Monday, June 06, 2005

Truth, Integrity, the Big Story - Mainstream Entertainment Media

Where's the drama in city council meetings? It's not the atmosphere, environment, or even what's discussed. The drama in these mundane, routine institutions lies in what's not said, and what's growling in the closets of each council person. These hidden truths are too big for a single person to keep locked away; someone else knows where the key is. That person has become symbolic for American journalism.

Maybe we're second-in-command, ensuring the institution is protected by any means, or maybe we're the office snitch, unafraid to kiss some ass to advance, whatever it is we are, journalists have strayed from taking pride in a story, attracted, instead, by the shimmer of our bold bylines.

Since Watergate, journalists have aspired to be the next Woodward or Bernstein. They made themselves gods through tedious research, tireless interviewing, and a desire for truth that seems second only to breathing.

With the revelation of "Deep Throat" last week, countless articles and columns have been written on Mark Felt's significance to journalism and how Watergate would be different today. In Saturday's Houston Chronicle, Loren Steffy wrote a brilliant piece about Deep Throat and the following trend to search for "the big story." I stumbled on the column via Poynter's Romenesko feed under a larger Baltimore Sun article by John Woestendiek and Paul West.

Both pieces allude to a much larger concept of Journalism - the glamour of it. Watergate and Deep Throat made Woodward's and Bernstein's careers. Respected before; famous after. Their names will be in history books long after their grandchildren are buried - not to mention the notoriety they have received ever since the stories ran in the Washington Post. What journalist, expected to be always objective, voiceless, and faceless, wouldn't want this type of attention, especially in a time when reality tv rules the national television audience - everyday people doing absolutely nothing extraordinary getting their 15-minutes of fame every week for an entire season?

Steffy mentions the allure of writing for a larger paper and how that dominated his every story angle, only to come back at the end of the piece to remind his successors or maybe even his contemporaries that respect in the field of journalism comes from discipline, patience, and diligence. What he didn't add, that I - a recent college graduate with no experience - feel is also as important is the everyday story and its significance to a single person.

Obituary writing is a tough assignment because those articles are read and saved by families and friends of the deceased. When stories about President Bush's social security reform plans have been read and discarded, obituaries will be placed in a shoebox that will travel generations. Not all city council meetings have this same longevity, but if the same approach is applied, the truth will be told and the story will mean something. Those are the stories that get noticed, maybe not by editors at large papers, but by government officials who could very well be the next Deep Throat and will only talk to you because they see where your priorities lie.

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