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Leonard Pitts Jr.: We Still Need Journalists

Memo Pad

Leonard Pitts Jr.: We Still Need Journalists


In 2005 when their city drowned, the staff of the New Orleans Times-Picayune stayed in it longer than common sense and simple prudence would dictate. People who had lost homes, loved ones, and their city itself concentrated on gathering the news and putting it out. They finally left huddled in newspaper delivery trucks, water up to the headlights, decamping to Baton Rouge, 75 miles away, where they went right back to reporting the news.

Last month, that paper announced it was cutting staff and suspending daily publication, moving to a three-days-a-week schedule. We draw ever closer to the once-unthinkable day some major American city has no newspaper whatsoever.

All of which lends a certain pungency to something Sarah Palin said recently at a conference of conservative activists in Las Vegas. “Every citizen can be a reporter, can take on the powers that be,” she said. According to Politico, she was quoting Matt Drudge. Ordinarily, you would dismiss it as just another silly thing Sarah Palin said. There is no shortage of those.

But these are hardly ordinary times for journalism. So forgive me if I am disinclined to let it go.

As it happens, I spent nearly a week on the Gulf Coast in Katrina’s wake. One night, I had the distinct honor of sleeping in an RV in the parking lot of the Sun Herald in Gulfport, Miss., part of an army of journalists who had descended on the beleaguered city to help its reporters get this story told. The locals wore donated clothes and subsisted on snack food. They worked from a broken building in a broken city where the rotten egg smell of natural gas lingered in the air and houses had been reduced to debris fields, to produce their paper. Shattered, cut off from the rest of the world, people in the Biloxi-Gulfport region received those jerry-rigged newspapers, those bulletins from the outside world, the way a starving man receives food.

Leonard Pitts Jr.

Leonard Pitts Jr. is a nationally syndicated commentator, journalist, and novelist. Pitts' column for the Miami Herald deals with the intersection between race, politics, and culture, and has won him multiple awards including a Pulitzer Prize in 2004.

The highly regarded novel, Freeman (2009), is his most recent book.

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  1. jarheadgene June 25, 2012

    Can you imagine, if journalists aren’t reviewing laws created at the local and national level, how quickly our local and national governments would become even more corrupt than they already are? I loved the article; however, there is one thing you forgot to mention, there is little, or no editing, on the web, making it very difficult sometimes to read incoherent, misstructured and incomplete sentences. Let the “4th” branch die and see how quickly the power moguls rush in to take complete control of our government.

    1. EdC June 25, 2012

      Why do you think the Republican want to defund NPR? not a question, just a statement.

    2. onedonewong June 25, 2012

      Lets see thay have no idea about what they are reporting on and shoot from the hip

  2. Don B June 25, 2012

    For Sarah Palin to be an expert on journalism is like her being an expert on brain surgery. I will admit that the major news outlets DO NOT cover the stories they should be covering (NDAA, for instance) as well as a number of other topics that as a country we should all be talking about, but i suspect that their corporate bosses nix a lot of news we should be getting. I was a journalism major in college during the Watergate fiasco, I used to be very proud of the profession, but since then, there has been an almost diabolical effort on the part of major news media to stay away from any stories dealing with our basic rights. Journalists shouldn’t be under fire for that, but their corporate bosses should.

    1. EdC June 25, 2012

      THANK YOU: especilly faux news

      1. jarheadgene June 25, 2012

        Unfortunately Rupert is the Corporate boss…would he fire himself for his own Yellow Journalism? His idol was probably Hearst. Can anyone say “Rosebud”?

        1. onedonewong June 25, 2012

          As opposed to the State run Media that meets every morning with the Obama administration press secretary to go over what should be covered and the spin??

    2. onedonewong June 25, 2012

      she is certainly much smarter than you..but you already knew that

      1. jarheadgene June 26, 2012

        Sarah Palin smarter than Don B? Based on the fact that he can string a few coherent thoughts together, I doubt that. Sarah Palin went from High School Cheerleading to GOP Cheerleading……that is about the extent of her political savvy. She was the reason I almost voted for Obama in ’08; however, when it comes to President, I vote on the person themselves, not their party, not their color, not their running mate. John McCain is an honorable man and he earned and deserved a chance at the helm. Now President Obama has 4 years of experience, with the MOST UNCOOPERATIVE corrupt scum fighting him on EVERY issue (In spite of what is good for America) and he has done very little, if any, wavering on his issues. Again I will vote the person. How does he stack up against a money grubbing, greedy, say anything candidate? OBAMA in ’12, that’s how. OOORAH. Osama is dead, long live Obama.

        1. onedonewong June 26, 2012

          Joe Biteeme went from HS to Congress and in the interim damaged his brain with hair implants. You know the same guy who said at a high school commencement that sustainable crops are just around the corner that don’t need soil or water…. Obama has 1 years of experience 4 times he has learned nothing and still thinks he’s a community organizer. I do agree with you that the Dem’s in congress are contemptible and have no morals and could care less about this country.
          Yea Obama’s your messiah, $10 trillion in new debt, unemployment at 10%, fewer Americans working than at any time during W’s 2nd term. And a foreign policy that is a disaster with every tin pot dictator thumbing their noses at us

