Where have all the Watchers gone

watcher

In the old Marvel comics, there was a character called The Watcher, who came from a race of beings who bore witness to history and recorded what they saw but were forbidden to take sides, after a catastrophe occurred in their ancient past when they tried to influence an outcome. (The Watcher predated Star Trek’s prime directive, I might add.)

I think The Watcher influenced the way I have tried to report in my journalism. I always have tried to understand and describe both – rather, all – sides of a conflict as I write the story, as accurately and matter-of-factly as I can, with an overt effort not to try to influence the situation.

I have my own point of view, of course, but the reporter’s job is not to push a point of view, it’s to chronicle the clash and perhaps offer some objective facts to help the reader decide whether one side is in possession of more of the truth than another. Points of view were expressed in a column or editorial on the opinion page.

That no longer seems to be the goal of many journalists, who act as if they have bought into one side or another’s point of view and are hired to agitate and propagandize for that point of view.

Rather than rail against some soulless and faceless monolithic Media, I would simply encourage readers to be aware of this trend and – if you do wish to understand an issue – seek out other viewpoints or even those rare old-school Watcher-type journalists who may still be encountered here and there.

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‘There’s good news tonight’

good news tonight

#TBT Written for my newspaper column of July 29, 2015. Would you listen to such a podcast?

Yes, somewhere someone is dying. Someone is killing people. A fire has destroyed. A great wind has orphaned children. Someone is hungry, even starving. Their stories must be told.

But over there, someone is comforting a stranger. Someone is building. Someone is creating new beauty. A habitat is protected. A windmill is drawing clean, healing water for a community. A meal is being cooked to share. A disease is being cured, even prevented.

It has always been my experience that the impulse to to help a neighbor in need crosses social and political lines. The arguments, the differences, are about how to solve the need. If only the passions of the election season could be harnessed into solving and caring and helping, instead of tearing and denigrating and hating. Continue reading →

The Old Man and the Press

Saturday Stories #4

sunset electronica

The devices had been useless for so long with only error messages to greet every effort to connect, so many days and week and months – was it years already? – that everyone had finally come to the realization that the web wasn’t coming back to life.

Some said it was a conspiracy, that evil men and women had fed our dependency and then cruelly took it away to make us despair. Others said we just ran out of fossil fuel to feed the power plants and we owed it to the Earth to silence the things that drained the power. Others said we didn’t pass on the knowledge of how to fix the machines and thus we lost the ability to make repairs. Continue reading →

In today’s news

in today's news

“Zits” is an often funny and true comic strip, and it happened again the other day.

Jeremy is blasting heavy metal while calmly eating breakfast, and Mom asks how can you start the day with all that violence and death?

The teen responds, “Oh, and your news and world politics is different?”

After an adulthood spent being the purveyor of such news, I have to admit that somewhere out there is death and destruction, but maybe this is the real news:

Thousands of planes landed safely.

Millions of kids worked through their differences and played together.

Everyone drove to work and arrived back home in one piece.

Billions of dollars changed hands in increments ranging from 10 cents to $10 billion without a weapon being brandished.

People live and interact in peace 99.999 percent of the time. What makes the news is the other 0.001 percent, precisely because it’s so rare.

Start your day knowing that, and everything changes.

A kind of truth

Michael Connelly and his greatest hero, police detective Harry Bosch, have hit me in the heart again with a random note in the middle of a story. You may recall I recently wrote about Harry’s observations about the newspaper industry.

In Harry’s latest adventure, Two Kinds of Truth, Bosch is reflecting on his new role as a part-time detective with the much smaller San Fernando Police Department after an awkward parting of the ways with the Los Angeles P.D.

“Most of all, the offer came at a time when he felt unfinished. After all the years he had put in, he never expected to walk out the door one day at the LAPD and not be allowed back in. At a period in his life when most men took up golf or bought a boat, Bosch felt resolutely incomplete. He was a closer; he needed to work cases, and setting up shop as a private eye or defense investigator wasn’t going to suit him in the long run.”

As I drove down the highway “reading” the book with the help of Titus Welliver, who performs the audiobook, I realized how much I have in common with Bosch. The only difference is I kind of expected to walk out the door one day at the job I thought I was born to do and not be allowed back in.

But like Bosch, I didn’t feel like I was finished, and it didn’t make a lot of sense to pursue something dramatically different than what I’ve been doing for 42 years – community journalism.

I was the guest Tuesday of the Algoma Optimist Club, who asked me to talk about community journalism. I came across the Bosch quote as I was thinking what I could share about myself and the good work being done by community journalists in a lot of places.

More and more I realize the best journalism is local and independent, where the decisions are made by someone who lives in the community being covered. It’s that simple.

A dose of reality jumps off the page

dejah and newspaper

Every so often a character in a book will make an observation that you have to believe is coming from the author. And so it was as I was reading The Burning Room by Michael Connelly, in a scene where detective Harry Bosch is researching a horrific fire at a child care center that he is now discovering was a homicide.

Harry is reading an extensive report in the Los Angeles Times that covered several pages the day after the 1993 homicide. On one page is a box listing all of the journalists who worked on the story.

Bosch counted 22 names, and it made him miss the old Los Angeles Times. In 1993 it was big and strong, its editions fat with ads and stories produced by a staff of some of the best and brightest journalists in their field. Now the paper looked like someone who had been through chemo – thin, unsteady, and knowing the inevitable could only be held off for so long.

While Connelly was writing about Harry Bosch’s hometown paper, the description fits almost every publication in the U.S. news business – and, frankly, not only those outlets that still employ a conventional press. Ever since some bean counter somewhere decided that newsrooms must turn a profit, it’s been heading downhill.

My first boss said the news department was a public service, not a profit center, and he expected the other parts of the radio station to raise the money to support the newsroom’s expenses. You don’t hear that in the boardrooms that control most journalism enterprises these days.