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November 2009 Archives

November 3, 2009

Human Being First, Journalist Second

"In times of crisis, we demand the best from the people on the front lines of the story. The cops. The paramedics, doctors and nurses. The teachers. We should expect no less from the people telling these stories, the journalists."
--page 30--Haiman, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists

I think the above statement is a very important idea to keep in mind when interviewing people about sensitive subjects. The title of my blog implies that being a compassionate human being and being a journalist are separate, but they actually go hand in hand. You can't be an effective journalist if you're not in touch with the emotional impact of an event. If you ask insensitive, probing questions of distraught people, chances are you won't get very accurate, informative answers. Pushing people over the edge may be a way to get attention for your newspaper, but it doesn't adhere to the principles of journalism. You should always want to get the most objective and inclusive information to the public, and interviewing someone who's just experienced a traumatic event in a way that stirs up their emotions will only produce eye-popping sound bites with little substance. Another issue with being insensitive on the reporting of this material is that while it may draw readers in initially, over time these kinds of tactics will really turn readers off the paper. It is obvious from the "What the public says" section on page 32 that people find it really distasteful when journalists try to catch people in vulnerable, unflattering moments. These people will want to switch to a newspaper that is more considerate of people's privacy. While I don't always agree with some of the other "What the public says" sections in the book so far, I think their opinions on this subject do reflect what I imagine the average person's reaction to these kinds of stories is. When journalists try to show people at their most vulnerable, it makes the journalist look much worse than the subject. The newspaper that published the finances of the family whose daughter had been murdered descended to a level that I don't think most people would be comfortable with. So I think it's pretty accurate to say that the most ethical newspapers are often the most successful as well.

November 10, 2009

Homosexuals have more fun!

"Gay participants in several cities complained of an almost total absence of coverage of gay culture, events and interests...They're mostly good liberals down there (at the newspaper) and they try, but they are still pretty touchy about gay stories."
--Haiman, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists, pages 43-56

I thought these two quotes were pretty interesting because they reflect some of the difficulties with including diversity in newspapers, particularly with the gay community. Newspapers are supposed to be objective and unbiased, but it's "liberal" to include "gay stories"? The fact that people consider covering the gay community in a positive way is considered "liberal" is something that makes me very angry, but that may just be my politics. I don't believe it should be considered "political" to include stories about gay couples who have normal, monogamous lifestyles, but the fact that some people do may be what hinders newspapers from covering gay people in a comprehensive and fair manner. Because so much of the conservative rhetoric against gay marriage is aimed at inciting fear that gay people publicly acknowledging their relationships will destroy the moral framework of society, depicting the truth of many gay people's lives--happy, well-adjusted, and healthy lifestyles--goes against that rhetoric. Is that political? I would just call it fair and objective reporting. I don't think it should be called "liberal." There's nothing wrong with reporting on more "flamboyant" gay people, as the man from Portland on page 44 says, but when that's all the newspaper is covering, they're conforming to a stereotype that confirms some people's misguided beliefs about the gay community in general. The dilemma is that some people don't want to hear about the full complexity of these people's lives. It's not necessarily pushing one political agenda if you're objectively reporting facts that may change the conversation about a certain issue. As a reporter, you can't ignore them. That's why I think this is an area of reporting where newspapers need to be less afraid of what the readership will think in order to really get the truth out there.

What's really going on here...

