Thursday, May 28, 2009

Random stories of the day

I found a few interesting stories today that I thought I'd share. The first, from the American Journalism Review, discusses whether Twitter is just the latest techno-fad or can be used as a serious reporting tool.

The article does discuss the fact that may "tweets" are boring and/or useless (I'll admit that mine aren't always interesting); however, it does discuss the many ways in which the micro-blogging site can help reporters.

While I'm sick of the trend of older TV journalists (By that I mean those at least the baby boomer age) "discovering" Twitter and getting all excited about learning the new-fangled technology, I certainly appreciate the possible applications of Twitter as a reporting tool. The first photos of the crash of a plane into the Hudson were posted to Twitter, after all. Is most of the stuff on Twitter pretty useless? Probably. Is it depressing that more people follow Ashton Kutcher than CNN? Absolutely. CAN it be used as a reporting tool (both to find sources and to disseminate information) by journalists who know what they're doing and know the difference between useful information/links and crap? Definitely.

This article I found today has some reaction to the story I posted a few days ago about that claimed the New York Times had tips about Watergate before the Washington Post but dropped the ball on the story. I'm not familiar with the site the story is on, but it's interesting.

• This story is several days old, but I'm going to post it anyway because it is another example in the debate over who qualifies as a journalist (and when). An unnamed student at San Francisco State University who was present on the scene of a murder refused to talk to police, claiming that journalism shield laws protect him because he was there as part of a photojournalism project for school.

It is a bit unclear whether the SFSU student was with the victim, who was a subject of the project chronicling life in the community, or if the student just happened upon the scene of the crime. But he knew the victim and called police and the victim's family after the murder. An LA Times column says police did confiscate the student's photographs and points out that courts have made it clear that journalism students are covered under shield laws. The student's lawyer, who is quoted in the LA Times column, says there is no evidence the student saw the murder happen. I am of the opinion that student journalists should have the same protection under shield laws as professionals, but the question of who should be protected and under what circumstances is an interesting one in an age where anyone can start a blog, take photos and claim to be a journalist.

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Monday, May 25, 2009

Tough times

There's not much going on here. It's a tough time to be looking for work in journalism, particularly in newspapers. It seems that every time I consider giving up and looking to work for a different medium, something reminds me how exciting it can be to work at a newspaper.

A story in today's New York Times reports that during the Watergate scandal, the director of the FBI allegedly divulged sensitive information to a NYT reporter -- including the involvement of Attorney General John Mitchell as well as White House involvement -- before the Washington Post got the story.

The reporter in question had quit the paper and was leaving to attend law school but went back to the office and told an editor what he had heard. The editor took notes and recorded the conversation. But as we know, the Washington Post got the story first — from Mark Felt, then the number two man at the FBI ("Deep Throat") — and the Times never got the story.

It's rare that we hear about the story the paper didn't get, so it's interesting to look back on now. But what this does for me is remind me of what journalism is all about.

Watergate started out as a cops beat story. What seemed like just a break-in, only interesting because it happened to be at the Democratic headquarters, took down a president because a reporter (who happened to be friends with the number two man at the FBI) followed his instincts and looked into who the burglars were. The question today is, if that NYT editor had followed up on his reporter's tip all those years ago, how would the story be different?

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Students do not shed their Constitutional rights ...

The Supreme Court is hearing an interesting case this week regarding students' rights to privacy. As a journalist, I'm of course interested in Constitutional law, but I'm particularly fascinated by how the Court defines students' rights. When I joined the staff of my junior high school newspaper, one of the first assignments was to read about some famous cases regarding student rights and we wrote a term paper on those cases. My interest in Constitutional law and the First Amendment is what made me want to become a journalist. When I first read about this case a year or so ago, I thought of the cases I studied all those years ago.

In Safford School District v. Redding, the issue is whether school officials were right to require a then-13-year-old girl to strip down to her bra and panties while investigating whether she had prescription ibuprofen in her possession. Another student was caught with 400 mg pills — a dose equivalent to two regular Advil. She told school officials she obtained the pills from Savana Redding, now 19.

Redding's backpack was searched and when officials did not find pills, they forced her to strip down and shake out her bra. She did not have the pills. Her parents were not present and they filed suit. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the search to be unconstitutional.

What's really interesting about this case is that there is no real precedent to guide the Court. In 1969, justices ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines that "students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gate" and that regulation of students' First Amendment rights is limited to situations in which the speech is disruptive to the educational process (In this picture: The armband worn by high school student Mary Beth Tinker to protest the Vietnam War). Some other cases, including Hazelwood East v. Kuhlmeier, which applies to regulation of student newspapers, have expanded the rights of school officials to limit speech.

The only ruling that applies to student's Fourth Amendment rights is TLO v. New Jersey. In the 1985 case, a student's purse was searched after she was caught smoking in a bathroom. School officials found marijuana, rolling papers, a large amount of cash, plastic bags and what appeared to be a list of students who owed the girl money. The police were called and the girl later sued, claiming the search was unreasonable. The Court upheld the search, saying school officials have the right to search a student without a warrant if there is reasonable suspicion that something in his or her possession would interfere with the officials' ability to keep the school safe ...

