Monday, August 4, 2008

John Edwards

In recent days, the Raleigh News & Observer in North Carolina has been criticized for "ignoring" a story that has surfaced alleging that John Edwards fathered an illegitimate child with a former employee. The "source" of the original claim was an article in the National Enquirer that cited anonymous sources only.

The only two stories the News & Observer ran were about Edwards' refusal to speak to reporters recently in Washington, D.C., and another about the fact that there is noth father listed on the birth certificate for the baby in question. This is discussed in a column by the paper's ombudsman . The paper's executive editor is quoted as saying: "I don't view the National Enquirer as a credible source of news."

This "story" has me so upset that it's hard

to come up with a response that doesn't involve a lot of cursing and sputtering about the sheer stupidity and gullibility of anyone who believes that a single word in the Enquirer is worth even a second of real journalists' time. Readers, and apparently those on the "blogosphere" have been critical of the paper's refusal (and the "refusal" of other media outlets) to pay as much attention to the story as it would to, say, the Larry Craig Scandal.

Here's the difference. Larry Craig was arrested. There are public records to prove that he was arrested. The sources are on record with real news sources. Larry Craig gave a press conference and "resigned" in the wake of the scandal. Whether or not he actually did the things he is accused of and whether or not he meant those gestures as a sexual proposition is up for question, but the fact that he was arrested? Is NOT. The fact that he was arrested for propositioning a male police officer when he is known for anti-gay stances? Not up for question.

The John Edwards story is something that was printed in a TABLOID. The National Enquirer has been the target of libel suits by several public figures, is known for paying sources for information, and many of its stories have been proven to be false. It is not a newspaper, its stories are not legitimate news and its employees are not journalists.

It is NOT a reliable source for news, and ANYONE who thinks the real media should be covering anything that appears in the Enquirer doesn't know enough about journalism to understand that, and no real newspaper should be bowing to pressure from people who believe that any other media outlet should waste their time reporting on Enquirer stories. I don't know if I should be angry or scared by the fact that people who would consider the Enquirer to be a reliable source of news are allowed to vote. Real journalists are entirely correct for ignoring anything that appears in a tabloid rag and until reliable information surfaces in a respectable media outlet, I would be sorely disappointed in any newspaper that bows to reader pressure to cover the story unless something surfaces to indicate this is in anyway reliable.

Should the media be paying some attention to this? Probably. Reporters should always be keeping their eyes and ears open. Should they be jumping at the chance to cover the "scandal" just because the Enquirer wrote a story? NO. Should they assume that John Edwards' refusal to answer questions comes from anything other than annoyance at the fact that anyone would consider the Enquirer to be a real news source? Hard to say. When a source refuses to answer questions, it generally makes my reporter sense tingle, but I don't blame Edwards in this case.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Stopping to enjoy some music

When I lived in Washington, D.C., last summer, one of the things I loved was hearing all the street musicians who would perform in or near the Metro stations. I love music and wish I had the nerve or talent to perform in public like that. I have nothing but respect for other musicians and some incredibly talented people played right there on the street. It helps that my favorite musical group, The Coats , got their start singing on the street corner in Seattle.

I didn't always give money to the performers in DC, although I wanted to — I simply don't carry cash and rarely have so much as a quarter on me — but I tried to stop and listen. The first night I was there, while waiting to meet a friend outside the China Town stop, a young man played the saxophone. Another time, just a few blocks away, a man played a brilliant percussion routine on buckets and pots and pans. The effort left him soaked in sweat and drew a large crowd — I was told he played there regularly.

Several times a week until the day the Metro cops chased them away, a group of four men sang old Motown standards A Cappella late at night.

Of course, I was always traveling on the Metro on weekends or at times of the day when people are in less of a rush, but at least a few people stopped for the musicians I saw.

Today, I found a link to a story about what happens when a world-class musician plays in the station during the morning rush hour . The Pulitzer-winning article by Gene Weingarten appeared in the Washington Post Magazine in April 2007. For the article, Weingarten convinced Joshua Bell, a world-class violinist who people pay hundreds of dollars to see, to play inside the L'Enfant Plaza Metro station at rush hour. They discovered that very few people would stop, even for one of the most talented musicians in the world, playing some of the most beautiful music ever written on one of the best instruments ever made (a Stradivarius violin). It's a wonderful article and made me quite sad. Perhaps growing up in the leisurely pace of the Northwest has made me more willing to take time to stop and enjoy the good things in life, or perhaps my own musical training makes me feel compelled to stop and acknowledge when someone is really talented or even when they're not, but are putting themselves out there for the world to judge. Read this article and play the clips — at the end there's one that lets you listen to the entire performance, which you should do. How anyone can hear something that beautiful and not stop, even for a minute, astounds me. I highly recommend taking time out of your day to listen the clip of Bell's performance. The music is just exquisite. Music that beautiful always makes me tear up, and the idea that people could just pass by amazes me. Anything even close to this makes me freeze in my tracks, almost physically unable to keep walking.

It should be said that I found this via a Poynter link to another column in which Weingarten writes that after receiving the Pulitzer for his "original" work, he discovered that a Chicago newspaper had tried the same "stunt" in the '30s, also with a world-class musician. The second Weingarten column is also interesting, but more from a journalistic standpoint

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Hard at work

In the time since I last posted, I've started my new job. In this position, I'll be working primarily on Web content, including new blogs that my paper is rolling out. It's pretty exciting. In the meantime, I'll try to post a few articles here and there. I meant to post this weeks ago when I found it linked in one of my emails.

The Gazette, a paper in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, did a two-week daily series on a prostitution ring in rural Iowa. The whole thing was discovered when a 13-year-old girl who had been kidnapped and forced into prostitution escaped (with the help of the girlfriend of the man in charge) and started talking. The series is quite long -- I think several of the stories could have been condensed -- but it's an interesting piece of investigative journalism and I like the way the project was presented online.

The reader comments tend toward the negative, asking why the paper would devote so much time to something the readers felt was sensationalized, but there aren't enough of them to really make a judgment about what the majority of readers thought.

I asked in our Power Journalism class if the Internet would lead papers to move away from time-consuming investigative work, but pieces like this are proof that that doesn't seem to be happening.

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Saturday, May 3, 2008

You know you're a journalist if you ....

