Sunday, March 4, 2012

Extra Credit Post: What is a Journalist?

We've spent a lot of time this quarter talking about the things that journalists do. In our last class, I'd like us to consider a question: Are all the people who do the things we've discussed worthy of the title "journalist?"

The question is about more than semantics. In December, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a blogger in Portland was not a journalist, in a case that (coupled with others) could have major consequences. The Oregon blogger faces a $2.5 million defamation lawsuit filed by a company she has been investigating . She was seeking protection under Oregon's shield law, a law that protects journalists from having to divulge the identity of their sources in court. Her state's supreme court said she didn't have the credentials to qualify as a real "journalist." Read more about her story here and check out her blog here.

Also take a look at this story out of New Jersey, in which we learn about another case in which bloggers tried (and failed) to get the same legal protection afforded to traditional journalists. For reactions to the New Jersey case, click here and here.

So here is my question to you: What must one do to be considered a "journalist?" Or, perhaps more appropriately, what should one have to do to be considered a journalist? Talk in some depth about these questions, and consider the examples from New Jersey, Oregon and other places.

We will discuss your thoughts in class Thursday - you MUST participate in the group discussion to receive the full extra credit.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street

Dr. Seuss is not only an author of some of the most popular children's books of all time, but a household name that brings a smile to anyones face.

This New York Times article was written to honor the 75th anniversary of Dr. Seuss' first book, "And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street."

It grabbed my attention right away simply because of the topic it covered. I mean, come on, who doesn't love a good Dr. Seuss book? However, I felt disappointed in the delivery of the story.

I felt that the story took too many directions and didn't have a flow that kept my eyes moving through the piece. If you agree, what would you all change to make the story flow better? What did you enjoy about the story? There were quite a few things that I thought were done very well.

Do you think that the journalist brought an interesting perspective to the story seeing as it is about such a beloved author and so many years later? If not, what would you have done differently?

Finally, does the fact that it is about Dr. Seuss and the 75th anniversary of the book Mulberry Street enough to make this story newsworthy?

Here's the link to the story:

The Vanishing Mind: Life, With Dementia

This article grabbed my attention right away. It’s a quick read but covers a very serious issue for those affected by it.

The first paragraph started it off with the very personal story of a man stabbing a woman and then having troubles in prison. The reporter, Pam Belluck, then switched gears very quickly. Just in the second paragraph, she wrote, “Despite that, he has recently been entrusted with an extraordinary responsibility.” The nut graph appears in the fifth paragraph. Do you think Belluck introduced it in the best way possible? I think it was well done, but we all have our own favorite writing techniques, of course.

We talked last week about “jargony,” as Clay called it, a technique used to advance an issue. Do you think the reporter used that method for this story? Do you think this story has a broad appeal? Did it start off that way, or did the reporter introduce the newsworthiness later on?

It’s obviously important for reporters to provide a fair and balanced account of the issues they are reporting on. I think Belluck did a good job of leaving out her opinions and providing enough appropriate sources. Would you agree?

I recommend also watching the video after reading it!

Go Directly, Digitally to Jail? Classic Toys Learn New Clicks

Everyone probably remembers their favorite toys and games as kids, whether it was Monopoly, Barbies or Life. I know at least for me personally, my friends and I often reminisce about old toys and talk about how toys these days just aren't the same. This article reminded me how true that statement is, as the author gives the reader an insight into brand new toys and games that are integrating technology into their products.
How do you think staring at a screen instead of playing with imagination will affect learning in younger children in years to come? Do you think that these technologically advanced toys will have a long shelf life, or will they pass once technology advances once again?
Also consider the newsworthiness of the piece and how it's written. Do you think the inverted pyramid style works for this type of piece? Is it well written, and if not, what could be done to improve this story?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Who's Counting Anyway?

Last week in class we discussed making the most of our words and looked at the 300 word stories. We also looked at the two very long stories that covered the Zanesville animals. All of those stories were very different because of their length, but each were written with the purpose of describing in powerful detail. Which do readers really prefer? Does length really have that much of an impact on the readers? Does anyone like to sit down and read a six page story? Are we doing readers a favor by keeping them short and leaving out detail? I found this story on The New York Times website and I was instantly drawn into it because of how unique of a story it was. In this instance I liked all of the detail because there was so much involved in this story and I wanted to know everything. What do you guys think?

