The 2004-2005 Essay Contest Winners:
1st and 2nd Place
High School Division
St. Bernard's High School
If You Believe Everything You See on Television,
You'd Better Not Watch!
What if there is a peace march and the news media does not come? A march on Washington a million strong--people are taking to the streets, filling the National Mall. They are angry and outraged! But there are no photographers, no cameramen, no reporters, and no journalists. The protesters' only hope is that by chance a network executive will open his window and their "stop the war" chant will waft in and hit an "open mic." Where is the news media? It exists, but it no longer represents mainstream America. The top story on the evening news that day: Brittany Spears remarries her third husband at a chicken barbecue reception.
Is this scenario just a far-fetched fantasy--like something out of a futuristic Ray Bradbury novel? Perhaps, but it serves to illustrate how vital the news media are to the functioning of our American way of life. One only needs to recollect another seemingly implausible event to appreciate the significance of reliable, fact-based reporting. This is not an imaginary futuristic event, but a real one in our recent past. Never has there been stronger evidence of the importance of news media than September 11th. As terrified as Americans were, how much more terrified would they have been if their television screens went black, if their radios went dead, if there were no newspapers the next morning? News reporting is the heartbeat of America. Not only does it glue us together in times of crisis, it is vital to the functioning of our democracy.
While our nation depends on media, it has also experienced a love-hate relationship with it from the beginning. Jefferson was an outspoken proponent of journalistic freedoms. He once said he would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers. However, he is also credited with saying: "The most truthful part of a newspaper is the advertisements" and "the man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers" (Think).
In Jefferson's day, the printing press was the only means of mass communication; Today's information comes from media--information that forms our opinions, ideas, beliefs and values. It influences our daily choices and the future of our nation and society. If the information is slanted, if viewpoints are overlooked or cut off, ideas cannot find an outlet and our democracy is undermined.
The influence of sensational, slanted media are greater today because society is exposed to more media; but biased and colored journalism is certainly not new. Benjamin Franklin's journalistic writing was so liberally slanted, he actually got his brother thrown in jail for a month. Upton Sinclair exposed inhumane conditions in the Chicago stockyards with "muckraking". The "yellow press" of the early 20th century triumphed over factual reporting emphasizing sensational sex, crime, and disaster news to increase circulation (Messman).
In 1996 Allan R. Andrews, former Editor of "The Pacific Stars and Stripes, Tokyo, Japan" marked the 100th anniversary of the term "Yellow Journalism" by publishing his article "How Yellow is Today's Journalism?"
"Today's yellow journalism," writes Andrews, "finds fertile ground in would-be journalists whose motives have little to do with social conscience, disclosure of injustice, uncovering wrongdoing or giving voice to the voiceless. These journalists-in-name-only are self-seekers whose motives involve pride, profit and a program of abusing the rules of journalism."
Amy Goodman, controversial host of the liberal Pacifica Radio network's "Democracy Now!" program, takes the issue a step further, going toe-to-toe with all mainstream media. Goodman argues that U.S. media are becoming corrupted because journalists are too close to those in power. Goodman faults the media with asking "softball questions" in return for access to those in political power.
There is an ancient Japanese proverb: If you believe everything you read, better not read. One might expand this concept to all media, especially television. If you believe everything you see on television, better not watch. Don't like the selection of programs? The television news is too sensationalized and slanted? Use the Internet to access foreign newspapers! Find alternative sources in the library! Read books and magazines!
Bill Maher (producer, writer, comedian b: 1956) once said, "People have romantic notions about television. In the highest realms they think it's some sort of art medium, and it's not. Others think it's an entertainment medium, it's not that either. It's an advertising medium. It's a method to deliver advertising like a cigarette is a method to deliver nicotine" (Think). If you have to watch television, try not to inhale!
Andrews, Allan R. "How yellow is today's journalism?" Pacific Stars & Stripes. Dec. 22, 1996. republished at: http://www.toad.net/~andrews/yellow.html
Goodman, Amy. (Interviewed by Brian Braiker.) MSNBC News. Newsweek National News "Access of Evil" Updated: 4:58 p.m. ET April 27, 2004 http://msnbc.msn.com/id/4846172/
Messman, Terry. "Journalists as agent of social change." Justice Journalism. Volume 20 #4.
