I’m going to lay down some Big Truth on big media, politics & corruption but allow me to start with a confession.
I am the problem.
Anyone who gives our current political culture the least bit of thought knows that we’re at a desperate quicksand crisis point. Nobody sane trusts either of the two major political parties. Nobody hanging onto a sliver of reason can name more than a couple of well known politicians that they actually trust and they don’t exactly trust them either, truth be told.
The problem is not exclusive to any political party. It’s systemic and omnipresent.
And honestly, it’s all my fault.
Take note of my opening clause in that last sentence. I begin with And honestly because I want you think I’m honest. In all honesty, however, I’m not about to be honest with you with you in this blog post and that’s why this whole political corruption is all my fault.
Sure, I see the problem just like we all see the problem but in the last six years or so that I’ve been reporting on politics, I’ve also gotten to see the view from backstage. I’ve seen the sausage being made. I’m privy to inside information and off-the-record conversations. I’ve got the real scoop. I know things.
None of this makes me unique or special. I’m part of a large and secretive loose affiliation collectively known as ‘the media.’ Every pundit you listen to, every reporter you read, and every news source that filters, shapes and decides what information you get is part of it. All of them; the ones your like and the ones you hate. They all know things and they aren’t telling the audience some of the stuff they know. A lot of stuff, really.
And neither am I.
Here’s the heart of the problem with political corruption. It exists because the media allows it to exist. All of us. Everyone. Them. Me.
The ugly reality is that corruption exists because the media doesn’t want to piss off the people in power.
Sure, we’ll piss off SOME people. People we don’t like or agree with. That’s the gig, really.
But understand that when I talk about power that I’m not talking just talking about politicians. I’m talking about other people in the media.
I told you I wasn’t going to be completely honest with you in this post and I wasn’t lying. I’m not going to be completely, fully, brutally honest because I don’t want to piss off the wrong people; mainly people in media who I perceive as having more power than me.
That’s the truth.
What Is Power?
Power in the media is nebulous and very concrete, all at once. People with big audiences have power. People who write paychecks have power. People who hire & fire have power.
For everyone who works or wants to work in the media, there are people upstream with more power than you and people downstream with less. This loose power structure changes like boiling water. Your position shifts constantly and the person who was below you yesterday could be an important contact tomorrow.
Power is who you can get to answer your emails or return your phone calls.
The important factor in media power is access. If you have access to more and bigger people, you have power. Again, this access applies not just to politicians but to others in the political universe including staffers and other media people. Power is who you can get to answer your emails or return your phone calls. It’s who gives you time and who can afford to ignore you.
The difference between Famous Media Personality and Citizen Journalist isn’t just about the size of their platform. Audience reach is directly tied to access. The two blur together. The big platform of a Famous Media Personality means that politicians, activists & other media clamor for their attention. And they access gives them a bigger platform.
This means that if you piss off the wrong people, you lose both access and consequently, a platform.
Here’s a handy formula to piss off people: tell the public uncomfortable truths about them.
Apply this to day to day reality of political reporting and you’ve laid bare part of why the media is so awful; to report the ugly truth about politicians is to lose access.
Not just your access, either. Very possibly the entire organization you work for. Every other reporter there. The editors and publishers, too. Piss off the wrong person and you piss off a lot of people who you work with.
The big media organizations have a certain amount of immunity to this; they are too big to deny access to. However, the reason they are so beige is that they got big by not challenging the status quo too much.
So, built right into our political system is a huge disincentive for the media not to report the truth. It’s a constant, exhausting balancing act to not piss off the wrong people at any given moment.
…built right into our political system is a huge disincentive…
It’s very easy for people who don’t work in the media to simply dismiss the systemic problem I’m describing. The audience hasn’t experienced the intense pressure that the media constantly faces in reporting on politics. “Just give it to me straight!” they say in one breath, then curse you with the next when you expose the politicians that they like and approve of.
So the audience is part of the pressure. In world of professional, paid journalism, so are your colleagues. So are your editors. So are the people who depend on your paycheck, like your family and landlord.
The net result is the horrible political system we have that is making our politicians into millionaires. It just sort of hobbles along because to expose is it is to upset the apple cart. And we need the apples.
I’d love to report that I’m completely immune from human nature but I’m not. In Christian terms, we are all sinners; everyone but Jesus. And boy, did He piss off a lot of people.
The media is enabling this monstrosity and as I said, I’m part of that media.
I could give you details. I could name names. I could tell personal stories. I could publish emails.
And then I could throw myself in front of a truck and make my wife a widow and my children orphans.
I’d might as well. I would have just committed professional suicide.
So, I’ll be honest: I’m not going to do that.
If I’m Problem Then Maybe I Can Be The Solution.
I can be diligent or lazy.
I don’t believe the solution is for journalists to piss off their friends, colleagues, employers past or present, and sources. Killing your career doesn’t solve the problem. If journalists suddenly vanished from the earth, you’d hear the sound of glassware clinking around The Beltway clear out in Montana.
As a new Christian who came to Jesus at age 48, I find myself faced with seeing things in a new way. Old thinking habits die hard.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” says John 8:7
Matthew 7:3 reads “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
When I consider the Scriptures, I realize that my desire to curse other journalists, editors and the media in general is likely just an excuse to not look more deeply at my own failings.
So I repeat: political corruption is my fault. The solution begins with me.
Part of me still wants to say that I wish every journalist would look in the mirror and say that to themselves. I wish every citizen would, too. I think the world would be better place.
But I’m not without sin. I control only myself. So, what can I do to get rid of the political system we have?
