Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Banning Bad News in Iraq

This week, the Columbia Journalism Review reported that the Iraqi government is now censoring the press. It was reported that last week in the Guardian that, "police in Baghdad fired warning shots into the air to force a group of Iraqi journalists to leave the scene of a car bombing that killed seven people." This struck me as ironic, seeing that Iraq is trying to become democratic, yet, they are destroying a fundamental component of democracy--free press. In fact, the Iraqi government issued a decree stating that journalists are no longer allowed to access sites of car bombings or other violent attacks. According to Iraqslogger, the Iraq Interior Ministry Operations Director Brigadier General Abdul Kareem Khalaf gave the following reasons for censoring the press:

*the ban is to protect journalists from getting hurt (but embedded journalists already and journalists working in war torn countries already know they are at a heightened risk of injury or death)

*journalists need to be kept away from these sites because they damage/tamper with evidence (however, photographs and video are good tools to preserve a crime scene)

*journalists are disrespecting the dead by taking photos and video footage.

*journalists reporting on terrorism and attacks gives the attackers and victimizers information that they achieved their goals.

Clearly, the only reasons I could possibly accept are the latter two. But, there is something so inherently wrong with firing gunshot to scare away journalists. Not to mention, this is completely against democracy. First and foremost, these journalists are reporting on incidents that occur on public not private property for the most part. I can only wonder, how can Iraq become a democracy if it is going to suppress a free press? In all honesty, I believe coverage of these events is vital because it informs citizens and foreigners of the state of security in Iraq and the progression of the war.
Perhaps what is more disturbing is that last November, the Iraq ministry created a media surveillance unit to "watch over" journalist. Thus, if journalists reported things that were deemed unacceptable to Iraqi government (i.e. anything that diverted Iraqi attention away from the war on terrorism) legal action could be brought against the press. This is absolutely shocking, not to mention, the press was forbidden to cover parliament there too. So, in a system where checks and balances is suppose to include the press, how can Iraq ever be a democracy? In fact, how is this still not a dictatorship?--With the ministry at the helm, deciding what gets shown to viewers and what does not get shown or heard.
While I do believe Iraq is a deadly place for journalists--I do not believe the Ministry is looking to save their lives. After all, they are shooting warning shots to get journalists away from bombings...therefore, if one does not yield to the warning they get shot. So, I do not buy this story from the Iraq ministry. In addition, war reporters are well aware that their lives are in danger. Even Medill offers a 3 day seminar at Quantico to teach aspiring journalists how to remain safe when embedded for war reporting. Journalists who choose to do this type of reporting know why they are in for and do not need the government babysitting them or acting like a big brother.
Overall, while the images of dead soldiers, dead Iraqis, totaled cars and gruesome images have inundated us for more than four years now--we still need them. As CJR states, journalists who report from these sites are recording history. I have to agree with CJR that although it gets redundant, "this is the job of journalists, to continously cover these stories--and a democratically-elected government should know that."
But the larger picture may be the treatment of journalists globally. In Cuba, Fidel Castro has imprisoned journalists, in Colombia journalists are kidnapped and used as political pawns and the Chinese government constantly interferes with its press. But in terms of press restriction, we do not have to look far, even in the United States, journalists have few protections and rights. Everyday, journalists are being subpoenaed for their notes and placing the core of journalism (source confidentiality) at risk. Clearly, Journalists Without Borders Needs and other journalism organizations need to band together on a global scale to ensure the rights of journalists and to protect the trade before it becomes another arm of the government.
On a further note, I am curious to know what the Iraq government plans to do with soldiers and Iraqis placing homemade documentaries and footage on YouTube? For now, the Pentagon has banned the use of YouTube by soldiers. Is this not a form of censorship? I believe that because the U.S. is partly responsible (actually solely) for Iraqi freedom and democracy, that Iraq is learning to censor the press from the U.S.--after all, we are Iraq's role model. Therefore, if Iraq sees our government jailing journalists, forcing the release of records, ignoring FOIAs and censoring on YouTube (which is not a journalism/media outlet), they will mirror this behavior. I cannot help but think the U.S. government banned YouTube use because the U.S. Army and other soldiers created their own news channel, Multi-National Force Iraq, that shows firefights, destruction of bomb-making facilities, etc. In the end, the U.S. is essentially doing the same thing as Iraq (or vice versa) by shutting down firsthand accounts of war and other compelling reports. While the station will be back next month, guess what, it will be edited by the Pentagon---so censorship here we come!

Some thoughts on the reports

I've seen everybody reflecting on their Medill Reports, and I can understand. My issues have been slightly different though. It's not about the access, its about what happens once you get the access.

The background on my story is that I'm follwoing the story of a young man convicted of murder, but who might have been wrongly convicted. The sole witness on whom the entire conviction was based has told people he was lying, now he has to be found.

But there are a ton of inherent risks involved in a story like this. The first is that on Tuesday, I'm going to jail to interview a convicted murderer. Yea, it was a tremendous feeling knowing that I got the interview, but now what? First of all, it is a little unnerving to conduct an interview in a maximum security prison. And while I generally believe in this guy's case, I've never spoken to him before. I don't know what he's like. And my entire story hinges on his ability to communicate his point of view.

I also get one shot at that interview. One chance to ask the questions, one chance to get all the shots I need. That's a lot of pressure.

The second part of my story was the part that got me on edge. The murder was gang and drug related. And while I do believe this man convicted was probably innocent, that means there is somebody out there who did do this. And that person probably won't be too happy with attention being refocused on a case they considered dead.

The murder took place on the far west side and it was important that I go out there and shoot some locator video and get a sense of the neighborhood. When I told this to an investigator at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, he insisted that he come along, to have our back. And I'm pretty thankful he did.

It was a complete culture shock. He would point out drug dealers on the corners, every car would slow down and look at us. Someone came up to us asked what we were doing there, he told them a story on real estate. I would never have come up with that one on my own.

But I started thinking about what it would have been like to go out there alone, or me and another Medillian. I would have feared for my physical safety. I don't know, after you get the interview, after you find your story, there are still so many more hurdles.

Youth News

A couple of weeks ago I came across a quick blurb on Media Bistro about a news magazine show that NPR is launching in September, called--tentatively--"The Bryant Park Project." The program is self-described as targeting 25 to 44 year olds and will be a daily, 2-hour news show.

Jay Kernis, the senior vice president of programming at NPR, describes it this way on NPR's website:

“When we first announced this program, we said it would serve a generation of public radio listeners and online visitors who want the high-quality, fact-based journalism of NPR News, but in a different voice."

The voice he's talking about is a younger, hipper, tech-savvier one.

This is a concept that intrigues me from the start. I have always been frustrated by the lack of strong, young programming available through traditional media outlets. What frustrated me even more were the constant reiterations that media giants are trying precisely to find new ways to engage and attract my demographic. From the looks of it, they haven't been trying very hard. At least not when it comes to news.

Since reading the quick blurb about the NPR launch, I've been thinking about my frustrations even more. And this project--for once!--seems to be exactly what I want: smart, thoughtful news programming that has a young, fresh perspective. Now all that remains to be seen is whether this show will really be all it says it will, or could it be just another gimmick? A way to attract a particular audience without, ultimately, doing anything to keep it?

Even with the research I've since done on the show, I'm not quite sure. Alison Stewart will be one of the hosts. She comes off of MSNBC's "The Most." which was a creative show that did it's best to blend online and broadcast. It's clever and certainly spunky, but is it at the end of the day really a fresh take on the news? In my opinion, it's all about packaging. But the more I think about it, the more I conceed that packaging is not only a large part of it--it's a legitimate part. Sure, the news I care about as a young person might vary somewhat from the news my parents care about. But, at the end of the day, a good and important story can resonate with anyone if told from a perspective she can relate to.

Whether mere packaging or not, NPR's endeavor is one that I find truly worthwhile and long overdue. I'm crossing my fingers that it's fresh from start to finish. But even if it's just a young wrapper on an old package, at least it's a start.

Rewarded for good reporting

A friend of mine has a relative who produces a morning news show in Detroit. Recently that friend got to accompany his relative and the news show staff to a Detroit Red Wings playoff game and sit in their suite. As a big hockey fan, I was naturally very jealous (not to mention the free food and drink). Then he told me the suite was provided by the team's owner.

I was a little supsicious about those circumstances but he was emphatic that the owner had provided the suite. According to my friend, the owner called up his relative and commended him for the morning show's fine reporting on the Wings' latest playoff run. As a thank you, he offered the suite up to the news team.

I first wondered about what kind of coverage would get a team owner (or perhaps a corporation, etc.) to call and say "good job." Did that mean it was actually quality reporting, favorable reporting or just a lot of coverage? People pay attention to themselves (or their properties) when it makes the news, but do they value quality coverage (accurate, fair, balanced?) or just being in the news?

Then I began to wonder why they would take the owner up on the offer? Of course stations want to reward good ratings and good reporting, but couldn't they have done it on their own nickel? I don't even accept sodas from sources let alone lots of sodas inside a suite at a major sports arena.

If my friend's story is right, it really makes me wonder. I don't think it was acceptable to attend the game on the owner. Even if the owner was commended them on fair, accurate and balanced reporting, I think it may get altered to "favorable" coverage after attending the game.

