Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Our Fascination with Celebrities

The public is fascinated by endless stories of Paris Hilton, Brittany Spears, Angelina Jolie, and other entertainers. While this has been the case since Hollywood PR Machine created movie stars, people react differently today to the antics of celebrities. 

"There was a time not too long ago when gossip and scandal brought the famous down to earth," says Cooper Lawrence in her book, The Cult of Personality: What Our Fascination with the Stars Reveal about Us. "It humbled them and made them appear more like us, with faults and eccentricities, their lives not so different from ours. This is no longer the case. Today, gossip and scandal are the currency of Hollywood."


Fans consider celebrities friends: Paris Hilton is here promoting her cell-phone video game: Jewel Jam during the E3 Video Game Convention.
Photo Credit: © Glenn Francis, 2006, www.PacificProDigital.com
Even so, fans disregard the negatives and view celebrities with a mixture of envy and adoration. The celebrity represents for many the ideal life of money, sex and a carefree attitude of unconstrained living. In other words, celebrities live large. 

And by dint of following their every move, we become privy to their world, or at least think we do. Such is the explanation of evolutionary psychology, or EP. We need to know how our friends are doing. 

"Human brains are tricked into believing that celebrities are part of our concentric circle of friends," says Gad Saad, Research Chair in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences and Darwinian Consumption at Concordia University's John Molson School of Business in Montreal.  He also writes a well-known and highly popular blog for Psychology Today, Home Consumericus.

Equally compelling, we believe celebrities are friends, Prof. Saad explains, "by virtue of their being invited into our proverbial living rooms on numerous occasions, be it when we watch them on television or in films. Hence, an affective system that evolved to care about social information about friends is usurped in the service of caring about celebrities, who are in a sense 'pseudo-friends'. "


Angelina Jolie at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 2005. Although a celebrity, many credit Jolie for doing good work. Photo Credit: © World Economic Forum (2005).
Like any good friend we desire, Prof Saad says, "to exchange social information, like gossip, on matters of evolutionary import, including infidelity and loss of social status." Prof. Saad has written about the cult of celebrity and other important matters facing humans in his critically acclaimed book, The Evolutionary Bases of Consumption.

Yet, the putative friendship is definitely uni-directional, and thus fans are sure to be disappointed, Ms. Lawrence says, because celebrities are not really like us. "Celebrities hold a unique position in our society. There are only a handful of them, singled out for attention and adoration from their anonymous mass of fans."

That is a telling comment, and a sad reality. When people worship celebrities, both the giver and the receiver of the affection lose something very valuable: their dignity.



Monday, August 30, 2010

Contolling the Press

A recent article in Bloomberg News caught my eye.

Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner asked a court to review the 1976 acquisition of a newsprint producer by Grupo Clarin SA, the country’s largest media company, and other newspapers. Opposition leaders called it an attempt to silence critics.
Taking control of newsprint: Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is looking to control the production, sale and distribution of newsprint, effectively silencing dissent—all in the name of public good.
Fernandez said late yesterday that she will also send a bill to Congress that would designate the production, sale and distribution of newsprint a “public interest” and subject the industry to regulations that would ensure all newspapers can buy paper at the same price and under similar terms.

If Fernandez succeeds, supplies of the newsprint needed to publish newspapers would be controlled by the government. Opposition lawmakers, including former Buenos Aires Governor Felipe Sola and Elisa Carrio, said Fernandez’s administration is trying to pressure the press for favorable coverage.

“The president just wants a press aligned with the government,” Carrio told reporters last night at Congress. “They want to stay in power, abolishing the press.”
That would be a step back for democracy, limiting the right of the people to voice views contrary to the sitting government. This move by the Argentinian government could set a dangerous precedent. Let's hope it proves a highly unpopular move.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lives of the Rich and Famous

When I was younger, a show aired on TV, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984-95). It was hosted by Robin Leach, whose signature ending after each episode was: champagne wishes and caviar dreams. It was one of the first shows to capture the American interest in the lives of the wealthy.

