Ethan Casey is a Seattle-based international journalist, frequent public speaker, and author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004).

Monday, February 20, 2006

Who gets to practice journalism?

Saturday's Washington Post included columnist Colbert I. King's piece "Some Are Less 'Newsworthy' Than Others," which drew lessons from his paper's failure to report the November 2003 disappearance of black DC resident Marion Fye:

The decision to go with one story rather than another turns on what we in this business consider "newsworthy." It's an amorphous term, but editors claim to know it when they see it. Unfortunately, in my view, that decision seems to boil down to what those of us in newsrooms, and not readers, care about. …

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for not publishing a report. For example, the missing person is found before the story goes to press. But the fact is that inner-city events that some editors regard as routine -- the loss of a young man to gunfire, a mom separated from her children, kids left to fend for themselves -- are the kind of issues that people who live in those communities really care about.

I don't disagree with King, but I found his piece rather instructively myopic. For all his well-intentioned hand-wringing about the chronic disconnect between the Washington establishment (including the Post) and the majority of people who actually live in the city of Washington, King remains invested in a top-down, green eyeshade-era view of who is entitled or enabled to practice journalism. This blog and many others give the lie to the presumption that "we" have to sit around and wait for "them" to cover any event before it counts as newsworthy. I fully buy my sometime collaborator Jay Rosen's new gospel of do-it-yourself digital journalism: if the Washington Post isn't covering what you want covered, don't whine; get the word out yourself.

On a related note, Sunday's Los Angeles Times includes a fascinating interview with George Holliday, the man who shot the video of LA police beating Rodney King, 15 years ago March 3:

He has had problems, though it's hard to say how many of them have to do with his decision to make the video public. When we talked about it, he didn't spread the blame around. But he didn't have kind words for the media. He may have pioneered "citizen journalism," but he feels that he was swallowed up and spit out by CNN and the like, which, he said, gave him little credit and no compensation for his contribution to history. "I don't watch the news or read the papers anymore."

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