Today I received an in-depth blog from Danny Schechter (The News Dissector), reporting from Durbin, South Africa where he's screening his film, "In Debt We Trust." This was the second blog Danny has sent from South Africa in a little over a week. The blog was typical Danny. Not a superficial account of the customs and terrain. Not a self-indulged travelogue on the effects of the environs on " me." You don't get that from Danny. He's not about sensory conjecture. He's about facts. He's a journalist. He doesn't write. He reports.
Better yet, he informs.
Danny's blogs from South Africa are energized, rich and learned accounts of the people, history, politics and economics of a burgeoning land. They're so well written they're intimidating for this writer to read. I marvel at how he gathers such detailed information on the road and delivers it with originality and ease. I'm impressed by his intense desire to share facts that enlighten and inform. And I'm amazed that he's been doing this for such a long time, before anyone ever heard of a "blog."
Danny's blog from today tells of South Africa's early ties to Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, "You may not remember that it was the Cuban military that defeated the army of apartheid in a key battle in Angola, an event that helped puncture the old South Africa's sense of invulnerability." Funny he presumes I'd ever known that fact at all. He discusses the struggles of the post Mandela ANC (African National Congress) under current President Thabo Mkeki: "Mbeki is a centrist challenged on the left by youth activists and members of the unions and Communist Party. Outside of China, South Africa is one of the few countries with an active CP [Communist Party] which remains aligned with the ANC." He even tracks the number of new millionaires in South Africa from this year, "there was a rise in the number of millionaires in the country with 5703 newcomers in the past year," and tells us that " more than one third of these new millionaires are women."
Danny's blog is a wealth of knowledge imparted by a man who seriously wants to share. A man who believes that providing information that enriches, and reporting only the truth, are the hallmarks of integrity.
For over four decades, since his high school days in the Bronx, Danny Schechter has been a participatory journalist. A maverick who measures his success not by the money he makes, the awards he wins, or the titles he bears, but by how well he is able to inform. And for those who study mainstream media and bristle at the sell-outs who take money to tell lies, Danny Schechter is the guy we want the others to be. The guy who really did walk away from the apex of mainstream media and high profile jobs at CNN and ABC. He's the Emmy winning producer who refused to be muzzled by the growing constraints of corporate owned media. The guy who directly confronted Rupert Murdoch at a televised United Nations hearing on the dangers of Murdoch's own corporate greed. He's the self-described "refugee from network news waging a guerilla war against the downward slide of mainstream news."
And he has a story to tell.
This past January, at the third National Media Reform Conference in Memphis, Tennessee, I met up with Danny, just as I had at the previous two. He approached me and said, "Linda, I have a new film. I want you to come to the screening." So I did. I sat in a room with around 150 media reformers while Danny introduced the film.
As co-founder with Rory O'Connor of the film and TV production company, Globalvision, Danny has made many well received films, but he was unusually uncomfortable presenting this one. I soon realized why. It was a film about him.
As it turns out, Marie Sullivan, a young filmmaker intrigued by Danny's nonconformity, suggested he document his career on film. Marie believed that Danny's story would inspire journalists, particularly those in New Media, to buck the corporate system endangering free speech. Danny, as expected, was modestly reluctant. He was used to documenting other people's stories, but never his.
Marie eventually convinced him. And gratefully so.
The result of their collaboration is an historic retrospective of the life of a journalist who refused to sell out. The film abounds with extraordinary footage from Danny's whirlwind forty year career at the vanguard of major world events. He was the first to document the rise of rap music. He organized and filmed the first non-segregated dance-a-thon which became the impetus for John Waters' cult classic, "Hairspray." He was a pioneer in guerilla radio, and traveled the world as a young independent journalist in search of the truth.
The media reformers watching the film were enthralled. Many were active in New Media and much of their work was done from home. They were inspired by Danny's guts and determination. During many scenes there were cheers.
Famous faces appear in nearly every frame of the film. Friends of Danny with whom he collaborated on stories and events. Icons from Malcolm X to Bono, Springsteen to Timothy Leary, Tina Turner to Nelson Mandela.
Yes, Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, which brings us full circle to Danny's most recent blogs.
The fact is, Danny Schechter, founder of MediaChannel.org, who blogs as The News Dissector, documented the South African apartheid struggle longer and more intensely than anyone else. Using his Globalvision Productions, Danny spotlighted the South African struggle with relentless zeal. So much so that many credit Danny for expediting Nelson Mandela's early release from jail. Of course partnering with Little Stevie Van Zandt to produce the star-studded Sun City Concert for the fight against apartheid also helped to shine the light.
There's so much relevant history recounted in this film...
Thus it was with great interest that I read Danny's South Africa blog today. What amazed me as much as the plethora of facts was Danny's ever-present enthusiasm for reporting. After all these years it's still his driving passion.
He wrote: "I hadn't penetrated so deeply into the Zulu world since I first visited this luscious green field and sugar cane plantations of what is now Kwazulu Natal when I was a militant pup of 25 and on my first "mission" to South Africa. That was a long time ago and while so much has changed, much of it has yet to impact on the traditional societies and poor communities that survive alongside the wonders of this self-proclaimed "Rainbow Nation."
"... The changes since my first visit back in the Sixties are stunning. There is a "rainbow nation" at work here with far more racial intermingling than in most of the States. Even in New York. Durban is a mosaic of Indians descended from coolie laborers imported by the British to slave in the sugar cane fields, a mix of Whites, from English speaking and Afrikaans speaking backgrounds, and blacks of mostly Zulu heritage. These very different cultures live and work side by side but even in post apartheid South Africa, racial groups often live separately although economics is now as much of a divide as race once was."
And he goes on....
Danny and Marie's film chronicling the life of this maverick journalist is called: "A Work In Progress: Putting The Me In Media." For independent journalists, New Media journalists, students pursuing a career in journalism, and anyone wanting a first hand look at what standing for principle really means, I suggest you order this film. In fact, I watched it again this week.
The title, "A Work In Progress," is particularly telling. It defines the attitude of a person still open to evolve and grow. It's the spark that ignites a journalist forty years down the road.
To purchase "A Work In Progress: Putting The Me In Media," write to Danny at email@example.com
If you're concerned about integrity in media, you'll be happy that you did.
Linda Milazzo is a Los Angeles based writer, educator and activist. Her writing has appeared in numerous domestic and international newspapers, magazines and journals. Over the past three decades, Linda has divided her time between the entertainment industry, community development projects and education.