Although the show is no longer running, the interest in wealthy people has not waned, but has only become more intense. Today, anyone and everyone whose has accumulated and acquired wealth becomes an instant celebrity.  That includes entertainers, athletes, and entrepreneurs. The first two, entertainers and athletes have always been in the media spotlight. From the antics of Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat, to Humphrey Bogart to Marilyn Monroe, the public was fascinated to delve into the private lives of these larger-than-life personalities.

It's true that some entrepreneurs, like William Randolph Hearst, were often in the news, often of their own making. But that was the exception to the rule. Most shunned the media, tending to be reclusive and uncomfortable with media intrusion. Not so today, as CEOs of large public companies see the value (read: shareholder value) into getting their names in the news as much as possible, if only to keep their companies in the minds of consumers. And, in some cases, to feed their narcissistic needs.

No Stranger to Controversy: William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate.
Photo Credit: US Library of Congress, 1910.
It seems evident that many CEOs have joined the ranks of the rich and famous, getting their just recognition and their just desserts, as well. Today, CEOs make about 430 times more than the average production worker in the U.S. The cumulative pay of the top 10 highest-paid CEOs in the past 15 years totalled $11.7 billion. The CEO of a large public company makes, on average, about $12.0-million a year.

The triple-digit pay ratios originate in the mid-1990s, when CEOs first out-earned workers by a 100-to-1 ratio. Back in 1965, however, U.S. CEOs of major companies earned 24 times more than an average worker, hardly the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Then, a CEO was a high-paid manager, and little more.

Today, CEOs are superstars and super-rich. Here is a list of the top-paid CEOs in the U.S. (all figures in US dollars):
  1. Larry Ellison of Oracle:  $1.84 billion 
  2. Barry Diller of IAC/Interactive and Expedia Inc: $1.14 billion  
  3. Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum Corp: $857 million 
  4. Steve Jobs of Apple: $749 million. 
And, in  some cases, the super-wealthy of our Gilded Age have earned the media spotlight for their antics. Here are few to consider:
  • Steve Schwarzman, CEO and co-founder of the Blackstone Group, a private-equity firm, whose public image is that of an over-reaching greedy rich man who believes that he deserves not only his wealth, but ought to receive acknowledgment as a wise man, to boot. Talk about extreme hubris. (see Slate.com.)
  • Hewlett-Packard Co.’s Mark Hurd resigned as chief executive officer after an investigation found he had a personal relationship with a contractor who received numerous inappropriate payments from the company (see Bloomberg Business)
  • Mark McInnes, CEO of Australia's premium department store brand David Jones, has resigned from his multimillion-dollar job after "unbecoming" behaviour involving a female staff member at two company functions (see The Australian)
I guess CEOs have joined the lives of the rich and famous, if only to equal their antics. Where is the dignity and self-restraint we ought to expect from those part of the privileged class? The rest of us can only scratch their heads and wonder.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The War on Drugs a Failure

War on drugs a failure: Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, a position generally referred to as the United States "Drug Czar." Kerlikowske concedes that the war on drugs has not been successful.
Journalists have the power to influence for good. Take its recent stance on the so-called War on Drugs, a U.S.-led initiative that dates to the 1970s under the Nixon Administration. After spending about one trillion dollars to fight illegal drug use, the ill-conceived and earnest plan is a complete failure. 

Who says so? Almost everybody, including former world leaders, think-tanks, academics, policy analysts—all respected and respectable members of society. For example, the late and well-respected Walter Cronkite wrote a piece in The Huffington Post in 2006, Telling the Truth on the War on Drugs.

And, it's not only journalists and academics who write about the need for a change in policy. For example, Gil Kerlikowske, the U.S. drug czar, concedes the strategy hasn't worked.  "In the grand scheme, it has not been successful," Kerlikowske told The Associated Press. "Forty years later, the concern about drugs and drug problems is, if anything, magnified, intensified."

