October 31, 2005

IANS Ch. 6-7

Answers are sometimes determined (and always influenced) by the questions - the exact wording of the questions posed by the interviewers, the order in which the questions are asked, and in some cases even the way in which they are asked (in person or via the telephone).

Now, I know that this quote pertains to surveys and polling, but it is a good general rule to keep in mind when doing any kind of interviewing. The way a question is asked really influences the way someone will answer and often puts the interviewers own biases upon the interviewee.

For instance, the a reporter needs to choose his words carefully when interviewing an important public figure because certain words or phrases may cause the interviewee to clamp up, others may make him or her open up and give the reporter some really juicy information.

Lesson learned? Choose your words carefully.

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October 28, 2005

Proxies and Statistics

After reading chapters 4 & 5 of It Ain't Necessarily So, I was very pleased to note that the authors seemed a little less biased towards reporters and scientists and more critical of the way standard research is being conducted.

In these two chapters, the authors discuss both the shortcomings of proxies and their inability to accurately portray certain intangibles such as hunger and poverty as well as the often contradictory nature of statistics.

What struck me about this chapter was that the authors didn’t place on reporters and scientists for doing it wrong, but rather they blamed the fact that they simply haven’t found a better way yet. In reference to proxies, the authors state that:

Researchers may thing that they know what hunger and poverty are, and that proxies enable us to see how many hungry and poor people there are; but those assumptions, which are evident in almost all media coverage of research on poverty and hunger, are debatable (72).
The authors recognize that the fault doesn’t completely lie with the reporters who are covering the misleading studies, nor do they suggest that it lies with the scientists conducting the studies. They simply state that there must be a better method as the one that is currently employed is insufficient. They even go so far as to suggest a way in which reporters can make the best of this situation:
It’s clear that we want to know answers to certain questions. But it’s also clear that it may be hard to get answers to them and that proxies do not always provide particularly meaningful or reliable answers. New accounts that gloss over this problem fail to point out the limitations – at times the unavoidable limitations – of research…Reporters shouldn’t say “how many” (people are hungry, poor, endangered by high exposure to EMFs, etc.) unless they also say “how” (the researcher arrived at the number (84).

I think that this is an important suggestion that pertains not only to reporting on proxies, but to any type of reportage. Reporters need to know all the circumstances of a situation before they can assume the truth.

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October 25, 2005

Surveys and Statistics

In Chapters two and three of It Ain't Necessarily So, the authors examine the ways in which the media presents and reports scientific surveys, research and statistics. They began by giving examples of instances where the news has incorrectly reported on scientific findings, or where they gave more attention to unimportant or inconclusive research rather than valid and well-founded research.

The last section in Chapter Two attempts to examine "why big news emerges from small findings." The authors take a look back at the examples they gave of where the media gets it wrong and claim that reporters cover the "unimportant" science because it fits their template and generates excitement in their readers. Now, I know newspapers are business just like any other and that they need to report news that they think will generate readership, but I have a hard time believing that they are so ruthless as to report false scientific findings because they think that their readers would be interested in the findings.

I am not planning on becoming a journalist. However, considering that I am an English major there is a possibility that I could become one. And I know that I don't know anything about the ins and outs of a sound and well-balanced scientific study. Common sense can tell me if a particular study is too biased, but the authors of this book are asking journalists and readers alike to know exactly when and how scientific reports are wrong.

Just as the authors of this book are asking readers not to take the media's word for what scientific findings are valid, I ask everyone reading this book not to take the authors' word for how poorly journalists cover scientific news. The authors offer no suggestions on ways in which journalists can more accurately cover scientific news, and don't take into consideration the timeliness of such reports. If a very valid and "newsworthy" study comes out at the same time as a large scandal or natural disaster, the study will not make front page news. However, if a not as noteable study comes at a time when there is not as much "newsworthy" news, then it is more likely to be more widely covered.

Chris noted in a comment on Jay's blog that: "The authors want to be sure that their message sticks in their readers' minds, and the best way to do that is to deliver it point blank, over and over again, without concern for the other sides of the issue." Wouldn't this make them just as guilty as the journalists they're trying to attack? By singly pointing out where and how journalists go wrong, they call attention to their own biases and one-sidedness.

