Case Study 9: Fetus Dead

3 Apr

A 2008 article from The Chicago Tribune describes a situation in which Subhas Chander intentionally set a fire that killed his pregnant daughter, her husband and Chander’s 3-year-old grandson. The headline caused controversy by indicating that the smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning from the blaze resulted in the deaths of only three individuals and did not include the unborn child among those “killed.” This sparked a response from the Tribune’s ombudsman, who criticized the author’s unconscious bias in the pro-life versus pro-choice debate and the status of a fetus/child in reporting its homicide. A Chicago media critic turned around and called out the ombudsman for his OWN personal bias that may have been rooted in a more conservative, religious-based stance.

Personally, as an editor, I would air on the side of caution and follow the Tribune’s style book as the original author did when writing the headline. “Grandfather charged in blaze that killed 3″ follows the rule that a fetus or unborn child is not considered a person. The author did not let bias swing him; he merely followed the rules set aside by the publication to avoid moral dilemmas for every potential situation. This guide was put in place for a reason, and the journalist did his job by adhering to it. The headline itself could have been worded differently to avoid giving the impression that his personal views played a role in not considering the unborn child a person (as I’m sure the general public would not be familiar with Tribune style protocol). However, using legal terms in the headline can be clunky and much less SEO friendly than the original version.

I believe the author did the right thing in sticking to the style book to guide his decision, and the attempt to remain completely neutral by an entire readership’s standards in this tense, politically correct atmosphere will continue to prove to a be a next-to-impossible task. A situation like this has so many ramifications, and the ethics of it has been a long-standing issue. However, making decisions backed by more than a vague ethical rationale can help defend the choice.

Storify: WrestleMania 28

3 Apr

[View the story “WrestleMania 28” on Storify]

The digital newsroom and open source ideals

28 Mar

As prevalent as the idea of citizen journalism has been throughout the past few years, combining this notion with the ideals of open source software projects has only recently been surfacing. Projects like OpenFile allows writers to interact with their readers to foster connections as opposed to running around trying to find a scoop. Allowing users to give feedback on ideas opens the barrier between the consumer reader and the engaged reader. This method ensures that there is research and news gathering done about issues and topics that the community finds both engaging and important; readers and writers working together to shape the news is one of the best ways to ensure well-rounded coverage of a local beat.

Publications have increasingly placed stock in their digital platforms than in their conventional print demographic. The online and mobile realm has proven to have the flexibility to both experiment with and change things with ease. Although things like bad headlines will be cemented in history with a simple click of CTRL + PRNT SCRN, infrastructure and features can be added and altered to best suit a publication’s audience. With current technology, the idea of stifling the news to be confined to a daily digest seems archaic compared to real-time updates. As Gigaom.com writer Mathew Ingram put it. “The news is now a process, not an artifact.”

The abbreviated article is looked upon less as shallow and lazy, but actually convenient more than ever before. Providing information has become just as important as storytelling (if not more). Although I have a vast appreciation for the wonderful ability of journalists to tell a story, the needs of the audience has been to get information and short updates on the move from their tablet or phone. It lends the question: Does the audience really know what it wants? The digital age has established that there is room to both satisfy all tastes and appeal to a niche audience. There’s room in cyberspace for all.

There are so many important things to consider when analyzing how this frontier is affecting journalistic publications. Both Sports Illustrated and 154-year-old The Atlantic have found great success in early adapting a digital platform. SI’s lack of a digital-specific department has eliminated a discrepancy in quality between the publication’s print and online reputation, which is truly progressive compared to other sources who struggle trying to maintain both effectively. It puts the onus on writers and editors to be savvy enough to manage content for both mediums, which is quickly becoming the norm. The Atlantic Wire also inspires its staff to remain on the ball despite the publication’s traditional monthly set-up. These sources have found their individual ways to overcome the cluttered idea of what the news cycle is now.

Case Study 8: Afghan Poll

27 Mar

One of the real difficult parts about writing stories about statistics is that numbers, as black-and-white as they may seem, can be interpreted radically differently between people. Depending on your perspective and potential subconscious bias, numbers can spell out a completely different message.

Although both stories made use of the facts, USA Today went the extra mile to find quotes from various sources who are experts on Afghanistan. The quotes from Starr and Rubin even negated the article’s contention that the survey showed Afghans are happy. I also thought that using bullet points to convey the facts of the survey allowed readers to interpret them as they like, as opposed to the narrative style used by The Times. Statistics told as a story inherently lend itself to be biased and readers will interpret them as the publication did instead of however they naturally would. I also found The Time’s visual component to be misleading since it showed a very small chunk of the actual data, and it seemed placed there for the sole purpose for supporting their claims.

