What is the public to do when an important matter such as $1.4 billion of military-police funding for a neighboring country head toward Congressional rubber-stamping with little media coverage?
We take what we can get. And that tends to be reporting from people who have no steady income assured for their considerable journalistic efforts. When one does reporting out of a love of and a concern for humanity, one tends bring some of one's own perspective to the task.
And in part what we get appears to be what we want. Alternative sources and aggregators for points of view are doing pretty well on the internet. Investigative reporting ("all reporting should be investigative reporting") is not.
The NewStandard reported straight news, practiced resource-intensive reporting and editing, interviewed people with multiple perspectives for each article, researched these statements for veracity, and had extremely high vetting and fact-checking standards.
In short, the NewStandard was an impressive antidote to most media's bias toward authority and 'he said, he said' stenography. This impressive effort of several years of daily reporting never resulted in a enough financial support - or even acknowledgment - for the journalists who dedicated their time in this nonprofit pursuit to believe they could continue.
So it is an important question, it is not hypothetical, and it has many possible answers: Is this news?
Speakers at Plan Mexico Hearing Admit That Plan Will Not Curb Flow of Drugs to U.S.
by Jennifer Truskowski (November 2, 2007).
On Thursday, October 25, in Washington, DC the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing to discuss Plan Mexico, recently renamed the Merida Initiative in a PR attempt to distance this plan from the failed Plan Colombia, which hasn't reduced the availability of drugs in the U.S., barely reduced the production of cocaine in Colombia, and devastated poor farmers whose food crops have been destroyed and who never received sufficient alternative aid.
- This is not a lead sentence you would read in any Associated Press article (too long for starters, and against bipartisan political currents), but I argue it plays by most of the same rules. The summary provides context and every statement in it is backed up by facts in the article.
Chairman Eliot Engels stated, "We should not be so naïve as to think that the defeat of Mexico's drug cartels alone will significantly reduce drug consumption in the United States. Drug traffickers can easily pick up once again and move on to new routes."
- Again, a fairly well-established fact not given proportional play in establishment media, but direct quotation is I think still fair in all media.
In the hearing, Chairman Engels stupidly used U.S. journalist Brad Will's murder as an example of the kind of drug-related violence we must be fighting. In the fall of 2006, Brad Will was videotaping a conflict in Oaxaca that had begun months earlier when local police were sent by governor Ulises Ruiz to attack peaceful teachers gathered in the city square who were striking for better wages. From this event, a movement grew to overthrow the corrupt Ruiz. On the day that Brad Will was shot, local and federal police forces had been sent to attack protesters. He was shot in the conflict, and his camera recorded the moments of his own death. On the footage we see his alleged murderers. Photos of them were published in Mexican newspapers. They were two municipal police officers, two members of the local city hall, and the former justice of peace of a nearby town.
Since then, Mexican officials have not investigated any of these suspects, nor anybody else for the murder of Brad Will. The U.S. embassy also has not pressured anybody to bring the perpetrators to justice. In fact, nobody has ever been investigated, tried, or punished for any of the 26 murders that happened so far during the Oaxaca struggle. Brad Will's murder is a perfect example of how abusive and corrupt the Mexican government is, and just one reason why we should not be handing law enforcement aid to Mexican officials. Engel's blatantly ignorant mention of Will's murder was irresponsible and offensive, and I can only hope that he is receiving piles of angry letters.
(If you would like to send one: Eliot L. Engels, Chairman, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, phone: 202-225-2464, fax: 202-225-5513, email: jason.steinbaum (at) mail.house.gov)
- Contact information for a public representative? In a news article. Whoa. That's more shocking to establishment media thinking than the two paragraph this-is-how-it-is-you-stupid-public-official-how-could-you-be-so-ignorant setting the record straight. Jennifer Truskowski's accounting is factual from all I know from various sources, and that's a lot, but a point of view (basically that the truth is really important here for the future of Mexico's people) openly drives her writing, which is very different from most people's experience with news reporting.
But her statements (wrapped between the far from neutral adverb "stupidly" and conclusion 'this is bad, here's why it matters now, and you all should do something about it' are the facts, and if it takes someone reporting for free on the open-to-everyone Chicago Indymedia site to correct the public record in Chicago and the United States, how can we insist that her voice be left out as not news?
(If it means people won't accept those facts as facts, then the answer of even advocates of advocacy journalism is most certainly yes. But I'd like to leave that question - which is not cut and dried - aside for now.)
The facts of agents of Oaxacan government repression killing Brad Will had to be presented in any honest account of the hearing, as did some other background information included by Jennifer Truskowski in her report. This is important information that had to be included. It is also difficult to tell people this information in a neutral third-party matter when you don't have the resources to directly hear from sources in, say, Mexico.
So here we have important facts and context presented, with no more lack of sourcing than is common to many traditional newspaper articles (this is bad in both cases but isn't a point of distinction). The presentation is very different in one sense: Truskowski reported on the event with a strong first-person voice.
Is it news?
What can we expect from people putting blood, sweat, and tears into reporting the truth as they understand it?
What should we demand of the same?
How do we define what is news, and how do we make sure we get what we need (or at least know what that is), for stories with many lives and billions of dollars on the line?