The New York Times ran an article yesterday on the new world of risks for today’s journalists which raised some of the same issues I did upon the convictions of Laura Ling and Euna Lee in North Korea last week…….is it worth the risk?
The problem is multi-faceted and does not have an easy fix. I saw the writing on the wall more than 15 years ago after I had spent half my life dedicated to journalism in the media capital of the world, New York City, and made the move to law school. The networks, the Big 3 and then some, didn’t care about the quality of the work and certainly didn’t care about the people they were sending to cover news stories.
While the news divisions of each network cost a lot to run, they were often the biggest money makers for the networks and carried them through the dark days of several drops in ad sales. However, despite this economic upside, the news divisions were, and still are, treated like the poor step-children of Cinderella who lives in programming fairyland.
Today’s reporters no longer have a mentoring network where they can rely on and learn from seasoned reporters in the field and anchors inside at the news desk. For today’s generation it is baptism by fire and they are forced to be one-man bands (or should I say bandits) in the field, covering dangerous stories and breaking news, solo, without a crew, and taking dangerous chances alone just to stay ahead of the competition.
Judgment and experience don’t have time to take hold when they are dodging bullets and dancing on political minefields. These are basically renegade kids spawned from some broadcasting school (if they’re lucky) and not from the right hand of those who have sashayed around the dangers, both in the field and in the newsroom, and survived with class, style and intelligence. No one has got their back and when they are literally grabbed in enemy territory, as is happening way too often (unless they are just locked in their offices as in Iran), who will be there to defend them? That is just one issue.
The more important reality is that we are relying on inexperienced reporters to tell us what is going on in the world. Do they really know their sources? Have they had time to establish their inner “radar” for when a source is using them to serve their own agenda. I think not and we suffer as much as they do because we are left in the dark. The sad truth is that I do not think this will ever improve.
Personally, I am honored to have learned from the likes of Stan Brooks, Chris Borgen, Mitch Lebe, Merv Block (whose text was my grad school bible) and last but not least Cameron Swayze (who can paint a picture with words like no one else in the business). These men were and some still are tops in their field and I am a better writer and journalist because of them. Grazie tante.