Sunday, July 25, 2010

Thank You, Keith Olbermann

I am a former journalist, who helped racially integrate The Greensboro Daily News in the 1970s, who was the first black man to become an editor at The Miami Herald (that was '84), who was the lone black editor at The (Bergen) Record in Hacksensack, N.J. and, even then, became a reporter to live in a public housing development in Paterson, N.J. to chronicle the arrival of a new drug called crack.

It was 1985, and my senior editors back then didn't think there was much to covering this drug epidemic. I had weeks of notes detailing that this was serious stuff, that 5,000 people were warehoused in a den of dope and a nexus of crime just short of murder.

Of course, my white editors didn't see it coming, but I did. Then, and tragically fortunate, came the death of Len Bias. He died of a coke overdose and -- SUDDENLY! -- my white editors got religion. They allowed me to spend six months eating, sleeping and "gathering string" for our ground-breaking series, "The Poisoning of a City."

It won no awards, because the editors didn't submit the series, newsroom politics being alive in well at this same newspaper that wrote "Goetz Vindicated" as a banner headline the day after he was found not guilty for shooting four young black robbers on a New York City subway train.

Not much has changed in journalism. Knee-jerk, feeble-minded -- and purportedly left-leaning -- journalists make those same sorry decisions on what's important or not for news consumers. They ignore, perhaps conveniently, the hard stories. Now, even more driven by the bottom line than ever, they push for instant gratification in the form of page views, or "hits," or some other metric that only God, Allah and Buddha together can understand.

Yet, as always, human lives are at stake. And nowhere have I seen the outrage more than in your recent take on the Shirley Sherrod debacle.

Thank you, sir. A hundred times thanks. The Fourth Estate has now morphed into some "Fifth Estate," as much a "Fifth Element" as the Bruce Willis sci-fi flick, and just as weird.

I just finished watching Howard Kurtz's "Reliable Sources" segment on the paucity of African-American journalists at the cable and network news tables in prime time.

Nothing much has changed, has it?

If you need a producer who knows how to get the story, I know a few -- some of whom are African American -- who can get the job done with vigor, ethics, creativity and courtesy, when such tact is needed. After all, isn't it still about covering the people, all the people, all the time?

Our job, as Joseph Pulitzer said, is "to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted."

Most of those in journalism have lost their way. Clearly, you are on truth's road. Continue to drop bread crumbs for journalism's wayward souls.

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