Film Review “Good Night, and Good Luck”

One of my best American friends working in Journalism always tells me that I should watch this great movie, “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Finally I did. To me, it was like a well-round journalism history review, a journey to the evolvement of journalism.

The Movie "Good Night, and Good Luck"

“Good Night, and Good Luck” is Murrow’s signature out cue of his program. By watching this film, I got to know the career and life of Murrow, as well as the early broadcast industry. Actually, the two are not separated at all. In the website Historynet.com, Murrow was credited as “inventing broadcast journalism.” It’s probably true. By the time Murrow was producing his TV show “See it Now,” it was the era of radio. Murrow and his colleague had to learn from the basic shooting skills to make the program. They were the entrepreneurs, the adventurers, exploring a new field with their talented sense of journalism.

What Murrow explored was not only about advanced technology for that time. The ideology of journalism had also been advanced thanks to Murrow. The movie tells the story about conflict between Murrow and Senator Joseph McCathy. McCathy, senate from Wisconsin, was promoting this huge activity agains communism. Many people were accused of being communism. Many of McCathy’s charge could not support itself, but he got his national fame during this anti-communism campaign.

One of the things I also noticed is that Murrow used a lot of “We” in his program. It’s more like commentary. That is one of the feature that has been excluded from today’s journalism. Murrow, with his perfect looking for TV and charismatics, was like a knowledgeable idol who told the viewers the truth.

When Murrow did a story about the case of Milo Radulovich, who was fired from the Air Force because his mother was accused of being communism. Murrow explained his opinion about the case and McCathy’s anti-communism on air. Later, he rebated McCathy’s accusation with McCathy’s own speech. He encouraged Americans to be fearless and avoid the pointless accusation:

“We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men, not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes which were for the moment unpopular. We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of the Republic to abdicate his responsibility.”

We could always see Edward Murrow smoking in those old photos.

Murrow is indeed fearless. He even sponsored his program with his own money in order to speak out the truth in his program. However, CBS CEO Bill Paley still decided to move Murrow’s controversial program to Sunday. Paley, as he said in the movie, never censored Murrow’s program. But his last decision did show a compromise during the journey of exploring broadcast journalism.

A New Story from Media Storm — She Looks Back

I was so excited to find a new story published on the Media Storm. It’s a story produced for American Institutes for Research to visually document the impact of their educational projects. The story focuses on women’s education in Liberia. “She looks back” is quoted from the Liberian Administer of Education. She was talking about girls’ education. If the girl is educated, she will contribute back to her family and the society.

The numbers in the story are striking. The number of school before 1989 were 2400, whereas the number decreased to 480 by 2003 as a result of war. Only 31% women can read and write.

The Liberian girl has a beautiful smile in the picture.

Liberian Administer of Education said in the story that in their culture “a girl child is a caretaker.” Girls in Liberia usually have the responsibility to do housework for their family. The girl washes dishes, cooks, takes care of her siblings and parents. Here, in terms of journalism, I really appreciate the nice sequence of the girl cooking. A sequence of shots not only reveal the tedious and time-consuming process, but also show us their humble house and simple food. A girl going to school means some other members from the family have to take care of their home, otherwise there will be a vacuum. Therefore, it is crucial for the parents to understand the importance of education, and support their daughters to go to school.

However, many of the parents didn’t go to school. They didn’t understand the importance of education. The positives created by education is long-term, versus the short term need of taking care of the house. Unfortunately, if the parents don’t understand the long-term paybacks and only focus on the temporary duties, the girls education won’t be permitted.

Another barrier is the financial burden, which in turn becomes the value of this excellent journalism piece. 1.7 out of 3.5 million of Liberians are living in poverty. The girls in Liberia might not have the access to education because their families can’t afford it. The story of “She looks back” will let more people be aware of the issue and provide potential help to them. This impact reminds me of a guest speaker to our Broadcast II class. He said he wishes future journalists would report something that have a positive impact to the society, as opposed to chasing crime and accident all the time.

The story inspired me that as a young journalist, I should tell stories that would generate positive impacts, making a difference in people’s life. There’s no such a thing that the impact is big or small. To those who are in need, they all deserve such an impact.

