November 2009 Archives

Wow, I am about to complete my final portfolio for news writing, where did the time go?  This semester went by incredibly fast.  So fast, in fact, that sometimes it’s difficult to realize how much we’ve learned since the beginning of the semester until we take a few moments for reflection.

 At the beginning of the semester, my attitude was not overly positive towards news writing.  I had to take it as part of the education requirements.  It’s not that I was uninterested in the subject, I just begrudged it a little since it was taking space in my schedule when I could have been taking something else I was more interested in (the curse of being a double-major and dual education certification student completing everything in four years is the inability to take any classes you want to take, just for the sake of taking it). 

 I’m not going to lie and say that through the course of the semester I came to really love journalism.  I don’t.  I would never want to be a journalist for my career.  However, I have come to terms with some things.  One thing in particular is the claim that journalism is “unbiased or objective.”  This actually made me quite mad.  It is impossible to be objective and the claim that such an ideal was possible upset me.  However, our readings by Haiman helped me realize that it isn’t so much about the writing being “unbiased,” but the effort to try to make it so and the process through which the articles go to become as bias-free as possible. 

Furthermore, while I may not love news writing, I can appreciate the challenges news writers face and all the work that goes into it.  I understand the differences between writing an academic essay and writing a news article.  I am more skeptical (and more accepting of) what I see in papers.  I know why they do what they do and I know when they do something wrong.  I also pay more attention to the news now.  After being required to continually check up on a breaking news article, I got into the habit of reading the news daily.  I have come through this class a more informed and prepared person for the real world.  And, most importantly for me, I feel capable of guiding high schoolers through their own journalism journey should I be called upon to do so some day. 

Coverage and Timeliness: I completed all assigned blogs and posted them all on or before the time that they were due.  I list here only the blogs which did not fall under another category. 

Depth: These are a few blogs that I put some extra thought into.

  • The Three Keys to Effective Video Use After watching four videos on the NY Times’ website and analyzing each, I create what I think are the three keys to using videos on news sites effectively.
  • The Danger of Preconceptions In this blog, I discuss the similarities between allowing one’s preconceived notions to control you in both academic writing and in journalism.

Interaction: These are some of my classmates’ blogs that got me thinking and which I therefore commented on.

  • Angela’s Pleasing the Eye I agree with Angela on how powerful the video clip of Megan Fox is, Angela answers my comment, and Josie and Aja get involved as well.
  • Derek’s Freedom, Fairness, and Futility I leave Derek a long comment disagreeing that paper’s should not clearly admit what side of issues they may stand on.  He answers me, I answer back.  Wendy and Angela also leave comments. 
  • Josie’s There Must be a Story Here Somewhere   I agree with Josie about how frustrating it might be for journalists to do a lot of work and then find there is no story.  Josie considers what a journalist could do in such a situation and I suggest that one could write about how there is no story, using the Seton Hill swine flu incident as an example.  Angela also comments. 
  • Angela’s This is ok…I give it a C+  Derek, Angela, Wendy, and I discuss Harvard’s layout.  I disagree with Angela’s criticism and opine that she is being a bit harsh.  Angela responds admitting she was a little harsh, but notes that she did observe good things about the page too.

Discussion: These are some of my blogs which sparked discussion.
 
  • Violation of the Brevity Rule I complain about how long the videos were that the Arizona Star used.  Angela and Josie both agree with me and I respond to their comments.

Xenoblogging:

The Comment Primo:  

 The Comment Grande:

The Link Gracias:

  • Any reflection entry

Wildcard: I picked, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” because I think it sums up what Haiman was trying to stress throughout his entire guidebook.  I related a famous line from Spiderman to stress this responsibility.  I also deal with objectivity in this entry, I wrote, “As I’ve pointed out many times, it’s impossible to be completely objective, but that doesn’t mean reporters can’t try to do their best—just as Spiderman can’t save everyone and bad things will happen sometimes, he still does his best to save as many people as he can.”   

