Archive | January, 2012

Case Study 2

31 Jan

Jimmy’s (Virtual) World

“Jimmy’s World” is one of those stories that shows how much more skeptical we’ve become as a society. Of course, at the same time it shows that sometimes we’re not skeptical enough.

My questions from my first read-through:

  1. How did nobody notice Jimmy’s withdrawal symptoms at school?
  2. Why aren’t there specific statistics about heroin use and deaths in the DC area?
  3. Where is a reaction from someone in law enforcement about an 8-year-old on heroin?
  4. Since when do 8-year-olds talk like that?
  5. What the heck is a “force beam”?

The Nieman Reports article  makes a good point related to my questions 1-4. (I included question 5 because I refuse to believe that nobody at a major newspaper knew what a lightsaber was in 1980.) That point is that the “Jimmy’s World” fiasco was at least indirectly related to the Post’s own Watergate coverage from some years before. Cooke’s story represents the apex of a relaxation in regulations regarding anonymous sources, but that wasn’t the only place where the editing staff dropped the ball. Somebody needed to realize that the facts and stats Cooke was listing could’ve come from anywhere, and that person should have pressed her to make a more active link between them and Jimmy. The editors clearly let themselves be blinded by the story; the rational step would be to take a step back and realize that Cooke’s sources were probably not shopping Jimmy’s story around to every paper and TV station in town. The news value wouldn’t have been hurt if the story had been withheld for a day or two.

Further, as I alluded to in my comment on Google+ this week, the story was missing a reaction from someone in Jimmy’s life who might’ve actually cared. If Cooke had told me she was being allowed into a drug house to watch an 8-year-old get high, I would naturally assume that she’d be capable of following the boy out of the house to get quotes from the people he interacted with.

Question 3 is the one that nags at me the most. I can’t understand how nobody would go to the police or the local child protection agency with Jimmy’s situation. It’s obvious from the story that Cooke had gotten all of the information she needed from the family; why couldn’t anyone just say “that’s enough” and press Cooke for the sources sooner?

Week 2 – Blogging

25 Jan

The Blogging Edge

This is the Argo Project homepage. It’s heavily discussed in this post.

I think the point the articles make (reflected most heavily in the Technorati article, which compares the definitions of “blog” on various blogging sites) is that blogging as a medium has become something bigger than just a personal journal. Bloggers now have the tools and technology to educate themselves on things they want to write about them, and then they can write about them even quicker than ever before. This has naturally led to a large overlap between blogging and mainstream journalism; bloggers find themselves able to access more resources in the public domain, while many news sites incorporate blogging as an additional form of reporting.

The Argo Project was part of the latter category, an effort by National Public Radio to better connect its major stations with their listeners and each other. One thing I was impressed with was how well the project was able to integrate itself with its parent stations. Several reported record growth centered around their blogs, as noted in Part 1 of the NPR recap. This shows that blogging is an excellent way to get people to connect with other forms of media.

A major reason the project did so well was its visionary coordinator, Matt Thompson. In his MediaShift writeup of Argo, he touched on the ever-shifting blogosphere, citing how things like the sidebars have come and gone in the scant two years since Argo was started. This represents the gist of blogging today: being on the cutting edge, not just in the form of the news but on the news itself.

Case Study 1

24 Jan

Eagles, Dogs, Questions and Answers

I initially struggled to use Quora, but I soon found several answers in different topics. My own questions (about how ridiculous a story has to be to invite scrutiny and about the kinds of eagles that live in Alaska didn’t get responses, however. However, I noticed another question (can an eagle carry a small dog – this one was NOT my own) got a response which confirmed the possibility of a dog being taken. I couldn’t verify the credentials of the respondent.

My questions to the reporter and editor would certainly take timeliness into account. As an interest story about a couple who weren’t from the area, it might be conceivable to push the story back a day to get all of the facts straight. The problem is, in the current climate, a premium has been placed on getting news fast, when it’s not necessarily accurate. My worry is that, as discussed in class, the reporter and editor were blinded by the novelty of the story.

If we were operating in 2012, I’d ask the editor to cross-check the story’s subject matter with national news archives online. In this case, were the story real, there could be a chance that the dog-snatching was not the first. The Snopes article mentions several actual cases where dogs were carried for short distances by birds of prey.

If there’s one thing I learned from so much time with Prof. Foley, it’s “get the dog’s name”. I would’ve done everything I could to make contact with the couple and learn more about their lives and their pet. In cases like this, the veracity of the matter is often only a phone call away.

The eagle raises another set of questions; these are the ones we used Quora to help with now, but when the story was published I would’ve probably called a wildlife specialist to help identify the eagle. I’m fairly certain the bald eagle is not the only raptor native to the Valdez area.

Of course, to positively identify the bird we’d need an eyewitness account, which leads to our gas station attendant. I’d be very suspicious that the gas station in the story had no address or brad name listed; if there really was a dog-eating eagle on the loose, it would be in the public interest for pet owners to know which station to avoid. Identification would also be useful because it would help the editor confirm that the station attendant existed.

Overall, as with most mistakes, it’s relatively easy to correct the story in hindsight. However, with the decreased size of the news cycle in the Internet age, journalists have less time to fact-check. So while they may wish to be more cynical about their news, a different challenge arises in having news personnel who are tech-savvy enough to back up their work.

Week 1 – Aggregation

18 Jan


Curation and aggregation both reflect the journalist’s greater duty as a gatekeeper. Whereas curation involves stemming the sheer flow of content from the public (as reflected in the story told by Nieman), aggregation deals with vetting that content when it comes from other journalistic sources.

It’s an aggregator’s responsibility to make the outsourced story look compelling and original while giving proper credit to the original source. Too much originality can lead to accusations of plagiarism (more often than not, these are unfounded, but they still take away from the integrity of the aggregator’s publication) while a by-the-book quoting will have the reader questioning why they read the story on the aggregation site, if at all. Many critics of plagiarism accusers (as exemplified by the Herald/Huffington case) say that if they had done more work in the first place they wouldn’t be so offended when aggregators base stories off of their own.

A further issue arises with neutrality in aggregation. The best aggregators take the main ideas or choice bits from the sourced story and supplement it with original research. Obviously attribution is still important in all phases. As the Poynter article explains, a properly supported story will cut a good balance between the interests of the readers and those of the aggregator’s sources.

So an aggregator’s goal, then, is to create something interesting that makes people want to visit both the aggregator and its sources. Aggregation itself boils down to re-editing a story, with elements of optimization thrown in.