Attack power

Welcome to this week’s Reno News & Review.

There are times when I’m uncertain about the future of journalists. We need a new Watergate to inspire and inform us.

I can certainly write about my own shortcomings—lazy, preoccupied and cynical. But dammit, you’ve got to hand it to me for at least trying all these years.

Last week, I made a mistake in my cover story about the population reaching 7 billion. When I wrote that 7 billion pennies weighed 192,500 tons, I’d done the mathematics incorrectly. it was 19,250 tons. I remember a time I’d have been suicidal over the error, particularly since this one ran in Reno, Chico and Sacramento, which combined have about a million readers. Today, I felt only a twinge.

I see my University of Nevada, Reno students, and they’re so smart and energized. But the media and journalism have portrayed ourselves as incompetent for so long, students don’t have anything great to aspire to.

Part of that is how news media covers itself. Incidents of outrageous deceit, like those of Judith Miller or Jayson Blair, are so rare that they make national news, and the reportage of that behavior is so ubiquitous when it happens that people believe it’s constant. Not to compare apples to mechanical pencils, but it’s like the coverage of missing toddlers—if it didn’t happen so rarely, it wouldn’t be news. And the whole world watches.

I was down at the Occupy Reno camp-in at Moana Lane pool on Sunday, and I saw a journalism student interviewing Occupiers. He asked one when it would be OK for journalists to visit. “Listen, dude,” I said, “this is public property, you have every right to be here anytime you want. The best stuff happens after dark. Get real, you’re the media.”

He looked at me like I was nuts since I didn’t have my little press card in my fedora, and I don’t look all that journalismy anyway.

What made journalists so timid? Back in the day, I couldn’t wait to pull powerful people’s pants down in public. Maybe it’s just me.