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Listening to Doug McGill
"I'm much better known as a journalist in Ethiopia than I am in Minnesota," Doug McGill told the group at last week's Brown Bag Lunch With a Journalist. "I'm a rock star with the Anuak. People will tell me about reading my stories in an internet café in Addis Ababa."
McGill's coverage of global-local connections and Ethiopian politics won a second place award for Best Continuing Coverage (Online) for his reporting in the Daily Planet last year. His coverage of Ethiopia, the Anuak, and Eritrea begins with refugees in Minnesota. From his base in Rochester, he broke the story of genocide of the Anuak in 2003-04, a story later confirmed by human rights organizations and picked up by news organizations around the world.
His reporting has gone full circle, beginning in Minnesota, then moving to the New York Times in the 1980s, and abroad as editor and bureau chief for Bloomberg News in Tokyo, London and Hong Kong in the 1990s. Family brought him back to Rochester in 2000.
From the perspective of decades spent in journalism, McGill observed that:
Long-term, large scale institutional fact-gathering is breaking down and is being replaced by a very fragmented news environment, where a lot of niches are popping up and dying away and there's a struggle for survival.
The breakdown of traditional journalism, he said, might not be a terrible thing:
The passivity of the press is a national scandal. It's part of what is creating a crisis for democracy. ... the press was just falling into a kind of stupor that caused extreme passivity in covering government and in covering corporations.
Should the journalism that was really dominant - should it survive?
McGill has a lot more to say about journalism than he could fit into the hour-long dialogue. A brief reference to Buddhist principles of "right speech" in journalism was intriguing - for more, take a look his discussion of "a journalism of timely, truthful, helpful speech" at The Buddha, the Dharma and the Media.