It is probably hard to be too negative about a team that is on a playoff roll (and sports are one of the few things Detroiters can rally around), but it can't all be favorable coverage. Ticket prices are a major pain for fans in Michigan's bad economy and there were lots of empty seats throughout the first two rounds. I'll bet this didn't show up in any of the morning show highlights. There are also always opportunities to discuss bad in-game decisions and to have tough interviews with players.

In journalism we all walk a fine line between news and promotion. I know you can't do a "high ticket price story" for every game, but that would be one way to have a balanced collection of newscasts.

This just shows me that there are more decisions in a newsroom that need to be vetted. Outside-the-newsroom factors deserve the same kind of careful examination that in-story decisions receive.

Saturday, May 19, 2007


The new age of media is all about interactivity. We see that trend unfold via blogs, Web forums, user reviews, etc. all over the Internet. But how about interactivity with your television screen? No, not the type you’re thinking of (hint: It doesn’t involve cousin Joe screaming at the TV when his home team doesn’t score.)

IPTV is the buzzword. Okay, I have to insert a disclaimer here: That’s according to my brother, who works on Microsoft’s IPTV product. But a recent Google News search for IPTV revealed the following sample of headlines: “Motorola to Buy Another IPTV startup,” “IPTV drives merger and acquisition surge for telecoms equipment makers” and “BroadcastAsia 2007 to focus on IPTV.” But also: “Can IPTV really compete?”

IPTV is a new form of delivering television, as the acronym implies, via Internet Protocol. Internet providers, such as AT&T, provide you with access to the Internet via cable modem and also transfer data into video stream to display it on the television set.

But IPVT is not simply watching the Internet via your TV tube.

It means that you can potentially get the same advantages from watching television as from surfing the Internet. Read that sentence again. That’s huge! The opportunities are vast. Interactivity is just one benefit.

With cable, you can only set the screen to one channel at a time, much like radio. But with IPTV, you can send multpile video streams directly to a set up box, which can display multiple videos at the same time.

You can watch a basketball game from three different angles, or you can view a video inside a screen, for example different channels at the same time. Video will truly be on demand when you actually want it. You could vote for the next American Idal straight from your remote. Or zoom into that detail or manufacturer’s information on James Bond’s car, during the newest 007 movie. Incoming calls to your phone during your favorite sitcom will be easy to deal with because caller ID is displayed on your TV – since AT&T provides both information anyway. Or you can discuss Oprah via IM chat with your friends while you’re watching. The possibilities are limited by our imagination.

What does this all mean for the broadcasting world? If we think about how the Internet has exploded in the past decade or so and how it has become such an integral part of our daily lives, it’s fair to say IPTV is the future of television.

Television viewers have traditionally been more captive and more passive than Internet users. (Note how we refer to television audiences as viwers, and to Internet audiences as users.) IPTV will certainly change the way we watch TV, and if nothing else, I hope that it will force us, media people, to think about providing content that's more intelligent and engaging.

Pick up your phone!

Getting a good story is all about access-- and it's extremely frustrating that as more people are skeptical of reporters, getting people to talk on camera becomes a power struggle.

Setting up Medill Reports interviews this week was probably the most stressful week, contrary to what I was expecting. I thought that with more time, this week would be comparatively more laid back in terms of scheduling interviews. I was dead wrong.

My stress level steadily increased from Monday to Thursday trying to get a hold of people. Four straight days of worrying whether or not your story is going to fall through is definately not a good feeling. I would sit in front of my computer looking for different numbers to call; I would have a friend (who doesn't even live in Chicago) to check my gmail for me every 10 minutes if I needed to leave my computer.

It was amazing-- and I probably would've found it a little humorous if I wasn't so strung out-- how no one was calling me back. The worst feeling was that this woman, who decided not to be in the office from Monday to Thursday afternoon, had the fate of my story in her hands. Maybe a reporter should never give someone that much power, but I didn't know who else to turn to since this person was the director of my program, the holder of all the statistics and connections to my "face."

To give some background, my MR is on a preschool program that's facing a decrease of federal funds. And my "face" had to be a family attending one of these centers. Of course the major obstacle was to somehow shoot broll of preschoolers. At first, Chicago Public Schools told me I had to go through their communication department, who then had to go through their legal department, etc. etc. Luckily-- after going down an extensive list of preschool centers-- I found a school that was approved for me to go visit without me having to go through CPS' numerous hoops.

As of now, I'm still having problems getting a simple comment from CPS on my preschool program. I understand that I have to go through communications, but when the comm director ignores my calls and emails, what do I do? When I try calling the board members directly, of course they transfer me back to the communication director's answering machine. When they finally do touch base with me, it's usually to say that they haven't found anyone yet to talk to me and that they won't be able to meet my deadline because of the short notice. Um, does the media relations office not understand the deadline pressures?

My point is-- maybe I don't really have one and just wanted to release some of frustration (and some anger and outrage). But doing this story, I felt like everyone else controlled my access to the classroom, to the individuals I spoke with, to the board members, etc. I really felt that people were suspicious of my story so I definately made a conscious effort to distance myself from anything that could make me look like a voyeuristic creep who wants to just take footage of young children.

I know it's all part of the system and there are rules to follow, especially when it comes to schools. But as a reporter who really believes there's a good story to tell, it's dissappointing and disheartening when it's like pulling teeth just to get someone to pick up the phone.

News To Me

News To Me, the first cable news program comprised of user-generated video, debuted on Headline News on today, May 19, at 12:30 p.m. The program is hosted by Eric Lanford and showcases the most compelling videos, pictures and stories traversing the Internet. The program will air on Headline News each Saturday and Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

With content ranging from serious to humorous, Lanford updates viewers on current events through the eyes and lenses of citizen journalists. Lanford also interviews many people who have submitted CNN I-Reports, content captured by CNN viewers with personal cell phones, cameras or other devices. By speaking directly with I-Reporters, Lanford gains insight into what it felt like at the scene as they captured their footage.

Viewers can submit material through a “Send Your I-Report” link at CNN.com or by e-mail at ireport@cnn.com. Submitted I-Report material undergoes the same extensive vetting process CNN employs for all content that goes on air or online.

To me, even though it airs on television, the program looks very fit for the web and looks somewhat like what we're trying to accomplish with our webcasts. It's very untraditional and combines citizen journalism with host segments and interviews. The thing that stands out the most is that the material is nothing you would ever see in mainstream media. It's very specific to people's lives and situations and gives a view of America most people wouldn't see.

I think it's interesting that Lanford talks with the people who sent in the material about their submissions. They talk with each other as the viewer explains the video he or she submitted. It's also interesting that a lot of the material sent in is cell phone video footage. It makes for a very amatuer look to all of the footage, which is unique.

It will be interesting to see what viewers think of this show. I also think it is something that could eventually move toward the web. I think it's a fun addition to slower weekend news programming and I look forward to see where it goes and if it leads to other similar programs.

Remembering the fallen

It was a devastating night Thursday for ABC News and the entire journalism industry. Two of its men were ambushed and killed in Baghdad after leaving the ABC News Baghdad bureau. Few people know these men's faces, or even their names, but they were the eyes and ears for ABC News in Iraq. These men went behind the lines, where American journalists couldn't go due to danger and the intense risk of death. Cameraman Alaa Uldeen Aziz and soundman Saif Laith Yousuf captured footage of the war so we can better understand what is going on overseas.

It is a terribly horrifying job, but these men were brave enough to do it. I commend them and their sacrifice made me think of the other journalists in Iraq that get little recognition, yet do what most journalists wouldn't think of doing. They report the hardest news, the most devastating news, and clearly the most dangerous news. They don't appear on our television screens, nor does ABC flash their names or pictures on the screen when they use feed they have collected, but they are the reason we are able to see footage of the war in Iraq.

It was interesting reading some of the comments that articles surrounding the deaths of Aziz and Yousuf created. One blogger suggested that war correspondents be given small handguns to protect themselves in emergency cases. Here is an excerpt from his comment: "I feel journalist should have to have a small arms course and be issued handguns as personal protection to at least give them some security in themselves and their comrades." This really made me think, and I have to somewhat agree that this may not be a bad idea. Journalists should be able to protect themselves when reporting in cases of war, where danger lurks around every corner, and where the unexpected could be deadly.

Other comments sparked my attention as well. ABC devoted a lot of its Friday news coverage to the death of their employees. It was necessary I feel for them to do so, but it stirred up a lot of emotions for their viewers. One comment read: "These guys signed up to be combat correspondents. It comes with the job. What about the AMERICANS over there that are dying leaving families behind to weep. I wish ABC had this much devotion when it came to covering fallen AMERICAN soldiers as it does to one of its own employees." It is a catch 22 for ABC News and other stations--they have to cover the war in Iraq, but should they report every death of every American solider that falls victim to the war? I wish they could, every solider that goes overseas to fight for freedom, democracy and peace deserves praise, remembrance and devotion, but is this realistic?

My heart goes out to EVERY family and friend that has lost a loved one in Iraq. It is a terrible loss and I hope and pray that all this war and terror will end very soon. May all those that have risked their lives and lost rest in peace.

