Be a Mensch first!

For image source click here

Journalism used to be a respected profession. We go out and meet other people, share their stories, report them for the benefit of others. If we are considered to be rude or inappropriate, at worst let it be for a persistent question asked, for that is our trade, whilst we must know also our boundaries in terms of what is a person’s private sphere.

But there is another side I witness at times. I have to say, sometimes, I wonder about the self-centred “me first” ambition of some of my fellow journalistic colleagues (not all, thank goodness!).

Here is an example that I encountered today as I waited in front of an English court of law from from around 08.00 in the morning onwards for the doors to open at 09.00 (I left my home at 06.45 for that). My preparation had paid off, as I was one of only five colleagues, who were amongst the first in front of the court-building door. By the time the court-building had opened, there were some 25 journos outside, and by the time the courtroom door (up on the third floor) opened, it must have been well over 30 colleagues plus ordinary persons, members of the public, who just came to observe.

I always treat my fellow colleagues with collegial respect. Having been in the business for a while, in fact I have been in journalism on and off for about 28 years, I experienced oftentimes that colleagues help each other and try to prevent replication of asking a source. Sometimes the help goes above that, with cars, food, even accommodation shared, even if one is not from the same media organ. But not always, and today I almost missed out on a court hearing due to good manners, which include as it stands, to not push myself in front of others with disregard and to try to upkeep civility and politeness – a skill that got not the least refined from living in England – when others showed hardly any of these attributes.

It started when some colleagues, who arrived rather late stationed themselves self-importantly beside and then before me and in the front line. As soon as the doors to the building opened, they and others almost run into the court building trying to be the firsts to be in. As I was right in front of the main entrance door, in spite of those pushy folks, I managed, without too much hurry, still to be amongst the first ten persons in the waiting room on the third floor in front of the courtroom, after we were let in and had gone through the security controls. Had they not pushed, I would have been amongst the first two or three upstairs. When the doors to the court-room opened after another hour of wait upstairs, the media league began yet again and with even more eagerness to ferociously push itself through the door into the court-room itself, as if inside somebody was giving out free diamonds to the first to arrive inside.

The entrance was almost blocked when several people at the same time tried to enter. Some of those who had come last were amongst the worst offenders. It was unbelievable behaviour these professionals beared to the open. As I finally entered, there were hardly any seats of the 30 plus seats left. A man shouted, there was a seat still free beside him. Whilst I was in front of a woman, a young determined journalist half my age, I was cavalier enough to allow her to take that seat, saying, please, You have it. Now I I am asking myself , why on earth did I feel the need to be polite? She self-righteously instead pushed ahead without a thank you.

So it was, that despite being one of the first at the location ready for work, I nearly missed out on one of the available seats, leaving me standing in the room, quite confused as to what had just happened. Already a court official declared that “those still standing would have to leave the room.” I feared for the worst, when only due to some sudden reshuffling on the order of the court officials, I was finally able to gather a seat, to my great surprise and relief.

Having witnessed that conduct, and having remained a mensch, almost to my detriment, the next frenzy was only about to start. One clever cocky journalist, well trimmed and in a fine suit, you would mistake him for what they refer to in this country as supposedly a gentleman, decided to request the names of the defence and prosecution lawyers single-handedly for himself. When he failed to volunteer his “most precious information” to all his other fellow colleagues, another five or six journalists started getting up from their seats queuing up behind the lawyer who had volunteerd the details, also requesting for the names and then, to my surprise, also not sharing the details to all (at best they did to those seated next to them). It was totally disorderly and very non-collegial. The rule in the room seemed to be ‘get what you can’, ‘disregard all others, or how you get it.’

This may be an attitude that at times helps journalists in certain situations, but it really had no place inside an English courtroom, not the least, because court officials will always assist journalists to get whatever information they may require about the persons involved in a case, unless they are instructed not to. Eventually, the court officials put a stop to the small queue of journos behind the lawyer in question, who himself was rather baffled by it all.

In the end, all journalists found a space to sit and all journalists who required information received it. There was no need for the behaviour shown.

Perhaps, with foresight, the court officials should have prepared for that, given the amount of media interest. I have been in courtrooms where the information of the names of the accused, the judge and the lawyers were already prepared on a special hand-out list for journos or sometimes a sheet with that information would circulate from seat to seat for us to copy. I have also been in courts where there was a number put to journalists, in accordance to arrival time, sometimes, especially in Old Baily cases, we have to pre-announce our intention to reserve a space.

The colleague next to me was one of the five people who managed to get those names from the lawyer. She shared those with the man to her right, but forgot me, seated to her left. She only thought of volunteering the names after I explicitly asked for them (at least she did that without further ado). In the end, I did not even need the names later, as it was not too relevant for German news.

