Tuesday, October 30, 2007

FEMA's "press conference"

I just read this story about FEMA's press conference about the California wildfires. Apparently, FEMA just had their own employees attend the press conference, which was announced just 15 minutes before it started, and had them ask what amounted to softball questions. They only allowed real reporters to telephone in to the conference and listen in, but they could not ask any questions. Of course, FEMA is taking a major hit over this, which certainly seems appropriate. This organization came under tremendous fire for its handling of Hurricane Katrina, and here they manipulated the news in an attempt to make themselves look better. I think FEMA would have been better off just not answering any questions rather than staging a press conference that only damaged their credibility even further. I was just very surprised that any group would be so foolish to try to pull off such a deceptive strategy.

Stunning fire photo has backstory

LAObserved, an online journal of media and place, asks whether this LA Times photo might capture a Pulitzer. <<[P]hotographer Karen Tapia-Anderson ... said that as she watched flames trap a dozen members of Engine Company 22, then saw them deploy their flimsy fire shelters as a last resort, she started to cry. "I felt that they weren't going to make it," she said. "I began to pray for those guys." After fifteen minutes they emerged one by one, a sight that Tapia-Anderson called "awesome." >>

Monday, October 29, 2007

The problem with news outlets using blogs

I've used the Journal-Sentinel before to talk about the multimedia sports coverage it offers, but not the website also illustrates the downside of blogs. Because of the free, conversational nature of the writing, editing appears to be less critical. For example, the Wisconsin Badgers blog has a quote from football coach Bret Bielema: "It's just a difficult situation because of how it al went down to begin with," he added. "We tried to bring some new information. I thought there might be a change in the way things happened but there wasn't." I added the bold to make a point. The blog post lost some force for me with the misspelling. It also hurts the Web site's credibility because if they don't edit the blogs, the staffers may not edit the stories well.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sox Rock!

Boston.com pulled out the stops to reflect the excitement of a Red Sox win. Notice how newspaper design principles apply to this Web page, one that is in the vangard of news site layout.

Oops. Get that punctuation right

From Romenesko:
Steelworkers want apology for $817K error in WSJ editorial
United Steelworkers release | Wall Street Journal
A Wall Street Journal editorial said on Monday: "Forms have also revealed that union leaders are not exactly members of the proletariat: Jimmy Warren, Treasurer of the Steelworkers and AFL-CIO makes $825,262 a year." Actually, he makes $8,252.62 a year and he's not "treasurer of the Steelworkers." The union is unhappy with the Journal's "inadequate, out-of-context correction" and wants an apology.

This makes me so sad

I weep ...


Monday, October 22, 2007

Reilly leaves SI

Not sure how many of you all read sports magazines, but I just saw that Rick Reilly is leaving Sports Illustrated and going to ESPN Magazine. I have heard in the last few years that SI had lost some of the luster it had in the past, but Reilly's name and reputation really helped to keep them relevant. I wonder if this is, in some ways, a changing of the guard in the sports magazine business. ESPN Magazine, although it only started about 10 years ago, is a very different take on sports journalism than SI, and maybe Reilly's move is a signal that the ESPN approach is working better. For example, I noticed that Reilly is also going to be doing some TV and online work along with his magazine columns. Basically, ESPN Magazine is more than just a magazine. It works in concert with TV, the Web, etc. I just wonder if the SI approach is too rooted in the past, before sports news was available 24 hours a day on TV and the Internet. People don't need to wait a week for a magazine to let us know what happened in sports because we can find out immediately. Granted, Reilly is just one person, but he's one of the most prominent sportswriters in recent history, and I think his move is very significant to sports journalism.