Remembering the fallen

Friday, May 18, 2007

Interactive Web article dilemma

I just read this article (http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=103&aid=123269) about an article posted on a California newspaper's web site and the comments it elicited. The article was about a 40-year-old woman who had a full-term baby 2 days after finding out she was pregnant. The woman's sister had called the newspaper about this "miracle" - the woman had been trying for years to get pregnant before unknowingly conceiving and then delivering the healthy baby. The article featured a picture of the woman, who happens to be overweight, and the newborn. What was supposed to be a feel-good story turned awful after people started posting rude and disgusting comments about the woman and even her baby. They said the woman ate donuts and fast food all day, couldn't clean her house because she was too fat, was immobilized by her weight and most appallingly, that the newborn was alternately going to be taken away from the mother or would grow up to be a fat, drain-on-society. The editor and reporter were horrified for subjecting the woman to the comments. This was supposed to be a feel-good story after all. Interactiveness and participation are the future of news, but how do we deal with idiots who post horrible inaccuracies as amendments to stories? Will sources and subjects be in jeopardy in the future for fear of stinging posted comments? How can readers' comments be controlled without exercising censorship?

The Long Interview

Working on Medill Reports has allowed me to experiment with different techniques as a reporter. Usually, when I am daily reporting, I go into a story already with a pretty good idea of what I’m expecting people to say. Sometimes, when my last interview is pretty late, I will begin scripting before I have even finished the last interview. I go into that last interview with an idea of the exact bytes I need, and as soon as I get them, I pretty much close up shop.

I sometimes feel bad after these interviews—sometimes I’m more worried about deadline and getting good sound bytes than taking the time to get to know someone and hear their story.

However, with Medill Reports, I have the luxury of a little extra time. Last night, I decided to try something new. I am focusing on postpartum depression for my story, and I was interviewing a woman who went through severe postpartum depression and also her husband. I decided I would take as much time as I wanted and let her answers really guide my questions. And I’m really glad I did that!

I went in thinking of postpartum depression in a certain way. I had read articles and listened to doctors, and had my own notions of the disease and what I thought she was going to say. However, her case, her symptoms, and her emotions were so different than from what I imagined. My interview with the woman lasted an hour and I also got to spend some time with her children, shooting them, and talking to her husband.

I left her house feeling so satisfied—knowing that I really let this woman talk and tell her side, and now I can go into the edit bay and sort through what she said and let her story guide the direction of my story. It won’t be me plugging her sound bytes into a pre-written script.

However, now I’m faced with a second dilemma. This is a four minute piece. I spent a good two and a half hours at someone’s house and now I’ll probably use a minute at most from that. I know I have to get over it—but it makes me feel bad!

Originally, I was going to cover postpartum depression for a daily reporting piece—but after making some phone calls—I knew I could not do the topic justice in a minute and thirty seconds. That is why I chose it for Medill Reports. Now—my challenge is piecing together all these stories and perspectives into four minutes. I still don’t think that’s enough time!

Whose story is it?

This week I've had to ask myself a lot of tough questions. I'm reporting on incarcerated mothers for Medill Reports. I've had trouble convincing incarcerated moms to let my videotape them interacting with young children. Nearly all of the seven women I've tried to recruit as my "face" have had reservations about including their kids in the story.

Some mothers worried that students at their childrens' schools would see the film, then stigmatize their young sons or daughters. Mothers who are working on regaining custody of the children worried that participating in the piece would jeopardize their parental rights. Other mothers worried about what they might accidentally say or do -- and whether that could affect their already strained relationship with their children in the future.

Regardless of why they resisted being interviewed, I found most of the women cared about their kids.

I had to ask myself, did I care about their kids, too? To be honest, I admire the hesitation these women showed about letting my shoot video of their little ones. Most of the children were elementary school age, when other kids can be mean.

A 7- or 8-year-old Misa would have been horrified if all of the other students discovered such a family secret. I know I would have faced a backlash among my peers at school. I can't even imagine the kind of stigmatization that might create.

If I were to step outside of reporter mode for a moment, I'd say forget using the kids. I would use the mom, show the children's hands and feet, and assign pseudonyms. But ... I'm still a reporter.

And I need the b-roll. My face is a grandmother who was willing to let me interview her daughter and grandson. I'm still wondering about how much I should show of her 8-year-old grandson. I don't HAVE to use the b-roll of the grandmother and her grandson playing Nintendo or rock-paper-scissors. But it makes the story more compelling, more emotive.

Much of this dilemma boils down to the question: "Why am I covering this subject?" I don't want a series of talking heads. There's no feeling there, no sense of how the treatment of incarcerated women will affect lives.

I tried to think about whom my 5-minute piece will ultimately affect: viewers who know nothing about incarcerated mothers, people who work with incarcerated mothers, and -- of course -- the incarcerated mothers. In this case, the woman I inteviewed will probably be affected most.

She was OK with me filming her grandson and felt her message could help other women like her. It's my duty to make the story worth watching. Otherwise, I'm wasting everyone's time -- the viewer's time, my time and the grandmother's time.

In the end, this is her story and if she's OK with sharing it, I guess I should be OK with it, too.

Something uplifting, for once

We've been talking a lot on this blog and in class about apperance, and how important it is for those of us who want to be in front of the camera. We've talked and written about female sportscasters, redheads, last names and every sort of other thing that we think might be held against us when we go out into the job world. But watching a whole bunch of TV this quarter (and over, say, the past 20 years) I've realized more and more all that stuff doesn't really matter that much.

I'm not going to go all Oprah and talk about how it's all "what's on the inside that counts." But I think it is, ultimately, about good reporting. The more I see, the more I realize that sure, maybe looks and all those other things help, but being a great journalist can trump all that.

Think of all the people who have succeeded in broadcast journalism despite their flaws. Barbara Walters, first and foremost. She can't pronounce her r's and has a lisp, but she's interviewed basically everyone there is to interview, hosted any number of programs and has made a great living doing it. There are some others you probably don't know about. Jonathan Ross, a British TV film critic, also can't pronounce his r's. Diane Rehm, an NPR talk show host who has interviewed everyone from Bill Clinton to Maya Angelou to Sandra Day O'Connor, has spasmodic dysphonia.

Or what about bald guys, or those who wouldn't be considered traditionally "good looking"? Peter Mansbridge, the lead anchor of the national news in on the CBC in Canada, is a perfect example of someone who has had a long and prosperous TV career despite not having a 12-inch high coif. Or look at John Clayton, who has been a reporter for ESPN since 1995 despite looking like (depending on who you listen to) either Stewie from Family Guy, Tweety Bird, or a whole bunch of other things entirely.

But despite the jokes, I'm not trying to pick on Clayton. The point is, the guy's a fantastic reporter. He's so knowledgable that his ESPN colleagues call him "The Professor." So it doesn't matter that he's not telegenic, or that he's got a voice that sounds like he's been sucking helium right before going on air. He can deliver news and content that viewers can't get anywhere else. He's forced the network to overlook his other shortcomings, simply through his journalistic cred.

It's all kind of heartening to me. It's nice to know -- despite all we hear about the superficiality of TV -- that even if I go bald, or my voice isn't perfect, or I have a bit of a Canadian accent, or I have a Jewish last name, my smarts and good reporting skills can win out. It's nice to know that you can find and keep a job just based on your abilities, and that it is possible to be front and center on TV even if you're not the "typical" TV personality.

(Still, I really do hope I keep my hair.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

How do you sugar coat a pill like environmental news?

The New York Times reported Thursday that Alexandra Wallace, executive producer for 'NBC Nightly News,' "plans to beef up the program’s environmental coverage, a process that has already begun with the appointment of Anne Thompson to be the network’s chief environmental affairs correspondent." It was interesting to see because the headline of the article was "New Producer at ‘Nightly News’ Seeks to Regain NBC Dominance." I sincerely hope the implied interest in environmental news is accurate, but I also think it's arguably the toughest beat to cover.

As a public concern, environmental news probably peaked around the late 80's. I think this was influenced by stories like the Exxon Valdez spill or a garbage barge like Mobro 4000; they seemed simple and easy to communicate, one reason audiences were able to connect with them. By the time Earth Day 1990 rolled around, the environment was a HUGE deal, lavished with a lot of media attention and helped by a huge push for environmental practices in manufacturing and daily activities (recycling, energy efficiency, etc.)

Two decades later, the stories aren't so simple. The most pressing environmental issues are far more complex; like any complex issue that's difficult to pack into 90 seconds, these issues are often considered tougher and less appealing to cover in broadcast. Even in 1990, mainstream media avoided analyzing climate change with much detail; granted, there was less research then, but the topic was simply too abstract, too complicated.

Even worse, environmental news has been politicized, which is incredibly unfortunate because research in natural sciences has always prided itself in objectivity or at least as an academic field propelled by an objective search for the truth.

The problems with environmental news coverage is more disconcerting because according to the Metcalf Institute for Marine & Environmental Reporting, the public learns much of what it knows about scientific issues through the media.

So how do you report environmental news? How do you make people understand and care?

