Monday, April 28, 2008

Amy Goodman: There are good journalists

Portland is a bountiful burg that gives me access to some of the most amazing people. When I am driving home from another trying day in the newsroom, sometimes I have to repeat to myself the phrase ‘there are good journalists, there are good journalists,’ over and over until I make it through the Sunset Highway tunnel, past that long line of traffic, where I am delivered some days, by a beautiful view of Mount Hood peeking through the tall buildings. Only after that phrase is repeated and I get that view do I feel restored. Usually, the person I am thinking of when I repeat the ‘good journalist’ phrase, is the amazing Amy Goodman. If you haven’t checked her out, go to as soon as you can. Ms. Goodman was one of the people to grace me with her presence this week. After I saw her, I started composing a letter I probably won’t send:

Dear Ms. Goodman,
Thank you for your encouragement last night during your talk at the Bagdad Theater. As a journalist, your work is a daily inspiration to me. In fact, your approach on the issues and your ability to give voice to unrecognized heroes makes you one of my own heroes. And because of my admiration for you, I had to sit in the front row, where you got to witness my little daughter creating a royal scene. For that, I apologize. But I had to try. I brought my daughter, because i want you to be one of her heroes too. Your words about un-embedded reporting have rung in my head since I heard you talk…

Amy Goodman had just been to V to the 10th – the tenth anniversary of the Vagina Monologues in New Orleans. That lovefest at the Superdome was supposed to give women affected by Hurricane Katrina a chance to come back to their home town, some of them for the very first time since the storm. Goodman had broadcasted live from the event, just days before I saw her talk, so Katrina was on her mind. My radio show also had our own reporter on the scene – so I felt connected to her in some professional way too. Goodman told us the days after the storm were one of the few times the media “got it right.” While President Bush traveled back and forth from his Texas ranchette, and Condi Rice bought designer shoes, and members of FEMA wrung their hands instead of responding, the media was telling the real stories of people on the street. (Kind of like now, when the president insists there is nothing wrong with the economy, we’re not in a recession… while the headlines scream of people struggling…) For once, there were no “staging areas” for the media to gather at, no public information officers dictating reporters’ every move. They had to get their information from real people – raw and uncensored. Goodman talked about seeing a young CNN reporter interview a man who had just seen his wife carried away by floodwaters, and how the woman had told her husband “just take care of the kids,” as she floated away. The young reporter burst into tears during her live shot, on national television. That, Goodman said, is real reporting. I got chills. This, she said, is what happens when we don’t rely on what the ‘officials’ are telling us. When we think of our own questions to ask, instead of firing off quick rebukes to an official’s prepared speech.

Since then I have been thinking a lot about my journalistic training in college. I remember my teachers talking about pundits, contact lists, maintaining relations with public officials… but I don’t remember them telling us how to read between the lines. How to find out the stuff they’re not telling you. Where to go to find the untold stories – the ones that don’t come packaged in a pretty press release. I can tell you though, that those stories don’t come by sitting in a brightly-lit newsroom, surrounded by tv’s. “There are good journalists… there are good journalists…” That particular part of my training is coming along slowly, as I watch and listen to people like Amy Goodman, the people at KBOO and Free Speech Radio News, and the Pacifica network.
The little daily reports, stacking up to one big pile of truth. As Goodman said over and over that night "it matters, it matters. It all matters."

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