From what I gathered, the main point of the story was that the excitement of change had died down from 2004, resulting in a slight disenchantment with the political process, but the overall condition of the country for Afghans had generally improved since the U.S. intervened. This lack of extreme opinion made it difficult for either publication to firmly commit to an angle.

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Afghans confident in country’s direction; security, corruption still national concern

In the wake of democratic progression amid violent political turmoil, Afghans say they are optimistic in the direction their country is going in and they’re satisfied with their budding democracy, according to an Asia Foundation survey released Wednesday.

The primary goal of the survey, which was financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, was to determine the attitudes of Afghanistan citizens toward the political and development progress, according to an article from The New York Times. According to USA Today, it is considered the largest opinion poll conducted in the country, having surveyed in person more than 6,000 adults in 32 of 34 provinces between June and August this year.

Although the number of Afghans who feel optimistic about the nation’s trajectory is lower than it was on the eve of the first democratic presidential elections in 2004 (44 percent versus 64 percent), the overall national mood has remained positive since. Seventy-seven percent said they were satisfied with the way democracy was working in Afghanistan.

Sixty percent said they rarely or never worried about their own safety, although 22 percent said security was the biggest problem facing the nation. Polling could not be conducted in the conflict-ridden southern Zabul and Uruzgan provinces.

Corruption proved to be one of the larger concerns on a national scale with about 77 percent of respondents saying it was a national problem and 60 percent said it had increased on a national level. Forty-two percent said it was a problem in their daily lives. Fifty-one percent of those who interacted with public health care officials reported paying bribes for service. However, it fell behind unemployment and lack of services as a main criticism of the government.

The survey also showed a strong approval of newly instated government infrastructure, such as the Afghan National Police, of which 86 percent approved. However, it has been a long-standing idea that the national police have been criticized for its extreme corruption.

George Varughese, director of the poll, told USA Today although the results “appear to challenge the current wisdom on issues in Afghanistan,” it is an important piece of work.

However, some experts warn not to let these statistics skew the idea that country is still in a state of rebuilding and violent insurgency. “What they affirm is that help produces results, which in turn generates appreciation,” Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, told USA Today.

Twitter: the journalist’s boundless, fickle almanac

14 Mar

Twitter has undoubtedly become the best way for the general audience to get news quickly, although its reliability as a credible source is severely in doubt due to the lack of a content filter. However, despite its flaws, journalists would be absolutely foolish to not maximize the platform to collect and disseminate information. Similarly, users have proven that they respond well to the media on Twitter (especially media figures’ personal accounts in which users feel they are most likely to get a reply and that they give a more intimate background to news gathering) and are eager to share knowledge and stories within their network. This sort of crowdsourcing has turned Twitter into a social media wire service, which has lead to a massive movement toward citizen journalism. For example, the revolutions and political unrest in Egypt and Tunisia were fueled and given credence by their coverage on Twitter throughout the world, and this trend has continued.

The reporting process is an involved, arduous one that often relies on other people to collect information in a timely manner. Twitter has become a wonderful resource to start conversations among and engage an audience, post story updates as they happen, and locate appropriate sources. Its advent as a mainstream media outlet has given credence to the idea that the people make the news, not newspapers or networks.

In addition to its live updating capabilities, Twitter also features organizational functions such as lists. For a journalist, this feature could help distinguish different kinds of sources, such as by location, particular story, personal interviews or competitive media outlets. This customization creates a new user experience for each list, as well as improves the search capabilities for information and sources that fit a particular category. Third-party clients for the various smartphone and tablet operating systems (HootSuite and TweetDeck, for example) also make monitoring timelines all the more simple, streamlined and mobile. This further access to what is already a wealth of information is essential to perpetuating the idea that Twitter is a worthy addition to the new media family.

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#tsfpractice

Case Study 7 & 7.1: Twitter as a window to the human experience

13 Mar

Live-tweeting has become one of the most popular ways to maximize Twitter’s microblogging functionality. From awards shows to sporting events, users can get second-t0-second updates about almost anything. However, sometimes the citizen journalism mentality can toe the line. Web developer Andy Boyle took it upon himself to live-tweet a breakup between a married couple in a Burger King, complete with a video recording uploaded to yFrog and multiple Instagram photos taken from his mobile phone. The primary ethical question involves the invasion of privacy of this couple’s problematic moment, as well as taking photos and recording them without their consent. However, these ethical issues are generally regarded as standards to maintain journalistic integrity — but is this actually journalism in the first place? I’d have to say no.

