Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A Call to News Beat Activism

Where are the citizen journalists?

The tragic events of 2104, with the killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York City, are disturbing on so many levels it is overwhelming.

The issues raised to national consciousness comprise a dark list that have sparked protests, marches and public outrage.  Here's what's on my list :

  • Racial profiling by local law enforcement
  • Excessive force by police in minor instances
  • Necessity of 12 bullets to "stop" Michael Brown or anyone
  • Incompetence of Missouri state leaders
  • Ethics violations, malfeasance, manipulation, and knowing presentation of false testimony by Robert P. McCulloch, St. Louis County District Attorney
  • Mutiny of NYPD police turning their backs on their mayor and engaging in a work stoppage
  • Militarization of our local police agencies with transfer of $5.1 billion in military hardware from the Department of Defense since 1997 resulting in the what Radley Balko called in a Wall Street Journal editorial, the "warrior cop" — armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers
  • Warnings concerning the "standing army" going back to our founding fathers becoming  real
  • Increasing put downs of peaceful protests (like Occupy Wall Street) -- as comedian and activist, Russell Brand comments in his new book, Revolution --  police are to here serve and protect, not to be the henchmen of the establishment
And, last but not least the media:

  • It's arguable that the complete abandonment of journalistic best practices and ethics by the mainstream media, and Fox News in particular, is tantamount to treason against the state

How would any one person reverse the course of this madness? Where would you even start?

cover of Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power by James McGrath Morris
One answer came to me during an interview I heard with author, James McGrath Morris on his biography of Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power.

It seems his publications were responsible for the creation of the beat reporter. Besides creating a competitive edge in gathering news, their routine presence at city council and school board meetings, state legislatures, and other government agencies managed to keep politicians and executives more honest, and became a bellwether for the general public when things were heading in the wrong direction.

Under economic duress and corporate pressure, news organizations have all but eliminated these vital, local reporting positions. It is no wonder we don't hear about problems anymore until they are completely out-of-control.
Beat reporting, is a genre of journalism that can be described as the craft of in-depth reporting on a particular issue, sector, organization or institution over time. Beat reporters build up a base of knowledge on and gain familiarity with the topic, allowing them to provide insight and commentary in addition to reporting straight facts. --Wikipedia

Democracy is not a spectator sport.   

One way to beat that lurking feeling of helplessness is for like-minded local groups and individuals to engage in activities that might effect positive change and regain power -- from the bottom up. What I propose is a grassroots effort to resurrect the beat reporter -- sort of a  News Beat Activism.  Go to a city council meeting, ask questions, then blog, tweet, post and report what you find. Go back again and again, or create a local beat pool with friends.  Our society has lost a lot of ground since the departure of the beat reporter, this is something we can do to change the trends.

Tell us where your beat reporting could make a difference?

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