 

Reflections: These are blog entries I wrote before class.  They are based on my classmates’ blog entries.  I expand on what I have learned from their blogs and what I now understand better thanks to them.  If I use a reflection in another category, I do not include it here at well.

Previous Portfolios:

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The Public’s Role

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Michelle brought up an interesting point in her blog.  While I highlighted the responsibility which the news media has to be fair, Michelle focused on the public’s responsibility to fact check.  The news media is held accountable by the public, but how is the public to hold them accountable if they do not keep themselves informed?  We need to question and doubt and fact check, just as reporters do.  Read an article about the same subject by several sources, do your best not to let yourself accept “biased news” as fact.  If the public is to ensure the news media does not abuse their right to the freedom of the press, they need to keep themselves skeptical and knowledgeable.  

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“With great power, comes great responsibility”

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“There’s a case to be made that while the press has no constitutional duty to be fair, there is a societal obligation to do so. The press is like no other industry in American society. Its importance is acknowledged in the Constitution and its liberty is part of our nation’s foundation. Doesn’t the press have a duty to live up to its special role in our democracy?” (72)

 

I’m going to take a page out of Angela’s book with this blog and make a movie reference.  When I read the quote above, the first thing that popped into my head was Uncle Ben’s advice to Peter from Spiderman, “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  Peter Parker, like the press, has been given special powers/rights and along with these rights comes “great responsibility.”  The press, as Haiman observes, has a unique right and power to write what they want and what they think is necessary.  While the press does have some legal issues encouraging them to be fair, they can get away with a lot.  However, if they abuse these rights they have been granted, the public will and does lose faith in them.  As the survey Haiman cites shows, 53% of Americans feel that the press has too much freedom.  News organizations have the responsibility to the public to be fair, if they’re not the public will become disillusioned with the news media and no longer trust them.  It’s a reciprocal relationship.  If reporters are fair, the public will trust them more and news organizations will make greater profits.  If reporters aren’t fair, no one will believe them.  News organizations have the responsibility to their readers, those they are reporting, and themselves to do their best to be fair and unbiased.  As I’ve pointed out many times, it’s impossible to be completely objective, but that doesn’t mean reporters can’t try to do their best—just as Spiderman can’t save everyone and bad things will happen sometimes, he still does his best to save as many people as he can.   

 

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A Little Spoonful of the Positive

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I was surprised by how positive a review some of my classmates gave The Cavalier.  I personally didn’t like it very much.  Mostly, I didn’t like the absence of pictures below the fold.  However, after reading Angela’s blog and the comments left on it, I think I was able to moderate my dislike a little bit.  Josie pointed out in a comment to Angela that The Cavalier’s page was more “user-friendly.”  On a second look at the webpage, I could really see what she meant.  While there were no more pictures, there were clearer divisions between sections.  It is very easy for a reader to see where the “Recent News” section is, where the “Sports” section is, etc.  In this way, if a reader wanted to read an article from a particular section, it would be a lot easier for them to find.  

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You Can't Please Everyone

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 In all three of my classmate’s blogs that I have read so far, I seem to be the odd one out as far as opinions go on the Harvard Crimson’s layout.  Angela gave it a C, Josie was not overly impressed, and Derek while commenting that it was professional, didn’t really keep his attention.  While I would not claim that the layout was perfect, there are some small things they could do to improve it (such as making their masthead more prominent or adding a pdf of the print edition of their paper), I thought it was overall pretty well done.  They had a slideshow, videos, plenty of graphics, and lots of articles.  Perhaps part of one’s preference is entirely personal.  I mean, what looks good to me, may not look good to Angela.  And what looks good to me may not look good to her.  It would be so hard to be a layout editor, because no matter what you do, you can’t please everyone.    

