11 August 2006

Fictitious news and fictional reporters

The past couple of weeks have been an eye-opening event to those slumbering away actually expecting that what reporters are reporting are things that are really going on. Even worse the things that editors have been deciding upon have had less than expected editorial oversight. This post is not one to nit pick at this media outlet or that media outlet for this story or that photo or the other's video coverage, because, quite frankly, it is now a systemic problem that covers all media from online to video to text to still images. Reporting on news that is pre-censored, pre-selected and must adhere to a 'story' based conception has so poisoned reporters that actual news that is not a part of a story does *not* get covered. When we here from a newscaster wandering around in Lebanon about deserted villages and the lack of a 'compelling story', one must really shake their head in disbelief. They have just reported factual *news* and yet do not consider it worth *reporting upon*.

My previous posts on how the factual based reporting media of all stripes has lost their veracity in this doing, especially in the images area is not a 'code of ethics': it is a methodology for establishing credibility, veracity in reporting and offering up a larger scale context in which individual images and stories are reported. To establish the best way to achieve this requires stepping away from the story-based reporting media and moving to the actual data publication organizations that understand the needs to have information published in its original form so that anyone reviewing it may draw their own conclusions separated from all of the 'stories' being reported within that contextual timeline. Instead of welcoming openness in media review and giving venue to which media organizations may demonstrate their capability to actually and factually report *news*, we, instead, are treated to a disingenuous reaction that attempts to side-line or belittle the problem of fictionalized accounts of history being passed off as data based factual accounting of history. Even worse is the removal of contextual information, 'burying the lede', not reporting upon actual facts and then giving an understanding of what those facts actually mean: this is a problem not solely limited to the image based media and is also a major problem in standard text based reporting.

To blatantly mis-represent accounts, not indicate if reporters have been restricted in their ability to gather information by media 'minders', in not reporting that individuals have their passports held by partisans in a conflict, and in not reporting that events are clearly and unequivocally being staged FOR the media we are being treated to a wholly fictitious accounting of real and actual events. There is a disingenuous cry about the fact that even though those being shown are *not* the actual victims of a certain event, that there were, indeed, actual victims and does not one care about those? The absolutely simple, but not simplistic answer is: SHOW THEM. When corpses are paraded about in multiple areas at multiple times to be the victims of multiple events, one begins to question if there were ANY real victims at those happenings. If the 'reality based community' cannot understand that actual 'reality' must be put forth for the public to deal with it, then they should take up the banner of 'fiction based community' and relegate themselves to the critique of fiction as they have given up on actually caring about the 'real' part of 'reality' and prefer soothing misrepresentations for that actual reporting.

The credibility of the globe-trotting news organizations that send 'anchor' newsreaders to certain areas that are 'in the news' points to the exploitation of mere events for 'ratings'. High powered and compelling coverage does not require a news anchor to tell us what is happening, when a single video cameraman looking at events and just walking around and waving people off can tell the ENTIRE story from his perspective without saying a single WORD. During the Polish Solidarity movement, the most compelling thing I did to see those events was to turn OFF the sound and just watch the people involved. A good reporting of events that are compelling in and of themselves does not require a voice over, save if for translation. And even then intonations of voice and gestures tell much about what an individual is saying even when the words are not understood.