A few years ago, John Carey convinced his skeptical editors at Business Week to make climate change the cover story. In a media workshop sponsored by the Metcalf Institute, Carey "[recast] the common approach of the scientist-versus-skeptic and avoided scientific 'controversy' by instead focusing on how the world will change, what policies will address those changes and, irrespective of continued controversy, how business is reacting to global warming. The science was somewhat secondary...Instead it was policy that was the hook and how it 'was changing in response to science,' how policies are becoming institutionalized and why."

It's worth noting that before she took on environmental news, Anne Thompson (not to be confused with the Variety columnist of the same name) had been chief financial correspondent for NBC News since March of 2005. Obviously, it brings up other issues to have scientific information framed through a financial analyst's perspective, but it'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Your career aspiration is now out of service...goodbye.

At the risk of sounding glamour-greedy, I have been aspiring toward international/foreign network correspondence since I can remember. Christiane Amanpour's work inspired me to pursue a career in journalism, partly because I admired her creative ability to report stories and maintain poise and porfessionalism in any environment. Like Amanpour, I wanted to be based in London, preferably CNN or BBC, and travel all over the world finding the breaking news and delving into the worldy meaning and significance behind them. While my dream to become a foreign correspondent has subsided a bit, I was a bit unnerved when I read on Poynter.org that foreign correspondence is essentially disappearing. Where are they going? According to Fons Tuinstra, who wrote a blog titled, "Foreign Correspondents Abandon Ship," the foreign correspondence job title is becoming obsolete. Tuinstra wrote that citizen journalists have displaced, and continue to displace, foreign correspondent positions - partly because viewers are demanding more local news and news that is relevant to their lives. This means to me that my career aspiration is gradually, or not so gradually, signing off the journalistic scene.
The blog outlined the disappearing act of foreign correspondents and listed some organizations that are trying to combat it. One Dutch publication, called De Volkskrant, placed an ad on their Web site calling for foreign correspondents. Tuinstra calls the media out on this contradiction. He said he was confused because his foreign correspondent peers were "on their way out" and then all of a sudden there is an ad in favor of hiring them. His only conclusion is that an upcoming FCC meeting regarding the foreign correspondent position "changing with the times."

"Tomorrow the Shanghai Foreign Correspondents Club (SFCC), which has been virtually dead for a year, holds its annual meeting in a desperate attempt to survive the changing times. Today, Maria Trombly -- very briefly -- grieves her departure from foreign correspondence."

I will be grieving as well - aren't foreign correspondents widely respected for their work? I have not encountered anyone who says Christiane Amanpour is a "bad" journalist.

My dilemma arises in figuring out whether I should continue to pursue this position or not. Personally, I am drawn to being a foreign correspondent because I think the global and worldly stories should appeal to everyone in the world. Also, as opposed to local news, you have an entire globe as a medium. In my career, I need to travel and find in depth stories to pursue. But unless foreign correspondent positions resurface, I guess it's time to re-think these aspirations of mine.

Don't Read!! Personal!!

Don’t Read, Personal! Now that to me is a pretty clear message. It was written by Anna Nicole Smith on the inside of her diary. Excerpts are being released to the Associated Press, and they are running with it.

I understand that from a business standpoint it is probably a good idea to let her personal thoughts be known to the public. After all, she had more than her fair share of coverage when she died. But, it still makes me wonder what kind of person would release such private thoughts of a person who no longer has any control over who is reading them.

Now, like I have said in previous blogs, if you don’t release the information… someone else will to get ahead. This is true in many circumstances in the media. But, when do personal values finally play a role in the business decision you make. While I was intrigued with reading parts of the diary, I felt like I was violating her privacy.

I do not think it is fair to be releasing excerpts from someone’s diary. It is just wrong.

“The public now can discover that she was delighted by rough sex, ecstatic over the prospect of plastic surgery for her breasts, and fearful of a jealous boyfriend,” the AP writes.

First off, is this really news? Second, what kind of person wants to let out this personal, private information?

These questions bring me to my next point. I really did not stop to analyze and think about what is newsworthy until I came to this school. I did not stop to think about how information that is being reported is in direct conflict with everything I believe in. While I always absorbed the information and talked about it on occasion, I probably would not have put it out there. In this business, like I said, someone else will.

It honestly makes me wonder if this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. The farther and farther I get into analyzing the news every week, the farther I want to get from it. Most of these stories are not helping anybody. This Anna Nicole story is just down right hurtful. Her private thoughts are now out for the world to see.

This is not the first time I have had these thoughts either. I feel like I am in a compromising situation. I am already here and will have this degree. But, do I really want to cover stories such as this one that I feel is so wrong. Absolutely not! So where does that leave me? Is there a place for me in this business? Everyday I wonder that. I do not think it is worth it to me to compromise my values, in this case, “Do unto others as you’ll have done to you.” I would never want anybody to do this to me. So how could I ever do it to someone else?

Ultimately, stories like this that are released on a daily basis make me question my decision on whether or not this is the right profession for me. While unfortunate, it crosses my mind daily.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

How skeptical is too skeptical?

If you've played the card game "BS", you know that calling someone's bluff can cost you when you're wrong.

Journalism seems similar in some ways. Sometimes you have proof that someone is lying. When you call it, you win. Other times you just have a hunch. You can either call the supposed lie and face the consequences, or remain silent and play it safe. It's a tough decision.

It all boils down to skepticism. How much is too much?

This week Jim Lehrer talked about journalistic cynicism on ABC Australia's Media Report, a half-hour analysis of the mass communication industry.

Lehrer is a veteran PBS reporter who has covered major stories, including John F. Kennedy's assasination and Watergate. He said reporters need to be wary of officials, but they should avoid becoming obsessed with the "gotcha" game.

"If somebody in the media just assumes everybody in the government is a liar, that's no way to operate," Lehrer said. "You have to have a healthy scepticism, you have to be alert, but you also have to try as a reporter, to understand these decisions, and understand what's in the minds of the people who are making these decisions on behalf of the public, particularly when it comes to war and peace."

A question about the media's handling of the Iraq War prompted Lehrer's comment. He said the media shouldn't solely bear the blame for the nation being complicit with the White House's agenda in Iraq. Lehrer said a lack of information was also responsible for the lack of oversight.

Clearly, United States media were not skeptical enough when the Bush administration invaded Iraq. Few reporters questioned the White House claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

What would have happened if a maverick columnist challenged the WMD allegations? Very few experts and officials were casting doubt on President Bush's accusations at the time. Would that rebel reporter sound like a leftist hack, confirming the consertive wing's view of the liberal media? Would she have successfully turned the tide of our zeitgeist, preventing the present problems in Iraq?

I guess it's too late to mull over the hypotheticals. But I do think reporters were pulsing to the administration's drum beat -- and I think some of them still do. Injecting personal skepticism into a story without attributing the cynicims to someone else is always dangerous territory. Sometimes it takes a outsider like Bob Woodward in Watergate. His lack of experience helped him to question the political machine.

When I learned that Carol Lam, former United States attorney for San Diego, was dismissed, I remember thinking, "What in the world? This sounds fishy." On the morning the news broke, I told a Medill grad student who was in the legal RPA that he should check it out. I lived in San Diego when Lam successfully prosecuted disgraced ex-Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham. I remember her intellect, her dedication and her blue-ribbon reputation among the media.

Still, I thought I might have I missed something. Immediately after I spoke with my class mate, I wondered if I had sent him on a wild goose chase. I knew nothing about the federal justice system, and I almost felt embarassed to raise a red flag. I first heard about the story on NPR on the "L" -- maybe I tuned in after the reporter explained the reason for her dismissal.

Turns out, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she thought the firings were politically charged immediately after the dismissals were announced. That legitimized my conspiracy theory. If she and other Democratic lawmakers hadn't spoken up, I know I would have discounted my intuition.

When do we dismiss a hunch because of our ignorance? And when do we confidently call BS?

Friday, May 11, 2007

More Katie....

A recent gallup poll surveyed Americans about network nightly news anchors Charles Gibson, Brian Williams and Katie Couric. Overall, all three were evaluated more negatively by Republicans than Democrats. This seems to make sense since the media has a reputation of being more liberal, especially among conservatives. The more interesting aspect of the survey was that Couric had the most negative ratings and she did not fare better in the eyes of women.

With 24-hour news like CNN and the like, it seems like hardly anyone tunes into these evening newscasts anymore, but interestingly enough, that isn't exactly the case. The survey showed that 35 percent of Americans watch these nightly news casts everyday. That number seemed pretty high to me since I'm not sure who can make it home to work by 5:30- for those of us in the central time zone. I'm jealous of those people! It also makes me think this viewing audience must include people who don't work, whether they're stay-at-home moms or retired people, etc. Too bad the study didn't exactly break the viewing audience down in that way, so I can't say for sure.

It's quite strange to me that Couric is not faring better among female viewers. But as a female viewer, I actually tend to agree. I can't actually relate to her as a fellow woman. Her personality and way of delivering the news is not really my style. I'm thinking many other women feel the same way I do. I relate to her Today Show replacement, Meredith Vieira, much better than I do Couric. Vieria is much more down-to-earth and not trying to act ditzy just for attention. She does have her moments but overall I feel much more comfortable getting the news from her.