The first item on this list was added by yours truly prior to posting the list here. I did not submit it to the site where I found the list.
* corrected the grammar on this list before posting it.
* feel stupid when you can't come up with something more creative than your co-workers.
* like to hang out with your right-brained friends because you're the "wild one."
* aren't concerned with losing your job because it's such a piss-poor field you know they would be doing you a favor.
* understand where the term "starving artist" derived.
* talk in "headline speak" for shits and grins.
* correct your church bulletin with a pen during the service or mark up any newsletter that comes in the mail while you're on the phone.
* insist on explaining to everyone where the grammar mistakes are in any publication or sign.
* actually understand the correct use of commas, semicolons and colons.
* hope you don't get an assignment that requires a lot of driving because your car might break down.
* enjoy reading your dictionary and quizzing your co-workers and friends.
* read an e-mail several times before sending it and making at least three editing changes.
* are pressured into making a list because two other journalist-types already have.
* play Scrabble and go for the word that is the most impressive, rather than the highest scoring.
* kept all the books you read in college but haven't touched them since.
* point out that someone made a grammatical error and your friends/significant others just smile and nod.
* silently deride your reporters' stupidity every time you find a mistake.
* hear about a murder on TV and sigh with relief when you realize it's not in your "coverage area."
* are bothered by the fact that you can't come up with anything clever enough for a list about what writers/journalists actually do.
* mock incorrect grammar while allowing yourself any and all "creative" uses. You are, in fact, a professional.
* are able to attribute your misspellings, such as "independance" or "milenium" to your editors' lack of skill. It's the whole point of having editors, right?
* have ever figured out how much more income you could bring in as manager of Taco Bell.
* have been prescribed at least three different anti-depressants.
* have seriously considered joining the peace corps but couldn't for fear of being stationed nowhere near a Gap.
* like to eat out but don't order wine or appetizers because you can't afford it.
* have ever spent more than three hours in a cafe and used your debit card to pay for your $1.69 grande coffee.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

We're sorry about all the trees

In about two weeks, I will join the ranks of real, professional journalists when I start my new job at a mid-sized daily in the Pacific Northwest. Those of you who know me personally of course know where I'll be working, but I want to be careful not to mention the name of the paper here. I will have to leave Eugene, which is sad, but I'm thrilled to have a "real" job at last.

In the meantime, what I post here will be determined by whether my paper has a policy on blogging. This was the topic of As newspapers today's "Everyday Ethics" column. start taking on summer interns and young employees, the author writes, it is important for papers to decide what their policies are on personal blogs. More and more of the college-aged employees/interns are going to have them, and it is better to set a policy than for anyone to be surprised. The writer also suggests that the interns themselves be upfront about whether they blog. I certainly hope I'll be able to continue blogging in one way or another. Here are some of the suggested policies from the column:

# Write one. Maybe start a blog about policies. But do it now. It's way too late to claim that blogging is just too new of a phenomenon to merit a policy.
# Reconsider your policy if it states: No personal blogs. Telling a 20-year-old he can't blog is like telling a 50-year-old she can't write a holiday letter. You won't win that one.
# Consider what you're comfortable having employees discuss in public:

* Nothing about the newsroom at all? That might be unrealistic.
* Nothing about stories in development? That seems fair.
* Nothing that puts the company in a negative light? Sure, you've got a right to require that, but you might define negative carefully.
* Nothing about sources? Good idea. Journalists who say things about their sources that they wouldn't put into their stories are treading in dangerous territory.
* Nothing embarrassing or negative about your colleagues. (I had a young journalist once ask me if she crossed a line by blogging about a fellow reporter's bathroom habits. Yes, I told her, I thought that was rude. Maybe not unethical, but definitely rude.)

# I counsel journalists who keep personal blogs to employ a no-surprises rule. Always let your boss know if you have a blog. Ask for guidelines, if they don't exist. Never say anything in the blog that you wouldn't say out loud, to the primary stakeholders. This could all be included in a policy.

I also found a fun feature on Poynter in which journalists were asked to submit possible six-word mottos for the profession. My favorite is the title of this post. I may be concerned about the environment, but the one thing I'll be "wasteful" about is newspapers. I recycle them, of course, but I need the paper. After I move, I'll be reading three papers regularly: the one I work for, the large daily in the area, and the weekend New York Times

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In soldiers' words

Yesterday's New York Times ran an interesting article based on excerpts from the blogs/letters of troops killed in Iraq. I enjoyed reading it but had one problem; in the writings of one of the men, certain words have been replaced with the word "expletive." I said this in my post about the FCC, but I am strongly opposed to this type of editing. If we are supposed to be reading something that will paint an accurate picture of what this young man was feeling when he was at war, we should read all of his words, just as they are. The words used (I can't quite tell what the offending word was, but I imagine it's probably "THE" word.) carry a specific emotional power and papers should be willing to run those words. People will argue that children might read the paper, but as I said in my previous post, children who are mature enough to want to read the New York Times are mature enough to read a few bad words without running out in the streets repeating them. The editors may say they don't want to offend other readers who choose not to use those words; others would argue that the war is offensive. People who read this article and would have been offended by the expletives should ask themselves what their real priorities are. Of course there's a point at which language crosses the line — I'm not arguing for graphic descriptions of sexual acts — but the two posts in question use a word for emphasis, that frankly, I think is important in the context (bold italics added by me to point out what I'm talking about):

Sgt. Ryan M. Wood, 22, a gifted artist, prolific writer and a sly romantic from Oklahoma, was also one of the bluntest soldiers inside Charlie Company.

"it is fighting extreme boredom with the lingering thought in the forefront of your mind that any minute on this patrol could be my last endeavour, only highlighted by times of such extreme terror and an adrenaline rush that no drug can touch. what [expletive] circumstances thinking “that should’ve been me” or “it could’ve been me”. wondering it that pile of trash will suddenly explode killing you or worse one of your beloved comrads..only backed by the past thoughts and experiences of really losing friends of yours and not feeling completely hopeless that it was all for nothing because all in all, you know the final outcome of this war. it is walking on that thin line between sanity and insanity. that feeling of total abandonment by a government and a country you used to love because politics are fighting this war......and its a losing battle....and we’re the ones ultimently paying the price."

A second excerpt, written by the same man, discusses America's obsession with celebrity life instead of issues such as the war in a post titled "What the Hell, America?":

“What the hell happened?” any intelligent American might ask themselves throughout their day. While the ignorant, dragging themselves to thier closed off cubicle, contemplate the simple things in life such as “fast food tonight?” or “I wonder what motivated Brittany Spears to shave her unsightly, mishaped domepiece?”

To the simpleton, this news might appear “devastating.” I assume not everyone thinks this way, but from my little corner of the earth, Iraq, a spot in the world a majority of Americans could’nt point out on the map, it certainly appears so. ... To all Americans I have but one phrase that helps me throughout my day of constant dangers and ever present death around the corner, “WHO THE [expletive] CARES!” Wow America, we have truly become a nation of self-absorbed retards. ... This world has serious problems and it’s time for America to start addressing them.

God forbid people should know that a young man living (and eventually dying) in a terrifying, stressful situation express his frustration with an "F-bomb" or two. These posts are honest depictions of the emotions this man was feeling at the time.

If the powers that be at the paper respect/mourn these soldiers enough to want to publish their words, the words should not be edited. I don't advocate random, gratuitous use of obscenities in print, but this is one case where they should have been allowed.

And here is the rest of it.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Creating fake news

My e-mail from the Romenesko column this morning had a link to a story on how the writers at The Onion come up with their stories. Interesting stuff.


