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On TV, print journalism


In the days immediately following last week's barbarous acts of terrorism, letters began pouring in to newspapers. On the page opposite is a selection of those we received, including one from Rep. Mike Thompson and one from the Humboldt County chapter of the Quakers.

One woman wrote to the Times-Standard blasting the media for its coverage. "We are watching TV not out of idle curiosity to hear these pundits express their vacant brains into voids of airtime on national television," she said. "I'm thankful we can trust the Secret Service to protect our president. I only wish we could have the same confidence in the media."

I don't know which stations she was watching, but I strongly disagree. Like the New York hospital emergency workers preparing to receive the injured, the policemen evacuating the disaster scene and yes, the fire fighters who raced up those stairs, reporters did the job they were trained to do -- to report the news as quickly and accurately as possible.

Like so many others, those in our household spent much of the week flipping between channels -- and then turning the television off when we couldn't stand it anymore. What I saw was amazing work by those behind the camera, getting as close as possible to report but not interfere, and those in the broadcast booth. Never once did I hear a TV anchor "overreport" casualties as so often happens in breaking news. When one rescue was misreported, it was quickly corrected.

Those of us in print often like to criticise the shallowness of broadcast media but not this time and not these events. I was amazed and impressed at the depth and quality of commentators -- from Middle East specialists to theologians and psychiatrists --so quickly to help us try to understand what had just happened. And all of that television coverage -- did you notice? -- commercial-free.

On Monday I received the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) weekly Bulletin with samples of the larger California newspapers, those that were able to put out extra evening editions Tuesday for Americans so hungry for news. Again, these were notable efforts under incredible deadline pressure. Here are some of the immediate editorial comments from some of California's dailies:

"Nothing will ever be the same again. Our sense of security has been irrevocably shaken, maybe even destroyed." -- Chico Enterprise-Record

"Two invisible elements melted with the steel in Tuesday's dusty infernos. One was trust, trust in big strong structures like the Pentagon and in institutions like the airport security apparatus. An innocence also perished, a belief that some acts are unimaginable." -- Los Angeles Times

"We cannot ... retreat to the type of discrimination or hatred that filled many American hearts against Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. We cannot hasten to point a finger at a certain foreign element like we did before arresting Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing." -- Vallejo Times Herald

"This is a time for Americans to draw on their national values for an appropriate reaction. This is not a time to lash out. It is a time for cool appraisal, for relentless determination. There is a response to be fashioned ... working toward justice, not just retaliation. We must do it with a clear-eyed view, as well, that a battle has been joined, and that we cannot flinch from it." -- The Press Enterprise, Riverside

And finally, as the Journal goes to press this week, came the extra edition of Time magazine, without a single advertisement, which was put out within hours of last week's tragedy but delayed for West Coast readers because of the grounding of mail delivery planes. The edition is print journalism at its best -- the horrifying photos, the in-depth reporting of the unfolding events and Lance Morrow's haunting essay, "The Case for Rage and Retribution."

The media are always convenient targets. But believe it or not, even in Humboldt County, with news-gathering operations often staffed by entry-level journalists, we all try to do the best we can.



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