The War has resulted in horrible miscarriages of justice, all under mandatory minimum sentencing  laws, which see people go to jail for no more than answering the phone, Here's a famous example worth recounting, from the same article penned by Cronkite:
Nicole Richardson was 18-years-old when her boyfriend, Jeff, sold nine grams of LSD to undercover federal agents. She had nothing to do with the sale. There was no reason to believe she was involved in drug dealing in any way.

But then an agent posing as another dealer called and asked to speak with Jeff. Nicole replied that he wasn't home, but gave the man a number where she thought Jeff could be reached.

An innocent gesture? It sounds that way to me. But to federal prosecutors, simply giving out a phone number made Nicole Richardson part of a drug dealing conspiracy. Under draconian mandatory minimum sentences, she was sent to federal prison for ten years without possibility of parole.

To pile irony on top of injustice, her boyfriend —who actually knew something about dealing drugs —was able to trade information for a reduced sentence of five years. Precisely because she knew nothing, Nicole had nothing with which to barter.
In truth, the war on drugs is not only too expensive, but inhumane. It puts people in jail for consuming even small amounts of cannabis, or soft drugs. If anything, drug use is a social and medical problem, which ought to be treated by more humane harm-reduction actions.

One of the leading voices to end the criminalization of drug use is the Drug Policy Alliance, a New York-based advocacy group. In many ways, the war on drugs is a war on people. Average people like you and me. The group writes on its website the following sobering facts about U.S. drug enforcement policies:
The United States is now the world's largest jailer, imprisoning nearly half a million people for drug offenses alone. That's more people than Western Europe, with a bigger population, incarcerates for all offenses. Roughly 1.5 million people are arrested each year for drug law violations - 40% of them just for marijuana possession. 

Photo Credit: Gerald Campbell 2007.

 Even so, well-known voices are speaking out, both artists and businesspeople:
Sting, the internationally renowned singer/songwriter, has teamed up with actor/producer/medical marijuana advocate Montel Williams and businessman/philanthropist George Soros in a powerful video supporting the Drug Policy Alliance’s call for an end to the failed war on drugs.

In the two-minute video, Sting poignantly states that he believes in the right to “sovereignty over one’s mind and body” and that “the war on drugs represents an extraordinary violation of human rights.” He goes on to say that “it’s time to step out of our comfort zone and begin to tell the truth about drugs and our failed drug policies.”

Montel Williams expresses his view that, “whether you use drugs or not you deserve to be treated with kindness and dignity.”

George Soros, meanwhile, explains that he supports the Drug Policy Alliance because the organization promotes harm reduction and fosters debate on drug policy.

The video also includes a scientist, an activist, a former drug war prisoner, and a parent – each of whom articulates the need to dramatically reduce the role of criminalization in drug policy.
Such a policy will end the decades of injustices against millions of people, a harsh policy against human rights and liberty, cornerstones of the U.S. Constitution. A more humane policy will ultimately bring dignity to many poor people's lives.

The money currently going to the the drug-enforcement industry, billions of dollars a year, can then be transferred to more important sectors, like health-care, education and other social causes. In the future, people will wonder what took so long to act ... that is, to act humanely.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Poor Shall Always Be With Us

In a world that idolizes the rich, the powerful, the beautiful people, the poor are hardly noticed. The poor, in a consumer-driven society as we currently reside in, will be considered worthless and useless, unable to purchase the goods that companies sell.

Poor people have  become an affront to the wealthy, reminding them that they ought to do something. But wealthy people tend to have a high sense of entitlement, believing that poor people likely deserve their fate. If only the poor person would work harder, they might be successful. Yet, there's the working poor to consider.

Even Jesus said: "The poor will always be with us." For compassionate people, the words ring as an action call to do something, to alleviate the pain, suffering and indignity the poor suffer in an affluence-driven society. For the wealthy, many of them declared compassionate people, the words mean a helpless Gallic shrug, often translating to "what can you expect us to do."

