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October 2009 Archives

October 6, 2009

Criminals on the loose!

One of the stories I chose to look at for the News Cycle assignment was a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about three men accused of using a software glitch in a poker machine to get $400,000 over a period of two months. The story appears to be very breaking because there is little information about what exactly these men did to trigger the glitch, and authorities were still "in the process of arresting" these men at the time the story was written. It certainly seems like an interesting story that would hold a reader's interest more once more details are known; since it involves finding an easy way to get a lot of money, it sort of caters to the whole "ordinary people fantasizing about crime" aspect of an interesting crime story. Hopefully, there will be follow-up stories with more information about how the men allegedly took advantage of the machine and if they are convicted.
The other story I found is much more exciting because there is a lot more information, and the suspect has a well-known history. A woman named China Graham gave a stolen check as an offering in church and then stole a wallet from a woman who had left her purse on the pew she was sitting in. The police know exactly what she did afterwards because she used a credit card she found in the wallet to buy items at a Dollar Store and a supermarket. She's stolen wallets from people in a different church and in a grocery store, and police are currently looking for her. The difference between these two articles just goes to show how important details are to sucking a reader in. Also, the amount of detail the writer of the second story had to work with gave him the ability to tell the story in a more creative way--he was especially able to play on the contradiction between the woman being in church and the fact that she was stealing. He also wasn't hindered by the need to talk about the incident using the word "allegedly"; police know for sure she stole items because of surveillance cameras. This helped him paint the picture more clearly.

October 7, 2009

Criminals are caught! (or still at large)

Both my news cycle stories came up again in today's news stories in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Meadows Casino story got some pretty significant updates as far as details about the actual crime and the people involved. There were pictures of the three suspects, and the reporter provided information about how exactly the culprits pulled off the scheme (complete with a police officer using his police badge to act as a bodyguard while the other two manipulated the machine!), so this article was really juicy and interesting to read. I suspect much of this information was gleaned from a news conference Crompton mentions was held yesterday. This is a good example where a breaking news story with hardly any details becomes sort of a teaser for the real story that ends up in the paper the next day. The article from yesterday left me wanting to know so much more about the circumstances of the crime, and this article was very satisfying because it answered a lot of questions. I'm not sure where the story will go from here; it seems like the biggest events that are still to come are the trial and the sentencing if they're found guilty.
My other story wasn't exactly updated; it was pretty much the exact same text appearing under a slightly different headline. I'm assuming not much new information was discovered about her whereabouts, because I don't think anything about the article was changed at all. This story seems to have plateaued because the really interesting juicy stuff has been made known, and the only really interesting thing to come next would be if China Graham is found and arrested. I'm not sure if there'll be more breaking news about this in the near future if this doesn't happen.

October 8, 2009

Act 2: The Performance Continues

I am roughly halfway through a semester of a Newswriting class, and I've learned a lot through blogging about and writing the news. My mind is bursting with random facts about when to abbreviate things and where to place commas, as well as a beginning understanding of how to write an eye-catching news story.

Coverage (all the blogs that I've written for class since the last blog portfolio)
Sample Crime Reports
Chapter 35 of The News Manual
Sample Spot News
The Associated Press Guide to News Reporting, Chapters 6 and 8
Comparison of Front Pages on the Newseum Website
Part 1 of the News Cycle Assignment
Part 2 of the News Cycle Assignment

Depth (blogs that examine a concept in depth)
Sample Crime Reports
Comparison of Front Pages on the Newseum Website
Chapter 35 of the News Manual
Sample Spot News

Interaction (blogs in which I participated in a discussion with my peers)
Sample Crime Reports
Sample Spot News

Discussions (blogs that drew comments from my peers)
Sample Spot News
Sample Crime Reports
Comparison of Front Pages on the Newseum Website

Timeliness (blogs which were posted before the assigned reading was due)
All of my blogs were timely except for my blog on Chapters 6 and 8 on the Associated Press Guide to News Writing, as you can probably tell from the barrenness of my comment area.

Xenoblogging (comments that I left on classmates' blogs)
Jennifer Prex's blog on Chapter 35 of The News Manual
April Minerd's blog on Sample Crime Reports
Derek Tickle's blog on the Comparison of Front Pages on the Newseum Website

I think my blog on the Comparison of Front Pages on the Newseum Website is the best example of my blogging style from the second batch of blogs. It is kind of stream-of-consciousness, which is what I like about the blogging part of this class. I appreciate the fact that we have a space to put our thoughts down in a messy, not-ready-to-be-graded kind of way so that we're all the more organized when we work on the more serious assignments of the class. So this blog, with its listing of my complex reactions to the tabloidish-looking front page of an Irish newspaper, is the best example of my spontaneity in blogging.

October 11, 2009

Preaching to the Choir

"Don't think of your goal as picking a fight with people who enrage you. Instead, try swaying the opinion of a reasonable person who sees the merits of both sides."

