Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Bad Day, Eyes Opened, Humility Achieved

Friday was a bad day. Lots happened. But a friend wrote this and posted it on:
http://www.themoralcompass.org/?cat=3 in response to all of the activities of Friday.

A Question of Responsibility
Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Ever since the national media abandoned it’s journalistic integrity during the 2008 Presidential campaign and election, I have been extra-sensitive to the irresponsible journalism that seems to be rampant among our radio and television stations, and in our newspapers and news magazines.
Recent revelations about misleading video from both conservative news outlets (Fox) and liberal ones (MSNBC to name one among several) lead me to believe that those who have chosen journalism as their occupations have abandoned sound principles and practices that should be synonymous with the profession.

Indeed, news outlets these days routinely violate most or all of the nine elements of journalism as described by Bill Kovach in his book The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should

Know and The Public Should Expect:
Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.
Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
Its essence is discipline of verification.
Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
It must strive to make the significant interesting, and relevant.
It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
It’s practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

Media outlets large and small, from local newspapers to multi-national news conglomerates, pay no attention to these tenets, and seem only to invoke them when it suits their purposes. And that’s one of my questions: what are their purposes? Surely not to expose the truth. Surely not to accurately report the facts. Surely not to remain independent from those they cover.
Here’s a good example. Today, the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah, ran this story: Pleasant Grove officials shut down swingset after collapse. Shortly after the Daily Herald ran their story, KSL, a Utah-based radio and television station, picked up the story, posting the internet version here: Swingset collapses, ends in near miss on playground.

I was at the board meeting in which this event was ‘discussed.’ In reality, after 1.5 hours of working on school issues such as whether or not to sign up for the federal free and reduced school lunch program, whether to accept federal Title I funds (which we declined), the necessity of drafting and adopting a school bullying policy, reviewing the YTD 2009 budget, and several other things, one board member simply asked what the status of the playground equipment was after the collapse.

Another board member mentioned that she’d seen the incident, and using obvious hyperbole, described her reaction. Everyone in the room laughed at the blatant exaggeration, including the Daily Herald reporter. It seemed to me he understood that hyperbole was being used.
The school principal explained that a local playground equipment company had come at her request to examine the equipment. They found additional areas of concern, and were willing to dismantle the equipment and replace it.

This discussion took all of 5 minutes.

And then those two stories appeared in the news the next day.
You may ask why I’ve got my knickers in a twist over this. Well, I’ll tell you:
The Daily Herald reporter misled his readers by taking a comment that was an obvious exaggeration and using it out of context. This did two things: first, it made an otherwise mundane story much more provocative, and second, it completely misrepresented a school board member. “Is that such a big deal,” you say. Yes it is. Go read the comments on KSL.com attached to this story. You can see how a vast majority of the commenters completely bought in to the out-of-context comment, and as one commenter put it were duped “hook, line, sinker, rod, and copy of Angler Times.”

A KSL reporter inteviewed the board member this morning on the phone, and unbeknownst to her, recorded their conversation which was subsequently broadcast over the airwaves. The sound bite was posted together with the text of the article, and was available to the public for several hours. KSL has since removed the illegally-recorded sound bite, but without a public apology for obtaining the recording without the board member’s consent.

Early versions of both the Daily Herald and the KSL stories completely misrepresented the playground equipment company, stating that the company was alternately “the manufacturer” or “the installer” or both. The truth is that the playground company was neither the manufacturer nor the installer, but came at the request of the school to help the school out. Neither the Daily Herald nor KSL bothered to verify facts about the playground company. As you’ll notice, current versions of the story have removed references to the playground equipment company, but with nary a public apology to the company for damaging their reputation.

“Methinks thou dost protest to much,” you may say. Well here’s the thing. This is just another example of shoddy reporting by media outlets. No attention to detail or even the truth at all. What’s Bill Kovach’s first element of journalism? “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Neither the Daily Herald nor KSL exhibited any concern for reporting the truth. They both wanted a sensational story. They both took the truth and twisted, misrepresented, mangled, and otherwise destroyed it to create a sensation. They succeeded, and you might even say (and I’m sure they would say) they were just applying Kovach’s seventh element of journalism: “It must strive to make the significant interesting, and relevant.” Well they certainly made it interesting, but at what cost? At the cost of the truth. A journalist’s first obligation is to the truth. The use of out-of-context comments, hyperbole, and half-truths to meet #7 are unjustifiable. #1 is the most important. That’s why it’s #1.

Further, neither reporter bothered at all with Kovach’s #3 element “[Journalism's] essence is discipline of verification.” This element is #3 for a reason. The word “essence” means “the choicest or most essential or most vital part of some idea or experience.” No journalistic essence here, no discipline of verification. Neither reporter attempted to verify elements of the story with regard to the playground company before publication. Had they done so, the inaccuracies of the early version of the stories would NEVER have made it to print, electronic or otherwise. It’s a damning testament to these reporters’ shoddy and lackadaisical work that those inaccurate references even had to be removed.

And finally, neither the Daily Herald nor KSL will be held accountable or responsible for these obvious attempts at sensationalist and revisionist journalism. They won’t be held accountable or responsible for misrepresenting the truth, maligning a school board member and a playground equipment company, and obtaining a sound bite recording without consent. They both silently cover up their filth by simply having it removed from public view. Any other professional organization that made such mistakes would be held accountable and responsible; perpetrators would resign in shame, the organization would apologize, it would be expected to implement procedures to keep such things from ever happening again.
But not the news media. They take us all for dupes and fools, and we let them do it.

