Women and Ethics in the Newsroom

 

Mortimer and Daniels on the set of The Newsroom, HBO series. (photo courtesy of The Newsroom)
Mortimer and Daniels on the set of The Newsroom, HBO series. (photo courtesy of The Newsroom)

Have been watching The Newsroom featuring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer. I love the snappy dialogue and the urgency of the news in our shared recent past. 

The show raises important questions, like, Is the purpose of television media to educate or to divide? 

Let’s look at health care. Since Obamacare passed, the news has had a freakin’ feeding frenzy on a side topic — the website’s technological failings. The media fed this vulture of divisiveness, serving the egos of a few recalcitrant Republicans who loved pointing out what went wrong.

Why not educate us on what we should do about this new law? How can we sign up for our newly granted right? Why did the media not walk us through, step by step, the best plan for a newly covered individual? Or tell us what are the benefits (or drawbacks) of universal coverage? How does a person register for the health insurance? Let’s take a look. No, we didn’t get any of that.

Maybe we don’t get these service stories because the media is ruled by the New York Times. I love the Times – don’t get me wrong – but it is written for the intellectual (and economic) elite. Maybe the staff there has health insurance, but what about the rest of us? We need to know. We need all the news that’s fit to print. Inform. Inspire.

The news has a noble purpose and I believe it is to educate. We are not supposed to simply whip each other up into a mud-slinging party of hatred.

We are social animals. Humans, like horses, need to stay together as a pack. Why are we so divisive?

The Newsroom addresses these ethical questions. Last night I saw the episode on bullying and the news anchor and reporter realized that they had bullied their guests. And they were sorry. Wow!

Brendamessick
Brenda Starr, reporter

I think I love The Newsroom because I have always loved the way pop culture portrays the smart news reporter or television producer. Emily Mortimer is so smart. Remember Mary Tyler Moore and Brenda Starr? They were reasons I wanted to be a writer.

The news room is one television genre where brilliant women shine. And these fictional women make me proud to be a girl reporter. Okay, just call me a reporter. And in real life, there are real brilliant women reporters like Arianna Huffington and Helen Thomas.

I don’t want to brag (much) but do work and have friends who work in the media biz and they (we) are, like these characters, super bright and super committed.

I’d like to write more about this but I have to read up on the firing of Jill Abramson, the perhaps underpaid, fiesty executive editor of the New York Times. 

Wait. I want to consume a divisive newstory? Me? I guess I like mud slinging just as much as the rest of the world. For that, I’m sorry.

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Kurt Vonnegut’s Advice

I chatted with Vonnegut once in the early 90s when I was performing stand up at the New York Comedy Club. It was like a Thursday night at 6 pm. He poked his head in the club and asked, “What’s going on in here?”

“Comedy. Women’s night. Starts in an hour.” I told him. “Come to it.”

kurt-vonnegut“Sounds great,” he said or something like that. I was totally impressed and told the couple of jaded comedians at the bar, “That was Kurt Vonnegut.” They nodded casually. Stand up comics do not swoon. But he didn’t come back.

Then a couple of years later I was having a party with Dan Wakefield at my house and Wakefield had invited Vonnegut. Vonnegut called to say he was sorry but he couldn’t make the party. I think he had a cold. “That’s okay,” I told him. “Feel better.” So basically, I had a few near misses with the great man.

But I feel I got to spend time with him when I read this new collection of commencement addresses, edited by Wakefield, If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? Advice for the Young.

In the forward, Wakefield points out that Vonnegut took part in his communities. Like, he was in the Volunteer Fire Department and taught a Great Books course with his wife. Vonnegut extolled compassion and neighborliness.

Each talk is unique. There are several themes, one of which is how Jesus slammed down the Code of Hammurabi (an eye for an eye).

“When Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross, he said, ‘Forgive them, Father, they know not what they do.’ What kind of man was that? … Bye-bye, Code of Hammurabi. And for those words alone, he deserves to be called ‘the Prince of Peace.'”

And Vonnegut, a humanist, hands us funny twists on Christianity. “‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed…’ Not exactly planks in a Republican platform.”