I think Dr. Jerz hit the nail right on the head with this one. It always irks me when I see editorials that are written like this, because they do absolutely nothing for either side of an issue. If you write in a combative way, you're bound to make people who disagree with you angry; therefore, the people who agree with you will still have the same opinion, and the people who don't will be even more vehemently opposed to what you believe. I don't understand what the point of preaching to the converted is in this kind of situation. There are some times where it can be useful for certain groups to reaffirm their beliefs by clearly articulating them, but in widely read newspapers it seems like the ultimate goal is to reach out to people who don't already agree with you. If you never consider opposing points of view, all you do is create more friction where you ought to be reducing it. I think some people do like to make their readers angry, mainly for publicity reasons. Ann Coulter is a writer who immediately comes to mind when I think of editorialists who make blunt statements seemingly just to get attention. You can't really publish a book called Godless: The Church of Liberalism and expect people who identify themselves as liberal to read the book with an open mind. Certainly, liberal people may read that book, but usually not because they want to engage in an intelligent dialogue with people they disagree with, but just because the title makes them angry. Stirring people up just for the purpose of making your column more widely read doesn't seem to be the noblest aspiration. Like all news writing, I think it's important to remember that the writing shouldn't be about the writer, but about the subject being covered. So, even though you're presenting your opinion, you still need to maintain some degree of objectivity and not make your column an irrational rant--save it for the blogs!

October 20, 2009

How DARE you get the name of my street wrong?!!

"In all of our roundtables, the frequency of errors was cited as a major reason why the public is increasingly skeptical of what it reads."
--Haiman, Best Practices for Newspapers Journalists, pages 1-16

I was surprised at how much emphasis was placed on accuracy in this book so far; because the research they conducted was so reader-based and not from within the journalistic community, I expected there to be more complaints about newspapers being overly biased (it's the complaint I most often hear about the media in general). Of course, the people leading the roundtable discussions may have gotten this complaint initially, but then led the people in the discussion to identify inaccuracy as the problem at the root of bias. At least, people often perceive bias as leaving certain facts out or just plain making stuff up to support a certain point of view. If you cherry-pick facts, you're most likely letting your own opinions affect your reporting. I'm still surprised how little people complained about bias compared to how much they complained about getting smaller details incorrect, as well as how newspapers deal with publishing corrections. I rarely notice when newspapers make mistakes or when they publish corrections, but I rarely read newspapers, so that's probably the problem. From what people talked about in these panels, it seems like they got people who read newspapers enough to get picky over smaller details, which makes sense. You can't really get people to advise you on how to improve newswriting if they barely read it. There might have been some benefit if they got some people who hardly ever read newspapers to give feedback though; these kind of people might provide some insight into how to broaden readership by finding out what turns them off newspapers. Perhaps this is dealt with in later chapters. It just seems to me like getting smaller details right would be more a concern of regular newspaper-readers and not of the public in general. Certainly, everyone wants the major facts to be correct; this ties in to whether or not a paper's biased, and how much it's able to draw readers in with accurate information. And maybe you care more about this if you live in a place that happens to be mentioned in local newspapers a lot. It seems like I hardly ever know personally too many of the places or people mentioned in the Trib or Post-Gazette, so I wouldn't even know if the information was accurate. I guess it all depends on your perspective.

October 27, 2009

Anonymous Attackers and Clueless Reporters

"That may require that editor to personally meet the source, 'look him or her in the eye, and get a feel for the conviction of the source and the depth of knowledge.'"
--Haiman, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists, pages 17-28

As I began reading the chapter about anonymous sources, I have to confess I had some reservations. While it is important to ensure that people can't just throw out false information under the protection of being anonymous, I think it's also important that you don't go to the other extreme as well--discourage anonymous sources so much that people who may have legitimate reasons to keep their identity secret can't get important information to the public. After all, where would be if we didn't have Deep Throat? You understand I'm talking about the informant in the Watergate scandal, and not something else. You just have to strike a balance; the system can be abused either way. It's equally important to discourage people from feeling like they can just throw out any ridiculous accusation because they can say they want to remain anonymous. Once again, I was amazed at how many people on the panel seemed to have personal experience with anonymous accusations--"I've been speared by anonymous sources in the paper several times and it's the most helpless feeling, but what can you do?" What kind of people did they interview for this survey? I don't think I'm remotely connected to any situation in which anonymous sources accused someone of something; I don't think it's that common of an experience. Once again, I have the suspicion that the people they gathered for this panel have more direct experience with dealing with the press than the average person. I feel like this may have colored their feedback in a negative way.
The second chapter in this section seemed to address a more universal problem readers might have--reporters who don't really understand the subject they're covering. Most people have studied something in-depth that is reported on from time to time, and it can be painful when you see it being misrepresented. I know I have issues with articles that are written on theatre all the time. And my experiences writing news in this class have led me to understand the other side of things; it can be very difficult to get a firm grasp on a subject you've had very little or no exposure to. When attending two speeches at the Holocaust Conference, there were times when I found it a little hard to follow the speaker because they used such specific references. For instance, Michael Berenbaum referred to an incident with a Bishop Williamson and didn't really explain it, and most people in the audience seemed to understand it. There's a lot of background research you have to do, which is hard when you're trying to play catchup with experts in their field who have been studying the subject for years.

About October 2009

This page contains all entries posted to MatthewHenderson in October 2009. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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