Telling you again.

My education into the AIDS epidemic in South Florida continued with viewing the rest of the Special I viewed earlier this week (the special can be found here). The rest of the special focused on a series of web shorts produced by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University, (found here and here.) I cannot suggest watching this enough.

The series, entitled “The Stigma Stops With Me” tells the story of Damaries “Dee” Cruz who lives with AIDS She is an activist for AIDS awareness. After watching the entire series of AIDS awareness produced by the SJMC I can say that perhaps there is not enough awareness out there. It is a very Fascinating Journey into one persons life in the face of what many of us belief wrongly to be an instant death sentence, and it will open your eyes to the dangers around us.

I beseech anyone who reads this to watch the entire series and get themselves tested. The following link will provide you with information on the testing program at FIU, if you a current student there, like I am.

http://www2.fiu.edu/~health/clinical/c-hiv-testing.html

Telling someone. Telling everyone.



I grew up in Jamaica, I went to high school there and we got a fair bit of education about AIDS in my opinion. I recently had the opportunity to watch a one hour special entitled “Tell Somebody: The New Face of HIV/AIDS.” This special, created by Florida International University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, supplied me with several facts about AIDS and HIV coverage in the media both in Miami and South Africa that I was not fully aware of. It was a rare opportunity to consider what coverage the media gives to the epidemic outside my own home country.

There were several facts that struck me as I watched. The earliest of which was that the idea that was expected that half of South African men would eventually get AIDS. I can honestly say that I cannot imagine living with that being such a possibility for the future. The special went on to cover South Africa’s media’s attempts to educate the public. It all felt kind of familiar to me. Jamaica, I had seen with my own eyes, had similar social movements, just not on the scale as I was seeing here. AIDS is a global epidemic and with such things it is usually the poorer nations of the world that are most at risk. It is admirable the degree of social consciousness that South Africa’s media is taking with trying to educate the public.

In contrast to this we get a glimpse of Miami. Something that I did not know before watching was that Miami was the number one city for AIDS cases in the United States. That’s a scary fact to learn, especially when you reside near Miami like I do. I can honestly say that I have never heard this before. I think that speaks volumes of the media coverage in America. You would think that the media groups in one of the most advanced and forward thinking nations in the world would be doing everything capable to stem the tide of growing AIDS and HIV numbers, but alas, it appears that it may not be a priority.

I feel it my responsibility as not only a journalism student, but also a human being to do as the student project that spawned this special set out to do: tell someone. So, I’m telling you, whoever you may be, to look into it, to learn for yourself what the media may not be telling you about something that you may have to learn is a bigger threat to you than you know

Watergate

It is undeniable that the Watergate scandal was one of the greatest examples of the journalist’s role as the protector of democracy by questioning those in power and keeping them accountable to the American people. The story that started with what seemed, or at least what the White House was calling, a “third-rate burglary” would eventually lead to the uncovering of one of the worst cases of political corruption in American history and the unmaking of a president. In a way the effect they had can be compared to the works of Sam Adams in the days leading up to the American Revolution. Both works of journalism had far reaching repercussions on American politics and are both considered the finest examples of the power of the press. Each work though was of vastly different moral standing.

It was two reports at the Washington Post, Bon Woodward and Carl Bernstein, whose relentless pursuit of the truth can be considered one of the finest of works of journalism in the 20th century. Despite the fact that other news agencies refused to pick up on the story and the Washington Post was under attack from the highest political offices in the country, the story came out

The question has been raised as to how Woodward and Bernstein exemplify the standards set forth by the code of ethics for journalists. In my personal opinion they do. The basic ideals of the journalist code of ethics are to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable.

Woodward and Bernstein went to great lengths in the investigation of their story. It was only through their determination, research and legwork that the whole story behind the Watergate break-in was uncovered. They phoned everyone they could and dropped in on many people at home whom they believed would have vital information. Compare this to Sam Adams who gave fictional accounts to stoke the flames of revolt.

The Washington Post really had no choice but to act independently during Woodward and Bernstein’s investigation. The newspaper became the target of a vendetta by President Nixon who authorized attacks on the newspaper’s holdings and journalistic privileges. Executive editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katharine Graham could have bent under the enormous pressure coming at them from the highest posts in America, but they refused to do so, instead siding with their reporters and story that they were uncovering. Even when other news organizations were criticizing the Washington Post and dismissing their findings as poor journalism and their stock began to lose value, a detriment to any news organization that at its core was a business, Bradlee, Graham, Woodward and Bernstein acted purely in pursuit of the truth.