"Investigative journalism is finding, reporting and presenting news which other people try to hide. It is very similar to standard news reporting, except that the people at the centre of the story will usually not help you and may even try to stop you doing your job."
--Sample Investigative Reports

This is definitely one of the harder genres to write, I think. This and talking to people who've just experienced traumatic events seem like very hard aspects of newswriting because you're talking to people who may not want to talk to you or may not be giving accurate information. You really need to finesse both situations and have good people skills; you have to know what to say to get the kind of responses you want. It seems like there needs to be a whole other class that trains you for that, because it's certainly not in any way easy. You have to know how to dig without appearing to dig to the people you're investigating, and you have to have the savvy to know which people are really willing to give you the dirt on something. Another part about this genre that's very difficult is--how do you find story ideas? You can't uncover things about a certain situation if it turns out there's nothing to uncover. And if there are good story ideas, the whole point of them being good story ideas is the fact that people are trying to hide or suppress them. So how do you find out about them? I guess you might have suspicions about certain things, and then go interview people to see if your suspicions have any justification. I can see how good contacts are vital to this genre; as a student in a class, I have very few contacts and am having difficulty figuring out who to talk to. You need to know who would give you the "official" story and who would give you the "unofficial" story. And what if there just simply aren't any scandals or shady underhanded dealings going on at the moment? What do you do then, huh? Sometimes I think journalists might just get desperate and try to make situations out of things that aren't that big a deal. You see all the time in TV news about the latest government spending scandal or the latest food that has something nasty in it. But oftentimes the music they use is scarier than the actual story. I can see how investigative reporting has its place and can be very important, but it can also be a cheap gimmick if you're not careful.

Blog Portfolio 3: Making New Discoveries

This is my third portfolio of blogs I have written for a Newswriting course I am taking. With every week, I'm learning new things about this style of writing that I've never really considered before. It's definitely a more complex style of writing than I realized.

Coverage (all the blogs that I've written on assigned readings)
Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 1-16
Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 17-28
Best Practices of Newspaper Journalists pages 29-42
Best Practices of Newspaper Journalists pages 43-56
Sample Investigative Reports

Depth (blogs in which I examine a concept in depth)
Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 17-28
Best Practices of Newspaper Journalists pages 29-42
Best Practices of Newspaper Journalists pages 43-56

Interaction (blogs in which I interact with my peers)
Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 17-28

Discussions (blogs that drew comments from my peers)
Best Practices of Newspaper Journalists pages 29-42
Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 1-16
Best Practices of Newspaper Journalists pages 43-56

Timeliness (blogs completed before the day of the assigned reading)
All of my blogs were timely during this part of the semester.

Xenoblogging (comments on peers' blogs)
Greta Carroll's blog on Editorials
Jeanine O'Neal's blog on Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 1-16
Wendy Scott's blog on Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 17-28
Richelle Dodaro's blog on Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists pages 29-42

I think my blog on Editorials is the best representation of my blogging from this part of the semester. It drew a lot of comments, and I think that's partly because I was articulating something I really care a lot about--fostering intelligent dialogue about issues. I really don't like when people shut down and refuse to listen to people they don't agree with, because they're missing out on an opportunity to get a broader and more complex understanding of an issue. I'm glad that the blog itself fostered discussion.

November 15, 2009

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

"Melissa Gold met Adam Gottlieb when their grandmothers set them up on a blind date. Now the groom is about to discover what it means to marry into the Gold family horseradish legacy."
--NY Times

I found a video about this couple on the video library on the New York times website. What a wonderful way to include positive news! The way this site is set up, you get a much clearer sense of who these people are than you would when just reading a short little blurb about them in an actual newspaper. Here you get the full force of their personalities--complete with them misspeaking (I thought it was hilarious when the woman accidentally said their grandmothers were in a "Yente" club--you have to know Fiddler on the Roof to get it). You get great visuals like them in the horse radish factory and the puzzle that Adam made to propose to Melissa with; you also get great audio like Adam imitating his grandmother telling him to "make sure you keep your pants buttoned." If you look at the actual article that goes with it, it just doesn't have the same vitality. There are some interesting tidbits of course, like Melissa wondering why Adam wanted to hear her voice because she thought it was annoying, but it's just not the same as actually getting to see these people interacting in such a warm and pleasant way. I think stories like this that don't have anything shockingly newsworthy about them are much more effective when you can do videos like this, because people are able to connect with ordinary people much more when they can see their physical and vocal quirks, which often communicate so much more than just quotes they read in a newspaper.