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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Supreme Court to hear FCC case

A couple of days late on this one, but the Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of FCC v. Fox Television Stations . In the suit, Fox is challenging the FCC policy that fines radio or television networks for even fleeting, accidental cases of obscene words being uttered on air during the day. The case stems from incidents in which Cher and Nicole Richie (I question the Post's description of Richie as "a celebrity," but that's another topic entirely) said what the Post article refers to as "variations of a vulgar four-letter word."

The case, which will be heard in the fall, will be the Court's first major ruling on broadcast indecency rules since the 1978 FCC v. Pacifica Foundation. That case punished a radio station for airing George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" monologue.

I'm very interested in this ruling. While I understand the need for basic broadcast rules and understand that airing shows with "vulgar" language at times when children could be watching isn't necessarily appropriate or necessary, I also believe that sometimes people say "bad" words when they are emotional and stations shouldn't face heavy fines for it. The cases mentioned in the article deal with celebrities saying one word in the context of winning an award. The word in question, referred to in "A Christmas Story" as "The F dash dash dash word," isn't meant to refer to a sexual act when used in that context. It's used for emphasis and sometimes, it just slips out. The question of whether stations should face enormous fines when someone slips up on an awards show or during a sporting event is an interesting one. ...

The Washington Post article I linked mentions an incident in 2004 in which television stations decided not to air "Saving Private Ryan" on Veterans Day because of fears that the movie's language could lead to FCC fines. The FCC refused to say before hand whether the stations would be fined . In 2005, the FCC ruled that the movie was not indecent, a decision I absolutely agree with.

My argument at the time was (and still is) that stations should have been able to air the film without fear of retribution. The language is necessary in the historical context of the film, and editing out the "obscenities" would make it less realistic. A romantic comedy with edited language is still funny; a war film in which soldiers say "darn" or "freaking" does not paint an accurate picture of what would really happen in the war zone.

A few weeks ago, Jane Fonda had to apologize for using the word "cunt" during a live broadcast of "The Today Show." She used the word because it is the title of a piece she was performing in her role in "The Vagina Monologues." I'm using it because I think that banning words only gives them more power and refusing to print a word even in the context of a conversation about that word is illogical. Whenever someone slips a curse word on TV or a politician refers to another leader with less-than-polite language, media struggle to report the "story" without actually saying or printing the word in question. The question we should be asking, and what I think the Supreme Court will address, is whether or not words used accidentally or in the context of the title of the show the person is promoting should mean huge fines and hurried apologies.

While it is true that parents can't control what their children hear on live television, kids are just as likely to hear cuss words out and about in town as they are from a celebrity or politician who lets one slip on TV. Having an open an honest discussion with your child about which words are and are not appropriate to say in public (or in your home) seems a much better approach. The more shame and stigma placed on a behavior, the more interesting it seems to a kid.

Although the rules against airing certain words are meant to protect children, it is ludicrous to think that a child who is mature enough to watch "Saving Private Ryan" is not also mature enough to hear the language without suffering some type of irreparable damage. I've always argued that the same thing goes for the limited use of obscenities in newspapers — kids who are old enough to want to read the newspaper are old enough to know that you don't just run down the street screaming bad words at the top of your lungs.

Because it's funny, related to the last Supreme Court ruling on this issue, and because I believe in free speech, I present to you, George Carlin with a grammar nerd's version of "the seven dirty words you can't say on television." If you aren't familiar with this, you should be aware that it is potentially offensive and NOT SAFE FOR WORK.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Interesting story of the day #3

Time has an interesting story up about whether journalists should be open about their political party affiliations or even vote at all. The writer argues that although journalists generally hide their party affiliations or candidate preferences in the interest of remaining objective, transparency may be a better way to go. He argues that treating party affiliation as though it's something people should be ashamed of only makes people more suspicious of the so-called "liberal" media.

But more suspicious than they are already? The biggest reason to go open kimono is that the present system does what journalism should never do: it perpetuates a lie. Modern political journalism is based on the bogus concept of neutrality (that people can be steeped in campaigns yet not care who wins) and the legitimate ideal of fairness (that people can place intellectual integrity and rigor over their rooting interests). Voting and disclosing would expose the sham of neutrality—which few believe anyway—and compel opinion and news writers alike to prove, story by story, that fairness is possible anyway

I often say to friends, semi-seriously, that I picked a bad time to become an "objective" reporter. I've always been a person with strong political convictions, and up until I came back to school, I was extremely vocal about my beliefs. Entering the field in an election year, particularly one with so many interesting candidates and issues, makes it hard for me to keep my opinions to myself. I took most of the bumper stickers off my car, made my profiles on social networking sites private (and removed most answers to political questions), and stopped using my real name to comment on political Web sites. My political affiliation isn't exactly a secret. All of my friends know who I support and anyone who wanted to dig deep enough into a Google search of my name would find things from previous election years that would give it away. My party affiliation is clear on my voter registration card that anyone can view down at the county elections office. But in the interest of finding a job and gaining the trust of sources and readers, I want to be careful about what I disclose.

I am absolutely capable of writing honest, accurate stories on any topic or person. When I covered politics for the Emerald, people often told me my stories were fair and objective, but I certainly had opinions on those topics. I am careful to keep my opinion out of stories and I have no doubts that I can leave my beliefs at the home when I go to work. If asked what my affiliation is, I won't lie, but I don't need to wear it on my sleeve. I have given this issue extensive thought, though, and I am glad to read an article arguing some of the same feelings I have about politics and journalism ...

I've argued for years that the concept that journalists are 100 percent objective is ludicrous. Human beings, by their very nature, can not be truly objective. Journalists, especially those who cover beats, become so familiar with the topics they cover that it would be nearly impossible to avoid forming an opinion. Our goal is to pursue the truth, and the truth is not always objective.

While some journalists choose not to vote at all, I would argue that journalists, more than anyone else, have an obligation to vote. Even those of us who do not report on politics tend to follow the news more closely than the average citizen. If the goal of the media is to act as a fourth estate in order to make sure citizens can make informed decisions at the voting booth, then it only makes sense to argue that journalists, especially those of us who cover politics, are among the most informed voters out there. We know more about these issues (and we pay more attention to all sides of the issues) than almost anyone, and it seems unrealistic and naive for anyone to expect us to remain completely neutral after sorting through all that information. Should we be expected to give up our rights and responsibilities as citizens when we begin working as journalists?

As someone who lives in a democratic society, I consider voting to be a civic duty. As a journalist and person who follows the news very closely, I would consider myself to be an irresponsible citizen if I did not put my knowledge of politics to use when I vote.

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Interesting story of the day #2

Another column I found through a link in my morning e-mail from Poynter discusses what rules, if any, newspapers should have regarding online comments. In the guest column in the Miami Herald, Edward Wasserman, a professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University, writes about the problems editors face with anonymous commenting. While most editors would never even consider running an anonymous letter to the editor, he writes, many also argue that restraining the speech of anonymous comments online would chase readers away. Wasserman argues that rules are needed, in part because the more aggressive, angry comments tend to drive away those who don't want to be attacked, actually harming the discussion.

