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So far this school year, 36 children and teens have been murdered — more than one a week — and Pfleger is among a chorus of weary Chicagoans who say the slayings aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Had 36 kids died of swine flu this year, “there would be this great influx of resources that say, ‘Let’s stop this, lets deal with this,’ ” Pfleger said.
David Mattingly, CNN
The unfolding demise of credible journalism is due largely to a single cause — failed standards. Standards are what differentiates credible journalism from fiction, or inflammatory rhetoric typical of political commentary. Newsroom Magazine, for example, publishes its standards and policies under the Editorial Information heading. While the pages describing what this publication is about cover ideals, policies, principles and ethics, none of our standards deal with reportorial ( writing style, editing guides and fact checking ) standards typical of a metropolitan newspaper.
No publication, including this one, lives up to its good intentions, policies or ideals all the time.
Yet the reality that standards exist serve the reader in making her or his own judgment about the credibility of those offering news, information or commentary.
In recent decades our national obsession with short-term thinking, profitability as the only worthy goal of enterprise, and competition as a delimiter of public service has defiled public discourse and despoiled journalism in general and broadcast journalism in specific. For cable news organizations, such as David Mattingly’s ( CNN ), standards of journalistic merit, ethics, values and editing have been systematically relaxed, or simply abandoned in pursuit of higher ratings and higher stock values. Absent such standards journalism becomes entertainment for where there are failed standards there is fading journalism.
Ted Turner’s high expectations have been watered down in favor of entertainment values that favor conflict over reason, exposé over what’s expository, and inflammatory language where once being credible was all that mattered. Big media, whether CNN or Chicago’s big media owned television news operations air what’s in their best interests, not what’s in the best interest of their viewers or their nation.
Being conflicted is not new to CNN, for from the moment Ted Turner bought into the grand AOL-Time Warner scheme, both he and cable news stepped outside standards-driven legitimate journalism and into the theatrical arena legendary CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow once described as the freaks and the clowns.
There are many excellent journalists at CNN — people who care about their profession, people who demand much of themselves, and who feel trapped in an organization often at war with itself over what it ought to be doing and what it delivers. But CNN is operated as a money machine, not the most credible broadcast news operation that Ted Turner gave the world. As a result, good journalists, including David Mattingly, find they can report on the failures of journalism outside of CNN but not in Atlanta.
Mattingly’s point is valid — for the media seeks to keep us hooked on what’s entertaining or obsessive at the cost of informing us about what matters most. The result is coverage of what is thus far an insignificant new influenza strain. By failing to put the H1N1 ( Swine Flu ) into perspective both the Chicago media and all the cable news outlets feed on our curiosity, emotions and thirst to be entertained.
Newsroom Magazine contributor Richard Evans, who reports on a wide range of media, found the placement, usage and context of David Mattingly’s package on Chicago’s gun related violence to be expository of failed standards at both the Chicago media and CNN.
May 7, 2009
Segment: 10:00 EDT
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN, the most trusted name in news. Now back to the CNN NEWSROOM.
LEMON: I want you to pay attention to this story, because it is a scene of despair. It is becoming all too familiar.
In the city of Chicago, candles like these, grieving loved ones, standing vigil, families gathering to cry over the violent death of another young person. Our David Mattingly reports on what’s going on from Chicago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Count how many lady bugs are there.
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Kindergarten turned out to be a lot harder for Martrell Stevens than his mother could’ve ever imagined.
MARTRELL STEVENS, SHOOTING VICTIM: Fine.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Fine.
MARTRELL STEVENS: Fine.
MATTINGLY: A year ago, he was sleeping in the car as his mother prepared to pull out on to a Chicago street when he was shot and partially paralyzed.
LAKEESHA STEVENS, SON WAS SHOT: It can happen to anyone. You can be walking, you can be walking, you can be anywhere. It can happen to anyone.
MATTINGLY: Martrell easily could have died. In just this school year, more than 30 school-aged children are dead. Their faces are posted online by the “Chicago Tribune,” silent reminders of the growing mountain of grief.
DIANE LATIKER, FOUNDER, “KIDS OFF THE BLOCK”: They come by here, they do this. They come by here in cars and families come and cry. You can hear them in my house screaming.
MATTINGLY: Diane started this memorial in a vacant lot hoping to shock the city into action. She started with 30 stones marked with the names of 30 young victims. Today with 153 stones, she’s the one who is shocked.
(on camera): Who is failing these kids?
LATIKER: We all are.
MATTINGLY: Is it the city? Is it the police? Is it the schools?
LATIKER: We all are.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): The youngest victim remembered here was only 10. Among them, 16-year-old Blair Holt, the aspiring song writer whose death sparked protest and demands for action.
(on camera): But two years later, the violence is getting worse, not better. We wanted to know why more young people are dying this year than last, and what is being done about it. But community activists tell us they’re at a loss to find any simple explanation.
(voice-over): The recent discovery of a 15-year-old who was beaten, shot in the head, and burned took the out of control violence to a frightening level. Chicago’s father Michael Pfleger thought it was time to put out an SOS.
(on camera): That’s a pretty strong message, what are you trying to say?
REV. MICHAEL PFLEGER, ST. SABINA CHURCH: Well I think it is strong. I think it’s a radical move, but I think it’s a radical problem.
MATTINGLY (voice-over): He ordered the church’s flag to be hung upside down, a symbol of distress.
PFLEGER: This is an epidemic.
MATTINGLY (on camera): If we had this many Chicago young people dying of swine flu, what kind of resources would you see coming to this city?
PFLEGER: There would be a great influx of resources to say let’s stop this. Let’s deal with this.
MATTINGLY: But because it’s violence, what are we seeing happening?
PFLEGER: We’re hiding it. We’re ignoring it. We’re denying the problems.
MARTRELL STEVENS, LAKEESHA STEVENS’ SON: I can walk well (INAUDIBLE).
MATTINGLY (voice-over): But there’s no denying the loss. Martrell Stevens is adjusting to his loss with youthful energy and optimism. In a city where dreams are disappearing he believes he will one day walk again.
LEMON: That was David Mattingly. And just last night, Chicago police shot and killed an 18-year-old gunman after they say he opened fire inside a convenience store.
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