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Scott Morgan

Freelance Reporter. Radio Journalist.

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.

Snakes … Why Did It Have to be Snakes?

Every so often in this job, you get a story that’s just weird and fun.  It’s nice to be reminded that being a journalist is not all racist diatribes and people taking advantage of other people and political poo slinging.

Recently, in otherwise generally quiet Lamar County, Texas, some snakes got into the power supply. The whole thing sounded like a video game to me, and well, I couldn’t resist doing a short reader on it.

Turns out some other stations around Texas (and the Texas Standard) picked up my story, which is always a blast.

In any event, have a listen to my sssssssstory here …. or just play the clip below.

Staying Calm and Focused in a $#!+ Storm

                                                                                                                        May 26, 2017

I think a lot about the weight of public trust in journalism. Under all the headlines and cool people and important stories, giving the public trustworthy information is what a news agency is supposed to be doing.

 

Whenever I end up covering a story that everyone else is doing, I’m reminded that not all news outlets understand the value of conscientiousness in news-telling. Yesterday was a good example.

 

In a nutshell (you can read the whole story here), the issue centered around a young black woman and a white police officer. There was an accusation of racism from the woman and a corresponding denial from the police.

 

Rumors fly with rather heroic speeds when incidents like this come out. And doubtless, a story with these kinds of elements needs to be covered.

 

I’m proud of the way the story was handled at my station (which, for the record, is about two miles from the place the incident occurred). My editor, Mark Haslett, did the heavy lifting, getting the arrest record and statements from at least the city. My attempts to get a comment from the woman’s attorney did not happen before airtime.

 

Together, we went over the story about a dozen times, honing down what we knew versus what we’d been told via social media outlets, people tapped into the local rumor mill, and, most upsettingly, from news agencies that had been covering the story all day.

 

Turns out what we actually knew was very little, but what we were hearing was quite something else.

 

My daily newscasts don’t occur until dinnertime, which meant we had some time to get the story in perspective before we went on the air. But as we zeroed in on deadline, we realized we hadn’t confirmed much of anything. Answers had not come in as quickly as needed and Mark was still putting the story together a few minutes before my first newscast was set to run at 4:32 Central.

 

And then Mark made the decision to not include the story in the first newscast, because it wasn’t verified yet. Rather than rush a story full of suppositions, the decision was to keep working on it and have it right and ready for the 5:32 newscast. Neither of us wanted to put out the wrong information. So we paused and to make sure we had it right before we opened our mouths.

 

Is this entry a little self-congratulatory? Sure. But every now and then, you do something you’re proud of.

 

But far more than being a self-stroke, this entry is my way of reminding everyone who likes to make “the media” out to be the most petulant of boogeymen that there are plenty of conscientious journalists out there like Mark, who would rather keep silent until he has the real story than simply feed the beast that thrives on controversial content.

 

Maybe you can’t believe everything you hear on the radio or read online. But you can believe there are plenty of reporters out there who take the public trust seriously and who understand their role in responsible journalism.

Journalist Javier Valdez Killed (Thoughts on the Power of Truth)

May 16, 2017

It’s hard to pay your respects to someone without making it all about yourself. Please forgive me, I don’t intend to sound indulgent.

Mexican journalist Javier Valdez was killed yesterday. I didn’t know him. I’d never heard of him until he died. I don’t have his balls. I’ve never had a day on the job so dangerous that I legitimately feared for my life.

But news of a journalist killed for doing his job is always a dark, oily feeling for me. It’s not so much that I worry for myself, but a journalist killed for being a journalist reminds me how dangerous the truth is.

I think we’ve gotten a little used to truth-spin here in the states. People who go into high-office politics or become corporate leaders usually take courses in how to deflect truth through denial, distraction with shiny jingly keys, counterpunches, or, of course, money.

Reporters here in the U.S. often have an opposite problem in exposing hard truths than our international counterparts: either the subject of that truth here finds a way to spin it or worm out of it with a sincere-sounding apology or a slick, well-funded PR campaign, or people who hear a particular truth just don’t care.

It’s hard to care about telling the truth when people don’t care to hear it. But the one advantage for an individual reporter in this dynamic like we have in the United States is, apathy and mistrust towards the press will very likely never get you killed.

As is typical in America, we think how things affect us is how they affect everybody. So I don’t think we give much thought to how dangerous truth is where people rely on the press to get truth out. In Mexico, Javier Valdez’s truths about drug wars and narcotrafficking shined a bright light on crime in a notoriously corrupt country.

You’d think that in a country with a reputation for being so corrupt that even politicians from my home state of New Jersey think, “Wow, that’s seriously corrupt,” no one would care. You’d think the people would feel helpless hearing the truth. You’d think the criminals would consider their standing in the country bought and paid for among the powerful.

And maybe that’s really how everybody felt. But even if that were true, the guys who killed Javier Valdez were afraid of what he said. Why? Maybe because his stories exposed wrongdoing. Maybe because his stories brought official action against cartels who didn’t so much fear him, but found him an annoyance to get out of the way.

I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters whether I know. What I do know matters is, Javier Valdez died because he did the righteous thing. He died for truth.

We all talk a lot about the people who put themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of society. But we always, at least in this country, stop at soldiers and firemen and cops. Keep talking about them and their willingness to die for doing the right thing.