In this case, the extreme license given individuals to vent, dissemble, excoriate and indulge their hates verbally, winds up destroying the expressive freedom that other people, less bold and less opinionated, need. Venturing an opinion, even a sound one, just isn't worth the risk. The overall result is a less expansive, less robust sphere of expression -- and sound, worthwhile thoughts aren't shared.

After working at a small college paper and reading the comments on most stories, I couldn't agree more that comments need some kind of regulation. At the Emerald, we used to approve every comment; now most are approved automatically. Most of the time, this isn't a problem. We have a few regulars who leave the same types of predictable comments on every story, and few of our articles lead to much discussion. Occasionally, however, one article will bring us more attention than we would ever have expected, and it leads me to question how much important discussion is actually encouraged by the story comments. ...

This year, a column on wrestling drew nearly 800 comments and drew more hits to our Web site than we've ever had, and more than 100 more were deleted because they were too offensive or vitriolic to run. It's interesting that of all the articles we've published that I think are the most important, the column in question garnered hundreds of comments, many of which were nothing more than insults directed at the writer. Earlier this year, a satirical column about Japanese anime got hundreds of comments, most of which were simply attempts to prove that certain story lines in the shows disproved the writer's point. A story about the dismissal of two popular administrators with no explanation, however, got just 46 comments. I rarely read the comment fields on other newspaper sites. I find that the stories I actually care about have very few comments. I also avoid them for some of the reasons Wasserman brings up — I find that argumentative, hateful posters make it impossible to have a real discussion.

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Interesting story of the day #1

In class Thursday, Rich Gordon spoke to us via teleconference about the exciting possibilities the Internet offers journalism. The entire point of the class has been to study how we can use computers and the Internet to enhance our reporting. In today's morning e-mail from Poynter, there was a link to a great investigative series from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that exemplifies how multimedia can enhance a story. The series looks at the number of fugitives nationwide who are free (and some of them still committing crimes) because states don't enter warrants into the FBI's fugitive database. The online version of the series is packaged together with breakouts of the data, a section on how the series was done, and videos and graphics. It also has an interesting feature that places pictures of some of the fugitives below a map of the U.S. that traces the path of each fugitive throughout the country. The content of the stories is fascinating (and scary), but the package is noteworthy because of how well it utilizes the types of tools newspapers are now embracing.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

The new era of journalism

In Thursday's class, we spoke with Rich Gordon, a professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Gordon talked about the way technology is changing the newspaper industry. We had read an article Gordon wrote several years ago for Online Journalism Review in which he asserts that technological development makes it an exciting time to work in journalism. In his conference call with us, Gordon said that what matters right now is not whether the big corporations survive the changes in the industry, but whether journalists can continue to provide citizens with the information they need for a democratic society to function.

He pointed out that while sales and circulation of papers are down, the Internet is not to blame because circulation has been flat for decades. It is the business model of daily print papers that is deteriorating and in fact, more people are reading the news than ever before, he said. I hope this is true, but I am still going down kicking and screaming. I love what the Internet can do for journalism, and I love knowing that people around the world can read my work, but for me, nothing will replace the experience of spreading the real newspaper out in front of me and reading while drinking a cup of tea (usually having to stop every few minutes because the cat is lying on the paper).

As we did in last week's teleconference with Mark Briggs, we discussed the way our generation will be affected by these new technologies. Gordon said that it will be today's students (and graduates) who will develop new business models and new jobs within the industry. Like Briggs, Gordon said that the key for us is to have the skills for entry-level reporting and editing jobs but also be adaptable to learn the new tools of the industry. ...

Without even being asked, Gordon did acknowledge the one thing that makes me anxious when I hear people who are working in the industry (or who, like Gordon, are now teaching) talk about what is happening in the industry now. It's easy for those people who have jobs to say that this is an exciting time for journalists. I agree that there are exciting possibilities. It is not, however, an exciting time to be looking for newspaper jobs. I'm sure they're out there, and I am confident in my abilities; but it's scary to hear people talk about the decline of the industry. I remember being at my internship in Washington, D.C., and joking with my boss about how we'll all wind up working at a certain "big box" store when the industry crashes. My response was that if I can't be a journalist, I'll get a doctorate and become an English professor. All that being said, I'm encouraged to hear that not everyone thinks the future is so bleak. I hope Gordon is right in his assertion that keeping journalism alive is all a matter of developing new business models. I just hope the public is on board and continues to ask for (and respect) the type of journalism that I want to do.

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Monday, March 10, 2008

"Crowd Sourcing"

A second article we read in class this week, by Emily Yahr, discussed "crowd sourcing," the practice of asking readers/viewers to send in their own stories about what is happening. The author of the article linked above writes about the Des Moines Register's use of crowd sourcing to find out where people were when the Interstate 35 W bridge in Minnesota collapsed. On this blog, I've linked the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's interactive feature in which you can read the stories of the people in every car on the bridge that day. This information was gathered in part through the type of crowd sourcing discussed in Yahr's article. The main page contains a link asking visitors to the site to help the paper fill in the missing details. You can listen to the audio interviews with several of the survivors and read about the lives of the victims.

Even before I read Yahr's article, I thought of the Star-Tribune site. I think I've mentioned it before in reference to how technology can enhance reporting. Gathering information such as this while an event is happening can paint such a vivid picture afterward.

While I understand and share some of the concerns about people responding to inquiries not being honest about who they are, I think the Web and technologies such as cell phone videos can really enhance reporting and add real human elements to the story. Reporters often are present for the aftermath of a disaster, but being there right in the thick of things gives a much different picture of the story. Videos and posts sent right from the scene are so much more meaningful than interviews done after the fact, when the shock of things affects the memory of the subjects.

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It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood

As a college journalist, I’ve spent the past two years writing extremely “localized” stories. With the exception of some city, state and federal political coverage, everything we publish must be relevant to students. With 20,000 students on a 295-acre campus, the University is like its own very large neighborhood. While the sight of a fire engine racing up the main street near my house is only mildly interesting, the sight on campus makes me stop what I’m doing to follow the truck and see what is going on.

After spending so much time looking for such narrow angles on my stories, the idea of “hyperlocal” reporting is intriguing. In the first class I took as a graduate student, we were assigned specific neighborhoods to explore; many of my classmates came up with really interesting stories simply by walking around areas such as the Trainsong or Whitaker neighborhoods.

In the article linked above, Donna Shaw talks about what happens when larger paper take on this idea. She quotes a man, who is working to develop this type of site for the Washington Post. This fascinates me, and I think a place like D.C. is the perfect example of where this type of reporting can get really interesting. ...

One of the things I loved about Washington, D.C., was the diversity between neighborhoods and the characters you ran into. I would love to find individuals in the different neighborhoods and learn about them.

