Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting it right.

In a TV interview, I once heard Jerry Lee Lewis speak of the very entertaining movie about his life, (Great Balls of Fire) saying in his Memphian-southern drawl, "the only thing they got right was gettin' it wrong". I've always loved that quote and thought about it again when I read the headline for this CNN Columbine follow-up story. My concerns become elevated when time reveals truth more accurately where early speculation and rumor become accepted as fact. The 'facts' surrounding the invasion of Iraq, or the bombing of Oklahoma City are other potent examples.

Being married to a photojournalist, I met and moved within other journalists and have gained some insight into the journalistic world. Journalism at it's best and most pure is quite different than what all too frequently passes for it today. In my opinion, reportage should be neutral, concise, timely but above ALL else, accurate. Accuracy, to me, is the key to the finest in journalism.

The older I get, the less time I have for conjecture and rumor. I border on abhorrence of heresay. It all too often 'gets it wrong' and at its worst I believe, creates the ability for seeds of injustice to grow. There are numerous examples of reportage getting it wrong in the rush for 'the scoop' or headline or to satisfy 'the masses'. Such is that business nowadays, but they are all too eagerly serving the whims of a 'now'-centered culture.

My father always consulted that, in construction, doing it right the first time is always the fastest way because to not, one must then undo the incorrect way, and then do it again, the correct way. Such as it is with a great many things in life and journalism is no different. What concerns me is that nearly two full generations of 'me-mine-now' may not understand this and especially with reportage in the technological age.

Things like Blogging, Texting, and Twittering, as I see them, are set to irreversibly change the world of journalism. Every one of us with a mobile phone or device may all become journalists to a degree. Twitter is fine example of it. To pull from an aggregate of information coming from 100 people at one event rather than 1 has the potential for more broad and, I'd argue better, coverage. Unfortunately the limitations are equally expounded depending on the ability of the submitter of information.

My hope would be that even if 40% of those 100 fictional people are so biased, skewed, or set to report opinion rather than fact, we still gain the greater and clearer picture of the remaining 60 people, provided we can sift the information accurately. My arguement supporting this model would state that with more eyes reporting the events, we can more quickly sift because of the numerous vantage points for reporting and identifying the commonalities found in all of the stories. This is where I see the current news sources fit in. The sifters of immediate and expansive information sources.

Where one traditional reporting model may have a reporter speak to 4 to 10 people and form a story based on that information, in this age of instant communications, the influx of information can be greatly expanded, allowing for a more broad and accurate picture from the start. I hope this is what we'll see. It is my opinion that the news agencies who don't see this potential and use it will do so at their own peril.

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