Light House Keeping

There is so much news, many of us feel as if we are swimming in it. The death toll of the virus continues to climb, and infection is still spreading. The economic crisis is still in early stages, and there are daily shifts in contributing factors. The protest marches happening around the globe have only slightly subsided, and the need for major changes in our culture creates a need for critical conversations.

This is why we need journalism.

I’ve been surprised over the last few weeks by correspondence from people who seem unaware or just uneducated as to how journalism works. The people running the propaganda machine would prefer that you stay uninformed. There are very specific traditions that Culver City Crossroads works within; they can be found at any newspaper. Some light housekeeping seems called for, just to clean up a few definitions.

An article is considered the standard unit of news. There are facts, a date and maybe even a time of day cited, a location, and the ‘lead’ – the who, what, when, and where that is the basis of what we call news. Most of our local news, information about when the parks are open or who has been appointed principal at one of our schools, is simple, straightforward stuff

An editorial – such as this one – is a more informal voice, often a conversational tone that offers thoughts and opinions. It might also include facts, statistics, or quotations, but it’s clearly the voice of the editor.  I opted to name this column “Just a Thought” because it’s a functional title. Here is a thought.

A letter to the editor is also plainly presented as correspondence from a reader. The title often includes the words “Dear Editor…” and we have a signature graphic of a light bulb that we have used since we began publishing. A light bulb is a cultural signifier of someone having an idea, so we thought it would create an easy visual identity.

We need journalism. A free press is so vital to a healthy society that it is mandated in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. Sadly, the standards upholding a free press have been purposefully degraded at a national and local level for years. The bait-and-switch of calling something news and then offering an opinion is a constant. Opinions become increasingly shrill in the need to be heard over the rest of the noise. Vision narrows – only a few news stories are covered by the majority of the large news outlets, and the narrative stays the same.

Culver City has had the unfortunate disadvantage of several media outlets dressing opinions as news, and spreading gossip as if it were fact. For many years. This degrades the whole standard of news, and leads to a sense of divisiveness that is almost cultural gridlock. Critiquing the actions of an elected official – which is journalism- is not the same thing as criticizing their personal life – which is gossip. Some have worked hard to blur that line. It needs to be crisp.

Social media has led us to behaviors that are extreme (and extremely harmful.) A random sample – I was looking a a thread on a friend’s social media, and the people discussing a public figure that had said something they disagreed with. Several people ardently wished them dead. REALLY? Someone you don’t even know should DIE because they said something you disagreed with? No one on the thread even paused. I started to comment on this, and then realized I would almost certainly be told I should die, as well. I do not need to attend every argument I am invited to. I left.

So journalism has an even more important duty, and that is to differentiate from social media. This is not the shrieking festival. There are plenty of places to do that, if that is what you want to do.

We do allow for people to post comments in response to an article ( or editorial, or letter) but you must sign your real name, and we do not publish any comments that use obscene language or make personal threats. We do publish all the letter to the editor that we receive; if correspondence is addressed to me personally, I might ask if it’s intended for the editor, to be published. Again, these are basic standards. You will find them at the LA Times, The Daily Breeze, or The Daily News. And we do offer posts on social media, as way to invite readers over to this site.

Accurate information allows us to make educated decisions, both as a society and as individuals.

So while swimming in the turbulence of pandemic, police reform and politics,  journalism can be a light house. We still try to publish all the good news we can find about Culver City, and connect people with essential  information.

We invite you to support, and subscribe. All the information on that is in the dark green box at the bottom of the page.

Judith Martin-Straw

 

www.culvercitysymphony.org

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