October 30, 2005
Don't Worry, Be Happy
I love Chapter 7. After ruffling my feminine feathers in Chapter 3, I feel happy. I no longer have to worry about radon (the “man-made” variety), breast cancer, contaminated burgers, or horribly disfigured frogs in Minnesota. Even the global warming scare seems to owe much to the feeding frenzy between activist scientists, over-zealous reporters, and the hungry news-consumer anxious for a juicy, scientific-scare story. And for those men, bummed out that breast cancer received 233 percent more coverage than prostrate cancer, all I can say is na na na na na na. Seriously, who knows, by the time I finish the book, maybe I won’t have to worry about anything. Maybe 9/11 was just a bunch of media hype. Maybe Kim Jong-il really is a nice guy. And maybe, just maybe, Elvis is still alive.
As Mike Diezmos showed last Friday, just as visible color depends on how it is filtered and refracted, the outcome of data depends on how it is collected and sorted. So it is with poll results--their outcome depends on how their sponsors formulate the questions. Consequently, the authors of It Ain’t Necessarily So caution, “Don’t trust a poll unless you can examine the poll’s questions.”
The authors identify various factors that influence poll responses:
1) Direct questions as opposed to ambiguous ones.
2) Framing questions with “loaded phrasing.”
3) Formulating questions designed to elicit negative responses.
4) Clever sequencing.
5) Whether or not the survey is about opinions or experiences.
6) Questions with double negatives.
7) Whether the respondents are queried anonymously or in person.
The authors then illustrate how these factors can unwittingly or intentionally influence results. For example, concerning school-vouchers (government subsidized private school options), polls funded by organizations that opposed vouchers, the Phi Delta Kappa teacher’s society and the National Education Association (NEA), were contrasted with one conducted by a proponent of vouchers, the Center for Educational Reform. Through carefully formulated questions, these groups, each with an agenda, received their desired results.
With the two teachers’ groups that opposed vouchers, the following loaded questions were used.
Phi Delta Kappa, “Do you favor or oppose allowing students and parents to choose a private school to attend at public expense?”
NEA, “Do you think that tax dollars should be used to assist parents who send their children to private, parochial or religious schools, or should tax dollars be spent to improve public schools?”
In the Phi Delta Kappa question, the phase “public expense” creates contention. Not surprisingly, approximately 60 percent of those queried voted “no” to private school at public expense. Similarly, in the NEA question, the use of “tax dollars” and “either, or” wording suggests that a “yes” vote for vouchers would promote the further deterioration of public schools. In this poll, 61 percent of the respondents voted to improve public schools rather than give financial support to parents who wanted to send their children to non-public schools.
In the case of the group in favor of school vouchers, the Center for Education Reform, the question was, “How much do you support providing parents with the option of sending their children to the school of their choice─either public, private or parochial─rather than only to the school to which they are assigned?” The phase “how much” and the word “option” obscure the issue. “How much” assumes that the participants support school vouchers. As predicted, the result of this poll was favorable for school vouchers. A direct question would simply ask, “Do you support …?” The question should also clarify that school vouchers include financial aid with the “option” to send one’s child to a private school.
Finally, the authors show how reporting these results can further skew the issue. In the examples they gave, both the Christian Science Monitor and the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran front-page stories on the results but neglected to discuss the poll questions. Instead, reporters should:
1) Provide information about the questions as well as who sponsored the poll
2) Reveal the context in which they were conducted.
3) Contrast them with other polls
Doing so, they point out, allows the reader to decide for him or herself as to the accuracy of the poll.
October 28, 2005
The Ambiguity of Measurement
Since math doesn’t come easy for me, I would have taken statistical data printed in the newspaper at face value. But after reading Chapter 5, I’ll never view it in the same way. As the author’s say, “You draw one conclusion if you emphasize the raw data and a substantially different conclusion if you emphasize the raw percentages.”