Think-Exist Quotations Website. http://en.thinkexist.com/
Farmington High School
Does Journalistic Integrity Still Exist?
The 21st century is said to be the century of new innovations and technology. As a result of globalization, the world has become smaller and it is easier to access news through newspapers, the internet and the television. This has led to a much-needed comprehensive understanding of the world around us and the people living in it. However, at the same time significant journalistic compromises have been made, in order to provide this information.
There are many different ways in which people gather information such as reading newspapers, or watching the news. However, both of these sources have faltered at some point or another. Journalistic integrity has become a matter of the past. The days of honesty and true journalism are long gone, overshadowed by sloppiness and self -motives. Journalism was once considered a profession in which the truth was persuasively sought after, however these days it is known as the profession in which scandalous headline cover pages.
In order to be a good reporter a person must research the topic accurately and verify the information/sources as well as present a non-biased view to the overall population. Sometimes even the most prestigious anchors make blunders. Recently, on September 8th 2004 the anchor for CBS, Dan Rather used documents that had been obtained from an anonymous source to produce a segment on 60 Minutes. Dan Rather made allegations that President George W. Bush had received preferential treatment during his service in the Texas Air National Guard in the 1970s. Coverage of this recent news led to a lot of controversy over the reliability of the documents that Rather had used to support his claim. It was later found that the documents were forgeries and that the source had reassembled the President's National Guard Files. Although Dan Rather acknowledged his mistake, this error still shows a trend in which even the wisest of journalists are still unable to guarantee the truth.
When reporters like Dan Rather make mistakes on the television, they are often caught and criticized because so many watch the news. Whereas, when small magazines make minor errors on reporting, it is generally up to the public to inform the publisher that they are wrong, otherwise it remains unnoticed. For example the magazine, Newsweek has a section that is strictly dedicated to the readers who write letters and respond to articles. Almost every week a reader finds mistakes and corrects them. It is a journalist's job to find the truth, but it is an individual's job to verify the truth. In 2003, many of the leading newspapers and magazines, such as Times reported on a journalist by the name of Jayson Blair, a 27-year-old who worked for the New York Times. It was evident from investigations that Blair had fabricated many of his front page stories. This proves that there is a serious problem in society today in regards to a lack of journalistic integrity; the root cause being dishonesty.
At the end of the day, an individual can read the most reputed newspapers in the world and still fail to find the truth. There are organizations that critique the media, such as the non profit organization, Accuracy In Media, which is headed by Reed Irvine who works at holding the media accountable for their actions. The role of this organization is to keep the media on their toes and to emphasize the importance of good reporting. Although it can be extremely difficult to distinguish the truth from lies, it is possible. It is also important that the changes that are made in journalism are the right ones. Until the media finds a way to revert back to journalistic integrity, the only thing that a person can do in order to make intelligent, informed decisions is gain a clear understanding of the events that take place in today's world through education. The effect of education is that people rely very little on propaganda and are able to question the truth. After all the truth can never be found if everything is blindly accepted and it is society's job to ensure that it is found.
Middle School Division
To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, captures the prejudice that circulated through the American South at the height of the Jim Crow era. The Jim Crow laws, set in place in the late nineteenth century in the South, made prejudice against African-Americans legal. The reader of To Kill a Mockingbird is taken back to 1932 in the South, when white people oppressed African- Americans, and the Great Depression cast a dark shadow over the lives of Americans all over the country. Things are no different in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, where the book is set. Most of the residents are farmers, and the African- Americans live in shacks at the edge of town. A black man named Tom Robinson is falsely accused of raping a white woman, Mayella Ewell, and Maycomb is up in arms. Atticus Finch is the lawyer who has been appointed by the court to defend Tom Robinson. Atticus is faced with a dilemma: he knows that he must do what is right and defend Tom Robinson, but this decision may have dangerous consequences if the enraged white community in Maycomb turns against him and his two small children. To Kill a Mockingbird taught me an important lesson about fighting prejudice.
Atticus Finch does not fight prejudice with protests, guns or leaflets stuck on the windshields of cars. He fights prejudice by doing his job and offering the same courtesy to everyone, and this is the most powerful theme of the book. While it may be true that one fights prejudice more successfully with a large protest, one does not need a teeming mass to destroy discrimination. One person doing the right thing can change the world.