November 16, 2009

Links about Seton Hill's sculpture and how it reflects alumni relationships

Seton Hill's web page devoted to alumni

Post-Gazette article about the controversy over "Pipe Theme in Red Orange"

Tribune Review article on the same subject

Setonian article about the controversy

another Setonian article about the controversy

"Save Pipe Theme in Red Orange"--Causes on Facebook

Seton Hill Alumni Facebook page

Too much garbage

I thought this multimedia presentation had its good points and bad points. While part of me likes the fact that you have to click multiple times to see each step of the process for collecting garbage and collecting recyclables, part of me realizes that if I hadn't been assigned to look at this presentation for a class I wouldn't have had as much patience with it and might not have gone through the whole thing. Breaking each step down with both diagrams and videos makes it very clear just how the journeys for garbage and recyclables are different; this is very informative. However, unless you have a lot of time on your hands you probably won't click on each step and only get a partial understanding of the process; if all this information was streamlined and put into one place it would be more convenient for people to learn about. Also, unless you're really examining the site it's not that obvious that there are multiple steps to click on. The multiple steps are easy to miss because there are no graphics that call attention to them; you have to move your cursor in the white area at the bottom in order for the titles to pop up. Another problem I had with this presentation was that part of the graphics on the side are cut off, and there was no way to scroll sideways so as to be able to see the full diagram. Overall, I like the methodical structure of this presentation, but a lot more work could have been done to make the information in its entirety more accessible to someone who would just be casually browsing through the website.

Link back to course website

November 18, 2009

What happens when the story (or window) comes crashing down

"Reporters become convinced the story line emerging from their investigation is the only one. And even the emergence of new facts or different dimensions or a broader context fails to enable them to open their minds to the possibility that the story has changed or that there may be no story at all."
--Haiman, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists, page 57

I thought this chapter was particularly relevant for our investigative articles we're working on now. I can understand the impulse to want to make a story out of something that's not really a story, because that's sort of the nature of the assignment--investigative stories aren't supposed to obviously be stories on the surface, but there's something hidden or unconsidered that makes them newsworthy. But if you don't find the thing that makes them newsworthy, you can't just make it up, or pretend like it's there when it's not. Brace yourselves for another theatre analogy--it's like when we say in acting that you can't ignore anything that happens onstage; you have to be fully present in the moment. Even if something happens that's not "supposed" to happen, it ends up looking really stupid if you just pretend like it didn't happen. Take, for instance, this nightmare production of Peter Pan; when Wendy just continues with her line even though her house has been demolished, it looks ridiculous. There's no way to keep up the illusion that Peter did not just crash into the window. You have to do the same thing in newswriting! You can't just act like there's still a story even when your story comes crashing down. The only problem is when you've got a deadline and you don't think you can come up with a different story idea in time. But you still need to be truthful; perhaps the hidden part of this story is the surprising fact that there is no hidden or undiscovered aspect. Audiences love when stuff goes wrong, anyhow.

Morbidly Twisted Links

"As a companion piece, the auteur behind fantastical spectacles Mars Attacks!, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman and a host of other morbidly twisted movies is publishing The Art of Tim Burton, a 434-page tome packed with drawings, doodles, paintings and evocative concept art dating back to Burton’s teen years in Burbank, California."
--Wired, "Concept Art Offers Peek at Tim Burton’s Twisted Mind"