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The Cavalier Daily’s masthead is big enough.  It is clear that it is the title of the paper and not just another headline.  However, I do not think that they make it clear enough that it is a college paper’s website or that it is the University of Virginia’s paper.  In fact, I searched over the entire homepage and cannot find anything that names the association.  Above the fold looks good, there are lots of pictures.  However, as one scrolls down, the website becomes less and less interesting.  There are clear divisions between the sections of stories, but there are NO graphics.  It’s just text, text, and more text.  Frankly, it doesn’t entice me to keep scrolling down or to click on any of the articles.  I do like that they have a little section where you can see today’s print version of the paper.  Harvard did not have that.  This way readers can chose which format they prefer. 

To bring in a third comparison though, take a look at The Flat Hat’s page.  The Flat Hat has a large masthead in a fun font.  It clearly says below the title of the paper that it is affiliated with William and Mary.  They have the weather in the upper right hand corner, like many print newspapers would.  It gives little blurbs of information about the longer article below the headlines, it intersperses pictures throughout the page to keep the reader interested.  It divides the articles into sections.  There is a newscast video for those who prefer watching/listening to the news.  You can chose to view the print paper in a pdf format.  There does seem to be fewer articles on their homepage, but I personally like it’s layout better than both The Cavalier’s and The Harvard Crimson's.

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Woah, They Even Have Videos!

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I think it’s a bit strange that The Harvard Crimson’s masthead is so small.  The title of the paper is not any bigger than some of their headlines.  When you open the webpage, the first thing that comes to your eye is not the name of the paper, which is not really a good thing.  I do think they make good use of graphics though.  They break up the different articles with a slideshow of pictures which goes along with the major articles.  They have thumbnails that go along with the blogs in the right hand side of the page.  They have a series of more pictures at the bottom of the page.  And they even have two videos on the bottom right hand side of the page.  Below the major headlines, they have little blurbs or outtakes of information from the article, which helps the reader know if they want to click on the link for more information.  They also have the page neatly set up into categories, such as “Top Stories,” “Opinion,” “Sports,” “Magazine,” “Arts,” “More News,” “Most Read.”  Over all, I would say they keep things visually interesting with pictures and headlines.  The only real fault is how small the masthead is. 

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Flight 93 Memorial Links

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In light of the recent (November 7) groundbreaking for the Flight 93 memorial, I am investigating how the school district and other area officials will handle the loss of funding from property tax for the local school. 

  • Welcome to Shanksville-Stonycreek School District—this is part of the local school’s official website.  This section of the website gives information on the school, the area, and the residents.
  • Flight 93 National Memorial—This is the National Park Service’s official website for Flight 93.  It includes information on the groundbreaking ceremony, the memorial design, video clips from residents and others involved, and more. 
  • People bound by a cause can achieve great things—This is an editorial about the Flight 93 memorial written by a local man which was published in the Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown's paper).  He expresses his pleasure over the beginning of the construction.
  • “We made it’: Ground broken for Flight 93 memorial—This is an article from the Tribune-Democrat about the groundbreaking. 
  • Ground broken for Flight 93—This is the Daily American’s (Somerset’s paper) article on the groundbreaking.  It includes a video of the ceremony.
  • PILT FAQ—This is the Department of the Interior’s FAQ on Payment in Lieu of Taxes, which is a possible way the school may be able to make up for some of the lost funds from property tax.   
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It was interesting comparing the different views my classmates had on links.  Jeanine voiced that links make her feel a bit overwhelmed sometimes.  They result in a never-ending cycle of information seeking.  In contrast, Angela stresses in her comment on Derek’s blog that she loves links and that, “it's fun traversing the web through links…”  On my own blog, I found it hard to even narrow down all the functions that links fulfill.  So, I think it’s safe to say, that links are extremely powerful.  They can either really please a reader or annoy them.  As Dr. Jerz pointed out in class, sometimes you will be excited about a link and then you click on it and find it to be completely useless.  There is nothing more disappointing then being promised something and then not getting it.  So links speak loudly.  You don’t want to use too many or too few, or to link to a place which isn’t actually helpful.  As in most cases, you have to search for some kind of middle ground and be careful what you link to.     

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Information or News?

