GretaCarroll: August 2009 Archives

Seeing is Believing, Or Should It Be?

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The articles we read by Byron had a lot of really thought-provoking and true comments.  I am going to address a couple of the things he discussed.  First of all, he wrote that, “There are many people especially elderly people, who tend to believe whatever they hear on the news and tend to naturally become fearful.”  I could not agree with him more.  I think a lot of people of the younger generation rely on many sources for their news and are less likely in general to watch the TV news.  However, older people who grew up before the 1980s when consultants began being hired by news stations do not realize that they need to be skeptical of these news stations motives.  In my last two summer jobs I worked and dealt with elderly people on a daily basis, I heard them comment regularly on the horrors they saw on the news the night before.  They would comment on how in the good old days they didn’t need to even lock their doors, but now they fear being robbed.  On the hand, I understand that news stations should report on these events (murders, robbers, etc.) are part of the news; however, as Byron points out the way in which they report on these events in order to sensationalize them unnecessarily worries people.  As Byron later explains, “to keep viewers, they portray the exception as the rule…”

Another important point that Byron touches on is the issue of video/picture use.  Katie, in her blog, does a good job of discussing this as well.  It is very easy for reporters to take a picture of something and then manipulate it to make things look different than they actually are.  People too readily believe that since there is visual “proof,” it must be true.  He always dealt with the dilemma of file videos/pictures.  As Dr. Jerz mentioned the other day it is very convenient to have pictures of certain people on file, so if a story comes up about them, one does not have to run around searching for a picture of them.  Byron points out another side to this though, which is particularly relevant for videos.  Using a file video of random people can be offensive to those in it.  It just goes to show that as a journalist one must be very careful about almost every move they make.  What seems like the easiest thing to do may have harmful effects on other people.  Careful thoughts must be put into all decisions and one is on a strict time schedule (like in TV news), it’s easy to take short-cuts, but these short-cuts do have consequences. 

The last thing I want to comment on is the balance that the TV news has to find.  Yes, they do sensationalize things, but they can’t just talk about blood and guts the whole time.  Byron states, “Their last act is to leave viewers with the impression that no matter how many bad things are reported, all will be well with the world overnight so they can sleep well.”  Their job is to sensationalize, entertain, and emphasize emotion, yet they can’t just go all out.  They need to find the correct balance between fear and security, sadness and happiness.  If they go too far, they will upset their viewers.  So while there is the exaggerated news side, they can’t go too far.   

Read other thoughts on Byron's articles.

It Could Be a Celebration…or a Riot…or Something…

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The Onion’s clip, “Something Is Happening in Haiti” was certainly amusing.  The headline below the reporter with the “news” was constantly changing as “new information” was gathered from the on-site reporter, Don Abrams.  However, it became increasingly clear that Abrams was not sure what was going on.  He simply made observations, such as there is a big crowd and then the headquarters anchor, Lane Everett, would make assumptions about what he said.  It soon became clear that neither person had any clue whether the people were celebrating, revolting, or an election had just taken place.  At one point when Lane Everett lost connection with Don Abrams, the screen came up with his birth and death date, before they could possibly have confirmed whether this was true or not (which it wasn’t)! While I agree that TV news frequently reports on stories they have not fact-checked, this clip obviously exaggerated things slightly.  As we discussed in class on Friday, television news does have a function.  As long as we realize that their top interest is to get ratings and do not blindly believe everything they say, I don’t think that TV news is so terrible.  The important thing is to always remain skeptical about one sees, hears, and reads. 

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I actually found the news to show fewer commercials than I expected.  My expectations were lots of commercials, little news, and lots of stupid small talk between the news anchors.  Instead, when I hunkered down to watch the 11 o’clock news, I was pleasantly surprised.  The news stories themselves actually took up about 23 of the 30 minute news segment.  Furthermore, most of the news related specifically to Pittsburgh, there were only a few such as those on Ted Kennedy, Michael Vick, and a girl that got kidnapped and has now been reunited with her family that were not there.  The amount of small talk between the news anchors was also kept to a minimum (which is always good).  There were a few moments before the weather and near the end of the half hour where they talked, but other than that they mostly stuck to the news.  I did notice that there was a proportionally larger amount of time given to sports (particularly Steelers) related stories.  There was a lot of time spent on advertising stories that were “coming up,” but otherwise the majority of the time seemed to be spent on news.  And best of all, there were no references to Michael Jackson. 