The first part of Chapter three gives an overview of "Tomato Statistics" and how journalists (the bad guys yet again) use statistics to their advantage, without giving thought to the circumstances surrounding the statistics or to the wide umbrella of crimes and and instances that those statistics report.

Yet again, the authors place the guilt of abusing these statistics completely on the journalists who report them. However, shouldn't some of the blame go to the scientists publishing the statistics, and to the readers who don't realize that all statistics are somewhat sketchy and skewed?

The authors state that: "Coverage of research that is proportionate to its actual importance would obviously be welcome. But in its absence, readers often can and should decide for themselves whether something journalists depict as a mountain is actually only a small pile of dirt." Journalists should report scientific findings proportionately, but in our competitive country, those that advertise get business. A newspaper may not know a particular, yet valid, study exists unless it is approached by the organization or the organization creates its own buzz. Because journalists are not scientists, they need some help figuring out which reports are "newsworthy." Those that promote themselves, by default, will get more coverage.

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October 18, 2005

Crime and Punishment

I found all of the readings regarding crime reporting very helpful. The department of justice handout really simplified the entire process and the three selections from Covering Crime Justice helped iron out some of the technicalities regarding wording and how a reporter should approach the crime beat.

While I was working with the Federal Women's Prison Camp in Alderson, WV three years ago, I learned a lot about sentencing and corrections. Specifically, I learned a lot about what goes in to calculating "good time" and lengths of sentences. An interesting fact is that if a judge wants to be more leniant with someone, he will sentence them to a year and a day, rather than a year, because after a year a person is eligible for approximately 54 days of "good time." That means that they are able to be released from prison almost two months early. Now granted, that "good time" can be taken away, but it exists to give the prisoner incentives to behave, so to speak.

The prison with which I worked dealt primarily with financial and drug crimes, so the sentences were usually not long enough to require parole. However, one sentencing issue many of the women had to deal with was that of Mandatory Minimums. In federal drug crimes, sentencing is taken out of the judge's hands and is dictated by strict rules regarding the circumstances of the offense (usually the amount of drugs involved and whether or not there was a gun involved). Many judges have spoken out about these minumims because they take away a judge's ability to judge individual cases that have extenuating circumstances. Supporters of mandatory minimums believe that there should be regularity with drug sentencing and that the harsh sentences will help dissuade would-be offenders.

I have a lot of opinions on mandatory minimums, but that's a topic for another day...

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October 14, 2005

Blog Portfolio 2

Here's another round from my foray into journalism:

Coverage: "demonstrates your intellectual involvement with the assigned readings"

Tabloids and Trends - Elements of Journalism, ch. 9-10
Engagement and Relevance - Elements of Journalism, ch. 6-8
Editorial? - Oct. 11 Tribune Review
Meeting Morgan Spurlock - Morgan Spurlock Lecture
Homecoming Article - Reflection on the Homecoming Article
Those Words Are Loaded - AP Guide ch. 5-7

Depth: "ability to examine a concept in depth"


Tabloids and Trends

Editorial?
Meeting Morgan Spurlock


Interaction: "should demonstrate your ability to use weblogs to interact with your peers"

On or Off the Record? - Builds on Katie Lambert's blog, On & Off the Record

Discussions: "demonstrate that your blog sparked a discussion that furthered your intellectual examination of a subject"


Editorial?
- I amended my original opinion based on comments made by Ashley Welker, and received feedback, encouragement, and comments by others.
Meeting Morgan Spurlock - spurned a small discussion with Elyse Branam.

Timeliness: "written early enough that it sparked an online discussion"

Editorial? - Written the day before the paper was discussed in class, and created a discussion based on additions made after class.

Xenoblogging: "demonstrate your ability to contribute selflessly and generously to the online classroom community"

Clarification on McDonald's Interview - by Nancy Gregg
Tribune Review: Oct. 11th Edition - by Leslie Rodriguez
Ann Stadler... - by Elyse Branam
Elements of Engagement - by Jason Pugh

Wildcard:

Becoming Japan - Reflection on a World Literature presentation

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Becoming Japan

On Monday, Karissa, Neha, Mike, Katie and I gave a presentation on Japanese culture and two stories from our World Literature anthology. I must say, I have never been so proud of a group presentation before. My family in Japan, as well as Karissa's teacher's experiences in the country, gave us some extra insight that I really think helped aid us in the project. Everyone in the group worked really hard to make this presentation special.

