Archive | March, 2012

There is more than one way to tell a story

28 Mar

No matter what topic you are writing about or what medium you choose to utilize, one basic principal should always apply: make sure you are telling a good story. No matter how technologically advanced or fast-paced the world gets, storytelling will always be at the heart of journalism. So, be sure to tell a good story, first and foremost.

The next challenge, however, is figuring out the best way to tell that particular story. This can get tricky when new avenues to present a story keep popping up. Writers can use Twitter, Storify, blogs, online web pages, and even Facebook to tell stories. I think it is most important for the writer to keep composure and not be too overwhelmed by all of the new digital media choices. Instead, they need to understand each avenue for its strengths and be able to choose the one that will showcase the information in their story the best.

With that being said, journalists should definitely make an effort to immerse themselves in the newest digital media trends, so that they can make informed decisions on how to best tell their stories. Journalists need to explore, adapt and embrace.

Journalists need to be learning and utilizing all of these new digital media tools. These tools enhance storytelling. For instance, journalists should know the ins and outs of social media because it could help them interact with their readers. Marie Claire has a Facebook page where they interact with their readers. They will poll readers, give sneak peaks at what’s coming up and post pictures from events. Their page has 160,608 ‘likes’ and gets people talking. I think this is a great tool for interacting with readers, especially the young, social media obsessed ones. The magazine has some presence in social media, which is commendable.

New ideas should also be embraced, like open newsroom concept. It is non-traditional but could be extremely beneficial. By taking input and ideas from readers and making the news process more transparent, readers and news organizations are brought closer together. Ultimately, this enhances the sharing of information and news which should be a goal of today’s journalists.

It is imperative that journalists open their minds to new trends, so that they can grow with the news industry. Close-mindedness stunts progress. They should be flexible and accepting as the world of news evolves, like Sports Illustrated is. We need to embrace the Digital Age and practice constantly incorporating interactive online posts and updates. I really like the idea that we have to start thinking of news as an ongoing process rather than a finished product. Journalists can no longer think of news as a static process. Today, it is surely a dynamic one.

Case Study 8: Stories should present readers with the whole picture

28 Mar

These two stories obviously had an agenda. They both received their information from the same source and poll but interpreted it very differently. Actually, it is quite fascinating how two stories written from the same basic facts can end up being such polar opposites. It is obvious that both writers used for certain information from the study to prove their point. The first story wanted to show that the Afghan people are optimistic about everything, so the writer looked for information in the study to back that notion up. The second story, however, did not think that Afghans were truly happy with the direction of their country, so the writer pulled outside information that would discredit the notion in the first story.

Personally, I preferred the second story. While I am not too informed about Afghanistan, I do know that the second story was much easier to read and understand. It also showed me the bigger picture. As I reader, I felt like I understood more from the second story. I like that the second story gave me context on the issue. I thought that was something that the first story was definitely lacking. Also, there were a lot of statistics from the poll. Instead of listing them in bullet points like the first story, the second story tried to summarize main ideas and included a visual graphic. That was also extremely helpful as a reader trying to understand the situation in Afghanistan.

Compiled Story:

Poll reveals Afghan’s true feelings on their country

A new extensive nationwide survey released Wednesday polls the Afghan people concerning their feelings about their country. While the numbers from this year seem to reveal that the people of Afghanistan are optimistic about the future of their country, numbers are actually down. When compared to the 2004 survey, Afghans actually have less confidence that the country is heading in the right direction.

While the national mood remains positive on the whole, the number of people with negative or mixed views on the trajectory of the country has grown significantly since a similar survey in 2004, according to the Asia Foundation, which conducted both surveys.

“The number of Afghans who feel optimistic is lower than on the eve of the 2004 presidential elections,” the survey found.

It was the largest opinion survey conducted in Afghanistan. In it, 44 percent of Afghans interviewed said the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 64 percent in 2004 on the eve of the first democratic presidential elections in Afghanistan. Twenty-one percent said the country was headed in the wrong direction — compared with 11 percent in 2004 — and 29 percent had mixed feelings. Four percent were unsure. Security was the main reason for the increased concern, the survey said.

Financed by the United States Agency for International Development, the survey was conducted by the Asia Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, and by local partners, who interviewed more than 6,000 people from June through August this year in rural and urban areas of all but two of Afghanistan’s provinces.