Friday, October 19, 2007

New Times Owners Arrested

The two owners of the Phoenix-based New Times, Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin, were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies for an article in Thursday's issues. The charges were for making public the fact that the New Times had received a Grand Jury subpoena. The two were arrested because the Grand Jury proceedings are supposed to be secret and the information was leaked in an article under their byline. There is some thought that the arrests are payback for critical articles that were written about Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas in the New Times. This case has some serious repercussions for freedom of the press issues. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds in the coming weeks and months.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Kentucky mother's struggle through drug court

Al Tompkins, of Poynter, has a full writeup of a weeklong project by the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader that will, in his words, "consume 18 inside pages, 15 minutes of online multimedia and more than 130 photos." Tompkins explores how the project came together -- it took four years.

Readers question news judgment for centerpiece

Romenesko carried this blurb today:
SacBee readers gripe about prominent play for atheists story
Sacramento Bee
A story about atheists was a recent Bee Metro centerpiece, while a piece about a church gathering got secondary play. "Well, as you might imagine, the juxtaposition caused more than a few Christian readers to complain about how offended they were and ask whether The Bee had lost its way," writes Armando Acuna. "Those who criticize the paper for publishing the atheists' story or for 'taking sides' by making it the centerpiece don't understand what we do."

I'd really like to read more about it, but I clicked over to the newspaper site and was confronted with a request to register. Ten minutes later, confounded by registering when I'd evidently previously registered, a subsequent wait for my forgotten password to be mailed, etc., I'd totally determined to cut and paste the entire story here as a protest against news site registrations, which I detest. Alas, foiled again. Once onto the site (I'm really stubborn), I couldn't find any trace of the story. So now this post is a complaint about online sites that don't carry the full range of news debate with regard to the print edition. So all I can do at this point is refer you to Romenesko, who has other tasty links related to this kind of story available.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Wisconsin AG comments cause stir

Apparently, Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen is under fire for telling residents of Crandon, Wis., a city in which a part-time police officer is suspected of killing six people earlier this month, that they should not talk to the media about the incident. A spokesman for Van Hollen said that he was just passing on the wishes of the victims' families, but media outlets in the state are upset at what he said, because they believe he does not have the authority to tell people to remain silent and that he is just trying to make the media's job more difficult. Also, one principle of his campaign last year was that government should be transparent and information should be more readily available to the public, yet these comments seem contrary to that. However, one person in this article says the media is too aggressive in covering these stories and lack concern for the people involved. I just thought this was an interesting story, because it is important that the media covers stories like this that affect the community. On the other hand, I agree that sometimes reporters should be a bit more respectful and realize that people are emotional in situations like this, so they should not just be treated as a means to the end of producing an interesting story. I'm not really sure the state's AG should be telling people not to talk to the media, but I can understand if the people involved in this story just want to be left alone and not have cameras and reporters in their faces all the time. I think this is an issue where there is no absolute right or wrong, which makes it interesting to look at.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Partially trapped? Partially? Trapped is trapped.

NORFOLK — A man operating a steamroller was killed Wednesday afternoon in an accident, police said.

It happened in the 6500 block of Tidewater Drive around 1:45 p.m.

The man was operating the steamroller when it went over a small ledge and tipped on its side, partially trapping the man.

The man was pronounced dead on the way to Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The State Press

I was confused by a story in The State Press today with the headline "Interfraternity Council changes alcohol policies." The deck reads "Revisions are not in response to recent sexual allegations, president says." However, the first sentence reads, "In light of recent sexual assault allegations against the Greek Community, the ASU Interfraternity Council met Monday and passed what its president called an "extremely strict" event policy to prevent future incidents." Some readers, including me, might interpret the deck and lead as being contradictory statements. The first sentence seems to say that changes were made in response to the allegations. I found myself asking, "Well, which is it?" Also, I found the graph on the front page misleading. For example, it shows that arson is up 200 percent. This is shocking news to some, but when you take into account that there were no arson incidents in 2005 and 2 in 2006, it doesn't seem so shocking (at least to me). Did anyone else find it somewhat misleading?