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In reading both Angela’s and Kaitlin’s blogs on the multimedia news feature, I began to see more of the positive qualities of it.  Angela made it clearer to me how the interactive nature or the feature would interest viewers, while Kaitlin made it clear how unbiased and informative it was.  Both of their blogs steered me to consider the real function of this feature.  It seems like it would make a great informative tool to use in a classroom.  It teaches where the garage goes and what happens to the recyclables.  It seems like there is a lot more information and a lot less news.  They did have a good idea about getting that information across.  With the words, pictures, lists, interaction, and video clips, it would work well for almost any learning style (although, we all agree the videos need a little work).  But this makes me wonder how much of this feature is news and how much of it is just informative…

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Derek on his blog opined that it might not be such a good idea for newspapers to so clearly allow their position on politics and social issues to be known.  He explained that this encouraged divisions between readership (democrats read one paper, republicans another) and that it also foster bias in news articles.  While I think Derek makes some really great points, I also see advantages to newspapers being very open and clear about their standing on current controversial issues.  When they are forthright and clear about where they as a paper stand, it is easier for readers to read articles with a critical eye.  The example I used in my comment to Derek was that if I know a paper is against the death penalty and I read an article in that paper about the death penalty, I will know to read that article carefully, searching for any biases.  I would ask myself: did they interview all sides? Were they fair?  I think not only knowing the papers position allows the reader to examine the articles through a clearer lens, it also would encourage the reporters to be more unbiased.  If the readership knows where the paper stands on an issue and is viewing the articles with more suspicion, the reporter will be forced to be doubly cautious on reporting it and being fair to all sides.    

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Both Angela and Jenn in their blogs helped me to further consider the role of multimedia in the news.  Angela in her discussion of a slideshow on Megan Fox pointed out that a newspaper would never have the space to print all 18 pictures that the internet was able to.  I think this is a really important point.  There is only so much room in a newspaper.  Journalists must sort through all the articles and prioritize what will make it in and what won’t.  They have to ask themselves what picture will fit in the space and will be the most eye-catching?  On-line news does not have to worry about these concerns.  They have unlimited space.  If they have 18 pictures and want to use them all, they can do it.  If they have video clips, they can use them. 

Jenn also interestingly pointed out how powerful this limitless space and interactivity can be.  With so much space, they can use links to draw the reader from webpage to webpage in an endless cycle.  I know I’ve intended to read just one article before and ended up reading about five or six because of links.  This allows the reader to get more of what they want, but it is also much better at trapping our attentions. 

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The Danger of Preconception

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“And once a reporter thinks he is on a hot trail…it seems virtually impossible, no matter how many facts you have to present, to get him off it” (57).

As usual, I am going to relate a news writing principle to the more general principles of academic paper writing.  It would seem that sometimes journalists get a little ahead of themselves, before they have done the research.  I think this happens frequently with students (yes, even including me sometimes) when they write research papers.  They have some preconceived idea in their head and they research around this idea.  If there are two articles that agree with them and 30 that disagree, they will ignore the majority and just focus on the minority that supports their opinion.  This is easier to do and it challenges your beliefs less.  This is part of the reason why I like doing research before I have too solidly entrenched myself in my thesis.  The real skill is being open-minded and paying attention to everything that is out there.  Once you’ve taken a look at everything out there and carefully thought about it, now you can consider what angle you want to take.  But even when you have picked your angle, you can’t ignore the opposition.  You need to address it.  In a research paper you need to explain why they are wrong and your side is right.  It’s the same type of thing in a newspaper article (minus the explaining why you’re right).  You need to interview the opposition and the side you feel is “right”.  When a reporter begins writing an article from a “’preconceived thesis’” (57), nothing good is going to come from it.  Just as in academic papers this type of blind conviction frequently leads us away from the really good, complex paper, this type of reporting results in articles on “non-news” and articles with skewed “frames” (58).  Do your research and don’t avoid any side.

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How Many Functions of Links Can You List?

