The Sacrifice

In 1959 when I was a high school student in Tallahassee, Florida and my father was the dean of the Florida State University School of journalism, the state’s board of regents (then called the board of control) decreed that FSU’s journalism school would close. The reason, which was never spelt out, was probably politics. Purportedly, the state thought it was spending too much money duplicating degrees at Florida State and the University of Florida in Gainesville.

  • Needless to say, both universities provided similar degree programs in a multitude of subjects. So, there was a duplication in many areas.
  • Of the two schools, the one at the University of Florida was weaker in terms of faculty and equipment.
  • My father was the most widely known journalism educator in the state. One wonders if he unknowingly stepped on somebody’s toes.

FSU teaches media courses under the auspices of a School of Communication. However, I think it is missing many courses that should be taken by anyone planning to be a reporter. 

The professors in the school of journalism were spun off into other departments, English among other things, or–like my father–received offers from other universities. My father had taught at many of them already as he followed his career prior to FSU. He chose to stay at FSU after the journalism school was destroyed and became a professor of English Education.

In 1959, I resented this. My father seldom spoke of the politics of higher education. While he was vocal in the press about the closing of the FSU journalism school, he never exactly told my two brothers and me why he wasn’t taking a position at another journalism school. My mother told me that he was making a sacrifice on behalf of the family because he felt we were so invested in Tallahassee (school, church, scouting, friends) that it would be unfair to us to force us to return to California or New York or Oregon where he had previously taught.

I told her that my dad’s career was more important than the hassles of moving to a new town and finding our way in new schools. She told me never to tell him that.  I didn’t.

The Scottish Clan Campbell’s motto is “forget not.” I do not forget and I often do not forgive. So the alumni association of Florida State University hasn’t made any headway getting me to join, nor have they received a dime of my money. When they ask for my reasons, I tell them and they say that was long ago and I say so what?

In 1959, I wanted a family meeting about living in Tallahassee or moving away. If we had one, I have no memory of it. It saddens me, though, this long after the fact, that I still do not agree with the sacrifice my father made for the family 62 years ago. And it angers me that FSU was too frightened of its own shadow to stand up strongly in support of its journalism school.

It was, I think, lose-lose for everyone in 1959, but there are times on long summer nights when I remember it like it happened yesterday, and think that it was all so unnecessary.

–Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell

Publisher: Thomas-Jacob Publishing

Website

Facebook Author’s Page

Amazon Author’s Page

 

Tom Brokaw retires from NBC after 55 years with the network

Tom Brokaw is formally retiring from NBC News after an extraordinary 55 years with the network. Brokaw, 80, is best known for anchoring the “NBC Nightly News” from 1982 through 2004. He has been the network’s senior correspondent in recent years, enjoying a form of semi-retirement while contributing essays to NBC and MSNBC programs.

Source: Tom Brokaw retiring from NBC News after 55 years with the network – CNN

In many ways, Brokaw continued the traditions of traditional TV journalism established by Murrow, Cronkite, and others who by and large tried to fairly report the facts regardless of any political agenda of a network.

As he leaves, we witness the end of an era when reporters left their beliefs outside the newsroom and studio door.

–Malcolm

CNN is CNN and Fox is Fox and Never the Twain Shall Meet

If you get your news from CNN, do you ever wonder what those who get their news from Fox are smoking? If you get your news from Fox, do you ever suspect those who rely on CNN are drunk?

Since this seems to be the case, politics and culture and almost everything else come down to two universes of people who aren’t getting the same news. Some stories aren’t covered on both networks. Some stories are covered with so much bias, they appear to be different stories.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that both networks run a fair number of opinion shows that many viewers get these mixed up with real news. For example, if you watch Hannity on Fox, you are watching an opinion show and really can’t count that as an objective and impartial presentation of the news.

In many ways, I think we got more real news back in the 1960s when the networks came on every evening with 30 minutes, and later 60 minutes, of news than we’re getting now with 24/7 satellite/cable/broadcast saturation.

Unless there’s a huge story, most people seem to want to get their news quickly and get back to their lives. This means that they don’t spend time checking multiple news sources to counteract the spin applied by CNN and FOX. In fact, finding the facts takes a lot of work these days.