Media's coverage of the poor
So, how do the media tend to cover the poor? According to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the media tends to cover the rich positively and the poor negatively. (See Many Say Coverage of the Poor and Minorities is Too Negative.) The findings tend to follow class lines:

  • Nearly a third of Republicans (32%) say coverage of the wealthy is too negative, about the same number who say it is generally fair (33%); 24% of Republicans say press coverage of wealthy people is too positive.
  • By contrast, Democrats are substantially more likely than Republicans to say press coverage of the affluent is too positive (37%), while just 21% say it is too negative. Independent views of coverage of wealthy people mirror those of Democrats.
This result is hardly surprising, yet highly disappointing. But such is a sad reality in a world economy driven by wealth.

We can dissect the reasons and find out some of the root causes of such thinking. A consumer society, as is much of the world today, needs consumers to buy the products manufacturers produce and sell. Even useless products that add little to people's lives. So, in such an economy, a HDTV becomes more important than food. A smart-phone becomes more important than a place to live.

Why it's so has everything to do with our values, and how they have formed over the years, driven to a great part by the persuasive powers of advertisers. So, here we stand. Perhaps, as an outgrowth of the American Puritan work ethic combined with consumer-driven economics, wealth has been associated with success, and poverty with failure. It's as if the equation can neatly be written as: Poor=Failure. Or, using George Orwell's Animal Farm as a template:

Wealthy People Good; Poor People Bad.
Personal disclosure
A bit of disclosure here. I know about the working poor. I grew up as part of the working poor. My father worked hard, but did not make much money, and my mother stayed at home taking care of my brothers and I. She was always at home when we came home from school. She was our Mom, and we adored her. True, we had few if any luxuries. However, we never missed a meal. Never.

Here I stand again. My wife and I worked more than 100 hours a week for months to build our business. We tried everything to keep it going. We worked hard. We worked long hours. We were not successful.  We failed.

So, now, I have once again joined the ranks of the working poor, this time with my wife and two young children. My wife has found a part-time job; I have yet to find something, even though I have assiduously tried. Our family faces multiple decisions daily on which bills to pay. I worry about my children. After all is said and done, all the poor ask is to lead a life of dignity. I join their chorus.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Media Concentration and its Effects

When I was in J-school in the early 1990s, one of the topics of discussion was media concentration, its effects both in Canada where I reside, and worldwide. The major consensus from students and professors was that media concentration was mainly negative, both for journalists and the public they serve.

Some of the disadvantages cited included corporate-fed and -led journalism, poor local coverage, lay-offs of editorial staff, and more standardized and sanitized news stories. In short, media concentration results in poor journalism, because there are less journalists working, and those that remain are are under increasing pressure to get the story out by deadline.

Media concentration and self-censorship
But, perhaps more important, is the increasing issue of self-censorship. This becomes more pronounced in direct proportion to the putative power wielded by owners. Consider the following article from FAIR about conditions in Canadian newsrooms after CanWest  Global bought Hollinger Inc.in 2000 for $3.2 billion, then the largest media deal in Canada: As the article states, journalists faced new working conditions and were often censored for offending the corporate masters. Consider the following:
Stephen Kimber, a columnist for 15 years with the Halifax Daily News, quit in January after his column was killed by corporate headquarters. Kimber wrote in the column, which was eventually published in the Globe and Mail (1/7/02),
that CanWest’s owners, Winnipeg’s Asper family, which made its fortune in the television business, appear to consider their newspapers not only as profit centers and promotional vehicles for their television network but also as private, personal pulpits from which to express their views.
 The Aspers support the federal Liberal Party. They're pro-Israel. They think rich people like themselves deserve tax breaks. They support privatizing healthcare delivery. And they believe their newspapers ... should agree with them.
Eventually the Asper family eventually lost control of their newspapers, after they generated too much debt, and were sold for $1.1 billion to a group led by Paul Godfrey in May 2010 (see CanWest's papers sold for $1.1 billion.)  One hopes that working conditions for journalists will change under new ownership.