The main goal of the survey was to determine the attitudes of Afghans toward the political process, public policy and development progress. The national mood was almost identical across the different ethnic groups, but varied according to region.

Security was the main source for optimism among those who said the country was headed in the right direction. But among those who expressed pessimism, more than half said the biggest problem was a lack of security, the Taliban threat and warlords. Indeed, two southern provinces were excluded from the survey due to extreme security problems.

Respondents listed the economy and unemployment as other big issues. Fifty-four percent said they felt more prosperous than they had under the Taliban, but 26 percent said they felt less well off.

Case Study 7.1: How much can the media rely on citizen accounts?

22 Mar

Both BBC News and RTE News take different approaches to reporting breaking news. When reporting on the grenade attack in Belgium, the differences were highlighted. BBC News tweeted more to readers to update them on the event, including a tweet asking witnesses of the attack to send in their comments. They also had an information sheet where people in Liege who witnessed the attacks could submit their experiences, pictures and videos. Their reporting for this event was much more interactive and relied heavily on their readers for input and information. The story BBC published contained second-hand accounts. For instance, the story contained facts attributed to witnesses, described images that were shown on television, and gave accounts from a journalist at another newspaper.

RTE News, on the other hand, only had one tweet regarding the event. The RTE news did not rely on information from their readers and did not ask for readers to contribute. The RTE story contained statements that were attributed to police. Their approach to reporting on the event was much more mainstream and traditional.

While the BBC is innovative in their approach to try and include their readers in reporting on the event, their actions do raise some issues. For instance, how trust worthy are the accounts readers are submitting? How can the BBC be sure the information is reliable and accurate? What is preventing readers from providing false information to the publication? As we have seen with the story about Jimmy’s world, people can easily fabricate things and pass them off as fact. And in instances like the story where the eagle snatched the dog, how can we be sure the event actually happened that way? If only the one person was there reporting, it can be hard to trust their account.

Sure, it is great for publications to be able to rely on readers for help on reporting a story, but caution must be taken. As long as the publication remains skeptical and checks the information they use, the arrangement should work out well. As a publication, they should still be sending their own reporters to the scene. Some citizens may submit things that their own reporters did not get, but their reporters should be able to confirm certain basic facts. Checks such as these are necessary to protect the publication. This kind of interactive reporting is a nice way to get readers more involved. In the end, though, it is important to remember the paper is responsible for what it publishes, not the citizen contributors. As long a publications like the BBC keep a skeptical mindset when using this reporting approach, all should be fine.

The more tweets there are the better

21 Mar

Unexpected events occur every day. All of a sudden, there is a crash or an earthquake that no one saw coming. Journalists have no way of knowing what will happen and where. When something does happen, journalists make the effort to get to the scene as quickly as possibly. But, sometimes they are not the first people on the scene. Normal, everyday citizens can just happen to be in the right place at the right time and witness events. These citizens who are in the heart of the action have more information that the journalists on their way to the scene. So, why can’t citizens use their resources to update the masses? Well, with the innovations of Twitter and citizen journalism, now they can.

Twitter is a great and innovative resource that allows anyone to share information. For instance, before reporters and camera crews could get to the scene, Twitter broke the story of the Discovery Channel gunman. Regular citizens can now pass along information that they witness, instead of waiting for an official media outlet to release something. Twitter gives citizens the tools to use their own voice. The more more people contributing to the information pile, the better.

If a normal citizen witnesses the eruption of a massive volcano and is right there, why shouldn’t they chronicle the event on their Twitter. This is a great way to disseminate information quickly, so people know what is going on. However, one thing to keep in my mind is to only write what you know and what you are sure is correct. It is unethical to purposely mislead people and make up events. People who do this sully the information sharing system that Twitter enables. When reading Tweets, always consider the source. Do not simply discount something because it does not come from a media outlet, but use good judgment. Be skeptical, but trust your fellow citizen journalists until they give you a reason not to. If a citizen journalist abuses Twitter and fools their followers, people will eventually realize. Then, that citizen journalist will lose their credibility and the trust of their followers.

Twitter is also an extremely useful tool for journalists. Journalists can start conversations with readers, tell them about the reporting process, and even give live updates from events. For example, some news organizations live tweeted from inside the courtroom at the Casey Anthony trial and still tweet updates on the case. This allows readers to follow the raw information as it occurs, before the actual story is published.

