know what readers think, and hear it in their words. That would be a bigger payoff than money.

Okay...let's hope for a little better in the coming days.

Peace, Outta Here...

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