October 26, 2005
The Perils of Proxies
I’m glad the authors vindicate themselves in the “Perils of Proxies” by saying they neither deny that poverty and hunger exist nor contend that poverty and hunger are conceptually meaningless. Until then, I thought they sounded callous. For instance, the hunger question, “Were [you] hungry because there was not enough food in the house?” It’s hard to imagine that anyone would interpret that to mean his or her parent[s] was grocery shopping, and at the time they answered the question, there temporarily was no food in the house.
I was curious about the Department of Labor’s Consumer Expenditure Survey data for 1989 that showed the average annual income in the lowest category was $5,720 but their expenditures were $12,378. Was the difference credit card debt? Personally, I’d be leery of participating in that survey, especially if I were spending money that I couldn’t account for (79).
I heard on the news today that McDonald's just announced they were putting nutritional information--calories, fat grams--on each food package. It reminded me that I should post my article, since a McDonald's spokesperson took the time to give me an interview.
Morgan Spurlock, director, author, and lecturer, appeared before a capacity audience last Thursday evening at Seton Hill’s Cecilian Hall. Spurlock best known for his 2004, Academy-Award nominated documentary Super Size Me, is on a mission to educate students, parents, and consumers on the perils of fast-food eating.
Spurlock charged the audience to, “Make a stand. You will be surprised what you can do.” Spurlock chose to make his stand with McDonald’s “because they not only influence the way we eat as a nation and as a culture but they change the way [people] eat all over the world.”
The filmmaker had heard about the law suit filed against McDonald’s by two obese, New York City girls and had observed the extent to which McDonald’s targets kids. So on Thanksgiving Day 2002, Spurlock launched what a friend called “a really great, bad idea.” After watching a news story in which a doctor, refuting the girls claim, stated that McDonald’s food is nutritious, Spurlock decided to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at McDonald’s for 30 days and lived to tell about it.
Over the protests of his doctors, who had been monitoring his weight and blood chemistry, Spurlock consumed approximately 5000 calories per day gaining 24 pounds and compromising his health in the process.
The filmmaker, who eventually lost the weight, credits his documentary with bringing about McDonald’s menu changes. Spurlock said that McDonald’s coincidentally got rid of their super-size portions and launched “Go-Active Happy Meals” for adults.
Walt Riker, the vice president of corporate media relations for McDonald’s said, “Spurlock is an actor and entertainer; not a scientist and nutritionist. It [Super Size Me] was a movie; not a documentary.”
Riker added that Spurlock did not eat three meals a day but three meals per meal and spent $27 a day stuffing himself beyond what any normal person could eat. Consumers like Mareb Morgan, who used common sense and good judgment, Riker said, have ended up losing weight.
Concerning menu changes, Riker said McDonald’s had made the decision to phase out super-size portions in 2003, because it was a slow menu item. “We couldn’t make overnight changes as Spurlock claims. Because of our system, menu changes require a lot of advance work,” said Riker.
Mike Kiral, who attended the lecture, thinks that if more people thought like Spurlock, the country would be a lot better off. “All the fast food, said Kiral, “Until his movie came out, people did not realize it was that bad.”
Concerning portion size, former Seton Hill French professor, Barbara Jones, would like to see McDonald’s reduce their overall portion sizes.
October 25, 2005
In Chapter 3, "Bait and Switch," the authors call our attention to “tomatoe” statistics which are criminal statistics inflated by less-serious incidents or crimes. Moreover, there are two categories which the journalist and reader should note: “broad scope” and “policy scope.” The broad scope describes the incident from the participants’ perspective and includes less-severe incidents. As the authors point out, that does not minimize the incident. For instance, in the scenario between Bob Patterson and Cindy Smith, whose son is returned a day late, from Cindy’s perspective it was traumatic. (17) I would want to know, as well, did Bob call Cindy to inform her that their son, Billy, would be a day late. The policy scope, on the other hand, evaluates more serious incidents, those defined by police or social agencies.
In Chapter 2, Much Ado About Little authors Murray, Schwartz, and Lichter remind us that truth, “the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is the essence, the heart and soul, of journalism. And as journalists, we are purveyors of that truth. Sadly, though, in the real world, specifically the world of scientific journalism, truth is often pseudo-truth or truth with an agenda.
