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.

Read more On "Fair coverage"!

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."


Read more On "What journalists can learn from "The Daily Show""!

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.

Read more On "Journalists and Facebook"!

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.

Read more On "Grammar"!

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.

Read more On "Blogging on breaking news"!

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.

Read more On "Notable blogs"!

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..

Read more On "Reflections on blogging"!

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.

Read more On "An introduction"!

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.

Read more On "Newspapers, blogging and the Internet"!