Friday, April 27, 2007

Difference of opinion

We just got back from a vacation that mostly took us through Virginia. Appomattox was a thrill, Jamestown was fascinating, Williamsburg was interesting, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was long. And it was all framed by the coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre, which dominated the news coverage for the week.

There was a lesson to be had in perspective during the trip. In Richmond, we visited Hollywood Cemetery, which has the graves of two Presidents (Monroe and Tyler), a Confederate President, and Generals Pickett and Stuart. Then we went to the Confederate White House and the Museum of the Confederacy.

Here's the important part. During those walks and tours, I really felt like a Northerner. And that's not something that happens all the time.

In the North, the Civil War is said to be a heroic struggle in which the North ended slavery by beating up on those stubborn rebels. In the South, though, history obviously had a different slant when it was taught in the years immediately following the war. There, the War Between the States was all about states' rights. (Extremists probably considered it a intramural dispute over labor costs in the textile industry.)

In the cemetery, Jefferson Davis has portrayed as a defender of the Constitution in his large family plot, while Monroe and Tyler are crammed together with some others in a small circle. Tributes to Southern generals are everywhere. Every town seems to have a tribute to a Confederate hero.

The most haunting of the historical pieces, however, came in the museum. There was an article written by a Southerner in 1865, saying that while the North may have won the war, but it's up to the South to win the peace. Considering that life for African Americans in the South was only marginally better once Reconstruction ended through at least 1955 and in some ways several more years, it's easy to wonder if that critic was right.

Sometimes traveling can make you at least see another side of the story when you aren't expecting it.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

One last thanks...

The other night at work, one of my co-workers dropped by my department to say hello. He had seen me in the audience of a program that was shown on C-SPAN's Book TV, and wanted to mention it to me -- a nice gesture.

That sort of action wasn't out of character for Lonnie, who was still on the job at the age of 81. He was a friendly presence in the newsroom whenever he worked, and made the rounds when he handed out papers on Saturday nights.

The next night, I turned on my computer to start the work day as usual. The electronic message greeting me was anything but usual. Lonnie had gone home after work the previous night, and died. That was quite a shock.

Two feelings swept through the workplace that day. One was the obvious sadness for Lonnie, whose upbeat attitude will be remembered and missed.

The other came when people started thinking about working until 81 and not retiring. Most didn't know him well enough to find out the reasons why Lonnie did that, but most immediately concluded "That's not going to happen to me."

It's an old moral but a relevant one: Smell the roses while you can.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Fair and balanced

Everyone makes a big deal about bias in the media. This seems particularly inflammatory when talking about the Fox News Channel, but it probably applies to most other outlets. Ask Dan Rather -- some people wanted to believe he was taking orders from the Kremlin for years.

But that's on the news side. What about in sports?

Which brings us to ESPN.

The worldwide leader in sports has a signature show in its SportsCenter. The program has set the standard in its field, and essentially driven local sportscasts into near-irrelevancy. The local station just doesn't get the time to compete, so it only covers local sports with a couple of exceptions.

Here's the catch: There is bias on every ESPN sportscast. It's talked about, but no one ever seems to complain.

The bias is that sports on ESPN get preferential treatment to the ones that aren't.

If you don't believe it, take the matter of arena football. In the past, ESPN ignored the game. Then last summer, the network purchased an ownership share of Arenaball. The games are shown on the networks on a regular basis.

Suddenly, Arena Football highlights are appearing on SportsCenter. And, scores and previews have popped up on ESPN2's news crawl.

Coincidence? Probably not.

In the other direction, I would guess that the NHL's air time on SportsCenter has decreased since that sport jumped to another network about two years ago.

SportsCenter is obviously a tool for ESPN's marketing department for promotion. Everyone seems to accept it as a fact of life. But, is it right? Does journalism take a hit when this happens?

This is an area worth monitoring. Obviously, CNN and Fox News don't pay rights fees for programming, so the analogy doesn't apply to news.