Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

The Other Reason “Spotlight” Is Still Relevant Today

Every year my wife goes off on vacation, and I use the time to catch up on Oscar-winning movies from years past. This summer I saw maybe a half dozen, all of which were superbly made, one of which stood out: Spotlight.

In case you haven’t seen it, Spotlight chronicles The Boston Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. It can be painful to watch, as we viewers get to relive the horror of the successive revelations—starting with a handful of priests and blossoming into a worldwide scandal.

Horribly, that scandal is with us even today, which makes Spotlight still relevant. But it’s still relevant for another reason too: its in-depth look at investigative journalism. The sources I’ve read (in The Atlantic and The Washington Post, to name two) attest to the movie’s accurate portrayal of the drudgery, doggedness, and gems of discovery that make for good investigative journalism.

If anything, that portrayal is more relevant in 2018 than in 2015, when the movie hit theaters. It carries two lessons that we desperately need to hear nowadays, long and loud and often.

First lesson: we need good journalism. None of us have the time, means, or energy to gather the full picture on all the news stories that impact our lives one way or another. That’s why we have journalists: to find those stories, explore them in depth, and report them to us.

In another era, this assertion would be dismissed as obvious. It’s not so obvious anymore, thanks to our post-truth culture, and that carries ramifications for all of us. Journalists must prioritize accuracy and thoroughness and fairness in their reporting (as, I think, the vast majority of them do now). Those who would pervert good journalism—the purveyors of deliberate misinformation masquerading as news—need to get their slimy fingerprints off the internet, NOW.

The rest of us get the second lesson: we must stop denigrating good journalists. If they are our source for the stories that impact our lives, and we have trained ourselves never to trust them—worse, to consider them the “enemy of the people”—who else do we have? The default, nowadays, is to revert to the sources who agree with our current beliefs. It’s as if we think, “All media are the enemy, except my media.”

Can anyone else see the absurdity of that?

Is there bias in the media? Sure. The media are comprised of humans—from corporate owners right down to reporters— and humans have biases. Should that prevent us from listening to them? Not at all. We can listen skeptically, pay attention to several sources from different perspectives, read international media as well as that in our own country, suss out who provides the greatest depth and balance. By doing so, we can get as close to a full, accurate picture of the issue as it’s possible to get.

This process is time-consuming. But it’s doable. It may also be essential for the health of our world.

A Good Thought Spoiled

For this week’s post, I was all set to rant against a news story coming out of Ohio. Now I can’t. What happened between then and now may hold a few lessons for us.

My little tale starts with a headline in my RSS feed. How can you not react to

Fetus Set To Testify In Favor Of Ohio Anti-Abortion Bill

First reaction: sigh. More weird antics in the abortion debate—the very antics that do as much to harden the battle lines as to clarify the issue.

Second reaction: media skepticism. Why did the reporter use the word testify? Surely he knew the connotations it would carry. I thought it inflammatory and irresponsible.  So I decided to blast it here to illustrate the need for precise language when discussing difficult issues.

Then I dug a little deeper and came to my third reaction: uh-oh. The article appeared in The Huffington Post. I’ve just started writing for The Huffington Post. Do I really want to criticize a story on a website that might prove critical to my writing venture?

Fortunately, the article’s author linked his story to a release from Faith2Action, an organization supporting the legislation. Fourth reaction: whoops. The word testify came not from the author, but from the source itself.

So. What did I learn from this exercise?

First, vested interests die hard—very hard. I write a lot about the danger they present to authentic dialogue, and the value of spirituality in clearing them away. None of that means I’m completely free of the damned things. Like our basic human instinct for self-preservation, vested interests appear to be always with us. Hence the need to strive against them in our internal preparation for dialogue.

Second, it is so easy to miss the full story. Remember death panels? I wonder how much of that drama could have been averted if more people had simply dug deeper into the facts. Surely, with the testifying fetus story, I could have stopped with the notice in my RSS feed and come to some conclusion about irresponsible journalism. And I would have been wrong.

Third—and I’ve said this ad nauseam—getting the full story and clearing away vested interests require reflection, time, and work. In today’s culture, these are hard to come by. And yet, as the death panels brouhaha illustrates, our national conversations could be more productive, and move more efficiently toward resolving our national issues, if we took the time and did the work.

True, we all have lives. We cannot possibly research every news story that comes our way. What we can do, perhaps, is suspend our judgment on those issues we cannot research.

The ingredients of dialogue—depth of thought, precision of language, the work of the soul—are difficult and elusive. Clearly, none of us gets them completely right. But our attempts to do so can make the world better. That alone is reason to pursue them.