But we owe it to Javier Valdez and the eight other journalists murdered so far this year (Maximo Rodriguez, Miroslava Breach Velducea, and Cecilio Pineda Birto, who were killed in Mexico; Joaquin Briones, who was killed in Phillipines; Mohamed Abazied, who was killed in Syria; Zifa Gardo, who was killed in Iraq; Taimoor Khan, who was killed in Pakistan; and Abdul Hakim Shimul, who was killed in Bangladesh), and every journalist ever killed for trying to tell the world it needs to care that journalists, the real ones, matter too.

People Spoke and Got Heard in Rural Texas

At the risk of editorializing, I love it when the people speak and the powers that be listen.

In Fannin County, Texas, a sand mining company had wanted to expand operations by widening two old-school county roads (i.e., narrow, dirt-topped, gravel … the works).

Residents were not so hot on the idea.

Now I have no issue with the business wanting to do its business and I’m not commenting either way on whether the roads should be widened. What I will comment on is that the people spoke and their county government (which had been fairly unmotivated to stop the widening project at first) listened.

So I’m neither happy nor upset that the company pulled its plans on the project. I am ecstatic, however, that concerned people were heard and that the government acted according to the tenor of its constituents, by planning to vote the project down and possibly take the matter to court, if necessary.

I’m also ecstatic that the company’s reason for withdrawing its proposal was because it didn’t want to be a bad neighbor. Which means that it, too, listened.

Journalism can make you cynical, especially when much of what’s reported about government is how elected officials seem to like shoving agendas through, even rewriting the rules to get things passed, instead of following the rules and dealing with the consequences (which would suggest to any rational person that maybe if doing it by the rules means it’s not going to work, you should, you know, reconsider doing it).

But little victories like this one in a small, rural corner of Northeast Texas hearten me. Residents learned, mobilized, and acted. Government took the side of the people, regardless of what some officials might have thought or wanted; and the company chose to be good neighbors instead of rewriting the rules to shove their agenda through.

And isn’t that actually really nice?

You can read and listen to my story at KETR.org, by clicking here. Read, listen, share, and comment!

Housing Prices Stumble Northeast of Dallas

Almost a decade after housing crashed, individual homes are not all doing as well as the overall national market.

While Dallas has made a full recovery, towns northeast of the Metroplex have not all fared so well.

Read and listen to my story for KETR News here.

Wisconsin: Defending Free Speech Through Authoritarianism

 

 May 3, 2017

Even before I opened my mouth for a living on the radio, you could read what I had to say in newspapers, in magazines, and online. “Speech,” after all, isn’t confined to just speaking. Words, in any form, are my life as much as they are my livelihood.

So it’s no stretch to say I take the concept of free speech seriously. Censorship of someone’s opinions is an ugly concept to me. But that in no way should suggest that it’s always easy to know how to feel.

Last week, lawmakers in Wisconsin floated a bill named “The Campus Free Speech Act,” which takes an interesting step to both uphold and quash free speech. On campuses around the country, hate speech has become the line over which to consider one of the country’s first fundamental questions: What does someone have the right to say vs. what does someone else have a right not to hear?

At the risk of oversimplifying, the current incarnation of this question as it relates to controversial speakers on college campuses revolves around conservative figureheads like Ann Coulter and Richard Spencer. Whenever either plans on giving a speech at a school, protests erupt. Wisconsin, apparently tired of the disruptions such attempts to block speakers causes, set forth measures to punish teachers and students at UW who actively attempt to block speakers from appearing on campus.

So on the one hand, Wisconsin legislators are supporting the rights of controversial speakers to bring their ideas to campuses. On the other, they’re quashing students’ and teachers’ rights to say they don’t want controversial speakers in their midst.

To me, these lawmakers are taking a sadly common “fire into the crowd and hope we only hit the people we want dead” approach. And because of this, the system has missed the point. Rather than setting up a measure to encourage democracy, these lawmakers have gone authoritarian.

As students pay to attend college in this country, it seems if nothing else simply polite to consider their opinions. Even if, or perhaps especially if, the school and the states that fund them don’t like what people have to say. It doesn’t seem ridiculous to me that colleges could at the beginning of each semester cull a vote by campuswide election whenever any speaker who is paid more than a nominal appearance fee, in cash, perks, or a combination thereof, is a possible presence on campus in the upcoming semester.

Holding an election based on fee ‒‒ maybe above $1,000 ‒‒ is fair and democratic, as it would empower the campus population to vote yes or no for anyone paid above a certain amount, whether it’s a controversial right wing presence like Ann Coulter, a controversial left wing presence like Michael Moore, or an utterly innocuous presence without a politicized agenda, should we ever manage to find such a pure and noble person.

In other words, rather than legalistic legislative measures, maybe it would be a good approach to let colleges sort these things out for themselves. It’s worth noting that the lawmakers looking to control the University of Wisconsin system from a centralized position of government are the same ones who rail against a centralized federal government’s control of individual states.

On the other hand, the most fundamental opposition to anyone’s speech is for a potential listener to just not listen. Were Richard Spencer to come to your campus to speak, no one would be forced to attend. He would be in a room or a hall, unable to be heard beyond the walls, meaning that if you’re not inside those walls, you would never hear.

In other words, Richard Spencer, regardless of how much or little you might agree with him, has the right to think and say what he believes (or, perhaps, what he thinks will sell merchandise). That’s freedom of speech. But you have equal freedom to just not listen.

So perhaps a reasonable solution is somewhere between heated protests, putting your fingers in your ears, and squelching the opposition to someone’s presence on a campus. Whatever that answer might be (hint: my idea), I don’t think punishing students and faculty for speaking against someone is it.

But then, perhaps Wisconsin is just exercising its right to just not listen to what its campus populations have to say.

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Photo credit: Robin Klein, courtesy of WikiCommons

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