There’s Journalism, and There’s Journalists

My journalist friends, who by and large are middle-aged coots like me, get upset whenever I say something like “everybody is a journalist now.”

To which I would respond with two vignettes from this week.

In the first, some of the sharpest foreign correspondents in the world huddled on an upper floor of the Rixos Hotel in Tripoli, covering Libya’s civil war by pointing their cell phone cameras at themselves, talking about how they were prisoners of the pro-Gadhafi guards who patrolled and surrounded the hotel, while waiting for someone to take them somewhere or tell them something.

In the second, a magnitude 5.9 earthquake centered in Virginia rattled most of the East Coast, triggering evacuations of offices and government buildings and doing some damage. Other people in my Scarsdale, N.Y., office felt the building shake. My age-dulled senses overlooked the tremor, but a call from my wife told me something was up.

I quickly pointed my browser at CNN.com (my favorite news source, especially while my daughter interns there this summer) to find the briefest of bulletins. My considerably younger colleague Ben Sullivan did his research on Twitter, which rapidly filled with tweets from all over the East Coast.

John Coffey (JCoffey01) was one of the first citizen-journalists to report what was happening in Virginia without using any words that I would hesitate to repeat here. “EARTHQUAKE IN MANASSAS VIRGINIA!” was his bulletin. I could not have done it better back when I manned a news desk for The Associated Press, covering things like the ash fallout from the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

I do not wish to demean those reporters holed up in the Rixos Hotel. They took all kinds of chances just to be in Tripoli. They did not have the option to be out on the streets, and in any event, someone needed to report that war from the government side. Other correspondents, in equal if not greater peril, traveled with the Libyan rebels. Four New York Times journalists were brutalized, and their Libyan driver executed, when they were captured by pro-Gadhafi forces early in the war. They are among many who have risked and, too often, sacrificed themselves to tell the world something important.

But the partnership between the press and the public has become so close that I find the distinction meaningless. When I wanted to know what was happening, I went to a traditional source like CNN because that is where my generation’s experience took me. When Ben wanted to know what was happening, he went to Twitter for the same reason.

Syria, like Iran before it, has basically prohibited foreign journalists from covering popular rebellion. The domestic press presents only what the government wants it to present, so the only way to find out what is really happening is to rely on the videos, tweets, blog posts and accounts provided by ordinary citizens, who – just like “real” journalists – often risk their own lives to get the story out. I don’t see a meaningful difference. In fact, most news organizations these days immediately turn to Twitter and other social network sites to gather information when something unexpected happens. Instead of the press informing the public, we have the public informing the press.

Just like the best journalists, who carry press passes, some civilians have a knack for summing up the story in a few pithy words or even a few letters.

“SRSLY?” was the tweet from Cindy Li (cindyli), who immediately knew exactly what was happening. “I had to come to Virginia to feel an earthquake in Reston when I live in SF?”

She may not consider herself a journalist, but as far as I am concerned, that’s journalism.

About Larry M. Elkin 534 Articles

Affiliation: Palisades Hudson Financial Group

Larry M. Elkin, CPA, CFP®, has provided personal financial and tax counseling to a sophisticated client base since 1986. After six years with Arthur Andersen, where he was a senior manager for personal financial planning and family wealth planning, he founded his own firm in Hastings on Hudson, New York in 1992. That firm grew steadily and became the Palisades Hudson organization, which moved to Scarsdale, New York in 2002. The firm expanded to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2005, and to Atlanta, Georgia, in 2008.

Larry received his B.A. in journalism from the University of Montana in 1978, and his M.B.A. in accounting from New York University in 1986. Larry was a reporter and editor for The Associated Press from 1978 to 1986. He covered government, business and legal affairs for the wire service, with assignments in Helena, Montana; Albany, New York; Washington, D.C.; and New York City’s federal courts in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Larry established the organization’s investment advisory business, which now manages more than $800 million, in 1997. As president of Palisades Hudson, Larry maintains individual professional relationships with many of the firm’s clients, who reside in more than 25 states from Maine to California as well as in several foreign countries. He is the author of Financial Self-Defense for Unmarried Couples (Currency Doubleday, 1995), which was the first comprehensive financial planning guide for unmarried couples. He also is the editor and publisher of Sentinel, a quarterly newsletter on personal financial planning.

Larry has written many Sentinel articles, including several that anticipated future events. In “The Economic Case Against Tobacco Stocks” (February 1995), he forecast that litigation losses would eventually undermine cigarette manufacturers’ financial position. He concluded in “Is This the Beginning Of The End?” (May 1998) that there was a better-than-even chance that estate taxes would be repealed by 2010, three years before Congress enacted legislation to repeal the tax in 2010. In “IRS Takes A Shot At Split-Dollar Life” (June 1996), Larry predicted that the IRS would be able to treat split dollar arrangements as below-market loans, which came to pass with new rules issued by the Service in 2001 and 2002.

More recently, Larry has addressed the causes and consequences of the “Panic of 2008″ in his Sentinel articles. In “Have We Learned Our Lending Lesson At Last” (October 2007) and “Mortgage Lending Lessons Remain Unlearned” (October 2008), Larry questioned whether or not America has learned any lessons from the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s. In addition, he offered some practical changes that should have been made to amend the situation. In “Take Advantage Of The Panic Of 2008” (January 2009), Larry offered ways to capitalize on the wealth of opportunity that the panic presented.

Larry served as president of the Estate Planning Council of New York City, Inc., in 2005-2006. In 2009 the Council presented Larry with its first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award, citing his service to the organization and “his tireless efforts in promoting our industry by word and by personal example as a consummate estate planning professional.” He is regularly interviewed by national and regional publications, and has made nearly 100 radio and television appearances.

Visit: Palisades Hudson

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