When you have a tough day...

I correspond with a freelance reporter in South Africa named Ntozakhe Douglas Mthukwane.

Things are tough for Douglas on many levels; He is a journalist in a country that discourages free press, I believe he has a disability he hasn’t disclosed to me yet but I understand it keeps him from easily working as a freelancer, and he is a black man in white superior South Africa.

My last correspondent with him went unanswered and my previous correspondent with him leads me believe he may have lost his apartment and computer.

Douglas, from his Facebook page
“When your email came through I was at a state hospital treated for excessive smoke inhalation. I stay at a block of flats previously designated for 'Whites only' by the apartheid government. So you find very poor white fellows who've practically given up on life still staying there amid an “I don’t care" attitude.

I'm using the description 'white' because it was an apartheid definition supported by various draconian laws.”

Douglas wrote he is using his cell phone to email me because he had to abandon his apartment to escape a fire. Reportedly a drunk neighbor caught the place on fire after falling asleep while cooking.

“I was woken up by a frenzy accompanied by a thick cloud of smoke and black debris. I could neither see the palm of my own hand let alone the escape route, my flat has one entry door. I heard ambulance and fire brigade sirens outside, kicked the door with my bare feet, and managed to go out. I collapsed only to wake up in hospital 5 hours later.”

He went on to say “I’m okay now.” However, Douglas didn’t answer my last email, which leads me to believe is having difficulty getting re-established.

So, fellow writers, news reporters, photographers and journalists. When you are having a shit day, a monster of a deadline, or you are becoming mentally buried in the current “Fake News!” rhetoric, turn your thoughts to fellow journalist Douglas and wish him well.

I will give you a new report on Douglas after I hear from him.


Another news journalist is killed

I am saddened to learn of journalist Yaser Murtaja being killed yesterday covering the protests in Gaza. Murtaja is a stranger to me but as a journalist I feel remotely connected to him.

Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, 30, is
evacuated after being fatally wounded by Israeli 
soldiers while covering the Palestinian 
demonstrations at the Israel-Gaza border Friday.
                 Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
I am reminded of the risks some reporters take to bring information to the public, particularly where the government will do anything to suppress the news. According to photographer Rushdi Serraj, who was standing next to Murtaja when he was shot, the pair were about 300 yards from a barrier set up by the Israeli Army when Israeli forces fired at the crowd. Although Israeli spokespersons stated their army does not target bystanders or journalists, five other reporters wearing official “Press” identification vests were wounded that day.

Fifty reporters worldwide were murdered or died of accidents while covering news in 2017 and several years that number has exceeded 80. There are few professions where people purposely put themselves in harm’s way for strangers – soldiers, firefighters, police, and news reporters. While the former professions rush to danger to protect lives, reporters are the only ones not sworn to do so and who do it only because free press is fundamental to democracy.

Click here to read the moving account of how journalists honored Yaser Murtaja at his funeral in this NPR report by international correspondent Daniel Esterin.


The F Word

There’s a new “F-word,” and that word is “fake.”

I don’t mean said word is not real. I am talking about the term “fake news,” which since 2016 has been the way for people of prominence to direct attention away from their mistakes, shortcomings, or flat-out corruption.

For instance, when New Your Times reporters, including David Barstow, Mike McIntire, Paticia Cohen Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner, printed reports with data, names, places, and interviews detailing Donald Trump cheats on his taxes.  Trump can easily prove the reports true or false by simply releasing his business tax reports, as others have done, but chooses not to and instead only says, “That’s fake news!”

Oh, what fabulously sweet victory it would be for the President to prove the reports false. But stating "Fake news!" is the only thing he can safely do. 

It has been pretty effective, and I'm sick of it.

The President and a few other politicians have done this so much and so often that the news media has a "credibility complex" it has to deal with, according to reports from one of my online journalism feeds I follow. The credibility the news media is dealing with is due in most to the politicians bleating "Fake news!" when they can’t prove the reports wrong. Yes, reporters have made mistakes, but those have been few and the consequences are printing a retraction, releasing an apology, and in a few cases, firing a reporter. But politicians don't apologies or admit when they are wrong, they just say...

Well, you know.


Government uses lawsuit for shield

If it were not for the First Amendment, comprehensive reporting, hardworking reporters, and the Freedom of Information Act, the public would be left to hear only what their leaders want them to believe.

It is not uncommon to be denied information and accordingly have to resort to the Freedom of Information Act to get it. This happens most often when said information would make an official look stupid, hinder their reelection, or reveal they are dishonest.

The biggest pain in the butt is the time it takes to file and wait, and officials hope it is that wait which will make the reporter skip the detail in order to meet deadline. However, some newspapers of smaller markets who are relentless in seeking due information are being told to back down or get sued – and sadly it is working. 

Odds are in the newspaper’s favor because of the U.S.Constitution is on their side, but a small or medium newspapers do not have the money or staff to endure a yearlong court battle.

As Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times points out in his article, “The government wants to do its business in secret, and increasingly there’s no press left to stop them.” Read about this happening to the Malheur Enterprise by clicking  > here <


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