The journalism journey continues

By Maynard Eaton

Journalism is under attack, and it has been for a while now. Seasoned and savvy news columnists are routinely reviled; their reputations impugned if they dare express an erudite opinion about truth to power. It is akin to a sport for some corporate titans and elected officials.

Take for example the public feud that erupted last week between the Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Bill Torpy and Anne Torres, Mayor Kasim Reed’s director of communications over Torpy’s recent columns about the Atlanta firefighter’s quest for increased compensation and the potential displacement of revered Peoplestown homeowner and longtime activist Mattie Jackson.

Maynard Eaton City Hall

Maynard Eaton standing firm in front of the historic Atlanta City Hall

In a scathing letter to the media and the Mayor’s supporters, Torres debunked Torpy’s “propensity for stretching the truth and deliberately misleading his readers” and adding “he employs a worn and dishonest” and “one-sided” style of reporting.

I have covered Atlanta City Hall and reported on every mayor since Maynard Jackson’s second term in 1978, and I have never heard of a reporter being criticized so harshly and heatedly.

That’s not to say that I and other City Hall reporters have not been brutally bashed by Mayors Jackson, Andy Young and Bill Campbell – particularly. In fact at one point early in my career with 11-Alive News, I unknowingly moved in next door to Maynard Jackson at the then Peachtree North Apartments.

There was rarely a day when Hizzoner would not bang on my door with his massive fist to deliver a caustic critique of my journalism. But it never had the toxic tone of Torre’s letter lambasting Torpy.

I thought the long letter was so unusual and unspeakable that I emailed it to a host of friends and colleagues with this caveat: “Whether you agree or disagree with this editorial assault on AJC columnist Bill Torpy, I believe he is a top notch journalist and superb storyteller.”

A woman I highly respect, Dr. Joyce Dorsey, the CEO of the Fulton Atlanta Community Action Authority [FACAA], responded with what I think amounts to a sweeping indictment and condemnation of the journalism profession.

“I feel all reporters inflate stories, use flawed examples to make a point and seek prizes for the work they do,” Dr. Dorsey said. “It’s good reading nonetheless!

Maynard Eaton Meria Carstarphen

Maynard Eaton interviewing Atlanta School Superintendent Meria Carstarphen on Newsmakers LIVE (Faith Swift Photography)

Regrettably, that sentiment is fast becoming the prevailing attitude of readers and viewers because of the increasing number of media conglomerates and the proliferation of digital news media platforms such as blogging, citizen journalism and social media.

Far too many of those writing in that milieu claim to be journalists when they are actually operating as opinionated right wing or leftist columnists posturing as news reporters.

Take Fox News, for example. The lines have become blurred. People now find it difficult to distinguish between an opinion piece and a legitimate news story—much like Ann Torres seemingly has with Bill Torpy’s writing.

“A media revolution is transforming, fundamentally and irrevocably, the nature of journalism and its ethics,” writes Stephen J.A.Ward for the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Journalism Ethics. “The means to publish is now in the hands of citizens, while the internet encourages new forms of journalism that are interactive and immediate.

“Our media ecology is a chaotic landscape evolving at a furious pace.  Professional journalists share the journalistic sphere with tweeters, bloggers, citizen journalists, and social media users.”

Maynard Eaton first TV job

Maynard Eaton at his first TV news job with WVEC-TV in Hampton/Norfolk Virginia in 1970

While this new age media revolution may be unsettling and disturbing to “old school” traditional journalists such as myself, I contend the rules of the road in our craft should and must still apply. That is, news reporting in print, broadcast and online –and, I’ve done them all – must be fair, balanced and unbiased. It is the only way journalists can maintain their credibility, authenticity and integrity.

Fortunately I learned those principles and ethics long ago from some wise mentors like the late Fred Friendly, who was a president of CBS News and the creator, along with Edward R. Murrow, of the documentary television program See It Now. He was my faculty advisor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Yet another was the pioneer Mal Goode, the first Black Network TV newsman, who I interned for at ABC News.

But the journalist who has left the most indelible mark on my life and career, as both a television and print reporter, is Dick Williams, publisher of the Dunwoody Crier and host/producer of the Georgia Gang for the past 30 years.

Maynard Eaton Robert Patillo Lester Holt

Maynard Eaton with Newsmakers LIVE producer Robert Patillo and NBC anchor Lester Holt at the Center for Civil and Human Rights

Dick is the quintessential newsman. He was the first to offer me a TV news job in Hartford, Ct. when I was leaving Columbia in 1972, and soon after he became my news director at WPLG-TV in Miami. In 1977, he hired me again after landing the news director’s job at 11-Alive News. That was a life-changing moment.

The late civil rights legends Hosea Williams and Rev. Joe Boone often teased me that Williams wasn’t just giving me a second chance, but they had forced his hand to hire an African-American reporter with their daily protests outside the WXIA-TV studios. Dick also engineered and encouraged my transition to print journalism while he was a columnist and an editor at the Atlanta Journal.

