Journalistic Incest

Arguably one of the most important news events I’ve taken part in covering was the case of Sami Omar Al-Hussayen.  Al-Hussayen was a University of Idaho graduate student, living with his wife and children in Moscow in 2003*.

In the early morning hours of a regular day, SWAT teams and federal agents “breached” Al-Hussayen’s home, and took him into custody for alleged illicit activity of supporting anti-American overseas operations.

Ultimately Al-Hussayen was acquitted, but deported, and his family voluntarily left the states before being booted themselves. 

But within this fascinating post-September-eleventh dynamic, of which your humble correspondent was a part, bloomed a side of journalism I never knew existed: the incestuous side.

As Al-Hussayen’s case began to evolve, and reports of racial profiling and protest began to surface, so came the satellite trucks like biblical locusts to Egyptian farmlands.  Precious university parking space was occupied not by beat-up Civics or Accords, but by cables and live feeds.

You’d think this onslaught of journalistic prowess would’ve fleshed-out the Al-Hussayen saga beyond the hype, but you would be mistaken.

TV reporters turned to the humble stronghold which is/was the Argonaut, UI’s student newspaper. These “journalists” began to interview student journalists creating news by interviewing news-people.

The Argonaut editor at the time called it “journalistic incest,” and that’s exactly what it was.  During a time when better journalism should’ve been practiced, the industry seemed instead to regress into an easy sound byte.

Breaking, internationally-recognized stories may create wormholes of activity, though.  Perhaps this incestuous relationship is less prevalent in times less frenzied.

Unfortunately I’m noticing our industry having to take an easy way more often than a more valuable way.  Everyday we must fill all the minutes of a clock and some people don’t care what material fills that time. We air stories factually incorrect or inadequate, interviews that are substandard, or features that are irrelevant and/or unimportant to the majority of our listeners.

Sometimes these lapses come from simply being human, other times they come from laziness. These things don’t happen just in small, local stations either, but with national and international networks as well.

CNN, Glenn Beck, Journalism?

Glenn Beck has been called Rush Limbaugh’s successor.

He has a talk show broadcast on Headline News, owned by CNN.  Flipping through the channels one night in November brought me to Beck’s show.  But CNN’s Anderson Cooper was hosting Beck’s show…Beck was the guest…talking about Beck’s new book.

I have to admit I did a double-take.

Shilling merchandise under the guise of news (Cooper was supposed to add legitimacy I guess) only further distances the public from true journalism.

I try to maintain clarity in my reporting.  I try to imagine my listeners absorbing the news of the day.  I try to remember to serve the public in my reporting.  This may sound too idealistic.  But journalists need to remember why we are in this business, and who we serve with our responsibility.

On the social-networking site Facebook I joined the “Trust me, I’m a journalist” group, thinking it would contain discussion, discourse, or other items worth breathing-in.  I read through some of the comments and forum topics and realized the group members complained a lot.  Instead of offering solutions or even commentaries on fixing the problems in the profession, these forum members complained.  I posted once…hoping to prod discussion.

But the group went silent after I shared my thoughts.

Just as with anything, honesty needs to exist before growth or evolution can take place.  And one would hope the information brokers would be brimming with honesty.  Perhaps that’s what’s too idealistic.

My post from Facebook:

” Forgive my brevity in a topic that warrants tomes, but we complain of the overwhelming criticism of “Media” as the all-encompassing evil, but what do we do about it?

Unfortunately there are many high-profile folks in this industry who preach the value of “Serving the listeners/readers/viewers” but are after the glory, the scoop, the fight, the awards.

You say there’s a problem. I agree. What does the little guy–the new reporter, or regular shmoe–do to reverse the degradation of the art of communication? We can defend only to the point that we have something to defend. Ethereal theory on journalism is fantastic, but I see too many examples of corrupt “reporters” channeling first amendment rights while balking and burning the essence of their responsibilities.

what do we do about it?


*date error amended

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