Journalism. For or Against?

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Jaime Kedrowski / Missourian

By Ruby Samuels

It was late afternoon, right in the middle of midterms and the red-eyed students in my sociology class were just getting into the topic of the day: mass media’s negative influence on social movements. We were not talking about “fake news,” Breitbart or Alex Jones radio. We were talking about the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the four other “corporate” media companies that we were informed have been purveyors of skewed information both nationally and internationally for over a century.  

As I sat back and listened to my fellow classmates, some of whom are social activists themselves, speak about the media as a rabid and biased generalized other, I was taken aback. They described unwelcome “swarms” of reporters descending on protests that they participated in. They spoke about how even the most openly liberal and anti-Trump reporters are empowering the president by shining a spotlight on his misdeeds. They spoke of how the Women’s March, the largest single-day protest in American history, only reached front page news because it was all about Trump, the man whose name and hair gets people to read articles. Therefore, they said, protests that don’t explicitly resist the president are not covered. They spoke of how the widespread negative coverage of the antifa movement halts progress against white nationalism. Lastly, they said that journalists cover protests as though they are isolated events, which limits the information that readers can absorb about the political and social context that gave rise to the movement in the first place. usa-new-york-daca

A lot of the points that were made in class this week are valid, but I am still grappling with how journalists could be so mistrusted by college students in an era full of headlines that seem to be on their side (in opposition to the current administration). Media may be somewhat inherently  biased– after all, reporters are human beings too– and everyone should learn to be a critical consumer, but I’ve always thought that journalism was a noble and necessary part of democracy. How else can everyone else, who spend most of their waking hours working in their own fields, be made aware of the political, cultural and economic events that shape, however abstractly,the world they live in?

In class, we have also read about zines and citizen journalists with their own publications and distribution methods, who are openly biased and seek to inform the public of their cause. But we still need people whose whole job is to report the news, who are trained in a professional setting to research, report and write about events that their personal ideologies aren’t already tangled up in. Don’t we?

Yes, we have fantastic, well trained, full-time reporters like Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! and Rachel Maddow, who take an activist approach to journalism. But we still need sources that ride the line between parties, that will be listened to by more than the liberals in the preacher’s choir, that can’t be called fake news so easily.

The book we were assigned to read for class that day is called “The Whole World is Watching,” named after the chant of anti-war demonstrators during the Democratic National Convention in 1968. The author, Tom Gitlin, mainly talks about just that– Vietnam protests and the way that major news organizations allied with the Johnson Administration’s pro-war agenda to frame the anti-war protesters as a bunch of riotous hippies. I never got the sense that Gitlin intended to convince his readers that media is the enemy. He just seems to have wanted readers to realize that whatever they read, it’s not the whole truth.

In any case, times have changed. Journalists are still part of an elite intellectual class, which they supply with one version of the truth. As Gitlin wrote: “Simply by doing their jobs, journalists tend to serve the political and economic elite definitions of reality” (pg. 12). But these days, at least, journalists also uncover stories that politicians and certain members of the elite would rather not be shared. Journalists, however, can’t take sides, even when covering injustice and the movements that hope to be the solution. As the New York Times wrote in May:

“The question is which approach is more effective — when The Times looks as if it has joined the resistance, or when it excavates facts without prejudice? In the legal system, it’s the difference between an investigator and a prosecutor….Some readers, alarmed over a Trump presidency, want the newsroom in full combat mode”

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I think that recent events show that journalists are not turning their cheek to social movements. Six reporters, for example, were charged with felonies and arrested (four of whom acted even after seeing the consequences faced by the first two) for covering inauguration day protests in January,  under the premise that they were violating a Washington D.C. law against rioting. Just a few weeks ago, reporters repeated again and again the date of the deadline for DACA recipients to renew their two-year period of legal status. And what about coverage of the protests that have nothing to do with president Trump?

I’m still left with questions about how to go about doing journalism in a way that maintains the reporter’s role as the white helmet in a war of words. How do journalists cover the news in a way that reveals the structural inequity that leads to protests while also revealing the truth of the other side? How do journalists remain truly unbiased, or reveal their biases without losing readers?  What I do know is the less  that social activists trust the press, the less free the press can be to uncover the stories that those activists  and everyone else need to know. 