I live in an almost all-white, affluent town in Connecticut, and discrimination against a particular race, gender, religion, or ethnicity is not a rampant problem in my community, although there have been some racial slurs made in the past. However, since the 2004 presidential election, the gap between the Democratic and Republican parties seems to have grown larger. Having been raised in liberal family, I must admit that I have drawn unfair conclusions about people more conservative than I. I have been surprised when people have called my views "stupid" and "untrue", and I am sure I have committed similar offenses. I am only an eighth grader, and I cannot even vote. In the adult world, everything seems more extreme. My Democrat uncle has not called his Republican brother since the election because he is too busy to get into a heated political battle. In the media. Republicans like Anne Coulter, and Democrats like Randi Rhodes draw unfair conclusions about the opposing party all the time.
At about the same time of the election, I read To Kill a Mockingbird, and the book helped me realize how unfair I was when I was prejudiced against Republicans. It does not matter what party one is affiliated with, as it does not matter what color one's skin is. While I always knew this. To Kill a Mockingbird reminded me. Now, I try not to make biased judgments about others based on their political views.
I definitely recommend this book to everyone. Not only is it well written, it also brings up issues that are important in our world today, such as how children learn bigotry from adults. To Kill a Mockingbird is an excellent reminder that we all have the obligation to live each day treating everyone equally.
Saxe Middle School
New Canaan, Connecticut
A World of Prejudice
How is a Jewish person different than a Catholic person? What convinces some that they are more important than others because of little things like color, race, gender, or religion? In my opinion, these minor differences are too superficial to be considered when judging people. It's what is on the inside that counts. However, many overlook the true qualities of others, focusing instead on their outside characteristics.
Though I've heard about people discriminating against others, I've never actually felt full it's blast until I watched the movie School Ties. In this film, David Greene is a Jewish boy who excels at football. He becomes a quarterback at a boy's prep school, and is soon the most respected boy in the school. The main reason for this is his personality. During one scene, the most popular boy in the school, Charlie Dillon, tells David that he envies him. He reasons that David can make the best out of any situation. However, there is a catch. At the prep school, everyone is Catholic. Therefore, David kept his true religion hidden. He suffered through countless jokes from other boys about "stupid Jews", but he never let his secret slip. Nothing good can last forever, and one day Dillon overheard a group of men discussing David's religion. Dillon ran with this information, and soon everybody knew. David went from the most respected and loved boy on campus, to the most hated. Many wouldn't even talk to him, and they made animal noises when he walked by. Boys put a sign over his bed, telling him to get lost. The worst part was, at the end a teacher found a cheat sheet for a test written by Dillon. However, Dillon blamed David. When all the other boys heard this accusation, most of them agreed readily, however, their only justification was that David was Jewish.
While watching this movie, I realized how horrible it would be to be the one who was being discriminated against. Poor David was left friendless, and one could see just how much it hurt him. I learned two lessons from School Ties. Firstly, judging people on by their outside characteristics, is like judging a book by its cover. David was Jewish, but so what? It didn't affect his personality. In fact, everyone loved him at first. Secondly, it is my job to help people who are suffering from discrimination. I'm just as bad as the people who are actually the ones discriminating if I don't help. All the boys at the prep school were wrong because no one stood up for David. School Ties taught me many things about prejudice.
After watching this movie, I now try hard not to judge people by what I see. If I'm at school, and I see a kid standing all by himself, I will go up to him. Before, I would have analyzed why they were standing alone. Did nobody want to stand with him because of his clothes? Or their religion? Or their gender? After School Ties, these things don't matter to me anymore. Everybody should watch this movie. It is a reality check for people. It shows that discrimination is real. School Ties is a movie for all those who want to learn a lesson or two about life in a world of prejudice.