Bill Kovach is right. We should expect more, much more, from journalists.

So now is a good time for me to point out my lessons learned. There were many, so I am going to stray from usual format.

1. Words can hurt even on accident. And to those who were unintentionally hurt by my words...again, my sincerest and humblest of apologies.
2. There is a fine line between the first amendment and morality.
3. It's okay to cry.
4. It's okay to cry in front of others.
5. My heart still hurts.
6. Story telling is going to be tainted for me from now on.
7. I'm a lot more emotional than I let on.
8. I'm going to have to dig deep to stay brave enough to let people in.
9. I'm not a quitter, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to tread more lightly.
10. I will be investing in duct tape for my mouth when I am in public forums.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nothin' Says Swearin' Like Me in a Car

I've spent quite a bit of time on the freeway the past several weeks and I thought I would share some insight as to what I've learned.

Before I begin I would just like to issue a disclaimer about:

1. I am a competent driver. Did I say good...no. Did I say bad...no. Competent. And don't call my dad. Period.

2. When I get really stressed my brain misfires and says all sorts of things it shouldn't. Don't worry this is a family blog and I'll keep it clean for the kids.

Ten Things I've Noticed While on the Freeway
1. Just because you are an idiot, doesn't mean you have to share it with the rest of us while you are in control of a potential killing machine. I don't care if you are an idiot and I don't want to know.

2. I have two middle fingers too, but that doesn't mean I need to show them to you. And even though you were sharing them with someone else, I didn't need to see them. Really...it just makes me refer to observation number 1...and yes you are an idiot. Keep your hands on the wheel.

3. Merge means-take turns and keep traffic flowing...NOT speed up in order to cut someone off and utilize observation number two which makes me think of observation number 1. You still look like an idiot.

4. You know those signs that talk about the double white line and not crossing them to get into the carpool lane. Yeah, those are there for a reason...and carrying a mannequin or cadaver does NOT qualify you for the carpool lane...I'm pretty sure you have to be breathing. And the dude from yesterday, that was going 2 miles under the speed limit to avoid getting noticed in the carpool lane...the picture of your girlfriend and/or wife doesn't qualify you either. That made ME want to utilize observation number 2 just because you ARE observation number 1.

5. When stuck in bumper to bumper, stand still, I should get out and walk traffic, please turn your radio down or roll your windows up. I understand that you spent a lot of money on those speakers that you only use during your commute...but making me listen to music I hate only reinforces observation number 1.

6. Do you remember when we were in grade school, okay kindergarten and we were learning how to do a dot-to-dot puzzle? The big orange barrels are the same. They form a line...not an obstacle course. Weaving when not drunk just scares the )**(^(**& out of competent drivers and points out that you are observation number 1.

7. Big trucks need to understand and re-affirm their own car body image. No one likes to be the fat friend...but when you are...and you are pushing me...that is rude...it is dangerous...and you stop being a friend and instead become a politically correct above average size vehicle endangering the lives of others. Look in a mirror...your freakin' truck should have plenty. You observation number 1.

8. Preparation is always a good thing. You know for like natural disasters, reports, vacations and getting on the off-ramp. Careening across all of the lanes because you were either (a) not paying attention (b) were paying attention but like to make a game out of driving on a congested highway or (c) are observation number 1 is stupid. Do you hear me? It is STUPID, unnecessary and dangerous. I kind of like breathing, I wanna keep doing it.

9. I have passed 2 upside down vehicles in less than 2 weeks. Those black rubber things on the bottom of your car are called tires, they go round and round. The top of your car is not conducive to moving from point a to point b. If you can avoid observations 1 through 9 you have a good chance of staying on your tires and getting where you need to go.

10. Finally...I am just as fond as the next guy, of hanging your hand out the window and 'going with the flow'. Keep your arm close to your car...think roller coaster keep arms inside the vehicle at all times. The guy that was trying to touch all of the cars that drove next to him...yeah...you are gonna miss your arm when it's gone.

Lessons Learned
1. I hate driving.
2. I hate driving on the freeway.
3. I drive way too much.
4. I should concentrate on my own driving and less on others and maybe I will move from competent to good.
5. Please don't call my dad and ask about my driving....please.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Your Other Right

So like, we are at Walmart checking out at the self-checkout (by the way that is a whole 'nother story) waiting for the self-checkout Nazi to come and fix it AGAIN when Felix sees someone we know.

He says, "Hey, Larry is over to your right, I'm going to go and say hi!"

So I crane my neck to the left and managed to almost turn in a full circle looking for Larry, when in my dizzy-ing spin I am back to Felix and he says, "Ummmmmm, your other right."

Lessons Learned
1. Sadly, that really happened.
2. I didn't get it until I saw Felix again.
3. He was tempted to just let me spin in circles.
4. Can't say that I blame him.
5. You know what, I have a lot on my plate right now and the difference between left and right is NOT one of them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Lights, Camera...OUCH!

I don't know about the rest of ya, but we have a problem at my house. My lights cannot seem to get turned off. IT'S INSANE!!!!!!

So last night we had a little training session. We took a few minutes, showed the kids exactly how light switches worked. Once they understood the concept, we did some exercises to warm up and let Savannah have the first try.

She was so mad at us by that point she hit the switch to hard and jammed her finger.

Really.

Lessons Learned
1. More warm ups.
2. Less light bulbs.
3. More dark.
4. Less complaining.
5. More or less.
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