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In order to consider what the function of links are I took a look at the article “Where the Botched Children’s Book Adaptations Are” on Wired.  Below is my list of functions they fulfill:

  • While it is easy enough to look up information on something you may not be familiar with by simply going to a search engine and typing in the unknown word, using links directs readers specifically to what the author may be referring to. 
  • It allows authors to give credit to someone else who they may have gotten ideas from.
  •  It helps direct the reader to more information. 
  • It saves the reader time from having to look whatever it is up, instead they just have to click and wait for the page to load. 
  • But most importantly, it gives the author a good way to make their article briefer.  Instead of having to go into an elaborate explanation or summary of something, the author can save both their time (by not having to provide this information) and the readers’ time (who if they already know about the information don’t have to slog through the author’s recap).   

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Violation of the Brevity Rule

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The multimedia news feature from the Arizona Star about recycling and garbage disposal follows two of my three rules for effective use of video.  They did chose an evergreen topic and something was added to the understanding of the viewer through the videos.  However, it violated the time issue.  While no single clip was overly long, there were so many of them that it built up to become too much.  I would have much preferred to just read the information; it would have been a lot faster.  Some of the clips were beneficial though, so I think that if they had used shorter clips or maybe not used so many clips, it would have been more effective.  Especially for the recycling section, there was too much talking in the video and it was the same person for all of them.  It didn’t make things very interesting for the audience. The man was saying informative things, but still I do not think the average viewers’ attention span would be kept by the same person, saying the same type of thing in every clip.  The pictures for each step though were good.  They also kept the text to a minimum and organized it neatly into colored charts and bullets, which made it fast and easy to read and understand.  So my main complaint is just the quantity and length of video.      

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The Three Keys to Effective Video Use

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If you just scroll down a little bit on the New York Times’ website, on the left hand side there is a box specifically for video clips.  Since I doubt most people who visit the website are going to go searching for videos, I thought it was interesting to look at what videos the chose to put somewhere prominent, how they are, and how they are done. 

There were four videos, three in the style category and one in the science.  The first two were a little bit longer, they were about five and half minutes each, while the second two were just a little over two minutes.  None of these video clips were breaking news; they were instead evergreen stories which could be newsworthy for some time.  This makes sense, since more effort must go into making this video clips so the paper would want them to last longer. 

Most notably though, all four of the videos focused on subject matter that without pictures/audio would not have had as much of an impact on the viewer.  The first video, “Crossing the Concourse”, capitalized on both the use of music and of visuals.  It was the story of pianist Sara Buechner who was once David Buechner.  The use of video clips helped make the story more relatable to the audience and helped make her challenges seem more real.  The second clip, “Saving Sea Turtles, On Nest at a Time,” chronicled the continuing struggle of sea turtles against such forces as global warming and continued development of land.  The video made the story more effective since it could actually show clips of the baby sea turtles, thereby pulling at the viewers heartstrings.  The third video, “On the Street: Colors,” was basically a series of pictures with audio commentary.  Without the pictures, this video would have been almost impossible.  Describing what people are wearing and then commenting on it, would take twice as long and be much less effective than just showing a picture of it.  And the last clip, "Vows: Melissa & Adam", was the story of how two people met and fell in love.  Again this video was more effective as a video than it would have been as a story, since seeing the two sit with each other and talk about their story gets the emotions across better than simply quoting their words. 

So essentially, it seems that there are three important considerations for video use:

1. Keep them short; none of them were longer than five minutes.  People don’t have the time of the attention spans to watch long videos.

2. More effort is put into a video, so make sure you can get more mileage out of your time, by making it evergreen.

3. Make sure that what you pick to make a video of will be more effectively expressed by being video.  Don’t just make a video, so you have a video.  Pick something which will have greater effect on the reader because it is video and not just words. 