It's strange that I would actually prefer to get the evening news from a male, but according to this survey, so would many other women. I just don't think Katie Couric is the best representation of the average American woman and definitely not the finest female news personality. I feel her journalism is slightly lacking but also her delivery is not really up to par with the seasoned hosts on the other networks. It just shocks me that you can become the host of the CBS Evening News and really not even be very good. This goes to prove that it's very hard to tell who's going to make it in this business and who's not. It seems to have more to do with luck than talent, which is a scary thought as I begin my career.

Paris Hilton vs. Iraq? Never thought I'd say that...

So, I was talking with one of my friends in the car yesterday about how it is really sad that more people in the United States know about Paris Hilton and her new saga than about what is going on in Iraq. Could this be true? Not for many of the people here at Medill, but outside our bubble?

I decided to take a poll online. I sent ten IM’s out to my friends asking them all if they knew what was going on in Iraq today. Only one of them knew what was going on. Some of them responded with how in the world would I know that, Abby? Don’t judge. I honestly do not think my friends are the only ones.

For those of you out of the loop, Paris Hilton is facing jail time. As of Thursday, she could spend three weeks or less in jail rather than the original 45 day sentence because of overcrowding. She violated her probation in an alcohol-related reckless driving case.

Most likely, everyone reading this already knew that… but how is it that nobody knows what is going on in Iraq? Do people even care anymore? Many of the people I sent IM’s to did not care about Iraq, which I find unfortunate. When I asked them why they cared about Paris Hilton, they said they did not care… it was just all over the news.

In Iraq today, their President announced his country would need U.S. troops for one to two more years. I am surprised that nobody had heard of that, because many of the people I asked are pretty open about their feelings on the war… yet they had not heard about this.

I cannot say that I was not totally intrigued by the whole Paris Hilton saga. I love celebrity gossip. I just wonder what news is more important to people these days. I realize there will always be an audience for the ‘What is going on in Iraq?’ news… but I strongly believe it is becoming smaller and smaller by the day. I realize I am making bold statements, but when you ask ten people if they know what happened in Iraq vs. what happened with Paris Hilton and only one person can answer the question of what happened in Iraq, where is that hard news audience. I think it is slowly fading.

I want to make it clear as my last point that I am not saying the audience for hard news will slowly fade away completely. There will always be an audience for that, but just how big will it be?

Curt Schilling, hypocrite

Let me put my biases up front. I dislike Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling. I think he's an unrepentant self-promoter, someone who spouts his mouth off at any moment, and, from what I've heard, not a very nice guy. But even for Schilling, his recent talk about Barry Bonds on a Boston radio station was over the top.

According to the Boston Globe, this is what Schilling said on WEEI on Wednesday, when asked by the morning show hosts if fans should hold their noses as Bonds tries to surpass Hank Aaron as baseball's all-time home run leader:

“Oh yeah. I would think so. I mean, he admitted that he used steroids. I mean, there’s no gray area. He admitted to cheating on his wife, cheating on his taxes, and cheating on the game, so I think the reaction around the league, the game, being what it is, in the case of what people think. Hank Aaron not being there. The commissioner trying to figure out where to be. It’s sad.
"And I don’t care that he’s black, or green, or purple, or yellow, or whatever. It’s unfortunate… there’s good people and bad people. It’s unfortunate that it’s happening the way it’s happening.”
The reaction to Schilling's comments was swift, and he was widely criticized for being insensitive and in part untruthful. He then apologized for his remarks on Thursday. But that's not really what I want to focus on.

Instead, let's turn to Schilling's blog, where he made that apology. Through the blog, 38pitches.com, Schilling likes to claim he has made the sportswriter obsolete. By connecting directly with fans, he says, he no longer needs to have his message mediated through the media, and that the traditional sports media is old-guard and irrelevant.

That claim, though, is total bunk.

First, look where Schilling made his comments -- on a talk radio station. If he really felt he could completely shun the media, he wouldn't make a weekly appearance there. Second, look where most of the response to Schilling's comments came -- in the media. It was discussed on sports talk radio and on TV. Odds are, Schilling would never have apologized for his comments if they hadn't gotten so much play in the media. Third, there's nothing in the world Curt Schilling loves more than talking about Curt Schilling. Without the media, his chances of getting his message across would be greatly diminished (after all, how many people read his blog compared to how many watch ESPN?).

(Apologies in advance for the terrible baseball pun I'm about to make, but I can't help it -- three strikes, and Curt's out.)

Schilling's a hypocrite because he hasn't gotten rid of the media -- he's just made more fodder for it. Indeed, I think this incident just reinforced how important the media is. We need the media to act as gatekeepers and disseminators of information. Without the media, we often wouldn't know what offends us, what uplifts us and what entertains us. Sure, I'll be the first to say that I hate when the media jumps on a bandwagon. But think of the alternative; imagine how much worse off we would be without the media to shape our perceptions, let us know what's important, and give us news we otherwise wouldn't hear. The media reporting on Schilling's words helped cause enough of a backlash that a man who claims to pull no punches actually apologized.

That's why I'm not worried about Curt Schilling or all this talk of a "new media" universe. It's incidents like this that show us the significance of traditional media. As long as someone needs to reach a vast audience, as long as there are issues that need to be discussed in a community forum, and as long as there's controversy, the old guys still have a big role to play.

For instance, look at how many blogs simply take most of their stories from traditional media, and then add a few comments of their own, without doing any original reporting. Without the traditional media, those guys would be nowhere.

So I think it's safe to say sorry, Curt, the sports media hasn't been eliminated -- and won't be as long as there are idiots like you out there to keep us relevant.

Outsourcing news

James Macpherson, the editor and publisher of Pasadena Now has hired two reporters from India to cover the Pasadena City Council. The meetings are broadcast on the internet and the reporters will watch the meetings online and then write their articles. One of the benefits he cited of having the reporters cover the meetings is that they often run late into the night. Because of the time change, the reporters in India will be able to watch the meetings and work on their articles while the rest of the staff in Pasadena can go to bed. The editors will be able to come back in the morning and have the articles ready to go.

I think this is absolutely ridiculous! One of the most important things reporters need to be is very familiar with the area they are covering. We talked about this in class last week--the first thing you need to do when you get a job is go out and get to know the place you are covering. That's going to be a little impossible for these guys in India.

True--they can watch the meetings and write about them--but they won't know the implications of what they are writing about. They don't know the intricacies of the town. They probably have no idea how decisions will effect the people in the town.

I really hope this isn't the beginning of a trend of outsourcing! This really does not fit in with the trend toward hyperlocal news either!

Medill Reports

I read an article in the Sun-Times a few weeks ago about Gage Park High School on the Southwest side. They are suffering from massive overcrowding that the reporter surmised has led to an uptick in school violence and just hotter tempers. A first year teacher talked about his experience of being hit in the head and having to go to the hospital after breaking up a fight. A student said she was scared about accidentally bumping into someone in the teeming hallways and getting in fight trouble. I was so excited after reading the article - it had names, specific examples, numbers - I thought this would be a great idea for my final project. I thought, "This reporter has done some work for me already." I was not so lucky, though. I called the first year teacher, and he went on and on about how "two-faced" the reporter was and how he was afraid he would lose his job after the article came out. He said the principal was so angry about the article and that everyone at the school would be very hesitant to talk to the media ever again. I assured him I was not interested in smearing his school, but he seemed unconvinced. After 3 calls and 2 e-mails to the principal, she still has not responded to me. I am certain I'll have to ditch this story. I read another teacher's blog about the article. He said everything in the article was true, but students and faculty were angry about the school sounding like thug land. I have not had an experience where I have had to appear "two-faced." But I was almost ready to tell the first year teacher whatever he wanted to hear to get him to talk to me.

Flowers? For ME?

I'm not a huge fan of Roger Ebert's film criticism. I'm not saying he's bad, but I rarely read the Sun-Times and the last time I saw his syndicated broadcast from start-to-finish, the late Gene Siskel was still hosting.

In recent years, Ebert has been battling cancer, and he's currently recovering from another operation. Well, a couple of days ago, he received some flowers and a handwritten card. They were from Rob Schneider.

Schneider, of course, is a former writer and cast member of "Saturday Night Live." Since then, he's made plenty of comedies, none of which are critically acclaimed. They've all been panned by numerous critics, and for the most part Schneider never made a fuss. However, for some reason, Schneider took offense in 2005 to Los Angeles Times critic Patrick Goldstein's pan of "Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo," responding with full-page ads in Hollywood trade papers. He took a shot at Goldstein, pointing out he never won any journalistic awards and basically called him a "third-rate, unfunny pompous reporter who's never been acknowledged by his peers." Ebert took it upon himself to respond, pointing out in his column that Goldstein had won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a RockCritics.com award, and the Publicists' Guild award for lifetime achievement. Furthermore, Ebert wrote, "as chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize...Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks." Not surprisingly, the two kind of went back and forth until both fell into chilly silence.

Then all of a sudden, he gets these flowers.

It's kind of refreshing to see this happen between two people who've shared a good deal of professional animosity. Journalism's obviously a tough career. It's tough to move up, and until you do, the pay's usually lousy, you're overworked, and when you've got a small check and enormous stres working against you, the only thing that keeps you going is probably job satisfaction, but nothing on earth can guarantee that for everyone. So you do what you have to do to succeed, which probably means getting tough interviews, and to get consistent access, you've got to play ball.