I lived on Capitol Hill, across the street from the building Samuel Alito lived in during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings and just two blocks from the Capitol. I was told that Barack Obama and John Ashcroft also lived in my neighborhood. About five blocks north of my apartment, a man named Peter Bis lives on a corner between a gas station and Union Station. At night, he moves down the block and campus out in front of a bagel shop. Peter is very friendly. He never asked me for money, but wished me a “Happy Monday” (or Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, etc.) every morning when I passed him on my way to work. He gave me a business card with the URL for a blog where he posts conspiracy theories about the government (A former D.C. intern has a great blog post about Peter ).

I would absolutely love to return to D.C. and sit down for some interviews with Peter. He is probably well-known to many people in D.C., but that is a man is truly IN a neighborhood. He sees everyone who passes through from Capitol Hill. He’s out there every day, on the street. He’s quite a fascinating character, and I considered him to be one of my neighbors. The experience of that neighborhood wouldn’t have been as rich without seeing a person like him everyday. I really do regret that I didn’t take the time to really sit down and talk to him.
What does it say that so close to the Capitol, there are people living on the street? The building I lived in was intern housing, but if I had to live in the District again, I’d want to live in the same area. When your neighbors include U.S. Senators and the occasional Supreme Court Justice, how do you interact and build relationships? .

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"Journalism 2.0"

On Thursday, Mark Briggs, the assistant managing editor for interactive news at the Tacoma News Tribune and the author of "Journalism 2.0: How to Survive and Thrive: A digital literacy guide for the information age," spoke to our class via teleconference.

Briggs took questions from the class and discussed the importance of new journalists understanding the technologies that newspapers are beginning to adopt. While this is something we have been told by our professors for years, hearing it from someone working in the field makes me feel that all of the computer courses I have taken were worth the time and money.

Listening to Briggs talk about the importance of Internet skills made me think about the work I have done in journalism. When I began working on my high school paper as a freshman, the Internet was still new and exciting. Only the kids with really cool/rich parents had the Internet at home, always on the super-fast 14K dial-up modems of the day. The school I went to was years away from even having computers that could handle the Internet, let alone providing the service to students. We still did our page layouts the old-fashioned way — by printing out the pages and pasting the individual page elements onto the page dummies (While other students preferred plain Elemer's glue, my favorite was the clear rubber cement with the brush applicator). I remember how excited we were when the publisher began accepting our page proofs on a disk and the days of dealing with real scissors and paste were over. It amazes me to see how far the process has come in just the nine years since I finished high school.

And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Media blackouts

Earlier this week, news broke that Prince Harry has been serving in Afghanistan with the British army and that the media knew about it but had agreed to withhold the story until after the deployment was over. He has since returned home from the mission because once the new broke, it was determined that it would not be safe for him to remain there. I'll admit that I saw the report about Harry on CNN while I was getting dressed Thursday morning and did not pay much attention. The news broke too late to make my paper edition of The New York Times, and frankly, I don't care much about the royal family, so I didn't read any of the stories online. Somehow, I missed the part of the CNN broadcast where they reported on the side of the story that should interest me as a journalist.

My classmate Kate posted about this on Thursday, which is what prompted me to go check the story out for myself (I haven't read the Drudge Report yet). I did head over to Poynter Online to see if the writers of "Everyday Ethics" had anything to say. I was happy to find that Bob Steele did write an article on the media's agreement with the miliatry . ...

brings up several things I did not know after reading about this only in passing. My biggest concern was whether the media should be revealing where Prince Harry was stationed, given the danger to his fellow soldiers (less of an issue now that he's returned home). Steele's focus is mainly on whether the media had justification for agreeing to withhold information for so long (four to six months).

Steele's main argument is something that I had missed. Apparently, the prince was deployed only AFTER the media agreed to keep it a secret, and the British military promised that the prince would be available for interviews that could be made public after his deployment:

My primary concern is with the news organizations that played along with this secret deal.

Especially when you add in a revealing quid pro quo piece of the puzzle, any arguments for ethical responsibility further erode. In exchange for the media's silence, the British military agreed to provide the news organizations with favored treatment

As Satchwell wrote in The Guardian, “In return there would be special access for the media to the prince before, during and after his deployment which could be reported when he returned home, without any interference by the Royal family or the military except for reasons of operational security.”

Trading secrecy for access. That stinks.

It gets worse. More from Satchwell: “It was an extraordinary and rare display of unity for national and regional newspaper and magazine editors and broadcasters not to report the story.”

Unity? Hardly. It sounds more like a conspiratorial cabal.

Hiding behind false logic, the news organizations involved in this deal failed their readers and viewers and delivered a serious hit to the principle of journalistic independence.

So. The question is, is there ever a time at which journalists should agree to withhold a story for such a long period of time? I definitely agree with Steele that journalists should never come to such an agreement with any source, but I still think it is important to ask whether the public's right to know that the Prince is in Afghanistan outweighs the security risk posed by revealing the information.

I agree that the media's motives in making a deal are highly suspect, but would this be worse if the media had said "We care about the safety of the soldiers and we will not accept bribes, but we will withhold the story?" Journalists are never supposed to accept any type of gifts or special treatment from sources, but I wonder which is worse: the potential harm to those deployed with Prince Harry or the harm to the profession from "trading secrecy for access."

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Getting the story

There's an interesting article on Vanity Fair's Web site about a reporter's quest to verify a claim that a man named Jack Worthington is John F. Kennedy's son . It's a fairly long story, most of which is devoted to explaining what the reporter went through trying to obtain information that would verify different aspects of the story, including whether or not Worthington's mother actually knew JFK. In this case, it didn't pan out because there was no way to obtain DNA samples from either JFK or the man who raised Jack Worthington — the reporter did obtain hair samples supposedly from JFK, but there was no way to prove that's what the were — but it's an interesting look at the process the writer went through chasing down the story.

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fair coverage

On Feb. 24, a local news anchor named Rick Dancer announced on the 11 O'Clock news that he would be quitting his job to run for Secretary of State as a Republican candidate. The other anchor interviewed Dancer for a few minutes about why he is running and asked some questions about his career in journalism, which has spanned almost 20 years (I couldn't figure out how to link the video of the announcement, but the station's Web site is here ). The incumbent, an extremely popular Democrat, is leaving because his term limit has expired. While there are other Democratic candidates, Dancer is the first Republican to throw his hat into the ring.

In the broadcast, Dancer said that he was making the announcement on the show because no other media outlet was going to be allowed to beat the station to the news that one of its anchors was joining the race.

According to an article in The Register-Guard newspaper, the CEO of the company that owns Dancer's station has donated large sums of money to "Republican causes at the local, state and federal levels."

As the Register-Guard article points out, Dancer's on-air announcement raises serious questions of fairness, as well as ethical questions about whether a working journalist should continue to work while considering a run for political office ...

What interests me about this story is the question of whether Dancer's announcement violates the principle of equal coverage for political candidates. From the Register-Guard article:

A 74-year-old principle of U.S. broadcast law is that opponents of candidates running for office should have a near-equal shot at the public’s airwaves.

This “equal opportunity” principle is why NBC had to remove from the air episodes of Law & Order when Fred Thompson — who acted in the show as a district attorney — was running for president last year.

