Saturday, March 31, 2012

news spin

I read more news at this moment in my life than ever before, and perhaps more than I ever will again. And without fail, every day as I swim through a pool of newspapers and blogs and news sites, I am blown away by what I read. Unbiased journalist? How is that possible? The more you read, the easier it is to be opinionated. Outraged, even. I may strive to make my writing fair and balanced, but that's only part of the story. Regardless of a reporter's objectivity, news outlets demonstrate their bias, conscious or not, simply by what they choose to print and report on and what they ignore or overlook.

A lack of bias is ever more pertinent now that most journalists have personal or professional blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. I try to be very clear that mine are personal, but when you're a public figure, even at a local community paper, the line between personal and professional is easily blurred. Larger (and more tech-savvy) news organizations than mine give reporters strict guidelines on how they should conduct their online presence, not only so they don't broadcast photos of themselves swilling beer and flipping off the camera, but also to discourage them from publicly voicing any sort of bias or opinion that could compromise their objectivity as a reporter.

I understand that journalists chronicle history, and that objectivity is essential to this goal. But with the explosion of blogging and social media and the gradual influx of new forms of journalism, asking reporters to maintain a completely neutral online presence is, I think, unrealistic. So -- because I'm about to leave the newspaper and head back to the outdoor industry, here are the stories that blew me out of the water this week. Maybe I'll try to make this a weekly blog posting.

1. Two commonly used pesticides have been linked to the death of bees. While it's not news that both wild and managed bees are dying in untold numbers, and it certainly shouldn't be news that the pesticides used to kill "bad" insects are also killing the ones necessary to pollinate and propagate our food crops, the study published in Science does two things.
First, it gives credible scientific backing to something that had previously only been common sense. While common sense is good enough for some organic farmers, it doesn't stand up well in court and isn't enough for policy change. To move away from the use of harmful pesticides and save our natural pollinators, we need proof that many pesticides are doing more harm than good.

Second, it shows how wrong claims of "environmentally friendly" can be, and how easily a bit of clever marketing can dupe the general public into believing such claims. The relatively new pesticides studied by the bee researchers were heralded by their developers as being more environmentally friendly than previous pesticides. When you look at it that way, I guess death by Agent Orange was friendlier than death by machine gun.

2. Dartmouth hazing scandal goes national with Janet Reitman's Rolling Stone article. This may be only interesting to me since I live here, witness the Dartmouth culture firsthand, and have been following it and reporting on it since Day 1 -- or even before than, since my in-depth piece on sexual assault at the college was published last spring. Either way, the Rolling Stone piece is a compelling read and worthwhile expose on the entitlement and desensitization to suffering that feeds directly into Wall Street culture.

3. Along the same lines: the House GOP budget. Working as a journalist has forced me to pay attention to and understand issues that I previously skimmed over, like (strangely) our national budget and the politics behind it. All I can say is, really? I must live in a fairly insular bubble, because I cannot fathom WHO would buy into a proposal to cut health and human services while maintaining tax cuts for the super-rich. I'm thankful this budget is DOA when it hits the Senate, but nonetheless discouraged that we waste so much energy arguing about non-issues like tax cuts for the wealthy, health care for women and presidential religion that we ignore the issues that really matter -- like, say, food and water security.

Which brings me to number four:

4. The EPA proposes a monumental first step in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. While this spells trouble for dirty coal plants, it also encourages the use of natural gas, which encourages fracking. Oy vey.

5. This was not a news item from the most recent week, but it's perhaps the most interesting thing I've read all month, so I thought I'd end on a high note and share this fascinating story of giant, presumed- extinct insects clinging to life on an oceanic megolith higher than the Empire State Building. Go forth into the week, and know that the world is full of wonder.

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