My Viola Vincent Reporting books are about the power of people to change things that aren't right in the world. If you're a kid, that can be hard. It takes a lot to get noticed and not be dismissed by adults who think someone else has put you up to it. There's no better modern example of the power of youth activism than the global school strikes currently being held around the globe demanding action on climate change. It started with one young woman with passion and tenacity. Greta Thunberg...
Last week California became the first US state to make it illegal to sell puppies from unlicensed breeders through pet shops. Let's hope other states follow suit. Its a great start that will close up one avenue for puppy mills to offload their 'stock'. But by far the biggest source of puppies is online sales where they are traded as casually every other consumer commodity available - clothing, shoes, CDs and cosmetics. Online selling enables unscrupulous puppy breeders to post cute photos that may or may not be of the actual puppies they're selling and don't show the genetic defects or health problems they may be harboring. One UK website said online sales of dogs and puppies has increased 800% in the past 10 years. It is known that, heart breakingly, up to 20 per cent of these pups will die within 6 months of purchase because their health is compromised by the appalling conditions they re raised in. Many will have genetic defects caused by in-breeding and over-breeding. Please don't fuel this industry by buying dogs online. Wise up and do your homework. Know where your new pet has come from and make sure you see with its parents. Better still get your pet from a rescue centre. Worldwide they are bursting at the seams with animals looking for some kindness and a loving home.
I took a deep breath and opened the door. The meeting was well underway. The attendees swivelled around to look at me and the politician at the lectern scowled.
I nodded apologetically and tucked my tape recorder under my arm. I cursed my heels as I clopped across the wooden floor heading for a seat at the back. The politician stopped and peered over his glasses. “So the media’s here,” he sneered. “Finally. Too much to expect that they’d be on time.”
Everybody turned to look at me, heads bobbing, eyebrows knitted with collective contempt. I felt like yelling ‘You bastard. That’s so unfair. I’m late because I am the only reporter on duty tonight and have been covering a car crash that killed a child!’ Instead, I slid down in my seat, my face burning.
On the scale of humiliation, it was nothing compared to what young NBC reporter, Kay Tur must have felt being repeatedly singled out for scathing criticism by Donald Trump while reporting on his run for president. Tur tells of her ordeal in her just released book Unbelievable.
Trump called Tur a ‘third-rate reporter’ said she ‘should be fired’, that her reporting was ‘dishonest’, that she was ‘incompetent’ and that she ‘lied’. He attacked her so personally at one rally that she had to be escorted out by the Secret Service because of fears pumped-up Trump supporters might physically harm her.
Such an attack on an individual journalist is deeply disturbing and probably unprecedented in modern politics. Good on Tur for using her skills to expose the reality of being on the receiving end of such nasty, cruel and systematic bullying.
Trump’s demonising of the media, pre and post election, has been unrelenting and obsessive, a crass attempt to unite the masses against a common enemy, not so much to ‘shoot the messenger’, but mow down entire networks.
So how are we supposed to respond to this? To the veterans among us the strategy is so unsophisticated and over-the-top it’s hard to take it seriously but daily claims of ‘fake news’ and the portrayal of journalists as ‘dishonest’, ‘bad’ and ‘crooked’ must be doing some damage.
My interest is with young people and how this is landing with them. What are they to make of this increasingly complex world where a hugely influential politician demonstrates zero respect for the press, manufactures his own fake news and uses social media to insult, bait and discredit others?
In my lifetime I’ve seen the power of good journalism topple governments, expose war crimes, unmask institutional child abuse, crusade for social justice and overturn wrongful convictions. This was the work of watchdog journalists who were prepared to invest weeks and months, sometimes years, in painstaking investigations and verifying the facts.
This type of journalism is still happening - ask Harvey Weinstein - but the true craft of investigative reporting, that inspired many to enter the profession, has lost its distinct identity. It has become part of the amorphous mass media and been devalued.
As Lorraine Branham, Dean of the S.I Newhouse School of Public communications at Syracuse University recently wrote in the Huffington Post, “the terms journalism and ‘the media’ have become interchangeable and that’s part of the problem, because media includes everyone- the pollsters, the pundits, the spin doctors. They are not journalists but they help create the avalanche of information in which true journalism often gets lost.”
Branham is calling for journalism schools to differentiate the true craft of journalism from ‘the media’, revitalise the role of the watchdog journalist and teach students to pursue the truth, wherever it takes them. “In this post-truth era, we must fight to ensure that journalism lives to speak truth to power another day. Not because we think it should but because we know it must.”