The authors point out that preliminary findings, not peer-reviewed or published, are sometimes reported as fact. And perhaps worse, contradictory findings or follow-up research receive no coverage. For example, they demonstrate how a well-organized published relations campaign for the book “Our Stolen Future” resulted in numerous articles about the alarming reduction in sperm counts. They also demonstrate that seriously flawed meta-analysis supported the book’s premise.
In light of their revelations, “What does the news provider and the news consumer do?” For the news provider, preliminary findings should be emphasized as such, and claims and accusations should be countered ─ in other words, both sides of the story should be shown. And for the news consumer, READER BEWARE. Because findings make it to print doesn’t mean they’re necessarily so.
October 23, 2005
Correlation Studies and More
Although the authors of It Ain’t Necessarily So have impressive credentials in fields other than journalism, they qualify themselves as “interested and observant outsiders” of the news media. Similarly, in my opinion, we can all be “interested and observant outsiders” of everything we read.
They make an interesting point that “news is a choice, an extraction process.” Consequently, they recommend that we, the news consumer, get our news from more than one newspaper. For the average person, that may be impractical but obtaining news from a variety of sources is not. They also suggest that we develop a “healthy skepticism.”
In the prologue, the authors discuss correlation studies. Since doing research for a paper on nature vs. nurture, I have acquired a strong skepticism of correlation studies. Francis Galton (1822-1911), Charles Dawin’s cousin, developed the correlation study. Galton observed that the most intelligent minds of Europe came from the best families; therefore, he theorized, intelligence must be inherited. It never occurred to him that offspring from wealthier families might have more resources like education, better food, more intellectual stimulation, etc. Nevertheless, correlation studies stuck and are the basis for many medical premises. In the correlation study between coffee, Parkinson’s, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (which the authors questioned), it occurred to me that perhaps Parkinson’s and Rheumatoid sufferers feel more fatigued and, consequently, drink more coffee.
I had a personal experience with how news can distort, when I visited Tokyo in 1996. While sitting in Hybia Park, I asked the Japanese gentleman sitting next to me about the commotion going on. He told me that the man screaming over the loud speaker was protesting. (He did not mention it was an anti-American protest on the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) He added that being an American, I should be used to protests, when in actuality I have never seen a live protest or riot in America--I had to go to Japan to see one.
Rene Cappon’s Advice on Feature Writing
In Chapter 11 of the AP Guide to News Writing, Rene Cappon tells us to “Frolic with words, enjoy yourself (if any writer can) … .” (Apparently, even Cappon, who I think is an excellent writer, finds writing to be work─hard work.) But as we’re frolicking, Cappon reminds us, that we cannot distort or embellish. We must be fair. He also encourages us to be creative within the plain and simple boundaries of news writing in general. In typical Samuel-Johnson style, he cautions, “If you feel the decorative impulse coming on, lie down until it goes away.”
The other unique component of feature stories, Cappon points out, is that while events trigger news stories, ideas inspire features. I just hope my idea bank isn’t overdrawn.
October 21, 2005
Lab on Crime Reporting
Journalism, in my opinion, is an admirable profession. Americans tend to take their news for granted. It’s there every morning neatly folded, lying in our drive ways or perhaps just a click away. We tend to complain about journalists─those nosey reporters always invading someone’s privacy, but this class has given me a heightened respect for them.
The lab exercise today demonstrated how crucial it is to get the facts straight and present them, not chronologically, but in order of importance. Sometimes those facts may be a jumbled array of details, quotes, and background information. But somehow the journalist must sift through them; discard erroneous and peripheral details, and prioritize them─always remembering in the process to attribute accusations and opinions. It’s a daunting task; one that as Dave Krajicek pointed out in The Crime Beat is synonymous with breaking news. It also requires, as he pointed out, “fortitude and resilience.”
October 20, 2005
The Right to Privacy
In our democracy, somehow the right to privacy has to be balanced with the public’s right to know.
The AP Stylebook attributes the right of privacy doctrine to an 1890 Harvard Law Review article entitled “The Right to Privacy.” Louis Brandeis, one of its co-authors, complained that the press was becoming too intrusive, a complaint still echoed 115 years later. Brandeis, who subsequently became a Supreme Court justice, wrote in his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States the following poignant statement.
