Reporting With A P.O.V.

When I attended the School of Journalism at the Ohio State University in the late ’70s, journalistic objectivity was the standard.  We were drilled in the Dragnet approach to reporting — i.e., “Just the facts, ma’am.”  Sure, the facts could be presented in a vigorous, colorful way — that’s what made for good reporting — but the personal opinions or views of reporters were strictly reserved for “opinion” pieces that would go on the op-ed page, and probably would be labeled “opinion,” to boot.

The approach of the professional journalism community to objectivity has changed a lot since then.  I thought about the changes when I read the lead paragraphs of this news article by AP reporter Foster Klug about the meeting between the North Korean and South Korean leaders today:

180425155911-north-korea-south-korea-meeting-2-exlarge-169“In a historic summit more striking for its extraordinary images than its substance, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in set aside a year that saw them seemingly on the verge of war, grasped hands and strode together Friday across the cracked concrete marking the Koreas’ border.

“The sight, inconceivable just months ago, may not erase their failure to provide any new measures on a nuclear standoff that has captivated and terrified millions, but it allowed the leaders to step forward toward the possibility of a cooperative future even as they acknowledged a fraught past and the widespread skepticism that, after decades of failed diplomacy, things will be any different this time.

“On the nuclear issue, the leaders merely repeated a previous vow to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons, kicking one of the world’s most pressing issues down the road to a much-anticipated summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in coming weeks.”

We’ll never know how the story of this historic meeting would have been written in the old, studiously objective days, before point of view journalism was accepted as the new normal.  It’s safe to say, though, it would not have suggested that the meeting lacked “substance,” stated that the meeting involved a “failure to provide any new measures on a nuclear standoff” and was viewed with “widespread skepticism,” and reported that the leaders “merely repeated a previous vow” and “kick[ed] one of the worl’s most pressing issues down the road.”  Imagine that kind of reporting at the U.S.-Soviet summit meetings of the ’60s, or Nixon’s visit to China!  It just didn’t happen.

Is the new journalism better than the old?  Proponents of point of view reporting say it simply recognizes reality, and that forcing reports to be mindlessly objective dehumanizes the reporter and fails to acknowledge that reporters bring a perspective to the story when they report it.  Perhaps, but I’m old school — in this case, literally.  I’d be much more comfortable if Foster Klug, whoever he is, left his perceptions, fears, and other baggage behind and simply gave us the facts — leaving it to us to draw our own conclusions.

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Why I’m Not Watching The Winter Olympics

I’m not watching the Winter Olympics.  Apparently I’m not alone, because the ratings are abysmal. On some nights, the Nielsens have been the lowest for an Olympic broadcast in more than a decade.

There seem to be lots of reasons why people are tuning out the Olympics.  Some people aren’t watching because they think the NBC broadcast is dreadfully boring.  Other people are put off by the political overtones of the North Korea-South Korea storyline that apparently is a constant undercurrent in the broadcasts, or fawning coverage given to the sister of Kim Jong Un and the robotic North Korean cheerleaders.

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter OlympicsI haven’t been watching because the constant efforts to jazz up the Winter Olympics with new “sports” really don’t make this seem like the Olympics at all.  I’m not a skier or skater or big winter sports participant, but in the past I’ve enjoyed watching traditional Winter Olympic sports like the bobsled — which is the best named sport, by the way — or the downhill, ski jumping, and hockey.  But when we were over at our friends’ house for a dinner party Saturday night and the Olympics was on the TV, it featured an event where snowboarders were jumping up and skidding on bannister-like contraptions and launching off of artificial hills to do spins and tumbles.  It was as if the Winter Olympics had mated with a circus act, and the next thing you know a performing bear riding a bike would appear.  That single hopelessly artificial, jazzed up event perfectly summarized the desperate efforts to make the Winter Games more exciting and appealing to the slacker kids down at the local skateboard park.  The X Games have invaded.

One of the other people at the party said my reaction reflects the thinking of old codgers.  No doubt that is true.  I’m not saying that people who can do skateboard-like moves on a snowboard don’t have some athletic ability, I’m just saying that such contrived events seem to reflect more of a desire to create ratings and interest, rather than the “Olympic spirit” that is supposed to be the underpinning of the Games.  And that’s why I’m not watching.

When Employers Go Too Far

It’s pretty common for people to squawk about their employers.  Usually the bitching seems almost rote — a simple byproduct of the friction and unequal power relationship between underling and boss, huge corporation and cubicle dweller.  The company they work for isn’t evil, it’s just faceless and bureaucratic.  Sometimes, though, companies get . . . well, downright weird.

doctorposter2Like the South Korean recruitment company that decided an appropriate response to issues of workplace stress was to require employees to stage their own funerals, complete with writing farewell letters to loved ones, climbing into coffins and having them closed by a guy in black who is supposed to represent the Angel of Death, and then spending a few moments lying in the darkness of a closed casket.

South Korea has the highest suicide rate in the industrialized world, and workers in Seoul and other parts of the country have ongoing problems with workplace pressure.  The problems are the byproduct of the hyper-competitive, achievement-oriented South Korean society and traditional approaches to workplace culture that motivate employees to get to work earlier, and leave work later, than the boss.