Monday, October 8, 2007

Good design is key to attracting readers

BusinessWeek redesigned their magazine to make it more reader-friendly and increase sales by taking into account "readers' time and the fact that news is available around the clock." This just shows you how important design is to attracting readers.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

AP and CNN covering the same story

The Associated Press and CNN each posted a new article on the shooting rampage by a law enforcement official in Wisconsin. The two articles appeared within 30 minutes of each other. AP has a reporter on the scene and the writing reflects that. His article is more complete than the CNN report, which relies on radio station reports for the article. Granted the AP story was posted later than the CNN article, but AP was willing to commit to six dead and a seventh in the hospital while CNN was only able to say that at least five had died.

A copy editor's dream column

Or is that "copy-editor"? A friend sent me the link to Charles McGrath's column in today's New York Times and I pass it along to you. It was accompanied by Ellen Lupton's graphic, left.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Autopsy Story Blocked

So, apparently a Boston judge issued a decision earlier this week that stopped a TV station from airing a report about the autopsies done on two firefighters that were killed in a restaurant fire in August. The autopsies showed the firefighters had been drinking and using drugs when they died, so obviously this was going to be negative publicity for the city's fire department. Also, the judge who made this ruling is the former chief of staff and legal counsel for the mayor of Boston, which suggests a possible conflict of interest when deciding a case that will reflect poorly on city officials. This story here from the Media Nation blog mentions the 1931 US Supreme Court case of Near v. Minnesota, a case that we recently discussed in my Media Law class, which sets out three narrow categories of expression that can be constitutionally subject to prior restraint. It doesn't seem this report about the autopsy results would fit any of them. Granted, I don't know every intricacy of this case and decision, but this seems to be an unconstitutional prior restraint. It just seemed like a surprising ruling to me, and I wonder if it will be appealed and the case will continue moving up through the court system.

Story folo raises Big Picture questions

Note the multiple media elements of this folo report on Carol Gotbaum's death at Sky Harbor. There's the main text story with links to other text reports, a source video from the airport, a statement from her family, a collection of witness quotes supplied by the Phoenix police, a still image with cutline material, and a host of "reader" comments that range from the astute to crude, rude and ludicrous. The question with which many editors grapple is which parts of this package should be edited, and to what extent? It brings up a larger issue: what is the goal of having something edited? Literacy? Fairness? Basic intelligence? The avoidance of libel? Public service? Copy editors have a responsibility to protect their publication from looking stupid or doing harm. Does that mean only publication employees -- reporters, editors, producers, etc. -- have the benefit of someone cleaning up their language and double-checking their thought processes? Do they only have that protection when they're reporting in certain genres -- in a "story" form rather than in a blog, for example? Should members of the public have that protection as well -- which means, suddenly, that copy editors are responsible for editing material from people they don't know, have no newsroom ties to, and did not agree to edit when they signed on for the job? We are in the turmoil of genuine upheaval as we transition toward a new journalism: same principles, perhaps, but vastly different modes of expression and accountability. Fascinating.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

History of the byline

A journalism history listserv was asked how the byline came about and this response appeared this morning:
Gen. Joseph Hooker invented the byline. As commander of the Army of the Potomac, Hooker was very security-conscious. Convinced that Northern newspapers were publishing sensitive information of great value to the South, he halted a practice his soldiers had followed of trading newspapers with the enemy during cease fires. To underscore his concern, he then prosecuted the New York Herald's correspondent, Edwin F. Denyse, for a story alleging that the Union Army was preparing to take the field for an offensive that would occur "at the earliest possible moment." Although the story was utterly wrong, the general had Denyse arrested because he might get the story right the next time. A military commission tried the reporter in the command's provost marshal's office, convicted him, and sentenced him to six-months of hard labor. Hooker commuted the sentence, but he had made his point. His next move was considerably more original. To that point, virtually all news stories had been anonymous. The redoubtable William Howard Russell, for example, was known to readers of The London Times only as "Our Own Special Correspondent." In order to force the press to be more responsible, the general ordered newsmen covering his command to put their names on any stories that saw print. If they or their editors failed to do so, the offending correspondent would be banished and his journal banned from sale to the troops. This was a considerable threat because newspapers often made big money selling their product to the troops before and after battles. The papers complied, and the byline came into being. You can find the whole story footnoted in Stephen W. Sears wonderful history, Chancellorsville (New York: Houghton Mifflin, Mariner Books, 1998), p. 75.