It's probably been that way forever, but it doesn't make it any less frustrating to see it everywhere. You see it in certain White House reporters who are never heard at press conferences because of the questions they ask. You see it with certain Sunday morning news shows that get better guests because the host has no problem killing time asking about football instead of tougher questions one might get from another host on another channel. You see it in local television shows too, probably small town newspapers...you have to have a smooth way with words or good diplomatic skills, but it gets very frustrating when a reporter's getting too cozy, too close, too friendly with their subject in exchange for exclusive access.

Granted, Roger Ebert is basically a film columnist/critic/buff and Rob Schneider isn't exactly an important figure in the world, but you can still appreciate what Schneider's done. Critics ought to be honest about their opinions, regardless of what it'll do to their professional relationships with certain artists, and while Ebert's honest, direct opinions have obviously ticked off Schneider, the flowers acknowledge Ebert's responsibility as a critic (not unless you believe a bouquet of flowers will somehow turn Ebert into a fan of his work). Imagine if Vice-President Cheney did the same for Seymour Hersh. A ridiculous pipe dream, but everyone's entitled to romantic delusions now and then.

Sweeping through local news

It's May and that means it's time for TV to get sweep-tastic!

And this exciting time of year means that we are about to get bombarded with advertisements for special reports when the news isn't on and tease-laden broadcasts when we are actually trying to watch the news.

Advertising and promoting your product seems like no big deal for most of corporate America, but should the news industry be held to a higher standard? So often in local news, the TV personalities are promoted to get viewers to watch ("the most trusted news team in town!") and three times a year during sweeps it's the stories that get that treatment.

Two of my favorite ads that I've heard this week were all about that staple of sweeps: the investigative report! So what news stories are so important that they require their own advertising? On CBS 2, there will be a serious look at lawn fertilizing. A quick rundown: We don't want pesticides on our food, so what are we really putting on our lawns that our KIDS PLAY ON ALL SUMMER? (This ad I heard on the radio)

Another one from CBS 2 (that I saw Thursday night) was promoting the TV turnover to digital that is looming in the future. With the aid of wacky graphics and a doomsday voice, the ad threatened the future of your TV!

These are probably both worthwhile news stories, but the ads and threats seem to cheapen their value. Maybe viewers connect with this sort of stuff, but do journalists need to do this? In the day and age when revenue trumps content, it seems like your work isn't quite good enough if it can only stand on its own - it needs to be promotable, too!

This seems to blur the line of journalism into too much audience focus, i.e. what is marketable to them, instead of what is necessary for them to know about. I'm buying the audience-centric approach, but it can't just rely on what you can SELL them on or scare them in to watching.

Can we trust local news to give us good investigative reporting when it is not November, February or May? There are plenty of good stories out there and certainly some will come up during these three months, but I have a hard time with basing an investigation on how you can sell it during sweeps. I'm sure this will always be a problem that journalists will battle (or buy into) during their careers.

Now this is priceless

Rupert Murdoch says global climate change is a serious issue and News Corp. is going to take major steps to become carbon neutral. Murdoch thinks global warming is real, he thinks its a serious problem, and he's making changes at all his companies. All this according to an editorial written by him in the New York Post.

But what happens now to all the deniers and doubters at Fox News.

For weeks, months and years, Fox News has been decrying global warming as leftist propaganda. To start how about this article that Fox News posted on its website, in a news position even though it is an anti-global warming screed. Guess now that Rupert is on the global warming team, this guy won't be getting many more invites to the corporate website.

But what about those Conservative and Fox News icons, Brit Hume and Sean Hannity. Two men who live to bash Al Gore as an alarmist and a cook. Brit Hume ran this piece to reduce the credibility of climate activists. He clearly chopped up some guys soundbyte to make it seem like he's saying we should reduce the number of people on earth, silly Brit. We all know his real point was that emissions dervied from human activity is the problem. Rupert probably wouldn't agree with you on that one.

How about another one of Brit's greatest hits. He ran this piece on May 2nd , again the aim seems to making global warming sound less legitimate. Cow flatulence and rice farming, oh Brit you're too funny.

And I don't want to keep picking on the hapless Hume but this one probably takes the cake. Murdoch is committed to making all of his businesses carbon-neutral, but Brit says that its not worthwhile. In fact, he says carbon neutrality is a rip off! A direct contradiction of everything the big boss man came out for. Not that I think Hume should be looking over his shoulder, worried if Murdoch will fire him. But I'm willing to bet that Brit will tone his rhetoric down a tad.

And we can't let Sean Hannity get away unscathed. Hannity, has a wavering position on global warming, it tends to be whatever fits his political need of the day. That isn't all too surprising, he is not a journalist, more of a political operative. In this interview, instead of debating the merits of global warming, he plays politics by attacking Al Gore. Politics not policy, salicious instead of substance. I'm guessing Rupert Murdoch lives the kind of personal lifestyle that Al Gore does. Does that mean Sean Hannity will go after his boss with the same vigor?

So let's break down the fundamental question behind all of this. Will these conservative crusaders no longer hammer "liberals" for blowing the global warming issue out of proportion? My guess is probably not, they're too beholden to Murdoch to slam an issue he has raised the profile of. They will find other things to lash out at the left on.

But won't it be so hypocritical if all the people on Fox News stop calling global warming a farce? This is a fair and balanced media organization, so we should expect them to continue to advocate both sides of the issue, right? They never did advocate both sides of the issue and they probably won't going forward either. They will just ignore it.

All this speaks to an even larger issue of one man's influence (Murdoch) over the journalistic product of an entire organization. His announcement yesterday could dramatically alter the course of Fox News, the New York Post and countless other journalism outlets around the world.

I wonder what the Wall Street Journal's position on global warming is?

Local news, outsourced?

Is local news still local if it's covered by someone on a different continent?

According to an article in the L.A. Times, editor and publisher of the Pasadena Now Web site hired two reporters last weekend to cover the Pasadena City Council. One lives in Mumbai and the other works out of Bangalore.

Thanks to technology, the reporters can view the council meeting via the web from 9,000 miles away. (On a side note, these two reporters get paid between $7,200 and $12,000 a year.)

City council meetings are probably the least interesting events to cover, so snaps for any reporter who can get out of it. But journalistically speaking, this move is probably not the most ethical or effective. Can you get reactions and comments from overseas-- especially when India is 12.5 hours ahead of California time.

It's not that the reporters aren't qualified for the job-- supposedly one of the Indian presshounds is a graduate of the Berkeley j-school

This slightly reminds me of the Jayson Blair affair. One of Blair's many problems was the fact that he started to choose details from photographs to create the impression he had been somewhere or seen someone.

Speaking to our econ class last quarter, a Reuters Reporter alerted us to Reuter's outsourcing practices. Reuters runs a news bureau in Bangalore, the Silicon Valley of India, where it reports on company earnings-- even the businesses based in the U.S. The wire service also relocated lots of jobs to Singapore in 2004.

Another example is with Financial Times. The paper outsourced six intro-level editorial jobs to the Phillipines in March. The paper laid off 30 jobs in the past few months and saw the outsourcing as an attempt to fill the gap.

Journalism jobs are already being cut-- now they're being sent overseas. It's not excatly comforting, as an aspiring journalist, to keep seeing how journalistic integrity is being jeapardized by cost-cutting measures.

Outsourcing is a bold move by media outlets, but I think that this should definately raise some red flags.

Papers in the Papers

This week I watched as an inside news scandal seemed to unfold in process. I felt particularly atuned to it and intrigued by it because of our recent case study work. The paper in question was The Wall Street Journal. And the scandal? The possibility that one of the Journal's top executives leaked information on the pending Murdoch bid to a Hong Kong businessman accused of insider trading.

The first coverage I saw of this story was in The New York Times on Tuesday.

Why Wall St. Journal Editors Held News of Murdoch Bid

Andrew Sorkin reported on the challenges the Journal's editors faced when privy to early information on Murdoch's bid to buy Dow Jones. This breaking news was one of the largest business stories of the year, but The Wall Street Journal left it to CNBC to break the news.

As Sorkin wrote:
"The Journal’s decision raises a nettlesome issue for the media: what are a news organization’s obligations to report important market-moving news about itself or its parent company before the news is officially disclosed?"

Turns out, The Wall Street Journal's news obligations and corporate obligations would become even stranger bedfellows as the week progressed. What started as a story about editorial ethics quickly turned into a story about business ethics. Sorkin's Times article hinted at this when he wrote:

"One unusual aspect of this story was that some investors may also have learned about the deal before the news broke, and traded on that information. As a result, the questions of who knew what and when they knew it inside The Journal could become an issue in inquiries by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York state attorney general into an unusual spike in trading in options to buy Dow Jones stock ahead of a formal announcement of the offer."

Soon enough this was exactly what happened. The following day, Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal published what felt like a piece provoked by the Time's probbing. The article, Insider Trading Alleged in Shares Of Dow Jones, revealed that a Hong Kong couple--Kan King Wong and Charlotte Ka On Wong Leung--were being investigated officially by the SEC for insider trading after turning an $8.2 million profit on Dow Jones shares. The catch? The wife's father is close friends with David Li, the director of Dow Jones. It was the father who transferred investment seed money into the couple's account days before the news of Murdoch's bid officially broke.