This “never the twain shall meet” situation impacts debates on social media as well as “real life.” It’s as though the half-informed are battling the half-informed. I have no idea how to fix this because fixing it seems to go against the flow that embraces opinions over facts.

As we see in many Facebook memes, words to the effect that, “So, Bob, you’re saying that your 15 minutes of research on Wikipedia and 15 minutes on your political party’s website are worth more than my Ph.D.?” That’s where we are.

If I might offer a suggestion, as an example of fact-checking, whenever Fox or CNN covers a big story in a U.S. town, check their facts by going to the websites of their local newspaper and TV station. You’re likely to get more facts and less spin. Not always, but often.

Malcolm

When I wrote my satire “Special Investigative Reporter,” I thought I was joking. Apparently, I was predicting where the news would end up.

CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the build-up to the U.S. presidential inauguration

Based on the levels of violence and tactics used by both police and protesters at U.S. protests in 2020, and during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, journalists reporting from upcoming political events and protests should be aware of and consider the following risks: Firing of rubber bullets, baton rounds, and projectilesLiberal use of pepper spray and tear gas Verbal aggression and physical attacks from protesters and militia groups The potential use of live ammunition by the police and/or protesters The dangers associated with attacks on buildings, vehicles, and barricades The dangers associated with rioting, looting, and arson The use of water cannons and long-range audio devices by the police Potential vehicle ramming of crowdsArrest and detention

Source: CPJ Safety Advisory: Covering the build-up to the U.S. presidential inauguration – Committee to Protect Journalists

Years ago, I would have expected safety precautions and other warnings to reporters who were covering elections in a dangerous foreign country. But this is the United States. If you’re a journalist, the article is filled with helpful advice. I’m just sorry to see it issued for our country.

When I was in high school, I went with the band to participate in the Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. Somewhere I have a photo of all of us posed on the Capitol steps. Now, that entire area is roped off, so to speak, as a red zone that few people can enter. There are national guard troops everywhere. If you’re a tourist, you probably won’t see anything. If you’re a reporter, you might see more than you can tolerate, and your life and your press freedom will be on the line.

Malcolm

My father, mother,  uncle, and I all taught journalism courses. There’s no way we could have prepared our students for this. Berry College, where I taught, really doesn’t look like the kind of environment for training prospective reporters how to be Navy Seals.

Number of journalists jailed worldwide hits record amid unrest, pandemic

News Release from Committee to Protect Journalists

New York, December 15, 2020–A record number of journalists were imprisoned because of their work in 2020, as governments clamped down on news coverage of civil unrest and the coronavirus pandemic, the Committee to Protect Journalists found in its latest annual census.

Police officers detain a photojournalist during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, on September 26, 2020

“It’s shocking and appalling that we are seeing a record number of journalists imprisoned in the midst of a global pandemic,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “This wave of repression is a form of censorship that is disrupting the flow of information and fueling the infodemic. With COVID 19 raging through the world’s prison, it’s also putting the lives of journalists at risk.”

At least 274 journalists were jailed as of December 1, the most since CPJ began collecting data in the early 1990s, and the fifth consecutive year with at least 250 journalists imprisoned. China, Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia were the worst jailers.

Protests and political tensions were a catalyst for many arrests. Two countries with significant increases in jailed journalists were Ethiopia, where unrest has degenerated into armed conflict, and Belarus, where journalists were detained while covering protests against President Aleksandr Lukashenko, who claimed victory in an election widely seen as fraudulent.

While no journalists were jailed in the U.S. at the time of CPJ’s prison census, an unprecedented 110 were arrested or charged in 2020, many while covering demonstrations against police violence; at least 12 still face charges, according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

President Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric throughout his term, including calling critical reports “fake news,” gave cover to authoritarians to crack down on journalists in their own countries. Globally, 34 journalists were jailed for “false news,” compared with 31 last year. CPJ recently published recommendations to the incoming Biden administration for restoring U.S. leadership on press freedom, including prioritizing the issue in foreign policy and appointing a Special Presidential Envoy for Press Freedom.

“The record number of journalists imprisoned around the world is President Trump’s press freedom legacy,” Simon said. “The incoming Biden administration must work as part of a global coalition to bring the number down.”

