Thursday, March 21, 2013

rules in a tricyclist's world

As a newspaper reporter a long time ago, I learned a number of good lessons. One of them, for example, was "follow the money." Another of them was that journalism was "a craft, not an art." These and others like them were lessons I learned -- mostly the hard way -- over a five-year span.

Follow the money meant simply that people in public life -- i.e., in the news -- were in part or in whole greedy. There was nothing special about it. It was just a factor to keep an eye on and sometimes expose. A "craft" was something you did without expecting to be hung up in the Metropolitan Museum of Ego-Tripping Art: What I thought or felt was best kept on a very distant rear burner. It was better to tell what facts could be found -- pro and con -- and let the reader make up his mind. "Objectivity" could never be attained, but trying to attain it was a no-kidding-around goal worth having.

Another rule that proved out for me came in the form of a distaste for politics. There were people in the news office who positively swooned to mix and mingle with the powerful and well-connected. It seemed to make these reporters feel more important in their own right. Being in on The Big Decisions and the people who made them was delicious. I hated it.

I hated it right up to the moment when I could make a very direct connection between those Big Decisions made by Big Decision Makers and the people who would be or were affected by those decisions. Real, flesh-and-blood, tricycle-in-the-backyard people. Rubbing shoulders with the powerful too often seemed to mean entering a world that was sui generis -- a bubble on Mars or something. Battles were fought and lost, schemes were hatched or fried, but who might be affected was drowned out in the bubbilicious sound and fury of the world of power ... a world of have's whose dependence on the have-not's was viewed, when at all, from a kind of dismissive height: Fuck them ... they're just sheep. That dismissive sense was so ingrown, often, that people with otherwise good hearts and minds could not recognize their own responsibilities or complicity.

It used to send my idealistic sense of 'justice' through the roof, that let-them-eat-cake, well-educated, delicately-churched realm whose shit always seemed to flow, like all shit, downhill. Now I am no less irritated, but try to set the ego-tripping anger and outrage aside in favor of another pretty good rule ... follow the people ... follow the policy or philosophy or religion or law to the man and woman who have a tricycle in the backyard. If the policy plays well there -- or anyway pretty well -- then it can be considered OK. But if it doesn't, don't let the excuses and explanations divert attention. Things are never black and white, but wallowing in the greys is no excuse. The gilded robes, the silk suits, the designer dresses, the buffed cars and fingernails and the diplomas on the wall are all very nice.

But beware of the tricycle in the backyard ... the one that deserved attention in the first place.

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