It becomes increasingly difficult for journalists to do their job, particularly in criticizing large corporations (like advertisers), governments and powerful and wealthy individuals when large corporations are at the helm. It's akin to letting the fox run the hen-house. The net result is that the public is not well-served.

If the news is self-censored by journalists, not so much because of libel chill, but because of corporate chill (fear of losing their jobs being the chief motivator), then the news become sanitized, standardized and dull. We see much evidence of that today. Consider the following posting on the dangers of media concentration from the blog,  Rabble.ca:
Of course, expecting the private media to turn a critical spotlight on themselves is like expecting a doped athlete to draw attention to the problem of doping in sports.
This highlights an important problem. If the wealthy, corporate-owned private media don't consider something an issue, we tend not to hear about it.
We don't hear much, for instance, about the growing gap between rich and poor, the erosion of our social programs or foreign domination of our economy.
Which is why the CBC — the only network owned by the Canadian public, not by powerful corporations — could be so important.
The public responds
 As can be the Web, which has opened journalism to the world. The Web is proving to be a great venue for people to find news, often not reported or under-reported, by the large mainstream news outlets. In that way, both professional journalists (like myself) and others report stories that large news outlets are not reporting.

In such a fashion, Citizen Journalism is acting as a countervailing force to the mainstream press. And with some good results. As Laura Riggio writes in her blog, Media Crit:
Today, blogs are more popular than ever and some blogs are considered news sources to many people who get their news on the internet.
A PEW Internet study in 2006 found that 73 percent of all internet users get their news from the internet. Eight percent of internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog and 39 percent or about 57 million American adults read blogs. Whether reading or writing, blogs are part of American life and this is only increasing.
Blogs have become a right-correcting mechanism to media concentration. That might be good for journalistic integrity, freedom and democracy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Purpose of Higher Education

One of the continuing debates is what higher education's ultimate purpose is. For many, education is a mere conduit to obtaining a good job and getting paid well. In that case, universities become glorified trade schools for the businesses and corporations they serve. This, sadly is much evident today, as students scurry about taking the right course to better secure a good education and, ultimately, a good well-paying job.

Universities have responded to the business world with open arms, receiving "badly needed" grants, endowed chairs and new buildings emblazoned with the names of their benefactors. It seems like a quid pro quid arrangement. Universities get what they need, and corporations get trained students who are ready, willing and able to work at their businesses, be it finance, marketing or technology companies. But one wonders if it is a Faustian bargain. For the sake of expediency and pragmatism, are we selling our children's future short? Case in point: does society need any more financial engineers? Unlikely.

We do need, however, more students with education in non-specialized fields, like art, history, literature and philosophy. Countless books have warned about this trend toward factory education, which started in the 1960s and has become more noticeable with each passing decade. Some of the noted works include Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind, Derek Bok's Higher Learning  and, most recently, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus' Higher Education: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It.

Back in the 1930s, Robert Hutchins, one of the first presidents at University of Chicago, held different views, ones that many would find anachronistic, certainly misplaced in time.  Hutchins, for one, believed in the Great Books series. He also believed in the value of a Liberal Arts education, of the old school. I can hear the many critics now. How would that help prepare students for the Real World? to use one university's moniker.

But that in itself might speak of the problem with today's universities. They have become, in so many respects, farm teams to large businesses. Sure, the students are bright, articulate, tech savvy and full of knowledge of technology and business. But are they well-read? Are they thinking independently? Do they have an adequate knowledge of history, philosophy and English literature? And I am not talking about something they have necessarily read on the Web or Wikipedia. I am talking about in-depth knowledge that comes from assiduous study of the classics.

Hutchins advocated a need for the reading of the Great Books, a list of 100 books that every student ought to read and understand. Such a view was that the emphasis on narrow specialization in American colleges had harmed the quality of higher education, chiefly by failing to expose students to the important products of Western civilization and thought.

