Thursday, April 9, 2015
Danny Schechter (1942-2015), Journalist, Filmmaker, Author and Activist
Danny Schechter was a unique personality, in person and professionally. His media background started in the 1970s on the radio as "The News Dissector" at WBCN-FM in Boston, where he informed his listeners about the news infused with his typical sense of humor. In 1980, he joined CNN, the cable news network that just had been founded by Ted Turner, and later on he was a producer with the ABC News magazine 20/20, where he won two Emmy Awards. Independent-minded as he was, in 1988 he co-founded the production company Global Vision together with Rory O'Connor, where they produced many documentaries, including "South Africa Now", an award winning public television series.
Danny's passion always was on the crossroads of media and human rights: he reported on how the mass media informed or rather misinformed on many topics. He had maintained that the media were critical to a well-run democracy, but over the years realized that the media were no longer a solution to the problems in the world, but part of the problem. Danny also covered some of the major issues of our times: from the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the civil war in Bosnia, to civil rights in the U.S., the debt crisis in this century with his film "In Debt We Trust: America before the Bubble Burst" and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Danny Schechter was not only a radio host and filmmaker, but also an active blogger and author of 17 books. Among his books, he released the following with Cosimo: Plunder, Investigating our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal, which was released in September, 2008 and was one of the first books describing the financial crisis that had just started to destroy jobs and the economy in the U.S. and Europe. His other books include, Blogothon: Reflections and Revelation from the News Dissector; and Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street. He wrote introductions to the classic The History of the Standard Oil Company by muckraker Ida Tarbell and to the U,S. government's The Financial Crisis Inquiry Report. Danny last book When South Africa Called, We Answered - How the Media and International Solidarity Helped Topple Apartheid was released in February on the same day, when he celebrated his 're-birthday", an event I was honored to be present at and when I had hoped that he had recovered from his serious illness.
I met Danny early this century during a conference, where I was impressed with his freshness of views on the media landscape in the U.S., and when he criticized the news media had become entertainment rather than information gathering entities. To me what made Danny so credible in his media criticism was that he had seen it all as an insider of the corporate media, and as an independent media pioneer. In 2004, I interviewed Danny in The Media: Weapons of Mass Deception. Re-reading that interview today shows both how visionary Danny was in his views on the state of the media and the state of democracy and also how eleven years later, things have hardly improved, to the contrary.
Danny Schechter was unique and nearly peerless, in that he bridged the experience of corporate and independent media. He combined his experience of a professional journalist with the passion and rebelliousness of an activist. He also bridged the era of when the networks were still all-important, which he understood so well, to the current times of new and social media, which he embraced wholeheartedly. This unique combination is rare among other leading journalists, and for that alone he will be sorely missed. On a more personal note, Danny lived in Chelsea, around the corner of our Cosimo office, and over the years I frequently met him for lunch or for a drink at the end of the day. We discussed the latest news and how mainstream media again failed to inform their audiences on what happened and why did it happen. We at Cosimo will miss Danny's writings and personal engagement with his publishing projects, and I personally will miss our conversations and his insights. He had so many ideas and observations: he died too soon.
See here for Facebook memorial page for Danny Schechter.