I can focus on making the better choice. I can expose the truth honestly and effectively or I can distract myself from the real issues with senseless drama, pointless bickering or just plain fear. I can be diligent or lazy. I can get frustrated that the story isn’t getting traction or I can focus on explaining the story in a better, more effective way.
I see the stories I cover as my stewardship. It’s a constant challenge to rein them in and keep them on track but as Samuel L. Jackson’s character Jules says at the end of my favorite Christian film, Pulp Fiction: “I’m trying Ringo. I’m trying real hard to be the shepherd.”
I’ve hinted a bit at parts of what I’m about to write but I realized that I haven’t actually laid out the whole thing that’s going on in my life all in one place – so here goes.
September has been a rough month. Three major things have happened to me and my family, any one of which would be stressful all on its own. I’ll use the popular numerical checklist format to add a little emotional distance…
About three weeks ago, we found out that we have to move. The house we’ve rented for nearly a year in New Mexico needs major construction that will be very disruptive and last months. I work at home, we have kids, and the owner of the house never made any offer about how to resolve that.
The filmmaking seminar business has been really weak and the last two events I did have lost money. I’ve made sure the events have been great and the show must go on but it’s been a big financial hit.
So – health problems, financial problems and we have to move. That’s been September so far.
But I’m an optimist and a realist. Things could be a lot worse. The kids are good, we’re not starving and Lauren is the love of my life. We’ve adjusting and the adjusting contines.
My experience is that things in my life seem to happen for a reason and it’s a growth process. Our time in New Mexico has been great and we learned something about suburban living; we like some parts of it and other parts we could do without.
I’m a fan of simple philosophy that people like Leo Babauta write about in his great blog Zen Habits. I’m a fan, not an example…but I’m trying. I’m trying to regroup and really hone in on what’s important.
In screenplays, the hero often doesn’t choose to embark on their journey but instead they are forced to by forces beyond their control. That’s a lesson that’s shown up a couple of times for me lately. It came up in the Donald Miller book A Million Miles In A Thousand Years and it came up a few days ago in a conversation with screenwriting expert Derek Rydall. If you believe the universe is rather barren and mathematical, you can call it a coincidence even though that doesn’t explain a damn thing. What I’ve noticed in my life is that sometimes the universe seems to toss out messages to me and I’ve learned to try and listen.
Whatever prevents you from doing your work has become your work. – Albert Camus
The journey I’m being forced into is one where I’m a writer. I loved to California over twenty-five years ago to write and I just haven’t.
I’ve done other stuff. I’ve done things that I loved doing including photography and visual effects and other things that blind people don’t do all that well. So now while I’m at a fork in the road where I may actually go blind, I’m getting the message that maybe I should write. I can do that, so I’m going to do a lot of that.
I’ll probably do some other stuff because I do but I’m trying to reboot my life yet again and focus on writing and my health and actually walking the simplicity walk. I want to stabilize my businesses, too and of course, my family is all wrapped up in everything I do.
I feel very lucky. I’ve had so many things happen in my life that went far beyond my wildest dreams and excited to see where this next phase of my life leads. Thank you for being part of it, just by being here.
One of the common gripes about Twitter is that it’s a bunch of people ‘talking about thier lunch’; in other words, the dull, boring and mundane things in their lives. This criticism is wrong in all sorts of ways but it also perpetuates an insidious myth that there’s such a thing as an inherently boring subject.
Balderdsh! There’s no such thing as a boring subject, only boring writers and there’s no possible excuse for boring people in 140 characters.
Just to show you what I mean, here are five ways that you can take a subject that may seem dull and turn it into compelling Twitter content. I’m using lunch as an example but the principles here apply to anything under the sun.
Paint A Picture: The first idea is simple; write well. If you want make your tweets more appealing, spend the extra effort to write them in a more interesting way. Choose to use attention-grabbing words, avoid clichés like the plauge and let your verse work on a visceral level. Try to write a 140 character masterpiece that appeals to as many senses as possible. Use alliteration or even rhyme if the urge strikes. Why should you be ‘Enjoying a spicy sandwich’ when you could enlighten your audience with details like “Globs of green wasabi mayonnaise have escaped my roast beef on rye but fear not; my fingertips caught them.”
Take A Picture: In addition to painting with words, you can also literally snap a picture and be a lot more compelling. Stick a snappy and somewhat mysterious headline on there and you’re creating total clickbait.
Ask A Question: If you worry that your lunch will bore people, try asking people about THEIR lunch and watch them react. Twitter is an amazing medium for conversation – if you use it that way. Stop making your tweets a monologue. Mention a slice of your life and then ask a question.
Raise A Controversy: People love drama, so give them some. Rather than saying “Here’s my Yelp! review of Jack’s Restaurant”, flip the script and tweet a link with the text “I 100% disagree with this crazy Yelp! review” or “Why in the name of Thor does Jack’s Restaurant have all those 5 star ratings?” Amp up the differences and cultivate rival opinions to get people wondering what all the fuss is about.
See It With New Eyes: I recently talked to screenwriting expert Derek Rydell and he described a meditation / awareness exercise where you look at your lunch and trace back where every element came from, including the plate. The mustard started in France, the lettuce was picked by Honduran immigrants working in California’s Central Valley, the cheese is from an English coastal village and so on. Derek said you realize that you literally have the world on the plate in front of you. Mundane things are sometimes really amazing things that you haven’t really looked at deeply enough yet.
There’s a few ways to liven up your tweets. Do you have any favorite techniques?