To begin with, we ordered some Japanese food from Darren and food services. They were awesome. They went above and beyond and made us these two spectacular platters - one with vegetable sushi and one with pinapple chicken skewers. I can't thank them enough.

Second, my mom and Karissa's teacher sent us a whole lot of Japanese items so that we decorated the room in kimonos, plateware, decorative wall hangings, vending machine snacks and an amazing photo album made out of an actual kimono. We had originally wanted to wear all of the kimonos, but when my mom finally sent them, we realized that they were all child sized!

In addition to the "fun" part of the presentation, I thought that we led a great discussion that really went in-depth with the assigned texts. The class was responsive and really helped make this experience one of my best at Seton Hill.

Thank guys!

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Tabloids and Trends

I will confess - I read US Weekly. I enjoy its pictures of the beautiful and its gossip about my favorite, and least favorite, celebrities. I understand that it is mindless garbage, but when my mind is filled with academia, I like to relax it with garbage every once and awhile.

Unfortunately, I don't think the majority of US Weekly's readership uses it as a respite from more engaging intellectual activities, and I do think that too much of our "news" focuses on the mindless garbage. Chapter 9 from Kovach and Rosenstiel's Elements of Journalism pleads that journalists shoud be work at "resisting sensationalism and keeping the news in proportion." Between all the fluffy "news" magazines and the TV newscasts practicing infotainment, it's hard to find that balance. Hard newspapers just can't compare - or can they? Kovach and Rosenstiel mention that viewership is down 75 percent despite the added sensationalism, suggesting that while shocking stories may bring in viewers for the short term, the fail to catch viewers interest for the long term. Perhaps there is hope for news recovery in this world of sex, drugs, and designer dresses.

On a side note...

I know that this chapter wasn't particularly about this subject, but the example about the teens and the cable company really sparked my interest. In the example, a cable company asks a select group of teens what they think the next trend will be. The teens incredulously reply, "What do you mean, what will the next trend be? We rely on you to tell us what the next big trend will be."

If teens rely on the media to decide the newest trends, why doesn't the media create clothing trends that are a little less...slutty?

If clothing designers and magazines started emphasizing more clothing as opposed to less, perhaps teens would be less inclined to bare their midrifs and act inappropriately.

I don't know...it's just a thought.

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Egagement and Relevance

I thought that Kovach and Rosenstiel's Chapter 8 of Elements of Journalism was one of the best chapters so far. In it, the authors discuss the importance of making a story entertaining, yet caution against "infotainment," or the tendency to sensationalize an event in order to sell more papers.

We discussed during the first few weeks of class the differences between print journalism and TV journalism, and how TV journalism tends to practice infoitainment more than print journalism. We concluded that this was due to the visual nature of TV, and the immediate ratings competition that in faces.

Kovach and Rosenstiel offer many helpful suggestions to avoid infoitainment while making a story more helpful. However, since it is a text focused on print journalism, they did not mention any solutions to make TV journalism less sensationalized. What are some ways this can happen? How can people watch the news and come away feeling informed and knowledgeable, rather than feeling as though they were used in order to beef up ratings? Is there a happy medium for TV journalism that compromises between infotainment and dry news?

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October 13, 2005

On or Off the Record?

After reading Katie Lambert's blog On & Off the Record, I wanted to give her a great big hug. I've often wondered about this, and I'm not really sure what the "rules" are. I know that there are a lot of "shades of grey" with this topic, but it would be nice to have some sort of guidelines. The articles Katie provided were excellent ethical resources, but they still didn't solve the on or off the record problem. So, I decided to do a little research of my own...

This site is a generic guide for journalists which is helpful in a lot of ways, including the on/off the record issue. We've discussed many of the issues already in class, but many of them are new and helpful. Enjoy!

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Those Words are Loaded

pointed out
noted
warned
charged
claimed

In chapter 7 of the AP Guide to Newswriting, Rene J. Cappon "warns" that the above words should be used with extreme care because they are packed with meaning. One wouldn't think twice about using such verbs when writing a creative or analytical piece, but in a news article, using words with connotations attached can be very dangerous. "Claimed" can imply guilt, whereas "warned" implies danger.

