Search

Scott Morgan

Freelance Reporter. Radio Journalist.

Journalism vs. Nationalism

September 7, 2017

Yesterday, the BBC reported that an Indian journalist named Gauri Lankesh was found shot to death in the Karnataka state. No motives were mentioned, but Lankesh was a progressive journalist critical of Hindu nationalism. It’s not hard to connect the dots, considering journalists in India are increasingly targets of Hindu nationalist radicals.

Back here in the United States, we’ve all been involved in the topic of nationalism and the press in 2017. So far, the U.S. remains a comparatively safe place for reporters and social critics. A lot of people hate those of us with a press badge, but we don’t generally tend to be targets of assassins.

In terms of journalists being killed, national boundaries don’t matter. I’ve written before about the fact that in so many parts of the world, calling yourself a reporter is a lot like being a deer and buying a vest with a bullseye on it. It’s often dangerous work done by courageous people armed with what remains the deadliest commodity on the planet — the questioning of an idea.

I’m grateful that despite obvious tensions, journalists and nationalists in the United States tend to keep their hands off each other. I wish the same to continue, and I wish it for the rest of the world. There are a lot of dark corners on this planet that need some light. Especially where they’re more likely to be snuffed out.

Is It a Documentary? Or Clever PR?

hat

I love documentaries (try to contain your surprise). It’s one of the best things about the Internet Age, being able to watch some documentaries on the interwebs. To me, “Netflix and Chill” actually means chillin’ with some documentaries on Netflix.

But while I’ve certainly seen some excellent docs on Netflix (Resurrect Dead was a fantastic investigative story; The Keepers, ditto), I do get annoyed with the programs that look like documentaries but seem to be thinly veiled PR campaigns.

I’m not stupid, I’m pretty aware people use “real life” to sell ideas and doodads. But to me, masking PR campaigns as documentaries is a dick move. Ads and commercials might be a little annoying, but I can respect them for at least being honest ‒‒ Coca-Cola wants my money and they don’t hide that fact, and I appreciate their naked capitalism.

And by the way, no, I’m not being paid by Netflix. I just don’t hide that I love it.

What triggered this essay is a handful of films labeled as documentaries I’ve seen on The ‘Flix recently. One is called Pet Fooled, which talks about the importance of an actual meat diet (as opposed to dry kibble) for dogs and cats. I happen to agree, and my dog gets meat without loads of filler and byproduct. But the presentation, despite that I believe in what the filmmakers are saying, feels awfully like a sell-job for a particular brand of raw meat pet food they mention a lot.

A similar thing happens in exactly the opposite direction in What the Health, in which the filmmaker chronicles his path to veganism. I’ve nothing against vegans, I used to be one for many years. And I believe strongly in a good, plant-heavy diet for people. But there’s a lot in this film that doesn’t stand up to tight scrutiny, and in the end it just feels like a rant. Personally, I don’t believe in anyone who claims to have all the answers to something as complex as nutrition and health.

A more subtle example of PR is Flatball, a film about Ultimate Frisbee. Ultimate’s a great game and lots of fun, and yes, it does deserve a little more recognition after, what, 40 years? of relative obscurity, but the film is less a documentary history of a sport than a PR campaign designed to get people interested in joining teams. That’s a fine thing to do, for the record. I’ve played Ultimate, and it’s a lot of fun, but I’m bothered by the very subtle way this purported documentary seems to be trying to push our “hey, what’s this cool thing?” button.

I suppose I’d pick on Michael Moore for calling his extended-dance-mix YouTube video essays documentaries, but he’s not a Netflix entity, he’s already established, so ….

If I have a point, it’s that journalistic integrity suffers enough from shortsightedness, mistakes, and mishandling of information. We don’t need quasi-documentaries muddying up waters that are supposed to be the very waters that wash away muddiness. Just try to be mindful of when you’re being led by the hand towards the cash register.

PS ‒‒ Exit Through the Gift Shop doesn’t count because it’s a brilliant hoax, and I’m going to be very up front in telling you to watch it, because it’s awesome.

Reporting in a Time of Hate

August 17, 2017

Note: Sadly, I didn’t know I’d need to update this on the same day I wrote it. Today, someone driving a van in Barcelona killed and hurt dozens of people. It happened after I published. But it’s just as sickening.

