Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A whole bunch of rambling

Per a discussion on sportsjournalists.com, in journalism, we tend to wet our pants over awards. APSE's. ASNE's. SPJ's. Other various state and national awards. Typically, we'll mention it in the paper. Some papers even place a story on the front page. But why? Readers don't care. As was mentioned on the board, to readers, it does not hold any more significance than the lucky individual who wins Employee of the Month at Burger King. And the person at Burger King gets the special parking spot, which is more than any journalist can claim. At least Burger King Guy gets something useful and tangible. All we journalists get is a plaque to put on the wall. Most awards are judged subjectively and involve such a high level of politics that any meaning in them is drowned out by the time said plaque reaches its spot on the wall.

I'd rather see a reporter who consistently breaks stories and devotes him or herself to being solid everyday than one who is constantly focused on winning awards. On the board, Jason Whitlock makes the point that awards are journalism's steroids and a major reason for the issues with fabrication. He's right. Most journalists have an insatiable hunger to move up and up and up. It's natural, and most are not as good as they think they are.

However, as we have seen in the cases of Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and others, a few lack the moral fiber to advance legitimately. They resort to cheating. It is sad. It is unfortunate. And in some cases, it is inevitable. A reporter thinks he is a "young effing stud." His editor, too, sees his reporter as a "young effing stud." The editor wants results and awards. The reporter wants to advance. The editor keeps the reporter on a loose leash. The reporter takes liberties. The editor does not think twice. And then there's trouble. It does not matter if it is Jesus Christ who is wearing a fedora and sitting in front of a typewriter. The editor needs have control over his or her reporters. There should be no star system. And while we're at it, take away the awards system, too.

# # #

After reading a Des Moines Register column by Marc Hansen about a college kid who decided to spend part of his Spring Break at Wal-Mart as an experiment, it made me realize that, while Wal-Mart is the definition of evil, it would be a fun thing to do. When I was a junior in high school, I sat by a kid named Jason in study hall. Jason was one of the funniest persons I have ever met. He decided to see how long he could live in the tent and patio area of Wal-Mart. Jason figured he could subsist on hotdogs and chips while taking shelter in a giant tent. He only survived for six hours before he was asked to leave by the Wal-Mart police. In the Register story, Skyler Bartels stayed for nearly two days. That's amazing.

When asked about Bartels' experiement, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said, "We were not aware of this, but it's not something we condone. We're a retailer, not a hotel." Perhaps she is jaded by the constant protests that surround Wal-Mart, but that is a snide comment to make about someone who was attempting to show how Wal-Mart can be a fun place. He did not do anything wrong. Doing something for the sake of doing something out of the ordinary is admirable. Too often, we get set in our ways and don't venture out of what we see as normal living. Delving into the slightly abnormal can be healthy.

There is a discussion board along with the story. I am amused at the people who read the story and wrote derogatory about Bartels' project. That he is a slacker, a good for nothing kid and he needs a haircut. These people...he is a college student who was on Spring Break. He had free time, and that's how he chose to spend it. He could have gone to Florida and cause trouble, but he decided to do something different. To spend any time in a Wal-Mart is a mind-numbing experience, and it was a test of human endurance. I'd probably go crazy.

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