There were about a dozen people in the public gallery watching the behaviour of all of this, as well as the court officials and lawyers. If people have little respect for our profession, here was just another admittedly small example, showing that we can not even behave well towards or respect our very own colleagues. Treat your neighbour like yourself, or treat your colleague like yourself is an anathema here, it seems.

The last time I witnessed such behaviour was about three years ago, when a journalist went up to an emotionally strained Grenfell survivor to ask for her details in a public meeting and refused to share that detail with other colleagues, requiring them also to go up one by one to that survivor (this was only days after the inferno). I remember that the journalist had eventually given me some information, but not all, giving off an attitude of somehow being the clever or deserving one. Maybe she was, was she?

A few years ago at a large world leaders and experts summit hosted by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, journalists were treated with a degree of contempt, amongst others, not being allowed into many areas into which we should have been allowed for access (such as where debates and presentations occurred). Our access area was severely limited. I complained about that at the time. But to be honest, after what I have witnessed today, is it a surprise, if some think, we must be managed quite vehemently, and that often, in order to report, we have to get accredited, which, by the way, is still not a guarantee that people, fellow journalists, behave themselves with courtesy and with respect to others. In my rule book for the job that is amongst the twelve commandments of the trade. But maybe, approaching my 50s I am just old-school, like the fact, that I still prefer to take notes on a paper notepad, rather than record everything digitally. But to be a mensch, to be kind, surely, is never something outdated, though at times it could be rare.

Journalism, because you believe in it. ● Journalismus, weil man daran glaubt

My report in the taz:  www.taz.de/Urteile-in-Grossbritannien/!136624/

#Nicholasjacobs free.  I was one of the only few German journalists (maybe the only German at the beginning?), that went to the trial for a few days and reported on it for #TazDieTageszeitung, the only German newspaper independent and clever enough on such issues.

Because most people do not want to pay for news anymore, reading free of charge online or those free hand out newspapers,  I did not get  paid much for the many hours in court apart from one article,  but I understood that truth and information are sometimes more important, than what you get paid, especially whilst much of the UK media was taking the side of the crown prosecution even though now they claim otherwise.

I remember how on the second Monday of the trial, I was the only journalist at all observing the entire demo for Jacobs, whilst a BBC colleague with camera did a 2 minute recording and then left.

This – going to trials, listening and taking longer notes – isn’t sustainable for ever for journalists like myself, but I know what I am in journalism for. I could have continued to build a career as CEO of NGOs, but chose to go back to journalism, because of passion for truth, justice and reporting from angles others don’t, based on a solid foundation of original studies in politics, sociology and modern history, journalism and years of commitment to the media. I was also in a minority by hinting to the internal corruption of the police and the problems with the witnesses produced.

As to the issue of the events 30 years ago, I hope some sort of truth and reconciliation process could emerge for all victims of the time, those who were targets and victims of the Met and for the family of the murdered officer Keith Blakelock.

DEUTSCH

Mein Bericht in der Taz http://www.taz.de/Urteile-in-Grossbritannien/!136624/

Ich war einer der wenigen Deutschen Journalisten ( anfänglich evtl. der einzige Deutsche), die einige Tage des Prozesses gegen Nicholas Jacobs im Gericht beobachtet hatten, und einiger der wenigen aller, die überhaupt über Probleme im Fall, Polizeikorruption und unzuverlässige Zeugen von Anfang an schrieben.

Mein Honorar dafür, war mehr, dass mein Sinn für aufrichtigen und informativen Journalismus, basiert auf eine fundierte Ausbildung in Politik und Zeitgeschichte, und Jahre der Erfahrung, richtig war, als das wenige Geld was man mit dem Journalismus dieser Tage verdient. Es ist deshalb wichtig und essenziell , dass von allen unabhängiger Journalismus finanziell mitgetragen wird, sei es durch Abos oder die 10 Cent beispielsweise auf der Taz Zahleinrichtung für bestimmte Berichte, oder mindestens durch Verteilung über die sozialen Medien. So bleiben nicht nur Zeitungen am Leben, sondern vielleicht kriegen Journalisten auch irgendwann wieder genug bezahlt, so dass man es sich beispielsweise immer erlauben kann, bei Prozessen beizusitzen.

Written on mobile phone in Germany.

Opinion: deliberations after article on the anti-Semitic cartoon in the SZ

slightly modified 26/2/2014

So the Süddeutsche (SZ), one of Germany’s most renowned broadsheets, published a caricature that was identical with the depictions of Jews in the Nazi Era.  Burkhard Mohr, the cartoonist who drew up the picture was well experienced.  In spite of having won multiple awards, he was unable to spot, he claims, that his drawing could be deemed anti-Semitic and he apologized.  Neither did the Süddeutsche’s editorial notice early enough what was happening and then still did, somehow, but earlier editions have been already on its way to Berlin, London and elsewhere.  So it is that just in nearby Bavaria late editions had a modified version by Mohr, which he himself still shows on his website.