This Story is about 60 people involved in a large kidney transplant swap.
Here's the link :

Jeremy Lin coverage

I thought the story was very interesting.

I liked how it told the story of how the media took what was a ‘feel good’ story and over-hyped it, and how that turned into a racial debate. I know I talk about the media all the time and how they like to stretch stories until they can’t get anything outof them anymore and the danger with that. This story explained my theory in a way that everyone could understand.

I thought the story had a lot of detail andfully explained what was wrong with the story but it still was short enough tokeep a reader’s attention.

Here is the link:

(Clay posted this for Brett C., who was having technical difficulties).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Deep-Seated Meaning Of The American Sofa

This article in NPR talks about the meaning of the American sofa. It starts off by talking about two sofas: one that New York Knicks Jeremy Lin had slept on before his rise to fame and the other belonged to Steve Jobs. Jobs wife told a biographer how they would often discuss the purpose of a sofa.

The article uses Lin and Jobs to introduce the topic, but goes on to examine the sofa further. It talks about the functions, meaning, and different styles of sofas. I know the one thing I miss while I'm at school is the comfortable couch in the family room at my house. This article proved an interesting read and brought up a few good questions.

I'm a sucker for headlines, and this one caught my eye. The article is relatively short and I enjoyed the conversational tone. Whether or not it is newsworthy is a whole other issue. Do you think this article is newsworthy? If it is newsworthy, what makes it newsworthy? Do you think this article is focused on a certain audience? What could the author have done to improve the story?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

For Feb. 16 discussion: Revisiting Zanesville

All of us probably remember the surreal story that broke out in Zanesville, Ohio, last October. The escape and subsequent killing of dozens of exotic animals were international news items in the weeks that followed.

Two major U.S. magazines, GQ and Esquire, revisited that mayhem in this month's issues. The stories don't really break a whole lot of new ground. But they do paint fascinating pictures of the escape and its aftermath using what is commonly referred to as a "tick-tock" story format - an hour-by-hour (or in some cases minute-by-minute) narrative account that includes incredible detail and context (almost in the form of play-by-play) from the important actors.

Reading the two stories back to back is an interesting exercise. We have two talented reporters writing for major media outlets, both of whom enjoy large budgets and virtually unlimited space. The final products are similar in many respects, but different in others.

Compare and, more importantly, contrast the two stories. What made them different, and how did those differences affect your enjoyment of the articles? Give some specific examples of what you liked (and perhaps what you didn't like). I'll share my opinions Thursday, but here's a preview: I find one of these stories above average. I find the other breathtakingly good.

Here are the links to the stories:



For Feb. 16 discussion: What can you say in 300 words?

Sometimes, you can say an awful lot.

Case-in-point: Brady Dennis, former night cops reporter for the St. Petersburg (Florida) Times.

Dennis, who is now with the Washington Post, decided he wanted to highlight some people who never found their way into the newspaper. So he and photographer Chris Zuppa began a monthly series called “300 Words,” in which they set out to tell the stories of toll booth operators, dads in jail, rodeo clowns and others. The series won national acclaim.
In a 2006 interview, Dennis said he wanted to take on the project because “I believe that each person not only has a story to tell, but that each person has a story that matters. I’ve always felt humbled in the presence of everyday, ‘ordinary’ people who are willing to share their lives with us.”

Later in the same interview, he discussed how the series – specifically the rigid word limit – made him a better journalist (read on after the jump):

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Today's Youth Are Not As Troubled As Perceived

This article discusses the misconception that today's youth is one of the most troubled in history. According to most adults, our generation has become more and more rebellious and liberal than ever before. However, you'll be surprised to find out, it's actually the opposite.

I was actually very surprised to see the statistics this survey brought up. I also thought of our generation as being more defiant than those before us; more underage drinking, premarital sex, and drug use, when in fact, these things have declined over the last 30 years.

