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.


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.

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.




People who need to shut up in 2011

Guest post by Jock Stewart, Special Investigative Reporter, the Star-Gazer

At the end of the year, hack reporters traditionally make inane statements about what has been important during the past twelve months and what will be important during the next twelve months.  Truth be told, I don’t have a clue. I’m paid to tell you what happens, not why you ought to care about it.

These days, many journalists are breaking that rule. Here’s what that means to you. You know what they think before you know what facts led them to think what they think. What a shame. Why should anyone care what a hack reporter thinks? Reporters aren’t gods, sages or soothsayers. Hell, a lot of them are just plain stupid.

My profoundest hope for 2011–other than getting rid of the IRS and TSA–is that journalists who tell me what they think will shut up.

Whether I’m watching FOX or CNN, I’m pretty well guaranteed to see a bevy of talking heads (usual suspects) who are paraded before my wondering eyes who just happen to feel the same way about the issues that the network feels. Hell, what are the odds that an objective panel of experts would all think the same way?

My profoundest hope–other than not seeing celebrity divorces and affairs spattered all around the Internet like they’re real news–is that those CNN and FOX news panels of “experts” will shut up in 2011.

There’s a fair number of celebrities who need to shut up in 2011 because, quite frankly, we’re tired of hearing how they hate the “evil rich” even though they’re rich and/or seeing them testify before Congress because they’re famous rather than actually knowledgeable about a cause or an issue.

My profoundest hope–other than not seeing boring trailers for movies that are supposed to be funny–is that most celebrities will just speak the lines the writers give them and then shut up in 2011.

“Silence,” Lao Tzu reportedly said, “is a source of great strength.”

Why then, do we admire those who never shut up? This is a puzzlement, if not a paradox. As a hack reporter with credentials that will get me inside any meeting, press conference or sanitarium, I would like to report stories about the strong, silent types rather than the noisy weaklings who occupy so much of our attention, column inches and air time.

Alas, we live in a noisy world of sound bites. As a reporter, I have to report that the beauty queen really wants to feed the hungry, that the movie star who earns more than my neighborhood really cares for the poor, and that the politician cares more about his constituents than his next election. In the world of sound bites, I know from experience that all the usual suspects won’t shut up in 2011. So, my profoundest hope–other than learning that soup makers have decided we don’t need all that damn salt–is that we’ll just stop listening to the people who can’t stop talking.

If silence is golden, then noise must be fool’s gold. All the more reason in 2011 to ask why the people who should shut up won’t give us a moment’s peace.

As a hack writer, I’m paid to listen. Since you’re not, you can tune out all those people who need to shut up in 2011.


Real journalists vs. great targets for satire

I am often critical of journalists. That’s because my father was a journalist and journalism educator, and I heard a lot from him while I was growing up how real journalists ought to approach the skills and ethics of their profession

HowToReportSeveral years ago, I accepted a posthumously awarded press association award on behalf of my father, Laurence R. Campbell (1903-1987). Standing up there in front of a room full of veteran student publications advisers, a few of whom were once my father’s students, I wondered how a writer who didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps could possibly connect with the audience.

All I knew to say was: “I worked as a college journalism instructor and student publications adviser for three years. I have to tell you that I felt like I was on a runaway horse.”

They knew what I meant. My father spent his life training others to be real journalists. He wrote hundreds of trade publication articles, ran summer journalism institutes and authored or co-authored numerous textbooks. The advisers attending that Florida scholastic Press Association convention in Tampa knew these books better than I even though I was there when Dad wrote them. I think, though, that I connected with the luncheon audience that day because, while I was an outsider, I cared a great deal about the profession.

SeaOfFireCoverWith my novel Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire coming out this summer from Vanilla Heart Publishing, I’m still an outsider looking into a world my father knew so well. My novel is a thriller with a lot of satire and comedy in it. To some extent, I’m satirizing the journalism profession and to some extent, I’m satirizing some of the pretentious people who make the news.

If I didn’t care, I couldn’t write the satire. I’m not a real journalist, but I know what one looks like and how he or she ought to act. For me, it was a real hoot poking fun at those who don’t live up to my expectations. I think my father would understand.

Copyright (c) 2009 by Malcolm R. Campbell