Also: “‘Bedtime for Bonzo’ didn’t get much play when Ronald Reagan was running for president because any entertainment program in which a candidate appears would trigger equal opportunity,” said Tim Gleason, dean of the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications.

If an appearance of a candidate invokes the equal opportunity provisions, then the candidate’s opponents qualify for air time on the same basis. If the candidate didn’t pay for the time, the opponents don’t have to pay for the time.

But in Gleason’s view, Dancer’s announcement would not trigger the equal opportunity provision.

“A newscast is an exempt event under the equal opportunity rules,” Gleason said. “If he did it on the 11 o’clock news, that’s a newscast. It’s a fairly broad definition.”

But the issue isn’t crystal clear, said Robert Corn-Revere, a Washington, D.C., based partner with the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine, who has argued precedent-setting cases in this area of the law.

“There are exemptions for bona fide newscasts and news interviews, but not if it’s someone reporting on himself,” he said. “It would tend to circumvent the rule if you can get around it by having a kickoff to your campaign sponsored by your station.”

While I do understand that newscasts are exempt from the rules (and I agree with that exemption), I am unsure how I feel about a news anchor using his position as a news anchor to make his announcement. He doesn't have any competition yet (at least not for the primary election), but I would understand if other candidates were upset. This does look like an endorsement of one candidate by a station. While I do believe strongly that journalists should be transparent in their motives — I would be more suspicious if Dancer had resigned and the station did not cover his candidacy at all — I do not believe a journalist should be able to take advantage of his position in such a way. There is a reason journalists tend to avoid reporting on themselves or their coworkers. Even if Dancer's coworkers are not biased in his favor, this particular use of the news broadcast casts suspicion on the station's motives.

The response from the President of the company that owns the station, from the same article:

“We’d probably put them on an interview,” he said. “We end up interviewing all the candidates anyway. That’s something our news department would consider.”

The spot, however, wouldn’t be at the top of the broadcast preceded by promotions, as Dancer’s was. “Probably not,” Chambers said. “Not unless they had 20 years as our anchor.”

This reads as a lack of understanding of the problem on the part of the President. Yes, Dancer worked for the station for 20 years, but the second he decided to become a political candidate, it ceased to be appropriate for him to work as a journalist. I would have no problem with his resignation announcement being at the top of the broadcast (or even with the montage of his favorite moments that ran later in the show). However, the declaration of his candidacy should have not been treated differently than announcements from other candidates. The appropriate thing for the station to do would have been to treat him like any other candidate.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What journalists can learn from "The Daily Show"

This is a very old clip, but I think the issues raised are still relevant, particularly in an election year. I have said in posts here and on other blogs that I am concerned that with the 24-hour news cycle, it is becoming more difficult to find reporting that actually takes an honest, critical look at news stories. This video, which I'm sure you have all seen, is one of the most brilliant and scathing commentaries on how partisan bickering actually hurts the political process. I'll let Jon Stewart take it from here (more on my views after the jump) ...

Last year, a study at Indiana University found that determined that "The Daily Show" has as much "real" news content as channels such as CNN. I remember having debates in class over whether the show qualified as "real journalism." My argument was then and is now that an understanding of current events is necessary to understand "The Daily Show," and that most of the people I know who watch the show are far more informed than those who do not follow the news at all. I would never make a case for relying entirely on a comedy show for news, but I do think there's something to be said for the way this particular show presents information. "The Daily Show" covers real news events — it just does so in a way that makes it possible to cut right to the chase and say what is missing from a story or to point out the absurdity of a situation. Because there is not pretense of objectivity, Jon Stewart is able to be honest with viewers about what he thinks is wrong with something the government is doing. The difference between Jon Stewart and partisan "journalists" is that Stewart does not pretend to be objective or balanced.

While trying to find a copy of the study in question (if anyone has one, I'd love to have a copy), I found a good article from American Journalism Review that discusses what journalists can learn from "The Daily Show" model. The author, Rachel Smolkin, presents the idea that "The Daily Show" is often better at getting to the truth because the writers are not afraid to express outrage or to flat-out say that politicians are lying (often, she writes, using politicians' own words to highlight when they are lying).

One of the sources in this article is a journalism professor named Hub Brown who, Smolkin writes, was initially "appalled" that his students enjoyed "The Daily Show," but is now a convert. Brown is quoted discussing the idea that willingness of "Daily Show" writers to call politicians out for their mistakes is what sometimes makes it more honest than other media outlets, and I think this quote sums up why I think "The Daily Show" is a good model for other journalists.

"We saw a lot of that during Hurricane Katrina, but it shouldn't take a Hurricane Katrina to get journalists to say the truth, to call it as they see it," Brown says. "The thing that makes 'The Daily Show' stick out is they sometimes seem to understand that better than the networks do." He adds: "I think it's valuable because when the emperor has no clothes, we get to say the emperor has no clothes. And we have to do that more often here... The truth itself doesn't respect point of view. The truth is never balanced... We have to not give in to an atmosphere that's become so partisan that we're afraid of what we say every single time we say something."


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Monday, February 25, 2008

Journalists and Facebook

This month's issue of the American Journalism Review has an interesting article on the use of Facebook and other social networking sites as journalistic tools. The story discusses the recent trend of professional journalists signing up for Facebook profiles as a way of connecting with each other and finding sources. Some of those interviewed say they use Facebook for fun but do not see it as a good journalistic tool. While I have no way of knowing how the site will serve me in the professional world, it is an incredibly useful tool in my newsroom.

As a college reporter, I've become accustomed to using Facebook as a way of tracking down sources for every type of story. Many students who "opt out" of the school's directory post their phone numbers right on Facebook, and those who list their interests in pubic profiles are often easy targets for Emerald reporters looking for sources. I've used it to track down members of the various student unions, find students in a specific major or simply find people with a shared interest.

We have also used Facebook as a tool in cases where we've had to report on tragedies. For example, in his excellent coverage of the plane that disappeared near Indonesia (of the three Americans on board, two were U of O students), Eric Florip was able to use Facebook as a way of getting in touch with friends of the UO students and quoted people who had posted on the girls' "walls." Another reporter, Tess McBride, also cited Facebook in her profiles of the students . In a story that gained worldwide attention, it was difficult to get in touch with people who knew these girls, but Facebook was one way to do so. I can imagine that the site would be useful if, God forbid, there should ever be a shooting on campus. It would be a way for students around campus to quickly update one another and for the reporters to find out where their peers were at the time. It could also be a good way of gaining some insight into the personal life of any shooter. ...

One of the sources in the AJR story, Phillip Blanchard of the Washington Post, is quoted as saying he does not think Facebook is a useful journalistic Tool because he worries about the potential of fraud. He is quoted as saying "'People aren't always who they seem to be. For example, you can't even be sure who I am. ... Verification is very important in journalism, which apparently is being forgotten a lot, or never learned.'"