This case seems like a no-brainer, but today's news indicates the justices may be leaning toward an interpretation of the law that could drastically impede students' rights in the future. Justices seem to be leaning toward the idea that the type of drug is irrelevant to whether officials have the right to search a student. This could be an interesting re-interpretation of what constitutes a reasonable search.

In the case currently before the Court, school officials are arguing that the search was reasonable because of the need to keep other students safe.

School officials (and, it seems, some of the Supreme Court justices) defended their actions by claiming they need to protect students from the harmful effects of abusing prescription drugs. While this is of course something schools should do, I see several problems with the argument, not the least of which is that they were basing their search on a single student's story. First of all, if they were so worried that they thought she was hiding pills in her underwear, her parents should have been notified. Second, there was no immediate danger to Redding or other students if they waited for her parents to arrive. Third, there is a world of difference between the types of drugs that are abused and ibuprofen. It is not reasonable to believe that the possession of a non-narcotic pain reliever available over-the-counter poses such a threat to the school that any forced search of a student is Constitutional.

The ruling is expected in June.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

2009 Pulitzer Prizes

This year's Pulitzer for feature writing went to Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times for a feature on an little girl who had been horribly abused and neglected by her mother. I was excited to learn that this piece won, because it was some of the most powerful reporting I've ever read and I haven't been able to forget it since I read it when it was first published last year.

The article, titled "The Girl in the Window," is very disturbing, and I wouldn't recommend reading it over breakfast, but is a fantastic piece and the reporter is absolutely deserving of the Pulitzer.

The prize for feature photography went to Damon Winter of the New York Times for his coverage of President Obama's campaign.

A list of the rest of the winners can be found here:

And here is the rest of it.

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Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quick update

I never did get around to updating the situation at the Oregon Daily Emerald. Long story short, the strike ended and among other things that were agreed upon, the board decided to advertise the publisher's position nationally.

Today, I opened my job search email from and found this:

If I had the experience needed for this type of job, I'd apply in a heartbeat.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

The journalist's lament

This weekend, I volunteered to mentor a teenager in a journalism workshop at my old paper. It's the seventh time they've done the workshop, in which high school students come in on a Friday night to hear a guest speaker and have dinner, then on Saturday morning go out and do interviewing and reporting for a story, which they write on Saturday afternoon. It's a pretty good crash-course in what it's like to be a reporter at a daily paper. My experience was a bit different.

The student I mentored was only in eighth grade, making her the youngest to ever to do the workshop. She had no previous experience, but was great to work with. She was enthusiastic and very willing to learn. We went out on Friday night — another first — and covered a DVD release party for "Twilight," which I know nothing about, but which she loves. The best part of the party was that while we both went in expecting a lot of girls her age, what we found was that women my age and older are really, REALLY into "Twilight." Our main characters were a group of women all wearing shirts that read, "Over 30 and dazzled," with pictures of the male lead in the movie on the backs. They were VERY excited about the movie and more than willing to talk about it. When we came back in the morning, we wrote during the time other students were out doing their reporting, so we had time to do a second story. We went out to do a quick piece on a giant yard sale to raise money for the graduation party at one of the high schools. Doing a second story was yet another first for my student. It was a blast, and the photographers on both stories were so great. The photo and story from the "Twilight" party were so good that package wound up running as the centerpiece on today's "Homefront" (what would be the city or metro section in a bigger paper) section.

The weekend was a blast, my student was awesome, and it was great to see so many young people interested in journalism. I don't know how many of them are interested in doing it as a career, but it's still exciting.
For better or for worse, going around with my student helping her interview and write just solidified my determination to stay in journalism. On one hand, it's nice to feel so passionate about something, on the other, the news about daily papers just keeps getting worse and worse. At this point, even if I found a job, there's very little job security. Even a paper that appears to be doing well could make cuts in a few months in order to try to get ahead of the storm. I've decided to move back in with my parents, which will allow me to save my unemployment checks instead of budgeting every cent while I look for something new. Taking away that stress will make it easier to be a bit pickier, but will give me time to look into other options. If nothing else, I'll freelance on the side. I'm already doing a bit of freelance editing and have been accepted to some freelance writing Web sites. I just need to DO the writing. Hopefully it won't take too much longer to find the right job.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Why I love journalism

The Nieman Foundation at Harvard recently awarded The Charlotte Observer an award for fairness in journalism for its absolutely amazing series on "the human cost" of the poultry industry. The series, which originally ran in February 2008, looks at the injuries suffered by workers at one of the largest poultry plants in the nation. Workers can suffer injuries related to repetitive motion, but for many reasons, the injuries often go unreported and the workers are left in pain, sometimes crippled by their injuries. The series is very long, but is definitely worth a read.

The Web presentation is great — it puts all the articles in one easy-to-access place and has links to interactive features including a diagram of the hand that explains in plain English how these injuries happen — but I wish I could read the series in print. I love to read investigative series in print and see how they unfold each day. It's easier to read that much text on paper rather than on screen and waiting for the next days' articles gives some suspense to picking up the morning paper. That being said, without the Web, I would probably never have read this series.