Twitter story: #hardlife

Case Study 7: Live tweeting emotional breakup lacks taste and ethics

21 Mar

When I read this story, sure I was intrigued. This is compelling, unusual stuff. A young couple pours their hearts out in the middle of a Burger King? Yes, I want to keep reading. But, next I wondered to myself how someone could have the audacity to write this. How could someone record every word of this personal, intense conversation? It is private. Anyone can tell they did not mean for others to hear or publish their words. So, why publish this?

Well, I’m not sure why Andy Boyle decided to chronicle this on his Twitter, except to provide shock value to his followers. This definitely is not news worthy. It does not have any news value. Therefore, it does not fall under the umbrella of journalism. It does appeal to people’s human interest because it tells a compelling and true story. But, that doesn’t constitute journalism. The way he went about it was unethical and tasteless. These people are in a public place, but that does not mean that their words are automatically free for people to record. It does not mean that just because they are sitting in a Burger King, Boyle has free reign to spy on them and publish what they say. Yes, as journalists we want to do whatever to get the compelling story. But, there is a line. You have to respect others and their privacy. This crossed the line. There was no pressing need for his to eavesdrop on this couple, except for his own selfish, nosy reasons. In doing this, he lacked a great deal of class and taste. Yes, he got a story to publish on his Twitter page, but at what expense?

I think that using Twitter to tell stories is a fantastic idea, as long as you uphold certain principles. Some Twitter stories are just as popular with readers, and yet they do not violate ethics to become popular. I think the key is to look for compelling stories that do not make you cross that line to get them. Publish stories while keeping your integrity in tact. Don’t sacrifice your ethical standards for a sensational story. It’s not worth it.

Poligraft as a resource for journalists

14 Mar

Poligraft makes fact checking simple. It literally takes two seconds to copy the url of a story you are reading on the web and run it through Poligraft to generate a report. It is a great resource because in a matter of seconds, it delivers background research and underlying connections you might have otherwise not known about. The site brings to light possible hidden connections that could highlight biases in a story that seems unbiased on the surface. This is a useful tool for anyone, but especially journalists. Journalists could use it to expose biases in a series of stories, to run their own stories through before publication, and even to check stories they are using as sources for their own work. This tool unmasks stories and strips them down to the real facts. With the extra information, readers can make a more informed conclusion from the story.

I ran a story from Yahoo! News through Poligraft to see if there were any underlying connections. The story was about whether President Obama should accept Sarah Palin’s invitation to a debate. Palin challenged Obama to a debate after the Obama campaign posted an online fundraising video portraying Palin in a negative light. The video accused her of “race-baiting” by criticizing Obama’s relationship with Derrick Bell, Harvard’s first black law professor. Basically, the article addresses both views and includes sources defending each side of the issue.

The Poligraft report is helpful because it uncovers deeper connections and motives that the people or organizations referenced in the story might posses. This helps readers to understand the broader picture. The report for this story showed points of influence for Sarah Palin, Yahoo! Inc, Charles W Johnson, Facebook Inc, and Harvard University. The report shows that Sarah Palin mainly receives contributions from individuals instead of PACs. This tells us that she doesn’t seem to receive money from one dominating company that could influence her views.  Charles W Johnson, who is interviewed in the story and defends Obama, is an Associate Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of Washington. With this information, gained from reading the Poligraft report, we can see a bigger picture. Perhaps he feels a sense of loyalty to Obama because he currently works under him. Also, in looking deeper into the report, we learn most of his campaign finances are received from lawyers. Palin was attacking Obama and his relationship with a prominent law professor. The fact that he seems to have a good relationship with lawyers and receives substantial money from them could weigh into Johnson’s opinion on the whole situation. The report just gives us more food for thought. Also, in reading this story, it is helpful that the report lets us know that Yahoo! Inc, Facebook Inc, and Harvard University are all mostly Democrat and not Republican. This helps us realize the political connections and detect potential biases. While the article is not biased because it shows both sides, it gives more space to the side that defends Obama, a Democrat. And Yahoo! is mostly Democrat. Is there a connection? Is this article actually unbiased? That is why Poligraft is such a great tool. It allows readers to unveil stories and decide for themselves if they are true and unbiased.