Modernization of Beijing Opera

Beijing Opera is a gem of Chinese traditional art. However, we have to admit that this form of art is going downward. Highly abstract performance, slow rhythm, consistent melody are less attractive to younger generations. In spite of  the efforts of training new performers from an early age, Chinese operas are losing their audience. Crowded funs gathering in front of stages and watching operas has become the history.

Too much sexy but too little about opera?

Recently a group of pictures named “Who said Beijing Opera is not Sexy” caught my attention. My attention was caught firstly from appeal to the beauty of some pictures (as the one on the left), but then as I moved on to other pictures, I didn’t get it (as the one on the right). It’s hard to tell what makes the differences between the ones that appeal to me with the ones that I feel they are overly sexy. One possible reason is the initial ideas from the artists: whether the artist want to highlight the opera or the sexy models.

My curiosity drove me to do some research about the modernization of traditional arts in China. There are already some criticism towards modernization of traditional operas, questioning that they are distorting and disfiguring the soul of traditional arts. For example, many experts feel upset about an underwear show featuring Beijing Opera. The experts don’t like the idea of showing the beauty of Beijing Opera through nudity. Some critics even stated that national traditions are not supposed to be modernized and distorted. After thinking about the pros and cons, I agree and disagree with the criticism.

The traditional form of arts shows the shining, luxury but distant beauty from old times.

Should Beijing Opera be modernized?

 

 

 

I understand those who criticized the modernization are making their criticism based on the love of Chinese traditions, but we have to admit that simply resisting modern reform might prevent the opera to attracting new fans. I appreciate the creativeness and modern elements added to Beijing Opera. As one of the origins of Chinese arts, it is actually a good thing that Beijing Opera is inspiring contemporary artists, photographers and painters to create. To some extent, good contemporary creations do help to maintain the traditional arts, appealing more people to become interested in the old arts. Therefore, more people would want to watch and learn the opera. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that we have to use nudity to attract people to watch operas. Selling products under the name of traditional arts would also be considered distasteful.

So the bottom-line would be it is fine to add modern and sexy elements to traditional arts as long as they are added to demonstrate the traditional arts to today’s audience. However, if these elements are overly added, it would become sensationalism. In this case, it would be adding traditional arts to those pictures for the sake of sexy appeal, rather than arts modernization.

Film Review—“Searching for Sugar Man”

Gigi invited me to go to True/False Film Festival on the last day. “It’s not just a movie; it’s a film fest, you should go,” Gigi said. Yeah, I should go. It could be the last year for me to stay in Columbia as I will graduate. I’m glad I made the decision. The movie “Searching for Sugar Man” was incredible. It’s the best story I’ve ever heard. As a journalism student, I wish I would have the opportunity to tell a story like this.

Searching for Sugar Man

 

The story is about a singer and songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who was “the greatest ’70s U.S. rock icon who never was.” His music was appreciated by producers, but sales were loomed. Rumors were he committed suicide on stage when his audience reacted negatively. However, his albums were a hit in another country, South Africa. People love Rodriguez for decades, although they had no clue who the guy is. Very little information about the artist exists. Then two huge funs of Rodriquez’s music, a music retailer and a journalist, started to investigate what really happened to Rodriquez.

 

“Sugar man” is one of Rodriguez’s song. One of the two investigator, the music retailer, also gave himself a name “Sugar” in honor of his music idol.

 

Malik Bendjelloul, Director, Swedish.
Bendjelloul showed up at the True/False Festival in person.

I am appealed to the filmmaker Malik Bendjelloul’s storytelling, and it is inspiring for excellent journalism. He held the central compelling character until half of the movie. This approach keeps viewers interested all the time and wanted to know more about what happens next. What’s more, the rumor of Rodriguez’s suicide and lack of his information dominated the first half of the movie, which is a nice way to show the viewers the difficulties and frustrations of searching for Sugar Man.

Then, at the transition point of the movie, when Rodriguez called Sugar, the audience were amazed to hear the artist’s voice and then see him. The atmosphere of the movie surprisingly turned from depression, sadness and myth to hope, motives and excitement. The story arrived at the most exciting point when Rodriguez when to South Africa and held six great performances which were all sold out. His South African funs crowded, screamed and cried when they see their musical hero.