The timeline of news. Following the publication of my article in the Tablet Magazine in my opinion, one of the most Avantgarde and Zeitgeist journals on Jewish current affairs, there were others.  The New York Algemeiner, a Jewish paper, incidentally published the story even about an hour before me, and had seemingly worked parallel with me on this.  Given that I wrote the story whilst also managing child care (I picked up my daughter took her to classes together with friends, run to a German library to get a copy of the relevant page of the SZ, whilst the kids were being taught, etc… ), I consider it an achievement for the working parent model, that I was almost as fast.  The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz,  the two large Israeli papers followed later in the evening, having a natural interest in this,  and nearly 12 hours after that, the Daily Mail published a copy-write of the former with added photos.

UK news media react late. Being based in London, it is interesting to note that the UK news organs were late to react, even though I had pitched the UK Guardian and various departments at that, as early as Sunday afternoon., earlier than anybody else I wrote to.  As usual, I regret to say, The Guardian either thought the story was not interesting or they failed to spot it (given that it went to several desks I don’t believe the former), or the emails they give out to freelancers are no good. Representing the left of center liberal paper of the UK, it was my possibly my false estimation that they were most concerned when it came to anti-Semitic issues and would jump on the story. Perhaps that was no surprise given the muddle the SZ just got themselves in who are themselves left-liberal.  Instead, it was the more conservative Daily Telegraph that announced more interest to me, though in the end, even this did not crystallize, and it was finally just the right of center Daily Mail who broke the story to the UK masses using footage prepared by others.

The incidences of the SZ in Germany between an offensive anti-Jewish caricature on the issue of Israel and another caricature deemed directly anti-Semitic by most observers nine months later, are strange. Some of my Munich-based Jewish friends believe the SZ is rather hostile towards Israel (see http://www.suedwatch.de/blog/?p=12148 for a take on this). Are there connections between seeking the right to criticize Israel and unacceptable sloppiness the way one reports on Jewish affairs (or not at all)?   Critique is always justified, be it against Israel or Facebook, as long as it is relatively balanced within the wider picture of things. But this was beyond critique.  In my personal opinion it may have been an attempt to test new limits of very dark humour: Look, remember the Nazi cartoons about Jewish world domination? Isn’t Zuckerberg behaving just as if it was true, the Jew controls all!  Of of course not, it is just satire or was it propaganda pure?

Perhaps greater human diversity amongst editors and journalists could also help for checks and balances, I wonder, especially in Germany.

 

Addendum 27.2.14

A reader on Tablet commented that he saw but a pirate, and there was no offence.  The messages images send depend on cultural specific contexts. I believe he the person who only saw a pirate.  However given the historical images of Jews during the Nazi era and even today by esp. in some neo-Nazi and some bad Arab press, the message it sends to anyone concerned about anti-Semitism is clear. 

I once worked for a Palestinian / Israeli Jewish conflict transformation organisation.  They also worked with images.  Photos were thrown in between the two groups and individuals had to explain what they saw.  What they saw was different depending who they were.  E.g. when seeing a railway track some Jewish participants said it evoked memories of train transports in the Nazi era. When seeing a beach Palestinians talked of the difficulties of getting to the beach in the area due to check points etc. 

In the case of the cartoon the association is more directive than but a beach or train track.  It is almost identical with Stürmer like cartoons.  But if you are not exposed to the history of racist imagery in the Third Reich and are not Jewish it is probable one can not see it.  In Germany all are exposed to the Third Reich and its legacy, it is always present, and when one works as a cartoonist one can be assumed to be well informed in terms of political Zeitgeist.  That said, a Jewish co-worker would most likely have spotted and felt the association instantly, hence the way I closed my opinion earlier.

Daniel Zylbersztajn’s 2013

2013 through the selection of some of my articles:

This year I typed over 40 mostly on the ground researched pieces.  Many were transforming and unique written for four media outlets, Taz, Jüdische Allgemeine, Open Democracy and Die Zeit.  On three occasions I published only on my blog.

I hope I continue to write challenging and original pieces in the next year.  I have some already forthcoming to do with urban culture, domestic violence, sustainability and on Jewish issues.  Perhaps I will also write again more in English, as I have done in the past.

To my all my readers, but especially my loyal ones and interviewees, a great thank you.  I could not do without you!  Special thanks to all the newspapers and editors, you know who are!

Daniel Zylbersztajn

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