What ensued has been a slew of building articles and investigations by The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, and other news outlets have joined in the reporting as the story has grown. What was seemingly prompted by a Times article has been covered much more thoroughly by the Journal itself. As Sorkin wrote in the first line of his initial article, "One of the trickiest things for a news organization to do is cover itself." But for all the challenges of self-coverage, there is also an inherent edge.

The Wall Street Journal has provided far and away the most in depth, investigative reporting on the scandal--not least because it has access to figures like David Li himself. Whereas the Times' stories are riddled with "refused to comment," the Journal gets quotes directly from the source. Editors at the journal might have initially let the story of Murdoch's bid go covered by other news outlets, but it seems that now they've decided to create a virtual monopoly on the sensitive information. The ethical decision-making of covering their own story--what to put in, what to leave out, and how firmly to press their company's own executives for real answers--will be the center of attention as the rest of the story unfolds.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Medill 2020...maybe

I have started to try and decide what to do with my life when August rolls around and I officially am a Medill alum and have to enter the real world and get a JOB! I must admit, I cannot wait! I am looking forward to finally have a stable income, living closer to my friends and loved ones, and making my parents proud (or relieved that they don't have to fork out tuition anymore!)

Since I am get depressed when the temperature drops below 40 degrees, I have decided that my heart (and body) are made for the west and southwest areas of the country...I would love to move back to Phoenix where the sun is always shining. My friend who works in Scottsdale, AZ put me in contact with one of her colleagues' good friends, who just happens to be a veteran employee at the NBC affiliate in Phoenix. I emailed her to see what advice she has for me as I begin the job search in the southwest, and how to make my way to a large market like Phoenix.

Here is a snippet of her response: "It's hard to give solid advice via email, but I will tell you the Internet is the next big thing.Many news organizations (including ours) are changing the way they operate to accommodate the net and all its resources.I would highly suggest you get familiar with it and have some Internet related courses on your resume."

So...maybe those Web casts will come in handy. (or maybe at least the notion of "writing and producing for the web"). I just thought I'd pass this little message along as we all have been frustrated at times during the past few quarters, wondering why we are the ones facing Medill's transition and if it really is mirroring what is happening, or going to happen, in the news industry. I think we all are going to be very successful at whatever we do...who knows where people will end up and if we all will remain in the broadcast field or find that our passion lies in a completely different industry. I have faith in everyone...and I know the process of getting there is very stressful.

Set high goals for yourself...and ultimately aim for happiness.

Nancy's Fall From Grace

The verdict was handed down from Court TV this week--Nancy Grace's show on the network would be cut from 2 hours to 1 hour, to make room for a show hosted by Star Jones. Grace, who spent 10 years with the network, quickly responded that she is leaving her show "Nancy Grace: Closing Arguments" to focus full-time on her legal analysis program, "Nancy Grace" on CNN Headline News. And quite frankly, I am glad we are going to see less of Nancy and that we can now contain her to one network.
I have a great disliking for Grace, who in my opinion, brings drama to the news set--making a bad name for legal analysts. Her antics on her show and attitude were "disgraceful." I lost most of my respect for Grace after her interview with Melinda Duckett (whose 2-year-old son had gone missing) ended with Duckett dead because she had shot herself after Grace grilled her and called her an irresponsible mother. While this incident was later turned into an episode of Law & Order, the fact remains that Grace was believed to be responsible for this woman's death. Critics cited that Grace blamed the weak-minded woman and attacked her verbally and had actually convicted the mother for the disappearance. While it is great for attorneys to cross-examine witnesses in a court of law, she did this as a journalist--and journalists should not play judge and jury--they should stick to delivering the facts. If I were Court TV, I would be so very greatful that this monster is leaving. Every other show on the network is great besides hers.
Oh and let us not forget the interview with Elizabeth Smart, the kidnapped 14-year-old girl she badgered. Finally, Smart had to tell Grace to stop. (If this isn't a red flag I do not know what is--that this woman should not be allowed to interview anyone, let alone a child.)The following is the transcript from the interview:
GRACE: Did your kidnappers tell you they would hurt you or your family if you tried to get away?

ELIZABETH SMART: You know, they did. And I really am here to support the bill and not to go into what — you know, what happened to me, what the whole — like, what is in my past because I`m not here to give an interview on that. I`m here to help push this bill through.

GRACE: And I want you to push the bill through and I want people to hear your voice.

When we take a look back, there`s a shot of Elizabeth Smart, and here she is, four years later. And frankly, it`s a miracle that she was ever found. You know, a lot of people have seen shots of you wearing a burqa. How did you see out of that thing?

ELIZABETH SMART: You know, I`m really not going to talk about this at this time. I mean, that`s something I just don`t even look back at. And I really — I really — to be frankly honest, I really don`t appreciate you bringing all this up.

GRACE: I`m sorry, dear. I thought that you would speak out to other victims. But you know what? I completely understand. A lot of victims don`t want to talk about it and don`t feel like talking about it.

Clearly, if a 14-year-old knows something is wrong with Grace's interview tactics, she is not fit to be on television or talking to anyone--after all, her body count is at one. Anyway, I am glad Grace is off one show--lets get her out of CNN too. Let TV be rid of garbage and lets bring in quality legal analysts--not jokers.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Do people still watch Nancy Grace?

Boo Hoo - Court TV reports Wednesday said Nancy Grace announced she is leaving the network to focus entirely on her CNN Headline News show, "Nancy Grace." Grace hosted a two-hour show on Court TV called "Nancy Grace -- Closing Arguments." Sources say Grace has been consdering the move for some time now, but my questions is when will she consider moving entirely off air?
I have not met one person who believes Nany Grace is anything but annoying.
Nancy Grace makes me embarrassed to tell people I am interested in legal reporting because whenever I say that I am, people follow with "So, you want to be like Nancy Grace?"
No, absolutely not. To give you an idea of how Court TV is contributing to my point in taking her off air, they are replacing her show with Star Jones' new show -- that is unforunate on several levels.

1) Nancy Grace is being kicked off because of Star Jones
2) Star Jones is kicking Nancy Grace off of her show.

Both points are pretty embarassing for Grace, I think.

What about Grace made her such a celebrity for crime and investigative reporting? It was suprising to me when I read that her CNN Headline news show has experienced higher ratings recently. Who still watches her?

Hopefully decreasing Grace's airtime will make way for new legal reporters who can succesfully convey the complicated world of legal affairs to viewers who seek substantial information, not tacky, insensitive statements that annoy you more than anything else.

Just because Court TV is saying Bye to Grace, I hope that does not mean Headline News will give her more air time.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Slow News Week or Just Bad Editorial Decisions???

This week was probably a slow week in news...at least I hope. I was absolutely disgusted with prominent news outfits showing the David Hasselhoff tape or running stories on Paris Hilton going to the penitentiary. And, to make matters worse, these stories were not in the B block of new or the C block, they were top stories or the subject of entire shows.
On three news channels, the Hasselhoff story seemed to recycle itself every 15 minutes. The news outlets would continuously roll the tape of Hasselhoff drunk on the bathroom floor of his Las Vegas home with his daughter videotaping him while he launched obscenities at her and the camera and picked at a sloppy hamburger. In between these rants, he would say, "I am a recovering alcoholic and relapse is a part of recovery." The videotape replaying was overkill. And, it was not newsworthy. Can someone please tell me what was newsworthy about this non-story? Clearly, this was done by stations for ratings and nothing more. Who in the morning editorial meeting said we are going to run with this story? Nonetheless, how much embarrassment can one family handle...do news organizations not care that young kids are involved in these situations?
Now, what is most startling is that this story has still not died. Yesterday, the news networks ran stories with Pamela Bach, Hasselhoff's ex-wife making claims that Hasselhoff assaulted her in drunken rages. Thus, supporting Bach's allegations that Hasselhoff's alcohol abuse is what prompted their divorce. Now, it does not end here either...today, the news organizations both local, national and international (broadcast, radio and print) are running stories with Hasselhoff lashing back at his wife and her assualt allegations. Now, at this point, I feel like the media has become the stage for divorces and marital disputes to play out. I would expect to hear about these stories on E! or Inside Edition, but why is NBC devoting whole shows to this issue? Why do I have to see David Hasselhoff drunk on my television screen at 5 am, 11 am and then again at 4 p.m.?
In the past two weeks, we have dealth with a similar situation with Alec Baldwin and his abusive message to his daughter Ireland. Now, the question I ask is...who is leaking these tapes to the media? Can we get to the bottom of that? Maybe herein lies the news. The common denominator in all of these stories are out of control fathers who are either going through divorces or that are just recently divorced and not on good terms with their exes. Clearly, the exes have motive...not to mention, what child would not show their parent what the other parent said on tape or did on-camera. While both mothers have denied leaking the tapes, I want to know who is the source here. Is it them? Are they being paid for these tapes? And, if they are selling these tapes, doesn't that make them the bad parent for airing the family's dirty laundry on national television.
Also, can we stop giving publicity to these leaked tapes. They have no substance and are ridiculous. I would rather do MOSs all day on the street asking Chicagoans how they feel about the city or country than air these worthless peices of garbage that take up valuable air time. And can someone please send Hasselhoff back to Baywatch where he belongs.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

New York v. Chicago - Media Style

As some of you may know I'm on the road this weekend, in New York City. There are so many similarities between the media institutions in the two cities, but there are also a couple of striking differences. In bullet point form I'm gonna go through those similarities and differences as I see them. This is a highly unscientific exploration, but I figured it would be fun.

