All the media were on hand Sunday for the ceremonial opening of the new Illinois Holocaust Museum& Education Center in Skokie. But Pioneer Press reporter Mike Isaacs apparently had the place to himself a day later as the museum actually went about its business, holding a symposium, "The Ethics of Dealing With Genocide."
Isaacs wasn't aware of any other reporters present, and no stories showed up in the dailies. There was simply Isaacs's excellent report, posted online at PioneerLocal.com. I write more than enough about the lamentable downsizing at Pioneer Press and throughout the desperate Sun-Times Media Group. All the more reason to point out the superior work Pioneer Press is still capable of doing.
The symposium was, among other things, a blunt critique of contemporary journalism. Isaacs wrote:
Panelists noted with disturbing frankness the challenges of reporting genocide so the public knows and cares about atrocities occurring in other parts of the world.
Some of those challenges exist because of the declining state of journalism, they said. Foreign bureaus are shrinking away and there is less ability to bring crucial information to the public. In fact, Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent Paul Salopek said he now covers more than 40 countries.
"It's absurd. It's shameful," he said.
(I've reported that Salopek has left the Tribune, which has dismantled its foreign service. It would be more accurate to say he's on a sabbatical.)
Another of the panelists was Kelly McBride, an ethicist with the Poynter Institute. Isaacs wrote that McBride, describing journalism's unhealthy state, said that "as a media ethicist, she has received only two calls about when to use genocide to describe a conflict. 'I'm much more likely to get the call about whether we should use the photo of Rihanna in the domestic violence incident,' she said. 'The systems within newsrooms to actually ask the questions have to exist.'"
McBride disagreed with Joe Lauria, UN correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, on the willingness of the public to read about distant atrocities. "It's a very dramatic story, genocide," said Lauria. "I think you can sell newspapers if it's done correctly." But Isaacs wrote that McBride didn't think so, telling the audience that "Americans tend to be isolationists and even self-centered."
The Holocaust Museum will post a video of the symposium on its Web site in the next few days.