Sixto Rodriguez

 

 

Rodriguez served as a construction worker and led a very humble life. He didn’t get money from his albums sold in South Africa; He didn’t make money from his successful performances either. He was like a super star in South Africa. Nevertheless, he went back to his life, continue his hard work, and still lives in poverty. He is a true artist, a humble human being, and a star for generations. He is inspiring people by the power of his music and also his life.

The Newsworthiness of Death

 

Unrest and regime changes result in breaking news, as well as controversial issues concerning violence and blood. Just in 2011, gruesome photos of two controversial leaders’ dead bodies made some media forget normal taboos of covering death. Reuters published a picture of Osama bin Laden’s dead body despite President Obama’s statement against releasing the photo. When Muammar Gaddafi died, graphic pictures appeared with little concern from the media. Sine Saddam Hussein’s execution was broadcast in 2006, the public has questioned covering death and the conflict with newsworthiness.

Many newsrooms have a rule of not showing blood on air, let alone those wounded dead bodies lying in a pool of blood. Journalists report news stories, yet they don’t want to offend the public, especially children. However, the regime-changed leaders’ final moments gave the editors a reason that was hard to resist, which is newsworthiness. Based on journalism principles, the first obligation is to the truth. Radio and Television Digital News Association Media Editor Ryan Murphy wrote in his article, “20 Ethics Questions to Consider Before Using Osama bin Laden Death Photos,” that many news directors said they would run the picture because of it is “clearly of historical significance.”  Publishing the photos would produce a more powerful report than just running a print story. The gruesome pictures did imply credibility and accuracy.

However, no matter how significant the news is, the dead leaders are still human beings. Should journalists treat the death of Gaddafi with the same basic standard of respect? Would there be anyone who run the pictures because they wanted to boost the sales by the gruesome image of a dictator who used to be powerful and proud? Many people call for respect for life so that “even Muammar Gaddafi deserved a private death.” Then what about the newsworthiness? When the traditional ethical rules encounter a need driven by newsworthiness, journalists fall into an ethical dilemma.  Although this kind of big news about a regime-changed leader’s death wouldn’t happen everyday, editors have to make the ethical decision every time they get some newsworthy yet graphic photos.

Today, reporters and editors are facing increasing pressures when they deal with the gruesome photos because of the proliferation of the Internet and social media. Information can spread within seconds, and those who have to make an ethical decision have little time to think twice. More importantly, just like what the news directors said in Murphy’s article: “Once it’s out there, it’s out there and individual media using it won’t make that worse.” Ethical consideration would make an editor hold a gruesome picture of a local accident, but when it’s regarding national breaking news that is pursued by every news outlet, the proliferation of social media pushes editors to release the photos.

While social media is changing the journalistic industry, I don’t think the ethical values are changed. If I were the editor facing the choice of to publish or not, I would say yes. Not running the pictures would only make my newsroom lose in today’s competitive media industry rather than keeping the bloody images from offending the viewers. However, I would be concerned with the ethical values; I would run the story on the front page but publish the picture inside the newspapers, or I would add an additional click to the picture if it’s online. In this way, my newsroom wouldn’t suffer much loss to the competing media outlets because the readers or the viewers can still get the breaking news on the front page. Meanwhile, the image of the dead bodies would not stand out in front.

Take No Side, Tell All Sides — “China’s Wild West” Goes Over A Fine Line

Laura Ling’s story “China’s Wild West” has raised controversy on the issue regarding ethnicity and territories. In this report, Ling traveled to the Gobi Desert.

Ling did a good job in reporting conflicts and giving voices to those uncovered, especially considering the difficulties she had to deal with because of government censorship. However, I would like to see more objective coverage in this story. It would be a better piece of  journalism if Ling reported the facts and let the viewers make their own decision instead of interpreting for them.

In this report, Ling used “it seems” frequently after her description of this area. For example, the reporting crew encountered an unexpected emergent security inspection before its plane took off. All the passengers were ordered to get off the plane and get additional security screening in another van. Here’s how Ling told the story:

“They were Chinese guys; they were not Uighurs. So we don’t know what they were wanted for, but it seems likely that they were involved in any Uighurs separatist activities.”

