Sunday, January 28, 2007

What's in a name?

A lot, if you're the woman who accused three Duke lacrosse players of sexual assault.

Mainstream media have yet to name her, though several websites have. Poynter's Kelly McBride asks whether we should divulge her name and considers three guiding principles that may lead to different answers:

1. report the truth as fully as possible (you'll report the name)
2. remaining independent (perhaps you'll report the name)
3. minimizing harm (you won't report the name)

We report the truth as fully as possible because we assume the information we put forth is important or relevant to our audience. Surely the woman's family will be affected by this, but will anybody else? Isn't name-dropping - in this case - just gossiping?

So, you say, the lacrosse players may have been wrongfully accused, isn't it appropriate to name the woman who has all but destroyed their reputations? No. It is certainly not our jobs to avenge someone else's wrong-doing. And if the boys are, in fact, guilty of committing a crime we put the victim at risk.

My point is: I can think of no argument to convince me that a news outlet would be justified in naming the accusor. Agree or disagree?

Sorry for the tardiness,


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Libby trial:stands to promote and curtail powers of the press

The Lewis "Scooter" Libby trial began this week, highlighting just how potent courts can be toward the press, politics and an ever-blurring link between the two. We're in for what could be a string of firsts:

- For the first time, bloggers are considered formal members of the press and were invited to attend court proceedings and sit in the same area as major TV, print and radio journalists. (see Washington post article:

- For the first time, a Vice-President could testify in a criminal trial

- For the not-so-first time: Reporters will not only think at least twice before pledging anonymity in return for a story as TD discusses in her blog, but the very relationship between reporter, source and government access could be at stake.

The sight of reporters for major news organizations testifying for the prosecution in a criminal trial will take a major blow at all news agencies--at the credibility of news, and at the question of who really owns rights to a story and even more specifically...story notes. The Washington post article and other reporters have insinuated that of all the reporters, freelance bloggers will sit most comfortably...knowing that maybe their freedom of access might change but because their sites are still considered by most--an open, non-reliable round table for opinion--they can say what they want and not face legal ramifications. I say...don't get too cozy...opening the doors of media doesn't mean the law won't grow longer arms. The robed oldies are getting hip to the ins and outs of the web a quick LexisNexis search, keyword: blog. A few thousand suits will pop up--most in 2006. The courts are making new precedent in the midst of new media--even bloggers have to play by the rules.

Which brings us to the question of regulation of voice and who really has control over our words--written, spoken, printed and encoded on the internet.

This past week we were informed by our editors that our stories don't belong to us; our footage, our notes, our edited packages--none of it is ours to keep and none of it is ours to give.

Given the ramifications of the Libby trial, press members' prerogative to remain silent, to keep secret sources or even to use the term "anonymity" or "sources" without naming names--could be at stake.

But, so what? Will the courts change the face of media that much? Will reporters really be afraid to take the tougher stories, politically driven or otherwise, because they know they too risk the chance to end up in court? Maybe so, but I say-probably not...not if they're committed to the craft. But, will politicians be more wary of what they say and who they say it to? Maybe so, but again, I'd say--probably not...not if they, too, are committed to their profession in serving the people and providing leadership for the greater good and not protection of a polluted, privileged few.

The courts will likely consider the testimony of three reporters-–Matthew Cooper, (Time) and Judith Miller (The New York Times) and Tim Russert (NBC) to determine both Libby's fate and the fate of media as we know it. I'm enjoying reading the papers, watching the news and especially--looking out for blogs capturing the daily court events.

Bloggers, having now been welcomed into the VIP (very important press) circle, are making history and bearing witness to it. As the power of the press and the true freedom of speech (or not to speak) comes before the courts, the Libby trial could stand to change the face of media forever.


"To a lighter note ...

... It's a murder rather."

So reported David Gregory as he filled in anchoring the Today Show this week. I caught this on Gawker and couldn't believe it.

We've definitely learned a lot in the last few weeks: working on transitions in scripts, always reading and re-reading copy before it goes to air, trying to avoid bad cliches, and all that.

I think the Today Show could have used a little script revision, and I'm surprised that a news veteran such as Gregory (what with his status as NBC Chief White House Correspondent, etc. etc.) wasn't prepared.

A caveat - I know we're all going to make mistakes, write something that isn't quite right, or stumble while delivering the news. We can't always be prepared.

And Gregory does say in the video clip that he's tired and that's why he didn't contribute a line after Meredith Viera, but still.

But - this shouldn't have happened: "Meredith, thanks. Now, switching gears to a lighter note. (pause, shuffle papers) It’s a murder ... rather. (catches self) Actually not quite a lighter note. It’s a little bit of a difficult topic."

It shouldn't have happened at all, and it certainly shouldn't have happened in the age of YouTube. All those on air have to be careful about - not saying anything you wouldn't want the whole country to hear while miked up.

This goes beyond that. It wasn't an off-the-cuff remark. It was scripted. Really, who would write this? "Switching gears to a lighter note, it's a murder that sounds like something straight out of a James Bond movie ..."


Manipulating the Watchdog

Ap writer Michael J. Sniffen wrote an article today revealing the latest testimony from I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s perjury trial. Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top press assistant, Cathie Martin, testified about how the Bush administration purposefully tried to manipulate the media to shed a more favorable light on Cheney and the rest of the Bush administration; this was at a time when the White House was coming under fire for saying it had proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and using this “proof” as justification to initiate war.

Some of Martin’s revelations on the administration’s media manipulation:

The uses of leaks and exclusive interviews
Deciding when to be anonymous and when to allow your name to be used
Discussions on which news medium is most easily controlled and the most opportune timing of releasing information
Lists of favorable journalists and also a kind of “blacklist” of critics

Martin maintained that after the firestorm of attacks against the vice president, fueled on information from ex-ambassador Joseph Wilson that the administration ignored his 2002 report debunking rumors that Iraq was buying uranium from Niger, Martin received orders directly from the president to release information that Cheney did not know Wilson, knew nothing of the report and only found out about the report in 2003 from news stories – all false according to Martin.