I confess I'm not really so into the technology, so many of the articles on this website confused me and made me short-circuit. I decided to focus on the Tim Burton article, since it was the one I felt I could understand best. There weren't that many links in the article; the quote above used a link to imdb's information about Tim Burton, which can be helpful for someone who may have seen one or two of Burton's movies but doesn't associate the movie with him as a director. It also links to a search engine with the name of the publisher of the book they're talking about typed in; this seemed a bit lazy, because they could have just linked right to the publisher's website. They also link to a Wikipedia article on Bozo the Clown when talking about some of Tim Burton's influences, which once again can be a helpful starting point for someone who's never heard of Bozo the Clown and just wants some basic general information. However, I thought none of the links were particularly helpful or necessary, especially because the people interested enough to peruse this article are probably already familiar with Burton's movies and if so inclined will type in the name of the book themselves to order it. The main attraction of this article are the sketches, which are so colorful and bizarre they speak volumes more than any of the text possibly could. I think the most helpful link is the link to a related story (also featuring mostly pictures) about Burton's remake of Alice in Wonderland, because the audience for this article is very likely to be interested in his next film project. I think this article is an example where the visuals dominate the story so much, that unless the links all took the reader to more predominantly visual web pages, there really is no reason to navigate away from the page in the course of reading it.

Link to course website

November 25, 2009

This Just In

"17 hours ago"
--The Harvard Crimson

Much about the Harvard Crimson website impressed me, but the mentioning of how old (or new) each story is that I reference in the above quote was the most audacious and cool thing about the website to me. I suspect the people working on the website have gone home for Thanskgiving, since the most recent story is from 17 hours ago, but still, the basic organization is helpful. Most people visiting this site are probably most interested in the most recent stories, seeing how the website is supposed to giving us "news" and not "olds." It's pretty impressive because it implies the website is updated regularly enough to have stories from a few hours ago bury stories from a couple days ago. However, the stories aren't exactly arranged just by level of recentness. For example, a few stories in the magazine section are from "10 days ago" but are given more prominent placement than the stories under "More News" that are from "Yesterday" or "2 days ago." I wonder why they arranged it that way; perhaps they wanted to display the variety of content they have, so they put the less-frequently-updated magazine stories above the news stories deemed less important than the top stories. That's understandable, but I think the fact that they call so much attention to when the stories were posted makes it seem like all the stories should be organized according to how recent they are. That's one of the drawbacks of this website--it bombards you with so much information that it's kind of hard to sort out. The information is clearly organized--I like all the categories they have at the top, even the potentially confusing "Flyby" because it made me want to click on it to find out what it was. As for the rest of the website, however, I didn't know what to click because there was so much going on. The pictures especially caught my attention and then made me lose focus because of how fast they went by. In order for people to be able to read the captions in their entirety, the pictures need to change just a few seconds more slowly.
But overall, the website is very organized and eye-catching. Some of the headlines--"Sex and the Sprinter" and "The WTF Era Begins," especially--really grab your attention with their boldness. Courtney A. Fiske's opinion column is called "The F-Word," which I think is pretty bold and brassy. I can picture some professional newspapers that might not want to take those kind of risks. The only place where I think the boldness of the website gets into trouble is in keeping the website concise. If they trimmed down the amount of information on the page, it would be easier to follow while still remaining busy and active enough to get people's attention.

Link back to course website

November 27, 2009

So what if they're not Harvard? They can do bad all by themselves!