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Thoughts on the Lack of Outrage Following the James Franco Scandal

by Clara Butler

James Franco’s behavior still matters, regardless of his apology.

By now, the media has shrugged off the fact that James Franco tried to solicit sex from a minor. He has appeared on numerous shows since then, even SNL, and ever since his confession that “Social media is tricky,” no one seems to care that he could have potentially committed a felony, one that could have landed him on a sex offender registry. But why has the media, and the public, deemed his almost-crime acceptable? My opinion is that acts like these have become so normalized within our society that we are already onto the next news story by the end of the week.

Franco’s scandal isn’t the first time that a celebrity has used their influence to try and coerce someone into an act that they weren’t comfortable with, nor was it the first time to try and commit such an act with a minor. In fact, this isn’t the first time this has occurred THIS YEAR. A few weeks back, women took to Tumblr to expose some very influential YouTubers that had engaged in abusive behavior and manipulative relationships. Some of the girls were minors, and some reported putting up with it since they looked up to these men as idols and role models. Similar to the 17-year old who posted her text conversation with Franco on the Internet, these women stood up and shed light on their abusers rather than sinking into the shadows. But even then they were called names, threatened, and many were quick to protect the YouTube idols that could do no wrong in their eyes.

I think this disturbing trend sheds light on our celebrity culture and desire to make superheroes out of movie stars by assuming that they can’t be abusive or wrong in any way. I’m glad that the discussion around Woody Allen’s allegations of abuse continued to gain press coverage even though many felt conflicted about the work that he has produced due to his seemingly pedophilic tendencies. As at least one article on the subject noted, we are quick to assume allegations about celebrities aren’t true, that the victim is just trying to get attention and bring a star down. But what happens when the celebrity even admits to it, as in the case of Franco? Disturbingly enough, that’s all it takes to put the issue to rest and keep on loving the celebrities that we always have.

Franco’s appearance on Live with Kelly and Michael solidified his career and people saw his honesty to be endearing in light of the scandal since many times, sex scandals are denied until proven by a third party. But just because Franco came clean doesn’t mean that he took responsibility for his actions or even realized how dangerous the implications would be if the girl had decided she wanted to hook up with him. Franco tweeted jokes after the photos of their conversation surfaced that said “I HOPE PARENTS KEEP THEIR TEENS AWAY FROM ME” and other disgusting things that made it seem like his potential felony was actually just a huge April Fools’ joke, as many still claim it is. Other justifications for his behavior included a promotion for his new movie where he actually plays a pedophile, but even if it did turn out that the scandal was supposed to gain publicity for his new movie, should we really idolize someone who sinks that low just for the sake of advertising? Many people are quick to assume that the victim in situations like these is just looking for attention but few actually analyze the press garnered by the perpetrator.

If Franco’s SNL appearance said anything, it is that celebrity influence to coerce people into unequal relationships is just a huge joke, one that should not be taken seriously or be scrutinized. I just hope that next time something like this happens, we as a society will be more critical and not stand for anyone, especially those in the public eye, to commit acts like these.

What are your thoughts on the James Franco scandal? Let me know in the comments!

Clara Butler is a sophomore at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

Image courtesy of abc News.

Keeping up with Current Events: Staying Informed at Barnard

by Danielle Owen

HBIC Sloan Sabbith would want you to understand the debt ceiling.

At 9:09 AM, a girl scampers past Altschul and heads toward Milbank with a look of agitation and despair. She is disheveled and slovenly, sporting an outfit that reads “I can’t remember if I’ve slept in the last three days.” She totters on towards the abyss that is her 9:10 class, only to surface at 10:25 with a throbbing headache and an insatiable desire for caffeine through an IV. The last thing on her mind is the crisis in Syria or S&P ratings.

I am this girl. We have all been this girl.

It’s easy enough to use your hectic lifestyle and lack of sleep to justify your indifference towards current events. You have more important stuff to worry about! However—the girl above manages to watch American Horror Story: Coven on a regular basis and spends approximately 30 minutes a day reading pointless Thought Catalog articles.

Excuses don’t work. Getting up-to-date on the world’s happenings isn’t as hard as it used to be. We can do it. Here are some ways how:

    Read the Daily Beast’s Cheat Sheet, check Mediagazer, or skim Techmeme.