Amid the pandemic, authoritarian leaders tried to control the narrative by arresting journalists; they also delayed trials, restricted visitors, and disregarded the increased health risk in prison; at least two journalists died after contracting the disease in custody. CPJ documented more than 200 press freedom violations related to COVID-19 and launched the #FreeThePress campaign to call on world leaders to release all imprisoned journalists.

CPJ’s census is a snapshot of those incarcerated at 12:01 a.m. on December 1, 2020. It does not include the many journalists imprisoned and released throughout the year; accounts of those cases can be found at http://cpj.org. Journalists remain on CPJ’s list until the organization determines with reasonable certainty that they have been released or have died in custody. CPJ advocacy helped lead to the early release of at least 75 imprisoned journalists worldwide this year.

**

As a former journalist and college journalism instructor, I strongly support the work of CPJ in support of journalists and other newsroom personnel in fighting police actions in the course of their work. — Malcolm

Where is the real news?

One visitor at yesterday’s post said that while I liked the chaos of an uncertain past, he found the cover-ups that created that uncertainty to be unsettling. I agree with him.

The chaos that motivates me as a writer is that which occurs after the fact–even centuries after the fact–as people (experts and others) try to cut through old smoke screens to figure out what really happened.

Suffice it to say, there’s nothing good about the news today when it becomes polarized, subject to corporate or anchor-person agendas, or sanitized to conform with public opinion. When these things happen, what we’re getting is public relations information that has gone through multiple spin doctors.

When people argue with each other on social media, I can usually tell where they’re getting their real or imagined news: FOX or CNN. I want to ask, where have all the journalists gone, long time passing, gone to the big money every one, when will they ever learn?

My father was a journalist and a journalism school dean, I majored in journalism and taught it at the college level, so I’ve got to say, the kind of reportage we’re getting today from many sources is not what we taught: it’s yellow journalism creeping out of the past tricking the public into believing that public opinions are more honest (or exciting) than facts.

I went to a large journalism school (Syracuse) and when I read the bulletins and newsletters they send out to their alumni, I see a lot of good things happening. According to its website, Syracuse University’s “Newhouse School is more than just the nation’s leading communications school. It’s where passionate young minds go to discover what they can become—communicators, storytellers, leaders, innovators.” I see similar statements on other university websites.

I want to ask this: What happens to your students between their graduation days and the moment when they report to work at news sites that are skewing the news?

Does the mob stop by to see them before they report to work and promise money if they follow orders and violence if they don’t? Has social media’s focus on personal opinion dumbed down the public so they don’t know the difference between an opinion show and a news broadcast? Or, are people just too lazy to check multiple sources?

Perhaps all of the above.

I don’t think the solution to this problem is censorship by Facebook as though the opinions expressed on the site need to go through some strainer to see if they’re correct or not. That’s a misnomer. Opinions might be anything and could be strange or fact-based or agenda-based. But we have a right to say what we think.

Frankly, I think we need more people calling out major news organizations for skewing the news. I’ve even caught age-old newspapers “covering” a speech by making stuff up about what was said. If I hear the live broadcast of the speech and then see a “news report” the following day that doesn’t match the actual speech, I know the newspaper or broadcast organization is reporting an agenda rather than the facts.

I’m surprised more people don’t sound off about this. Or, perhaps–as many have told me–they read/listen to the sources they agree with. That means they’re not looking for multiple sources to find the truth.

I’ve said a lot of this before on this blog. From time to time, it seems necessary to say it again.

Malcolm

When I say I write magical realism, some people think that means I ignore the facts. I don’t. The realism has to be anchored by the truth for the magic to work.

Briefly noted: ‘We’re Still Here Ya Bastards’

Katrina Myths

Myth: Katrina was a “natural disaster.”

Fact: Katrina has been recognized as the most catastrophic failure in the history of American engineering.

Myth: The levees were “overtopped” by the intensity of the high water.

Fact: The levees collapsed in fifty-three places due to engineering design errors and “were responsible for 87 percent of the flooding, by volume.”

– Roberta Brandes Gratz

About the Book

Using the traditional journalism techniques of shoes pointing the pavement, observation, interviews, and a long-time experience with the ways cities work, Gratz explores how New Orleans–in the years following the 2005 storm– has managed to rebuild faster and stronger after Katrina than even the most optimistic of experts could have predicted.