These revelations are troubling at best. Getting the scoop in political reporting, especially in Washington, often depends on who you know. But just as journalists have to remain constantly aware of our biases, we also have to be aware that we are in danger of being used and manipulated for political and other gain at all times.

While setting up a story last week, I found myself in this situation. My contact, thinking I was merely a naïve student reporter, preceded to tell me how she would like the story “to be framed.” “Oh, don’t include that* aspect,” she said of some piece of information that might be seen as unfavorable to the organization. I politely told her that the reporting of the story was my job, but I was annoyed.

Most of the time, the manipulation is not as apparent, so be aware of your biases and be aware of other’s biases as well. Those who seek out media attention, while good for the camera, often have an agenda to push.


Cozying up with The Money Honey

This week, a top Citigroup exec was fired. One reason for his ouster was his close relationship with CNBC's queen bee, Maria Bartiromo. Bartiromo was flown in Citi's corporate jets to asia ... The exec invested 5 million of CITIGROUP's MONEY(?!?) in a Sundance channel for a show Bartiromo would host... The big question is how can a journalist "objectively" cover companies with which she has close, personal and business relationships?

Bartiromo has been criticized before, for being too soft on her interviews of top executives. I think this column on MarketWatch makes the interesting point that CNBC's coverage of the Citigroup shakeup doesn't mention Bartiromo ...

CNBC erred by giving Bartiromo a free pass

There is a clear ethical issue here, not to mention a PR misjudgement. How can CNBC not cover the whole story, especially given the circumstances? The columnist suggests that the network does not want to roil the waters with Bartiromo - for fear she will jump ship to the nascent Fox business channel... I think their handling of this issue, however, has cost them more in good standing with their viewers.

Ethics in business reporting is not just a reputation issue, it's also a legal and financial issue. Bartiromo can move markets, as evidenced by her Bernanke scoop a few months ago, which, theoretically, can affect pretty much everyone's bottom line.
I do not see why Bartiromo should ever be taking corporate jets... there's just too much of a conflict of interest. The SEC and NASD don't allow brokers to take favors from bankers - there should be a similar standard for the journalist/corporation relationship.

On the one hand, you have to cultivate sources, but where do you draw the line? Although I think Bartiromo does a great job - her relationship with Citigroup certainly seems inappropriate.


Too much information?

There was an profile in the Washington Post Friday about CNN's Headline News' newest acquisition: Glenn Beck.

According to the article, Headline News is envious of Fox's ratings, so they hired a conservative to discuss the days issues in his own opinionated voice. But, as David Segal said in the article, Beck is a lot different from O'Reilly.

"While most sermonizing conservatives wait for a public debacle to expose their failings -- think of William Bennett and his slot-machine addiction, or Rush Limbaugh and his pill problem -- Beck and his many inner demons are on a first-name basis, and he's constantly introducing them to viewers. His alcoholism is just part of it."

I have seen his show. Beck does talk about his previous bouts with alcoholism, his religion, his attention deficit disorder, his religion, his former "jerkdom," etc.

But is it too much information?

Some may say yes, but in an age when even national news organizations are trying to show the viewers a different side to their anchors and reporters, what's wrong with Beck showcasing his downfalls? Those issues in his life made him who he is today.

My previous posts have talked about objectivity in the news and how it is non-existent. Beck is simply speaking his mind about world issues, but he is ALSO giving context to why he feels the way he does.

Segal said, "With Beck's show, Headline News is hoping that viewers will watch a guy wrestle with himself, as well as with C-list pundits."

We all grapple with the tough issues in the world and with ourselves. We can relate to Beck. Or, at least I can.

According to Beck's numbers more than 330,000 people can relate to him as well. Headline News said Beck's numbers have doubled since he started.

I wouldn't go to Beck's show to get the news of the day, I would tune into Beck to see a real-life "regular" guy grapple with the days events just as we may be.

Beck told Segal in the article: "I know what I believe, but I'm not an ideologue. I will ask, not just on TV but in the privacy of my own home, 'Gosh, is that right?'"


Capitalist Media v. Communist Media

Who does it better (or worse?)

[1] Let's start with the overtly disturbing: This week, the Chinese Administration of Radio, Film and TV ordered all domestic networks to dump any prime-time programming that is less than "ethically inspiring."

True to form, the government official offered no further definition of "ethically inspiring."

Also prohibited? Imported cartoons and any content featuring crime, guns, sex, love affairs or divorce. All programming must be vetted and approved by the country's media administration prior to airing.

The restrictions start in February and will last at least until the 17th Party Congress late this year. China's aim is to ... I don't know ... cleanse the national psyche? ... leading up to this major meeting of Party leaders (which happens once every five years).

I'm of the mind that freedom is priceless, so I call this unworkably nasty and despotic ... but are we any better off?

[2] Last night, I watched NBC's new game show, 1 vs. 100, and I was appalled.

It was beyond saturated, you guys, with cross-marketing and intra-promotional advertising. It was a shamelessly ballyhooing plug blitz, through and through.

The game itself was silly and unbelievably slow. In an hour-long show, host Bob Saget spends 5 minutes spewing stupid catch-phrases (the show has like five of 'em), 10 minutes explaining the rules to the contestant and 20 minutes re-capping what's already happened in the game.

About 5 minutes are dedicated to the game itself, ridiculous trivia questions that all include some plug for something you can buy somewhere.

"Which came first: the Chicken McNugget or the Egg McMuffin?"

Some plugs were totally non-germane: "Howard Stern is eating ratatouille with Baba-Booey. What dish are they most likely enjoying?"

