Posts Tagged ‘media’

Last week, NPR (National Public Radio) committed ‘news’ when they terminated the contract of news analyst Juan Williams for remarks he made on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor about Muslims.  This was a move which brought both cheers and boos from all those commenting, with cheers coming from many media analysts who asked why it took NPR so long to act, and boos coming from conservative political apologists like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich as well as Williams’ considerable fan base.

NPR’s Ombudsman Alicia Shepard notes that the firing of Williams brought forth a firestorm of controversy, which much of the anger levelled at NPR.  More than 8,000 emails regarding the firing were received, more than for any other incident taken up by the network, enough to crash the email response program used for collecting such user feedback.  People were, and are, mad as hell.

Since then, people have been posting pictures of Muslims who are part of all walks of life on Facebook or their blogs, showing some wearing traditional religious clothing, others not (to illustrate, they say, that Muslims are part of all fabrics of our life and can be religious people no matter what their attire); reaming NPR for their actions, applauding Fox for increasing Williams’ air time on their network in the aftermath; and declaring war on the public funding NPR receives to keep it on the air.  It’s ugly and in some cases, petty, and once again, the liberals are lining up against the conservatives to wage social warfare.

Whatever side of this issue you land on — whether you liked Juan Williams and his commentaries on NPR or his role on Fox; whether the President of NPR picked a really bad time to take action or not; whether you think NPR should receive public funding or not; it seems to me that many folks have just missed the boat on the essentials of this matter.  Juan Williams was hired to be a news analyst on NPR.  He was not hired to be a commentator (to offer his opinion) on stories, but to probe them in greater depth to help us understand them.  Daniel Schorr, now of blessed memory, was also a news analyst, and Ted Koppel, late of ABC, has filled that role as well.  Both Schorr and Koppel have performed admirably in this role, bringing deeper perspective to a story to help listeners gain understanding.

Providing analysis requires you to delve into a story but not to offer your opinion.  And NPR rightfully should expect that if one of their employees accepts a position on another network, his work there will not conflict with his role working for NPR.  This was not the first time Williams had drawn controversy for expressing his opinions.  Whether NPR waited too long to take action, or took action precipitously as a knee-jerk response to Williams’ appearance on Mr. O’Reilly’s program, may be fodder for other columns.

For me, however, there should be little debate about the key issue:  Juan Williams forgot, or ignored, the requirements of his position at NPR and became part of the story he was discussing with Bill O’Reilly.  That may be what Fox wants from him, and if so, I hope that Williams and Fox and O’Reilly have a long and happy and fruitful relationship.  But NPR was right to expect and demand that their employees not cross the line by inserting themselves into the stories they cover.  This is basic journalism 101 for reporters and broadcasters, and it should not be mysterious to anyone, least of all a media veteran.

Let us, then, maintain our focus on the essentials of the matter – what any media outlet requires of its reporters and analysts (as different from commentators expressing opinion).  And let all who act as spokespeople for businesses or as reporters or analysts for media outlets remember that you simply can not have it both ways.

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Well, now I feel affirmed.  Maybe even a little smug.  In my previous position as electronic communication director of the Unitarian Universalist Association, one of the phrases I kept on my whiteboard was, “Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should.”  I was referring in particular to use of social media tools which proliferate and attract us because they are so new, so easy, offering such fun ways to use the internet to send out photos, tweets, videos, whatever.

I used to repeat the phrase to folks who would come in to talk about ideas around using these tools.  They were in love with the tools, the very coolness of them, rather than what it was they wanted to DO and how best to do it.

I have seen the down side of ‘over-sharing’ and it’s not fun:  each year I would take several calls from very unhappy people who were members of one of our email lists and who had discovered, the hard way, that their posts were archived and searchable on the web.  No matter that this was information we shared when they joined one of our email lists.  Suddenly they were faced with a crisis – someone had googled them and discovered something that they didn’t want “out there” and it all came tumbling down.

I have so many friends and acquaintances and colleagues who flock to use new stuff or get onto new social networks.   “Got to go get the newest [fill in the blank]” – because it is new…even if they aren’t sure how they will use it.  ‘Have you signed up for [blank]?  You can do so many things.’  Even play games…which require you to ‘friend’ more and more people who you don’t know.  And then, I watch as people post God-knows what…which all those ‘friends’ can see.

Now the New York Times has run a story sharing the buyers remorse an increasing number of young adults are feeling for having exposed their personal lives through social media.  The Times article notes, “The erosion of privacy has become a pressing issue among active users of social networks. Last week, Facebook scrambled to fix a security breach that allowed users to see their friends’ supposedly private information, including personal chats.”

And the concern has certainly made it into faith community settings as well.  I’m aware of situations where promising resumes bit the dust because the individual’s Facebook page portrayed a person who was intolerant and fixated on one issue, or news and information about a person was discovered not through their ministerial record, but through a web search that revealed a different story.  Ooops.

Yeah, I’m here blogging, and tweeting, and I’m on Facebook and LinkedIn.  And I’m paying attention.  Trying to focus on what I say, and how I post, and who I allow in the virtual door.  The Times quotes Yale student Sam Jackson:  “I am much more self-censoring. I’ll try to be honest and forthright, but I am conscious now who I am talking to.”

It’s an evolving art.  I try to repeat my own whiteboard phrase whenever I have questions about whether to engage with a new network, or post a particular item somewhere:  “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”  Because what seems like a good idea now may come back to bite you later.

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