And here’s Vonnegut’s son’s advice: “‘Father, we are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is.’ So I pass that on to you. Write it down, and put it in your computer, so you can forget it.”

riverside park coudal

I know there’s a winter wonderland outside my New York City apartment today. I took this pic of Riverside Park last night with my iphone. I have no idea why I’m writing about Vonnegut now. Except I started this post a while ago and I’m cleaning out my blog’s dashboard. It just seemed like today was a perfect day to read Vonnegut and Wakefield.

Since we’re all trapped inside on this snow day, I recommend that you got out of your own head and be inspired by If this isn’t nice, what is? advice for the young too.

Related:

The worst addiction of them all by Vonnegut for the Nation

Bitcoins vs. Dollars

Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn]
Bitcoin Accepted Here [by freeborn] (Photo credit: Adam Crowe)
Last night we were out at an Irish pub eating steak sandwiches. My son H. and I returned to a recent argument.

See, because of a conversation with a fellow coworker at new work city, I’ve become interested in bitcoins.

Honestly, I’d be interested in kumquats or any new kind of currency to replace the almighty dollar.

I’ve spent my whole adult life — spending and making and spending and obsessing about dollars. And if this bitcoin thing takes off, then maybe I can be free from the shackles of the national pastime – the pursuit of and the obsession with the American dollar. (This blog is called To Pursue Happiness, not To Pursue Wealth.)

Beyond that, I’m sick that banks get bailed out and individuals suffer bankruptcy. Where’s the love? H. told me, “Then blame Obama.” But I’m not blaming anyone (except the big banks. I’m so incensed that congress raised the student loan rates to 6.8 percent, and yet, you still consider yourself lucky if you get 1 percent interest on your savings account. Again, where’s the love?)

from our blogging workshop at new work city.
from our blogging workshop at new work city.

But I try to be part of the solution rather than the problem. And maybe bitcoins will solve the big bank monopoly.

I took one semester of economics at NYU with a Marxist professor, so my understanding of world economics may be skewed.

But as I understand it, bitcoins are a peer-to-peer exchange of value, a digital currency. They’re “mined for” on the internet so they’re scarce. They’re global.

Bitcoins need to be spent. Like all currency, the system’s messed up if you hide them in a shoebox under your bed. And they are currently valued at something like $90. They are not overseen by any vast financial machine (thus, making them perfect for drug dealers.)

My son and I had a good, heated discussion. Like, he actually said, “Do you think middle-aged and older people who take your writing workshops are going to pay you in bitcoins?”

“They’re not all older. And I don’t know,” I said, laughing “But I’d accept them as payment.” I started laughing so hard.

The idea was funny and true. I often think I am the first to discover great ideas. I had just told my son earlier how I was the first person to discover the artist, Pink, because I’d loved that song, Get the party started. And H. admitted he was the first to discover Cee Lo Green.

I digress. “Hey,” I said, returning to our economics argument, “I could pay my web developer with a bitcoin. We already use PayPal.”

My son thinks I’m crazy. That’s nothing new. To show I’m not the only crazy one, I mentioned how the early adopters, the Winklevoss  twins, those of Facebook fame, are opening a fund for bitcoins. H. was unimpressed.

So, to conclude my 4th of July rant, let me just say, when our founding parents set up this beautiful country, they set this country up as a DEMOCRATIC not as a CAPITALIST society.

A democracy means we all count. A democracy means we are free. We have free speech and we have freedom to try different currencies. We are free to pursue kumquats or bitcoins. Or happiness.

Iron Man Ignored the Kid

The iron man and us
The iron man and us (Photo credit: Bev Goodwin)

I love summer blockbusters. I also love French films and independent films and basically any kind of films (though, true fact: I have never seen an X-rated movie, unless flipping around and catching Robin Byrd on cable counts!)

I just love losing myself to the dark of any movie theater.

But something kept rattling in my brain after seeing Iron Man 3. I was disturbed by the way Iron Man treated the kid who had rescued him. He totally ignored the kid.

