Just Say No To Crack

Our fireplace shortly after the last quake. Viva California!

I think I just had a thought. Wait, yep, I did. Okay, here it is.

We hear so much these days about the demise of journalism, about how newspapers are dead, ratings and subscriptions are down and hundreds, if not thousands of people are out of work. This truly sucks.

Now there is great journalism being done out there, in places, and there are some tremendous pieces being written, filmed and photographed, but there is also a lot of schlock being thrown at us, and if I had to say, I would guess the schlock far outweighs the great journalism.

Case in point, TV news running the “bear in a tree” story, which they have done in Southern California at least three times in the past few months. I know, I saw it. It’s pathetic, lazy and there is no excuse, with all that is going on, to do this. It proves that they, the media, think we are pretty stupid, and need to be “entertained” more than informed. Also, newspapers covering celebrity events for no real reason other than there are celebrities involved and they want to sell papers, news, whatever. Same with magazines who run celebs on the cover, regardless of the inside content or photo magazines putting supermodels on the cover, regardless of inside content. In my mind, you deserve to lose subscriptions.

But, something even more poignant just peaked my interest, something I think reaches the DNA level of what is wrong with our “media” or journalism world.

Wait for it…wait for it…

The retouched journalist headshot. Am I the only one who finds this REALLY odd.

So let me get this straight. You’re a journalist, and you write the news. You cover issues with “truth and an impartial view,” but your headshot is fake? Now this might seem like nothing to most people, which is precisely why I think it is a big deal.

The journalist is selling an untruthful representation of themselves, but only writing the truth? How does that work? I know, I know, it might seem really inconsequential, but what it does in my mind is get the ball rolling in the wrong direction.

And when I say “retouched” folks, I’m not talking about 1985, blemish removal, I’m talking total cerebral reconstruction. If you don’t know what happens in the world of retouching today, just so you know, we left Kansas a long, long time ago. Gone are the days of blasting away zits, and in are the complete recreation of human beings. Think I’m exaggerating, stop by a retoucher and ask to see the before and after images. You will be amazed, or horrified. In many of the celeb images we see today, there is nothing untouched from head to toe. Heads are reshaped, necks, backs, legs, etc, even hair and feet. Nothing is real. I’ve even seen this disease creeping into the kid photography realm, which in some ways is even more alarming. Let’s get our kids thinking about a completely unrealistic vision of themselves, right from the beginning! That sounds really healthy.

As you can tell, I detest even the idea of retouching. It’s fake. And for me, it stands for precisely the opposite of what photography, or journalism for that matter, is all about. For me the math is simple, camera + moment = reality.

And now I see the same being done with the headshots of those we hold to be “watchdogs of the people.” Well I don’t buy it.

I think the problem with journalism can be traced to this exact thing. Doubt. Suspicion. Skepticism. Misrepresentation.

How can you misrepresent your own image, and ask to be believed?

Are you a celebrity, like the folks you are writing about? Are you part of the news? Or, are you strictly a vessel of delivery?

Me, I think many journalists have become part of the story, and that is where the foundation shows signs of a major crack. In my mind, you can’t do that. If you do, gone is your credibility.

I shouldn’t hear you. I shouldn’t see you, especially a fake impression of you, but what I should see and feel is the only the power of your work. And I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that what you say is the truth, or as close to the truth as you could possibly get.

I don’t feel that right now. I see those glamor shot mugs and think, “What’s next?”

This really strikes a nerve with me. To me, journalism is sacred, not casual, nor should it be cowed to the level of entertainment shows, and frankly I think that is what is happening. Me, I’m going to boycott any report, story or project that is accompanied by any perfect skin, perfect teeth, 30 pounds slimmer than they actual are, anchor, reporter, photographer, etc. I’ll probably be left without my news, but there are worse things in life.

I’ll leave you with one last experience. Last night I found a documentary on one of the few channels I get. It was really good. I only watched a few minutes, but what I did see was well done. Then suddenly we went to commercial. And there she was. A well known celebrity, only it really wasn’t her, it was some bastardized, digitally retouched, motion version of her, and I mean REALLY INSANELY OVERDONE OVERTOUCHED GHASTLY HORRIFYING VERSION OF THIS POOR WOMAN WHO UNDOUBTEDLY SIGNED OFF ON THIS HORROR SHOW. I was mesmerized as this creature stared back at me with lifeless eyes, or at least what was left of those eyes, and skin that was completely devoid of, well, skin. It was the orangeish, plastic looking stuff that is left when retouchers take all the human parts of the person away. I felt like my soul had been discarded in a roadside bin.

Is this really what we want people? Really? I can’t imagine this is where we all thought the ship was headed. I’m so glad we developed these tools, they are so perfect for overpowering nature and providing us with completely unrealistic material.

Me, I’m going to write a letter. Yep, a letter, specifically NOT an email. And I’m going to send it to the company that made this horror flick. They need to hear it, from at least one person. Might as well be me.

Onward and upward.

Distinguished Speaker: Robin Wright

Last night I was fortunate enough to attend yet another of the Newport Beach Public Library’s Distinguished speaker series featuring mega-journalist Robin Wright. If you live in this area and don’t know about this series, or have not yet attended one of these events, hang up from this blog and get your tickets for the next shindig.

As for last night’s speaker…not really sure where to begin. If you based your assessment of her credentials on her experience in a SINGLE Middle Eastern country, you would be amazed at her depth, history and comprehensive reporting from the scene. Now, throw in the rest of the Middle East, Africa, and many of the world’s other trouble spots and you are beginning to get the picture of who this woman is and a little about what she has done. Beginning in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, she was either in attendance or reporting on most of the major events in the region. She has interviewed Arafat, Kadafy and even Ahmadinejad the current lightning-rod leader of Iran.

Her lecture focused on the “Future of the Middle East,” a topic critical not only to the European theater, but also the rest of the world. Most of us think our relationship with the Middle East is most easily observed at the gas pumps, but it goes far beyond that, and our current, political situation shows just how much we have to learn in regards to this area, the population, religions and our future if we are to coexist.

Her lecture was encompassing, but featured two points I thought most poignant. First, odds are, we have not seen the last of the terror attacks on our soil. Not that this is a big surprise, but the planners are still planning and killing us is a at the top of the daily “to do” list. Second, and perhaps most important, there is a sliver of hope from the region. Wright said that for the first time there seems to be a feeling that fundamentalism might not be able to provide for the future, that war, killing and driving wedges between peoples is not the future the population wants to endure.

The greatest leaders of people have always been those that unite, and many of these fundamentalist groups have yet to learn this, or don’t believe this to be the main goal. Imagine the power of feeding your people, of building infrastructure and of providing a vision of a future that offers even the promise of peace.

Just for kicks, I’ve included my notes from the night. Good luck reading them.