A little more… BAD NEWS

August 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm

Please don’t be alarmed, I won’t always lead with Bad News, but I just felt it necessary to revisit yesterday’s top story with another excerpt from Tom Fenton‘s Pulitzer-worthy denouncement of contemporary network journalism. The passage below provides good cause to reconsider the public’s reverence for HBO documentaries and the pay-cabler’s division leader and pedestal-topper, Sheila Nevins.

One journalist friend of mine told me a story of approaching Sheila Nevins, the head of HBO documentaries, at the outset of the Afghan campaign, to propose going on location early to live with the locals and see how the war affected them. Nevins dismissed the idea, saying that she “didn’t want to know about those awful people,” and had no interest “what they’re like.”

Oy. This reminds me of when I was on a panel programming shorts for a major international film festival. We had all watched the same movies and were convening to share our opinions and scores. We began discussing one title, a gritty — euphemism alert! — urban drama that received “A pluses” from everyone at the meeting but one juror. She gave it an F. When pressed to explain why her take was in such contrast to the majority, she calmly offered: “I’m just tired of movies about black people.” Yes, aren’t we all tired of all those damn movies with Jennifer Aniston and Bradley Cooper and Kristen Stewart and Leonardo DiCaprio… Whoops! They’re white, aren’t they? Oh, so the programmer who said that is an ass, isn’t she? Maybe she could get a job working for Sheila Nevins.*

The first two requirements for being a journalist or a curator or a gatekeeper really ought to be curiosity and compassion. If one can’t manage those two Cs, how couldone be expected to see the truth.

What do YOU think?

Watch episodes of The High Bar with Brian Stelter of The New York Times and social media maven Monica Guzman Preston as they raise the bar for old school journalism and new media journalism, respectively.

* Please note, I do believe Ms. Nevins has overseen the broadcast of many great documentaries, but stories like the one from Bad News do lead me to question her objectivity given the task or wrangling documentaries which, by their very nature, ought to provide unflinching looks at the world and peoples around us without prejudice.

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