The Cavalier Daily website has its advantages and disadvantages. One improvement I think it has over the Harvard Crimson is the fact that it's much less cluttered and has fewer distractions. On the initial page, you see pictures for three top stories and that's it. I think this actually makes it easier to make a decision on what to read than having many top stories that are not all associated with pictures. On this website, the pictures are big, and it's easy to see what's going on in them, whereas some of the Harvard Crimson's were smaller and sometimes hard to make out. So, although you have fewer choices displayed, it's easier to tell whether or not it's the kind of story you want to read. I actually prefer this approach, probably because I'm so neurotic and have a tough time making choices, but someone else might prefer the Harvard Crimson's more inclusive approach, which I find chaotic. The Cavalier Daily also has good, clear organization going for it, with all of the categories displayed at the top of the page. If you have a particular kind of story in mind, it's very easy to use these categories to find it.
One of the more major problems with the presentation of this site is the fact that you don't get any headlines or links to stories to click on above the fold. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the pictures are eye-catching and made me want to scroll down to see the headlines they're associated with (well, at least the picture of the Pilgrims eating Chinese food did, but maybe this isn't always the case). But on the whole, this website is almost completely dependent on the pictures to lure potential readers in to find out more. If the pictures by themselves don't do it, then there's nothing to draw the reader in. I think redesigning the site so that the headlines are visible above the fold would be very beneficial. Another problem with the site that I'm not sure has a solution is the recent comments section. Both times I've looked at this site, the comments featured tend to be negative ("Your food reviewer doesn’t know what broccolini are? Great choice for a restaurant reviewer. Keep up the high quality work!"--I think this is meant to be sarcastic.) I also saw some negative comments on another person's article about feminism that criticized the writer for not knowing enough about the topic. These comments reflect poorly on the quality of the writing of this newspaper, and they made me not want to read it. While I understand this is a college newspaper and will not always have the best quality, the comments section should probably at least be adjusted so that negative comments are not on the home page. In the section where you can post a comment, they say they'll remove comments they think are "in poor taste or unfit for publication," but if they start removing all the critical comments, it'll look like they're censoring, which will also reflect poorly on them. Ultimately, I think the best solution is to maybe not feature the comments on the home page and make sure the writers are aware of these kinds of complaints so they are sensitive to the criticisms in the future and make sure they thorougly research the subject they are covering.

Link back to course website

Integrity wins out in the end

“Jefferson’s concern about libels was not for loss of popular confidence in the government,
but rather for loss of popular confidence in the newspapers themselves,”
Mayer noted.
In other words, an unfair press threatens a free press."
--page 73, Best Practices for Newspaper Journalists

I think this is a wonderful point for this book to end on. While the government won't and shouldn't censor the freedom of the press, that doesn't mean there aren't still consequences for publishing unfair journalism. Journalism, after all, is completely dependent on its target audience. The more that audience finds the journalism to be inaccurate or unfair, the less useful the audience will find journalism, and so journalism loses its audience. If an article gets written and posted in the middle of the woods with no one to read it, is it still journalism? I don't think so. Also, journalists who are unfair in their treatment of those they cover will lose their effectiveness because fewer people will trust them to cover their stories. Fewer sources to interview means less accurate information, and less accurate information leads to fewer readers, and the cycle goes on and on.
I think in this day and age of online journalism, it's even more important to stay as fair and trustworthy as possible. There are so many publications that people can read on the Internet that it is very hard to win loyalty, unless you're only one of a handful of publications in a small area that covers local stories. Obviously, the Setonian doesn't have a lot of competition in that arena. But I remember Andrew Wichrowski saying that the New York Times was his start-up page, but this newspaper doesn't really feature any news pertinent to the immediate area of Greensburg. The New York Times is a well-established and respected enough newspaper to inspire that kind of loyalty, but for lesser-known newspapers, it's hard to compete. Now you can try to compete by being a trashy rumor mill that gets attention because of sensational stories, or you can try to be as objective and accurate as possible and capture people's attention through a sleek design and easy-to-follow organization. If you choose the former path, you might get people reading your stuff just to see what wacky thing you're going to say next, but the latter choice is more likely to attract a wider readership and get you longevity, in my opinion. Perez Hilton's blogging is personality-driven and will probably lose its attraction over time; the New York Times has existed since 1851. There's no question that as we enter further into this age where people primarily get information from the Internet, journalists will find they have to deal with more and more competition. I hope that it inspires greater accuracy and fairness and that journalists don't deteriorate into Perez Hilton; I don't think you could really call him a journalist. In the end, I think people can be entertained by trashy rumor mills but just as you get tired of a joke that you hear over and over, trashiness can only be entertaining for so long. Eventually people want to know the truth and turn to more reputable sources. So it's the journalists who hold on to their integrity that win out in the end.

About November 2009

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

October 2009 is the previous archive.

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