Now, I am honored and humbled that my journalism journey will continue with the SaportaReport, and the iconic crew of veteran, award winning journalists like Maria Saporta, David Pendered and Tom Baxter.

I hope to enhance their riveting reporting by writing a weekly column that will passionately and proactively include Atlanta-related feature stories, profiles of Atlanta and Southern leaders – veterans and up-and-comers, insights into our civil rights legacy, revealing interviews and other topics close to my heart.

Based on my experience and expertise as an African-American journalist, my columns will be fact driven, yet creatively colored by insight and institutional knowledge.

I am sure I will step on some toes and draw my share of criticism, but I assure you my writing, reporting and story- telling will be fearless, yet fair, because I’ve been “raised right” in this honored and treasured profession of journalism.

 

Maynard Eaton is an award-winning journalist and media communications professional with a career spanning more than three decades in Atlanta. Eaton, a Columbia University School of Journalism grad, has parlayed his experience as a pioneering 8-time EMMY Award winning television news reporter into positions of National Communications Director for the SCLC, Managing Editor of the SCLC National Magazine, Editor & Host of NEWSMAKERS Live and President of the Eaton Media Group.

11 replies
  1. Glenn Hannigan says:

    It is good to see another skilled veteran journalist joining an already strong team. Best wishes, Mr. Eaton, and we look forward to following your reports and commentary on the Saporta Report. A healthy democracy requires a free and vibrant press. You are a welcome addition.Report

    Reply
  2. JerryChau says:

    Welcome to the Saporta Report, Maynard. I look forward to your
    future columns. Hopefully they with will have more substance than gripes about
    the traditional barbs that journalists receive as a necessary part of the
    territory.
    Taking barbs from politicians and abuse
    from dissenters means that you are doing a good job. Journalism has always been
    under attack. Thrive on it and dish out more of the same.

    http://tenonline.org/sref/jc1bio.html Chautin
    Former entrepreneur, commercial real estate and business lender
    Currently business columnist, financial content provider, blogger
    https://atlanta.score.org/ certified business mentor, coach,
    counselor
    http://www.sba.gov/ all
    volunteer, non-profit http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=37c7dd40-dcea-459f-ad37-0ccad835fbe3&c=7760f730-f291-11e3-bce3-d4ae52754055&ch=779db210-f291-11e3-bd01-d4ae52754055 
    SBA’s 2006 National “http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060311/BUSINESS/603110687/1007”
    [email protected]Report

    Reply
  3. Kim says:

    Great post.  As an ATL native, was happy to grow up watching, listening and learning from you.  Many times, I trekked over to Barley’s for your political chats.  Keep up the wonderful work and thanks for giving me ANOTHER reason to check out the Saporta Report.  Kudos Maria on adding another great JOURNALIST to your team.Report

    Reply
  4. Dowager says:

    Indeed, your contributions will be greatly valued.  I do wish an
    acclaimed veteran journalist like you would address the issue of the
    influence of the press on presidential candidates.  Some of us are
    frustrated that some credible candidates from both parties have not come
    to media light because they don’t draw media attention.  And, at this
    stage of the game, the role of the media is crucial.Report

    Reply
  5. hal lamar says:

    maynard I have often said the best decision was hiring you and outting you in the streets. It was my priviledge to workj with you at the atlanta voice and other black owned and  operated press. I also applkaud maris saporta, who i call a fine reporter and friend for reaching out to you. You report with a byte and wit that makes what you write and/or report about very interesting. I have pretty much retired from day-to-day chores but can’t away total. i know do some freelancing but admit it is much more refreshing to pick and choose what interests me versus pounding pavement and chasing ambulances by popular command. 44 years of that was enough for me. But the thing that we need now are dedicated me and women not aftraid folding the notebooks or putting down recorders for the last time. I will be watching and reading what you script. If you hit the bullseye, I will be the first to register my approval. if you flunk, you will recognize the brick heading toward your head (ha ha).
    keeo it real
    hal lamarReport

    Reply
  6. Burroughston Broch says:

    Mr. Eaton, I hope you take Saba Long under your wing and teach her about responsible journalism. Her latest post encouraging all to turn a blind eye to DeKalb County corruption is a travesty.
    I look forward to reading your work.Report

    Reply
  7. JerryChau says:

    Controversial, yes. A travesty, no. She is entitled to her
    opinion.
    Jerry
    http://tenonline.org/sref/jc1bio.htmlChautin
    Former entrepreneur, commercial real estate and business lender
    Currently business columnist, financial content provider, blogger
    https://atlanta.score.org/ certified business mentor,
    coach, counselor
    http://www.sba.gov/ all volunteer, non-profit http://campaign.r20.constantcontact.com/render?ca=37c7dd40-dcea-459f-ad37-0ccad835fbe3&c=7760f730-f291-11e3-bce3-d4ae52754055&ch=779db210-f291-11e3-bd01-d4ae52754055
    SBA’s 2006 National
    “http://www.heraldtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060311/BUSINESS/603110687/1007”
    [email protected]Report

    Reply

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