As an interesting side note, I will point out that Phillip Blanchard is one of my Facebook friends. I have never met him, but he sent me a friend request when I was working as a copy editing intern in Washington, D.C. Occasionally, he'll post links or questions on Facebook and the posting shows up on my "news feed." I joined a discussion forum called "Testy Copy Editors" that Blanchard moderates and in one discussion thread, someone said that a good reason to go to the American Copy Editors Society conference is the opportunity to hear John Russial speak. It's interesting how the Internet can be used as a tool for making those types of connections.

While I do see the potential for fraud in finding sources online, I have some confidence that people on Facebook are who they claim to be. I wouldn't recommend that teenage girls go meet up with people claiming to be teenage boys, but I think that the type of people who would respond to a journalist's request are probably fairly honest in their profiles.

Admittedly, it is hard to figure out what's real and what isn't since Facebook relies on people to self-report their interests/affiliations; however, I think that people generally report those things truthfully. I also think that if I track down someone for an interview, it will be easy to tell whether they're telling the truth about who they are. Facebook is a way of finding out what people's affiliations or interests are, but you should still try to verify who the person is. It's possible that I am more trusting of Facebook than Blanchard simply because of my age and the fact that Facebook was created for college students and I know how people talk about it, but I do think it's a great tool.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008


Those who know me are aware that I tend to be a bit of a stickler for good grammar. While I use a more informal style of writing in blogs and might end a sentence with a preposition once in a while, I hope that I live up to my own standards. I was a bit of a grammar nerd before I became a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern and developed a love for copy editing; however, that job made me even more obsessed with finding and correcting grammatical errors. I enjoy grammar blogs and have linked a few on this blog. While going through my Firefox bookmarks today, I found two New York Times articles on the difference a little punctuation can make....

This article discusses the use (or lack of use) of the semicolon , which is my favorite punctuation mark. The inspiration for the article was the use of the semicolon on a sign on a New York subway train. It's a fun little article that examines why it is surprising to see a semicolon used at all, let alone used correctly. Three days after the article's publication, it is the second most e-mailed story on the newspaper's Web site. My absolute favorite part of the article, however, is the correction at the bottom:

An article in some editions on Monday about a New York City Transit employee’s deft use of the semicolon in a public service placard was less deft in its punctuation of the title of a book by Lynne Truss, who called the placard a “lovely example” of proper punctuation. The title of the book is “Eats, Shoots & Leaves” — not “Eats Shoots & Leaves.” (The subtitle of Ms. Truss’s book is “The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.”)

The irony makes me laugh.

The other article is an opinion piece on whether the placement of commas in the Second Amendment changes the meaning of the Amendment. The writer says that the comma placement has been a topic of debate in many court cases involving gun rights, but argues that comma placement probably had nothing to do with the framers' intent. He also argues that the best way to read the Amendment would be to take away the commas entirely, in which case it would be logical to interpret the Amendment to be more about protecting militias than protecting individual rights to own guns.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Blogging on breaking news

This week’s class readings discuss the use of blogs in covering breaking news as well as the use of social networking sites such as Facebook in gathering information about victims of tragedies such as the shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois. While I tend to be a bit old-fashioned in my preference of actual newspapers to the Web versions, breaking news is the place where I feel Web tools can really help to enhance reporting.

On one hand, and I think I’ve said this before, I do worry that there can be times where the rush to be the first paper to update its Web site can lead to stories that are published without enough close editing. I also worry (and have experience this somewhat in my own reporting) that reporters are pressured to simply write bare bones stories with only the most basic of information in situations that only require such immediate updates because there is a rush to be the first to put the information online. However, the campus shootings are perfect examples of times in which up-to-the-second information is absolutely necessary and is greatly enhanced by the use of blogs and other Internet tools

The blog at the Roanoke Times (Scroll down to the bottom to read the posts in chronological order), which is referenced in the other readings has kept a running update on the Virginia Tech shootings since the day of the event. There are a lot of updates that aren’t worthy of an entire news story, but are informative to readers. Unfortunately, something about this blog is causing my browser to freeze tonight (There are some who would argue that physical newspapers are preferable to Web versions because they don’t crash or get viruses), but what I was able to read was interesting and the blog is referenced in some of the other readings for the week.

In a column on Poynter Online, Leann Frola discusses the use of blogs in a situation when news is being updated so quickly that reporters do not have time to write traditional stories. She summarizes what the editor of The Collegiate Times has to say about the use of blogs in breaking news situations. I was glad to read that the paper made sure to check all its facts before posting on the blog, and I think it makes a good case for the use of blogs, particularly when the reporters in question are closer to the story and have access to information that other news outlets do not have. ...

Another Poynter article, this one by Chip Scanlan, compares the backward chronology style of blogs to the inverted pyramid style of news writing. As someone who spent my first year on the Emerald staff covering stories that were continually updating, I became very familiar and friendly with the inverted pyramid, and I happen to be a fan. In situations where I had to write complicated stories on a tight deadline, it was extremely useful to be able to use a basic summary body and put the new information in first few paragraphs of the story. This is something I do like about news blogs. I know exactly where to go for the most important information and I know I don’t have to wade through stuff I’ve already read.

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Notable blogs

One of my favorite media blogs is called "Somewhere in Africa," and it is written by a McClatchy Newspapers correspondent named Shashank Bengali. This blog is one of several written by reporters from McClatchy bureaus around the world. When I worked as a copy editing intern at the McClatchy-Tribune wire service in 2007, one of my daily assignments was to go through these blogs (there are six), find the best post and edit it into a story that was sent out over the wire to certain subscribers. I enjoyed "Somewhere in Africa" because it focused on issues that didn't appear in regular stories. The other blogs on the site deal mostly with the Middle East and a lot of what appears in those is the same type of stuff you read in every news story about the region. Bengali is an excellent writer who finds things to blog about that add to the other reporting he does. I had a hard time choosing posts from the other blogs because I wanted to use his posts every day.

While looking for other blogs to write about in this post, I found the column "Everyday Ethics" on Poynter Onine. While this isn't exactly a blog, it appears to be a good source for journalists seeking answers to ethical questions. Today's post is about whether journalists should participate in primary elections or caucuses that require declaring a political affiliation, a topic that I found to be fascinating. The columnist doesn't really answer the question except to say that she likes the idea of an editor who simply requests that journalists not participate in these contests but does not forbid it, except to say that those who hold certain positions should avoid participating.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Reflections on blogging

This post is supposed to be a "reflection on becoming a blogger," but I've been a blogger for years. I've used several sites, and prefer blogger for its easy-to-use interface and professional appearance. As I stated in my (very long) first post, I've used blogging as a way of sharing my political beliefs and as a way of talking about events in my personal life. I enjoy both and I've now moved my political blog to a site that is not associated with my name and have always been careful not to put anything on the "personal" blog that I wouldn't want the world to know. I think this will be an interesting experiment — I think it will be fun to keep a blog that can be used as a resume builder and can be a forum for explaining what life is like as a new journalist in today's newspaper industry. ...

