Reality Check: Dream on…

I hadn’t planned on writing a post about today’s commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, but then I read a tweet that got under my lily-white skin.

March on Washington, 1963 / photo:

I’m not going to call the reporter out but she too is white and works for one of the news networks. The gist of her #DreamDay tweet was that her family’s Washington, DC vacation coincided with today’s celebration and what a great moment for her kids to experience.

I wonder what exactly it is she hopes her children take away from today’s events? Yes, I’m sure it’s some message about equality and opportunity for all. They’ll spend the day feeling good about themselves, hanging with a predominately African American crowd on the mall at the Lincoln Memorial… and tomorrow they’ll head back to their segregated existence.

Okay, here’s where I have to say I don’t know this reporter personally. I’ve never worked with her but I’ve worked with many other women and men like her. I may be making assumptions. Perhaps her kids are enrolled in a public school, but chances are they are attending an exclusive private school where the student body both white and minority has been pre-selected to fit some income and/or test score criteria. Chances are likely if you asked her children to list their three best friends not one is black. I’m going to say it’s probably the same for her and her husband.

I can’t just put this all on her. I’m no better and neither are most of my white friends.

“The Butler” / photo:

My sister recently told me about going to see the movie “The Butler” at a theater in Connecticut. At the end of the film the crowd was clapping and teary eyed in that self-serving way that a mostly liberal leaning audience can be. The problem was they also all happened to be white. There’s a disconnect here folks. Yes, I’m going to celebrate your blackness today – but only at a safe distance.

Of course this reporter is not the only one who tweeted about today’s commemoration. The entire news media have also hopped on the bandwagon. In fact, they have devoted a number of stories and interviews over the past week about the importance of this day and where we as a nation stand when it comes to equality and opportunity for all. Some of the news organizations have even decided to air Dr King’s speech from that day. To what end I ask?

I’ve been in enough newsrooms to tell you it hasn’t escaped my notice that there are a whole lot of white people working there. And most of them with the big jobs are white men.

A recent article in the Atlantic confirms this saying progress has halted for women and minorities working in media. The article breaks down stats for newspapers, television and radio and includes this quote from Dori Maynard, President of the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education:

“The news media and the nation are moving in two different directions,” she says. “News media is getting whiter as the country is getting browner.” Journalists of color “feel their voice is not heard, their story ideas are not validated, and they don’t see room for advancement.”

Whoa, what’s that? Any of you news organizations want to start a #DreamDayFail hashtag? Didn’t think so…

We can all make ourselves feel good by posting 140 characters promoting equality and opportunity for all. We might even convince ourselves we’re advancing the cause but it doesn’t make a difference if we don’t acknowledge the situation right in front of us.

It takes more than re-airing a speech. News organizations have to learn how to live it. Here’s a thought – want to really feel good and make a difference today? Hire or promote a few more minorities and while you’re at it give them equal pay.

I guess, in the end, what I want to say to that reporter is yes, I hope today is a  special moment for her children and everyone else, but let’s not forget about tomorrow. There are special moments and opportunities everyday for both whites and minorities to bridge the divide if we are only brave enough to be open to them and to each other and be honest about the realities of our lives.

Katie Couric: Journalist or not?

Jennifer Aniston of all people has me thinking.  She recently did an interview with late night talk host Chelsea Handler where she questioned whether or not Katie Couric is a “legitimate journalist”. Ouch!

Jennifer Aniston /

Aniston posed the question after learning Couric had asked Handler if she had any details about the actress’ upcoming wedding during her daytime talk show “Katie”. I could question Aniston’s feigned surprise over the public’s interest in her personal life but that’s a whole other story.  While her remark seemed to be made in a moment of irritation she does raise a point. Never before in this industry have the lines between news and entertainment been more blurred.

I think much of this has to do with the evolution of news which for the most part has morphed into a form of infotainment. Much of this happened as a result of morning shows, a place where Couric gained her recognition.

File:Katie Couric VF 2012 Shankbone 2.JPG

I personally have always had a problem referring to myself as a journalist and I’m not sure why. The word carries such gravitas to me and I kind of feel I haven’t earned the stripes. Truth is I also feel like many others in my profession haven’t either.

Dan Gillmor who teaches and writes about digital media raises a similar question in a 2010 article for Slate. Gillmor writes that in this age of new media we are all capable of “committing acts of journalism” but that doesn’t necessarily make us all journalists. Gillmor says the better question to ask is “What is journalism?”.

If I follow Gillmor’s example, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric is journalism. “Katie” the daytime talk show is not. This is not to diminish Couric’s continued contribution to broadcasting. She still conducts newsworthy high profile interviews even “committing acts of journalism”, but CBS Evening News has a set of journalistic standards which a daytime talk show does not. Otherwise Ellen Degeneres, Wendy Williams and Marie Osmond could all be called journalists too.

What do you think? Do you call yourself a journalist? Should anyone be allowed to use that title? Does it matter?

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