October 2007 Archives

I thought the conclusion of IANS rapped things up nicely.  The book even pulled some points together a little better than I had expected.

As discussed in class, this text could make for a repetitive and redundant read at times. As such, I expected the conclusion to be nothing more than a long, drawn-out reiteration of what had already been mentioned multiple times in the previous chapters.  However, the conclusion nicely connected the author's discussion of journalistic practice within the realm of science reporting with public policy; namely, the authors revealed how the sometimes flawed interpretation of science in the news can form the basis for political policy and legislature.  The authors thus say that "it may...be necessary to differentiate between actual science - the process of discovery through the application of systematic principles of inquiry - from a spurious imitator: 'SCIENCE,' which is intended only to shape public policy." (178) 

As this quote points out, the text as a whole culminates with the idea that pure science and science reporting, which shapes public opinion and political policy, are two inherently different ideas.  Although they are cut from the same cloth and many journalists dedicate their career to reconciling the two, they will always inevitably be at odds with one another - if for no other reason than pure science exists in a world of uncertainty and qualifications while "SCIENCE" exists in a world deadlines and definitiveness. 

 

Think hard evidence, not motive.

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"Instead, it is the research itself that should be at issue: the focus should not be on what motivated the researcher to undertake his project, but instead on any procedural flaws in the investigation that may invalidate its conclusions." (152)

As summed up by the quote, chapter 9 of IANS deals with the previously untouched subject of researcher motive.  In each of the several case studies reviewed in the chapter, each reporter cited the motives and/or personal preferences of scientists as a basis for criticism and a suspected invalidity of their results. Whether or not it is likely their motives interfered in their research, however, it is always more credible to scrutinize the methodology of a scientific study than the motive of the scientist. 

Other than motive, this chapter also began a new discussion on peer-reviewed journals.  Mainly, the chapter pointed out that although journals carry the respectful title of "peer-reviewed," the designation may not be all that it seems.  Just like reporters or researchers, those who review articles for academic journals may be biased.  Even if they carry no bias in their review, however, a peer-reviewed article is highlighted as just that: reviewed and not approved.   

 

Those crazy, tree-huggin' activists

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"Activists tell dramatic stories, with suffering innocents who are victimized by culpable forces of evil..." (117)

To me, the most notable aspect of IANS ch. 7 was the author’s discussion of activists and their role in perpetuating risk in the media.  In short, I disagreed with the authors in their attempt to blame activists for over-exaggeration of risk.  For instance, the above quote seems equivalent to the vernacular, "Yeah you crazy activists, take all your poor and suffering and your agendas and go straight to ----." The activist attack seemed so out of the blue because up until this point the authors had discussed the short comings of journalists and at times scientists in reporting the results of scientific studies, whether pre-meditated or accidental.  Now they seem to be throwing in an entirely different group -- activists. 

Although they went a little overboard, I think I can see where they were coming from.  True journalism is no place for activism.  Journalism is about presenting fair, objective, and balanced stories, and letting readers determine their own opinions on the subject.  From there, readers can choose to take an activist stance - or not.  But in any case, it's not the journalist’s job to sway them one way or the other.  However, to make such sweeping generalizations about activist groups in general didn't seem fair.  If journalists take an activist stance when writing an article they are the ones to blame, not activists.  After all, isn't the point of activism to draw media attention to what the activists believe is a problem?

 

A surprise guest star

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As a newcomer to SHU campus this semester, I was pleasantly surprised to see President Boyle in class.  At my previous campus, my interaction with the president was limited to formal ceremonies and official e-mails, so I was glad to see the president drop by just to help out with our class.  But don’t get me wrong, I don't mean any disrespect to my former college or its president - it might just be that I wasn't in the right class or the right place at the right time.

As for the success of the class itself, I thought it went really well even though it got off to a rocky start.  I know at first I was a little confused as to what exactly we were supposed to be questioning President Boyle about - the mock termination of Dr.Jerz or the pre-prepared questions.  But once the ball got rolling, there was no stopping us!  Also, although this press conference was labeled a "mock" conference, I thought it came pretty close to the real thing (that's compared to my limited experience with press conferences, of course).  I was excited to learn about the upcoming additions to campus and information on issues as important as campus safety straight from the source - President Boyle.  Dr. Jerz's involvement and role play as a fellow journalist also set a good example of how journalists should conduct themselves at a real press conference - with a high degree of professionalism while simultaneously striving to get the information needed by making every attempt to get your voice heard over the others. 

 

The truth is out there

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"Substantive answers, of course, are what interest us, because we want to know what public opinion is.  The journalistic emphasis on substance as supposed to procedure is therefore altogether understandable." (113)

As part of the discussion of inaccurate polling, the authors in chapter 6 of IANS seemed to regard reporter missteps less harshly than they did in previous chapters.  This may be because many articles, despite other mistakes, included with their poll or survey findings a "ritual disclaimer," notifying the number of people surveyed and the margin of error.  The text justly notes, however, that reporters often fail to discuss what exact questions were asked, how they were worded, and in what ordered they were asked.  Although, the authors did go on to include a few case studies that showed actually success stories; they included some examples of articles that avoided all the journalistic traps of poll reports. In particular, the authors highlighted the "exemplary" reporting of the New York Times  n covering a poll that reported a decrease in child abuse despite an altered methodology (which researchers thought would increase the number of reported child abuse).