William M. Hammond

I hadn't heard this history before; I dimly thought that bylines had originated during the Penny Press era as had so much of current newspaper tradition. If anyone has a different citation, please add!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Judging the relevance of sources

Tonight in my science writing class, we were presented with an interesting topic. Our guest speaker, who has studied science writing but has also been on the public medical side, said that many journalists often give the wrong idea about a science story by presenting both sides equally.

As journalists, we're taught to always get both sides of the story, so the idea of putting more importance on one source over another is a little hard for me to grasp. I think the discretion is more important in science articles, when the importance of one study might outweigh the validity of another. But it just seems strange still to think that the journalist has the right to weigh the importance of sources.

But if you think about it, every time there's an article about space exploration, you don't have to get a quote from someone who still believes the world is flat.

Any thoughts?

I'm just glad he's not a reporter

Daily Star named teen who was strip-searched...

...then reconsidered and removed her name from the online story. See the explanation and policy here.

Should journalists mine Facebook for data?

The current American Journalism Review explores the ethical and journalistic implications of using "dirty data" and self-selected information in contextualizing stories, finding ties between people, getting contact information and lifting quotes from social networking sites. Here's an excerpt from the article:
For example, a Boston Globe story this summer about the allure gangs hold for young people--particularly those with an older sibling in a gang--referenced the MySpace page of 21-year-old Gary Brown, who had been accused in the shooting death of two Georgia men. Brown's younger brothers, ages 7 and 12, regularly log on to his MySpace page to listen to his rap group, Soldiers Only Live Once. One paragraph illustrated the influence of older gang members on the next generation, as the story pointed out that the group is what the younger boys listen to on their front porch.

Other reporters have found that MySpace can be a resource in determining which gangs control what turf, and if shootings--based on "R.I.P." and other comments left online--are gang-related.

Burma? Myanmar? Yangon? Rangoon? It's more than 'potato, potaahto...'

H.D.S. Greenway in The Boston Globe devotes a column ("Playing the Name Game") to how different publications work with the names of places that are more familiar in their previous name incarnations. Do you correct a source? Do you explain? Do you describe the political implications, if any, that might adhere to one of the names?

What exactly is the media entitled to know?

Here's an interesting story about how several news media organizations has taken the government to court so they can access the government's investigation into the Crandall Canyon (Utah) mine accident. Apparently the Mine Safety and Health Administration (part of the Department of Labor) is not exactly forthcoming about what happened, or what information they've discovered. In this particular case, I think the media organizations are right -- I see no valid reason why this information cannot be made public. Thoughts? Is there ever justification for NOT allowing the media to have all information about a topic or event, e.g., the war in Iraq?

Monday, October 1, 2007

Stories are miles apart on death of N.Y. woman in PHX airport cell

I first saw this story when I logged on to AOL this morning. The splash page had the image, seen in this post, along with a link to the AP story. At about 8 a.m., there were about 10,000 comments posted to the online report. By noon, there were close to 17,000. That amazed me. But what amazed me more was comparing the Republic's report to one in the (New York) Daily News after a friend suggested I take a look. In one, the police reports are unquestioned. In the other, airline workers are quoted as saying the woman called for help and said she was sick. My alert friend, DeWitt Smith, later sent me the links to The New York Times and CNN stories. I urge you to look at all of these. If you are interested in extra credit, do some more digging in other places -- don't forget the print versions -- and be prepared to talk in class Wednesday about the differences you find in the reporting. UPDATE: The East Valley Tribune posted a deftly backgrounded story at 5:54 a.m.