Iron Man seemed to think a dark roomful of toys/tech equipment could replace the presence of a loving adult.

See, the kid in the movie had been abandoned by his dad, and no surprise, when Iron Man showed up, the kid assumed he was a dad figure. And when the superhero needed help, the kid was helpful. (This is not a spoiler. I think it’s fairly obvious that the kid will be useful to Iron Man.)

iron man 3But then the kid was not rewarded for being there for this father figure. In the end, the only thing the boy received was all kinds of digital devices for him to tinker with. This is his reward?!? The kid needed a frozen yogurt with the dad figure, or a picnic in the park, or, yes, the proverbial, game of catch.

In this room of tech equipment, the product placement of FiOS plastered all over the huge flatscreen TV was jarring and obscene. I was totally taken out of the movie and felt I’d landed in a stupid commercial.

So the message on this Father’s Day weekend seems to be: you want to be a good father? Buy your kid off, get them tons of tech stuff so they can play alone in a dark room. And then you can retire, alone yourself, in your own dank and dark digital kingdom. That’s Hollywood.

This is relevant to my life right now because my son is being punished (I won’t go into the details). And his tech equipment is taken away. He is clueless as to how to survive. I’ve suggested fro yo, a picnic, or a game of catch. But like Iron Man, our superhero, he’d rather be alone with his devices than outdoors with his friends or dad or sports or, even, ice cream.

I find this choice sad — not nearly as thrilling or active as an action film or life could be.

Blessington and Kineke from CBS

20130530-092833.jpg
Jack Blessington, exec producer of Religion and Culture, CBS, talks to the NYC Religion Communicators Council, on winning the Wilbur award.

Jack Blessington and Liz Kineke of CBS News Religion and Culture spoke to 25 religion writers and communicators on Tuesday, May 28, 2013 in a conference room at the Latter Day Saints’ office near Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

Blessington said he was dumbstruck when his name was called after winning a special Wilbur award in Indianapolis on April 6, 2013. Blessington had been moved to tears by the Wilbur awards winners who preceded him to the podium. In particular, Blessington recalled Richards Paul Evans’s story of jealousy and forgiveness between Evans and his brother and the Michael Martin’s book on the inspiring life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “I was lost,” Blessington explained.

But Blessington did not lose his gift for gab this week. He chatted about his early days as a headmaster at Whitby Montessori School in Conn. and his upcoming commencement address. He talked about covering religion for more than 30 years at CBS News.

He called the work of religion writers and communicators vital, especially in covering protests. “The fight is on again, led by the women, the women on the bus,” he said referring to the Roman Catholic nuns who took to the road in 2012 to dispute vice presidential candidate Ryan’s conservative compassion for the poor.

On receiving the special Wilbur award, which honors stories of faith in mainstream media, Blessington said, “Getting the award was lovely, but I have loved the work.”

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James (Jay) Rollins of UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) and national president of the Religion Communicators Council with Liz Kineke, CBS producer and Wilbur award winner.
20130530-092927.jpg
Liz Kineke spoke to the Religion Communicators Council New York chapter on why people are losing their religion.

Liz Kineke spoke about her latest project for CBS on why people are leaving organized religion. The reasons, Kineke reported, are connected to what Christian historian Diana Butler Bass has called the lost decade. After 9/11, attendance dropped, as people perceived religion as too political, too exclusive, and too embroiled in society’s fights, like the struggle for gay marriage.

Upcoming CBS Religion and Culture shows in production, Kineke reported, are on the topics of: religion and humor featuring Lewis Black, Father Jim Martin, and Rev. Susan Sparks; human trafficking; and an “explainer show” on Jainism, Christian Science, and Tibetan Buddhism.

The topics are chosen by an Interfaith Broadcast Committee with input from viewers.

While religion may be losing its hold in society, the subject remains important to CBS News. “Scott Pelley (evening anchor) wants religion to be covered in the evening news,” Kineke said.

The two kept the crowd laughing as they took questions.

Kineke reported that Butler Bass had answered church people who ask, “When are all the young people coming back? There’s no evidence they are.”