“The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred, as against the government, the right to be let alone ─ the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”
From Brandeis’ article, four qualifications for the misuse of the “right of privacy” have been developed: 1) misappropriation of name or likeness, 2) public disclosure of private facts, 3) intrusion upon seclusion, and 4) false light. Of course, the delineation between a public figure and private citizen affects their application. According to the AP Stylebook, “people [who] become involved in a news event, voluntarily or involuntarily, forfeit the right to privacy.
One right-of-privacy case in which a woman sued and won involved the use of a photo. A woman in hair curlers, house dress, and sandals was secretly photographed relaxing on her front porch. The photo was published in conjunction with a hot-weather, feature story. She won because the photograph did not involve a “newsworthy incident.”
Update on My Editorial on Slot Gambling
This afternoon, I received a call from Joe Pittman, State Sen. Don White’s chief of staff. He emphasized that the state Legislature’s jurisdiction over gambling was the enactment of Act 71 (defines the parameters in which the gaming board can function) and Act 72 (sets regulations for property tax supplementation). The legislature can, however, amend either of them, which would require approval from both houses. Pittman also clarified that of the seven-member board, three are selected by the governor, and the remaining four by each party in both houses: the republican Senate gets one, the democratic Senate gets one, the republican House of Representatives gets one, and the democratic House of Representative gets one. Other than that, the PA Gaming Control Board controls slot gambling in Pennsylvania.
I don’t know how many of you are interested in the state-gambling controversy. Eventually, it will impact all of us, so I’m going to post my editorial.
Who’s watching the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board?
The $6.3 million a year GTECH contract and the gaming board’s lax policies are just the latest questionable practices that have plagued casino gambling in Pennsylvania since its inception in July 2004.
When the Pennsylvania legislature legalized slot-machines, overburdened taxpayers breathed a sign of relief─property taxes would soon be reduced. Skeptics could rest assured that the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board would monitor casino gambling. The question now arises, “Who’s watching the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board?”
The recently adopted ethics code, which does not ban board members from political fundraising or from accepting gifts from prospective beneficiaries of board decisions, is problematic. Christopher Craig, Sen. Vincent J. Fumo’s counsel, told the Tribune Review, “The overreaching concern should be to avoid the appearance of impropriety, not just impropriety itself … .”
The Pennsylvania Race Horse and Gaming Act, Act 71, authorized state police, to conduct background checks on potential, board members; gaming manufacturers and suppliers. But when the gaming board transferred that responsibility to three, no-bid, private firms, the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association filed a lawsuit in the state Supreme Court.
Board chairman Tad Decker told the Associated Press, “This is more about money and power and control than it is about the merits of the case.”
In response, Sgt. Bruce Edwards told the Associated Press, “You have to ask them [the board] why they may not want the state police to be the ones who are looking into things.”
Then there was Governor Rendell’s first choice for board chairman, Frank Friel, who withdrew in Sept. 2004 amid newspaper accusations of serious improprieties. Several years ago, Friel, who earned credits from Eastern University and St. Joseph’s University, lied under oath stating that he had a bachelors and a masters degree. In 1974, Friel, along with 32 Philadelphia police officers, was identified in a Pennsylvania Crime Commission report as taking bribes from the Croation Club. The owner testified to a grand jury that on several occasions he handed Friel a “thick roll of bills.” Friel, who was never prosecuted for the allegations, told the Philadelphia Daily News, “For me, it’s a non-issue.”
For taxpayers, who expect gaming board members to be above reproach, accusations of taking bribes and lying about academic credentials is not a “non-issue.”
Stephen Miskin, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Sam Smith, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Out of 12 million Pennsylvanians, you would think you would be able to find somebody without questionable issues. He [Friel] implied he had those degrees.”
At a Philadelphia news conference last year on Friel’s resignation, a tearful Governor Rendell answered the question, “Who’s watching the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board?”
“I hope you [the press] understand what you did.” Rendell told reporters.