Baldwin Middle School
The story, Jackie Robinson by William Bennett, which I recently read, sent me a powerful message against racial prejudice. Prejudice is an opinion or strong feeling against a race or religion without careful thought or regard to the facts. This story is about Jackie Robinson, an African-American baseball player who became the first person of his race to play major league baseball on an all white team. The year was 1945, a time when many areas of the United States was still segregated by race. The owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, noticed what a talented baseball player Jackie was and offered him a position on his team. He told Jackie that if he accepted the position many people would be angry and say or do mean things to him, perhaps even threaten him and his family. When this happened Mr. Rickey told Jackie that he would have to accept it and not fight back. Jackie knew the only way it could work was if he kept his cool and played great baseball, which is exactly what he did. He quickly won the respect of the fans and other team members by showing them that he would not let other people's prejudice prevent him from doing his best on the baseball field.
There are several lessons that I learned from this story. I learned that although prejudice is very powerful and hurtful, one way to overcome it is to use self control and show them that doing your best no matter what people do or say is what really matters. Even though people said mean things to Jackie, umpires made unfair calls against him, and he even received a few death threats, Jackie did not let that stop him from doing his best. Jackie showed us that it is not the color of your skin that matters, rather it is how hard you try to be the best at what you do that really counts. Jackie Robinson proved that self control and hard work is what made him one of the best baseball players, black or white, to ever play the game.
Reading this story has changed the way I relate to people of different races. I am more aware of what African-Americans had to deal with in this country even just 50 years ago. Although today our country is no longer segregated, prejudice still exists. There is still physical abuse, hurtful racist remarks, and gang wars over racial differences. Now when I meet an older African-American person I treat them with a lot of respect because I know they must have suffered from racial prejudice in the past.
I would highly recommend this story to everyone. Although it's about a baseball player, it teaches us about overcoming unfair treatment based on the way we look. It is really about not letting other people's actions keep you from doing your best. In conclusion this story sent me a powerful message about confronting prejudice and keeping your cool in bad situations. As the story goes, Jackie Robinson truly proved to the world that "Baseball is bigger than Bigotry".
Saxe Middle School
New Canaan, Connecticut
Another Way to Dance
Racism is one of the most painful aspects of American life today. Racism can tear apart communities and ruin lives. Racism, the belief that race is the most important determinant of human traits and superiority, is one of the biggest problems in America today. This issue is portrayed in the novel Another Way to Dance by Martha Southgate. It tells the tale of an African-American ballerina who struggles with racism and teaches readers much about racism and the pain it can cause its victims as well.
Ballerinas are typically Caucasian with silky hair and delicate limbs. Vicky, the main character will never fit that description, no matter how hard she may try. She will still be Vicky, with brown skin and thick textured hair. Although she may try to flatten her hair and scarcely eat in order to be thin, she still cannot be the classic ballerina that she dreams of being. One may wonder why this bothers Vicky so much. Sadly, the reason she cares is because people don't accept her because of who she is. Racism at her ballet school is very evident, and it hurts Vicky emotionally throughout the novel. In the end, she learns to deal with the problem, but readers still learn a lot from her experiences.
First and foremost, readers learn how it feels to be ostracized and treated unfairly. One learns that each snide comment, no matter how quiet or subtle it may be, stings. By seeing the story from Vicky's point of view, one learns what being a victim of racism feels like. As a result of this, readers learn not to be racist and how it feels to be made fun of. In addition to this, readers learn to always stand up for their friends because it can make a difference. In Another Way to Dance, Vicky's friend stands up for her when she is victimized. Because of this, Vicky feels better about herself and is not as hurt by the rude remarks thrown at her. Overall, a reader can learn a lot by reading this novel.
This book certainly had an effect on me. Because of it, I became more aware of racism and what it can be like for victims. I was never really aware of it before reading this novel, and after doing so I was greatly impacted emotionally. I felt horrible for those innocent people that have to deal with pain and emotional struggles solely because of their appearance. I realized how much one joke or negative remark can hurt someone, and that I should always stand up for the victims of this. Overall, this book changed the way I relate to others, as now I am more aware of their feelings and emotions.
I would definitely recommend this book to everyone. It teaches readers a lot about racism and how it feels. Another Way to Dance essentially tells readers to be kind to everyone and not be racist, a lesson that everyone must eventually learn. If everyone read this book, I am sure the world would become a better place. Although one book cannot end racism, it can help people become more aware which will lead to people taking a stand against racism. And we must end racism, no matter what it takes.