And the rest of the time, he's chatting with members of the "100," invariably chiseled actors from minor NBC soaps. Or child stars. Or attractive women in tight sweaters.

The remaining 20 minutes? Commercials, natch! And every commercial break begins and ends with a commercial for the game itself, or some ancillary audience participation thing via cell phone. Only $9.99 per minute!

... It occurred to me that, at some point, "ethically inspiring" starts to sound pretty good.


Media Obsession

I was alarmed today when I checked my internet news sites to read about "tens of thousands" in D.C. protesting the war. I love how we can have peaceful protests in our country without blood being shed, but this march looks more like star gazing than protesting. When I turned on CNN I expected full coverage, but the story was brief, and the crowd does not look like "tens of thousands," as the AP article I read described. It seemed like a thousand people were there to listen to pompous celebraties give their views on Bush. I think this is pretty amusing, and my first thought was how these actors desperately want to relive the days of 1969. My second thought was on one of my favorite movies: Team America. I hope you enjoy this video as much as I do.

The second link is what I would like to reflect on today, and the two topics are related. Senator Obama. Or should I say Rock Star Obama. This junior senator has been ALL over the news, and not only since his announcement to form an exploratory committee; he's been the media darling since his speech at the democratic national convention in 2004. Obama has been on magazine covers, newspapers' front pages, cable shows, network shows, internet sites, Oprah's couch, Northwestern News Network - you name it, he's been there.

I remember when this Obama hysteria started to get to me. I was, up until December, a subscriber to Time magazine. Before the November election it was cover after cover of bashing republicans. But there was one issue inbetween the cover of the Elephant's behind and the cover with the picture of the tattered cowboy hat, that didn't focus on the immanent defeat of the GOP; it was an issue graced with a cover of a very cute Senator Obama. The article entailed the reasoning behind how he could become our first black president. The arguments weren't compelling.

The article I linked lists all of the praise the senator has gotten within the past year. With all of these accolades, how can he not run for president? He seems modest, but I believe he has to have an ego that convinces him of political invicibility. He probably has supporters in the demoratic congress because there aren't many within the party, as of now, that are electable. Senator Obama is electable. Perhaps more so than Hillary.

But is he prepared to be our president? He seems like a good guy. No doubt he's charismatic, good looking, well-spoken and intelligent. But other than these qualities, what has he done to deserve this publicity? And furthermore, what has he done to deserve being the leader of the free world? He tried passing legislation with Senator McCain and then backed out because it was controversial. He also hasn't been straight with what he thinks is a solution in Iraq. Not that he has any expertise with this topic.

It seems he says things that are politically safe. For instance, on his web site he menitoned "a new kind of politics." What does this mean? It's political jargon that sounds good but it's not substantive. This is not a sign of leadership. As a leader you will have those that support your ideas, and those that oppose them. You can't please everyone. Just ask Bush, he has 70 percent of the country opposing him.

But Obama certainly pleases the press. Obama is just another case of our media's obsession with celebraties. But I do have a friend who loves the young senator. She's from Illinois and worked on his senate campaign. She has told me,"you have to listen to his ideas! He will change things!"

Well, I'm listening, Obama.


Network Rivalry

NYT - Rivals CNN and Fox News Spar Over Obama Report

Insight - Hillary's team has questions about Obama's Muslim background

After reading the NYT article, I began wondering to myself, what would be the most professional way to criticize a competitor on national television?

To give a brief history of what happened between CNN and Fox News:
Fox News reported on something they found from an online, conservative magazine called Insight. The magazine alleged that Sen. Obama had attended a madrassa ( "a school that teaches a radical version of the Muslim faith," according to the NYT article) when he was a child in Indonesia. Insight claimed that researches connected to Sen. Hillary Clinton had discovered the news. The Insight article pits Clinton against Obama and would be a big story, if it were, in fact, true. CNN sent its own reporters over to the school to find that it has no religious affiliation. In addition, Senators Obama and Clinton both rejected the Insight report as false. CNN U.S. Pres. Jon Klein said its report was not a response to Fox. But after its version of the report came out, anchors Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper criticized the journalistic practices of Fox right on air.

No, Fox News did not practice good journalism when they failed to verify the facts from the rumors. They apparently attributed everything they knew to the Insight report. This kind of critical mistake easily can lead to another "Richard Jewell fiasco," but luckily for Sen. Obama, it seems that his bid for the 2008 Presidential election seems to still be in tact.

CNN did a great job of finding out the truth, but was it really necessary to rub the nose of Fox News into the ground? It was very unprofessional of Blitzer and Cooper to have that sort of critical banter about its leading competitor on television. It also undermines the credibility of the network. Why? Because it makes it seem like CNN's report was, indeed, just a way to "get back" at a rival network. It wasn't driven by a search for the truth. Instead, CNN was motivated to prove Fox wrong. Now, while CNN did find out the truth, it doesn't make me feel good as a news consumer that good reporting can only come about when "one-upping" a rival is the motivating factor.

A bit more professional conduct was needed here in this situation. Fox News didn't do its homework before reporting the story. Yet CNN was like a child that tattled to the world, "Fox doesn't know what it's doing. You should watch us instead."

So to answer my initial question, there is no professional way to criticize a competitor in any medium. Sure, call them on it by presenting a full and accurate report of your own; that is more than enough to establish more credibility to your network and to destroy the credibility of another. But it isn't necessary to air your dirty laundry to your audience.

We're professionals, not children. Come on, people.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

if the sound isn't natural, should it be neutral?

Last Monday morning NBC aired a segment called "No Man Required' Mothers", where guests debated the trend on single moms who choose to bear children despite being single. The background sound is what got my attention--an up-beat girl-power song by Aretha Franklin....the title escapes me now, was playing in the background. The music ended when Meredith Vieira began to question pro-fatherhood guests and then resumed during the teases and when the guest single moms would speak or in the background, toward the end of a single mom SOT.

