September 2, 2009

The Right Kind of Journalism

In a 2008 Vogue interview, Nicole Kidman said, "I don't believe in flittering around the edges of things. You're either going to walk through life and experience it fully or you're going to be a voyeur. And I'm not a voyeur."

Her comment pinpoints one of the biggest problems that I have with myself, media outlets, and sometimes, our society. I fear that we've become a nation of voyeurs rather than doers. Today's media spends an excess amount of time covering celebrity and trivial human interest stories, whose ubiquity encourages voyeurism. We know intimate details about people we don't even know. We are accustomed to watching this glitz and glamour, expecting it, and even craving it. I myself am guilty of being tempted by the brain candy of People and PopSugar. It's escapism during a monotonous work day. Lately, however, it's worn on me. I know entirely too much about the Jon and Kate Plus Eight drama and not enough about how women are being treated in Afghanistan.

We need a re-prioritization of US media values. So much of today's media coverage focuses on trashy, low quality stories like the Levi Johnston's opinion of the Palins or dare, I say, "My husband caught crabs. Is he cheating?"(no joke, a featured story on The Today Show). The frequency of airtime and amount of media resources dedicated to "celebrity reporting" is too much.

Through this celebrity reporting, we become addicted, idolizing the lives of high-profile people - actors, actresses, athletes, musicians. If we spent less time reading Us Weekly, more time learning about and acting to provide educational opportunities for Afghan women or refugee children in Bosnia, the world just might be a better place. I'm thinking of the phrase many hands make light work. Not many readers of OK! magazine make light work.

My main question here (to myself and to others) us: why are we spending so much time observing other people's lives instead of focusing on improving our own and that of others?

I think that the mainstream media misses out on so many wonderful stories that educate people on the larger issues of immigration policy, women's rights, education, health care, poverty and homelessness. Journalism is meant to tell the larger, world-affecting headlines of the day, but also the small, untold stories of human struggles and triumphs in such a way that will inspire readers to affect change where it's needed. In their first written piece after their release from captivity in North Korea, journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee cite their understanding of a journalist's role in society: "[W]e believe that journalists have a responsibility to shine light in dark places, to give voice to those who are too often silenced and ignored." This is the essence and duty of every journalist and the main reason why I wanted to enter that profession.

{Journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee return to
US soil after their North Korean imprisonment}

Another excellent example of media covering the often untold but culturally and politically-significant story is the NPR/American Public Media program, The Story, hosted by Dick Gordon. Gordon used to host The Connection for Boston's NPR station, WBUR. He understands ow to mix the interesting with the serious. He's a wonderful interview - kind, gentle, intelligent. He asks the tough questions while keeping his interviewees at ease. To broach the subject of US immigration policy, he interviewed two families: a construction worker in Florida and the undocumented Mexican family that she employs. His reporting humanizes the important issues that should be on American minds.

{Dick Gordon, host of APM's The Story}

Image can be found here and here.

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