For now, I'm working on learning new things about the blogger interface. If an understanding of computer assisted reporting, blogging and html makes me a better catch for any potential employer, then figuring out the advanced features of blogging should help even more. Today I tried to learn to add a code for "jumps," which would allow me to put only summary paragraphs on my home page so that readers would have to click on a link to read long posts in their entirety. Blogger gives me an error when I insert the code and try to save the changes in the template. If and when I figure out how to do this, it will be very obvious that I've conquered the template. Until then, the longer posts will continue to take up quite a bit of room..

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

An introduction

As I stated in my first post, I worry about the emergence of blogging as a form of journalism because of the lack of accountability and the tendency of bloggers to lean heavily toward one side of an issue or the other. The three articles we read in Power Journalism this week attempt to address those issues.

Patrick Beeson’s article “Blogging: What is it? And how has it affected the media?” appeared in Quill Magazine in March 2005. Beeson argues that journalists need not compete with bloggers but work in tandem with them as a way of gathering information and as a way of adding to what they are already publishing.

Beeson describes blogs used as “citizen journalism” in times of crisis, such as the days following the 2005 Tsunami in South Asia. There are absolutely times in which blogs are incredibly useful. The ability to link to or quote from blogs adds a real human element to stories about disasters. After the tsunami, the blogs and videos that came out of the disaster zone made readers/viewers feel like they were really there. It made it that much easier to understand the true emotional impact of the events. The same can be said for the cell phone videos of the London train bombings in 2005.
I do agree that blogs are a useful tool in adding to the conversation about news events, and I think that the type of person who reads a blog on a newspaper Web site will ask different types of questions and add things to the discussion that a person who simply reads articles will not.
As I mentioned in my first post, I think media outlets can use blogs to explain aspects of their reporting or write about things that would be inappropriate for a regular story but add to the conversation. I also enjoy blogs about the media. I still worry that there are people who read “biased” blogs and take everything they read as fact without questioning whether the information is balanced or even accurate. Two other articles, “What Journalists Can Learn From Bloggers” and “What Bloggers Can Learn From Journalists,” by Steve Outing, both published on, address some of these issues....

Outing also says journalists can learn to use blogs to enhance the conversation about news. He argues that investigations could be more in-depth and be over more quickly if journalists use blogs to start a dialogue and dig up new sources. While I think this is an interesting point, his example — the Watergate investigation — is the same example I would use to argue that blogging can hurt investigative journalism. While I understand Outing’s point, I worry that there are some cases in which you do not want your sources to know you’re investigating them, and putting it out there on the Internet (or bloggers uncovering information first) can jeopardize an important investigation.

Outing also says journalists can learn from bloggers to not be so afraid of having their opinions known. He discusses Ana Marie Cox’s (otherwise known as Wonkette) argument that as long as bloggers are transparent and admit their biases and that their information may be inaccurate, they can publish whatever they like. While I don’t like the idea of it being “OK” to publish inaccurate information, I do share the belief that transparency is better than attempting to maintain an illusion of “objectivity.”

As far as what bloggers can learn from journalists, Outing says that an editing process would be a big help to blogs. An editor help keep embarrassing grammatical mistakes out of a blog, but would also be able to prevent libelous statements from making it into “publication.” This is the most important thing in Outing’s article, in my opinion. I could not agree more with his assessment that it is hard to believe no bloggers have been sued for libel. He also discusses the idea of a blogging code of ethics and the need for bloggers to have an understanding of media ethics and law.

Outing ends his article by discussing the fact that journalists, as members of “the fourth estate” have tremendous power that bloggers are now in a position to share. As should be evident by the title of my blog, I believe strongly in the concept of the media as a government watchdog. This is perhaps why the idea of anyone with an Internet connection being able to become a “journalist” makes me nervous. It is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

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Newspapers, blogging and the Internet

I was 10 years old the first time I worked for a newspaper. I woke up one morning and decided that I wanted to start a newspaper for my fourth grade class. I convinced my classmates to write various features, which I edited, typed up on my parents' PC (running Windows 3.1 and a horrible word processing program) and pasted onto printer paper before Xeroxing the pages and handing them out to my classmates. We were very proud of the final product, which the class decided to call "What's Up?"

At the time, I didn't realize that I would later realize that I was born to spend the rest of my life working in the media. I certainly didn't anticipate how computers, and later the Internet, would change the newspaper industry. Back then, my 10-year-old self thought the clip art I found on the now-ancient computer that still sits in my parents' church office was cutting-edge technology. Today, I am sitting on my couch accessing The Washington Post over a wireless Internet connection on a computer that would have fit inside the Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper in which I carried the issues of "What's Up"

Although I've blogged for years — I began after I finished my undergraduate education because I missed writing — the idea of blogging as an alternative media form or even the idea of newspapers online bothers me a bit. Too often these days, real, balanced journalism is replaced by bloggers on one side or another of a debate. This is not always bad — I read a few myself — but when people start to believe that the opinions of biased bloggers equates to a "fair and balanced" version of the truth it becomes detrimental to what journalists should be attempting to accomplish. I've used blogs for personal posts — recent entries include a piece on why I love Oregon, a story about a weird girl I met on the Amtrak train and photos of my parents' new puppy. It's certainly a nice way to kill a few minutes and feel connected to the few friends who read the blog. I've also used blogs to share my opinions, always linked to newspaper stories, and while I stand by the things I wrote, I would always want readers to read the newspapers and form their own opinions rather than think that what I wrote was fact. ...

This blog is a class project, and while I seem to be more familiar with blogging than others in my class, I hope I can use it on my resume someday. It's certainly a medium that budding journalists need to be familiar with, and I do appreciate the use of blogs associated with actual newspapers or news services as a tool to enhance coverage and explain the news in a way that is still fair and accurate but can be more casual than the main coverage. I expect to use this blog to write about the experience of being a new journalist entering the field at a time when technology is leading to rapid and dramatic changes in the field.

I have a love/hate relationship with this. I love computer assisted reporting and all the positive ways computers and the Internet enhance what we do, but I'm scared about what's happening in the industry right now, and the idea of not having an actual paper to spread out in front of me every morning makes me a little sad.

I spend hours a day on the Internet. I scan multiple news sites a day and occasionally read the news blogs. But as long as a physical paper exists, I'll always subscribe. For one thing, I'm afraid that too much time attempting to read small print online with damage my eyesight, but more than that, I enjoy the tactile experience of reading a real paper. Having to click on headlines and work my way through several Web pages to read the entire day's edition is my least favorite way to get the news. I like to spread my New York Times out on the couch, read all the stories on the front page and their jumps, and then work my way backwards through the rest of the section. I like the entire story, complete with photos and headline, to be out in front of me so I can quickly scan the first few graphs and decide what to read. I like the way the ink looks on the page and the way the paper smells. I like that I can fold the paper under my arm and carry it around to pull out on the bus or in the few minutes before class starts. I like tearing the crossword out of the arts section and doing it in pen throughout the day. No technology will ever replace this experience for me.

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