Homewood Nation

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Homewood15208

BTC: Decisions, decisions...

Posted on February 16, 2012 at 11:20 PM

BTC stands for "Behind the Curtain," and signifies a post relating to how "Homewood Nation" works, and thoughts about journalism in general.


A quarter of a century ago, I was a campus minister with the Coalition for Christian Outreach, which among things sponsors an annual conference called Jubilee (coming up this weekend). One year, the description in the brochure for a seminar about journalism said, "News is not what happens; it's what somebody tells you about what happens."


The reporting of news involves a great many decisions, beginning perhaps with the decision of what to cover. That decision itself requires the answering of multiple questions: does this require someone to go somewhere, or can they cover this story with phone interviews? Do we have reliable sources available? Is this matter even interesting - and if it is, is it important enough to readers/viewers to justify coverage?


In the piece that I just posted about tonight's meeting at George Westinghouse Academy (aka "Pittsburgh Westinghouse"), I said,


I would rather have attended a Post-Gazette town hall meeting that was held this evening that included Homewood artist Vanessa German on the panel.

I decided to go to the meeting because I thought that it might be more "intense," as I put it. 


Perhaps you've heard the saying, "If it bleeds, it leads."


That saying, referring to journalism's tendency to veer toward the loud, the oulandish, the tragic, the downright gory, does not express merely a belief that such news will sell papers (or air time or pageviews); it expresses the deeper belief that it will do those things because that is what interests people most.


(That, by the by, is one reason why I tire of the complaint about negative media coverage of our community. I don't know of any community that typically looks good in news coverage, because good news usually isn't news, period.)


So, I thought that more people would be more interested in the Westinghouse meeting than in the town hall, because I expected that the latter would NOT be characterized by angry shouting.


Part of me says, I should have gone to the town hall anyway. For several reasons.


First, because if I had thought about it, I would have guessed that the major media outlets were more likely to cover the Westinghouse meeting than the Post-Gazette's town hall. I need to prefer stories that other news organizations (ha! - I just called myself a news organization!) are likely to miss.


Second, because I was more attracted to the subject matter of the town hall - celebrating the influence of African-Americans in the arts - than in the subject matter of the Westinghouse meeting. I almost feel guilty for admitting that anything could be more interesting than what's happening with and to our kids. But that leads to making the distinction between what is interesting and what is important. The town hall was more interesting to me.


Third, even when considering importance as a criterion, the arts are hugely important, and the influence of African-Americans in the arts is hugely important. Heck, knowing more about the influence of African-Americans in the arts could help some kid make decisions that lead to life rather than to death.


In any case, the decision about what to cover sometimes involves the decision that "this is important enough to cover, whether our audience realizes it or not." One must be careful: a single step in that direction puts you a single step away from arrogance. But there really and truly exists the possiblity of helping readers realize the importance of something that they hadn't realized was so important before. And news organizations must honor that. (yeah, I said it again; training myself) 


Foruth, because I haven't written about Vanessa German yet, and that's just wrong. The woman is a freakin' force of nature, havng exploded on the PIttsburgh arts scene like a benign A-bomb. And everywhere she goes, she represents Homewood with a pride that dares you to question it. Go ahead, try. 


So what is the upshot of all this? I am going to work harder at having Homewood Nation choose stories that others might miss (or have missed). And - for the time being at least - when two possible stories are happening at the same time, I'm going to ask, "Which would I rather read about?"


****************

On a much more trivial note: the use of "Linda Lane" rather than "Dr. Lane" in the headline was just for fun; I think "Linda Lane" is fun to say, and it makes me want to ask if she has a sister named Lois who has a friend named Clark.

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