June 14th, 2010 18:13 EST
There is Nothing Journalists Do That You Can't Do, So Do It
Here we are, a graying nation overlooking what may be one of our most spectacular natural resources, the aging. Instead of imagining what they can do for us, we can`t imagine how to care for them.
It has been many years since idealism was a vital force in our newsrooms and the offices of media owners. Idealism has long since been trumped by the next dollar and the one after that. Newsrooms have been shrunk to shells of their former selves.
So here is what I propose: retirees gathering together, pooling their individual talents to pick up the ball the media have dropped, to investigate local, county and state government, to look under all the carpets that now bulge with wrongdoing.
No amount of campaign finance reform or revising the two-party system, as California has just done, will ever be as effective as scrutiny of local government. Only the vigilance of an informed electorate will rescue us from big money and ignorant or reckless candidates. Money, here as everywhere else, is at the root of the problem. The media giants that have gobbled up the local and regional press have decided that it`s too expensive to cover local affairs properly. The people themselves must step into this vacuum, and there is a way to do it.
Among our retirees are the forensic accountants, the financial analysts, the medical people, the conservationists, the scientists "the vast range of talents and disciplines that reflect our society "who could undertake the kind of restlessly inquiring journalism that has been sold out for quick profit.
It is a myth that editors and writers are the only ones who can conduct such inquiries. We don`t need polish as much as we need truth. And remember "any group of retirees is very likely to include a writer or an editor or two, someone who can polish the findings of others, just as rewrite people used to do in newsrooms.
What has changed that might make this idea feasible? The hyper-commercialization of the press, of course, but also the advent of the Internet. And it is precisely this kind of development, this kind of social use of the Internet, that the communications giants are now trying to prevent by bribing legislators into giving them the right to limit access to the Internet by imposed pricing tiers.
We have all read stories about retirees looking for creative ways to express themselves, to challenge themselves. Well, here is a challenge that could actually change the country in a very big way. Never mind the Tea Party with its bags of resentment, here is something positive to do, and it doesn`t depend on ideology. Yes, you will have disagreements with your collaborators, just as news people have always had, and often your opinions will be sorely tested by the facts, but remember that journalism is not about the proof of an idea, it`s about truth. Some notions, some hunches will prove out, some won`t. Some good guys will turn out to be bad guys and some unlikable guys will turn out to be the good guys.
You think your local or county government is corrupt? Do something about it. You can. Gather a group of people, not like-minded ideologues, but skilled people of every persuasion, pick something to look into, and do it, post it on the web and watch the monkeys fall from the trees. Worried about libel? I bet you can find a retired lawyer to vet your posts.
This can be done all around the nation, and what will result is a nation dotted with the kind of feisty local news organizations that we once had before the corporate giants chewed them up and spit them out as trivial mush.
Start anywhere, with whatever interests your group. Make a list and see what excites your colleagues.
Or, if you`re a loner, fine, go it alone.
Think of it "an online newspaper that has guts, that isn`t bribed by its advertisers, that can take pictures, investigate events, and publish hour by hour. It`s a revolution waiting to happen. And it won`t take a huge investment. No bankers, no licenses.
You don`t need journalism degrees, you need nerve, verve, will power, and the skills you acquired in long careers, whether in nursing or mechanics or policing or accounting. As many skills are relevant as there are in society, because journalism is about everything.
You don`t need to join another fractious, angry splinter group. You don`t need to picket. You`re stronger, much stronger, than that. You can actually force the politicians and corporations to change by exposing what they`re doing and not doing. And that is exactly why the media are now owned by the corporate giants, so they won`t have to worry about scrutiny.
There are few limits to what you can do. Some of you can write about gardening or astrology while others of you pore through records in town hall or the school administration. Whatever your creative impulse is, there is an outlet for it in a citizen journalism.
Remember this: if we do not exercise our right to examine public records, that right will wither, and soon the government "whether local, state or federal "will claim that we don`t have the right. That is why what has befallen local journalism in our country is so disastrous. A right that is not exercised soon vanishes.
And remember this, too. All government is at heart local. Democracy does not begin or end in Washington. It begins and ends at home, in your home town where developers may be corrupting your elected neighbors, where embezzlers may be stealing your tax money, where banks may be screwing your friends and acquaintances, where an ecological disaster may be on the verge of happening. If you send corrupt officials to your county and state capitals, if you send the wrong people to Washington, you have no cause to complain about Washington. It`s up to you to vet them at home, and to do that you need an inquiring, fearless press.
What I am saying, as an old-timer and a retired journalist myself, is that you retirees can do it. And, if you find the right business minds among you, you might even be able to create viable business models that will eventually create jobs in journalism. You can do it, I promise you. There is nothing magical about journalism. It`s just dogged work, the will to find out, and a reasonable mastery of the language. It`s not rocket science. It doesn`t need credentials. But it needs the high ideals that corporate greed has stomped.
Ever wonder why Apple can create huge markets out of nothing while we can`t conquer cancer? Well, you can ask the questions the media aren`t asking. Perhaps it`s because the cancer treatment industry is so huge and profitable, hmmm? Now why do you suppose that story isn`t being pursued for the cataclysmic story it is? Could it be all those cancer treatment advertisements you see?
You get the point. And the beauty of it all is that it`s something you personally can do something about. You don`t need to persuade others. You don`t need to send your money to some campaign that may or may not waste it. You don`t need to sputter and fume. You can do exactly what we have always hoped our free " press would do for us. And you don`t need to be authenticated. You don`t need a press card, because you`re a citizen, and you have a right to ask questions and dig for answers.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com
Far From Algiers Video Trailer #1 from Brent Robison on Vimeo.