She didn’t give any evidence on what made her relate the security screening to the government’s suspicion of Uighurs. Then Ling went on by saying, “So it seems that whatever happens, the Chinese government seems to react as if they under the threat of terrorism.”

In the third piece, which was about China’s development and what it means to the Uighurs, Ling showed the viewers the prosperity of the Capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi. She interviewed a Uighur girl named Xia Xia. Ling asked if Xia thinks Uighurs in Xinjiang should be independent. Xia answered, “Why would we like that since our lives are good.” After Xia gave a tour about the modern city in Xinjiang, Ling’s comment is “most Uighurs in Urumqi don’t live like Xia Xia.” I disagree with Ling’s comments. Then she switched the scene to the countryside. As a viewer, I’m confused by the way she led the story. I don’t think it’s appropriate for Ling, who is a reporter, to lead the viewers’ thoughts.

The relevant principles at stake in Ling’s story are about independent monitoring of power and a forum for public criticism. “China’s Wild West” reveals the gray area to the public and monitors what the government is doing. However, in terms of providing a forum for public criticism, the story didn’t maintain an objective position. Instead, it’s more like Ling is telling the story because she thought the Uighurs should be independent, and Ling is passing her opinion to the viewers.

Laura Ling, a Chinese-American journalist, works for Current TV,. Ling and her Korean-American colleague, Euna Lee, were arrested by North Korea in March 2009 while they were filming near the country's border with China.

As to journalists’ loyalty, Ling’s loyalty is neither to the government side nor to the Uighers, but to the public. The Xinjiang area was uncovered because of the censorship, and Ling reported the story to the public. That was the most valuable thing of this story. Unfortunately, Ling jumped ahead and made the judgment for her viewers. Just like the Reuters Handbook for Journalists says: “Take no side, tell all sides.”

Because of the censorship from the Chinese government, Ling could not get any authority sources or any sources from the government’s side. In this way, “China’s Wild West” provides a lot of valuable materials for the viewers to make sense of what’s going on in this area. However, it doesn’t mean that Ling had to make a judgment on this issue herself. Many times, what the reporters are covering are dilemmas; they are controversial in nature. It is so difficult to judge which side is right and which is wrong; there might be no answers to those dilemmas at all. It’s not necessary to give a clear answer to each story. Journalists’ job is to give a fair and objective report to those issues, give voices to those who are forgotten by society and discover the unknown land. Ling’s interpretations to the report are unnecessary and actually added to biases and the reporter’s personal opinion. It has jeopardized what could be excellent journalism. If I were Ling, I would not make assumption for the viewers. Instead, I would explain how we were blocked by the sources and how censorship functions.

Up on the 9th Floor — Reflection on The Ninth Floor by Jessica Dimmock

Get The 9th Floor at the Media Storm

I was in NYC for Christmas and the New Year, and the city is still vivid in my mind, for the prosperous and the dark. Jessica Dimmock’s story in NY caught my attention.

I’m impressed by Dimmock’s storytelling, which is done by excellent journalism and the art of photography. The story focus is about despair, addiction, struggle and life. The slide show together with the soundbites are so powerful that it touched my heart. So I watched the slide show repeatedly and paused, thinking and learning Dimmock’s delivery. I noticed that she put a couple of photos from a same setting together, which reveals the significantly different expression on the character’s face in different pictures. I even asked myself, what would be the next facial expression like. This kind of work makes me think.

Also as to the content, Dimmock told us the whole story. She didn’t just provide the pictures, but there was a story there. The young couple loved each other but fought badly at first; their baby turned them to a new life. Jessie struggled with drug addiction and her health became an issue. Yet, we don’t know their future. Their stories and what they have been experienced highlight the impact of drug on their lives.

My favorite picture of Jessica Dimmock

However, this is a controversial story. Privacy is revealed. The darkness on the 9th floor is vividly showed to the viewers. It’s like when you look the flesh under the scar, the process is painful. But that’s where the solution is expected. Journalism is supposed to report these issues, and give voices to people who are not receiving public attention, like the folks on the 9th floor.

I admire this work because it not only grabbed my attention and impressed me with the powerful visuals, it also made me think. I consider it as my journalistic goal. I would like to have the similar effects in my stories.

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