I decided that for the rest of the week, I'd set aside focusing so much on nat. sound and really key in on background noise and music. On the evening network news, music and pop sounds that correlated with graphics were much more prevalent than on local evening news stories. The background sounds and music really amped the stories and gave them more punch than many of the local news stories. But it occurred to me that many of the songs selected (i.e. "my last dime", an 80s song was playing in the background of a feature story on debt (ABC) or one of Handel's more sorrowful compositions was played during a story on Iraq and boosted when there was a full screen graphic on the number of lives lost (CNN) reflected an editorial production decision to translate the feelings/mood of the producer to the viewing audience. In some ways, news story soundtracks enable a creative freedom but also threaten to convey the wrong message or too strong/weak a message, or simply--a message, rather than a neutral news story.

It's tough to maintain a stance of neutrality when telling stories, but it's the way that stories are edited (the order of the sots, the length, the focus, the broll used) that threaten to promote bias. Music selection and placement is no exception.



I am disgusted by the conflation of advertising and, well, everything else. The worst part, to me, is the impossibility(?) of culling what's real from what's manufactured to pique our consumer interest.

I enjoyed this article by Diana Farsetta of the Center for Media and Democracy. It only really addresses the law, so what do you think of the ethics involved?

". . . Public relations firms have produced and provided to TV stations segments called video news releases, or VNRs, since the 1980s.

"VNRs are pre-packaged segments and additional video that mimic independent news reports, in order to facilitate their incorporation into TV newscasts. However, unlike independent reports, VNRs promote the products, services, public image and/or policy agenda of the client(s) that funded them.

"For example, the Bush administration commissioned VNRs promoting its Medicare prescription drug policy. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration funded VNRs in support of its proposed workplace rule changes. And the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline paid for a VNR touting the company’s new flu vaccine. All of these segments were subsequently presented to viewers as 'news.'

"The ethical and legal questions surrounding VNRs have been hotly debated in recent years. In 2004 and 2005, the U.S. Government Accountability Office repeatedly ruled that government-funded VNRs that do not make their source clear to viewers constitute illegal, covert propaganda. In March 2005, the New York Times published a front-page exposé on government VNRs, which found that 'many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgment of the government’s role.' . . .

"In April 2006, the Center for Media and Democracy released a report (which [Farsetta] co-authored) on TV stations’ use of VNRs. By tracking an estimated 1 percent of the total number of VNRs produced over the course of the investigation, the report identified 77 stations – including ones in major markets – that had aired sponsored segments. 'In almost all cases, stations failed to balance the clients’ messages with independently-gathered footage or basic journalistic research,' concluded the report. 'More than one-third of the time, stations aired the pre-packaged VNR in its entirety.'

"Four months later, the Federal Communications Commission launched a formal investigation of these 77 stations. The inquiry centers on whether the undisclosed VNR broadcasts violate federal sponsorship identification rules. In an earlier Public Notice on VNRs, the FCC had unanimously affirmed that the public is 'entitled to know who seeks to persuade them with the programming offered over broadcast stations and cable systems.'

. . .

"CMD recommends that all VNRs carry a continuous on-screen disclosure of their source, and that this disclosure be added before the VNRs are disseminated to TV stations. In conjunction with the media reform group Free Press, CMD filed formal complaints with the FCC and urged the agency to enforce the federal sponsorship identification rules. Not surprisingly, lawyers for the broadcast and public relations industries have challenged the CMD reports and called on the FCC to stop its investigation."


Extra! Extra! Couric to do Super Bowl feature

Stop the presses! An AP article ran Friday - Katie Couric is scheduled to contribute a feature piece for the Super Bowl pregame show.

I'm not entirely sure why doing one story mandates a CBS press release about it (but as we all know, there are press releases for everything under the sun, and it's Katie Couric), but what I really don't understand is - why did so many news outlets run the AP story about this?, CBS News (ok, makes sense there), ABC News, Fox News, Yahoo News, Salon, USA Today. The list just keeps on going.

I know she's a big deal. And I know CBS wants to get her up in the ratings. Heck, she makes news about what she wears for her newscasts. And how she sits while doing anchoring.

And I can understand that CBS would want to promote this, particularly with the ratings that the Super Bowl draws. In fact, the Super Bowl always bumps up viewership for local affiliates that do televise the game.

But really. The fact that she's "tentatively scheduled" to do a feature piece about Pittsburgh Steeler Hines Ward and his Korean background - that is not news. No aspersions on the Steelers or anything. Just the lack of newsworthiness of this AP article and the rush of all these media outlets to run it.

I tried to hyperlink these links, but Blogger and I are not getting along at the moment:,4670,TVSuperBowl,00.html


O'Reilly Crossed the Line.

O'Reilly Crossed the Line

Everyone knows Bill O'Reilly's show is far from objective and mainly an hour of him rambling on about news issues in his own unique way. But, he went too far on January 15th. On that day on The O'Reilly Factor, Mr. O'Reilly rambled on about the abduction case of the two Missouri teenage boys. Obviously the country is interested in this case, especially with Shawn Horbeck. Everyone is wondering how he could have lived with his abductor for four years without trying to escape. But the boy has yet to explain. His counselors have told his parents to wait until he is ready to talk about it. The Hornbecks even went on Oprah this past week, but did not discuss the details.

Suprisingly though, without talking to boy or his family, O'Reilly claims to know why Hornbeck didn't try to escape.

"The situation here for this kid looks to me to be a lot more fun than what he had under his old parents. He didn't have to go to school. He could run around and do whatever he wanted," O'Reilly said. He continued..."there was an element here that this kid liked about this circumstances."

How does Bill O'Reilly know? How can he claim to know this? How dare he suggest this young boy liked his circumstances? A lot of the major broadcasting stations invited psychologists to come on the air to discuss the Stockholm Syndrome - roughly when someone is in an abusive relationship they act in abnormal ways.