The article points out that the media is responsible for a lot of the misconception with TV shows such as "Teen Mom" and "Gossip Girl". Why do you think the media portrays our generation in such a negative light? Were you also surprised to see these statistics? Why do you think our generation is becoming more conservative?

Here's the link to the article:

McDonald's Stops Using "pink slime" in its Products

Well, we Amercicans love fast food, but do we really know what goes into the food that we eat at these quick restaurants? I sure didn't.

After reading this article about McDonald's, I was mortified. The picture at the beginning was enough to make me cringe. If you are brave, watch the video of celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver. It will give you a whole new perpective on fast food meat.

According to this article, McDonald's has stated that the restaurant will stop using ammonium hydroxide in its hamburger meat. Ammonium hydroxide is a chemical that is used to clean households and is also used as fertliziers. The article also states that if certain acids are added to ammonium hydroxide, it will turn into ammonium nitrate, which is used to make homeade bombs. I'm glad I'm eating that whenever I go to McDonald's...

I found this story newsworthy, because fast food is pretty much a staple in most people's lives. People eat fast food daily and if there are certain chemicals going into the food that they eat, it's a good idea to know about it.

I think this story did a good job following the inverted pyramid style, and the paragraph lengths were decent. There were also some pretty good quotes. What did you think of the story? If you were the writer, was there anything you would change or add? Do you still want to eat at McDonald's? Perhaps this article will make you think twice about ordering a hamburger there.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Twitter Boycott Planned To Protest Twitter's Censorship Plan

In think fairly short article from The Huffington Post author Bianca Bosker describes the unrest of twitterers to a new policy held by the company that would be able to censor tweets on a country to country basis.

Twitter went crazy on Saturday because of this, with people from all over the world using the social network against itself. Twitter seems to be a safe haven for free speech (or so we thought), igniting the Arab Spring and collecting people to "occupy" many cities around the world. 

I guess this falls back into the SOPA and PIPA argument but what is interesting here is that the company is actually deciding to do this. What is the difference between a state making companies censor their content and a company taking independent action to censor their content? If more companies were to do this would SOPA and PIPA lose their impact anyway? Will you still use Twitter even though this censorship is happening?

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Morality Pill

When faced with the option, would you jeopardize your safety to help a complete stranger in need? Researchers like Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo, John Darley, and C. Daniel Batson have researched humans potential, or pre-disposition, for good and evil. Say that there are biochemical differences in the brains of those who help others and those who don't, could this notion pave the way for a "Morality pill"?- a drug that makes one more likely to assist others. What might a society do with this pill? Could they make it mandatory in certain circumstances?

I chose this article because I find it very thought provoking. The issue of forced behavior or thought patterns is very controversial. The concept of this pill is revolutionary, so there are no pre-determined guidelines as to when and why to implement it. Sending a man to jail is one thing, but changing his brain to act in a way he doesn't wish is a whole different issue.

The opening paragraph about the girl in the street was very graphic and instantly captured my attention. I thought it was a good example of the potential for evil in humans. I would have liked a specific example of a human committing a selfless act to save another to create a sharp contrast of human behavior. I think the author's writing style was very simple and not particularly captivating, but the questions he asks are what made the story interesting for me.

Here is the link to the story:

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Suspected 'honor killings' shock Canada

As we look at more and more blogs, the prevalence of written articles and visual media combined is clear. However, as I searched CNN, this headline, "Suspected 'honor killings' shock Canada" of a video caught my attention. Though the killings occurred in 2009, the Shafia family is now going on trial over the matter of their massacred family.

The story is chilling in that the evidence heavily supports a father, brother, and mother killing their sisters/daughters and Shafia's second wife in an act of 'honor' to their homeland when the daughters sought to leave the abusive family and westernize themselves to fit in.

Should this video have an accompanying article along with it? Is this a story that should be shown to US citizens considering the rift and anger citizens feel toward immigrants, especially those from the Middle East? Does the reporting make it seem like a crazy foreign soap opera, or are the facts spelled out in an informative manner?

