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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Five days after I saw Bill Cunningham New York, a documentary about New York Times style photographer Bill Cunningham, I went to a screening of another documentary called Page One: Inside the New York Times. The New York Times has become a big movie star! But what if the fame goes to the Times’s head? I can see it now: the New York Times slipping a nip on the red carpet, flashing its nether regions at photographers while exiting a car, denying ownership of the cocaine in its jeans, swilling tiger bloodwinding up on Celebrity Rehab and marrying a Scientologist. Please, New York Times, get yourself a sober coach before it’s too late!

Those worries aside, the movie is a must-see for anyone interested in the news. And we’re all interested, right? That’s why we’re on Twitter all the time, chasing the latest celebrity death rumors. But, while Twitter and Facebook and blogs are good at disseminating breaking news, we’ll never be fully informed without people who actually pick up the phone, get on a plane, ask questions and write the deeper, more analytical stories.

One of the highlights of the documentary is seeing Times media critic and author David Carr (who graciously let me win an arm-wrestling contest at the post-screening cocktail party) take down a guy from Vice, who went to Liberia with a camera and was shocked — shocked! — at what he found there, including feces on a beach and boasts about cannibalism. The dude truly thought he’d discovered an untold story, but Carr told him in no uncertain terms that the Times has been covering genocide in Liberia for decades. I particularly appreciated that moment because one of my pet peeves is people who complain that “the media” doesn’t “tell” them about important stories. All too often, the media is telling you and telling you, but you’re not paying attention! In a 2008 post on the Overseas Press Club Awards, I compared this willful ignorance to a scene from The Last King of Scotland, about Uganda’s brutal dictator Idi Amin. In the movie, Amin expels all Asians from Uganda (as he really did) against the advice of his physician/adviser. After other nations condemn the act, he turns on the doctor:

Amin: “You should have told me not to throw the Asians out, in the first place.”
Dr. Nicholas Garrigan: “I DID!”
Amin: “But you did not persuade me, Nicholas. You did not persuade me!”

I fear people will sink even deeper into obliviousness as they consume more of their news online, where it’s easier to self-censor the news and skip over things like those pesky international stories. As I’ve said before, even though I am online all day, I’m still an enthusiastic reader of newspapers. When you’re forced to flip through the pages, your eye lands on important stories whether you are looking for them or not.

Journalists risk their lives every day to bring you those stories. Foreign correspondents are recognized at the above-mentioned Overseas Press Club Awards dinner, which was held in April this year. The event is always one of mixed emotions — it’s wonderful to see journalists’ work being honored, but the work often conveys news of terrible suffering around the globe. This year’s awards were more upsetting than ever, coming just eight days after the deaths of photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who were killed while covering the conflict in Libya. In addition, one of the awardees, Lynsey Addario, had been sexually assaulted when she and colleagues were detained in Libya while on assignment for the New York Times. And photojournalist Joao Silva couldn’t attend — he was still recovering from losing his legs to a landmine in Afghanistan, also while on assignment for the Times.

Days later, on May 2, CBS foreign correspondent Lara Logan did an interview with 60 Minutes about the sexual assault she endured while covering the revolt in Egypt. I made the mistake of reading some of the online comments, which, as expected, confirmed my dislike of most people. A popular opinion was that she was asking for it: a blonde woman shouldn’t be doing that job. (Another take on it: she WANTED to be raped for the publicity.) Of course, men also are sexually assaulted, brutalized and, as we’ve seen, killed for doing that job — for bringing us the news.

While I pondered this, news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke … on Twitter. I would normally have welcomed this development. Unfortunately, MrB had just landed in Islamabad — 40 miles away from bin Laden’s compound — on a mission with the Committee to Protect Journalists. He and his party were scheduled to meet with Pakistan’s president and local journalists in order to discuss the 15 Pakistani journalists who have been murdered in under a decade. I hadn’t been happy that he was going on the trip in the first place; now I was really worried. I couldn’t say anything about his whereabouts online, and decided to save any comments about journalists in danger for another day. So I’m saying it now: journalists who risk their lives to keep us informed about world events deserve our thanks.  If not for them, we really would be able to complain that “No one told us!” Luckily, they’re around to save us from such ignorance, assuming we ostriches can be persuaded to take our heads out of the sand long enough to absorb their work.

I’m also late in addressing another journalism-related topic: a big congratulations to Jill Abramson, who this month became the first female executive editor of The New York Times. (Among her previous jobs: working with MrB as the Wall Street Journal’s deputy bureau chief for Washington, D.C.) I was struck by this portion of the Times’s story about her:

“Ms. Abramson, 57, said being named executive editor was ‘the honor of my life’ and like ‘ascending to Valhalla’ for someone who read The Times as a young girl growing up in New York.”

During my journalism career, any job at the Times would have been like ascending to Valhalla for me. I’d read the Times as a young girl growing up in New Jersey. But I also had an interest in fashion and a father who was an entrepreneur. So, instead of pursuing a job at the Times, I started a fine-jewelry business. Now Jill is running one of the best papers in the world, and I’m posting photos of my shoes. I am consoling myself by imagining that Jill will be slaving over the paper late one night and thinking, “Wow, I wish I could just post a big picture of my shoe on this front page and go home.”  Mwah ha ha ha. MWAH HA HA HA! Anyway, congrats to Jill and the Times.