A journalist is generally defined by one who pursues news for a career or established media outlet. However, the idea of “citizen journalism” means the Average Joe with a smartphone can capture important events and news. But what does that loose term even mean in the first place? Personally, I feel the intrinsic definition of journalism is some higher obligation to the public to provide people with information they should know. International affairs and celebrity gossip alike share the ideal that the information they provide to the public will, in some way, serve them well. Therefore, true citizen journalists too share this idea.

The information Boyle presented in his multimedia bonanza was hardly imperative to the public, and I believe he viewed it merely as an amusing anecdote that he had the ability to capture. Therefore, his ethical choices are highly personal and not rooted in journalistic standards. Boyle’s choice to publish the story was more amusing than distasteful (and the fact that it took place in a very public forum doesn’t make it unethical in my opinion since it was their choice to air their dirty laundry in a family restaurant), but I do believe the fact that he chose to include incriminating photos and video that could possibly identify the couple to a national audience was in very poor taste.

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Breaking news in the Twitter age means a quick dispersion of information, and news outlets are now using this to their advantage. CNN has their iReport system in place specifically for people to send in photos and video they capture on their mobile device, and news outlets have also been tweeting news almost immediately as it’s made available. BBC Breaking made a call to people who may have been in the Liege area during the grenade attack in December and had initially reported “several men” involved in the incident (which they later corrected in their web article to only one). BBC’s web article was also published with the same immediacy as the tweets, whereas RTE News seemed to wait a couple hours before posting any information.

Although it is understandable that the BBC would want to get the story out as soon as possible, not taking the time to confirm facts before letting them loose on the web opened themselves up for multiple fact errors. Reuters has been responsible for the same kind of tweet-before-you-think inaccuracies, such as perpetuating the rumor that Rep. Gabrielle Gifford died after being shot. NPR also took a lot of heat after retweeting Reuters without checking the facts any further themselves. Entirely false reports often lead to rumors of celebrities‘ deaths who are alive and well (which has inexplicably happened to Bill Cosby multiple times and has prompted actor Jeff Goldblum to respond on Comedy Central). In the wake of incidents like these, BBC News has instituted a new guideline to not break stories on Twitter before consulting their colleagues in the newsroom. Sky News has also recently instituted a policy that forbids their journalists to retweet or post information from Twitter users who are not fellow Sky News employees.

If Twitter continues to report news unchecked, it must surrender claim as a reliable news source and admit its true form: a meaningless caricature of blogging. – Michael Roe, The Mirador

Just as the case with the Jimmy’s World and Eagle Snatches Dog case studies, the lesson learned the hard way involves the editors simply not giving fact checking the diligence it is due for these stories. Especially in these times in which information is circulated quickly without a filter, journalists have a responsibility to the public to convey facts and a sense of credibility and responsibility, potentially at the expense of breaking the story first.

Are fact checking tools objective or equally misleading?

7 Mar

Poligraft and Politifact are just two of many fact checking tools out there for journalist and otherwise news-savvy individuals to maintain a healthy sense of curiosity and skepticism. Pundits and politicians galore have always been the objects of suspicion, but the fostering of the voice of the citizenry in the blogosphere as well has made it all the more difficult to weed out the fact from fiction. Politigraft is a particularly great tool for journalists looking to aggregate other articles. Knowing what aspects of the article are legitimate, as well as having a solid background of their sources, gives legitimacy to your article. Being confident in your aggregated content is an equally important aspect of writing as is your original reporting. The system of using these tools is, however, flawed. Although many are quick to call foul on potential biases, in the fact checking, it is likely more so attributed to one-sided research. Just because researching one side of a case yields AN answer, it doesn’t necessarily mean those facts are THE answer.

The story I submitted to Poligraft was a piece by Ruth Bettelheim, Ph.D outlining the conception controversy raging in legislation. She looks at Rush Limbaugh’s claims that were made with less volatile language, such as suggesting that politicians are “peeping toms” and that women should be married off and stay at home to bear children. Bettelheim also sees him as contradictory for believing a woman should be wholesome, but he likewise desires to peep on them committing sexual acts. Her overarching point was to demonstrate that the contraception debate was not necessarily an attack on women alone, but on sexuality in itself based on fear and deep-rooted anxieties. Poligraft cited references to Department of Health (for some reason as University of California), Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh.

http://poligraft.com/YMqt#done