October 18, 2005
Editorial: Who's Watching the PA Gaming Control Board?
Motivated by the Tribune Review GTECH article and another on the gaming board, my editorial was on the indiscretions that have surrounded the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board since its formation in July 2004. As the overseers of Pennsylvania slot-gambling, the board should be above reproach, but that has not been the case. I prepared for my editorial by first calling and emailing local state Senator Don White and state representative Joe Markosek, neither of whom responded. I also called the attorney involved in the GTECH contract who had strong ties to Gov. Rendell. As I expected, he did not return my call. Through my research, though, I gained some knowledge of the gaming commission and about slot-gambling in general.
Submitting it for publication was a challenge since I have never submitted an editorial before. I visited both the Tribune Review and Post-Gazette websites. Since I did not see an appropriate link for submitting editorials, I submitted mine on the Post-Gazette “letters to the editor” link. Because I referenced a Post-Gazette article, I seriously doubted that the Trib would publish it. Furthermore, they ran a similar editorial on the day I wrote mine.
My only other brief experience with attempting to have something published occured a few years ago. Upon the recommendation of my college writing professor, I spoke with a Post-Gazette representative, who after listening to my paper topic: prison/dog programs (prisoners train unwanted dogs as assistance dogs), told me they do not publish freelance articles. Call it a coincidence but not long afterwards, the Post-Gazette had a feature story on the very same subject. Oh well, it was a good idea, but I guess you either need credentials or the right contacts.
The Crime Beat by Dave Krajicek
In a nation where crime and random acts of violence are the norm, one wonders what makes a crime story compelling? Crime reporter, Edna Buchanan, describes crime reporting as story telling that “has it all: greed, sex, violence, comedy, and tragedy.” I have heard of humorous crime stories where a robber does something incredible stupid like handing a bank teller a note written on his personal stationary. Rapes and murders, however, are entirely different. University psychologist Linda Heath found that most people like to feel “perceived control.” In other words, they feel safe when horrific crime stories happen in other areas and threatened if one occurs locally.
The compelling murder stories, in my opinion, are those that happen to people who are not engaged in high-risk behavior. Take for instance the media saturation of the Lacy Peterson case. At the same time, there was another murdered, pregnant woman who was found in the San Francisco Bay. Her case got no national attention. The difference, I think, was that Scott and Lacy Peterson looked like the perfect, all-American couple. They had good looks, a nice home, and a ‘perfect’ marriage. Not to mention that Lacy was pregnant with their first child. Something as hideous as an innocent pregnant woman being murdered by her husband was not supposed to happen to this couple. Like Edna Buchanan’s crime-storytelling formula, the Peterson story had it all. Piece-by-piece, as the perfect façade crumbled under the revelations of Scott’s sexual indiscretions and his latest, sensuous affair, the story read more like a crime novel. Eventually, readers and viewers were privy to intimate phone calls between Scott and Amber Frey.
Another type of riveting crime story, in my opinion, is the serial killer. The latest, the BTK (bind, torture, kill) defied profilers. Dennis Rader, alias BTK, was not the stereotypical, maladjusted loner. Yes, he was maladjusted, but he was the “guy next door”─the perfect husband, father, boy-scout leader, and church president. Rader was the Wichita, Kansas compliance offer. The guy many people disliked for his fastidiousness but most people knew and respected.
October 14, 2005
I attended the play before I realized that the assignment was optional. Anyway, I'm glad I did.
Fuddy Meers takes a humorous look at a not-so-funny, social problem─domestic violence
The Seton Hill Theatre production Fuddy Meers by David Lindsay-Abaire is being performed at Reeves Theatre from October 7th through the 15th. This black comedy, centers around Claire, a psychogenic amnesiac, who, except for a journal of the previous-day’s activities, awakens each morning as a blank slate.
In one chaotic day, Claire, with the help of her dysfunctional family, comes face to face with a past she is better off not remembering. While her husband showers, Claire’s alleged brother Zack abducts her. Zach, who is really Claire’s ex-husband Phillip, takes Claire to her mother Gertie’s home, where her current husband Richard and her son Kenny soon join them.