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This isn’t TV, There are Repercussions

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There was a commonality between Angela’s blog, Richelle’s blog, and the comment I left on Angela’s blog about investigative journalism.  All three of us in our own way recognized the folklore which surrounds investigative reporting.  Angela talked about its romanticism, Richelle compared it to the movie Erin Brokovich, and I compared it to a Lois and Clark episode.  Essentially, all three of us recognized the disparity between the real world and the ideal world where investigative journalism is as easy as the News Manual makes it sound.  Particularly as students with limited time and contacts, it’s a lot harder and a lot more serious than some may realize.  I’m not saying it isn’t possible.  But I do think it’s a lot harder than TV and movies make it look.  In real life, there are real repercussions.  What you write or discover could result in death threats, people losing their jobs, and being sued for defamation.  

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The Backbone of Investigative Journalism—Contacts

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Anytime I consider a pitch for this class or how I am going to go about writing an article my main concern is always who I can use as sources.  Since journalists are not supposed to let their opinion enter the article, the journalist needs to have many quotes from many sides of an issue.  Since we are not writing for a real paper, it is doubly difficult to find people willing to take time from their busy schedules and talk to some random college student for an article that will never be published.  While some people will graciously and kindly take time out of their busy day to help a student-journalist out, others simply don’t have the time to do so.  This is when knowing a variety of people comes in handy.  People that you know are obviously going to be more willing to talk to you.  Furthermore, in some cases, you may not even know that there is an opportunity for a story if you don’t have contacts to clue you in to it.  Nowhere are these contacts more important than in investigative journalism.  Without multiple reliable sources to tip you off, help get you information, and point you to other people to talk to it would be almost impossible to write a good article.  It helps make me appreciate how hard it must be to start out as a new journalist in a new place without any contacts at all.  It would take a good amount of time and care to make and retain these contacts.   The News Manual explains, “We cannot stress often enough how important a journalist's contacts are. These are the people who can give you story ideas, information and tell you when you are on the wrong track. Make as many contacts as you can - and look after them as you would a friend.”  As a student with few contacts, I can really understand how important it is to have contacts and how difficult it would be for new journalists. 

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A Growing Appreciation

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In my previous portfolios for this class I discussed how I was overcoming my bad attitude about news writing and learning through experience how hard news writing actually is.  Both of these things are still true.  I still have bouts of bad attitude (although, I think they are becoming less frequent) and I learn a lot about the process of news writing every time I write an article (and therefore,  must interview, verify, and write).  However, I think my biggest change since my last portfolio relates less to my actual abilities as far as news writing goes and instead more to my daily life. 

I have found myself paying more attention to current events and the news as this class has progressed.  In the past, I have paid very little attention to the news.  If I stumbled across a headline on the Internet that I thought was intriguing, I would click on it and read it.  That was the extent of it; I would not actively seek or go to news sites looking for news.  However, while we were tracking the news cycle I began checking news websites daily for updates on my breaking news articles.  When we finished that, I found that I kept checking the web pages daily anyway. 

Furthermore, after writing my localized news article, I realized how in the dark I was to internet issues going on right now—legal issues which could affect everyone.  I become cognizant that there is a real benefit to knowing what is going on.  I also realized that it doesn’t take too much effort to go to a news organization’s website, skim over the headlines, and click on the links to the full articles of the ones that sound interesting/important. 

Not only have I started seeking out news more, I also have found myself understanding why the reporters write the way they do and remarking on how they word and write things.  Essentially, I am evolving into a more informed person not only about how news writing is done, but I find myself being more interested in the news.  This interest and understanding are things which can follow me even after this class is over and even if I never teach a high school journalism class.    

Coverage and Timeliness: I completed all assigned blogs and posted them all on or before the time that they were due.  I list here only the blogs which did not fall under another category. 

Depth: These are a few blogs that I put some extra thought into.

