J500 Media and the Environment

Reflections on the semester: The whole enchilada by jmuselmann

Food is at the fiber of our very being. It is passed around piping hot with potholders, it is handed to us, self-contained, through the car door in paper sacks and divvied accordingly. It’s what we eat because our family does, our friends have tried, our mothers can afford. We throw it away, and we raise it high above our heads for to honor a friend or deity as an intentional sacrifice. Boxed up, it is heaved and flown across the world, passing some to bless others.

One way or another, people get their hands on food. And then we all have the decision of what to do with it. Some have the luxury of waiting to eat it, others use it as currency or a positioning of power, while for many others, who have not been able to make the decision in quite some time, it is always this: Put it into the holes in our faces in time to prolong death.

Of course by this point, we know we aren’t just talking about food. But rather, how food passes and intersects with our needs for a healthy environment and body whole. The need for change is dire and yet lingers on. The idea of going green is gaining unprecedented momentum, and yet, in many ways, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People can easily eat their organic cake and not recycle, and we let them. But even within the green universe, there lies a wad of inconsistencies and tradeoffs to be sifted through and decided upon. It’s a voyage that has caused more than one breakdown in the grocery store, where I’m stunned into inaction, clutching my wallet in front of the onions, biting my lip at the global repercussions. Often I leave almost empty-handed. Pressure too great.

People say, “the choice is up to us” as consumers, but it sure is hard. Without good legislative infrastructure to guide food ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that it veers toward the same reckless trajectory as other things in this country, trailing irreversible damage in the wake of progress and profit.

Take me, for example: At least in some point in my life, I have recycled. I have also littered. Oh, and I have been the one calling into report the tags of those I see throw things out of their cars while driving: approximate time of infringement, rough location, type of violation, what kind of model and the company make. I guess this class has shown me that maybe I don’t need a number in my glove box to bring about change, I need only open my fridge instead.

—Jacob Muselmann

What National can do for ‘local,’ and everything beyond by jmuselmann

If it’s not completely obvious by now, let me just tell you: The most foolish thing we as humans can do is assume that we are wise enough to solve problems later for our current behavior. If we step back for a moment to think about “local washing,” among the many other terms brandished by environmentalists, we can infer what it might mean. As many of us know, “local” is now in its heyday—it’s popularity has even risen to the ranks of WalMart recognition. Environmentalists meant well in spreading the idea, but its effect, despite all its good intention, has been had some unforeseen effects.

Though commendable, we need to do more in the White House than meekly plant an organic garden.

The biggest criticism has been the lack of focus on a particular aspect of local: produced, grown, sold, what? Which is better? The answer, or course, is that it all depends. Financially, it might be more noble to buy “local” product that are packaged and sold here, which would keep more money in the community in which one lives. To reduce pollution, we might buy “local” foods that were grown closely to where we are. In acknowledging the problematic relativism bound up in the word (and the idea), the “locavore” response has been to just use your noggin to decide for yourself what it means.

But others say that’s not good enough, that the lack of real definition is its undoing. But unfortunately, the debate—no doubt a healthy, well-meaning discussion—is swallowing up the movement whole. As with many hot issues in America (which is what makes them contemporary), the controversy escalates, and the movement, once called it for a reason, comes to a standstill while those intended to be reached become disenchanted or otherwise apathetic amid the clamor.

Education about environmental issues is something we should strive for, but the issues at stake require a more urgent response than can offer the gradual molding of the collective social psyche. Relativity is again a severe functional weakness in gaining consensus—it’s too slow. This is one of those times in the United States where we need to be drug out to the other  side. Most, if not all, of the great and pivotal social movements in our time have had to go through an unpleasant phase of coercion. What we need is compulsion—by law and by a responsible government.

—Jacob Muselmann

Looking Into Chipotle by bendcohen

What happens when a company makes a concerted effort to lead the charge in going green AND encouraging local agribusiness?  Sounds great, but probably on a small scale, and this is how I imagine it usually is.  But what if a national company is the one in question?  Chipotle, the fast-food chain that is responsible for preventing starvation amongst most American college students, has proudly advertised their ties to small farms and food producers for years.  If you get a drink at one of their locations, the cup will have a story printed on it about one of their favorite affiliates.  You could hear about cattle farmers who don’t use antibiotics, or the sustainable practices of Tobasco, the giant that supplies them with hot sauce.

