Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘White

Keepin it Real

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Peabody Award

I watched tonight’s episode of ABC’s Peabody Award winning “Black-ish”.  And I was amazed at how raw and honest it was.  In fact, I’m not sure the entire thing wasn’t an ad-lib.  And when co-star Anthony Anderson had tears in his eyes as he described the fear I had as I sat on my couch and watched out new black president and his black wife walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day 2009, I wondered if my tears were what the writers expected.

Four-hundred years ago, a great crime was perpetrated on one group of human beings by another group of human beings.  Maybe, 400 years from now, that crime will be a distant memory and both groups will have since worked together to solve no only the problems we know, but the problems to come.

But right now, at the halfway point, there’s still a lot of shit in the way.  And in the meantime, I’m working to do my part to make things better between people of color and the police.

But as far as this comedy, which is really satire, which is really – sometimes – a slap across the face, … wow, ABC.  That’s all I can say.  Wow.

Written by Interviewer

August 25, 2016 at 13:09

The Thin Black Line

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Thin Black Line

Today, I did a story about protestors marching on a library at Portland State University.  They were representing the “Don’t Shoot” PDX movement (PDX is the nickname Portlanders use for themselves in many cases.  PDX is the designation the FAA gives Portland’s international airport).  While capturing natural sound of the protestors, now inside the library, talking about why they were part of the march, one young white student named Ryan Miller said he is marching because he is afraid that eventually, the police will treat him in the same way as some say they have already unjustly treated people of color.

It was one of those moments of pure honesty that people say they seek, yet are still hard to hear.  As a journalist, for me it was pure gold.  And as a storyteller, I assembled the story and sent it off for airing.  But for a moment, I almost slipped into what I consider to be a bad place journalistically.

Listening to Ryan talk about his fears of being targeted by the police, it was clear to me that he was afraid that the privileged status of being white might one day not be enough to protect even him from police abuse.  And that reminded me of the poem, “First They Came” by 20th century pastor Martin Niemoller.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

According to Wikipedia, “Niemöller was an anti-communist and supported Adolf Hitler’s rise to power at first. But when Hitler insisted on the supremacy of the state over religion, Niemöller became disillusioned. His poem, is well-known, frequently quoted, and is a popular model for describing the dangers of political apathy.”  The labels may be different as they apply to Niemoller’s day, but the context seems sadly timeless.

Listening to Ryan, I had the brilliant idea of using Niemoller’s poem in the story.  And I did.  But it suddenly hit me that the poem would be equating the Portland Police to Nazis.  And although there may be many people who feel that way, I realized it is not my job to editorialize.  So I undid what I did and then I sent it for air.

The police often talk about how they represent a thin blue line that officers say is the barrier between ordered society and chaos.  I think it’s also the line cops try to not cross, lest they become the thing they say they are fighting against.  I think in journalism, there is a thin black line, which might symbolically represent the ink.  This side is as credible and balanced as is humanly possible according to the highest and best ethical standards.  And that side is soapboxing, muck-racking, yellow journalism and all of the worst aspects of the quill.  Sometimes, as we’ve seen in the change of fortunes from Dan Rather to Peter Jennings, the self-serving slide from one side to the other can be almost imperceptible.

I don’t like what’s been happening across the country for my own reasons.  But I don’t think it’s my job to turn my stories into weapons.  By contrast, the listeners will hear them, judge me, my story, the events I describe and make their own decisions.  That is how it should be.

It’s News, it’s Live and it’s Legal.

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black and white

Tonight, I heard Jeff Norcross of Oregon Public Broadcasting apologize to the listening audience for comments made on the Thursday night edition of OPBs “Think Out Loud” program.  The comments came from Fred Stewart, a real estate broker, Northeast Portland resident and former President of the King Neighborhood Association.  Mr. Stewart made dubiously ethical comments regarding the resistance of the Portland African American Leadership Forum to the development of a Trader Joes at the corner of Alberta and NE Martin Luther King.   Mr. Norcross said Mr. Stewart’s comments didn’t reflect OPB and he apologized on behalf of OPB for any injury Mr. Stewart’s comments may have caused.

Setting aside the fact that the issue is incendiary enough on it’s own, and the fact that live radio is by nature unpredictable, I’m not sure if the way OPB responded to Mr. Stewart’s comments were entirely ethical either.  At several points during the program, Mr. Stewart emphasized his wish that “white” Portland media would stop listening to PAALF as the representative of “black” Portland because, according to him, it was not.  And on OPB’s website, the link to this program contains a note that it has been edited.  I can’t tell if the editing was for time or for content.

But at the end of the interview, when asked how can groups work together on development, Mr. Stewart said that “if all of those guys [on the PAALF board] had a heart attack tonight, Portland would be doing very very much better”.  And you can hear the engineer trying to kill his microphone, except there were two live microphones, so you still heard him.  Hear it here at 29:32.  As crude as those comments might have been to some listeners, they did not violate any FCC rules of profanity and were fully within Mr. Stewart’s free speech rights.  If OPB has standards where they reserve the specific right to remove what they consider objectionable speech, they should probably post that on their website or have it as a disclaimer at the beginning of any live program.  This safeguard already exists for profanity.  “Kill switches” with 5 to 45 second delays let hosts stop expletives from ever reaching the antenna.  But, that’s for profanity.

What OPB does say on its website is there shall be no “undue influence”, meaning intentionally coercive behavior undertaken by any source – including but not limited to governmental agencies, private corporations, funders, audience members, news or content sources, powerful individuals, or special interest groups – that seeks to influence or interfere with the accurate, impartial, professional creation of content for news coverage or programming.  As a caveat, OPB also says “This policy is not intended to diminish or prevent internal editing or quality control practices designed to ensure the maintenance of professional journalistic and/or program production standards”.  To me, that says nobody can mess with the message, except us, that is.

But in the next paragraph, under “Editorial Policy”, OPB says:

(b) Programming should be of a high professional quality and, in its totality, represent a well-balanced diversity of views, and

(c) Programming should be credible, accurate, fair, valuable, stimulating and relevant to OPB’s audience.

To me, these say we will be honest in what we broadcast to you.  And to me, their freedom to filter the message comes in direct conflict with the integrity that promises that they won’t.

I listened to the entire program, as I’m sure did many Oregon listeners.  But I couldn’t decide if the sanitizing was an effort to protect the delicate ears of adults or protect Mr. Stewart from himself or to help OPB adhere to what seem like confusing standards.  But no fixing seemed necessary to me.  I thought journalism was an endeavor where reporters presented the facts as best as they knew them and let their audience decide if the message and messenger are credible.  Mr. Stewart’s comments, OPB concluded, were too crude to let the community decide what is or isn’t an honest, legitimate if uncomfortable message.  In the future, I expect that OPB will leave it to the community to decide by letting it hear the legal comments from invited guests air in their entirety.

For OPB to turn down a microphone, in the same manner that Republican Congressman Darryl Issa tried to cut the microphone of Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings of the House Oversight Committee just two days ago is, well, eerie.

Not a parallel I expected.