Thursday, June 11, 2009

NBC scares Americans about Brazil stealing American children: consequences of resting on laurels

No, Brazil does not want to steal your children. I shook my head this morning after I learned why Brazil was making American news. I'm not surprised, but I worry about the state of American journalism when the only way a story about Brazil can appear on network news is when there's a dramatic American child custody battle happens to take place on Brazilian soil. NBC has acknowledged that Brazil exists.

The United States is isolated enough. Sure, we do business all over the world, and we are free to access all kinds of information about the world. But Americans do not. We may have quite a knowledge of the breadth of plastic crap that can be produced in the far corners of China, and Today Show viewers know a little more about fashion in the Brazilian Supreme Court. As newspapers and media outlets fail, we slowly lose our contact with the rest of the world. Not that Americans were all that good at keeping contact in the first place. Without New York Times the Christian Science Monitor, I would have little knowledge about world events from some American perspective--and those outlets for news are on shaky ground. I also rely on media outlets outside the US--namely the CBC and occasionally The Economist. The BBC regularly looks more like an American outlet these days.

Is information only valuable if it can survive the American marketplace? NBC's Today Show contains a lot of junk food journalism, appealing to tabloid sensibilities with just enough news to call itself news. The Today Show is a formula that has greased the wheels of commerce and made a lot of people wealthy. What is the alternative? I certainly don't want a State-run news market--but what can Americans do to support good reporting and a solid, diverse and innovative information society?
I wish I knew the answer and I hope this question is being asked in the halls of academia and in corporate board rooms and charitable foundations.

The newspaper and journalism industries appear to have operated for 50 years much like the American automobile industry--they rested on their laurels and did little research and innovation during their fat cat days. I suppose each of these industries, as well as churches, congregation live this cycle. While doing some graduate work in organizational sociology several years ago, I began to delve into the organizational life cycle and its application in congregations. I found several similarities, but never completed the trajectory to say anything definitive. My experience and limited study says that an important part of any life is reflecting and studying about who you are and where you think and discern where you should be going.

In the Christian tradition, identity growth comes from basic, disciplined practices like Bible reading and prayer. Discernment is the word used for determining where the individual or group is going by the power of the Holy Spirit. To engage in these activities may seem simple, but the discipline to execute is difficult. This is why so many individuals and organizations die. This death is part of life--no self or organization is complete. To strive for endurance is noble, but to place our entire hope in that endurance is futile. On my better days, I place my hope in the eternal nature of God. Therefore I can seek the good based on the gifts that God has given me and not place my energy in trying to make myself God. That's on my better days, of course.

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