So how in the heck does staging mock funerals help with stress and suicide?  It’s supposed to help the employees value life and get them to reflect on its meaning.  The president of the recruitment company explained that the company had not really been successful in getting employees to change their “old ways of thinking,” and he thought “going inside a coffin would be such a shocking experience it would completely reset their minds for a completely fresh start in their attitudes.”

Would it, really?  Or would it, instead, drive home to the workers forced to crawl into a casket that their employers have a ridiculous amount of power over their employees’ lives, to the point where they can force the employees to stage macabre and disturbing stunts just because the company president thinks it’s a great idea to do so?

Suddenly the hassles with Phil in accounting and the power games played by the assistant vice president for corporate planning don’t seem all that bad.

 

First Dennis Rodman, And Now This

North Korea has got to be the most bizarre country in the world.

Cut off from interaction with the rest of the world for decades, run by the military and a ’50s-era communist dictatorial regime, North Korea and its leaders seem to have a hopelessly distorted view of the world.  It releases laughable claims about its leaders and their prowess, it issues remarkably aggressive declarations about fighting with South Korea, the United States, and other purported enemies — and then its young leader will put on a big show about watching a basketball game with Dennis Rodman.  North Korea is so isolated from reality that it apparently doesn’t realize that Dennis Rodman has long since become a comical figure and punch line for his own peculiar behavior.  Entertaining an oddball, fringe figure like Rodman does nothing except leave outside observers scratching their heads.

It would all be laughable — except that North Korea has an enormous military, missile and (apparently) nuclear capabilities, and a starving population, and within days of Rodman’s visit, North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from its non-aggression agreements with South Korea and that it has the right to issue a pre-emptive nuclear strike.  Although North Korea hasn’t followed through on all of its prior threats, the provocative statements of an unbalanced regime have to be taken seriously.

It sounds weird to say it, but the reality is that any country so delusional that it thinks hosting Dennis Rodman is a way to show it is a friendly, functioning member of the world community is capable of just about anything.

Jong Turn

Kim Jong-Il, the leader of North Korea since 1994, is dead.  Official reports said he died of a heart attack, as a result of physical and mental overwork.  (The official reports aren’t a surprise; Kim Jong-Il was usually depicted, in standard totalitarian fashion, as a selfless, gifted, heroic, hard-working leader.)

The dead leader apparently will be succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-Un.  Not much is known about him; he is in his 20s and was appointed the successor only last year.  Whether he will continue the isolationist, mercurial policies followed by his father is anybody’s guess.  He will inherit a country that is cut off from the rest of the world and a population that has been decimated by famine and ill-advised economic policies.

There are lots of backward nations in the world, and we don’t usually care much about who leads them.  North Korea is different because its focus always has been on its military — often at the expense of its starving people — and on constant saber-rattling with South Korea and its other democratic Asian neighbors.  The fact that North Korea is largely unknown, has always been unpredictable, and has been publicly trying to develop nuclear weapons means we can’t overlook it in the face of the other challenges.

The world is a very dangerous place.  We’ll learn soon enough whether it has become more, or less, dangerous with Kim Jong-Il’s passing.

North Korea Acts Out

News stories are reporting that North Korea has fired dozens of artillery shells onto a South Korean island, killing one South Korean soldier, injuring other soldiers and civilians, and damaging houses.  South Korea returned fire.  Although the shelling has stopped for now, the two neighbors are on high alert, and the world is waiting to see if North Korea continues, or escalates, the situation.

Other countries in Asia have moved into the 21st century and focused on economic development and democratic reforms — but not North Korea.  It remains mired in the 1940s, home to a throwback totalitarian regime complete with a “glorify the leader” personality cult and ludicrous propaganda.  Its paranoid behavior on the world stage is consistently inexplicable.  It spends its scant treasure on nuclear weapons programs and other military initiatives, and all the while its poor people are starving.

You have to sympathize with South Korea.  Its neighbor is home to many suffering relatives of South Korean citizens.  No doubt South Korea hopes that the people of North Korea will overthrow their repressive government, or that reform elements in the government will emerge that allow North Korea to move toward democracy and capitalism, like China before it.  Such hopes have been dashed.  North Korea’s leader acts out his whims, he appoints his son as a successor, the son acts out his whims, and the pattern continues.  All the while South Korea waits, uneasy, its thoughts never straying too far from the unpredictable, hyper-aggressive country to the north.

Parliamentary Punch-Ups

The BBC website has this entertaining story of a brawl in the South Korean parliament about — of all things — a bill on media reform!

In America, we tend to be critical of Congress, but at least it manages to conduct its business with some dignity and without a melee. Still, in one twisted corner of my soul I find myself idly wondering what a brawl at the Capitol might look like. Imagine John McCain clad in pirate’s garb like Bluto Blutarsky from Animal House, leaping onto the Speaker’s podium as a livid Nancy Pelosi slashes at him with the oversized Speaker’s gavel while Barney Frank, John Kerry, and John Boehner trade punches, and all the while Senator Harry Reid drones colorlessly on . . . .