Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Promise of Our Profession

Some minor surgery keeps me home for the next week. I've spent that time working on the FCE Community calendar and catching up on my emails & reading.

I found this speech by Bill Moyers today. It is described as "Part biography, part reprimand, part love letter to the promise of his profession" (1)

Below are some quotes from that speech. It was written from his journalist point of view, of course, but I also read these words with an eye towards what this journey means for me as a Priestess and what these words mean for us here, as Pagans, working in the Craft, with a calling towards community.

Here Moyers talks about what it means "To tell the truth to power." For us, that includes telling the truth to our students, and to each other, and to Pagans as a group. It also means telling the truth about us, both good and bad, to the dominant culture. Read this, and instead of "journalist" read the word "Pagan" or "Priest/ess" and you'll soon see what I mean.


* “Decide that you want to be a scholar, a lawyer, or a doctor…and your path to the grave is pretty well laid out before you. Decide that you want to enter our rather less reputable line of work and you set off on a route that can sometimes seem to be nothing but diversions, switchbacks and a life of surprises…with the constant temptation to keep reinventing yourself.”

* Journalism has been a continuing course in adult education—my own....I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I’ve enjoyed the company of colleagues as good as they come, who kept inspiring me to try harder.

* Unless you’re willing to fight and refight the same battles until you go blue in the face, drive the people you work with nuts going over every last detail to make certain you’ve got it right, and then take hit after unfair hit accusing you of “bias,” or, these days, even a point of view, there’s no use even trying. You have to love it, and I do.

* His momma came out and, learning what the fuss was about, said to Boots and John Henry: “Don’t you know chicken snakes are harmless? They can’t hurt you.” And Boots, rubbing his forehead and behind at the same time, said, “Yes, Mrs. Faulk, I know that, but they can scare you so bad, it’ll cause you to hurt yourself.” John Henry Faulk told me that’s a lesson he never forgot. It’s a good one for any journalist to tuck away and call on when journalism is under fire.

* Our job remains essentially the same: to gather, weigh, organize, analyze and present information people need to know in order to make sense of the world....“no qualification tests, no boards to censure misconduct, no universally accepted set of standards.” Maybe so. But I think that what makes journalism a profession is the deep ethical imperative of which the public is aware only when we violate it....

* We practice this craft inside “concentric rings of duty and obligations: Obligations to sources, our colleagues, our bosses, our readers, our profession, and our community”—and we function under a system of values “in which we try to understand and reconcile strong competing claims.” Our obligation is to sift patiently and fairly through untidy realities, measure the claims of affected people, and present honestly the best available approximation of the truth—and this, says Ed Wasserman, is an ethical practice.

* One of the biggest changes in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. How do we fathom and explain the mindset of violent exhibitionists and extremists who blow to smithereens hundreds of children and teachers of Middle School Number One in Beslan, Russia? Or the radical utopianism of martyrs who crash hijacked planes into the World Trade Center? How do we explain the possibility that a close election in November could turn on several million good and decent citizens who believe in the Rapture Index?

* Ideologues—religious, political, or editorial ideologues—embrace a world view that cannot be changed because they admit no evidence to the contrary. And Don Quixote on Rocinante tilting at windmills had an easier time of it than a journalist on a laptop tilting with facts at the world’s fundamentalist belief systems.

* When they plunged those hijacked planes ...they were out to hijack our Gross National Psychology. If they could fill our psyche with fear— as if the imagination of each one of us were Afghanistan and they were the Taliban — they could deprive us of the trust and confidence required for a free society to work. They could prevent us from ever again believing in a safe, decent or just world and from working to bring it about. By pillaging and plundering our peace of mind they could panic us into abandoning those unique freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of the press—that constitute the ability of democracy to self-correct and turn the ship of state before it hits the iceberg.

* Will we be cowed by it? Will we investigate and expose its excesses? Will we ask hard questions of the people who run it? The answers are not clear....our government—with staggering banality, soaring hubris, and stunning bravado—employs to elicit public acquiescence while offering no criterion of success or failure, no knowledge of the cost, and no measure of democratic accountability.

* “Real news is the news you and I need to keep our freedoms.” Richard Reeves.

* The greatest moments in the history of the press came not when journalists made common cause with the state, but when they stood fearlessly independent of it.

* The bottom line “usually abhors whatever is more demanding and complex, slower, more prone to ideas, more challenging to complacency.”

* (studies) showed that from 1977 to 1997, the number of stories about government dropped from one in three to one in five, while the number of stories about celebrities rose from one in every 50 stories to one in every 14. What difference does it make? Well, it's government that can pick our pockets, slap us into jail, run a highway through our backyard or send us to war. Knowing what government does is “the news we need to keep our freedoms.”

* there is some world-class journalism being done all over the country today, but he went on to speak of “a palpable sense of decline, of rot, of a loss of spine, determination, gutlessness” that pervades our craft.

* A study by Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America reports that two-thirds of today’s newspaper markets are monopolies. I urge you to read a new book—Leaving Readers Behind: The Age of Corporate Newspapering

* A profound transformation is happening here. The framers of our nation never envisioned these huge media giants; never imagined what could happen if big government, big publishing and big broadcasters ever saw eye to eye in putting the public’s need for news second to their own interests—and to the ideology of free-market economics.....Nor could they have foreseen the rise of a quasi-official partisan press serving as a mighty megaphone for the regime in power.

* I’ve just finished reading Dan Gillmor’s new book, We the Media, and recommend it heartily to you. Gilmore is a national columnist for the San Jose Mercury News and writes a daily weblog. He argues persuasively that Big Media is losing its monopoly on the news, thanks to the Internet – that “citizen journalists” of all stripes, in their independent, unfiltered reports, are transforming the news from a lecture to a conversation. He’s on to something.

* (Thomas) Paine was possessed of an unwavering determination to reach ordinary people—to “make those that can scarcely read understand” and “to put into language as plain as the alphabet” the idea that they mattered and could stand up for their rights.

* the proper question is not whether you call yourself a journalist but whether your own work constitutes journalism..... “A journalist tries to get the facts right,” tries to get “as close as possible to the verifiable truth” — not to help one side win or lose but “to inspire public discussion.” Neutrality... is not a core principle of journalism, “but the commitment to facts, to public consideration, and to independence from faction, is.”

* “I believe democracy requires ‘a sacred contract’ between journalists and those who put their trust in us to tell them what we can about how the world really works.”



(1) Given at the Society of Professional Journalists conference on Sept. 11, 2004, just before he retired.

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