I enjoyed this section not only for its suggestions for keeping my news writing clear and neutral, but for emphasizing how every word carries connotations. In any style of writing, it is important to realize how important each word choice is. Once you're conscious of that, your writing will be that much better.

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October 11, 2005

Editorial?

After Monday's class discussion on the structure of editorials, I picked up the October 11 Tribune Review and perused the editorial page with those criteria in mind. The largest editorial, however, did not fit.

In class, Dr. Jerz told us that an editorial should accomplish at least two of the following: it should persuade, it should inform, and it should entertain. George F. Will's editorial "Earth's Quaky Design" was extremely informative, but it did nothing to persuade nor entertain.

The premise: Simon Winchester's new book "A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906" is awesome.

The editorial is more of a book review, summarizing Winchester's points and informing the audience of the various earthquakes the earth has had and how they have come to happen. It is very factual, going far back in history, but there is no real arguement. Aside from thinking that Winchester's book is "timely" and apropos, Will offers no arguement or opposing side. He doesn't try to persuade the audience to buy the book, or to believe Winchester's claims; he merely informs the audience of the facts Winchester found.

It was not entertaining either.

Update:
In class today, Ashley brought up this article because she felt that it incorporated ALL THREE criterea. After listening to her arguements as to why this article was persuasive, I will concede my own arguement and say that I believe that I was a little too short-sighted in my criticism. George Will was persuading us to be mindful of earthquake faults and to remember that we're all at extreme risk. I still feel that it bordered a book review too much, but I do apologize for my criticism.

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Meeting Morgan Spurlock

My sister introduced me to Morgan Spurlock and his film Super Size Me over the summer while I was staying with her for my internship. Not being a fan of fast food, I really enjoyed the film and his work. I did feel that he had a tendency to get a little biased, but that was the point of his film. It was a documentary, yes, but it was a documentary with a purpose. During this time, I also watched his show 30 Days and thought that it was brilliantly done.

When I heard that he was coming to SHU to speak, I was ecstatic. Very rarely have I had the opportunity to meet someone who's work I admire. When I realized that I had to write an article about his visit for my newswriting class, the possibility of getting to speak with him thrilled me.

Ah, if only things worked out as we would like.

I thought he was fantastic. He had great command of the stage and the audience, and like my friend Neha noted, "he was really honest with the audience." When someone asked him a question, he answered it. Throughout the lecture, I was furiously scribbling notes because I felt that everything he said was quotable in my article. Ah, futility. I have dozens of half-quotes in my notebook because my hand simply could not keep up with his wit. When it came time for the question-and-answer session, I looked down at my list of 20 questions I wanted to ask him, and noticed that he had already answered them all! Except one. So I worked up all my courage and raised my hand. He called on me. I asked. He answered. I know I'm silly and stupid, but my hand was seriously shaking from being so nervous.

Afterwards, I bought one of his books so that he could sign it for my sister (alas, my poor college student status means that I get no book), and waited on line so that I could ask him one more question. I was disappointed that he didn't speak at all about his show 30 Days and really wanted to ask him about the screening process for the show and how they find participants who they know will have a transformation.

When my turn finally came to have him sign my book, he remembered me from when I asked him the first question and started talking to me about that topic (fast food in school lunch programs). I was so shocked that he remembered my face and that he had initiated conversation with me that the other question I wanted to ask completely flew out of my mind. Believe me, I'm kicking myself now.

Despite my own shortcomings as a reporter, I really enjoyed the night. It was an amazing experience that I know I won't forget.

Ashley's Pictures

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Homecoming Article

I was very disappointed with my homecoming article. I got really into this assignment after I discovered my little "scandal," but my ineptitude as an interviewer really hurt me. There were so many questions that I wanted to ask Jaimie Steel, but once I realized that my "scandal" had morphed into more of a "snag," most of my prepared questions didn't make much sense. I had to think on my feet (something I am not the best at) and ended up not asking the best or most invasive questions. After I retired to my room to start writing my article, I immediately began to think of a billion questions that I should have asked and really regretted not having had a contingency plan when I went into the interview, knowing how nervous I get.

Despite this, I felt that my article was pretty good. The event wasn't as newsworthy as I had hoped it would be, but I feel like I made the best of it.

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