O'Reilly said he doesn't buy that theory either.

I understand O'Reilly is paid the big bucks at Fox News for his opinions. I understand they are only his opinions and Fox News is not suggesting they are facts. But, I have a real problem with this broadcast.

Until Shawn Hornbeck talks about what happened to him and how he made his decisions, then Bill O'Reilly shouldn't assume anything. It is one thing to criticize the media for being too liberal, or to criticize elected public officials, it is quite another to criticize a young private citizen who was involved in a traumatic incident.


Where East and West meet?

This is a thought-provoking Op-Ed by Daniel Pearl's mother on the Al-Jazeera English channel...

Another Perspective or Jihad TV?

"In short, Al Jazeera’s editors choreograph a worldview in which an irreconcilable struggle rages between an evil-meaning Western oppressor and its helpless, righteous Arab victims. Most worrisome, perhaps, it often reports on supposed Western conspiracies behind most Arab hardships or failings, thus fueling the sense of helplessness, humiliation and anger among Muslim youths and helping turn them into potential recruits for terrorist organizations."

I suppose my question would be - how much more incendiary to a potential suicide bomber is the Al-Jazeera coverage of Sheik Qaradawi than, say, Fox News's coverage of President Bush referring to axes of evil and a "crusade" against terrorists. This Op-Ed brings up questions of first amendment values held dear, including the value of multiple viewpoints... The suggestion is that the Qatar parent of Al-Jazeera English pushes a jihadist agenda that will infiltrate its fledgling English counterpart, subversively and more effectively through the english accents of well-respected "western" journalists.

"Let’s face it: when a terrorist attack is described as a “martyrdom” in a thick Middle Eastern accent, it can be dismissed by Americans as a peculiarity of cultural differences. But imagine the effect of the word if spoken in David Frost’s cultured British tones. This is why, even if Al Jazeera English waters down its alarmist content, it should still be seen as a potential threat: it will bestow respectability upon the practices of its parent network in Qatar, which continues, among other things, to broadcast Sheik Qaradawi’s teachings."

Tough issue - especially considering the source...


Why we're here...

Journalist's killing shocks Turkey:

Journalists in America are under constant attack. We are accused of sensationalizing, politicizing and poor prioritizing. Whether or not all this is true, let us for a moment consider a world in which we are not free to do any of the above.
Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink was shot dead in Istanbul Friday. Dink was editor of a weekly newspaper, and a prominent public figure who was criticized by many for speaking out against historic killings of minority Armenians.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the killing a "shock" and an "insult" to the Turkish nation and a "dark day" -- not only for Dink's family but also for all of Turkey. Indeed it was.
Incidents like these a fact of life for journalists all over the world. Bless the men and women who value truth over nationalist rhetoric, who are not corrupted by the whims of politicians and who persist in the face of death. They risk their lives in Iraq, Bosnia and Sudan because they know life will be better for the people of these countries if they succeed.
Because if Americans had not - at some point - honored voices of opposition, we would not be anticipating Sen. Barak Obama's candidacy for President and Nancy Pelosi would not be able to vote, let alone serve as Speaker of the House.
For all our faults - true or imagined - journalists must always remember why we're here. That life IS better for so many because we seek truth and speak for those who do not have a voice. American journalists must hold themselves to the highest standard because people around the world are counting on us to give them something to aspire to.


The Chicago Trib: Survival on the front page

The changing face of the Tribune

In a column written by the Public Editor of the Trib, he defends the newspaper against complaints of its past front-page treatments. The above image was the front page of the Trib the day after Saddam Hussein was executed. He says the size of Hussein's image and the large "Executed." next to his face is more typical of a magazine or tabloid. But at the same time, it got his attention... which is the whole point.

Sadly, we all know that newspaper readership has been steadily declining over the years. We ourselves are probably contributing to this factor. For myself, I know I'd rather look at the stories online because 1) it's free, 2) I don't have to carry anything around and 3) it's one less expense if I don't subscribe to the paper edtion. But this is only because I don't have a great deal of time to spend poring over the different sections of the newspaper. Right now, my goal in reading the paper is to find story ideas or to be relatively informed for my news quizzes.

But perhaps the rest of America is going along with this trend because life has simply sped up in the past few decades. As technology advances and days get longer for working people, who has time to spread out the newspaper and take a good look at everything? I'm guessing that more people subscribe to only the weekend edition of a paper or the Sunday edition because THAT is when they have more time.

Now, in order to get more people to buy the paper on a random basis from news stands, Tim McNulty suggests the eye-catching element of the front page is crucial. And I believe him. He says, "The front page is the newspaper's face and its prime real estate."

But at the same time, newspaper editors do not merely think about making the front page an "eye-catcher." A great deal of thought and discussion goes into deciding what stories go on the front page. The different elements -- like newsworthiness, relevance, timeliness and whether or not it has an image -- come into play, yet again. And all this is pitched to the senior editor by the section editors.

There is no way a newspaper can make all of its readers happy with the way it decides to present its front pages. Not only is it WHAT goes on the front page or what DOESN'T make it to the front page but also HOW the stories on the front are treated. Readers should keep in mind that an image or headline is just a way of trying to grab attention, but the important stuff is really the teeny, tiny writing that you can't read from 2 feet away.

And as fewer and fewer people read the paper, McNulty argues that finding different, creative ways of presenting its front page is necessary for enticing more readers to pick up the paper and could also be "essential to the survival of the newspaper industry."


American Evil

No, I’m not talking about the war in Iraq. I’m talking about American Idol. Now in its sixth season, the show has taken “meanness” to a new level, according to this article I found on the net.

