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Angelina Jolie’s mastectomy story provokes thoughtful debate Comment on this post ↓
May 18th, 2013 by Warren Swil

Facebook is unexpected venue for my education

Click the image to visit the actual Facebook discussion and add your two cents worth. © SGE, Inc.

THE PUBLIC’S APPETITE for celebrity gossip and the media’s willingness to cater to it have long been a thorn in my side.
Why, I always ask, do even the finest newspapers devote valuable space and resources to covering matters of, at best, trivial importance? Sure it sells newspapers, but is it journalism?
The intense coverage of Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy this week is, I previously thought, a prime example. Well, I have been educated.
ON THURSDAY, evening I posted what I thought was an innocent question on this topic to Facebook: Why is the story about Angelina Jolie having a double mastectomy on the front page of every newspaper this week? … where is the news value?”
The response has been overwhelming and, for me, a real learning experience.
PART OF IT REFLECTS,  of course, the nature of my Facebook “friends” who are mostly journalists, or journalism students, or in other ways connected to the media.
They set me right. Thank you.
The first response came from Mark Loudy, founder of MediaWoorks in the San Francisco: Bay Area:

Mark Loudy, founder of MediaWoorks in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Because she made one very difficult decision to save her life and a second very difficult decision to talk about it publicly in the hope that sharing her experience would make it a tiny bit easier for women in a similar health situation to save their lives.”
WOW! He certainly put me in my place.
Another who has made a significant contribution to what turned out to be a most thoughtful and insightful discussion – something I never anticipated on Facebook – is CSU Northridge journalism Professor Stephanie Stassel-Bluestein, whom I have known for several years through the Journalism Association of Community Colleges.
“From a woman’s perspective this is a huge story,” Stassel-Bluestein wrote. “Because of her story and the media coverage, I learned that a woman can keep her nipples, areolas and skin and have implants to rebuild the breast.
“That helps lessen my worry should I ever have this diagnosis.”

ABOUT THE NEWS VALUE of the story, Professor Bluestein was my teacher. “I would chalk it up to a “public good” news value,” she said.
A former student of mine, Jessi Alva, contributed another significant point to the conversation. “It’s more that she hid it and kept her presence in the public while undergoing the procedure,” he wrote.
He added that during the many months that the procedure took “not one question about whether she was going under the knife was ever asked.”
Chalk that up to the best Hollywood publicist in the world, Jessi!
Photography student Makoto Lane posted an interesting analogy: “If Brad Pitt or George Clooney cut both their testicles off, based on genetic probability and not actually being diagnosed with testicular

CSU Northridge Journalism Professor Stephanie Stassel-Bluestein.

cancer,” he wrote, “that would be front page news.”
Stassel-Bluestein shot right back. “I’m sure hundreds of women in this country have an elective mastectomy every year, but unless they are famous it’s unlikely they will get any media attention.”
You folks rock!
On Friday evening, having read the comments, I posted my own.
“WOW! This is such a high-brow discussion. I never dreamed my innocent question would evoke such a thoughtful, well-reasoned debate.
“Are we all smitten so much by celebrity that we overlook the humanity of the person behind the façade?”
It’s bizarre to be quoting myself on my own blog!
“Sure, I can identify with the REAL Angelina, but who amongst us REALLY knows her? We know the image projected by her publicists.”

THIS ENTIRE discussion reminded me of a time about 10 years ago when we Californians made what I considered an ill-informed decision at the ballot box.
“[The Angelina Jolie story is] just the same as when Californians elected “THE GOVERNATOR” to replace the hard-working and dedicated public servant Gray Davis,” I added, tongue I cheek. “We elected the ON SCREEN persona, not the man. Well, he turned out to be not so bad after all.”
There are several important lessons I have learned from this. Perhaps top of the list is that Facebook is not just a vast wasteland of trivia as I had previously imagined.
There are smart, intelligent and highly imaginative friends in my group.
Second, my news judgment is not always correct. That is why most important editorial decisions are made by more than one person.
Discussion of all the relevant facts is vital in forming a comprehensive understanding of major stories. Everyone has something meaningful to contribute. Their input leads to better decisions.
And, finally, some celebrities do have a bit of redeeming social value. Perhaps this is hidden by outlets such as TMZ, but let’s not judge them all by the likes of Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton.

 



One Response  
  • Stephanie Stassel-Bluestein writes:
    May 21st, 2013

    Thanks for including me in your blog, Warren. Because of her celebrity, an important dialogue has started on this subject between women and their doctors and women and their partners. Since these tests are available, it’s important to get this out in the open. In Western society, are exposed to breasts, pun intended, all day and night so it’s about time we start talking about them as well. Thousands of women are tested every year and face this painstaking decision but it took a famous person to get people posting and blogging about it.


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