Tuesday, August 11, 2009

No News Is Good News?


An Open Letter


These past few months have caused some introspection on my part with regard to this medium I call “newsmcnabb”.


When I started writing this journalism/media criticism blog, I was convinced that it was filling a void. No one was keeping a day-to-day eye on news in all media in Central Texas. No one wrote critically about the Austin American-Statesman. Few were writing about so-called “new media”, the traditional media’s web sites and the blogosphere. For the most part I still think this is still a valid pursuit after some 115 posts during the past ten months.


Feedback regarding the newsmcnabb site has been most favorable. I’m gratified and humbled. It was fun reading this past week for example that one of my readers is a ninth-grade journalism teacher. That’s fun. Thank you.


I also seem to have alienated some friends still in “the business” who have been moved to anger or some other emotion after reading a post focusing on their newsroom or medium. Emails that were once friendly in tone have become icy with formality, calling me “Mr. McNabb”, which I have always thought was reserved for my 93-year-old father. Other emails use terms like, “…with all due respect…” which can be interpreted as veiled disdain. Another said, “I will respectfully decline this and future offers to provide source material” citing the competitive nature of the business. This friend has not replied to my follow-up email.


It is my perception that people in this market nowadays are taking things way too seriously. Don’t get me wrong. I was and still am more into competition than many. Witness my campaign to make the top three on Austin360.com’s “A-List” not long ago. There was a time when people had fun while competing and practicing journalism here in Austin and Central Texas. Some shops may still be having fun, but they don’t outwardly show it. I am convinced that newsrooms where you hear laughter are also the newsrooms producing quality reporting. Show me a white-knuckled newsroom, and I’ll show you a newsroom that makes mistakes out of fear of making mistakes, if nothing else.


When one is in the news business, one may grow an extra layer of thick skin. I never did. No one enjoys rejection. When I was in the business, and I would have to handle a mean-spirited soul on the telephone, I would not roll over. Many of my former colleagues have heard me engage in righteous debate with people who wished to take me on. When the smoke cleared, however, I would debrief myself and even beat myself up, thinking that I might have handled that call or that email better. One can never retrieve words, you know.


So, during the past few months, I’ve been asking myself if continuing writing this medium is worth losing friends. I may rightfully wonder if they were really friends in the first place, and if they were not, then there is no loss. If real friends are muzzled by management, is it fair putting these true friends in the middle of possible controversy or in jeopardy of losing their jobs if they talk to me about anything, even if it has nothing to do with journalism or media?


Believe it or not, this blog consumes chunks of my time. I don’t just sit down and start writing, shooting from the hip. Many topics require a fair amount of research. I do pay attention to the truth. Part of truth telling is fact finding, asking questions. If I cannot get facts or answers, it is difficult to tell the whole truth. Some stories are left untold. A reporter cannot write about something if they don’t know about it, even if it is “good news”.


I congratulate Michael Vivio, publisher of the Austin American-Statesman, for his good news this past week. Cox will retain ownership of the newspaper. I also thank him for calling me after I emailed, even though he was not wishing to comment further. I respected that, and I didn’t use anything that he told me during the ensuing conversation. In a similar vein, I am appreciative of the spokesperson for Fox TV who returned my call within minutes about their bad news that Fox 7 was laying-off seven employees. These are two people whom I have never met, yet they helped confirm information, if nothing else.


Those whom I have counted as friends, however, either will not or cannot have these conversations. For going on 40 years I have been forming friendships and building relationships in Central Texas and Austin media in particular. Those relationships were built on trust and respect. It saddens me when some apparently no longer see me as a friend because of the newsmcnabb blog.


So, in this “Open Letter” I’m asking you, should I continue? Does this serve a worth-while purpose? I’d like to know your thoughts. Write me at
newsmcnabb@gmail.com use the “comments” button at the bottom.


Thank you.


© Jim McNabb, 2009

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

... Yes, Jim, despite how we(I) may or may not agree with you, at times, your views are always appreciated... at least SOMEBODY cares to comment on something that's actually mentioned in the Bill of Rights... The Press... and it's FREEDOM.

d-rap said...

McNabb,

Keep it going! If for no other reason than b/c you strongly believe in true journalism and ALL it entails. We need more of that...

d-

Jeff said...

I hope you continue, Jim. Your writing here is interesting and on a subject we all care about. I'd like to see you keep going.

Anonymous said...

Please keep pounding Jim. I understand your frustration. Sometimes it seems the corporate owners of media outlets think the First Ammendment is important only when it is not applied to them. We need those who point out that the changes taking place in the media today affect all of us. Good solid journalism is often about criticism. No one likes to receive it, but the good ones no you can't get better without it.

Anonymous said...

This industry is crumbling under the weight of money-hungry fools who believe news is nothing more than a "wrapper" for advertising. Please continue to be a voice of integrity for the fourth estate.

