Do We Change the World or Does the World Change Us?

Posted on by Larry

Last week (3/16/2020), I wrote in my newsletter:

Last week was a week none of us will forget: the coronavirus became real, NAB canceled their 2020 show, the NBA canceled the rest of their season – followed by all the other major sports – panic buying hit the supermarkets, oil prices fell through the floor and the stock market… well, it didn’t collapse, but its fingernails are getting really tired.

Personally, I would prefer to live in less interesting times.

We got into this crazy business because we wanted to change the world. Now, with the world changing around us, we can help the world understand, cope and survive these changes. I would much prefer to take an active role and help folks than sit around wondering if I’ll have a business in a couple of months.

We are communicators – let’s communicate!

The truth drives away fear. Of course, times are challenging. Of course, we are scared. Of course, we would prefer this had not happened. But it has happened. The key is what we do next. Personally, I refuse to give up.

After reading this, Bill Goetz sent his reflections.

Last Monday, you wrote in your Newsletter that “we got into this crazy business because we wanted to change the world.”

However, I wonder how many of us really had intentions to change the world when we began our careers, especially those in the journalism community. I can only speak for myself, but a more accurate generalization might also be that maybe we wanted to make a difference.

When I began my career as a TV news photographer over 40 years ago, it was indeed on the perception that — thanks to the efforts of two Washington Post reporters to uncover the details of the Watergate scandal that lead to President Richard Nixon’s resignation — journalists could make a difference and, as a result, effect significant change.

However, I was not motivated to become a broadcast photojournalist to set out to change the world. I do know that I was interested in people; in the moments that explain people and their circumstances and the challenge of mastering and using a 16mm film camera to capture and communicate what viewers could not see for themselves

I learned from some of the best visual storytellers in broadcast news. I also learned from a dedicated news director who taught that accurately and responsibly reporting and relaying the facts and actuality of events of the day was my primary and awesome responsibility. My job was not to change the world, but to provide the information that the community needed and wanted to know. And for viewers to come to their own conclusions of what to make of local events and issues. I spent years (probably decades) trying to improve my visual storytelling techniques to better connect with viewers and more effectively communicate the visual and aural experience of the myriad stories I was assigned to cover. Along the way I could sometimes add “to entertain” to the mission of “to inform and to educate”

One of my finest mentors was San Francisco TV news feature reporter Wayne Freedman. In his book, It Takes More Than Good Looks, he discussed changing “smaller worlds:”

If, in your work, you inform, enlighten or influence one person, or if you do a story that touches someone’s life for the better then you can change personal worlds every day. With that in mind, treat every story, and accordingly every word with respect.

He also observed that people who enter TV news and journalism intending to change the world, discover over time that the world changes them. So true! The more my horizons broadened as I learned about people and the world, the less I certain I am of making any hard and fast judgements. I am also humbled and awestruck by the “practiced eye” of so many fine photographers, videographers, editors and filmmakers who have mastered their craft and the required technical expertise to produce effective, powerful and moving reportage. I could go on.

Now that I am at the sunset of my career, instead of ever setting out to change the world, I feel that I have always been striving to keep up with an ever-changing world. A world defined by learning and mastering new technology, abiding by the diktats of changing news department management and the repercussions of on-going consolidation, downsizing and layoffs. Of course, these are working conditions that are not unique to the journalism profession.

Some of us may have set out to change the world, but in the end, we all find ourselves in the throes of endless change, being the nature of life, our creativity inspired by it, documenting it and accommodating to it.

These thoughts bring to mind the lyrics of singer-songwriter Phil Och’s song, “Changes.”

The world’s spinning madly, it drifts in the dark
Swings through a hollow of haze,
A race around the stars, a journey through
The universe ablaze with changes.

Moments of magic will glow in the night
All fears of the forest are gone
But when the morning breaks they’re swept away by
golden drops of dawn, of changes.

As always thanks for regularly sharing your expertise and insights via your Newsletters and Inside Tips.

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