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#4079: Performance of journalists: Chamberlain replies to DellaValle-Rauth (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

Yes, do go and meet Mike Norton when you're next in Haiti, but I can I
appeal to you, to ensure the meeting a fruitful, to do some preparation by
finding out a bit about the simple mechanics (and constraints) of the news
business and particularly Norton's role in it (a news agency reporter in a
small country).  There are many factors to be taken into account, which few
of the critics ever show any interest in, much less any interest in taking
into account.  

I am a journalist myself , but I am NOT in any way trying to cover up for
any failings in journalistic coverage by blinding people with "technical"
issues.  The kind of thing I mean is people wilfully refusing to, for
example, place Haiti in the context of the daily task of reporting on 200
countries in the world in a restricted space -- restricted by the physical
size of any given newspaper, or the (greater) maximum amount of information
any radio or TV station can humanly handle in, say, a day (maximum is
theoretically reporters talking on the air continuously for the 24 hours
that there are in each day), or the number of people available (sheer
numbers available or the number of people who can be paid for to be sent to
a place and for how long).  

People are consistently unwillng to take this into account and habitually
say in response to the raising of such points, things like "well, I'm not a
journalist, that's your job."   Such a cop-out!  Someone points out a
problem and you dart away and leave the other person to sort it out because
you don't want to wrestle with the difficulty.  Rather like someone I knew
who when she wrote an article that was twice as long as she was asked for
by an editor, simply said, in outraged manner, "they MUST print it, they'll
just have to print it in smaller type to get it all in."  

People love to "confront" reporters (though nearly always announcing with a
flourish that they will do so rather than actually doing it) without making
any effort to know the slightest thing about journalism -- possibly to have
the satisfaction, when the encounter becomes bogged down because of
non-communication on this score, of simply "proving" their own twisted
belief of a permanent media plot against whatever or whoever.  This is not
adult behaviour.  Is it any wonder that journalists get in the habit of
ignoring critics, though they are nearly always polite about it, and nearly
always much politer than their critics?  

Many foreign reporters do make a great effort (battling many restrainsts)
to go to the places you say and do produce serious articles that we have
all appreciated (though which we conveniently forget we have read when
there are blanket accusations to be made).  Norton does not live in a
"luxury hotel" nor to my knowledge does Bauduy.  Visiting journalists do
live in "tourist" hotels simply because they have to have access to proper
communications.  Nationals of a country such as Haiti who enjoy complaining
about "bad coverage," often to cover up for the dismal performance of their
government, never give a thought to whether that government provides even
the most elementary tools to do the job -- electricity and
telecommunications.  Then they wail that journalists never check with
places like the "ministry of information" when the complainants and
everyone else knows that information ministries in most countries are
citadels of shameless lies and propaganda, and also the last places where
you can get even basic statistical information.

Please have another look at your letter to Dan Perry in the light of all
the above and see if you have simply not taken into account these kinds of
things.  If you like, send it to me and I can perhaps explain what was
going on in Perry's mind when he read it and when sent his reply.

I repeat, I am NOT trying to cover up for deficient reporting, which of
course exists.  It's just that when critics are asked to put their money
where their mouth is, they won't or can't do it.  This is as irresponsible
as they accuse their targets as being.  And a lot of the time it simply
comes down to a complaint that a report is not 100% favourable to their
opinions or what they're interested in and that it even simply mentions
someone or something they don't agree with or are not interested in. 
Please be aware that this is precisely what happens under totalitarian
regimes.  How many of us read Haiti Progrès or Haiti-Observateur and are
appalled or disgusted at their shameless ranting and bigotry under the
guise of being "objective" and (of course!) on the side of "the people." 
Yet both these papers are among the fiercest critics of the mainstream
media.  Do we want HP and HO to become the norm?  I think we would all
pretty quickly realise the  folly of that.  It would be much like reading
the kind of garbage Olivier Nadal wrote.

        Greg Chamberlain