Also, the ideas of chapter 6 seemed a little less difficult to wrap my head around.  I must admit I felt a little lost in the research and statistics of the last couple of chapters, thinking to myself “I’d never even think to question this or examine that.” But in the opening of chapter 6 I was quick to realize what the authors were trying to stress: you can't always trust the source of poll results.  It seemed suspicious to me from the get-go that a poll from PBS found the public was against cutting government funding for broadcasting or that the public school teacher's union sponsored a poll that showed the public was against school choice programs.

All in all, this reading helped me breathe a slight sigh of relief.  As a member of society and consumer of the news, I'm not completely blind to the traps of science reporting, and as for the stories themselves, not all science articles are unbalanced or inaccurate. 

 

We're still being duped

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"Reporters shouldn't say 'how many' ... unless they also say 'how'..." (84)

Throughout these chapters, the authors definitely kept their theme of the human element interfering in news, especially scientific reports - namely, in chapter 2 they focused on how reports can mislead if reporters fail to classify initial findings as premature or mature findings as disputed, while in chapter 3 they focus on how reporters can mislead again if they fail to name the operational definitions utilized when collecting survey results.

However, in chapter 3 I thought the authors began to discuss a completely different king of human error - that of the researchers themselves.  This chapter focuses primarily on researchers who use inaccurate proxies in place of direct research. 

To me, this chapter seemed to be pointing out all the problematic aspects of the researchers’ use of proxies in social and natural science research, not journalists'.  Of course, that attack would be a little off-topic, so the authors instead chastise reporters for not identifying the limitations of proxies, as in the above quote.  Not to downplay the responsibility that journalists have to find the most balanced, objective, and factual information, I think this argument was a little weak.  If reporters' information is flawed from the get-go, from the most expert source available, how are they adjust for any errors, or even know that errors exist in the data?  To follow the logic of the authors, reporters in these instances would need to become reporters/researchers, and completely re-analyze the experiment/situation from the researcher’s perspective.  Isn't this why we interview and cite experts in the first place?  And in a perfect world it would be ideal for a reporter to analyze every detail of a report to this extreme extent, but in the deadline-controlled world of journalism, is this really plausible?

 

The not-so-Invisible Observer

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"The news clearly has a relationship to the truth, but it is never simply equivalent to it" (6). 

This theme is central to the text, It Ain't Necessarily So.  As such, the authors reiterate this idea numerous times throughout the introduction and chapter one.  Indeed, the authors successfully keep this theme in the forefront of their reader's minds.  In the intro, this idea is presented as the cornerstone to the purpose of the book, which is to inform an interested public of the filters that supposed "facts" unavoidably pass through en route to news print publications, and to suggest how to detect and interpret these filters.  Throughout the first chapter, the authors continually relate this idea to their theories behind the absence of seemingly newsworthy statistics and reports.  All the theories boil-down to an unavoidable human aspect in news reporting: profession-wide dependences on negative biases, news story templates, and press-releases from outside sources.

To me, this multi-faceted theme says loud and clear that the concept of the invisible observer in journalism is a euphoric principle that all journalists strive towards, but because of the nature of humanity, will never truly grasp in their writing.  Unconsciously, print journalism, and all media sources as a whole, will always tilt in favor of those who write and report the news - depending upon their defining characteristics, background, readership etc.  Even if the reporter doesn’t directly involve himself in an article, by simply deciding that one story is news and another story isn’t news will always curb the public’s interpretation of the truth. 

 

New Ideas, New Skills

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Every topic covered in this news writing class has been completely new to me.  Not only has the class introduced a new style of writing that is totally different than anything I've encountered in literature-based writing classes, I've also been introduced to the world of ethics that lies behind journalism.  My compilation of blog entries addresses some of these skills and underlying principals of journalism that have been covered thus far in class - including timeliness, interaction and depth of writing. 

 

Timeliness -- As we've learned throughout the semester, timeliness is key to completing every step of the journalism process - from background information and scheduling interviews to submitting a final copy of an article.  These blog entries show my ability to submit on-time.

Quick Crime (I accidentally left this entry untitled, but for the sake of this portfolio I titled it)

Avoiding the Trap...

Harsh Realities of Crime Reporting

By the Knife - a double-duty entry that covers two different kinds of crime

Dizzying Distractions of Crime Reporting

 

Interaction -- Interaction is fundamental in both the practice and learning of journalism.  Interaction between peers is helpful for solving problems throughout the writing process, from developing a pitch to last minute copy-editing.  Here, I interact with my classmates by creating entries that foster discussion and also by commenting on my classmates’ entries.

My entries that created conversation:

Avoiding the Trap...

Harsh Realities

My comments to others:

Different Hooks

Crafting Compelling Leads

How Not to be "That" Reporter

 

Depth -- Knowledge is power.  It's of the utmost importance to know and present the facts surrounding a story while also searching for the truth behind the face-value of facts.  In this entry, I went beyond simply the topic of the article and really tried to explain what moved me. 

Harsh Realities

 

The Dizzying Distractions of TV News

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As seen through two satirical videos, one from The Onion and the other from an episode of Saturday Night Live, TV news of the 21st century has become more of a theatrical spectacle than an informative broadcast.  Although both clips take news broadcast's use of intros, crawls, and clips to an extreme, their underlying point is valid none-the-less: TV news offers more flashes and gimmicks than true news. 

I think this trend inevitably leads to an introspective review of society's goals and preferences.  What has our culture come to if we obviously value the superficial and flashy over impactful issues?  Moreover, how will this trend's continuation impact society in the future?  I believe if we, the recipients of the news, don't firmly make a stand and call for greater integrity in our news, the public's appetite for superficial will only continue, thus fueling entire generations of impatient and uninterested citizens. 

 

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