At one point in the investigation, the Washington Post was guilty of printing a piece of information, that sworn testimony before the grand jury implicated Chief of Staff Haldeman in the political corruption, which would turn out to be wrong. No such testimony before the grand jury had taken place. Opponents to the Washington Post’s investigation were quick to point to this as proof of their lack of credibility. Within five days the Post posted a correction to the story on the first page. Sam Adams though, who we all know now to have fabricated most stories concerning the English soldiers posted in the colonies never made any attempt to correct the perceptions of English brutality he had created in the minds of the early Americans.

As I stated earlier both Sam Adams, and Woodrow and Bernstein had equally undeniable effects on American governance during their respective times, but they also had an equally undeniable difference in how they accomplished things. I imagine that if their styles of journalism were reversed in their respective times, neither would have accomplished what they did. I’m sure that if Woodrow and Bernstein had resorted to fabricated facts to expose presidential corruption as part of some personal vendetta would have accomplished nothing, no matter how corrupt Nixon would have really been. Sam Adams, taking the time to meticulously ensure that every fact that he reported about the English troops was true and free of bias would probably not been able to fan the flames of revolution that swept the colonies. History it seems is selective as to when the means justify the end.

Raking muck. Ethics and the Muckrakers

The period of muckraking journalism during the late 19th century is considered the golden age of reform journalism. It is during this period of unprecedented economic and population growth that the United States was also plagued by many ills, mainly political corruption and unethical business practices. The only way these ills of society stood to be cured were if the common man knew about and rallied against them and the only way that would happen was if they were brought to light. It was a time when the common journalist had an opportunity to change America.

In my opinion, the journalists of this period exemplify the ideals set forth by the code of ethics for journalists. These were journalist who in a time of rampant corruption, corporate monopolization and little or no regulations in the food and drug industries sought the truth and reported it. They were criticized at the time for only reporting on the negatives of society, hence how they became to be branded as muckrakers, but it is undeniable that in doing so they were doing a great public service.

The first ideal of the Journalist’s code of ethics is to seek truth and report it. The Muckrakers did so. Reporters such as Ida Minerva were instrumental in breaking the back of large monopolies such as Standard Oil, who with their dominance of the oil market operated with no regard for ethical business practices, by exposing their history of strong arm tactics and grafts.

The second ideal was to minimize harm. Upton Sinclair’s articles about the poor conditions that workers had to face were effective in humanizing and putting a face to the many workers who toiled in unsafe conditions at the time. Ultimately his articles made the American government reevaluate the rights of the lower class workers for safe work conditions.

Journalists must act independently; they must avoid conflicts of interests and maintain their integrity at all costs. When magazines began speaking out against the many unsafe patent medicines, they made the decision to stop carrying advertising for these very same medicines even though it would lose them significant amounts of advertising revenue. They chose integrity and the rights of the public over their own bottom line.

Sam Adams / Tom Paine

It is undeniable that the journalists who arose early in American history such as Sam Adams and Tom Paine had a profound effect on the birth of the nation, but if we were to judge them based on today’s standards and ethics for journalism, how would they fare?

Sam Adams

Sam Adams, an early writer for the Boston Gazette during the 1700s, used the newspaper medium at the time to foment dissent against British troops stationed in the American colonies at the time. To this end he created what could be considered a precursor to the associated press, the “Journal of Occurrences.” Through this service, where articles written by Adams were reprinted across the colonies, stories of the British troop’s cruelty spread. The problem was that Adams was making all if not most of it up.

The modern equivalent of Sam Adams would be, in my opinion, a widely read newspaper columnist with syndication in multiple papers across the country. Unfortunately he would be found to have a very poor standing when it came to the code of ethics all journalist must adhere to. The level to which he took bending the truth and spreading lies would be unequivocally unacceptable by today’s standards. Lucky for him then that history can only judge him by the standards of the time and all the good that came of his actions.

Tom Paine

Tom Paine, the author of “Common Sense,” was responsible for a lot of the patriotic fervor that arose during the American Revolution. He did so with a flair for writing that could be considered a precursor for future ideals of journalistic writing. He wrote plainly, not crudely. In short he wrote for the common man in a way that had not been done before. His writing was clear and accessible to everyone who could read.

Ethically he stands up better than Sam Adams. He did not fabricate anything as his columns were clearly opinion and not the reporting of facts. The only thing I can find that would probably not be acceptable today, and even then it would have to be examined in context, would be that some of his writing was done at the behest of political figures.

I think that the closest equivalent to Tom Paine today would be a blogger, albeit a very wide read and influential blogger.

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