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Satyagraha - Dec. 2
by Jerrianne Hayslett
(No verified email address)
Current rating: 0
02 Dec 2003
The Satyagraha (Truth Force) is an ongoing weekly submission from Roger Goldblatt (this week written by Jerrianne Hayslett)
Dear Peace and Justice Progressives,
I just returned from a 5 day Thanksgiving trip to visit friends in North Carolina. I came across five women in black during a blizzard in Asheville, NC, during their weekly peace and justice rally last Friday, and I joined them for a little while!
Knowing I would not have time to write my Satyagraha, I asked Jerrianne Hayslett, whom I met a few weeks ago at the Media Reform Conference in Madison, if she'd write about her experiences as an editor of a daily newspaper --and why she quit the newspaper business.
I'm sure you'll find her story enlightening.
The power of the press is so important. When replete with integrity, democracy flourishes. When a tool of the State, democracy perishes. Note in Jerrianne's essay how the mullahs broadcast their message from loudspeakers mounted atop mosques.
The word gets out, one way or another.
Weapons of mass communication are very potent weapons. When our public airwaves are hijacked and manipulated, the result is a weapon of mass destruction.
FOX is a weapon of mass destruction as surely as anthrax or small pox. Here is Jerrianne's story:
"I became a journalist rather late in life, arriving there via an epiphany. I became a former journalist 12 years later after disillusionment in an isolated situation that I have come to realize was a forerunner of the corporate greed that has so devastated today's business of informing the public.
The epiphany dawned after my family lost everything but our lives during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The disillusionment grew out of the corporate takeover of a newspaper where I later worked as city editor.
Although I had been a free-lance writer for years, focusing primarily on life-style stories about life as a military wife and raising children, it wasn't until my experience in Iran during the Islamic Revolution, that I gave serious thought to becoming a trained journalist.
My husband was serving what the military calls an accompanied tour–meaning the family was included–in Tehran. Although tensions between the government and the people there were running high when we arrived in July of 1978, conditions became more dire during the ensuing months. By December, frequent gunfire echoed across the city. Cars set afire in the streets lit up the night.
Mullahs' voices blared through loudspeakers atop mosques exhorting the masses to revolt. Anti-American graffiti marred more and more walls and storefronts. Revolutionaries targeted U.S. military officers with their guns, sometimes accurately. The nightly curfew was moved from 9 p.m. up to dusk. Unrest and violence escalated daily. Amid it all, the U. S. military leadership in Tehran urged families to stay. The situation would improve, they said. The intensity of the Iranians' emotions would subside once Ramadan ended. The first of the year would see a turn in the tide.
Despite such reassurances, 85 percent of the U.S. military families packed up their belongings and left. Those who didn't were plunged into an information void. Newspapers were shut down. TV offered only classical music accompaniment to a photograph of the Shah in his medal-bedecked military uniform. The only English-language radio was midnight Radio Moscow broadcasts that faded in and out on staticky airwaves.
Then on New Year's Eve, it was over. All U.S. military dependents were ordered to leave. Evacuation planes–cargo versions, not passenger–would be waiting on the airport tarmac in less than 48 hours. We became one of the 15 percent of the families that had loyally "stayed the course," "remained steadfast," showed support for the U.S. and Iranian governments by not hightailing it at the first sign of trouble. My children were traumatized and all of our belongings were lost.
That wouldn't have happened if we'd had access to accurate information, if we hadn't believed the government line. Thus my foray into journalism. "The people's right to know" became my mantra and I enrolled in a university journalism program. After graduating, I successfully climbed the ladder, moving from one newspaper to another, reporting what I believed were significant stories about such things as back-door political deals and public-duping medical scams, until I wound up as city editor of the Star-News in Pasadena, California.
It was a dream job. There, I could have an impact on informing the public not just with my own stories, but by directing news coverage by a whole staff of reporters. But like many good things, it didn't last. Less than three years later, the paper was sold to a foreign corporate media conglomerate, whose bottom line was literally the bottom line. The corporate mandate was for the paper's profit margin to double, then triple. The editor was fired and the managing editor forced out. The assistant managing editor, seeing the handwriting, also left. That left me and two co-news editors to run the entire news operation with a reduced reporting and copyediting staff and no direction but our own collective judgment. The new managing editor who was finally hired turned out to be sports reporter from a sister paper with minimal management experience. The idea, no doubt, was to save the money the company would have had to spend on an experienced managing editor.
This man was so overwhelmed and out of his element that rather than take the traditional managing editor's office that had a large window overlooking the newsroom, he quite literally hid out behind the closed door of a small windowless office on another floor of the newspaper building and refused to meet with anyone from the newsroom except the office manager in whom he seemed to have an extraordinary degree of confidence.
Then came more corporate directives. It wasn't good enough that we achieve higher profits, we had to pander to our advertisers by running "grip and grins"–photographs of people shaking hands and smiling into the camera lens–of executives of companies who bought newspaper advertisements presenting checks to local charities and doing other good deeds. The answer to our pleas for replacements for reporters who had left was to write shorter stories. Corporate's rationale was that if reporters wrote shorter stories, they could write more stories, which would eliminate our need for more reporters.
What sent me fleeing from that newspaper, however, was an order to run what I considered a most egregious page-one "grip and grin" of the newspaper publisher presenting a check from the newspaper to a doctor who had established a local medical foundation. The foundation had evolved from a situation on which we had done a series of page-one stories and that had become national news. That alone was enough to make me squirm with discomfort because of the newspaper's appearance of, if not actual, conflict of interest. But the final blow was when the foundation to which the newspaper had so publicly donated money became embroiled in allegations of fraud at worse and questionable practices at best.
This assault on quality journalism and ethics, I now know was neither an anomaly nor isolated, but a forerunner to a disease that is plaguing and, I fear, might be decimating the world of print and broadcast news. I was reminded at the recent National Conference for Media Reform in Madison, Wisconsin, of the reason I went into journalism more than 20 years ago when Bill Moyers, host of the PBS show, said in his keynote speech, "Democracy cannot exist without an informed public." I worry now that with the deteriorated state of journalism, the growing monopolization of media ownership and their ever more strident demand for greater and greater profits that our very democracy is at stake. by
Writer, editor, media-relations consultant"
We hope to see you this Tuesday @ 5 PM among the grass roots at 63rd and Ward Parkway as we try to shed some light on the darkness in America.