On Tuesday and Wednesday nights the program showed clips of the first round of auditions from Minneapolis and Seattle. Tens of thousands showed up for these auditions, and many flew in from many parts of the country. I marvel at the production of this, because from this massive crowd they choose the most helpless and naïve American Idol hopefuls to humiliate.

As this article describes, and I’m sure as some of you might have seen, the humiliation was severe. I admit I laughed at parts, but I had to forward through my recording of the show when I just got too embarrassed to watch these pathetic pawns making fools of themselves.

It doesn’t take a highly ethical person to see the moral question here. But the producers obviously think America wants to see these sorry wannabe singers. And maybe they do. What does this tell us about our society? I don’t even want to think about it.

Some might say these people are asking for it, and that they might be playing a part. If they were acting, that makes me feel better, but I don’t think they were. The producers, judges and even that jerk Ryan Seacrest, know all too well the game they are playing with these clueless contestants. And this game is highly rated.

37.5 million people watched the premiere of the show, setting a record for FOX. The show is a huge ratings and commercial success! The commercials aired in the last episode of season five for American Idol cost almost as much as one aired during the Superbowl. Airing commercials during this program mean big returns for sponsors. And this is ultimately who the show is loyal to; not the contestants, not the fans and certainly not the winners. Just ask Kelly Clarkson. So what’s a little humiliation of some in exchange for television dominance?

I’m still going to watch American Idol. But in season seven, I’m saying no to the first few episodes. Maybe.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

Is Objectivity over-rated?

Scott Herhold of San Francisco’s Mercury News, wrote a column on Sunday about the attack of Yale a cappella group “The Baker’s Dozen” on a San Francisco street following their performance at a New Year’s Eve Party. The title of the column? “The truth? It depends on who’s telling.” Herhold maintains that different media outlets choose to paint the story with different brushes.

Herhold says the “Gay Press” called it anti-gay violence, (the perpetrators shouted anti-gay slurs at the victims). Fox News’ Sean Hannity called it an attack on patriotism, (the group had just finished singing “The Star Spangled Banner”). The Political junkies called it a cover-up since none of the attackers have been charged but many were identified as San Francisco prep-school students whose parents are high-profile and well-connected.

Now objectivity is an old debate in journalism that never seems to go away. And Herhold continues this long tradition with the question…if they’re all different who’s right? Herhold says “everyone and no one” because there’s “no such thing as an objective rendition of the facts.”

While I do think objectivity is important, I also believe that hearing a diversity of voices and opinions is great for journalism and the public we serve. It is the result of a free press and something that the United States is privileged to have. These different viewpoints contribute to a healthy discourse and the hope is that public will hear these separate voices and come to a conclusion for themselves.

But this stance brings up two issues for me:

For the public:
A highly probable and problematic possibility is that people’s news consumption generally doesn’t change all that much. People tend to be fairly loyal to the same media outlet over the years. They’re not being exposed to other voices in the “marketplace of ideas.”

For journalists:
To refer back to Herhold, as journalists, “at our best, we can be fair and accurate, representing all sides of a controversy. But our stories, subtly or not so subtly, reflect our background, bias and taste.” So we can be fair and accurate but not objective? What do you think?


For Herhold's column:

Saturday, January 13, 2007

CNN's Wolf Hitler's apology to Barack Obama not good enough for me.

Mistakes happen.

But do any of you gals believe, after putting together just two broadcasts, that CNN's "Where's Obama?" graphic was purely an accident?

Writer. Requester. Creator. Tech people. Control room. Even OUR dinky little graphics went through a rigorous chain of scrutinizing eyes before they appeared on TV. Surely the biggest cable news show ever has at least as many.

Unless a 9-year-old in charge of graphics changed it at the very last second before broadcast, I don't see how this could have happened. In any event, I do not accept the apology.

What about you?

P.S. Sorry this is kind of old news. I had my heart set on wasted Paula Abdul!

Live interview gone awry: or why producers should stay on top of things

Video of Paula Abdul’s live appearance from New York on a newscast of a Seattle TV station is all over the internet right now. Some bloggers are speculating she was drunk … others think she was high on drugs … her spokesman swears she wasn’t under the influence but rather that she was tired and that technical difficulties were involved.

I’ll let you judge for yourselves.

Abdul was promoting the next season of “American Idol” on the Fox affiliate in Seattle. I know it’s very big to do news-entertainment crossover promotions (on any network), but it’s still cheesy and annoying. She was set to talk about the “Idol” auditions in Seattle – which is sort of news – but not really.

It has been entertaining for the internet world, sure. Funny for those who aren’t fans of Abdul. And funny in general.

And it’s been publicity for the station. But is it good publicity?

I do love that the anchors just couldn’t stop laughing at Abdul at the beginning.

But I had a major problem with the whole thing. The “interview went on for more than three minutes. The producer of the newscast wasn’t in control of the situation. He or she let the anchors and Abdul keep going. I know there was a budgeted time in the newscast for the live interview and the producer would have had to scramble to fill the hole.

But I think this is one case where the producer should have stepped in and had the anchors end the situation as gracefully as possible. That a producer’s job – to rearrange things if necessary and to keep going with the newscast.

I know the station had probably booked a certain amount of satellite time for the interview and wouldn’t be able to get that changed. It would cost the same amount of money to go through with the whole interview as it would to cut it short.

But things weren't going that well. This shows the dangers of live interviews. While they are often useful and informative, here it was a huge risk. The anchors did a fairly good job of sticking to questions and trying to keep Abdul on track. However, there was no telling what she was going to do or say, and the anchors had to play reactive roles rather than staying in charge of the interview.


Talking Head Feud

This segment by NPR is a parody on an apparent feud between MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and FOX News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly. Modeled after VH1’s Behind The Music, the parody portrays the history of the dispute as silly and the talking heads as vain.