As for the WTAE job description versus the characteristics of a journalist according to the news manual, I found the two to have some similarities.  They both require someone who can communicate a story well to other people.  However, if you look at some words from the WTAE job description such as: “high impact [pieces],” “highly promotable [pieces],” and “sizzle” as compared to the manual’s “friendly” and “polite,” the real focus of the two becomes clear.  The manual is focusing on the integrity of the field, while WTAE is searching for someone to boost their ratings and make them money. 

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The comic, “A Famous Person Has Died” by John Campbell was certainly amusing and definitely true.  After reading Jeanine’s blog entry on how many news stations no longer verify the facts before they announce them in an effort to get ahead of other stations, I was first reminded of an article I read last semester in Literary Criticism.  The article,“’But One Expects That’: Charlotte Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ and the Shifting Light of Scholarship,” goes through the various previous research that was done on “The Yellow Wallpaper” and shows how some of it was faulty and other critics just took this false information for granted as truth.  Sometimes when there is not a lot of news or when one station is trying to get “breaking news” before another, there are too many assumptions, “mays,” and “coulds” before real “facts” are discovered. 

This comic strip also made me think about some interesting differences between news in print and televised news.  When one is writing a news article (while they will undoubtedly have a deadline) they still have some time to verify information and confirm things with multiple sources.  On televised news, frequently, there is no time for this to be done. 

I think it’s important for us to realize these differences and to understand that news stations and papers do want to make money and get good ratings.  We should not just believe what we see/read/hear as readers/viewers or even more as journalists.  I think many of us are annoyed when the news focuses too much on one topic, sensationalizes things too much, or assumes things, realizing that, we can try not to do these things ourselves. 

Read what my classmates have to say about the comic. 

Picture of a smiling man=homicide?

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Dr. Jerz mentioned that the graphic of Michael Jackson on the front page was rather small.  In addition to this observation I would like to point out that this picture of Jackson smiling and seemingly waving jars slightly with the headline it goes with.  The corresponding headline says, “The Los Angeles County coroner has ruled Michael Jackson’s death a homicide, and a combination of drugs was the cause, an official says.”  It seems like this isn’t a particularly happy bit of information, so why is Jackson smiling and waving?  It seems like a more appropriate graphic could have been found. 

Another thing I noticed was that on page A6, there is a full-page advertisement.  When I was initially flipping through the paper this morning and came across this page, I did not even realize it was an advertisement.  It is formatted in such a way that the reader can easily mistake it for an actual news article.  I don’t think I quite approve of that.  Notice that it says “Advertisement” in extremely small print at the top of the page and that is pretty much the only thing that definitively states that it is not a news article.  It seems a bit like trickery to me.

Lastly, I am curious about the positioning of the sections in newspapers.  For example, I noticed that in the Tribune-Review that the obituaries and death notices do not come until pages B4 & B5.  In my local newspaper, obituaries are located on Page A2.  So why the difference?   

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A Good Lead, A Bad Lead, How’s a Journalist to Know?

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On page B6, in the middle of the page, there is a headline which proclaims, “Man dies while repairing silo.”  When one reads the lead, it is apparent that it meets Clark and Scanlon’s suggestion to “keep leads short” (291).  Not too much information is jammed into the lead.  It seems perfectly legitimate and it leaves a hint of mystery which could compel the reader to continue farther into the article.  After all the lead says, “A Somerset County man collapsed and died Monday while working inside a silo on a Washington County farm,” it does not resolve why the man collapsed.  Wondering what happened to the man, the reader’s eyes would continue down the lines of text.  I think this is a good example of a lead.  It’s short, gives information, but keeps the reader curious.  However, there is something else interesting relating to this article.  It is the subheading which is located right above the lead.  It proclaims, “On his 40th birthday, a worker collapses on a farm in Washington County.”  The information that the man died on his birthday is included in the second paragraph of the article, so why this little snippet of information in larger text and italics to attract the reader’s eye?  Probably because the fact that it was his birthday adds an extra-level of oddity to the story which will attract interest.

In contrast to this “good” lead, on page A3 on the right hand side is an article entitled, “Swine flu toll may hit 90,000.”  The lead is quite long, the opposite of what Clark and Scanlon suggest.  It is a full 5 lines long packed with statistics and numbers: “Swine flu may infect half the nation’s population this year, hospitalize 1.8 million patients and lead to as many as 90,000 deaths, more than twice the number killed in a typical seasonal flu, White House advisors said.”  While trying to inform the reader and convince them of the importance of the issue, it seems to be stating things a bit strongly.  It’s almost like it is trying to scare people…

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