Anonymous said...

Just like the old saying that doctors and nurses make lousy patients, journalists generally hate when they become the target of someone else's story. But journalists need to be held accountable just as much as those they cover. Don't give up.

Lisa Glass said...

Jim, you must absolutely continue. No one else is doing what you do. I enjoy reading your posts, and greatly appreciate that they're there. Don't make me start wondering aloud, "Now WTF are they doing?"

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work and the blog!

Journalists who are afraid of being "the news" are in the wrong business for the wrong reasons and are probably not real journalists.

It makes me want to puke when the very people who stand up and scream to the world about free speech while wrapped in the constitution often don't see it that way when they are on the other side. Hypocrits, every last one of them. The bright shining light of the public eye should shine equally on everyone, press included. The press as a general group is far to biased already. It's folks like you who work daily to keep them honest. Who's watching the watcher? Jim is, and I trust what he says is the truth!

Far too often these days people don't have the integrity to "man-up" and admit their mistakes. In many cases, news wouldn't be news if someone just stood up and said, "Yep, I did that, it's my fault, now how can we fix it and move forward?" Instead, they hide behind PIOs, cover up emails, and shred documents. The truth will set you free.

As president Lyndon Johnson once said, "Now I want to make myself perfectly clear. I’m not asking for Government censorship or any other kind of censorship. I am asking whether a form of censorship already exists when the news that forty million Americans receive each night is determined by a handful of men responsible only to their corporate employers and is filtered through a handful of commentators who admit to their own set of biases.”

Anonymous said...

Jim,

Continue only if it puts money in your pocket or adds meaning to your life. If it doesn't do either of those things, then discontinue this blog.

More importantly, you should put off your decision for a couple of weeks, to give you time to know what you want to do, otherwise you might be influenced unduly by momentary factors, such as a snarky comment from someone in the media.

Weigh the big picture, Jim.

Bage said...

Hey Jim .. Keep it up.
Professionals need to be just that and be able to separate from the personal. So long as you stick to your journalistic ethics of fact checking and give me (us) an unbiased view of the goings on in the media, you have nothing to be anxious about. If you writings cause a journalist, editor, news director or general manager to be introspective about how something is handled or the way they are running their operation, all the better. It is your blog, you can write what you like and I choose to read it. Others can make their own choice. I will continue to read because of the journalistic approach you take to it. If someone gets their feathers ruffled in the process, so be it. Welcome to life in the big city. If for whatever reason, my feathers get ruffled I may comment on a post publicly but not through a private email. With "all due respect" that is a chickens#$& way out and does not add to the free flow of discussion. Regardless, I will be big enough about it to keep our friendship in tact.
Bage

Anonymous said...

Keep up the good work.

There is too little enlightened criticism of broadcast journalism, especially local news. John Carmody set the standard for years at the Washington Post. TV Newser covers the networks and cable channels. You fill a gap for news consumers in Austin.

Steve Hall

Zack Isaacs said...

You should definitely continue! You are my online journalism mentor. I enjoy your work! And I'm sure your 93 year old dad might not like being called "Mr. McNabb" either. :) But I understand what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Jim, you're absolutely correct in saying that this blog fills a void that no one else is.

You're also absolutely right when you say someone needs to keep an eye on the media to make sure it's doing its job.

However, before you continue, I think you need to step back and re-analyze your own reporting.

You rip into the media for not doing solid reporting and chastise reporters and news directors for only wanting to make money and find fame.

And yet you yourself "analyze" the media through such biased lenses as to skew any possible intelligent insights you might have come up with.

Isn't that ironic?

This void is only worth filling if it can be done by someone who knows true reporting.

The Hungry Texan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I have to give a sports anaolgy here that I tell my kids all the time. When a coach is hollering at you, it may hurt your feelings a little but it means they care and believe you can do better. It's when they STOP getting on you when you need to worry because they've given up on you.

I was inspired to get into journalism by "All the Presidents Men" and found a way out of mainstream news when that sort of news seemed to disappear. Jim, what you write here NEEDS to be written and people especially journalists should respect their profession the way you do!

Gray

Jake said...

"Are you crying? Are you crying? Are you crying? There's no crying. There's no crying in baseball!"

Love, Jake

Anonymous said...

Hey Hungry Texan:
I called the AT&T Conference Center, that's how they pronounce the restaurant. The Carillon is pronounced the "Carrol-lawn".
So Hungry Texan... the one who claims to be the Edwin Neumann type-focusing on grammar... you might want to verify your criticism. The Noon anchors pronounced it correctly.

B-Ray said...

I agree with the rest; keep it up. People will always focus on the negative that you report, but you also highlight the good, too. And as long as you are respectful and truthful, you will always have a wealth of supporters. People like commentary, and people like you.