Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Crisis Communication & Trustworthy Journalism

I don't even have to hear what Anderson Cooper is saying right now, I am just happy to have him "on the scene" live reporting out of Ferguson, Missouri tonight on CNN instead of bitchass Don Lemon. The reporting thus far has been maddddd shoddy. The locals are angry. Americans are on edge. Canadians are like, WTF? African-Americans and Blacks all about are tired. The police down there are probably gearing up ten-fold for another night of perceived/potential/feared trouble. And I am glued to CNN, yet again.

I have a very intelligent Jamaican bredren that says he only reads the Toronto Sun, because he knows that it's the paper geared towards a 6th grade reading level and comprehension. He knows that the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Toronto Star are slightly more reputable in terms of journalistic integrity and even the level of dialogue that takes place...which isn't a diss at all. Even the headlines and front page photos and captions of each newspaper can kind of tell you what the content will reflect. But he reads the Toronto Sun daily because that's the information that the "common" folk are supposed to digest. He said he would rather read the messages they are feeding to the "less intelligent" than the high-brow discussion and dissertations-in-print for the affluent and educated, say, National Post readers.

I use this as my justification for why I'm locked into CNN 24/7. Not because it's the most reputable or intelligent source of news out there. Not because their opinions reflect my own...but because I firmly believe that 9 times out of 10, if something major is going down in the world...the instinct of the regular cable-television viewer is to turn to CNN. Maybe CP24 for the real Torontoists. Possibly the CBC or BBC news stations. But...CNN is a quick fix to get the latest breaking news, more often than not. The reflex news channel. From time. So yes, I will use that to preface my argument, knowing fully well WHAT CNN is, and what it represents. And beneath all the bias, and fuckery, and gate keeping, and distraction methods and the eternal "breaking news" banner that never goes away even when there ain't a damn thing "breaking" and the news is old as shit...I still tune into CNN because I figure that's where the "common" man is getting his info.

I know that there are countless internet channels, satellite stations, and independent news sources that will definitely paint a clearer picture for me with a diversified and intellectual basis...but I want to hear what the folks in middle America are hearing. I want to see the images that the people in upstate New York are seeing. I want to get that MAINSTREAM news because that is fundamentally what is going to be the popular opinion, regardless of what is wrong or right. That is the nature of the media, God bless its heart.

Yesterday, I was stressed the fuck out. I was glued to CNN from about 6pm until like 1am when eediot Don Lemon ran off the air in his bullet proof vest and gas goggles. I was glued to it (like many, many others) even though it was the most ridiculous journalism I had witnessed in a long time, if not ever. Police tanks were rolling, tension was high, and I could barely breathe because I truly felt like I was witnessing a significant moment in history...one that doesn't happen often. But was happening right before my eyes. Just pure madness.

But tonight, I breathe a sigh of relief. Because today I've seen Russell Simmons. I'm watching Spike Lee. And let the heavens sing...my boy Anderson Cooper is back on the scene!! The problems are still the same, but the DIALOGUE will change. It is changing. The images will look the same, but the discussion will improve. And from my couch here in Toronto where I feel like my social impact is very small in comparison to these huge systemic issues...I have a slight bit of hope because I feel that the reporting will take a slight turn for the better because I trust the faces behind the message. They have proven themselves to me over the course of many years and circumstances.

I am a student of Communications. I am not undermining the political, racial, social, historical, and judicial elements to this story...but my training, and my level of comprehension is rooted in THE MESSAGE and the communication of the message. My instinct is not to run down to Yonge/Dundas Square to start my own protest, or to draft a petition for the upcoming trial in Missouri. My interest is in the immediate message, the imagery, the news stories, the questions asked, the guest perspectives, and the subsequent lessons and progress that will be made as a result of this discussion. Right now.

These images are so important to how THIS particular story is being told. Right now. Just like images during Hurricane Katrina were. These images are essentially CRUCIAL to how this is remembered in history, despite the truth, and despite the reality...the way the images and messages are communicated, documented, and circulated are really, really important.

So when I see bullshitass Don Lemon shoo-shooing protestors off the sidewalk so he can get a good camera angle, defending the police for days on end, interviewing irrelevant pedestrians, calling the protestors names like a school boy, and asking inappropriate questions, I know that something has gone wrong. He is entitled to his opinions as a human being, but as a reporter his personal bias felt so heavy and disgusting and SCHUPID that I feared the overall TONE of the story was being tainted by his ridiculousness. So my blood pressure was on a level. I was angry. I was watching the footage and was mad about the nature of what I was seeing. This moment in time is TOO powerful in terms of mainstream opinion, to have just anyone at the forefront with a mic in his hand.

But there is a way that the anger can be turned into hope, or at least perceived progress. As deep-rooted as the issues of racism and police brutality are (and as HARD as the struggle is for young Black males, old Black males, and Blacks in general is)...there is a level of hope and potential progress that communication professionals are responsible for projecting into their daily work.

Could you imagine if during 9/11, when America was collectively WEEPING and paralyzed with fear, that the mainstream reporters were conspiracy theorists, radicals, or anything less than comforting, rational, or at least reasonably empathetic? Everyone has a role in our society, whether it's to protect the people, educate the people, clothe the people, feed the people, or drive the people...and the role of the journalist is to present the people with an unbiased look at the world, and use their intelligent and educated understanding of various elements of the story to come to a conclusion that is at the very least comforting and informative.

So while my heart is still breaking for the unnecessary murder of young Michael Brown. While I am still stuck on the CNN channel, and will be for the next few hours, I am at least semi-reassured knowing that the level of dialogue will heighten, and that even inserting Mr. Anderson Cooper and other passionate, authentic, and knowledgeable expert minds onto the scene is at least a slight spark of hope in an otherwise completely hopeless and redundant turn of events.

God bless them all, as this journey continues.

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