He touched the field of journalism, helping to make it more responsible. Hutchins was a proponent of the Social Responsibility Theory (1947), which was recommended by the Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the Press.In countries without freedom of the press, messages are filtered through the government, allowing only what is considered acceptable information to be released to the public.

The Theory acted as a countervailing force against interference from large corporations and governments. In elegant terms, it stated that the media should serve the public, and in order to do so, should remain free of government interference. It defined guidelines that the media should follow in order to fulfill its obligation of serving the public.

I put forth a similar argument for education in general, and higher education in particular. Students ought to become citizens of society, not only to Big Business. If we don't want our students to become mere corporate drones, acting like sheep to their corporate masters, higher education has to incorporate more courses that do not have so-called real world applications. Students have enough courses in technology, business, and so-called business ethics and law etc.

Students and the younger generation require a breath of fresh air, to clear their minds of so much business and technology jargon and cant. If we want to instill a love of learning, universities have to make learning socially responsible. And thoughtful and life-long learners. As Hutchins says: “It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts…it is to teach them to think.”


Students need dignity as much as anyone else.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Slow Death of Democracy

Tony Judt passed away on August 6, 2010. His death has left a giant void in the world of public intellectuals. Consider the 2006 article that he wrote for London Review of Books, Bush's Useful Idiots. Whether one agreed or not with Professor Judt, one had to agree that his view were important for democracy and press freedom. Judt was one of those voices that disturbed people's pieties and made them uncomfortable.

Tony Judt was not only a historian, but a public intellectual. He raised questions that made people think, that is, if they were willing to think. Thinking independent people have always been the minority, and even more so today where the cultural elites decide what right thinking ought to be. Simply stated,too many people have decided that thinking is not for them, and have allowed the public experts to inform them. And if you are on the wrong side of the fence, woe is you.

Consider the case when Judt's planned speech at a public venue was cancelled, ostensibly because Judt had the temerity to criticize Isreal (see Another Judt Apperance Abrubtly Canceled (New York Sun). I find this reprehensible and disturbing. Note that I am Jewish, and that one of my parents went through the Holocaust. But, equally important, no state is beyond reproach. Except in the minds of some.

Now, this precedent is a danger to democracy and  patently against the spirit and intent of freedom of speech. Israel is like any other nation, inasmuch as its actions are mixed, doing both good and evil. We need public intellectuals like Tony Judt, because he's the proverbial canary in the mine shaft. We may not agree wholeheartedly with such views, but they are necessary in a viable democracy Without such courageous and independent thinkers, we have little chance of progressing forward. And, eventually democracy fades away.

As one famous journalist, Finley Peter Dunne, said: "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." How far we are today from that sentiment. More's the pity.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Change: Possibly for the Better

In my last post, I shared with you something I wrote while in my final years as a J-school student. That article, published for a newsletter, was written in December 1995, almost 15 years ago, when I was much younger. (I am now 52.)

That was a watershed year, So, what took place in 1995?: This is before blogs, before social-networking sites, when the Web was at its infancy, and was not yet such a predominant force in people's lives. Emails were just beginning to shape people's communication needs, and dial-up modems of 56K were the norm. Some analysts had predicted that the Net would be a failure, including this noteworthy article in Newsweek. Well, the writer was wrong, and has admitted such.

Well, as it has been aptly said, things have changed. They undoubtedly have, and while I applaud the changes over-all, inasmuch as it has allowed us to communicate more effectively, I am of two minds as to whether the medium will see improved quality of writing.

Studies and anecdotal posts from my writing and editing colleagues bear this out (See, for example, Regret the Error and Slate.com). Writing for the most part has become more sloppy, as grammatical and spelling errors have, sadly, become the norm for many mainstream dailies. As for websites, many are riddled with errors, crying for a professional writer and editor to bring the writing to an acceptable standard.

The reasons are many, including the lay-offs of proof-readers and editors, the 24-hour news cycle, and the media becoming more of a business in search of higher profits. The net result is that news editors have more constraints and less resources to shape a news story. While the explosion of new technology has resulted in articles that contain errors, it has also opened the door to democratic journalism. Blogs are but one example of this trend.