I hate for my food to be lazy and dishonest, so this is a relief.

How does this work?  I was curious how a major fast-food chain, even one as beloved as Chipotle, could make good on their claims to support local businesses throughout the country, and was pleasantly surprised at what I found.  The thing that struck me first was that half of the links on the chain’s main page are for things like the benefits of cycling,  information about the movie “Food, Inc.”, and how some of their new locations are being LEED certified.   This was nice to see, but I remained skeptical until locating the “Food” tab, and discovered guides to where they ship all of the foods at their restaurants from, and on the section about meats, a legend indicating how much of their pork, beef, and chicken is naturally raised (tying back to those proud cups mentioned earlier).

Assuming the contents of Chipotle’s website are honest (and I found nothing saying otherwise), they do seem to make a concerted effort at supporting small farms and businesses, and to spread green awareness.  This doesn’t make the burrito mavens perfect, of course.  The site Chipotlefan.com offers a calculator to give you the nutritional information of any combination of ingredients at the restaurant, and I was only mildly shocked to learn that my favorite item, the barbacoa burrito with black beans, served up 890 calories, including 90% of a daily amount of sodium.

So, the lesson learned is a simple one.  The fast-food burrito masters are apparently trying to make good on their claims of sustainability.  Sadly, making them a staple of one’s diet, as I and many of my friends have flirted with at some point or another, would probably not  be good for you.

~Ben C.

Sustainability and Spacely Sprockets by TreyW

As I watch Annie Leonard’s Story of Stuff, I can’t help but yawn. Everything she says fails to captivate me. I’m not trying to be rude. The information Annie presents is very relevant and emotional in today’s society where we struggle to find ways to exist in a way that can be maintained in the long run. My problem is that I learned all of this from Jetsons: The Movie.

In 1990, Hannah-Barbara brought the Jetsons to the big screen. Kids like myself, were spellbound watching George Jetson take over a new, highly efficient Spacely Sprocket factory located on a distant asteroid. These same kids also learned a valuable lesson about sustainability as it was discovered that the factory was drilling into the home of the Grungees, the alien race inhabiting the asteroid. To make an 82 minute story short, the factory is turned over to the Grungees who can produce new sprockets by recycling old ones (I guess space traveling humans weren’t smart enough to figure that one out) and everyone lived happily ever after.Jetsons

I know I reference children’s media a lot, but I do it to further dialogue and hopefully find a resolution to the wasteful habits of industry. If we can explain sustainability in such elementary terms, why can’t we make it happen? Watching Alex Steffan’s presentation on sustainable design and production, I’m struck by his statement that each generation wants its own version of prosperity. It’s true that we want to do just a little bit better than our parents. Maybe that’s why the same generation that learned a lesson by watching the Jetsons avoid the destruction of an entire race, is becoming the next generation of destroyers.

Having seen this movie, I guess I get a different definition of sustainability. To me, sustainability is a business term used to describe operating at an efficieny level that creates the greatest good for all. By “all” I’m referring to the business and its shareholders as well as the community it serves. In my mind, sustainability is a way of getting greater Return on Investment than our predescessors in a way that leaves room for the next generation to increase it even more. It doesn’t have to mean a stagnate economy.

I do find a little comfort as Mr. Steffan talks about what Mrs. Leonard refers to as the “Third World.” It seems that sustainability is possible through the “leapfrogging” and “collaboration” that Mr. Steffan describes. Simple efforts anchored in design have allowed areas with little resources to operate at levels beyond the efficiency of industrialized nations in my opinion.

So perhaps the answer to achieving sustainability is as simple as they make it seem in children’s movies. Or am a just a dreamer?

*Trey Williams*

No Spin is No Fun by carrieshoptaw

The context of the story, purpose of the reporter and philosophy of the media outlet is coordinated to manage the choices around advocacy or objectivity in journalism. Certainly the expectation, with both formats, is that facts will be presented accurately and that conflicting viewpoints will have representation. Either extreme however, verging on propaganda with advocacy journalism and detachment in objective journalism, instantly reduces the potential for a wide spread, consistent audience appeal, in my opinion. 