Rather than being dark days for journalism, particularly in the US, this is a time for the profession to recalibrate and re-establish its founding principles. To educate a generation that may be unaware of the constitutional role of a free press and its importance to democracy.
Maybe some broader education is also needed for news consumers, to define what journalism is and, more importantly, what it isn’t. It’s not blogs, spin, comment and click-bait and it’s certainly not tweets from a partisan politician.
For outing unacceptable behaviour and standing up for common standards of decency in the treatment of others, Katy Tur has done us all a favour. I like to think my indignant 20-something self may have also made a small contribution in that draughty hall many years ago.
The meeting finished and the politician saw off the last of his devotees. He turned to me and smoothed his lapels. “So you’d like to interview me?”
“Possibly,” I said, making no attempt to reach for my tape recorder, “but first I’d like to talk to you about how you treated me when I walked in.” He looked shocked but I got a genuine apology. It was another era and, unlike Trump, this guy totally grasped that a politician without an audience is nobody.
Hey kids, If you're are interested in journalism and want to read about a true heroine of the trade, check out Ten Days a Madwoman by Deborah Noyes. It is a book about the first female investigative reporter, Nellie Bly.
Women had no place in journalism in the late 1800s, but that didn’t stop Nellie. She began her extraordinary career by having herself committed to an asylum to expose the horrific conditions there and later reported from the front lines of World War I, circumnavigated the globe in 72 days, and worked to shed light on corruption and the abuse of power. T
Nellie Bly became a household name and raised awareness of political corruption, poverty, and abuses of human rights. Leading an uncommonly full life, Nellie circled the globe in a record seventy-two days and brought home a pet monkey before marrying an aged millionaire and running his company after his death.
You should be able to get the book through your local bookstore or download here https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0147508746?tag=randohouseinc7904-20
People power at work!
A 13-year-old Kiwi girl has succeeded in forcing a change of heart on the huge supermarket chain Countdown regarding the sale of caged eggs. Maja Skilling turned her concern for the welfare of hens into action by starting a petition which attracted almost 20,000 signatures. Her petition has made an impact on Countdown’s decision makers and shows that determined young people can create positive change.
Well done Maja!
If you care about dogs like I do, you'd have to be shocked by the callous trade in designer puppies that seems to be growing around the world. There has been a lot in the media lately about people, some criminal gangs, breeding puppies for profit. The mums are just puppy-producing machines, typically kept in appalling conditions. The puppies are often born with health conditions caused by careless breeding and diseases caught by being kept in filthy conditions where bugs spread. Some die within days of purchase.
Animal welfare agencies are asking people not to buy puppies online or from pet shops, which are often supplied by 'puppy farms'. If you want a puppy or dog, think about getting one from a rescue centre. And be aware that some breeds like pugs and French Bulldogs, made popular by celebrities, have problems such as breathing difficulties caused by their flat faces. Don't encourage the mass breeding and suffering of these animals by feeding this demand. Dogs are not accessories and possessions, they are living creatures who deserve better.
I just love the courage of teen vogue editor, Lauren Duca, in calling Trump out over his dishonest, racist, sexist and destructive utterings. Young people care passionately about this stuff.
"Trump won the Presidency by gas light. His rise to power has awakened a force of bigotry by condoning and encouraging hatred, but also by normalizing deception. Civil rights are now on trial, though before we can fight to reassert the march toward equality, we must regain control of the truth. If that seems melodramatic, I would encourage you to dump a bucket of ice over your head while listening to “Duel of the Fates." Donald Trump is our President now; it’s time to wake up."
For a fashion magazine to honour the intelligence of its readers with such meaningful and critical content is to be applauded. Read Lauren's full editorial here: http://www.teenvogue.com/story/donald-trump-is-gaslighting-america
Curiosity killed the cat’ is an old saying invented by grown-ups to stop kids asking questions. My dad encouraged me to ask questions and I’m glad he did. I guess that’s why I became a journalist. Good journalism is all about asking questions and continuing to ask them even when people don’t like it.
Being a bit nosy can be a good thing especially if your questions result in things changing for the better. Sometimes we accept things in life that don’t make sense. For instance, why do we pay for bottled water when it’s free from the tap? Why are cigarettes still sold if they kill people, how can we have an obesity epidemic in one part of the world and starvation in another? How can someone who tells lies and preaches division become the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world?
A lot of good things have happened by people looking for answers to those sorts of questions. If curiosity killed the cat that’s bad news for the cat but unless you have whiskers and a tail, don’t be put off. Like Caitlin, the central character of the Viola Vincent series, I reckon not being curious enough is a greater risk to the world.