One primary conclusion is this: local people using local plans do a better job than government agencies and large developers that don’t understand who’s doing the real work (and can’t get them financial help) and/or who often want to bulldoze what’s broken and put up generic structures that don’t fit the history and the culture of the city.

From The Publisher

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is one of the darkest chapters in American history. The storm caused unprecedented destruction, and a toxic combination of government neglect and socioeconomic inequality turned a crisis into a tragedy. But among the rubble, there is hope.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards presents an extraordinary panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane. Award-winning journalist Roberta Brandes Gratz shares the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. She shows how the city — from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue — is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

By telling stories that are often ignored by the mainstream media, We’re Still Here Ya Bastards shows the strength and resilience of a community that continues to work to rebuild New Orleans and reveals what Katrina couldn’t destroy: the vibrant culture, epic history, and unwavering pride of one of the greatest cities in America.

Fix local. That should be apparent. Historic neighborhoods–and other segments of cities with unique styles–that aren’t understood or even apparent to outsiders. Yes, government funds are needed, but the government should ask what’s needed and where before it blunders into stricken areas like a bull in a China shop. And, as is obvious, don’t rebuild the levees the same foolish piecemeal and incorrectly designed way they were built the first time.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the former chairman of a local Historic Preservation Commission that oversaw repair and design projects in historic neighborhoods.

Is today’s news giving us ‘truth actual’?

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby is the title of Tom Wolfe’s first collected book of essays, published in 1965. The book is named for one of the stories in the collection that was originally published in Esquire magazine in 1963 under the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…” Wolfe’s essay for Esquire and this, his first book, are frequently heralded as early examples of New Journalism. – Wikipedia

Those of us steeped in traditional journalism looked askance at the so-called “new journalism” of the 1960s. It was perpetrated (or lovingly brought into the world–depending on your feelings about it) by Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and others who–while they had newspaper reporting experience–wrote their new stuff primarily for magazines like “Esquire” and “Atlantic”?

As you might guess from the title “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored (Thphhhhhh!) Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby (Rahghhh!) Around the Bend (Brummmmmmmmmmmmmmm)…”, it focused on the immersion of the reporter into the subject matter and often used techniques common to fiction when they wrote their stories.

Truth Actual

Fiction writers, especially those of us who write and/or like stream of consciousness, magical realism, fairy tales, myth-based fiction, and other forms that are often called “literary fiction,” often call the result of our stories “truth actual” instead of “truth literal.”

This view comes from the theory that the knowledge, feelings, impressions, and intuition within the reader’s mind after reading a “truth actual” novel will be more accurate than what results from reading straight realism. We might say that we’re speaking here of “more important” truths than “how to fix your dishwasher” or “how do I get from Yellow Knife to Key West.”

At any rate, the new journalism reporters thought that’s what they were doing and, I think, when they wrote longer, quasi-commentary, creative nonfiction magazine pieces, they succeeded. The technique works less well for front-page news.

Opinion Journalism

New journalism, however, seems to have spawned a black sheep. Some call it fake news. Basically, it’s the warping of a story to fit ones personal opinion and/or the political agenda of the publication. I don’t think this kind of “reporting” provides us with any real truth at all, and I see it practiced with equal fervor on Fox News, CNN, and The New York Times. In the old days, we would say this approach was pure arrogance, the notion being that the facts of the world don’t revolve like planets around the sun of your opinion about them.

This is new journalism gone too far and the flip side of what all of us were taught in journalism school and on our first jobs in the field.

–Malcolm

 

 

I never know why what happens happens

That title applies to a lot of things. Once again, it applies to my bewilderment about old posts that are suddenly found by more readers long after the fact than read them when they were written.

Lately, two reviews, ‘Paris in the Present Tense’ by Mark Helprin and Briefly Noted: ‘The Hart Brand’ by Johnny D. Boggs have suddenly gotten a lot of hits.

I used to spend time trying to figure out what suddenly drew so many readers to old posts. I’d search Google to see if the subject was in the news or if there were a fresh scandal afoot. I seldom found anything. Nonetheless, I appreciate the readers who spend their time here whether it’s to read something from months ago or something I wrote today.