          1. jarheadgene June 27, 2012

            Biden…really….he is VP….does anyone care what the VP does, other than Cheney who was the Wizard behind the Curtain. Dubya was just the Floating Face. Cheney took us to war with Iraq…..lot’s of good men and women dead, but Haliburton/KBR made record profits. NO BID Contracts set up by Cheney(who has been a board member for years). And what did we go to war in IRAQ for …according to Palin (when asked in 2008), to get Saddam because he knocked down the Twin Towers in NYC. WRONG….it was to get WMD’s …WMD’s that were non-existant. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY. We went to war without increasing taxes to fund it. The war was costing us billions a month….AT THAT TIME …..President Obama was just a junior Senator out of Illinois. So who put us further in debt….??? Then gave a gift of Trillions to the Banks….this before Jan of 2009……OBAMA was still a Senator (President Elect)…..Think REAL HARD ONEDONEWRONG….who was still in office in Oct-Dec 2008, when the country was tanking? As to your comment re: Dem’s in congress…I can’t defend them all, many are also guilty of corporate and lobbyist corruption. But I was talking about Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, they are leading the defiant charge against ANYTHING OBAMA. THEY HAVE NO…….NONE……NOT ONE BIT of concern for YOU and definitely not me. And as for statistics on working you better re-check the true facts…not the FOX facts.

          2. onedonewong June 27, 2012

            Biden is the brains behind this WH. Lots more good men have died since barak initiated his rules of engagement, setting a record each year for casualties because he value moooslim live more than our troops.
            Even Bill Clinton believed their were WMD’s and said so. W inherited a recession, a hollow military and an almost nonexistent CIA thanks to Billy boy.
            Barak will always be a junior to W, W is a man and barak is a boy. Who put us further into debt??Obama he’s added $10 Trillion to the debt in just 3+ years.
            W bailed out the banks but rather than pick his own man to handle the bailout he let Barak pick his man, that was a mistake Geithner is a light weight and was in bed with the banks when he ran the NY Fed.
            In DEC 2008 there were still more Americans working than at anytime in barak’s 3+ years.
            Barak has 2 years with a filibuster majority ad all he produced was more debt more unemployment and obamacare. Don’t blame this disaster on McConnel and Boehner this was caused by Peeloisi and harry

  3. Colleen Klemp June 25, 2012

    The death of another dependable real news source. So we will all be spoon fed the Republician mantra. When all the independent voices are gone will the last one out the door please shut off the lights!

  4. OKsettledown June 25, 2012

    I have tried to maintain respect for reporters and the media, but the media itself has become a gossip mill. It is impossible to separate opinion from fact anymore. “Who, what, when, where, why and how” has gotten lost in sensationalism. The dealings of the city council have gotten lost to the personality clash between two members. The gist of a prepared speech has gotten lost to the one misspoken word or the reporters misconception of what was meant by what was said. The evening news isn’t news, it is looking for the one confrontational statement that will inflame the masses and get them talking, not about the issue, but about “how awful” the statement was and the many other issues it “could possibly” entail.

    Journalists need to clean up their own acts, report the facts and let us form our own opinions. Leonard Pitts has never claimed to be a journalist or a reporter, he is a columnist writing opinions on the opinion page. That is acceptable, but today, opinions are the meat of the front page. So, sadly, yes, any citizen can be a reporter.

  5. gargray June 25, 2012

    Good reporters report the truth and print it in their newspapers, Pailn report the truth? she can’t even answer questions without distorting the subject without her own retric.

  6. Ladybug2011 June 25, 2012

    Well said Mr Pitts. I have a tendacy to view journalists as the scum of the earth however….right up there with ambulance chasing lawyers, more so with the television media, than the print media. One thing journalists must do, is stop sensationalising the minute negative. I’m sick of media picking apart a good thing, and making it into something evil, with their lack of conclusive information. I turn off my local “news” when they start reporting on Hollywood celebrities, as if their format is TMZ. I want to throw something at my television, when I hear one more “news” story about Lindsay Lohan. I realize that this is just sloppy, easy pickings for these television stations. I will continue to subscribe to my Phoenix Republic, because this is what I have, but it sure isn’t a quality partial newspaper.

  7. onedonewong June 25, 2012

    Look who want to be journalists?? Its the folks that refuse to look at the facts do any research and print with 0 information. The state run media id dieing because of the total lack of professionalism and it started in 1968 with Walter Cronkite, that’s why anyone can be a journalist since no skills are required

  8. 1436 June 26, 2012

    I am a regular reader of the times Picayune and was especially impressed by it coverage of Katrina ( after the few days I was away from my home due to flooding). Over the years it has flattered me by printing some of my letters. I hope they will reverse their decision to publish on only a few days per week because many people will then get out of the habit of regular reading it and hasten its decline even more.

    As Mr Pitts described its reporters can be depended on to ferret out truths that would otherwise lie hidden. T.V. and internet reporting have their places but we do need a printed source, up to date enough, with facts and figures one can mull over and take time to digest.

    I have a suspicion that newspaper reporters are more intested in presenting the facts whereas the T.V presenters like to have themselves in view(I speak in some ignorence here becaause I have only met a couple personally). I do know that the TP reporters have worked on assignments where they are given time to record and verify. e.g that excellent series recently about Louisianas prison industry and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

    I also appreciate the columnists in the T.P like Mr Pitts their work is thought provoking. Again I can read slowly if I like and take time to digest the material and appreciate the fact that I don’t have to read or listen to Sarah Palins rubbish.
    Thank you

  9. ralphkr June 26, 2012

    What I find most interesting about “citizen reporting” is that their greatest strength is also their greatest weakness. Generally speaking, there is no fact checking being done before a “citizen report” is posted on the Internet which means that everything must be taking with an extremely unhealthy dose of salt. At the same time, “citizen reporters” are not being constrained by fact checkers being careful not to upset any untouchable corporations or the legal department of the publishers making sure no powerful ox is being gored.

  10. MHO7505 June 26, 2012

    OOHRAH … JARHEADgene !!!


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