After getting some background information about the feud, I found that it began around the same time Olbermann was placed in the same timeslot as O’Reilly. Keith’s show has a segment titled “Worst Person in the World,” in which O’Reilly has been named at least 16 times. O’Reilly has a segment called “The Most Ridiculous Item of the Day,” in which he defends himself and tries to degrade Olbermann often. O’Reilly also, allegedly, banned Olbermann’s name from being said on his radio program and will arrest any caller who does so. Talk about harsh!

The two shows express two vastly different views: Keith is liberal and Bill is conservative. Though the two men never come out and say where their loyalties lie, it’s only inferred. But they are loved by their audiences.

NPR brings to the radio every day various news reports from all sides of the political spectrum. Their segments are engaging and thought provoking. I think NPR is poking fun at these two shows because it knows they aren’t “real” news shows, and they won’t be because they want big audiences. Maybe not each other’s audiences (since they are targeting different households), but each host needs to be as sensational, explosive and as “in your face” as possible to obtain the most viewers. Big audiences mean big ratings, and big ratings mean big money.

NPR doesn’t have to worry about ratings. They just have to worry about scheduling enough pledge drives to annoy their audience members. But that’s neither here nor there.

NPR believes that news doesn't have room for opinion. Of course there are shows in which opinion is given on NPR, but this can never be compared to the biased programming of cable news channels.

Olbermann and O'Reilly are polarizing, but loyal to their audiences. They say they’re bringing the truth to their audiences, but they seem to do it through their opinions. Does anyone else see the fallacy in this? I rather get the truth myself, with the help of NPR, not through these so-called “journalists.”


Playing the devil's advocate...

It appears the Internet is the next stop for corporations seeking to profit from media consolidation.
PBS Producer and Commentator Bill Moyers spoke Friday at a national conference for media reform in Memphis, Tenn. He urged his audience to keep a close watch on corporate America, claiming big business will seek profits at the expense of accessibility for the masses.
Media has already digressed to the point where "in-depth coverage of anything, let alone the problems real people face day to day, is as scarce as sex, violence and voyeurism are pervasive," he said.
Indeed, the Internet has already proven an essential medium where underrepresented viewpoints are exchanged. We must protect it from profit-seeking enterprises who try to hamper that exchange of information and opinion. Here, I agree with Moyers.
Where I disagree is in his assessment - albeit a common one - of the state of the industry.
On our first day of Broadcast Issues, Jon asked whether control over information has created a loss of diverse voices. To the contrary, I think we are exposed to a more representative sample of thoughts and opinions now than ever before. Granted, mainstream television media is mostly uniform in its coverage of major issues, and nuanced only by the political leanings of each outlet's master. Still, there is great diversity in the news we can access today through the click of a mouse.
"The real problems" people face day to day vary as deeply as do the individual members of our national community. The representativeness of television news may not be ideal, but let us bear in mind that the broadcasting industry as we know it is becoming a thing of the past. The internet has given us unprecedented access to information.
Moyer is right to fear for the Internet's vulnerability to corporate meddling. Still, he - and many others - need to lighten up with the generalizations they form about the industry as it stands today.


The Objective of Journalism

Journalism is supposed to be objective, right? Reporters are supposed to be the messengers of the news to the general public. In theory, there shouldn't be any kind of filter, just representation of facts and events. But in reality, objectivity among news gatherers and reporters is impossible.

In an article posted on on Friday, the author asks if the AP saw the same Bush speech as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post. The speech they are referring to is not the presidential address to the nation on Wednesday, but the speech Bush gave to soldiers at Fort Benning in Georgia earlier that day. The President was there to defend his new Iraq policy of sending more than 20,000 more troops to the Mid East.

The AP article's headline was "Bush Cheered at Fort Benning." It went on to state that the President was surrounded by "cheering soldiers" and that Fort Benning offered Bush "a patriotic backdrop and friendly audience" to sell his new strategy.

The other newspapers though, told a different story. The Washington Post's headline was: "At Fort Benning, a Quiet Response to a Presidential Visit." The NYT's headline was: "Bush Speaks and Base Is Subdued." The LA Times had a similar headline.

All three papers reported that the crowd was subdued. The soldiers were attentive and polite, but they were not cheering as the AP reported. The President was not as well received at the base as he usually is. The Post said, the soldiers "saluted smartly and applauded politely" -- "hardly the boisterous, rock-star reception Bush typically gets at military bases." The papers also reported that the press was not given access to the soldiers for comment after the speech... a fact that was left out of the AP article.

So what does this mean? The AP reporter is a conservative Bush supporter? Probably not, but some bias had to have come into play here. I don't claim to know why there were conflicting stories from the AP and the other three major papers, but I think this incident exemplifies my theory that objectivity is impossible.

Four reporters went to the same event. Four reporters saw the same thing. Four reporters were denied access to the soldiers and we come up with a contradiction in reporting. That is how journalism is. I think we need to stop selling journalism as an objective industry. It's just not true. Every time we, as reporters, go into a story we bring with us our own personal bias and objectives.

Just as the Potter's Box suggests, when you ask why people make their ethical decisions, you must take into account their values and principles. It's the same for reporters. Take in the news you hear on TV, or read in the papers with the knowledge of the source. What is that reporter's objective? What are their values? What are their biases?

Objectivity is a nice theory, but it does not exist in journalism.


Video rules the line-up

I found an article in the CJR Daily that struck me because we've all heard our broadcast instructors ask us, "Is there video?" whenever we want to do a story. This article, in particular, says that news values have gone out the window... as long as the story has video, it can get aired, even if the video is bad-quality home video.

In this case, the author highlights what she calls the "Tiggergate" incident, where the person dressed in a Tigger costume at Disney World supposedly punches the teenage son of a family during a photo shoot. She says the only reason this "story" made it to all the major networks and cable was because it was caught on video.

