I have to admit that I was a little jealous of The Beacon staffers in our group that got to tour The Wall Street Journal and Buzzfeed during our annual CMA New York conference this year. My tour was Democracy Now! which didn’t mean very much to me at the time. I don’t have a television or a car, so that type of broadcast news rarely reaches me. But I had heard of Amy Goodman because I like to acquaint myself with as many bad ass female journalists as I can and Amy Goodman takes the cake. I was already a fan, but when I got the opportunity to watch her in action and sit down and speak with her I was in awe. Needless to say, by the time my four hour (yes, I wrote that correctly: FOUR HOURS) tour was over, I wasn’t jealous anymore. My brain was buzzing with what I had learned and new goals that snowballed out of that knowledge. Learning more about Democracy Now! made me realize what kind of journalist I wanted to be and the kind of journalism that is still lacking in our world.
When we toured the one story office of this little newscast, the books were what surprised me the most. Many offices have bookshelves on the walls, maybe even a few stacked up on desks, but they’re largely for show. They make for a good background setting or aesthetically they complete the vibe of the room. But there were piles of books disorderly stacked on the news desks pushed in the corner of DN!’s brick wall office. There were think pieces on the war in the Middle East. Histories of Indonesia and Afghanistan, documentary films on the criminal justice system in the U.S or Kenya. Everything you can think of and it wasn’t for show; it was a part of the reporting. Democracy Now! taught me the importance of context and why we need more of it.
Part of the tour included watching the live hour newscast as it was being filmed and distributed to local news stations across the country. One segment discussed the ousting of South Korean President Park Geun-hye. To discuss it, Goodman brought in a woman from South Korea to discuss how political movements and protests have been a long time effort in South Korea and they truly made the difference in ousting Geun-hye. The woman who was leading our tour, and later Goodman herself, emphasized how important it was that they had brought in a woman who was actually a part of the movement in South Korea to talk on the show. Apparently, this was unusual because many mainstream stations just bring on a news pundit who really has never been up close and personal with the issue. I went back and watched CNN, NBC and Fox’s coverage and I discovered that she was right. No other station brought on someone from South Korea to talk about it.
This was a theme in talking to Amy. This woman has been arrested and deported several times. Her colleagues have been dragged face down on the sidewalk to jail. She’s had her press credentials ripped off by secret service. And I don’t want to diminish the hard work that anchors at stations like CNN or NBC do (because they are also wonderful, and I’d still possibly like them to hire me one day) but there’s a reason the trouble makers from Democracy Now! get roughed up more than other news reporters. They talk to people directly. There is no middle man, no pundit usually. They don’t just report what happened, they get the context. They get the story. If there’s a protest happening on the sidewalk in front the DNC Convention, they’re going to go down with a camera and a microphone and cover it. Goodman was front in center at Standing Rock before any other journalist was.
But it’s not just about being first. Jumping into the thick of it despite the scary consequences is important. Talking to those directly involved instead of some middleman source is important.
But for me, it was all about the books.
Clare, Olivia and I were sitting in an Irish restaurant and bar the night after I had my tour. I was telling them about Amy and how amazing she was and her coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Olivia said that for all the news she had read about the protests happening at Standing Rock, she really didn’t know anything about the issue. That’s when I saw in action what Amy and everyone else at Democracy Now! was saying. It’s so disappointing that you can read multiple articles about an event and only know that it happened. As journalists, I believe it’s our duty to go beyond what happened and into the why. We need background and context. We need those books on the history of war in Indonesia. We need that documentary on the prison system in Kenya. We can’t be lazy because our jobs are too important. We can’t forget the why.
(On a side note: speaking with Amy also made me realize that while the Trump administration may be more flagrant with its ridicule and dismissal of the free press, journalists have endured abuse under many administrations. DN! successfully sued the White House Secret Service at the very tail end of the Bush Administration (but it was during Obama’s nomination acceptance at the DNC Convention). )