Journalism and achieving the void.

Listening to professor Sora Park of the University of Canberra this morning talking about ‘fake news’. As much as many don’t like Trump, they can’t resist his setting the subject of discussion. Wasn’t it Trump who first came up with this notion of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’? Anyway, not mentioned by the professor was story selection as in if there are twenty possible stories on a given day, which ones are selected ? As worrying as fabricated news, I find, is the fact news services have lost their impartiality even if they can claim not manufacturing ‘fake news’. If I gave you a subject such as climate change, mass migration out of Africa or gender pay equality, I don’t need to read ‘The Guardian’, ‘Daily Telegraph’ or ‘The Australian” to know what they would have to say. News organizations identify their audience and simply feed back to that audience what they are already thinking by selective content and biased interpretation of stories that cannot be avoided.

Adding to that is of course which way the news service leans politically. For example, Trump’s bromance with Kim is reported extensively throughout the world but barely gets thirty seconds of cynical mention on France 2 because the French government is upset with Trump’s trade tariffs. No expert commentary nor analysis despite the meeting possibly marking the beginning of the end to the Korean war. Another example, and this time television news, would be the commercial Channel Nine reporting on a drop in temperature as an ‘early winter snap’, or something to that effect. The truth is all this year temperatures in Australia have been consistently and worryingly well above average and up until that recent cooling which itself was probably caused by fluctuations in the very disrupted southern jet stream. Channel Nine in the same bulletin then went on to describe a power outage that never actually happened but was severe enough to make the point renewables cannot be relied on to provide baseline power.

The French by comparison and to their credit when reporting on their current flood crisis – which by the way has not got a mention on any news service here in Australia as far as I know – did bring in an expert who clearly explained the ongoing floods are the result of climate change. No Australian news service, public or private, would have done the same when reporting on flood events such as the recent one in Hobart. Rather the focus would be and as a distraction from the cause, the heroic first responders and that the locals are tough because they are from [insert region here] and love each other immensely.

We hear all the time and especially from our two public broadcasters, that they deliver quality journalism, are unbiased and seek diversity in the news room but clearly that is not the case. Again story selection and extent of reporting as for example the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) giving more coverage in one recent bulletin to Serena William’s pectoral muscle problem than the Fuego Volcano eruption in Guatemala. With diversity, the common assumption is that it is achieved by replacing white males, especially older, with men of color and as many women both of color and not of color that can possibly be squeezed in even if that means creating as is the case again with the ABC, news and commentary shows that often simply replicate each other and repeat the same stories with the same footage and sources. As Kovach and Rosenstiel wrote in their book “The Elements of Journalism”, true diversity in a newsroom is diversity of opinion not diversity of skin color and gender because the later assumes that women, people of color, and today you could chuck in LGBTQI people, all share the same opinions and views. The opinion of one woman does not reflect that of all women anymore than a single Aboriginal man can claim to speak for all Aboriginal people. If true it would follow that only white heterosexual males are capable of independent and original thought which is of course a ridiculous proposition.

 

Latest on my side is that the comic strip project is progressing but has slowed down somewhat because thinking through not just details of the narrative but also the context within which it is told. I identified a need to spend more time working on all that is not narrative and to say what I feel and want to say and not what I learned at university are the ingredients of every great story. Lesson actually learned from Kurt Vonnegut who said – I apologize if I get details wrong here – that when he set out to write ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ he had fame, fortune and big Hollywood studios in mind and was getting nowhere until his wife said he should tell it as it was and not fluff up his prisoner-of-war experience. He and his peers, as Kurt said, were not ‘heroes’ whose story is worthy of a blockbuster movie but rather just scared boys in a German prisoner-of-war camp.

Other than the project, it’s the battle against the resurgent diabetes problem in which I’m now tracking blood glucose levels against stress as I have a strong suspicion the two are linked and that stress can actually trigger or be a major contributor to the onset of type 2. I’ve found research papers that discuss that possibility and in cooperation with my local general practitioner am trying to find a treatment that minimizes medication and is more focused on diet, exercise such as mountain bike riding and stress reduction activities such as trying to increase the length and frequency of Iaido practice. On that last one I’m again going back over Miyamoto Musashi’s ‘Book of Five Rings’ as I have done many times over the past thirty years but this time and only a short while ago, I put the book down having realized it has taken this long to begin to really understand what the old samurai was on about. I can’t explain it, the only way to experience this yourself is to get a copy, buy a boken or sword if you can afford a proper one, read, study, think, practice and with time and patience a crack in the wall will appear but even then it might take another life time, as I fear is my case, before you achieve what you set out to achieve which – this I can tell you – is the void. Substantially nothing.

“In the void is virtue, and no evil. Wisdom has existence, principle has existence, the Way has existence, spirit is nothingness”.