On a larger scale, this is slanting of coverage by misreporting and lacking context. What is even worse is that the context given by 'on the spot' reporters is often biased towards a 'story' and they do not bother to get out of the 'story' and tell about what the meaning of this event 'might be' from their perspective and what other things need to be considered. In the Western media the bias is so absolutely heavy that LOCAL foreign media are NOT used to help in the reporting save as a dire, last resort, and even then the need to talk over the reporting is highly prevalent. Of course most media outlets in authoritarian States are government controlled and, thus, less than reliable. However, when a Nation has a wide gamut of media sources and is relatively *open* then the reliance upon a western reporter for doing 'reporting' is something that strains credulity. If there are a goodly number of local sources of news, that have differing perspectives and viewpoints, then THOSE should be used to allow the local folks to tell their OWN story, which may not fit into a Western journalist's 'story' conception. From there one would expect analysis by media upon that swath of reporting to see how it fits together as a local context and then see why events take place and what reactions happen because of them. Iraq in particular has a wide variety of news sources and it is beyond my ability to believe that Western news organizations have not 'flooded the zone' with contractual agreements for video, reporting and news analyses from MULTIPLE outlets so as to paint a broader picture of what is happening there as a Nation, not just a series of pinpoint events. By using multiple sourcing and compiling a number of stories and reports with their own viewpoints a larger picture of why an event happened and what it means can be drawn and put into the context of local culture and understanding. For over 3 years this has been possible and yet I see ZERO large scale MSM 'news' organizations actually bothering to make the contacts for independent media in Iraq and, instead, give us a Western slanted viewpoint upon events. That is why I turn the sound off and do other things when any television source of 'news' talks about Iraq: they are lying by exclusion of local context and doing so willfully.

What this leads to is, of course, fictionalized 'news' that may or may not portray news events. So, to see how this should be handled, let us look at two FICTIONAL and well-known journalists. Yes, if you are going to report upon a fictional world, let us look at how fictional reporters handle themselves! Shocking, I know, but do bear with me, as this may seem to be in jest but is dead serious in its intent.

The first up is a hand-to-mouth existence photojournalist. He has problems in not being able to construct stories and, really, cannot even hold down a day job very well. In point of fact, he isn't a very good photojournalist, either, because he finds that he is partaking in the events as they are going to happen and *must* set up his cameras ahead of time for either movement based photo capture or remote triggering. And because the methods he use are temporary, he must ensure that if the camera becomes dislodged it will harm no one as it falls off of a skyscraper, and probably goes through a number of low cost cameras every year, while putting one or two high quality ones in very safe positions where they cannot be easily dislodged. As he takes part in the events the cameras with fixed field of view offer interesting shots of those events which he then takes to the local MSM outlet for processing. He, literally using film-based photography, does not see the photos before they are processed. Often it is junk. A few times, however, the editor finds a compelling shot... buys it... then adds editorial commentary to the photo caption to distort the actual reality of events captured.

First off, is that an ethical scenario for the photojournalist in question? Being a *participant* in an event and knowingly setting up a data capture system to record it may be of some questionable perspective. That said he knows that the actual events have NO set outcome and that he could very well end up in some form of 'street pizza' and his life ended. So his intent is not to 'stage' news but to capture something that is most likely to happen within the fields of view of the cameras he has arranged. Often events go otherwise and he is without photos and behind on rent, yet again. In point of fact, that is often his state of life. So while he knows where and within a timeframe an event might happen, he is left up to the whimsy of fate. He does a good job as a semi-pro to get good shots, but there are no guarantees as he is not behind the camera for those shots.

The editor, on the second point, is clearly slanting factual images from an event and miscaptioning that image to represent his editorial viewpoint. That is a fraudulent use of actual and factual data. So, while only a smidgen of blame may be placed upon the reporter, a whole lot of scorn should be heaped upon the editor and editorial board at that media outlet. And since the entire run of pictures is purchased, to keep it out of a competitors hands, the photojournalist has no other way to present the truth as he wishes to 'prove' the editor wrong on his viewpoint and hope to sway him back to ethical editorializing.

The second individual is a respected and honored 'reporter' and news caster. He is known for his factual reporting and seen as an industry paragon for that reporting. He is plain spoken, down to earth, truthful and unwilling to skew facts to fit an ideological agenda. Like the photojournalist above he often finds himself in news events and must report upon them at second hand, but he will usually not even do that and 'let the chips fall where they may' on his activities. He is part of a highly competitive news environment and one of his colleagues is the hard 'get the story' at all costs sort of investigative journalist who often puts herself on the line for her work. That said the entire news staff relies upon its guidance from the chief editor, and he adheres to the old school of reporting that the FACTS must tell the story, not the other way around.

