Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Journalism in media mix: New shows ‘Chasing UFOs,’ ‘Spacing Out’ help prepare public

By Steve Hammons

Two new shows exploring the UFO phenomena – “Chasing UFOs” on the National Geographic Channel and the online program “Spacing Out” from OpenMinds.TV in Arizona – attempt to find interesting, fun and credible ways to present information related to the UFO topic.

These programs join a long list of fictional (including fact-based fiction) and documentary-type TV shows and films over the years and decades.

The end result of these new efforts and the many other media projects that have gone before is that the general public has grown more aware of known UFO cases and elements involved, and what they might mean.

By being more aware, the public is also better prepared.

Improving general understanding about such an apparently complex situation is not always an easy task. To do it in a way that does not “dumb down” the topic and the audience has been an ongoing challenge for creators of TV and movies, researchers and writers.

At the same time, today’s audiences include adults, young adults, teens, tweens and even kids. Subjects like extraterrestrial spacecraft and intelligent visitors from elsewhere can be scary. The viewpoint of Earth humans about the Universe could change. In fact, this viewpoint is changing due to ongoing “edu-tainment” programs like “Chasing UFOs” and “Spacing Out.”


Responsible news and journalism professionals also seem to be trying to bring objectivity to coverage of the UFO situation. Lee Speigel of the online Huffington Post is an experienced researcher and writer on this subject. His regular articles on HuffPost offer reasonable, down-to-Earth perspectives.

Actually, American journalism has been doing a better job of covering this subject over the decades than many people realize. In fact, newspaper reports and news media accounts of a range of UFO incidents have been important in much of our current understanding of the phenomena.

A review of newspaper articles going back to the 1800s and early 1900s include those describing mysterious “airships” seen by witnesses.

Other cases like the national and international press coverage of the Roswell incident in the summer of 1947 showed that, generally, news reporters did a decent job under the circumstances.

A few years later in the summer of 1952, headlines again appeared in newspapers about the multiple apparent objects over Washington, D.C. These objects were reportedly tracked on radar and chased by U.S. military aircraft. Coverage of this incident in newspapers was fairly thorough. (Interestingly, a member of the newly-formed Air Force “Project BLUE BOOK” at southwestern Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base was in Washington at the time.)

Other cases large and small were covered by the news media over the years. For example, the 1973 “Coyne Incident” in the skies above central Ohio involving an Army Reserve helicopter crew is one very credible case that received solid coverage, at least by the local media.

And in 1997, the Phoenix, Arizona, incident generated intense local media coverage, as well as national and international news reports. A huge V-shaped or boomerang-shaped object or craft gently glided over the metro Phoenix “Valley of the Sun” region one evening. Later that evening, military flares were apparently dropped over a nearby Air Force practice range.

In 2006, it was Chicago Tribune transportation journalist Jon Hilkevitch who reported that multiple witnesses at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport claimed to have seen a gray, metallic-looking, disc-shaped object hovering over the airport, then zipping away into the clouds.

The 2008 Stephenville, Texas, sightings also credit good news coverage to local reporting. Small-town newspaper reporter Angelia Joiner followed up on reports from reliable local citizens. Before long, major national and international news media also provided reasonably thorough coverage of a series of incidents and sightings in the region.


Is it possible to successfully integrate the factual reporting of conventional journalism with more creative and engaging media approaches?

It seems to have been done well in many films, TV shows and books. Elements of fact-based fiction can come into play to tell the story, explore the possibilities and prepare ourselves for further developments on the UFO topic.

Speculation and creative leeway may be needed in some cases because conventional journalism is usually limited to that which has been determined and is factual – the “who, what, when, where, why and how.”

Behind the scenes, there might be much more going on but that information is too sensitive to be released to the general public, probably for a number of reasons. National security or global security could be involved. Gradual public preparedness and limited public information might be considered a wise approach. And some aspects of the situation could be so complex or even troubling that they should be closely held or disseminated on a need-to-know basis only.

Various kinds of approaches in TV shows, movies, books and other media platforms can sometimes help fill in gaps about UFOs and what they might mean. Some scenarios and perspectives in some media activities appear to be quite credible and others less so. But most such projects and products seem to help move the ball forward in public understanding.

“Chasing UFOs” and “Spacing Out” seem like two more examples of reasonable efforts to try to find effective and fun ways for more Americans to learn about the apparently complex and sensitive topic of UFOs.