May 18, 2012

Evaporating Journalism in the USA

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:52 pm


Saturday, May 19, 2012, is Armed Forces Day and so the columnist took a photo in Alameda CA of this TBF Avenger is on display on the USS Hornet’s (CV/CVA/CVS 12) hanger deck.

USS Hornet served in WWII.

On Wednesday, May 9, 2012, the World’s Laziest Journalist went to San Francisco Public Library’s main branch to see what books were being offered at the front steps sale of used books and we didn’t expect to cover any news. After buying a copy of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Great shark Hunt,” in good condition with the dust jacket in used condition, we noticed that some event was going on in front of City Hall. We were carrying our trusty Nikon Coolpix, just in case. We wandered over and found that medical care for the pets of the homeless people was being provided. Thinking this might provide some good material for a column, we took a few pictures. Next thing we knew a young lady came up and advised us that we should ask permission to take any photos.

We improvised a better suggestion: since the World’s Laziest Journalist’s experience assessing newsworthiness stretches back to Sixties and since new trends in journalism keep happening, we should defer to the young lady’s editorial expertise and let her organization hire a PR firm so that they could very carefully micro-manage the news and the group’s message to potential donors.

On Saturday, we were in downtown Berkeley CA talking with a fellow who has been active in the Occupy movement in Oakland and Berkeley and we mentioned that we were planning to go over to the Occupy the Farm protest being conducted on land owned by the University of California in Albany CA. Our contact advised us that if we did we should make it a point to ask for permission to take any photos because, he informed us, Occupy protesters are not taking kindly to outsiders insinuating themselves into the narrative of their complaints.

Back in the Seventies, Vietnam Veterans held a sit-in in the lobby of the VA Hospital in the Westwood Section of Los Angeles. Since one of the summer temps at the Santa Monica Independent Journal newspapers was majoring in photojournalism in college, we advised him that the Occupy the VA Hospital – did they call it “Occupy the VA Hospital”? (Whatever.) – might be an opportunity for both of us to do some freelance news photography work.

Early one morning, the police came and very gently and respectfully removed the protesters (Wasn’t the photo of Ron Kovic that ran in the New York Times the next day, a great shot?) from the facility. The summer hire was also present for the news event and he took photos that appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, the next day. One of his pictures was used by the Associate Press wirephoto division.

Our past experience indicated that there would be a window of opportunity for some (possibly) dramatic news photos to be taken when the looming confrontation at the Occupy the Farm site occurred.

Unfortunately the young fellow who took the photos of the news event at the VA wasn’t available on the morning of Monday, May 14, 2012, (last we heard he was working in L. A. as a staff photographer for the L. A. Times [he’d be in his mid fifties now and perhaps we shouldn’t use the expression “young lad”?]) and since it seemed that both the Police and the protesters don’t want the World’s Laziest Journalist to take unauthorized photographs at news events, the decision to stay in bed on Monday morning when the protesters were being evicted from the Albany site and not be concerned was a gimme.

On KCBS news radio, the reporter said that some of the protesters had to be wrestled to the ground while being arrested. Obviously, if the police didn’t follow standard procedures during the round-up, the protesters will provide photographic evidence of any potential and hypothetical misconduct and it will “go viral” on the Intenets.

There was going to be a protest march in Berkeley on Tuesday, we learned. When we attempted to ask some of the Shattuck Avenue panhandlers about the potential protest, they didn’t have any particulars but when we mentioned skipping it because of a lack of enthusiasm about the new trend in journalism, a street people woman became very adamant in explaining the nuts and bolts details of journalism to this columnist. People in a protest march have a right to privacy and must be asked for permission to take any photographs.

Since this new meme is becoming ubiquitous and since this renders information we had gathered over the last four decades obsolete, we put it in the “straw that broke the camel’s back” category and scrapped any inclination to take any pictures of the rumored protest march. We could, we realized, do a trend-spotting column instead and stay comfortably right in the World’s Laziest Journalist’s world headquarters home office to write that.

In an attempt to defuse our strong reaction to this new insight into contemporary journalism, we picked up our newly acquired copy of Tom Wolfe’s “The Pump House Gang” (which we bought at the Berkeley Public Library) and began reading his article about Marshall McLuhan titled “What if he is right?”

