Archive for March, 2008

It’s Not About You
March 28, 2008

We were just finishing lunch when our Nextel beep-beeped from the assignment desk. The urgency in Robert’s voice told us to be on the way before he even gave us the address… urgent enough for us to divert the last bites of our lunch to the garbage on the way out.

We were less than a mile away from 21st and N. Bayshore.. it took just a few minutes to arrive at the condo construction site where a seven-ton section of crane had broken free from its tethers and crashed through an office.  The results were catastrophic; two men were killed, many of their co-workers hurt.

At home later that night, I tuned in to the late newscasts to see what had transpired in the hours since…  And that’s where I watched a fellow reporter give life to the sad stereotype of a television news reporter.

No names here – my intention is not to embarrass, just to groan more publically than I probably should.

This particular reporter happened to live near the construction site.  She had the presence of mind to grab a camera, hit record, and document what she was seeing. Good job – that’s good reporter instinct. Better yet, as a good samaritan, she also had the presence of mind to call 911.

But all that good stuff got lost in the report that made the news later that night.

Good hard work got buried in self-centered verbal debris. “I did this” and “I saw that” and  “I was able to … ”   the me-me-me-ness of it all felt less about the disaster and more about the reporter’s day.

An involved, passionate reporter gives life to the people and events in the report, connects the viewer to the material. That’s different from Being the story. And the line is not so fine, fairly easy to distinguish, and clear when it’s crossed.

The anchorman felt compelled to follow up with the question … “how traumatic was it for you?”

What might the families of the men who died have thought.

This is nothing personal, really.  It’s just that we television reporters have a hard enough time dispelling stereotypes and building good reputations without having our critics be right.

That plummeting crane cut short two lives in a sudden horrific instance. And eventually it may uncover serious and dangerous flaws in an industry important to our community.  Viewers deserve information …  what went wrong, how, why and what,  if anything, will change for them because of it.  Respect and sensitivity makes that more watchable.

School Dazed
March 6, 2008

Most of the students were easy to pick out in the gathering. They were the young people wearing red and black, the school uniform of Edison High School, which is where they were coming from when they joined the “rally”. The people who organized the “rally” wore in green t-shirts, one carried a bullhorn, and passed out press releases. There were a lot more of them than there were students.

The word “rally” in this case turns out to mean “prime opportunity to exploit an incident for press attention”. No matter that most of the people honestly involved in fixing what went wrong at Edison High last week have asked well-meaning outside groups like this one to please stay out of it.

Not that these “rally” organizers aren’t well-intentioned people committed to righting inherent wrongs. I’ve reported on more than a few of their events over the years. They have good points and raise interesting questions as self-proclaimed voices for those who have none. Their causes almost always involve a fight or protest against a power structure they accuse of usurping or violating the rights of the poor.

Trouble is, that may or may not be the case at Edison; details are still being sorted out of just what went down during the student protest that devolved into a melee and arrests.

We do know it started with some sort of a confrontation between a student and the assistant principal. The police reports indicate the student defied authority, got physical. The students are convinced the assistant principal got violent first. If that’s the case, why hasn’t that student filed a complaint?… minor technicality today at the “rally”, where the loudest complaints got the most knee-jerk attention from news cameras. And when students perceive that the cameras and microphones that seek them out for soundbites empower them with electronic and print bully pulpits, facts become less important than their very real righteous indignation.

It gets worse.

The diligent news crews today followed “rally” organizers to the door of the school police headquarters, where the chanting people in green-shirts, after making sure all the cameras were rolling, rushed the door and demanded a report that had been done on Restorative Justice, a model program created to manage peaceful conflict resolution.

Take a moment and consider the irony of that move.

The police officers on duty either didn’t have that report to give; the school police chief demanded they leave.

Turns out, the call for the RJ report was the whole point of the “rally”.

The Restorative Justice model is being used in various communities and schools nationally and seems to have a good track record. Miami-Dade School Police commissioned a feasibility study for its use in schools long before the incident at Edison. Its scheduled release was delayed last month, and “rally” organizers are sure that means cover-up and conspiracy. (No one at the rally could explain why anyone might conspire to hide a study on a method of conflict resolution). Hence the orchestrated bust-in at the HQ. Which did little else but make the “rally” organizers look like they needed training in restorative justice.

I asked a few of the Edison students who showed up to be part of the “rally” to explain restorative justice, seeing as that was they reason they showed up. One told me restorative justice would be the arrest of the assistant principal. Another just looked at me blankly before muttering something like uh-uh. Not one had a clue why they were there.

They did have a purpose there, though, which was to rant some more about how they are treated like animals at school, how their rights are violated, how teachers and administrators are criminals. No doubt their frustration is real.

They may or may not be right. We don’t know that yet. My guess is – a basic lack of respect and mob mentality fueled much of what went on that day. Possibly all the way around.

So here come the “rally” organizers. Instead of showing these young people how to speak, act and empower themselves in tense situations, they use them as the news hook for their latest media attention.

They are so intent at railing against the system, they fail to see they can use it to effect change.

What kind of lesson is that for the Edison kids?

Bloody Monday
March 3, 2008

Put aside, for a moment, the ongoing debate over whether broadcast news is too crime heavy. This isn’t about that.

That said, “This just in…”

The first seven minutes of tonight’s newscast involves shootings.

Subtract time allocated for weather, sports and commercials, and about half tonight’s broadcast is devoted to guns fired in our community and the bloody, horrific aftermath.

Doesn’t that shock your senses? Shouldn’t it?

Today’s bullet points:
* A man with a gun walked into a Wendy’s in West Palm and fired randomly, fatally.
* A convict with a gun shot a rookie officer in the south end of Miami-Dade County.
* A man with a gun murdered a cabbie in Miami Springs.

If you want to go back a few days, you can include the student at Norland High School grazed by the ear, the carjacking victim in Opa-locka shot in the head, the North Dade teacher who might have been shot if a student’s gun didn’t jam.

Every one of these people were going about their day on familiar streets, in popular restaurants, and neighborhood schools with what we can increasingly consider a false sense of safety.

Because, with all due respect to the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” crowd, something is trending terribly wrong.

PS- As I look for the “send” button to post this entry, my colleagues on the assignment desk are calling out news of a shooting at a house in Miami Gardens…