[via Romenesko]

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The lay-off song

Still no responses in my job search. Most of the ads I've responded to are still active, so here's hoping. In the meantime, I have a lot of time to surf the Internet. I found the site for a journalist and musician who wrote a song about the laid-off copy editor. It's the first song linked. The writer has never worked as a copy editor, but he's got it down. The song would be funny if it weren't for the malaise I'm feeling lately.

"The Copy Editor's Lament."

[via Poynter]

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Really, CNBC?

Jon Stewart's take on CNBC's coverage of the recession. One of the better "Daily Show" segments in the last week or so.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In support of the Emerald

Edited to add that the description of the Oregon Daily Emerald publisher job does say the publisher would not have control over content. The entire description, including the following paragraph, was posted on Steve Smith's blog.

“The publisher is responsible for all hiring within the company with the exception of the editor, who is appointed by the board, and the newsroom staff hired by the editor. In areas of business management, the editor reports to the publisher. However, the publisher does not have and cannot exercise any supervisory control or authority over the editorial content of the Daily Emerald newspaper and its related online and mobile sites.”

I've read several articles and posts on this today, and I still feel the staff is right to question the board's actions in this situation and to take the steps they have taken. I had not read the job description (the full description is posted way down in the comments on Smith's blog) before I made my initial post here. I do not believe Smith would be a bad choice for the publisher position (he has since withdrawn his name and the board will be conducting a search), and I am sure the work he has done to try to help the Emerald is appreciated. However, the staff's demands (outlined in the Emerald article linked below and in other sources I've linked to) are reasonable. They are right to be concerned.

The editorial staff at the Oregon Daily Emerald, the independent student paper at the University of Oregon, is on strike.

The Emerald has been completely independent since 1971. It is a contracted service and the only funding from the University comes from a small "subscription fee" that comes out of the overall student incidental fee. As someone who worked for a term as the higher education reporter, I know how necessary it is to ensure that no member of the faculty or staff have control over decisions at the paper. In order to provide the most truthful, objective reporting on the University administration, the paper must remain independent.

The Emerald is keeping a blog to update people on what's going on there. I'm fully in support of what the editors and staff are asking. If the demands are not met today (March 4), the Thursday edition of the Emerald will not be printed. It will be the first time in the paper's 109-year-history that an issue was not printed. I'm afraid for the future of the paper, but I'm proud of the staff for sticking up for the paper's legacy. If I were still a student, I'd be right there with them.

Romenesko post on the strike here
Chronicle of Higher Education article
Oregonian article

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The death of newspapers?

It seems that every day, there's a new article on whether newspapers are really dying. I of course prefer the ones that take a more optimistic view. I liked this interview with Bob Woodward, who says he and his former Washington Post editor, Ben Bradlee, believe newspapers will survive. It's hard to stay positive under my current circumstances, but reading that one of my heroes believes my industry has a chance makes me feel better.

[via Romenesko]

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

A victim of the newspaper industry

It has been far too long since I've posted here. The ethics policy at the paper where I work requires having the editor's permission if you're going to have a public blog, and before I could get permission, the editor resigned.

But, thanks to the economic crisis and the state of the newspaper industry, I am no longer employed at said paper. I was laid off today. We actually were informed of the impending layoffs about three weeks ago and I knew that because I'm the newest person in my position, I had a big target on my back. Through a rather long process, the union members agreed to some concessions involving the 401K and holiday pay and that cut the number of layoffs, as did the generosity of the people in the newsroom, many of whom volunteered to reduce hours and/or take unpaid time off to try to save jobs. It worked -- I lost my job, but I'm the only one in the newsroom to go. It's depressing and I'm freaked out, but I'm happy that all the reporters get to stay. We have some great people who do excellent work and frankly, the paper needs them.

Truthfully, the three weeks of not knowing whether I was going to be able to stay was way worse than getting the news. I didn't tell many people about the layoffs when we first found out because I didn't want to jinx it. But honestly, I'm relieved that I finally just know.
So tomorrow I will go to an unemployment office for the first time in my life and hope that the check will be enough to live on until I find a new job and move out of this town. I was given a severance that's more generous than what the union contract required, so there will be enough money in my savings account to pay for the move. I won't be staying here -- there aren't any other media jobs (at least not the type I want to do) and I didn't want to be here forever anyway -- but it will do until I find a new job.

The thing that makes me sad is that while I have gone through phases of questioning what to do with my life, nothing feels as right as being a working journalist. It's an industry I am passionate about and one that I believe is essential to the maintenance of the entire democratic system. It's hard to even consider leaving that behind. People will say "You have to be flexible and look in other industries," but this is something that I love and something that I want to do. I may have to be flexible about what type of journalism to do, but leaving media behind in general is not an option. If nothing else, I went very far in debt for a master's degree and damnit, I'm going to stay in the field that degree is in.

On to update my resume and think about possible freelance opportunities.

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