While there, Kenny, Claire’s son with her first-husband Phillip, reveals Zach’s true identity.
“Dad’s got a short fuse,” Kenny said.
It turns out that Phillip has just been released from prison for burning down their house. Phillip begs Claire and Kenny to give him a second chance.
“I’ve worked hard, Claire, I have rehabilitated myself,” Phillip pleads. “I did not hit you everyday. I wish none of that would have happened, and that’s why I’m here. I wish you would remember some of the good things.”
Although the play is funny, the reality of family abuse is not.
Rebecca Harvey, the director of the couples and family center of the Seton Hill Family Therapy Clinic, said that domestic violence is a “huge problem.” The stereotype that mentally ill and lower income people commit domestic violence is false. “They just get caught more often,” said Harvey.
In the play, Claire stayed with her abusive husband for nineteen years.
Virginia Lieberman, Educational Program Manager of the Greensburg Brackenridge Center, explained that women stay with their abusers because they are emotionally and economically dependent on them. Fear is also a factor. Lieberman added that most abusers need a “very, very strong incentive” to change.
The problem is so wide spread that State Treasure Bob Casey offers a four-hour, domestic violence seminar to state employees.
Joyce Greece, an auditor for Casey, attended the seminar, where she discovered that as a manager, she needs to know how to help an employee who may be a victim. “It’s a bigger problem than people think,” said Greece.
October 13, 2005
Nancy's Second Blog Portfolio
As we progress in our journalism class, we continue to encourage and assist one another in our newswriting discoveries. Some of us took the time to vent on issues that we found perplexing. We covered homecoming festivities and reflected on our experience. We then prepared for the Morgan Spurlock lecture and in preparation for it, read Chapters 5 through 7 of the AP Guide to News Writing. Author Rene Cappon warned us to avoid journalese, which we enjoyed parodying. The Morgan Spurlock lecture kept us laughing, and it was challenging finding sources who countered him.
I recounted my interview with a McDonald’s spokesperson. Interviewing someone, especially someone in authority, is challenging, but in an interaction with Lorin, Erin, Johanna, and ChrisU, I received encouragement. A discussion initiated by Evan’s helpful advice, ensued.
We covered Chapters 6 through 8 in Elements of Journalism. I posted timely blogs on the October 11th Tribune Review. Inspired by a GTEC article and one on the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission Board’s ethic codes, I decided to write my editorial on the board’s improprieties. We finished the Elements of Journalism by reading Chapters 9 and 10. I questioned some of the points Kovach and Rosenstiel made and took a timely and in depth look at Chapter 10.
Amid the pressure of deadlines, Evan’s blog on grace caused me to ponder what is really important in the greater scheme of things. Once again, I tried my hand at Xenoblogging.
Elements of Journalism, Chp. 8 Engagement
In the Elements of Journalism, Kovach and Rosenstiel define the eight duties of the press:
1. Obligation to the truth.
2. Loyalty to citizens.
3. The discipline of verification, which is the essence of journalism.
4. Independence from those they cover.
5. Independent monitor of power.
6. Provide a forum for public criticism and comment.
7. Make the significant interesting and relevant.
8. Keep news in proportion and comprehensive.
Number 7, make the significant interesting and relevant, requires “thinking out of the box.” The first step, the authors recommend, is to find a useful story one that will provide people with information they need to know. The next step is to make that story “meaningful, relevant, and engaging” (149). NBC’s John Larson uses a technique he calls “the reveal.” With it, Larson surprises, not shocks, the viewer. Good stories, Larson add, lead the viewer to the truth (159). Truth is crucial here. In the process of story telling, the journalist must never embellish, slant, or fabricate. The journalist always has to keep truth in the forefront.
October 12, 2005
Game Theory - Tribune Review, Oct. 11
The Tribune Review article “Game theorist wins” intrigued me. Several years ago I read the book and saw the movie A Beautiful Mind, the account of schizophrenic, math-genius John Nash’s life. Nash won a Nobel Prize for game theory. In 2005, Thomas Schelling and Robert Aumann also won for game theory. Schelling explains that game theory can be applied to people, groups, and countries. Its premise is that mutual behaviors are dependent on their interaction. He has applied his game-theory approach to successfully quit smoking as well as climate change and the behavior of crowds. He was on KDKA discussing his book The Strategy of Conflict which explains how his theory can be applied in a variety of situations.
