'I knew enough-which was almost nothing, but still enough-to suspect that Plato was so popular and enduring because he was the most obvious proto-Christian among the swarm of pagan philosophers.' -Barbara Ehrenreich, Living with a Wild God

Independent Journalism and Capitalism

by Ethan Glover, Thu, Dec 11, 2014 - (Edited) Thu, Dec 11, 2014

I’ve been watching a great show called The Newsroom lately and it’s definitely my favorite show on TV. Yes, for me it ranks higher than The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. It even inspired me to write a post on my personal site about why I dislike Facebook. However, in recent episodes there has been a lot about the adverse effects on independent and unprofessional journalism.

To give context to the below video, a female college student has accused two guys of raping her. Her solution, because the public police aren’t going to help her, was to create a website that would allow women to report on men who sexually harassed other women. She’s also been given the opportunity to go on a national news program with the person she’s accused, face to face, and do an interview. The two problems here is the self-reporting of her site that will inevitably destroy an innocent persons life and the fact that the new boss (for the news station) wants to concentrate on “younger audiences” and “social media.” This leads him to believe doing this accuser vs. accusee interview is a good idea.

Independent Journalism

This blog isn’t about The Newsroom; it’s about the movie Nightcrawler. I only bring up The Newsroom because I saw a connection between it and this movie. The story of Nightcrawler involves a man named Lou Bloom who is desperate for work and takes up chasing down crime scenes by using a police scanner and getting video of the scenes to sell to news outlets.

From the beginning, Lou gets in the way wherever he goes. When a man is being taken to an ambulance he walks right up and gets a camera in their face to get a good shot. When I watch this, after watching recent Newsroom episodes, I get the feeling that independent journalists are being demonized. I’ve never seen people act like this and I hope people realize that this is fiction.

The ironic thing is, the police are sold as the heroes here. There’s some jerk with a camera going around getting in the way, and the police chase them away. In reality, for those who do this all the time, like the fine folks over at Cop Block, the cameras are usually needed. It is the police who get in people’s way and it is the police who abuse their powers on a regular basis.

The stronger point I want to mention here though is the idea of independent journalists getting in the way of professional journalists. The Newsroom points to events like the Boston Marathon in which people’s lives were put in danger because of citizen journalism. The story is that after the bombings, people took to the Internet to create theories as to who committed the crimes. Fingers were pointed; death threats were sent, and the police were forced to release information before they were ready to in order to protect some innocent people.

I understand this position. I do believe that people should leave investigations to investigators. (Although I’d prefer if they weren’t paid for by theft.) People can be put in danger by preemptive blame and even by reporters getting in the way of emergency responders such as in Nightcrawler. But, if we were to compare these people who may or may not be getting in the way of the “professionals,” who is doing more damage? I’m not trying to move into a lesser of two evils argument, but I’m saying that the problem of journalists putting people’s lives in danger in order to get the story is a universal.

On a regular basis, professional reporters take political positions on economic and social issues in the hopes of getting what they want without any consideration of what that means for everyone else. This is a problem with democracy period, people vote for what works for them, label it the “greater good” (which doesn’t exist) and tries to force everyone else into it. For socialists, this has caused mass famine and poverty in history. For neocons, this has meant the loss of millions of lives in war. Yet, people want to complain about others who are just trying to get a story on video? I find it hard to sympathize with any side here.

I don’t feel like I have to ask independent journalists to not get in the way so that they put people in harms way. I do feel like police need to be reminded that they are public servants, and their job is to protect people from harm. There is an epidemic of police violence and abuse in the United States. I feel like journalists need to learn how to be objective and how to investigate facts and not depend on Twitter as they do now. (This happens despite The Newsrooms glorification of corporate newsrooms.)

What we see from people like Cop Block and We Are Change, I believe, is nothing but good. Lives are being saved by Cop Block when cops see the camera and think to themselves, “I need to back off, or people are going to see this.” I know this is hardly a review or commentary on the Nightcrawler movie itself, but rather it’s just another perspective. A reminder of who the good guy is.

Capitalism

Another feature of this movie, other than the obvious fact that Lou Bloom is obviously a sociopath, is the great example of capitalism (otherwise known as free trade). Lou is doing everything he can do to find a job at the beginning of the movie, but some can see him for what he is. One potential employer, for example, knows he’s a thief because of what he sells.

Lou doesn’t just give up and go on the government dole though. When he witnesses an accident scene on the side of a highway, he sees a filmographer stop, record the scene, and sell the video for $500. When Lou is informed that this guy doesn’t have a job for him, he simply moves to do it himself. He buys a police scanner and a video camera from a pawn shop. Nothing fancy, he’s certainly using some old technology. But he draws attention to his work by having the nerve to get close, cross crime scene lines, and get the right shot. Sure, what he’s doing is illegal, and as noted before, he gets in the way in the beginning, but the point is he’s doing something different.

That’s not to say anyone who wants to break into an industry has to break the rules and risk their freedom, but rather to say use what you got, a fresh look on things. Lou, from the beginning, can’t afford the fancy equipment and methods, so he concentrates on the quality of his shots.

Once Lou starts to do well on his own, he knows he can expand his business. In fact, by the end of the movie he has his own company with three employees and two news vans of his own. All from buying a basic video camera and scanner at a pawn shop along with a whole lot of dedication. No, this guy isn’t a good person, and if you watch the movie you’ll understand why I say that, but you can’t deny his ability to get things done and to sell himself.

Your Thoughts?

There are two issues here that I’d like to hear more opinions on. First, recognizing that independent reporting can ruin lives, do you see this as an issue that requires a solution, and if so, what can be done? Personally, I see no solution outside of a campaign to reach out and inform people of the potential consequences of their actions. You can’t just throw people in jail for arbitrary freedom of speech violations. Even if the information they put out is used to justify the actions that others take, you can’t blame them for it. You must blame the violent aggressor who made their own decision.

Second, if you’ve seen Nightcrawler, is Lou truly a good representative of capitalism? He’s a criminal for sure but should this movie be looked upon negatively or positively. I’m sure socialists would love to point to this work of fiction as the results of capitalism. “See? That guy has a nice car and wouldn’t pay his assistant that he killed when forced to pay him more! Capitalist!” We can certainly have a discussion about the effects of power and the lack of empathy. Lou acts like many politicians in the way he manipulates people in a way that harms them and puts them into dangerous situations. My point is, however, should we completely deny how good this guy is at selling himself and working from the bottom to the top through self-education and dedication? I say no, when it comes to media we can basically look at it however we want, and it’s always good to pick out the positive. Maybe you disagree, let me know.

If you had any other random thoughts while reading this, please leave them below, I’d love to know what you’re thinking!