|Photo by Tomi Johnson|
Once upon a time, I was a reporter for a public television station in Kentucky. One of my most memorable assignments was uncovering the historical significance of an incident which occurred in Corbin, Ky. It was documented that in 1919, the town’s black residents were herded onto railroad cars and taken away from the place with the “sundown” reputation – blacks were told to be gone before sunset.
When I got to Corbin, I was labeled a troublemaker and threatened by the Chamber of Commerce president who viewed my investigation into the past bad publicity. Little did I realize that an industrial park was being built there, and the town’s leaders were afraid that potential corporate landlords would view past racial tensions too intense and risky for business development. When I returned to the television station with the story in the can, the operators who had received a call from the CC president forbade me to broadcast the information.
Today, metadata says and proves all, and it is released feverishly on the Internet by institutional and self-proclaimed journalists. Journalistic metadata is powerful, but handling it is tricky. An investigative journalist may uncover secrets, but the information may be suppressed by the organization s(he) works for since all such entities have their own political and marketing agendas. The true starving journalist may blog uncompensated but still run the risk of becoming a government or institutional target.
Case in point: The United Kingdom policy document, Joint Doctrine Publication 3-45.1: Media Operations, was promulgated by the Chiefs of Staff in 2007 and describes instructions on handling military media operations. The policy states that while the entire UK population is usually considered the "principal target", the "most influential target" is “people who hold disproportionate influence on the direction of government and public thinking and policy development."
Included in this target group are newspaper columnists and journalists who often do more than report news but voice opinions on current affairs. I think bloggers have also been added to this group, for I have been told by a human resources professional that blogging or any type of social media reporting may limit employment opportunities. One question asked on a recent online job application was whether I ever used social media as a reporting vehicle.
This makes it very disheartening when your craft deals with disseminating information. Mainstream media disarms you, but you feel compelled to tell what you know. Metadata(pen) being mightier than the sword cuts both ways. This is a hard revelation for inspiring journalists, but advice which must be heeded.