DressageDaily Introduces new Weekly Column - Perspectives, with Lynndee Kemmet
Friday, December 11, 2009
The Internet is a fabulous thing. On a personal level, it's allowed me to morph from daily news journalist tied to a newsroom to freelance journalist writing for multiple news publications. On a broader scale, the Internet has allowed for the rapid spread of news and information around the world, helping millions to see the world for what it is and not for what their governments tell them it is or ought to be. But while the Internet can spread truth, it also easily spreads rumors and false accusations. I'll be straight from the start.
I've never been a follower of blogs and chat rooms and confess I rarely read postings in either. Maybe I'm too much of what was once called a "hard" news journalist to put much faith in what people write if posted anonymously or if lacking facts, data or research to back up statements. My mentor as a young political reporter was an old-style news editor – hard-drinking and chain-smoking – who would have shot me if I'd ever used anonymous sources in an article or couldn't back up my story with credible references.
Hence, I've created this weekly column as an alternative. As a journalist, I recognize the need to address the tough issues facing equestrian sports, particularly dressage – debates about the rollkur, questions regarding how best to develop U.S. horses and riders for success in international competition, the issues surrounding the selection of the dressage team chef, the use of various drugs and medications, to name a few. But I don't believe debates about these issues should be played out in free-for-all formats, where serious debate so often slips into "stories" absent of fact or, worse yet, into anonymous accusations against others.
In general, I believe that the equestrian community has within it some of the most generous, hard-working, fun and intelligent people in society. But like any community, it also has its share of pettiness. And to be honest about my perspective, I admit to frequently shaking my head at the amount of time and effort expended on some topics and issues. Maybe it's because when I'm not covering equestrian sports, I'm writing about political, economic and military issues. When you spend time around military and civilian policymakers debating how best to win a war, keep soldiers alive and rebuild nations, the word "trivial" comes to mind when thinking of some of the things over which we equestrians agonize.
Another problem with the Internet and modern technology is that we have become so connected that we expect to know things immediately. Hence, if we can't get immediate answers from our national and international equestrian federations, we're frustrated. I can tell you that the technology the military has for intelligence gathering and information sharing in "real time" – to use the military's term – is astounding. And right now, one of the problems with which the U.S. military is grappling is how to ensure the credibility of the information flying around the battlefield without slowing down the speed at which information can flow. Having been in the military, and now interacting quite frequently with soldiers coming off the battlefields, I can honestly say that there are often times when soldiers need information and they need it now in order to make decisions that could save their lives and/or win a battle. But soldiers have also learned that, very often, wrong information is more dangerous than no information.
When I was a young reporter, I worried quite a bit about being "scooped" by a reporter at a competitor newspaper covering the same beat. My crusty old mentor editor gave me some advice about that – being first on a story and being wrong was worse than being second and being accurate. Good reporting, she told me, is about finding the truth and that requires patience, because getting at the truth requires research and good research takes time. That's why daily newspapers distinguish between the daily, quick hit news items and the in-depth, investigative news features that take days, sometimes weeks, to research and write.
Throughout my journalism career, I've often gotten some great anonymous tips that helped me uncover good stories, pointed me in the right direction when I was going the wrong way, and led me to the truth. I learned quickly that the conspiracy theories of government corruption told to me by some citizens often had within them a grain of truth worth investigating. But very often those investigations showed that what existed was not a government conspiracy, but lack of information. Both governments and citizens shared the blame. Governments for failing to provide citizens with information on government activities (information vacuums are often quickly filled with rumors and conspiracy theories) and citizens for jumping to conclusions without the facts.
Equestrian federations are a bit like governments and hence, the relationship between them and the people they serve is not much different than that between government and citizen. Such public organizations need to be open and willing to share information with those they serve. But in return, their members need to convey a certain level of trust and keep an open mind about the information and explanations they are given. I've always felt that it's the duty of the media to keep the people informed and serve as a watchdog over public entities. But it is also the responsibility of the media to do all it can to get at the truth and gather the facts so that the information it imparts is as fair and accurate as possible. This is not to say the media never makes mistakes, because it does. Reporters do get false information but asking more questions and doing a bit of double checking does help minimize the errors.
I want to note that life is serious, but it's also humorous and if we forget that, we are doomed to depression and frustration. For that reason, I hope that while the issues we need to tackle in the equestrian world are often very serious, no one will mind if they are occasionally approached here with a bit of humor. One thing I've learned from covering politics is that laughter works much better in solving problems than does anger.
Contact Lynndee - Lynndee@harlynnfarms.com
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