Elements of Journalism, Ch. 9 Comprehensive
Who can say what news is important and what is not? Some stories do saturate the news. Frankly, I was relieved when the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal finally faded. But for comprehensive and proportional news, I do not think that in the 21st century a reader or viewer can obtain it from one source. Most major papers have national, world, and local news. For more specific local events, one has to rely on their small local newspaper. The Wall Street Journal, for instance, which I don’t read but would like to, targets a specific audience. It’s up to the news consumer to find the appropriate news sources for them. I do not think it will ever be possible to have “one size fits all news,” that is not commercially influenced. The only alternative would be government-operated news which would destroy our democracy.
Change is inevitable. The era of the family sitting around the TV watching the 6 p.m. news is long gone. Local news is struggling, as well. People are obtaining their news from 24-hour cable news. And as discussed in class, the era of print news will soon give way to on-line news.
October 11, 2005
October 11th Tribune Review
In Chapter 6, "Monitor Power and Offer Voice to the Voiceless,” Kovach and Rosenthal consider the independent monitoring of power by journalists to be a fundamental principle of their craft. As discussed in class, its sensational form which “afflicts the comfortable,” distorts its intended purpose of making governmental affairs more transparent. Two articles in the October 11th edition of the Tribune Review, show the power of investigative reporting.
The first, "GTECH attorney tied to Rendell," reveals that, Ken Jarin, one of the partners in the firm where Governor Rendell worked prior to becoming governor, represented GTECH in contract negations with the state. The state Department of Revenue awarded GTECH a contract worth an annual $6.3 million to construct and maintain a monitoring system for the state’s 61,000 slot machines. Coincidentally, Jarin is a big Rendell contributor as well as the Democratic Governor’s Association treasurer. Coincidentally, too, GTECH, less than a week after being awarded the contract, gave $50,000 to the governor’s association. The article is fair in indicating that although GTECH has given $481,267 to the association since 2000, it has contributed $169,000 to a similar Republican organization. What is unusual about this contract, is that the state did not go through its usual “procurement process.”
Another form of “watchdog” reporting, I believe, is more hands on and personal. This story, "Police beating victim baffled," concerns two police officers who were video taped beating a hand-cuffed, 64 year-old man while a third officer roughed up an Associated Press Television News producer.
Police brutality occurs through out the world. I was visiting Beijing with my daughter a decade ago, when we witnessed a tall, Chinese man in a black suit, dragging a man by the collar with one hand; while hitting him in the face with the other. The thing that astounded me was that none of the passers by even looked. That could just as easily have happened in our country, but someone would have reported it. In my opinion, that’s what sets our country and our news media a part.
October 10, 2005
Kovach and Rosenstiel Chapter 6
In an era when reporters, in my opinion, are viewed with skepticism, Susan Kelleher’s journalistic approach is refreshing. She’s honest. She’s honest with her sources. Kellerher let’s them know up front that “once they agree to talk to [her], that’s it. They no longer have control.” She further lets them know that she’ll be in a sense investigating them. In her story about infertility abuses, her honesty paid off. She won a Pulitzer Prize (125).
Clarification on McDonald's Interview
I sometimes get nervous in classroom situations which stems back to the era in which I went to school, the “good ole days,” when you got your knuckles whacked for saying or doing the wrong thing. Nevertheless, I made the statement that the McDonald’s spokesperson never answered my question as to whether or not McDonald’s targets children. I never directly asked that question. I should have but I didn’t, and perhaps that’s the difference between a novice and a seasoned reporter─you learn from experience. What I did say early in the interview in response to Mr. Riker’s question “What did Spurlock say?” was, that Spurlock accused McDonald’s of marketing to children. I went on to say that he claimed McDonald’s changed their menu because of his documentary. At that point, the interview took off and I was quite honestly so caught-up in taking notes and in asking further questions, that I never got back to the marketing issue. In my favor, when Mr. Riker made the claim that people have lost weight exclusively eating McDonald’s, I asked for names, which he supplied and I checked on-line. Had Riker refused to answer my question, I would have said so in the article.