And it's not all bad. It has allowed ordinary people, some with extra-ordinary abilities, talents and skills to showcase their creative skills to an audience seeking it. So, yes, as a writer, I bemoan the lowering of editorial content. But as a human seeking connections, I applaud the new technologies for bringing people together to share their talents. The latter trumps the former. Over-all that's a good change.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Why a Journalist?

Why a Journalist?

A number of years ago I decided to enter the noble field of journalism. I was decidedly much younger and full of hope and idealism. I am still carry a lot of idealism, at least my wife says I do, but my hope in humanity has somewhat waned. Whether it is the sum result of wisdom and experience or age, the record has yet to be written. But below is an article that I wrote as I was about to embark on the field of journalism. In the next post, I shall give you more details on when it was written and what has transpired since that time.
-------------------------------------------------

Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience above all liberties.
—John Milton, Aeropagitica [1644]

The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
George Mason, Virginia Bill of Rights [1776]

A free press is the unsleeping guardian of every other right that free men prize; it is the most dangerous foe of tyranny.
Winston Churchill

Freedom of the press is perhaps the freedom that has suffered the most from a gradual degradation of the idea of liberty.
Albert Camus, Resistance Rebellion, and Death [1960]

The above epigrams from John Milton, George Mason, Winston Churchill and Albert Camus—four people from different nations and living in different times, and certainly of differing world views—speak, however, a common language when it comes to the freedom to speak without fear. They agree in spirit to the fundamental need of maintaining free press in a democratic society.

I find myself, somewhat, in the company of these illustrious thinkers of the past, chiefly because I share their passions and convictions on freedom. They spoke and wrote what they truly believed without fearing reprisals. This right is essential for freedom. Coupled with freedom of conscience is the necessity that the weak and disenfranchised in a free and democratic society have a voice—not only in spirit but in reality.

Encapsulated within this thought is the raison d’être of why I desire to become a working print journalist. Perhaps, because I am older than most of my undergraduate classmates, I appreciate the necessity for good journalists in the marketplace to act as a deterrent against, for example, corporate and government abuses,

Almost three years ago, at age 34, after working for almost 10 years in the aerospace sector, I left a secure position in technical sales and marketing. The reasons are simple enough; I desired to pursue a career in journalism.

Why would you do that? is the question I have often faced in the last few years. A valid question that deserves an equally thoughtful response. The field of journalism, a vocation so to speak, offers the nexus of two loves: the written word and human interest. There is a beauty in language, and, particularly, in the written word. As William Strunk and E.B. White emphasize in The Elements of Style, language is “a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries.”

Language is alive. A good writer can have a positive influence on society as it evolves and takes shape around you. As a journalist, I hope to display integrity, honesty, credibility, and courage to construct and write fair and balanced stories, always endeavouring to accurately portray what was said—both explicitly and implicitly.

People and their lives are what make a story vibrate and sing, like a musical sonata that resonates within us after a well-played concert. As a journalist, I aspire to compose such kind of melodies. The hope; that readers not only appreciate a piece of well-written prose, but also experience an understanding, an empathy of the people featured. In most cases they are ordinary people like you and I. Such is the cornerstone of storytelling and fine journalism.

Thus, while in school, I hope to learn the skills necessary to become a good journalist, and then to apply these in the working world.

And as I do, I carry with me the words of Milton, Mason, Churchill and Camus, bearing in mind the struggles of those individuals who historically fought for press freedom and who paid a price to benefit society. I hope that I will be an honourable member of such a profession.

—Perry Joshua Greenbaum

Monday, August 16, 2010

Welcome

After an interval of more than two years, I have decided to return to blogging. I have not yet decided what my first post will be about (this is only a preamble), but in general it will incorporate my thoughts about the state of the world today. After all, I would like to add to the canon of important thoughts--as any writer worth his salt wants to do.