I never know why what happens happens is probably the story of my life. I don’t believe in coincidences, luck, or fate. So, most of the time when I can’t explain something, I just shrug and move on. Wondering about things I can’t explain usually doesn’t get me anywhere.

When I worked as a journalist and a journalism teacher, I taught the so-called 5Ws and the H, the who, what, when, where, why, and how that reporters need to cover in the early paragraphs of their news stories. To know something, when it comes to news, these things are what readers ask about. So, part of my training as a journalist and college journalism instructor still nags at me now–out of habit, I ask why?

Age and/or laziness have shown me that I’m not always going to know why about a lot of things. I realize that why? is an important question in a lot of professions: why did the bridge fall down, why did the sinkhole swallow a Florida town, why did the wreck happen, why did the plane crash, why did the fire start, &c. Why, in such instances, helps us fix what’s broken and makes it less likely that bad things won’t happen again.

But applying why to non-technical questions, such as why are so many people reading an old Mark Helprin review or why do bad things happen to good people (and vice versa) often seems like a fool’s errand. That doesn’t mean we don’t care. It seems to mean we don’t know and haven’t figured how to know.

I suspect that if we truly discovered the why behind mysterious and/or transcendent occurrences, we wouldn’t believe it because it would conflict greatly with our view of the world. My views about why conflict with most people’s views about why don’t make sense to most people, so I don’t mention them. I find comfort in my idiosyncratic views about why and, smart or stupid, they keep me reasonably sane.

I often wonder if a lot of people are like this when confronted with unanswered or unanswerable question. They have a theory about such things, perhaps, but otherwise, don’t worry about it. That seems to be better than going flat nuts.

On the other hand, being human, we’re still curious, but we are smart enough to keep our curiosity under control.

Malcolm

 

 

Should I be writing about political issues?

Arts, publishing and books websites are showing us a large number of links about writers and politics these days. Some writers are speaking out (from one side of the aisle or the other) at rallies, via letters to Senators and Representatives, and posts on Facebook profiles. Others are writing poems, entire poetry chapbooks, essays, book reviews, short stories and novels that reflect their concerns about a wide variety of political, economic and social issues that became part of the very polarized national debate during the Presidential campaign.

Somebody–I forget who–once said that all fiction and poetry is at one level or another political. Perhaps so. My contemporary fantasies can’t help but show sadness over a world that relies more on technology than spirituality. My two Florida conjure novels shine a light on the racism of the 1950s. Nonetheless, my primary intent with these novels was telling stories I was passionate about rather than creating “message novels.”

When I think about the folk songs of the 1960s–and a lot of the poetry and fiction as well–I remember them as being intensely political, about “the military industrial establishment,” segregation, poverty, and the Vietnam War. We seem to have come full circle back to writings of protest and resistance against conservative policies as well as writings suggesting that that previous liberal policies created a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

Of course I have opinions about the issues. One opinion of longstanding favors a better approach to the environment, conservation, protection of wild areas and natural resources, and more care about not polluting the environment. Since these views go all the way back to the days when I was in the Boy Scouts and first began to participate in conservation organizations such as the Wilderness Society and the National Parks and Conservation Association, I will keep writing about this–and referring to it in my stories.

While I respect writers and others who feel a need to speak out for or against the issues that now threaten to further divide this country into camps that refuse to work toward consensus, I’m not going to do it. For one thing, I have no credentials that give me any special insight into whether we should be doing ABC or XYZ.  For another thing, much of the debate in both the news media and the social media is being driven by biased or skewed news, sensationalism and other misleading information, and voters on both sides of the issue who approach discussion with a “my candidate right or wrong.” All of this divides us further and makes the truth harder to find.

So my “voice” is going to stay focused on environmental issues and in writing fiction even if the two things get stirred up together a little bit. None of the rants–even those I basically agree with–on Facebook and elsewhere are changing people’s minds. Why not? Because they’re skewed toward the far right or the far left rather than a more centrist approach where people can really discuss the issues sanely rather than throwing gasoline on the fire with dueling wisecracks and graphics.

I welcome those journalists and other writers who do their best to look past the hysteria and tell us the facts and/or to carefully analyze the practicality, ethics, and legality of the issues in their news stories, features, essays, poems, and fiction. Anything else is pretty much spitting into the wind.

–Malcolm