Sunday, July 21, 2013

Of swastikas and public relations

        Sometimes a great public relations firm will count on the laziness of the journalist.  The hope of organizations is that the lazy editor of a newspaper will print the press release verbatim without fact checking.  The country of Thailand thanks the lazy journalists of America for letting them get away with one...or more.
So when Chulalongkorn University, a prestigious Thai university, allowed students to include Hitler among superheroes painted on a wall, many around the world responded with shock.  When the university responded with an apology explaining that the students didn't really know who Hitler was, the matter was settled.  American and international journalists ran the apology.
What journalists did not follow up on is that the issue goes back to 2011, when an article noted that the swastika had become chic attire for Thailand's young.  What journalists did not mention was a fried chicken stand in Bangkok that uses a picture of Hitler with a bow tie on its window.  What journalists missed is pieces of a story were there among the t-shirts of swastikas and fried chicken parts.
I can tell you that not one Thai student I spoke with here in Bangkok knows what the swastika means or who Hitler is.  A separate comment on the state of education may well be needed here.  And perhaps might make a good story.  What you read here is not an indictment of Thailand or the excellent people I have met here.  It's an indictment and one more bit of evidence that some of our journalists are getting lazier. And public relations firms thank them for their support.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Aaron Sorkin, source of a perfect world

        While here in Thailand I missed the season premiere of HBO's Newsroom.  I am bummed.  Like West Wing, creator Aaron Sorkin has created a perfect world where idealism mixed with professional pride and extraordinary talent accomplishes great things.  
I asked a friend with 20+ years of network news experience and 20+ Emmy awards to show for it whether Newsroom is at all realistic.  Sadly, I learned it is not.  A real newsroom lacks the time for pontification and the great speeches that Sorkin offers.  Perhaps, what Sorkin really wants to offer us is a journalistic ideal.  No, not perhaps.  That is what he is doing.  Not to mention a lot of very good looking people.  And Jeff Daniels. 
I see things close to that ideal while In Thailand.  Getting CNN International and BBC I learn about actual news.  Not the news through the eyes of politicians like CNN in America, FOX and MSNBC offer, but through the eyes of experts who actually tell me why the news is important, who is effected and what are the possibilities for actions and reactions.  Actual news.  
The world does not care about Republicans and Democrats.  They care about important things.  Not watching American cable news networks, I get to learn about important things.  The worst thing about CNN International is that they still have Piers Morgan.  Why?  Piers Morgan is to journalism what Ke$ha is to fine art.  But I digress.
Keep giving us ideals, Mr. Sorkin.  We need things to aspire to.  We need to think there is hope and a world where journalistic skill,  intellect and ethics override greed, the thirst for ratings and the belief that if you put enough attractive women on a news set, that some sort of news might be delivered. 
Ever shrinking budgets make gathering news so much harder.  Newsrooms of TV stations and now a Georgia newspaper chain have fired photographers and told the reporters they are now photographers AND videographers AND reporters AND editors AND bloggers AND tweeters..... They are called "One Man Bands."  (Pardon the sexism.  I just report this stuff, I don't give it names.)
Burnout among journalists is high, pay remains pretty low and the quality is diminishing.  Journalists are now sadly among the least trusted professions.  Perhaps because so many believe a blogger is a journalist, but that's another story.  
We need journalistic ideals.  We need Aaron Sorkin to reassure us that there are still those that want to inform us and do so without a political agenda.  I know my friend in the actual newsroom takes great pride in the content he offers and has the awards and respect to show for it.  
In America, we have CNN, Fox, MSNBC and thousands of bloggers.  What do we viewers have to show for it?