The Phoner & Journalistic EthicsSunday, May 06, 2012
Increasingly in these days when Oldsmobile Achievas become extinct or I have to point out to the people that I photograph that I use Fujiroids (some of us call the Fuji instant film by that affectionate name) and my yellow boxes with Kodak on them are becoming rarer, if find that I openly say, “I am not long for this world and I am glad of it.”
In a nutshell I feel like I am standing bare foot on a beach with the surf coming under my feet and I am imbalanced as the sand becomes soft and shifty.
While I am not sure how I would feel if someone would point a gun at my forehead and then cock it, any other form of death (as long as it is tomorrow and not today!) seems reasonable and not all that fearsome or distasteful.
In general some things are better now than then. My granddaughter’s Sony clock radio sounds better when you stick a CD in it than an expensive middle-range stereo of a recent past. Being able to start my Malibu from my kitchen on a cold winter morning is for me a bonus of our modernity.
But where I despair is in the erosion of standards. It seems that any politician can call another a liar and get away with it. It seems that these same politicians tell us that one plus one Is not two.
My despair is at its most intense when I think of what is happening to journalism.
I believe that like jazz (if you have to ask what it is then you cannot possibly grasp what it is) most out there have no idea what journalism is and much less the ethics that journalism used to abide by.
I asked my friend former Straight editor and Vancouver Sun Editorial Page Editor, Charles Campbell, if the NY Times had paid the Colombian prostitute for their exclusive interview with her in the wake of the scandal involving President Obama’s Secret Service Agents. Campbell’s answer was immediate, “There is no possibility that they would have paid her a cent.”
Now how many in this day and age would have been concerned about this or suspected anything on the matter?
Many now complain of the decline in our dailies. My argument is that few would notice. As an example my 14 year-old granddaughter sort of knows what a newspaper is. She has been around my house on Saturday nights when next day’s NY Times comes crashing to my door. For a while (when she was younger) she could not figure out why the paper, with next day’s Sunday as its date, could possibly be delivered on a Saturday. My Rebecca, as well as her family do not read newspapers or watch the news. If I were to tell her that our local Vancouver Sun is but a shadow of the good paper it once was she would not understand because she would not be able to compare the former with the present day paper.
I believe that it is not only my 14 year-old who does not understand or care about the decline in newspapers. Many in their 20s and even 30s have no custom in reading a paper every day. You cannot miss what you never had.
From a personal point of view there was a time when articles (to be published) for magazines or newspapers would be couriered to me. Later these manuscripts were faxed and ultimately sent to me as email attachments. At the very least responsible editors like Charles Campbell would call me and tell me as much as possible of my subject to be photographed.
Quite a few years ago the Globe & Mail’s Report on Business hired me to photograph a gentleman in Vancouver who had an unusual relationship with General Motors’s Pontiac Division. Gm would ship Pontiac chassis to Vancouver and our local entrepreneur would bolt on a sporty fiber glass body. I was given a phone number. The phone was disconnected. I called the phone company and I was told that the phone was not in service for non-payment. I tried another number and the man did answer. But I felt something fishy and called up the writer in Toronto and told him, “Perhaps this man is bankrupt and he feels that an article in a national business magazine will save him.” That was indeed the case and the story was killed.
With the exception of good magazines, good newspapers and the Vancouver Sun, (most of the time) the photographs in these publications are taken by staff photographers or free-lance photographers who have been hired for the job.
The norm now, and in particular in our fair city is that those who are profiled are now under the obligation (gently suggested, I suppose) to provide their own picture. This means that no photographer will ever go to the premises of the one-to-be-profiled and perhaps not be able to note a possible movie set storefront with no depth. The subject to be profiled is able to manufacture an image and “force” ever so gently that image to the publication that will be happy to save the money by not sending a photographer, without realizing, the loss in journalistic credibility and standard.
Another shocking fact is one that I tried on my Focal Point class where I asked them, “What does this mean. As I talked to Clint Eastwood from his home I could hear the food cooking on Eastwood’s stove.” None suspected that “from his home” is journalistic lingo for doing an interview on the phone. I cannot imagine how many of these now usually unannounced “from the home” interviews are really email interviews.
Many local publications interview local actors, politicians, singers, etc on the phone. How exclusive can these exclusive interviews be? If you ask a hard question, how important is it to look at someone in the eye as they answer it?
Meanwhile our facebook friends tell us to link to the serious publications that do produce, with journalistic ethics of sorts, what they put in print. As these publications disappear with Oldsmobiles, Kodak, spark plug gap adjusting tools, what will we link to?
Luckily it does not worry me as I am not long for this world and my Rebecca will never know what she is missing because she might never know what existed.
And Walter Cronkite would not understand, as neither do I, how someone like Anderson Cooper can possibly be a journalist and at the same time have something called the RedicuList.