- Editorial Perspectives: Both New York and Chicago have newspapers that represent both sides of the political spectrum. I think this is a good thing, a little balance never hurt anybody. In Chicago, the Tribune generall can be relied on for a somewhat conservative voice, though that has been moderated recently. The Sun-Times is generally liberal. Here in New York, the Post and Wall Street Journal are strong conservartive voices. While the Daily News, Newsday and of course the New York Times are very liberal. It's so very important to have balance in this area, but in Chicago I get the sense that there is a little less balance. If only because both newspapers endorsed Mayor Daley, despite an amazing amount of legal trouble. One of the two major dailies stepping out and trying to prop up another candidate would have been interesting and certainly more balanced.

- News Radio: WBBM 780 and WCBS 880 are essentially the same, 24 hour news stations that are CBS affiliates. More interesting for me is the sports radio situation in Chicago as compared to New York. More options and competitiveness in Chicago has left the top two stations tied. Whereas in New York WFAN continues to dominate WEPN. Both markets are highly competitive and very balanced.

- Television news: I've decided to pick out an oddball difference between the two markets, but one that deeply bothers me. In Chicago, Bob Sirott on NBC offers a "One More Thing" commentary at the end of the 4 o'clock news broadcast. He also has a background in talk radio and seems to inject opinion into a lot of his stories. I like him, I find him entertaining but I do not think he's anchoring style is entirely journalistically inappropriate. None of the news anchors in New York offer commentary like Sirott does. A number of years ago Bill Beutel was the main anchor at ABC 7 in New York, and he occasionally offered commentary. But that time has passed. And I feel like Chicago is entitled to have its news reported without an anchor's opinion. That kind of stuff wouldn't fly in New York, and I hope it doesn't go on for much longer in Chicago.

And on a non-media related point, New York sports teams are clearly more dominant than Chicago's. Feel free debate that last point in the comments as well.

Baldwin vs. Hasselhoff

I was surprised by own reactions to two intimate, though definitely not positive, celebrity father-daughter moments exposed to the world.

The first one was actor Alec Baldwin’s vicemail, err, I mean voicemail. The worst parts of the voicemail to his 11-year-old daughter included “You are a rude, thoughtless, little pig, OK?” at the end of a long tirade about how he feels stood up by her for not making a telephone appointment.

The second incident was actor/singer David Hasselhoff, caught on tape by his own 16-year-old daughter Taylor-Ann, lounging shirtless in a hotel room, drunk to the point where he can barely pick up a hamburger. Taylor-Ann’s imploring questions to him “Are you gonna stop [drinking]?” are heartbreaking, and so is Hasselhoff’s response: “'Cause I’m lonely.”

Watching the “news” about Baldwin left me disgusted with the way NBC milked this non-story. When it was aired on the Today show, Matt Lauer said “This is so disturbing on so many levels.” I wanted to know, where? As far as I can tell, Baldwin was trying to parent his daughter. He was audibly upset and angry, but he was reasonable in the literal sense of the word: In his message, he explained his reason for being upset at her, how she made him feel, what he would have expected of her. We may disagree with the method of parenting, but this voicemail is a far stretch from abusive or destructive. Any snip of argument between family members would have seemed contorted if aired like this.

So when NBC steps into a parenting situation, a private moment, milked the story for its celebrity value, made it look like news with two experts chiming in (TMZ’s managing editor and NBC’s chief legal correspondant), and then itself became a conduit for a nasty divorce, and possibly, a pawn for one of the sparring ex-spouses, I think it has definitely lost some credibility points as a respected news organization.

Now…having vented about NBC, it’ll be difficult to explain why I felt that The Insider and other television magazines were right about airing Hasselhoff’s drunk moments. But I’ll try.

Hasselhoff really was at a low when he let himself be filmed like that. Contrary to Baldwin’s inadvertent public display of disaffection, however, Hasselhoff was no longer in control of his own actions while in the presence of his underage daughter. Hasselhoff was not parenting, more than that, he was setting a horrible example as a supposed role model. What if he hadn’t just been intoxicated from alcohol, but from weed or worse? Although I felt sorry for him, I didn’t feel that this scene was exploited or dramatized – the human drama spoke for itself.

So why would this drunken scene merit public airing when Baldwin’s rant did not? Well, besides the fact that one was about real misfortune (alcoholic dad) and the other was not (angry dad), what the viewer takes away from Hasselhoff’s video is the tragic implications of alcohol on a child, who has been forced to become the reasonable voice to beg her parent to stop drinking. Fame has to do with it to the extent that alcohol and drugs feature prominently in certain lifestyles. In cases like Hasselhoff’s, it may take some extreme action, like the one committed by his daughter, to sober up the person.

As for Baldwin’s voicemail, what I took away from it was that parents should be extremely cautions when “handling” their children, using only gloves and cotton candy, even when they are out of line.

Maybe this discussion is not so much about journalism as it is about parenting. Unless of course, the media influences the way we parent, as NBC did when it chastised Baldwin for yelling at his daughter.

Paris Hilton is in trouble again....does anyone care?

For about 12 hours or so, the main story on many news websites was Paris Hilton. Apparently, a judge sentenced her to 45 days of jail. Why? She drove with a suspended license, in violation of her parole. In case you don't remember - or don't care - she was involved in an alcohol-related traffic incident not too long ago. Actually, she's been involved in several, it's just this last one that REALLY counted. Anyway, she got hit with her sentence, and then her mother threw a little tantrum over it.

At this point, does anyone really care about Paris Hilton? Even if it's a slow news day, this is the kind of story news organizations should bury.

Actually, the AP went one better (or at least tried to ) back on February 13:

"Next week the print team is planning an unconventional experiment: We are NOT going to cover Paris Hilton.

“Barring any major, major news, we are not going to put a single word about Paris on the wire,” the memo continued. “If something does come up, big or small, we encourage discussions on whether we should write about it.”

“Hopefully we will be able to discuss what ‘news’ we missed...the repercussions of our blackout for AP both editorially and business-wise, and most importantly the force that cause the world to be fixated on this person who, despite her shallow frivolity, represents an epochal development in our culture.”

That was the entertainment editor's e-mail to his co-workers. The experiment ended when Paris was arrested for driving without a license.

Can't these websites found some better news to use? I guess this one's special because she may actually go to jail, unless her lawyers can pull some other trick out, but what's the interest in these stories? Celebrity gossip is always popular, but how many people are actually dying to hear more news about her, much less, another story about another driving incident?

In Methods, they keep hammering it into us that we're suppose to report stories that bring in a certain audience, but at what point can we wonder if that audience is worth getting, if that story's worth telling, if what we have is even worth showing?

The New York Times picked this off the AP wires:

"One fan, Joshua Capone, wrote to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger asking him to intervene and keep Hilton out of jail.

"'She provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives,' Capone wrote in a letter to Schwarzenegger posted online on Hilton's myspace page."

Please, please, PLEASE let this be a sarcastic joke...I need SOME faith in humanity...

Friday, May 04, 2007

Shield Law

This week several congressmen introduced a bill that would legislate a federal shield law for journalists. I stumbled across this in the New York Times on Thursday in the Op Ed section. I was surprised that this was the first I had seen or read of the bill - just a short opinion article buried in the back of the paper.

NY Times Article

The bill, called the Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, was introduced Wednesday by congressmen and senators of both parties (Democrats Rick Boucher, John Conyers and Christopher Dodd, and Republicans, Mike Pence and Howard Coble and Richard Lugar). The measure would confer a reporter's privilege, though only up to a point. As the opinion article revealed:

It is not a blank check. The bill would set reasonable criteria that would have to be met before unpublished information could be subpoenaed from reporters in a federal criminal or civil matter. Prosecutors would have to show that they had exhausted alternative sources before demanding information. They would need to show that the sought-after material was relevant and critical to proving a case, and that the public interest in requiring disclosure would outweigh the public interest in news gathering.

Like the reporter, I agree that this is a necessary measure to preserve freedom of the press, and the ability for the media to serve as our nation's watchdog. Journalists cannot be expected to serve as critical news-gatherers if sources are unable to trust that their confidentiality will be protected. At the same time, I think the bill is right to place some limits on the privilege it would offer us. If journalists are truly acting in the interest of society at large, then they should also understand that there are points when their confidential material should be revealed in order to serve the greater good.

I personally take some issue with reporters like Josh Wolf, who seem to stand on principle for a universal privilege that cannot hold up under the weight of pragmatic concerns. In his case, I don't think there was an overriding reason to protect the material he had gathered. If reporters are to have this privilege, they must also understand the reasons it has been given to them, and the limits of those reasons. Perhaps the best chance we have in obtaining a federal shield law is to show that we would not abuse it.