October 09, 2005
The Spurlock Lecture
In preparation for the Spurlock lecture, I gathered articles about Spurlock and also viewed his documentary Super Size Me. One funny but sarcastic review written by Dorothy Rabinowitz on his series 30 Days appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Two other articles not only questioned Spurlock’s motives (his production company is called “The Con”) but also challenged the ‘spontaneity’ and accuracy of his unscripted 30 Days. And of course, there were accolades from those who heralded Super Size Me as the cure-all for America’s obesity problems.
I went to the lecture feeling outraged at what our nation’s schools literally feed our children and how corporation’s market to children. Nevertheless, I was somewhat skeptical about Spurlock’s overall motives.
I came away from the lecture feeling upbeat─Spurlock is very funny. The next day, however, I wanted to get a statement from McDonald’s, which I eventually did. After considering both sides of the issue, I concluded that parents can control how often their children eat fast food, but school is different. One young woman at the lecture told me, “You feel like an odd ball taking a lunch.” As Spurlock said, schools for the time they have our children are surrogate parents and have a responsibility to serve a nutritious lunch.
Which brings me to another point Spurlock made, part of the problem, a major part in my opinion, is a sociological one: families eat on the run; women do not cook as often, and children do not exercise as much. I read an article about an innovative experiment that Pennsylvania schools were evaluating. Children within a one-mile radius would walk to school!
It is obvious that McDonald’s targets children, but they are not alone. Consider how cookies and sugar cereals are marketed with cartoon characters and toys inside. Supermarkets, as well, place those products at a child’s eye level. I don’t think that boycotting McDonald’s or any other fast-food corporation will solve the problem. I think as a society we need to educate children about the importance of exercise and good nutrition. And certainly, schools should set an example in their cafeterias.
October 04, 2005
The AP Guide to News Writing, Chapters 5 - 7
With dictionary in hand, as I wade through the vocabulary and flowery prose of my Asian religions text book, I wish the author would have consulted Rene Cappon. In his humorous way, author and journalist Rene Cappon, once again reminds us that ‘plain and unadorned’ is always best. In Chapter 5, he suggests ‘plain and unadorned’ as the antidote for that debilitating disease that plagues journalists: journalese. In fact, in Chapter 6, Tone the Inner Meanings of Words, Cappon calls ‘plain and unadorned’ the “premise of [his] book.”
I think this is true in other writing genres (not all), as well. For instance, the dialogue between Smith and Jones (p.44) is a pitfall that I and many others in my Creative Writing class fell into. People do not speak in perfect English.
I also like the Samuel Johnson quotes he uses. For example, in Chapter 5, Cappon cautions that to be an effective writer one must choose the right words for the occasion. He quotes Johnson in Chapter 6, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.” In the second one, Johnson advises the writer to read his or her material and when a sentence or “passage” seems “particularly fine, strike it out.”
October 03, 2005
Morgan Spurlock's Blog
Guess what? We all have something in common with Morgan Spurlock. No, it's not a distaste for McDonald's--Spurlock blogs. While searching the internet for information about him, I came across his blog. Here's the link. http://blogs.indiewire.com/morganspurlock/
Reflections on Homecoming Article
I approached my homecoming article from the angle of the Greensburg community and what effect, if any, homecoming had on it. Since I’m not from Greensburg, I had some research to do. I first scoured the internet for any Seton Hill articles. From them, I identified some perspective sources. I then went to the city of Greensburg website which had a directory of telephone numbers─no names just the position. I don’t know whether or not this is typical, but to my surprise, one source led to another. Jaimie Steel mentioned the name of a great source and that source led to another and so on.
After my Saturday class, I did some follow-up interviews and interviewed a variety of new sources, as well. One alumnus that I was interviewing introduced me to a councilman and an administrative contact that I had interviewed on the phone. Overall, the experience was a good one.