In answer to questions on religion’s demise, Blessington described TV’s ubiquity as a resource for educating on values as well as a vehicle for ruining faith and values.

Blessington said he saw society returning to the hedonism of the roaring 1920s.

Neither Blessington nor Kineke, the CBS producers, pushed for one faith above another in their reporting. They both emphasized the value in all faiths, although Blessington frequently joked about his Catholicism as the “one, true religion.”

He also joked that there were too many Methodists in this week’s RCC gathering as there were last month at the RCC awards in Indianapolis. He chided Kineke for sitting at the Methodist’s “naughty table” at the awards ceremony.

***

At the end of the luncheon, Blessington became serious. “I’m not pushing for religion. I am pushing for a sense of humility in God’s creation.”

Blessington, 80, said his work has been to look for goodness. “If you love this life like I do, you want it to go on.”

Daily Prompt: Time Capsule

2012 is drawing to a close (3 weeks left!). What would you put in this year’s time capsule?

collage for UMCOR
collage for UMCOR

I would put:

  • My collage art to promote UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief). Am so proud! This was an early version.
  • My bike. Oh, my bike. I love my bike. Biking in NYC makes me happy.

    seen in a bike shop window in Portland
    seen in a bike shop window in Portland
  • My first (ever!) unemployment direct deposit check. Definitely mixed feelings, but overall grateful.
  • My new business cards.
  • Masks that the girls made at Art Students League. We all play roles, wear masks, make art.
  • Chris’s SAG movie pass. Going to the movies together has been a great way to connect. Due to Chris’s illness and our busy-ness, I feel we are ships passing in the night. But we’ve sat together at such amazing movies this year! Yesterday we saw Amour. Formidable! (my favorite French word!) Today we are going to see The Guilt Trip.
  • Abeach handful of sand from Siesta Key beach. The kids and I had such a restorative time hanging out at the prettiest beach in the world last spring. Great times, too, with my bro, Nicole, dad, and Marty.
  • A mosquito from the kids and my ill-fated camping trip to Fire Island.
  • Yoga mat. Because my mom still practices yoga and stands on her head.
  • Shake Shack fries. After teaching a semester of middle school creative writing, I take my kids to Shake Shack to celebrate.
  • School Swimming Pool and Van Cortlandt Park. I watch my kids play basketball, soccer, and baseball, but I spend most of my spectator time on the sidelines of the long benches of the pool or on the edges of the Van Corltandt Park track.
  • all the cousins
    all the cousins

    All of the cousins. Being with my four siblings and their kids for Thanksgiving was definitely the highlight of 2012.

  • President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. Just in case anyone, in the future, has any questions. The man is an American, all right already. Forward.

2012 was a very good year.

Fixing the Problem

What problem does your business solve?

My friend Jolain told me that when she started her clothing line years ago, her goal was simply to make beautiful clothes. She said that wasn’t enough.

“A business has to solve a problem,” Jolain said.

When Kelly and I launched our new biz, we figured offering first-class writing workshops at non-luxury prices would answer a writer’s problem.

A writer’s challenge includes the need to:

  • be a part of a community
  • get published
  • find a sanctuary for dangerous writing
  • make time for writing
  • nurture creativity and beauty in a society that overlooks the arts.

Our biz does all that.

We use Field Notes to keep score when we play cards.

This morning I listened to a podcast about traveling salesmen (at Field Notes Brand, a company my brother co-founded). Ron Solberg praises the tenacity and brilliance of the early traveling salespeople who often sold books. And the customers appreciated how the salesmen delivered news, as well as products. They liked the free samples.

“The trick really was volume, the number of stops you make,” Solberg said.

And more winning advice: “Take advantage of the moment.”

In a sense, when I started the biz, I wanted to make and nurture beautiful writing the same way Jolain wanted to make beautiful clothing. But I am learning to sell as well as to create.

As a small business owner, I need to sustain my biz, so I must do both sales and art. And for both, I need to value beauty, tenacity, hard work, and being in the moment.