February 2009 Archives

I Want Candy...but I Need Milk

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"The Internet gives readers what they want; newspapers give them what they need." - Gary Kamiya, The death of the news.

Well folks, here it is again, the cryer resounding out over the internet concerning the logical conclusion and fear that newspapers and all that they stand for will soon be gone from this world.

As is addressed in The death of the news, reading the daily printed newspaper is simply a way of life, a morning ritual for many. However, more and more of the younger generations are gleaning their news from online sources rather than printed ones. So now we come to the main arena: more and more people are crying out for the internet's version of news while the opposition plays a mother's role in saying "You might want quick and dirty details without reporting, but you need a healthy dose of traditional journalism to make you grow up strong."

News as increasingly older generations once knew it is ligitimately changing, shifting, and might eventually disappear. (Lets hope it'll never be so severe as that.) "What is really threatened by the decline of newspapers and the related rise of online media is reporting -- on-the-ground reporting by trained journalists who know the subject, have developed sources on all sides, strive for objectivity and are working with editors who check their facts, steer them in the right direction and are a further check against unwarranted assumptions, sloppy thinking and reporting, and conscious or unconscious bias." (Gary Kamiya)

I must say that I agree with this trend based upon my own experiences with a college student paper. Do not missunderstand, I do not believe that this shift away from reporting pertains to everyone, but I have realized a general wish for people to soley write more on what they want to write on as opposed to seeking out traditional news stories, sources, etc. It's simply easier to write more on what you know and are comfortable with rather than going out and attempting to track down all of your college-related sources (which is sometimes like nailing jello to the wall). The decline in objectivity goes hand in hand with this as well. You're more likely to be passionately biased on a subject that you truly love (or abhore) if you're writing an opinion piece, but more and more of that passion is creeping into the news medium. It can be unquestionably hard to remain objective in today's world where we are consistently presented with different opinions everywhere we look.

The internet is perfect for giving everyone a voice, but not everyone realizes that news isn't really supposed to have a voice, only the facts should speak out to the reader, not the reporter/writer. The internet media forum is also great for giving people the stories that they really want to read, but what about those other stories that people might like and never see because they aren't specifically seeking them out? I know that unless I'm searching for a particular subject/article online, then I'm much less likely to stumble across a story that will pique my interest (and hopefully give my mental facalties something to ruminate over).

Unfortunately, if newspapers, or more acurately the investigative, face-to-face news that informs us on exactly what our government (and sometimes others) are up to, then who's going to tell us? I know we'd all like to believe that what governments tell their people is the absolute truth, but history is the only example we need to hold up to know that it's not true. I was once taught that papers free from the government's control serve as a sort of watchdog for the people; a lot like Orwell's "Big Brother is watching you," except the papers are keeping an eye on the government for the people and not the other way around. So if papers go the way of the dodo bird...how long will it take for those in power to seize control of the internet, something so fluid to begin with, and let people only see/read/hear what they want them to see/read/hear? I do believe that a cold shiver just ran down my back.

So it's obvious by the mere length of this blog that I've an opinion and am absolutely biased on this subject. However, I fully recognize the limits and potential progress pertinent to both newspapers and online media sources. No one knows for sure what'll happen tomorrow or the next day, week, month, year after that. Maybe the future of reporting will lie solely in the hands of responsible bloggers? All I can write now is that I'll be up for the challenge should it arise and that I can only hope that millions more will be as well. Who knows? Maybe someone will create an online guideline for "traditional" journalism and how it operates in the "new age?"

Blood soaked opportunities

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I don't mean to purposely sound morbid with this title, but it just seems to come naturally in the wake of such events as those that took place this past weekend on Seton Hill University's (SHU) off-campus housing.

After reading the recent study on how the press covers school shootings, I've definitely had my eyes opened. I know as a student reporter that I was excited by the prospect of a hard-hitting news story to cover, but as a student I was also extremely sad that this tragedy happened in order to make such news.

I wanted to know everything that I possibly could concerning the shooting and was a little disappointed that SHU didn't release any hardcore facts until much later. However, I recognize the fact that SHU wanted to prevent panic and probably get all their ducks in a row before answering to the press. Unfortunately, that left unpleasant rumors to do that job. In the end, covering tragic events like these as a true reporter still takes a bit of learning to do on my part.

Bye bye.