A few final notes:

  1. Page One: Inside the New York Times opens in New York on June 17 and nationally on July 1.
  2. Both video clips used in this post are from Family Guy. Where the hell else?
  3. My usual policy is “no arm-wrestling at cocktail parties” — I made an exception for David Carr — so if you see me at a cocktail party, a handshake will suffice.

UPDATED JULY 4, 2011, TO ADD: I totally forgot that MrB briefly appears in Page One, saying something or other about journalism! I would have mentioned it in the original post had I remembered.

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25 Responses to “The New York Times Is a Movie Star and Other Journalism Stuff”

  1. Robyn Hawk says:

    Brilliant – I am going to have to see if those films will show on the Left Coast…Sounds great.

    I am an avid blogger but I have to agree – there is a “real” press and what a good reporter can do with a phone is way beyond my capabilities. No matter how tech we get – that old school concept of building relationships still rules the day.

  2. Eli says:

    oh dear, glad to hear then that MrB is safe and sound.

    You are absolutely right about the self censoring. I try to listen to NPR as much as possible, and now that I don’t work at a public library, reading the paper every day has become less and less of a thing for me because of super ease of access but I must remedy this! It freaks me out to just think of all the oblivious people out there.

  3. Mary says:

    If only we had a decent newspaper in Australia. They are either dumbed-down and full of crap, or stupidly right wing. I don’t read them any more and I fear I am losing the plot with what goes on in the world given I only read stuff on the interwebs :(

    • WendyB
      Twitter: WendyBrandes
      says:

      Ugh, that sucks!

      I find even when I read a good paper like the Times or the Wall Street Journal online, I miss a lot that I would see in the regular paper. I guess I have to try it on the iPad for that “turning the pages” effect, but I can’t imagine going through the entire paper that way.

    • Lynn says:

      I second this, in my case it’s Malaysia. Freedom of speech is a foreign thing here, but we do have it in our Constitution. Nice, huh? :P. So much so that I refuse to buy newspapers anymore for this suck-up attitude of theirs.

  4. Hear hear. We don’t often really think about this sort of thing, so thanks for this post x

  5. I love the fact that the NY Times has a female editor at last and will be giving Jill Abramson a Style Begins At Forty Award (SBAFtA) next week.

  6. une femme
    Twitter: dejapseu
    says:

    Hear, hear! I get so irritated by people who think that having an internet connection makes them a “journalist.” Real journalists get out there and do the legwork and the tedious research, and yes, sometimes risk life and limb. Bravo to MrB for supporting them!

  7. mystyle says:

    Hi my dear-a really insightful and well written post, very well done to Jill Abramson too, sounds like a very well deserved honour and position for her. Also, I adore the Prada dress and sandals, you look totally stunning xx

  8. lisa says:

    I love coming to your blog for your insightful, well-written posts on all sorts of topics. A fashion blog that also provides thoughtful commentary on the work of journalists? Yes, please.

  9. Marian says:

    I am absolutely dying to see the Bill Cunningham New York film! The man is amazing.
    xoxo
    Marian.

  10. Susan Tiner says:

    That situation with MrB in Pakistan sounds unnerving. I do think of and thank journalists and continue to absorb their work. Good for you reminding people to pay attention!

  11. Audi says:

    Excellent post Wendy. Particularly troubling is the current trend of networks or websites reporting stories that haven’t actually been checked for truthfulness, a common tactic of Fox and other politically-slanted “news” sources. The journalists who report news the old-fashioned way — by researching it themselves — deserve an extra award for integrity. It’s nice to know that people are still out there uncovering the truth, if disheartening to know that so many others choose to ignore it.

  12. Terri says:

    I wonder if you are familiar with the work of R.A.W.

    awards to female journalists risking their lives to get the story told.

  13. Sheena says:

    Very well said!

    I’ve always felt that great journalism is often undervalued in today’s society. I appreciate Twitter and other social media apps as much as the next person, but it doesn’t do the job.

    And congrats to Jill Abramson!

  14. Samantha@Fashionbidtv.com
    Twitter: fashionbidtv
    says:

    Well said! Glad Mr B is OK, poor you must have been v stressful.

  15. drollgirl says:

    i am one of the few (the proud? the old?) that still reads a newspaper. i just read the sunday paper. it takes me FOREVER to read it, but i love it. you never know what you will find in the paper.

    to be honest, my other news sources would be the daily show and the colbert report. i LOVE them both. so funny, so timely and such great interpretations/mockery of some of the ludicrous stories that are considered “news” today. priceless!

  16. tina m says:

    WendyB–
    I just have to say that I adore your blog. It is my favorite by far. Shoes, current events….it’s all delicious.

    I canceled my subscription to the NYT a while to save money and now I am regretting that decision for reasons you mentioned. I think I will call them and fix that mistake. They will have you to thank!!

  17. I’d rather post photos of shoes… too! You made the right turn.

  18. Samar
    Twitter: samarbabarhps
    says:

    Most of the non-entertainment sensationalist news gets lost online. It’s there but you really have to make a conscious effort to find it (which I try to do, I always go through the world news etc)and your point about the advantages of flipping through a newspaper is something I never thought of! You’re right about how we too often forget about the heroism journalists take on to bring us the news. It’s something we most definitely take for granted.
    Anyway I’m fairly new to your blog but I absolutely love it. So while you may not be at the helms of a newspaper I think you’re doing an excellent job here- Thanks

  19. The Styley says:

    So much more than pictures of shoes. Smart writing, smart topics, smart looks. Fashion with forethought (and afterthought too, I guess).