Indeed, I find this incident to be rather silly and not very newsworthy. Yet while good video is crucial to broadcast journalism, its significance and relevance to the general public should also be a factor in whether or not the story gets told. How many children out there will get socked in the face by a dressed-up character while at a theme park? Where is the relevance to people's everyday lives? Umm... I don't see the connection.

At the same time, we want our newscasts to have a variety of serious-light stories. But news judgment also comes into play here. Not only should we consider whether or not a story has video but also consider its importance. Had there been no light stories that could have been covered instead of Tiggergate, I might have said, "Cover it." It does have video, albeit not very good video.

Video should not be the final card in whether a story gets told. All elements of newsworthiness/variety/relevance/video (or lack thereof) should be taken into consideration. An important story that must be told should get told, even if it has no video. But a story with video that has no significance whatsoever should be kept on the sideburner, unless there is absolutely nothing else to fill the news hole.


To view the article and the video, links are here:
Have Video, Will Air It

Broadcast Softies...

A column on the CBS news Public Eye site:

Bob Giles suggests that US broadcasters don't ask the hard questions, which does a disservice to the audience. He also explains how the British style of reporting is much more confrontational and aggressive than the American style, which tends to be more respectful, especially of politicians.

Giles cites a Washington Post White House Briefing column: “In contrast to the small-bore questions that American reporters posed to President Bush yesterday about his Iraq policy, two British journalists cut right to the central issue of the president’s credibility.”

Giles concedes that TV news plays the important role of letting the source tell his or her own story and "bringing the audience along for the interview." By watching an official speak on camera, the audience can absorb the information more directly than when the information is first ingested and then described by a print journalist.

Giles writes, "In an era when elected officials try to manipulate the news and spin it to their advantage, when they are able to speak anonymously or have hired spokespersons speak for them, this special role of television reporting as visual surrogate for the public is critical."

That said, it is still the job of the reporter - any reporter - to ask hard questions and seek answers. I think there are some American broadcast reporters that probe and ask tough questions. However, I think Americans are always aware not to offend their subjects too much or they won't return to the show.

The Brits have a cultural style that is embedded in the relationship between politicians and journalists. Tony Blair expects to get battered and bruised in an interview. President Bush does not, because a different relationship has been established. I'm sure US journalists are concerned that if they antagonize too much, prominent officials will refuse to go on their show - which would in time translate to low ratings, pulled advertising... and cancellation. The BBC doesn't have this problem. This of course also brings us back to the corporate control vs. public funding debate.


Escaping from escapist journalism

As I was clicking away on my keyboard, looking for an interesting topic to write about this week, I came across an article on Romenesko whose link read “US Weekly circulation took off after 9/11 says editor Baker.”
The article talks about US Weekly and other similar publications that make a living – or should I say killing – of f of celebrity-laden, gossip-driven “escapist journalism.” What many find troubling, myself included, is that tabloid magazines appear to be one of the only forms of print journalism that is not losing circulation and is in fact gaining readership, as the article states.
I am concerned about this because even though as a journalism student I consume a lot more news than the average person, I am also completely addicted to escapist journalism. I love US Weekly. After a long, hard day at the newsroom, all I want to do is eat my dinner and read my daily helping of gossip blogs:,,, pinkisthenew (and those are just a few!) and go to bed.
And I am not alone. The article states that averages 3.4 million hits a day and US Weekly sells a million copies a week. So this really got me thinking. What have I got to escape from? I have a great life. Apparently, so does the majority of US Weekly’s readership, who according to the article is “mostly college educated and with a median income of $70,000.” I’m not saying that everyone who is college educated and makes around $70,000 a year is happy, but they are certainly not living in poverty and needing to escape.
I feel like our society’s obsession with celebrities, fame and fortune, perpetuated by tabloid journalism is creating a feeling of lack in people’s lives when there really is none. These days, nothing is good enough, the grass is always greener on the other side and people think that a long day’s work at the office is a “real problem.”
It also concerns me that if gossip journalism is bringing in the most bucks, is that what all of journalism will be moving towards? News organizations obviously need money to produce content and at the present moment, paparazzi journalism is doing a really good job of raking the money in, while traditional news outlets are cutting jobs to save it.
In the hopes of helping to make sure that my fellow Medillians and I have jobs after graduation, I’m slowing starting to wean myself off of gossip blogs. Starting today…or maybe tomorrow… TD

For the full article:

Bush will add more troops, network news won't add more reporters

As I was browsing through one of my favorite entertainment sites, the Hollywood Reporter, I couldn't help but notice that in the midst of the latest movie reviews and exciting pre-Academy Award previews, there was an interesting politically focused, hard-news feature article on Friday's homepage.

Entitled "Network news stable despite troop increase", Paul J. Gough explores the current status of media crews in Iraq and interviews top executives from CNN, ABC and CBS News organizations. All three network execs explained that despite Pres. Bush's call for an additional 20,000+ troops, they have no intentions to add additional reporters to cover the new Iraqi initiatives.

For these networks, security--not covering stories--takes priority. CNN International President Chris Cramer said in his interview, "we're mindful of the tragedies that have happened to our colleagues, including ourselves, over the last few years. Safety and security is absolutely paramount, and the coverage of the story is secondary."

Reporters covering war conflicts should be honored for their sacrifice but the safety-priority instigates concerns of reporter credibility. Audiences dependant on their stories can't help but wonder if reporters are capturing the real story, the sugar-coated story or the safe story. What if a great deal of progress isn't being covered simply because reporters can't be transient, can't move outside safe zones and venture through highways and byways to explore the progress and not just the tragredy? Or, what if the very severity of the tragedy hasn't been translated and audiences are only privy to the tip of the iceberg because the real misery is too dangerous to access.

Covering conflict (particularly war) provides an ethical challenge: balancing the safety of reporters with a reporter's obligation to seek and find truth.

Check out Paul J. Gough's article: