Case Study 9

4 Apr

As an editor, the case of how to deal with the death of an unborn child is a complicated one. Journalists face semantics issues like this every day, but few are as loaded as this one. As the Tribune’s editor realized, how you refer to a pregnant woman’s death is tied very closely to the abortion debate, and to the question of how much time passes before a fetus is “truly alive.” You try to keep such things on the opinion page, not the locals.

Yet there’s a simple fix here to circumvent the whole issue. The last paragraph of the original story refers to “the three victims” in passing. Reading through it, I found everything else to be neutral – referring to the woman as pregnant instead of mentioning “the death of the unborn child”, etc. – so this was the only thing that jumped out at me.

The editor should’ve just lost the number. Just write “the victims” instead and let the readers make their own judgement as to how many lives were lost. The fetus obviously died as a direct result of the mother’s carbon monoxide poisoning, so the sentence wouldn’t even need to be rewritten.

If I were the editor here, I would’ve kept Occam’s razor in mind and gone with this simple solution. Of course, such is the irony with editing and journalism; too often the simplest solutions are overlooked when rewriting a story.


Case Study 8

28 Mar

The two Afghanistan stories are examples of the line editors have to toe with balance in articles. Without the proper context it would be easy to write off the poll as indicative of a positive outlook for Afghanistan, but the fact is that only 44 percent of Afghans in the poll were “optimistic.” That might be a plurality, but it’s not a majority, and portraying it as such will just lead to accusations of bias.

On the other hand, it’s important to look through all the bullets from the survey results in the first article. The news wasn’t all bad; if I had more space to work with and I felt the focus could be wider I might include some more about the approval for the army. This would of course be contingent on my finding of a real representative of Afghan opinion on the institution. One guy who works at an institute probably hasn’t asked the average Afghan resident what he or she thinks of the army.

Afghans Losing Faith in Nation’s Path, Poll Shows

-New York Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Afghans have lost a considerable amount of confidence in the direction of their country over the past two years, according to an extensive nationwide survey released Wednesday.

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. While Afghans were still more than twice as likely (44 percent to 21 percent) to think their country was headed in the right direction than the wrong direction, “optimistic” reactions dropped 20 percent.

The Asia Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit, interviewed more than 6,000 people from June through August in all but two of Afghanistan’s provinces. The main goal of the survey was to determine Afghans’ attitudes toward the political process, public policy and development progress.

The poll, financed by the U.S. Agency for International Development, suggests that Afghans are forming divergent views as NATO forces battle a pro-Taliban insurgency in southern and eastern provinces and the violence begins to threaten other places that previously had been considered safe.

Security was the main source of 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.

Corruption was less of a concern for respondents than unemployment and lack of services, yet 77 percent of respondents said it was a problem nationally, and 60 percent said it had increased. 51 percent of those who dealt with public health care officials reported paying bribes for health service.

Afghans also had contradictory attitudes toward political tolerance: 85 percent said the government should allow peaceful opposition, but 64 percent said they would not allow political parties they personally opposed to meet in their areas.

George Varughese, who directed the poll for the Asia Foundation, agrees that some of the results “appear to challenge the current wisdom on issues in Afghanistan,” but says, “We feel it is a solid, important piece of work, completed during a difficult time.”

<insert NYT graphic here>

Information from a USA Today article was used in this report.

Word count: 350

Week 11 – Multimedia and “Digital First”

27 Mar

News organizations are trying many different techniques to integrate themselves into the new digital landscape.

One idea that’s taking root is the “transparent newsroom,” which involves reducing or removing the barriers between journalists and the community. This approach involves creating a new community online to match the real one, either through special Twitter hashtags or through other methods like online forums. The new goal here, at least according to Canadian news site OpenFile, is to focus less on scoops and more on providing “value to the reader.”As an editor that “value” aspect is always important, either with newsworthiness or in cases of ethics. I was reminded of a statement from the director of the French branch of Al Jazeera this week. He justified the network not airing footage of the recent terrorist attacks because the audience didn’t have anything to gain from viewing it.

Value and newsworthiness are certainly more important in a digital climate that makes actual scoops extremely elusive. The focus in the news world is shifting toward a digital model that does more than just disseminate breaking news as quickly as possible. News organizations now require the resources to deal with online sources and information that flows out faster than ever. It’s become abundantly clear that the website/”digital department” of a newspaper can’t just be two guys with computers in a corner of the newsroom or in a basement. Publications across the country have changed their business models to integrate the digital aspect with virtually every facet of the printed news that preceded it. Sports Illustrated, for example, the staff spends a good three days going over the online editions after the print edition is finalized, and it often runs stories by themselves on its website. The shift has come without significantly downplaying focus in the magazine because the company has reinvented its own thinking; it now calls itself “a sports media company” instead of just a sports magazine.

A similar tale is told at The Atlantic’s headquarters, where a redesign and a digital-oriented expansion campaign helped the magazine’s circulation and viewership both expand immensely. The Atlantic’s bosses focused on more up-to-date content (the Atlantic Wire site, with its focus on Twitter-friendly news) and specialized topic pages (or “channels” as the magazine calls them) to bring a more nuanced focus to the website.

Both cases are examples of the need to emphasize the online news product as much as, if not more, than the print model today. Treating the digital articles like print will lead to a bland product because the online news audience needs more stimulation within its articles. Aggregation, links, you name it: you have to have something that keeps people’s attention on your site, because you can’t guarantee that 100 percent of your news coverage will be compelling enough on its own. Proper aggregation and curation are key here, whether in providing adequate context to keep readers invested or to make sure your article is seen on the proper social networks.

Finally, it’s important to remember that each form of media has its wrinkles. Just as magazine design is different from newspaper design, so too is website design different from design for mobile devices. The rise of cellphones and tablets as news outlets has influenced designers and editors alike. It’s important to be able to consider how your news will look on each format. The better eye you have for this sort of thing, the easier it’ll be to package the news for the different outlets.

Week 10 – Twitter

21 Mar

“Tweet, tweet, tweet…”

Twitter is the first social medium we’ve covered that I’m already acquainted with. As can be seen from my profile page, I follow more than 200 other accounts on the site and have acquired over 30 followers of my own since I began using the service in 2010.

Following that many people can get confusing, so it’s important to divide up your feed into lists if you want to get as much news as possible. I have a private “friends” list of people I’ve actually met (current count: 27); I’m strongly considering breaking the dozen or so news accounts I follow into their own list as well.

The lists feature ties in closely with with the curation aspect of the service. Tailoring different lists to suit your needs will let you be a much more efficient news gatherer. Applications such as Listorious also exist to facilitate the mass exporting of lists to followers.

Twitter is (or at least it began as) a glorified text-message service. The 140-character limit is just 20 below the cap on messages for most current phones. This has led to its evolution into a source for breaking news; rather than go to a bunch of websites, spend time setting up an RSS feed, or give out your phone number to a bunch of news-to-text feeds, the layman can just set up a Twitter, follow some people, and have the important tweets from them sent to his phone if he wants.

Twitter has also changed the news landscape in other ways, including breaking down the barrier between the reporter and the audience. The ability to tweet at someone, even if you don’t follow them, makes Twitter a very public service, and tweets make for a more to-the-point conversation on the topic. Journalists can use Twitter to get a concentrated reaction from the audience, or they can send tweets to sources who might otherwise not have time to respond.

Twitter can also be used to influence the news climate itself. Take, for example, Adam Penenberg, who tweeted a polemic targeting the major news organizations for their lack of coverage of a Ford rollover trial. Admittedly, as an editor I would have instinctively thought anything dealing with Ford Explorers was old news (everyone already found out they were unsafe in the ’00s, didn’t they?) but Penenberg’s tweets were able to stir up enough awareness to make the story relevant again.

Twitter can also be used to break a story, as happened with a gunman in Maryland in 2010. It’s gotten to the point that Twitter is among the first things people check after major disasters. The increasing amount of ways that ordinary people use the service (and the ways that they’re linked to each other) means that an editor looking for the next story often needs only to check the trending topics.

And now for my story…

I was really busy this week with midterms and the like, and didn’t get out of my house much. Fortunately, my Twitter account already contains a record of a story I was part of: the trip I took to the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee in June. I tweeted updates incessantly in the three days I was there, recording my adventures with rappers, rockers and hippies.  Unfortunately, I was a little lax with the hashtags and I’m having issues bringing the tweets up in Twitter’s advanced search. I have, however, provided some sample tweets from the weekend (June 9-12, 2011); the rest are viewable on my profile with some scrolling. I expect next week’s material on Storify will allow me to present them a lot more coherently.