  • Be Careful What You Wish In this blog, I made a connection between editorials (a new concept to me) and academic essays (something I have a lot of experience with).  Through this connection and consideration of the similarities of the structure and form of the two, I help myself to better understand the new idea of editorials and hopefully help my classmates to understand better as well.  I even made a chart to make the similarities even clearer. 
  • Journey from Blurry Vision to Clear Sight: Localized News Article In this very long and in depth blog, I go through and explain step by step everything I learned while writing my localized news article.  I think this blog is a very good example of the synthesizing, reflecting, and learning I have been doing in the class.   
  • Finally, Someone Admits Objectivity is Impossible! In this blog I consider Haiman’s explanation of the real objectivity of news writing, which exists not in the journalist being unbiased, but in following “a consistent method of testing information.”  I share my own frustrations with the use of the word “objectivity” and explain why I like what Haiman writes about it. 
  • Reevaluating the “Negative” News Bias  In this reflection on Derek’s blog, I reconsider the “negative news bias” in news writing and question whether this tendency is really the journalists' fault. 

Interaction: These are some of my classmates’ blogs that got me thinking and resulted in me commenting on them.

  • On Matt’s Preaching to the Choir, I leave him a long comment explaining to him how his blog has increased my understanding about remaining unbiased. 
  • On Josie’s Fixing Our Mistakes Before They Happen, I politely disagree with her assertion that editors are not one of the most essential parts of making a paper excellent.  I leave her two comments, one is very long and the other refers her to my own blog for a more thorough explanation.  Dr. Jerz, Aja, Josie, and Angela also participate in the conversation.
  • On Angela’s You Don’t Have to Be Perfect, I start the discussion off with a long comment in which I agree with what Angela said in her blog and add my own two cents.  Then later I leave another comment addressing Aja’s comment and expanding yet more on the importance of publishing corrections.  Derek also was part of the discussion and Angela responded to our comments. 
  • On Angela’s “I Wish to Remain Anonymous”, I again start off the discussion with a long comment.  I point out to her that finding someone willing to have their name attached to a quote sometimes can be very difficult.  Wendy, Josie, and Jenn jump into the conversation and I leave another comment expanding on what they wrote.

Discussion: These are some of my blogs which sparked discussion.

  • Be Careful What You Wish Derek, Matt, and Josie comment on my relation of editorials to an academic essay and the chart I made to visually represent it.  I answer them back with a lengthy comment.  Wendy joins in and Derek answers again.  Derek also wrote a reflection on this blog and I commented on his reflection. 
  • “Getting It Right” Josie, Angela, Aja, and even Dr. Jerz discuss my blog on Haiman’s suggestion that journalists read parts of their articles or quotes to the experts to make sure that they have the facts straight.  In response to their comments, I leave a very long comment addressing the issues they brought up. 
  • You Better Have an Explanation Derek, Kaitlin, Josie, and I discuss the idea of including a daily column in newspapers which would provide explanations to the readers for why the paper and the journalists do what they do. 

Xenoblogging:

The Comment Primo:


The Comment Grande:

The Link Gracias:

  • Any reflection entry

Wildcard: I selected two wildcards.  The first blog below, I selected because of how representative it is of the progress I have been making (and also because of how much time I spent on it).  The second one I selected because it is an extra blog entry I wrote in which I applied the principles we are learning in news writing to a news article about Seton Hill. 

Reflections: These are blog entries I wrote before class.  They are based on my classmates’ blog entries.  I expand on what I have learned from their blogs and what I now understand better thanks to them.  If I use a reflection in another category, I do not include it here at well.

Previous Portfolios:

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Reevaluating the “Negative” News Bias

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The more I think about the whole issue of negative bias to news the more complex the issue seems to me.  As a news consumer in the past, I have been of the same opinion as those which Haiman writes of.  When I thought of the news, I thought of murders, deaths, disease.  I perceived it as being nothing but bad things.  However, since I began taking this news writing class, I have paid more attention to what types of articles are in newspapers.  And I have been surprised by how many positive articles there actually are.  Derek’s blog made me think even more about this.  He quoted a Dr. Nauert, who explained that for issues such as a local health threat there is “increased attention and memory in readers.”  If this is the case, then isn’t it possible there is positive news in every newspaper and we as readers simply allow it to be overshadowed by the negative (since we remember it better)?  I don’t mean to suggest that there is no negative bias at all, I think there is one, it might just be less bad than we may think. 

Furthermore, we do pay more attention to and remember these negative stories more, and thus, they become more newsworthy.  Journalists do want their newspapers to be sold and if we as consumers pay attention to (demand) the negative, that’s what the journalists are going to supply.  So how can we blame them for giving us what we ask for? 

Lastly, there is the space issue to consider.  Print newspapers only have so much room to deal with.  When there is only enough room for one of two good articles written, a decision must be made about which one gets printed and which one is either saved for another day or is just never printed.  The editor is going to pick the story that he/she thinks the readership will care more about.  When there is a “positive” story about a woman winning a pie baking contest and there is a “negative” one about a murder, which one would you want to be put in the paper?  If you are like me, you’ll have picked the murder.  In light of these space constraints, sometimes there is little a newspaper can do to prevent there being more “negative” stories than “positive.”  

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Finally, Someone Admits Objectivity is Impossible!

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From Robert  J. Haiman’s Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists:

“Discussions about reporters keeping personal biases out of their news stories sometimes get hung up on the use of the word ‘objective.’  Critics contend that reporters should be objective.  Journalists say that is an unrealistic standard.  More to the point is this distinction made in a publication of the Committee of Concerned Journalists: ‘When the concept of objectivity in the media originally evolved, it did not imply that journalists were free of bias.  It called, rather, for a consistent method of testing information—a transparent approach to evidence—precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work.  It is the method that is objective, not the journalist’” (54). 

I apologize for the long quote; however, I feel that all of it is important.  I personally have gotten hung up over the word choice of “objectivity” multiple times.  I hear “unbiased” and “objective” and get very frustrated.  Why?  Because these are impossible goals to attain.  It may be nice in an ideal world to claim that journalists can 100% make their articles impartial.  But, this is frankly impossible.  If you analyze the wording of almost anything you can find some sort of bias or leading words contained therein.  For example, if I were to  write in an article, “It all started when John, haunted by his past, decided to provide an opportunity for others to move on as he had,” I would be leading my readers to feel compassion for and relate to John.  By saying “haunted by his past,” the reader automatically feels pity and connects his past to theirs.  While this may be an effective way to keep the reader reading, it will also color their understanding of the rest of article and events.  In light of the impossibility of achieving “objectivity,” I was angered that it was claimed so strongly this was possible.    

However, I think the Committee of Concerned Journalists addresses this issue well.  They explain quite clearly and reasonably that objectivity is impossible.  They aren’t arguing that journalists are “free of bias;” instead, they clarify that the objectivity lies in “a consistent method of testing information.”  In other words, it’s the same principle as Dr. Jerz’s saying, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”  It is impossible for articles to be entirely objective.  Articles are written from words and words are by definition emotionally charged and powerful.  Nor can a journalist entirely distance themselves from their opinions on a subject matter.  However, if they methodically check their facts and gather many quotes from a variety of people, it is no longer so much your words that charge the article, but theirs. 

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Derek on his blog posed some interesting questions about the responsibilities that journalists have in their treatment of public figures (or others used to dealing with the news media) and everyone else who is not used to talking to them.  I think the key is that reporters need to consider the individual circumstances and situation.  If they consider these specifics and remain “sensitive” (which Josie discusses on her blog), reporters won’t have to worry about treating people unfairly.    

It would not be fair for journalists to treat people who were used to dealing with the news media and other people the same way.  The politicians, celebrities, etc. know how to say just enough without saying anything, they have practice making it seem like they are answering a question without actually doing so, and they are very cognizant of the results that a slip of the tongue could have on the rest of their lives.  Most other people are not used to this.  They won’t realize the potential results of what they say.  A journalist needs to make the interviewee feel relaxed and comfortable, but at the same time he or she needs to make the potential effects of the interview clear.  Reporters should help the interviewee realize anything they say “can and may be used against them,” whether the “against” is intentional or not.  However, all of this is essentially just “sensitivity”.  If the reporter considers the circumstances and then considers how they would like to be treated were they the interviewee, the dilemma of how to treat people disappears.    

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