I’d like to bring an air of importance, so let me begin with a quote.
“The important thing for journalism, and for journalism students, is to have a solid ethical foundation and a commitment to fairness and accuracy and the desire to fairly tell the stories of a diverse and challenged community.”
This is a quote from Nassau News, a flimsy excuse for ‘news’ run by Hofstra University, where I’m fortunate enough to be going to graduate school. There’s only one problem with that quote. It’s a lie.
Well, the idea behind it is probably true. But those words, on that website, are an absolute lie. And while I’d like to slander the author of this rhetoric, this is a person who probably has an RSS feed linked to his name (nothing would shock me), so let me simply explain why that quote is false.
Let me take you back, to my last class of this past semester. There were presentations of videos students made, as a report on some topic of interest. Here I should note one aspect of Hofstra’s journalism program. Many of the students in the program work for the university. That was the case with Jamie Lynn Spears (not the student’s real name.)
Jamie Lynn had originally wanted to do a story about a neighboring community to Hofstra, one that was being engulfed in a recent university expansion. He went into the neighborhood, spoke to people and gathered information for his report. But my fellow classmate, this aspiring journalist, he had to conference with my professor. The same charlatan who came up with the above quote was the professor. Now I don’t know how the meeting went, but Jamie Lynn was forced to change stories, due to a conflict of interest.
You see, reporting a story about a displaced community might put Hofstra in a negative light. Not my words. The “conflict of interest” argument is flimsy. Imagine if NBC held a code of silence for, Jack Welch, or CBS for Sumner Redstone? There would be widespread discord over such tactics. Yet there are students being taught the same exact thing, and nobody thinks it odd.
I e-mailed Jamie Lynn about the circumstances surrounding nixing his article. He never responded. Asking other folks in the program, they didn’t respond to my assertions that we’d been taught censorship. Sometimes silence is golden, but not in this instance. And as if ‘the powers that be’ were teasing me, the live feed from that fateful class, where Jamie Lynn talked about his conflict of interest, has been taken down from the NassauNews website.
I worry more about the latent lessons from such exercises. More than anything, seeing someone forgo doing a report that may actually ‘tell the stories of a diverse and challenged community,’ for a fluff piece, teaches me one thing. Don’t ask those hard questions. Welcome to America. Have another daiquiri.
It should come as no surprise, though. American media likes to portray Britney Spears as news. Wrong. Britney Spears is a sideshow. If there’s one question that should be asked about Britney Spears, it isn’t ‘what’s going to happen to her kids?’ or ‘will she ever be able to bounce back?’ The question should be, where the hell is her father? Just another vivid example of the news doing society a disservice. Unfortunately, the media is not interested in making a change for the better. Media’s interested in using flashy rhetoric to appear to make a difference, while turning a deaf ear to hard questions.
While Americans should use this tale as a springboard to a discussion on the repercussions of divorce on the psyche of young adults, instead we’re fed garbage. It’s the same journalists who talk about ‘corner markets’ and barbershops’ as small businesses that went under in New Orleans after Katrina. Those are enterprises. Small businesses are more than a place to buy liquor and cigarettes, or a place to get a good fade. Perhaps I’ve got a distorted perspective. To me, though, Plessers is a small business. Plessers is a locally owned appliance store in my hometown. My buddy Hendy works there, on the delivery crew. I see something like Plessers as an example of a small business.
There’s a real story in New Orleans. One that is much too long for this blog right here. But rather than wondering why there are no real small businesses, the media trots out neutered viewpoints, gross platitudes and, at worst, real misinformation. All I’ve learned thus far is, don’t ask tough questions. Not if you want to get ahead, that is.