    Download Pulse, a customizable app that displays news headlines tailored to your needs and interests.

    Customize Safari (or your preferred web browser) so it opens to your favorite informative websites. Under preferences, go to “New Windows Open With” and select the bookmark folder that contains the websites you want to appear whenever you use the Internet.

    There are plenty of ways to manipulate Twitter into showing news-specific tweets separately. I use Tweetdeck while others prefer Hootsuite.

     Read print newspapers. I mean, you can definitely try. You’ll look sophisticated and intelligent skimming your New York Times whilst sipping an espresso. Realistically, there are more economic and convenient ways of getting top stories. There’s always the Spec!

    This doesn’t count.

    Watch actual TV news programs. Most of your favorite anchors and programs can be found online by going to the network’s website. However, it would require more time and you’d be receiving less concentrated content. I say skip it.

    My favorite way to stay up-to-date is by reading theSkimm. Each morning, I wake up to a witty, informative, and quick email summarizing the top news stories of the day ahead. Read it while eating breakfast in Hewitt, on the subway (most stations have Wi-Fi now!), or in your giant lecture class when you’re probably not paying attention anyway.

    We can all sacrifice five minutes a day to the noble pursuit of being more informed and open-minded citizens of the world. Besides, you can’t converse intelligently about current events when your only glimpse into the outside world was watching Jon Stewart rant about Chicago deep-dish pizza on The Daily Show last night.

    Danielle Owen is a first-year at Barnard and a staff writer for The Nine Ways of Knowing.

    Images courtesy of perfectcomm and Eonline.

    Tell Me a Real Adoption Story: Misrepresentation of Adoption by the Media

    By Samantha Plotner

    Quinn, from Glee

    On Glee, ex-cheerleader Quinn is on a mission to regain custody of the daughter she gave up for adoption in season one. On NCIS, lab tech Abby is reeling from the revelation she was adopted: she doesn’t know who she is anymore.

    Adoption is having a pop culture moment of sorts. Unfortunately, it is a moment based on inaccuracies. The most accurate portrayal of adoption I’ve seen? Juno. Why do I know that? Because my story is pretty similar, down to adoptive parents being found in the classifieds.

    Here is where Glee has messed up. Some states have waiting periods where a biological parent can revoke their consent and regain custody. In Ohio, where Glee takes place, it is 72 hours. In the Glee universe, over a year has passed. Sorry Quinn, you aren’t getting baby Beth back.

    Abby, from NCIS

    It is true that it is common practice among television shows to take liberties with reality. However, television shows and movies that sensationalize the phenomenon of birth-parents looking to reclaim their child will undoubtedly cause many to believe that this is a large risk in adoption. If all the legalities are handled properly that doesn’t happen. More likely, is the birth mother changing her mind during pregnancy, though even that risk is not nearly as high as some believe it to be.

    Moving on to NCIS. Putting aside that a twenty-something would likely know she was adopted at this point in her life, the whole “a part of me is missing” attitude often seems to be a key issue for pop culture regarding adopted children. While some adoptees may feel this way, it would be wrong to assume they all do. This speaks to a general misunderstanding of the emotional aspect of being adopted.

    Every situation is different; I can only speak for my own. At this point I have a spiel when the topic comes up to try to answer all the standard questions:

    I have known I was adopted since I was young enough to understand what that meant. No, my younger sisters are not adopted. No, our parents don’t treat us any differently. Yes, I communicate with my birth mother.

    Most of the time, that suffices.

    At least in my experience, being adopted is not as dramatic as television would make you think. Although anything in popular entertainment should generally be taken with a grain of salt, these misrepresentations bothers me. It causes people to ask if I know my “real” parents, as if the twenty plus years my parents raised me doesn’t mean anything just because we don’t share the same DNA. It leads prospective adoptive parents to turn towards other methods of having a family because they think that, without a biological connection, the child will never be fully “theirs.” When the media starts portraying adoption more accurately, especially domestic adoption, maybe we will be able to have public conversations about what adoption really is.

    Samantha is a junior at Barnard and Editor-in-Chief of The Nine Ways of Knowing. The title of this piece comes from a children’s book her parents read to her when she was young.

    Photos courtesy of Decoupling Blog and Max Updates.