Plugging Away to the Future Online Setonian

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"You have to keep plugging away. We are all growing. There is no shortcut. You have to put time into it to build an audience." ~ John Gruber, How to Blog for Money by Learning from Comics, SXSW 2006

After taking the time to review the Seton Hill University's (SHU) online newspaper, The Setonian Online in conjunction with a few award winning journalistic websites, I've realized that there's much this semester's Media Lab's class would be able to do in order to improve upon The Online Setonian.

The journalistic website A day in the life of a San Francisco Cabbie definitely put a few ideas into my head for the future. This website addressed a few of the quirks that's been bothering me for a while about The Online Setonian's color scheme and amount of scrolling per web page. 'A day in the life of a San Francisco Cabbie' presents a striking and directly related color scheme of black and yellow to its readers. This is smart; if you're writing about a cabbie's life, then you should probably have something in taxi colors. In comparison, The Online Setonian seems to imitate its print version almost too well with a washed out blending of gray tones. A good project for this semester's Media Lab class could be to produce a more lively-looking background/color scheme for The Setonian Online. It could be still look like a proper newspaper with the accompanying elements, but perhaps a bit of SHU's colors could be poured in as well.

'A day in the life' also presented its information in an organized manner to readers so as to virtually eliminate scrolling (all depends on your monitor size and how you prefer to view your web pages). The Setonian Online offers plenty of scrolling for readers. I know from personal experience (and academic) that web surfers don't want to be searching up and down a long page with a great deal of scrolling involved. By more efficiently coding the pages so that there would be less space in between each item, The Online Setonian would save its users from excessive scrolling.

The website South of Here also offered me a few ideas. The main background of the website is a colored and striking picture. More color pictures are also presented when viewing the articles pertinent to them. It would be a great asset to The Online Setonian to have colored photos of those that were printed in the print newspaper, The Setonian. It would also be possible to add more pictures online than those that were printed. These various additions would also make the website more aesthetically pleasing.

A significant factor that I observed in the websites 'A day in the life' and 'South of Here' was the well-planned link bars on each page of the websites. I believe that The Online Setonian presents too many links on side of the page and it would be better to condense them. Though it might take more time than this class will have this semester, it would perfect to have a link bar system to that of 'South of Here' where readers only need to place their mouse pointer over a link and all the links attached to it pop up.

A few last changes that might help The Online Setonian run a little more smoothly include updated staff profiles and possible video tags or video windows that first show up when the reader loads the full page of a story. All of the changes listed here might take a while, but I do think that they would help The Online Setonian operate a bit more fluidly.

Kiddies ready to go visit the class website now?


"Thousands of people who didn't read a newspaper now do so on their way to or from work. Hundreds of mainly young journalists have been employed to fill these newspapers." - pg. 27 SuperMedia by Charles Beckett

"How do you subsidize the cost of good journalism if the 'paid-fors/ go free? The free papers are full of gutless, bloodless editorial that is lacking in good, investigative journalism." - Paul Charman, London College of Journalism as quoted on pg. 28 of SuperMedia.

Well, I guess you can apply the thought that there's almost always a good and a bad angle to everything, especially to the current change taking place in journalism. The first quote above pertains to a possible good aspect: new people are picking up free newspapers and actually reading them. Then again, they could just be taking it because the papers are free and they feel the need to fulfill their small bit of kleptomania for the day, who knows. More people having repeatedly easier access to newspapers will make them more popular with mass populations. Make anything easier for someone and they'll be much more likely to start it and then continue it. This spells good for the newspaper companies, but potentially fatal for the standards of journalism itself.

So, the bad angle now quickly comes into play: people may be picking up more free papers, but the quality of journalism within the papers themselves is swiftly declining. The free papers have more advertisements and as is written above, "The free papers are full of gutless, bloodless editorial that is lacking in good, investigative journalism." After all, we're unlikely to get the razor's edge news if no one's going to actually pay the reporter for their time and various expenses. It's simple economics in the end: If something's going to be free, then you should put as little effort into actually producing it (other than that which you know will be required for people to pick it up in the first place).

Unfortunately, this all means that newsworthy stories in newspapers are becoming obsolete while more and more snoozeworthy are filling the void. Killing sprees and all kinds of corruption are still vastly more interesting overall than what celebrity did (or didn't do...OMG!). But it's probably easier to get a creeper to semi-legally stalk said celebrity than go to a court room and listen to testimony or chase down leads.

I'll just give a bit of personal advice: Don't believe everything the little box (our good friend TV) tells you.