Omitting or distorting information to advocate a point or under the pretense of objective reporting is certainly the most obvious way to lose an intelligent audience. The O’Reilly Factor, for instance, clearly advocates for their interpretations of conservative values, rather than the truly objective “fair and balanced reporting” they propose.

To me it’s so misleading that it’s become almost entertainment-based, and sometimes just as funny a show, as the Daily Show or Colbert Report, that sardonically deliver the news for liberal audiences. 

As long as the framework for the reports is honest and the facts are true, either reporting style can be provocative. However, it is frankly far more interesting to read stories by reporters at The Green that invite feelings about environmental issues, or to join the chase of serious business, even journalistic, ethical infractions as does the U.K.’s  Guardian or even to get a better view of the world through stories that advocate ethics in specific religions like the National Catholic Reporter or the local Jewish Chronicle. While each outlet has perhaps a primary demographic, they offer information relevant for the interests of society as a whole. 

Objective reporting is expected in news outlets with limited time and a broader audience; it doesn’t always seem designed to even expect a reaction.  When the whole story has time to be played out in a more focused way to a more particular audience, as with advocacy journalism, the issues have more room to be emotive and become more interesting.

(Colbert and O’Reilly parody themselves in this You Tube clip posted October 11, 2008 by HasanSim14 as obtained by Fox News)


Irish Eyes Are…Closed. by TreyW

I bleed blue and gold. As college football season approaches, I conveniently work Kelly Green into my outfit on a daily basis. Yes, anyone who’s seen my embarrassing collection of Notre Dame trademarked items knows it…I’m a domer. However, recent national press forced me to hide my colors for the first time in years.

Obama at Notre Dame commencement

Obama at Notre Dame commencement

News coverage of Pro-Choice President Barack Obama’s May commencement speech at the University of Notre Dame shed such a negative light on an institution I have been so proud to be a part of for years that I found myself closing my Irish eyes and burying my head in the sand. As I watched political “experts” throw their two cents into the kerfuffle, I could not help but think that objectivity in modern journalism was truly dead.

Silent Protest

Silent Protest

“Why,” I thought “does everyone else get to have an opinion about the graduation ceremony of a handful of kids out of millions this year?” Where were the voices that truly mattered in this situation? I understand the outrage of those in the Catholic community. You can not detach Notre Dame from its roots. But why did I have to watch Pat Buchanan tell me what I should believe as a Catholic and a part of the Notre Dame community rather than someone from the 97% of graduating seniors and 73% of students overall who supported Obama’s invitation?

The only refreshing journalism I found throughout the ordeal was from fellow citizen journalists on Facebook (not all of whom shared my opinion) who had legitimate a stake in the situation. Perhaps as an alum, I can’t understand the opinions of those I see as outsiders. Perhaps I’m the one who needs to be open minded about what others might think. Did anyone else watching that coverage even care?

*Trey Williams*

Week 4: Objectivity meets government, families and exiles? by monicadela

I remember the 2000 coverage of Elián González. Tensions between Cuba and the U.S. were at an all-time high. Miami, my hometown, was a boilerplate of emotions. The two points of contention were keeping the boy in the U.S. with relatives or returning him to his father in Cuba. Objectivity couldn’t be more of a challenge in a mix of a politics, family and a community of exiles. The media’s appetite for coverage, from repetitive television reports to endless magazine covers, made this case one as equally appropriate for media textbooks as for immigration law. At the center of it all was a border-less boy who went from an impoverished country to a yard surrounded by cameras and reporters. Do I even have to ask if the media fueled the controversy?

Video courtesy of http://www.youtube.com.

The media sets the tone for what the majority of us are aware of and concerned about. For the past week, it’s been Michael Jackson. There’s an adage about what’s left out of a camera shot being as important as what’s in focus. The same applies to reporting. What hasn’t been covered in the wake of what’s been deemed newsworthy? Consider the tenants of newsworthiness — timing, significance, proximity, prominence and human interest — and how they vary from publisher to reporter to reader/viewer. In a culture that’s become so audibly opinionated — blogs, social networks, reality TV — is objectivity even a consideration anymore? There are more pundits than reporters, more infotainment than investigation.

So, while journalists are charged as watchdogs, it’s up to the audience to judge if their sources have more bark than bite.

And, I wonder if, for fifteen-year-old Elián, America is synonymous with the flash of cameras?

-Monica D.-