Monday, June 29, 2020

The thoughts of a dying photojournalist: Part II

Let me be clear. I have a very bad heart. It is failing. But, that said, I watch my diet, I stopped jogging and have eliminated all exercise that causes a heart to race and I lost all the extra weight I was carrying.

The result is that I am doing far better than many would have foreseen. I am now on my second pacemaker/ICD and my granddaughters are rooting for me to get a third.

On the downside, I have my off days. Yesterday was an off day. My limbs felt like lead. When I took my blood pressure it was clear why I felt so sluggish. My blood pressure had dropped to 79 over 50. My pulse rate was at 50 bpm, my pacemaker's lowest setting.

I am a little panicked about getting my thoughts out and I'm finding it far harder than I had ever imagined. Journalist do not want to hear, let alone consider, any criticism. Damn but they are thin skinned. I have had very little push back when it comes to facts. But I have endured a lot of nasty insults, many lies have been hurled my way. After tweeting an insult, the nastiest journalists cut our connection and block or mute me.

This is a reaction that I believe would make Donald Trump proud. If journalists want to be taken seriously, journalists have to respond to serious criticism, thoughtful takes on the problems facing the industry. They must respond with measured words and not angry, emotional insults reminiscent of the childish insults of a school yard bully or an orange-haired president.

Speed kills

I like to say news stories are put together at warp speed because the speed, often demanded by a fast approaching deadline, warps the stories. Sometimes to the breaking point. Reporters strive to tell the truth, to be fair, to stick to the facts. But how does one recognize truth, recognize a fact? This can be harder that you might imagine, especially when your time is limited.

When I was working as a journalist for an online digital publication, I covered an Ann Coulter talk at Western University. When she cancelled her next night's talk at the university in Ottawa,  I wrote a piece on that as well.

My report drew a lot of flak from a local journalist, a very good journalist I might add. He is one of my reporter heroes. I found it very upsetting that he took such strong umbrage at my article.

As I recall, he wrote an opinion piece saying Canada had been embarrassed by the cancellation of Coulter's talk. Universities should not be places where free speech is blocked by mob action.

Coulter had claimed she was forced to cancel by the large number of unruly protestors who had gathered a short time before she was slated to speak.

He challenged me to a debate in the weekend paper. He said he could back up every fact as he had checked them all with other journalists at other publications.

I agreed to debate him. I had a different take because I'd take a different approach. I knew I was right. I'd contacted the Ottawa university, the police tasked with providing security, I tracked down people who attended the event, or non event as it was cancelled, and I talked to Ann Coulter's people as well. And I downloaded some unedited images of the crowd I obtained thanks to the Coulter team.

I was able to prove the talk had been cancelled many hours earlier than was being reported. It was cancelled before any large group, any mob, had gathered. Coulter's own unedited photos disproved her claims. The journalist begged off. We would not have a debate in the weekend paper.

The lesson here is that it is very dangerous to get one's facts from other publications. When I got into the news business, this might not have happened. We had more time to chase down facts in the early '70s. Good journalism takes time and the business has always short-changed journalists when it comes to time but today the problem is worse. Hedge funds don't care about news.

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