Because the second individual in question here *also* does hard, investigative journalism, he is often missing for days, weeks or even months to ensure that the public gets the true story so that they may derive the truth from it. He knows that his activities are often a prime mover in events, but keeps that journalistic distance so as to fairly assess his own actions and present THAT to his editor for review. He is sometimes rebuked for being too hard on the prime actor and is told to change outlook and tone the story down. He will do so, knowing the editor is fair minded, and that the public's right to know of the unskewed facts is paramount. And for his deeper items, he does protect his sources, but informs individuals of where they were gotten from and his presence or lack of same. He does not report on those things he cannot reliably be seen as getting to, save for a rare time of communication from his prime actor persona. He dislikes that and feels it is unfair to be both actor in events AND reporter. And yet the editor, newsroom and public are *glad* to have those rare glimpses of one that they hold in high regard and who disdains the limelight save in times of the most dire threats to ALL.

Should we, the public, have entree into more of that 'other' life? The individual does have his right to privacy, even when being high profile, and because of his skills and abilities can easily outdistance mere paparazzi. He can and does lead a secluded, almost spartan life in his public persona and private. Yet the integrity of neither of them is questioned either due to the honesty of the reporting done on the public side, or the wish to remain *apart* from mere partisanship on the private side. Indeed, the public can be well satisfied that even a high profile figure deserves 'some' privacy and have the decency to honor that.

Are these fictional standards of conduct? The figures are fictional, but their viewpoints and how they view themselves is 'realistic' as is their commitment to their industry. Even across multiple decades, scores of writers and artists, these two journalists have been offering a singular viewpoint on news reporting... I stopped following both over a decade ago, but the lessons they taught by NOT talking about their work but taking it in stride was a massive one. In the era of 'do anything to get the story' journalism we are offered different visions of how to do that very thing and do so honorably *without* the need for staging, chicanery and outright lies. In point of fact those individuals and outlets that DID those things got much scorn and derision as they could not fairly present the news and help the public understand what they mean. Thus the standards of conduct are ones that are more than just merely 'realistic' as each of the individuals in their own capacity to give the public a fair and honest accounting of events and go through the vagaries of the editors in question.

And that is the point to this: reporters, even when in the Heisenberg situation of influencing events by their presence, must do their best to adhere TO the events and report upon them.

Rarely is an event 'the story': it is a part of a sequence of events leading up to that singular event, and then those pathways lead AWAY from the event being covered. Going after 'the story' requires in-depth background work, fact collection both by proxy and first-hand and, finally, analyzing the results so as to fit new events into that continuum and see if NEW things are influencing events.

Getting 'the story' is something known as: analysis.

Reporting upon events out of context and offering personal 'insight' without displaying he full suite of information necessary to form that 'insight' is passing off an event with superficial 'analysis' but no offering of a chain of reason or logic behind it. It is supposition. It is hearsay. It is rumor. It is *not* part of the fact of the event itself, save what it tells the public about that reporter's viewpoint.

This is no longer isolated incidents of a reporter here or there, but of entire news organizations and editorial boards deciding that the facts themselves are not saying enough and filling in that perceived empty space with their own viewpoints and analysis and offering *that* up as news. Events, however, often have many, many, many 'empty spaces' as the interests of humanity have many ways of doing things and acting. Reporting on only what is *known* and not offering conjecture or, even worse, not telling the context in which the reporting is taking place is a disservice to the public, either by omission or commission and BOTH are unethical by the standards of 'fictional' reporters. By not reporting on the conditions surrounding the reporting, by not telling of those pre-conditions that are necessary to 'get the story', and by offering nothing in the way of context, reporters are no longer 'reporting' the news but fabricating their viewpoints INTO the news.

As an individual I know I would be far better served by Peter Parker or Clark Kent *reporting* on events than their participation *in them*. And when the events are such complex ones as they are today, one would expect them to hang up their costumes and do their public duty to report the complex situations of the world so that the public can have an accurate idea of what is going on. Instead we have individuals putting on the costumes of reporters and giving biased and fabricated accounts and passing it off as 'news'.

Come back to us, Peter Parker and Clark Kent! The world desperately needs your honesty and integrity in news reporting.

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