Hate is not an easy thing for reporters to contend with. As professionals, we have to be dispassionate, no matter how bad it gets. Our job is to show people what’s happening, not what we think is happening and certainly not what we think about it.

But we’re people too. We feel it when something like Charlottesville happens. Or Manchester. Or any of the unfortunately large number of other events in which people decided to punctuate their beliefs with weapons and horrible words.

We feel it when irrationality leads to sentient creatures getting hurt. It hurts us to report these things. It hurts to quash the bile we feel, but it’s something we need to do. I love my job. But I haven’t loved every day on it.

In the wake of this most recent reminder that hatred, irrationality, and evil are still alive and well in the United States, perhaps its time to try to remind myself, my colleagues, and anyone else why journalistic integrity and grit really are so important:

  • Journalists tell stories because stories need to be told.
  • Stories need to be told because people need their stories to be heard.
  • People need their stories to be heard because they need to know that their pain, their struggles, their fears are not happening in the dark.

One of the great ironies in journalism is that reporters are endlessly cynical people, yet we care very deeply for the betterment of the world. We do what we do because we believe it’s the right thing to do. Voices need to be heard, and we’re the mechanism through which those voices get heard.

I hope the world understands, we don’t enjoy covering things like hate rallies and terrorism. But we do enjoy knowing that we contribute to the conversation; and we especially enjoy knowing that these stories we tell about hate and violence are making other people mad enough to stand up for what’s right.

 

Lessons in Gun Politics (a.k.a., A Study In Nuance

Bullet

August 1, 2016, was the day publicly funded four-year colleges in Texas were mandated to allow properly credentialed faculty, staff, and students to carry concealed firearms on campus. Exactly one year later, that law has been applied to community colleges in the state.

So I spoke to some folks at Paris Junior College about how they feel about it. The answers I got were quite nuanced. There was fear of the unknown and an understanding that protection in the event of an incident might be necessary.

Doing stories like these is an immensely interesting and satisfying part of my job. It’s always fascinating to hear the thoughts of those on the front lines of public policy. And these stories reinforce the need for me as a reporter to always be open-minded; to never go into a story with preconceptions about what people are going to say.

For more on the story, including more in-depth thoughts from those with whom I spoke, click here.

 

Why Do We Get So Bent When Someone Hates Our Music?

Once in a while I’m reminded why after 16 years in the journalism world I still find the job so much fun: I still get to ask silly questions and do fun stories.

This one started because I told someone I didn’t like a particular singer’s voice, and he wasn’t happy to know that.

Sometimes the most fun stories to do are the ones that start unexpectedly and make you ask questions you never knew you needed answered. If there is one thing about this story I lament it’s that the three people I spoke with (Dr. Robert Woody, Dr. David Scott, and Pete Maloney) were so much fun to talk to and the topic so interesting, I have more than an hour and a half of audio from them —- that I had to boil down to 3:45.

C’est la vie, as the French say. I still answered that perplexing question. You can read the transcript/web story here if you like to follow along. Or listen on The Texas Standard, which ran the piece on July 31.

Please subscribe, and please leave me a comment.

What We All Broke, We All Can Fix

June 26, 2017

As much as it looks like the second half of this sentence is a lie, I’m not being political in this essay. I’ll be talking about politics, not talking politically. There’s a difference ‒‒ mainly that I’m not taking a side here.

Also, for the record, I believe there are more than two sides, but for the sake of playing the odds and making a point, I’ll stick with the two major hemispheres of left and right.

Wherever you stand on the left/right continuum, you likely agree that we’re politically in a rather uneasy time. Frankly, I think it all sucks, this left/right posturing. People have been so keen to take a side that they’ve stopped looking at what could be achieved and accomplished by paying attention to the side they didn’t pick. So if we are in a period of fervent political turmoil, it’s because of mistakes made by both sides of that continuum.

In a grossly oversimplified nutshell, when the political left goes too far, it tends to get really elitist and condescending. The left tends to prize academics and achievements based in research, and while that’s great, trouble brews when lefties get sanctimonious about it.

I often think of a dynamic between a woman I know and her sister-in-law. The woman was education-centered, well-read, into the arts and culture, etc. The sister-in-law was into People magazine. The two constantly antagonized each other, one thinking the other was a chowderhead; one thinking the other was a boorish elitist.