That got us thinking. What if the lady is right? What if the Protest March itself and not the Occupy Wall Street political agenda is the message? We could write a McLuhanesque column and proclaim that the Protest March has become the protesters’ version of the Hollywood tradition of walking the red carpet.

We immediately recognized that watching the Murdochization of the news business is a serious matter and, like the news stories from Europe in the late Thirties warning about the dire implications of Hitler’s rise to power, should be regarded as an ominous topic.

There are two ways to look at the lady’s fervor: either she is being unwittingly duped into aiding and abetting Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to scuttle real journalism, or the people strongly urging her to protect the right to privacy are mole agent provocateurs consciously sabotaging the movement’s own efforts to increase public awareness of the Occupy Wall Street political agenda. Whatever. The bottom line, either way, is that the conservative cause is being helped and the OWS program is being damaged.

The “ask permission” meme is as insulting to the basic tenants of journalism (as intended by the much revered “founding fathers” of American Democracy) as that lady (presumably) would be if she were offered the advice: “Get a job!” There is a school of Journalism at the University that is up the hill, so she could probably get a teaching job there, eh?

The diabolical self defeating aspect of this new attitude among protesters is very reminiscent of the dirty tricks stunts that were a hallmark of the Karl Rove political strategy. Could it possibly be that . . . . We will send our suspicions to the tips editor at the Amalgamated Conspiracy Theory Factory and see if we can win their “News Tip of the Month” award for May.

Meanwhile we will struggle to answer the age old philosophic question: “If a protest march is accompanied by a complete absence of news coverage; did it really happen?”

Does this mean that a policeman who beats a protester with a billyclub also has a right to privacy while performing his mission to “protect and to serve”?

It seems like life just got a whole lot easier for the World’s Laziest Journalist. Perhaps now, instead of going to the Protest Marches, we can just sit back and ask the Sarah Palin type question: “How’s that OWS protest thing workin’ out for ya?”

Have we lost our ability to discern real news? Here’s a news item for any scriptwriters in Hollywood looking for story ideas: the tale of Uwe, Beate Zschape, and Uwe (no. 2) might make a great “based on a true story” modern film noir. It’s like Terence Malick’s 1973 film, Badlands, done over in Germany with a ménage a trios twist. We found one UPI story online otherwise you better be able to read German if that news story interests you.

Friday, May 18, is International Museum Day and will feature a photo contest. If you take a photo of yourself in a museum today, please be sure to ask yourself if you can have permission to take the photo of yourself. You might want to get a legal document called a “model release” just for your own protection. Think of it as playing a variation of the “How steps before the queen” game.

[Note from the WLJ Photo Editor’s desk: Since Friday is International Museum day and Saturday is Armed Forces Day and since we could concentrate on just trying to take good pictures rather than be lectured by an uninformed high school drop out about the finer points of photojournalism, we decided to take some photos on the USS Hornet in Alameda to use as the illustrations for this column.

Speaking of news value judgments assignment editors in the San Francisco area might want to check out the rumor that the USS Iowa will depart from Richmond CA on Sunday and head out to its new home in Southern California. Since the Golden Gate Bridge is preparing to celebrate its 75th birthday a shot of the battleship with the bridge in the background might be a strong visual. We’ll run it by the panhandler photojournalism expert and see what she thinks.

For protesters to say that they have a legal right to camp in a public park but photographers can’t take pictures there because the protesters have a right to privacy is an illogical pair of contradictory conclusions and we call “Bullshit!”

(If photographers are legally obliged to ask permission to take photographs, how will the paparazzi ever earn a living?)]

Tom Wolfe quoted Marshall McLuhen as writing (in The Mechanical Bride): “Why not assist the public to observe consciously the drama which is intended to operate on it unconsciously?” Our answer to McLuhen would be: “Shouldn’t journalists ask Rupert Murdoch for permission before doing anything?”

Now the disk jockey will play “Get a Job,” Truck Stop’s “Mein Stiefel kommt in Himmel,” and the traditional song “Captain don’t feel sorry for a longtime man.” We have to go walk the water (we don’t mean “walk on water”). You are hereby granted permission to have a “shakin’ it up over here, boss” type week.

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