Case Study 7

21 Mar

“I’ll Be Watching You” – Twitter Storytelling

Andy Boyle’s Burger King narrative is compelling in and of itself, but it’s not journalism. In fact, if he’d just shot a video, I’d expect it to appear on YouTube with a title like “STUPID COUPLE BREAKS UP IN BK LOLOLOL!”

The sad part is that I’d also expect such a video to have a view count in the upper hundreds of thousands, at least. We live in a voyeuristic culture nowadays; the increased availability of the internet has led to a lower common denominator of cultural values being prevalent online. Much like the Crane story (or virtually any reality TV show), Boyle’s venture shows that people watch this sort of thing as a natural response to conflict. Like the saying goes, “it’s like a car crash – horrible to watch, but you can’t look away.”

Boyle’s ethics themselves are highly debatable, which gives journalists reason to look at it even though it’s not news. Taking pictures and video without the couple’s consent is just an issue of taste, but this is why news organizations exist – so people can turn to others and say “does this look okay?” before having it vetted by the public. With Twitter, the editing process has evolved to include the period after the initial post. An editor can vet a story to his or her followers, or post a new tweet clarifying a story.

The narrative also illustrates a couple of things that make for interesting Twitter-based news. Apart from the obvious (Twitter requires thoughts to be short, snappy and easily consumable), the foremost thing is investment. Boyle was able to sit at his table and send his tweet barrage because he felt compelled to share this couple’s argument; personally, I would’ve had a hard time not just putting down my phone and listening.

Week 8 / Week 9 – Poligraft

14 Mar

Poligraft is a useful tool, but it is somewhat narrow in scope; it’s best used for political articles, as the name implies. For the assignment I submitted a New York Times article on some anti-hacking legislation that is being proposed in Congress. A rash of low-level hacker attacks has caused security advocates to push for a tightening of regulations on private companies that deal with government networks like power grids. A bill for the legislation has been proposed by Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, while John McCain has sponsored a counter-bill with fewer restrictions on the companies.

The Poligraft results were quick and detailed. All of the three named senators (as well as Janet Napolitano, the Homeland Security secretary) had entries detailing contributions from individuals and PACs. The “Influence Explorer” pages break down which industries these contributions come from.

The results weren’t perfect, especially with regard to nonpolitical organizations. A mention of the infamous hacker group Anonymous in the article led Poligraft to include a graphic on the completely unrelated Parents Anonymous, while “National Security Council” returned an entry on the National Council of Security Police. A “James A. Lewis” quoted in the article was also turned into “James B. Lewis,” who is apparently a lobbyist. Journalists using Poligraft to fact-check have to be careful that all of the listed organizations and people are the same ones as in the original article.

Week 7 – Links

29 Feb

Links’ Awakening: The New Form of the Hyperlink

A link can help or hurt your story structure. The new job of an editor is to ensure that the links in an article fit into a bigger picture of nonlinear storytelling.

The simple use of links to other stories on the Web has evolved from a significant part of online journalism to a new form of the art. The root cause of this is legitimacy; links let the reader instantly reference your claims and help back up the content of your story because the reader knows that relevant information already exists. Used the right way, links can make a story much more efficient, both to write and to read.


Properly edited, links can excite your readers and move your content in new vibrant directions. But there’s a delicate balance to cut here. Spend too much time aggregating links and your readers may start to become bored with your lack of original content. As Salon discovered, this cuts both ways; reporters feel most at home doing original reporting, so it’s important to spice up your links and set them off with original content.

At the same time it’s important to also keep track of what you’re linking to. To best influence the kinds of links you have in your articles you should have some guidelines set up for your reporters and media editors. If you just have it so your site links to every link you mention, it can distract from your message and even undermine it by causing harm to your audience.

The Dossier

I did Google searches on Emily Burmaster and Rachel Rowan, my groupmates. I started with basic searches of both names. Aside from both women’s Google+ accounts, I was able to find several interesting sites.

Burmaster’s search surprisingly turned up a lot of social media links right away, including her WordPress blog, Quora account and LinkedIn profile. Clearly the social media expansion techniques for this class have some merit!

Rowan’s search was less productive; I was only able to find a PeekYou aggregation (with a link to her MySpace, which is private) on the initial search. Adding “florida” tightened things up a bit, but I still had to deal with Rachel Rowans from Jacksonville and other places in those results. I also found Rowan’s Quora page on this search.