Witnessing this firsthand many times, I can assure you, making people feel as if they’re uneducated, stupid, uncultured, or whatever, is not a way to foster cooperation, beneficence, and harmony. People (surprise) don’t like being talked down to.

Extrapolated to the Trump campaign and presidency, this dynamic is a main contributor to why Trump got through to so many people ‒‒ he talked up to them, not down to them. If he talked down at anyone, it was at the elitists.

Conversely, when the right goes askew, it can be a little aggressive. Righties are a little more inclined to see military intervention, police presence, and force in general as a viable solution to a problem. And while all those things certainly have their place, attachment to forceful conflict resolution can (surprise) lead to a resistance to want to work together.

I’m not arrogant enough to think I now anything, much less how to fix deep-rooted problems between sets of ideologically opposed factions, but I do at least want to take a shot at getting a few more hands shaking in conviviality, rather than in frustration or fear.

So if there is one lesson I hope the left has learned from its sound thrashing (and continued rebuking in these occasional off-time special elections that are seen as referenda of the Trump administration), it’s that sanctimony, snobbery, and elitism have a heavy price tag. Lefties are now seeing the results of that by way of Republican-steered legislation and conservative agendas. And even if you’re correct, lefties, in all your opinions, getting a peaceful, respectful country back is not about being right and showing off your intellect. It’s about recognizing that just because people might not have gone to an Ivy League school, their ideas and cultures and lifestyles are important to them.

And if there is a lesson that I hope righties learn, it’s that forcefulness is not always the best solution, because power dynamics shift. At some point, leadership in the United States will take a hard left turn again (political power is a pendulum, after all), and, to be cliché, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Gains made by force, if lost, are lost hard. Please keep that in mind.

In short: It’s time we all recognize we’ve all made mistakes, and it’s time to get over the problems we’ve been having. The good thing about everybody being at fault together is that everyone can fix it together. So please let’s start trying again.

A Reminder: Trying Actually Does Work

 

June 22, 2017

It’s especially easy to feel isolated when you work at a small news outlet that gets little audience feedback. Every day I go into work, I put out a newscast, and pretty much every day I can’t help but wonder, is anyone listening.?

Then, just when I think I haven’t made a dent, a story of mine gets picked up by another station and aired for all of Texas to hear.

A short voicer I did on metro areas in the state that are seeing median housing prices sink (despite that housing prices nationally have been going pretty much nowhere but up in most markets for more than a year) got added to the noon newscast on the Texas Standard today. And the reason that’s cool is not so much because colleagues I respect a lot used some of my work, it’s because times like this are a reminder that if you put in the effort, if you just give it a shot, things can actually happen. And if you don’t give it a shot, nothing happens at all.

It’s a really simple, probably cliche message, but it’s amazing how easy it is to forget that the best way to get something done is to try. It’s also a timely reminder that whether anyone’s listening or not, it’s my job to do the best work I can. But it sure is nice to know that what I’m doing is doing some good.

Simple and Helpful Still Wins

Not every news story worth repeating is about some major event or crazy twist. I think newspeople are as susceptible to melodrama as anyone, especially when it comes to picking and choosing which of the stories they’ve worked on should be highlighted.

But like most of life, the most important things are usually the simplest in the newsroom. Take, for example, a recent, hyperlocal story I did for my station. The Paris, Texas, Police Department got a flood of calls about credit and debit card theft.

Basic, workaday crime story stuff. But what a lot of ambitious newspeople can easily forget is, to the residents of this small city, this is a big deal. And to everyday people going about their lives, knowing that someone is out there getting hold of credit card accounts is important. As is knowing that the police are working on it.

From the newsroom side, it’s gratifying to know that my station has a cordial, professional relationship with the police department in the region, and that all entities understand the value of helping each other out. I know it’s vogue to think that newsrooms and police/government agencies utterly hate each other and are actively working to bring each other to ruin, but that’s far from the truth. Ultimately, the police and news outlets are trying to reach the same people, so it behooves us to remember that in all ways —- including cooperation, when cooperation is the best approach.

You can read/listen to my simple story on the Paris card thefts by clicking here.

Why Does the Press Get Such Bad Press?

Sometimes the press gets a bad rap for a good reason. And sometimes it doesn’t. Click on my video to hear my Thoughts on the 4th Estate.

And yes … the sound bites are indeed the great Edward R. Murrow.

Don’t be afraid to let me know what you think.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