Sunday, August 27, 2006

What do we owe those in need?

Michael Wines, in the NYT:

No Westerner can travel the less developed world, at least outside the lobbies of the three- and four-star hotels that now populate most major cities, and not be struck by the immense gulf between their own personal wealth and the utter destitution of the masses around them.

How to respond to it is a moral dilemma that lurks in the background of many interviews. Reputable journalists are indoctrinated with the notion that they are observers — that their job is to tell a story, not to influence it. So what to do when an anguished girl tells a compelling story about her young brother, lying emaciated on a reed mat, dying for lack of money to by anti-AIDS drugs? Is it moral to take the story and leave when a comparatively small gift of money would keep him alive? If morality compels a gift, what about the dying mother in the hut next door who missed out on an interview by pure chance? Or the three huts down the dirt path where, a nurse says, residents are dying for lack of drugs? Why are they less deserving?

In reputable journalism, paying for information is a cardinal sin, the notion being that a source who will talk only for money is likely to say anything to earn his payment. So what to do when a penniless father asks why he should open his life free to an outsider when he needs money for food? How to react to the headmistress who says that white people come to her school only to satisfy their own needs, and refuses to talk without a contribution toward new classrooms? Is that so different from interviewing a Washington political consultant over a restaurant lunch on my expense account?

If it is, which is more ethical?

Set aside, for the moment, the lazy preumption that no "Westerners" themselves face dire need. It's a good, and a difficult, question, one that surely transcends this discussion of journalistic ethics: what is our obligation, individually and collectively, to relieve the suffering of others?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stop it. Stop this. Stop.

For those so inclined, here's a lazy-person's way of suggesting to the "Big Three" networks that maybe, just maybe, there might be more of import to report -- or to lead the newsbroadcast with (heavy sigh) -- than prurient coverage of a guy who probably had nothing to do with a ten-year-old murder. Is signing a petition the most effective way of making your voice heard? Nope. But that's not to suggest that such things do not matter, or that they cannot have influence.

On the topic of things that might matter more, again for those so inlined, there's a rally Sunday, September 17, 2:00 PM, in New York's Central Park, to (yet again) try to draw attention to the continuing genocide in Darfur. Numbers matter, and such things can, in truth, have influence, not least because the more people there are there, the more media coverage the event is likely to receive, and the more likely government(s) might feel pressured (out of electoral self-interest, if nothing else) to act.

And a fall afternoon in the park is a rather painless way of communicating to your government, and communing with your fellow citizens. Pack a lunch. Make a day of it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

WSSW Social Action Committee


This is a new home for beautiful very upper Manhattan's Wurzweiler School of Social Work's Social Action Committee, for our students, faculty, and staff -- and for anyone else who might want to land here for a bit. We'll shortly begin to give access to others who want to contribute to this group blog to-be (any takers?). For right now, just me, also blogging elsewhere under my secret identity, Cranky Doc. OK, not so secret -- same name.

It seems only fitting that we launch one day after the 10th Anniversary of the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (that's Welfare Reform, to the uninitiated). The conventional wisdom remains that it has been a success, evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. Out of sheer laziness, check out this short assessment of reform's "success" from two years ago. The numbers themselves have changed, but not in any way that alters the argument. I stand by the question: This is success?