This article by the GlobalPost offers a few more details and a written alternative to the story in case you care to read, compare, and contrast.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Both sides of SOPA/PIPA

This is an aritcle about the legislation that became mainstream last week after Wikipedia decided to close its doors in protest. The Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect Intellectual Property Act are both on their last legs and will be crushed after public out cry. Any politician who supports such legislation now has to fear not being reelected.

What I liked most about the article is that it goes beyond the public out cry and takes a look in the business of the legislation. It shows how both sides, the Hollywood entertainment industry and the Silicone Valley tech companies have a lot to gain and lose depending on the fate of the legislation. The article points out that Google spent nearly $6 million in lobbying last year. Media companies have spent a lot of money to get the legislation on the floor. I also like how the article keeps a fair balance, despite the public's clear outcry over the bills.

Do you think the article is fair? What do you think about the entertainment industry that remains this legislation is not "cool?"

Facebook Live

Social networking has partnered with companies and found a new way to get users to interact with products.

Lucas Kavner, writer for The Huffington Post, explains in this article how Facebook now allows people to rent the latest movies right off their site. Users can live blog, comment, and reblog straight from the film as they're watching it.The gap between the experiences people have and the records posted about them has been slowly closing with the introduction of Facebook and Twitter, but the "social cinema" that's beginning takes everything to a new level.

" Indeed, since film companies now have millions of fans at their fingertips as a result of their films' Facebook pages, this is a chance for studios to interact with them directly -- find out what they're liking, talking about and willing to buy as a result of their films' product placements."

Companies are doing everything they can to promote themselves in the newest method available. As mentioned in the article even plays as classic as Shakespeare are connecting to social media through live postings during the play and Twitter accounts for characters.

How do you think the performances for both the movies and plays are affected by this new link to social networking?

Do you think projects like this are the cause or the result of the public being so fast paced and "ADD" like we discussed in class? What exactly does this story say about our society?

Where do you think the news media is headed with the way social networking seems to be headed as described in the article?

Here's the link for the article:

Do Drones Undermine Democracy?

As I browsed through various websites seeking a topic for this post, I found myself coming back to an editorial published in the New York Times by Peter Singer’s editorial on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Singer cites the spike of both military and CIA UAV usage as a potential threat to democracy because UAV missions are carried out even though congress has not declared war.

I found the subject of Singer’s piece to be intriguing, the rising popularity and usage of UAVs will drastically change the way future wars will be fought. Singer is wise to consider the effects that will hold, but I don’t feel his argument is sound.

First off, the word “drone” is incorrect. A drone is an unmanned aircraft that flies a preprogrammed, unchangeable flight path but the UAVs (which Singer seems to be referring to) are unmanned aircrafts flown by pilots following a mission, but not a preprogrammed path. Singer is very loose with his terminology; associating the term "robot" with UAVs insinuates that the aircraft has a mind of its own (much like Arnold in The Terminator).

Just the opposite is true, there is much more human element in the UAV process than any other weapon. My father flies a UAV for the Air Force and will soon be deploying to Afghanistan to operate the take-off and landing of the aircraft. He often addresses the video feed in his cockpit, saying that the feed is often watched and supervised by dozens of other people. He often says, “ We fly this thing like the White House Situation Room is watching, because they just might be.”

Even though Singer may have been off base on some of his conclusions, he did bring to light some interesting facts that will affect the way America addresses political conflict. There is not one major, manned combat aircraft in development today. The idea of Maverick carrying out his gutsy fly by is fading; many say the last Air Force pilot has already been born. Politicians prefer UAVs because there will never be a cargo planeload of body bags arriving at Dover AFB, Delaware that they will have to explain away to their constituency.

The advantages of UAVs are simply two-fold: a pilot or aircrew are not at risk, and the mission can be carried out in a much more inexpensive manner than one operated by a manned aircraft.

Singer said himself congress has not officially declared war since the 1940s and it’s not like covert military missions are a new occurrence. Does Singer present a relevant argument, or does he come close to abusing a news peg? Singer does a good job at being a watchdog-- his mind is with the citizens. Why?


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Toy Cars Take Over The Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Chris Burden’s has struck again at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; but this time, with a new sense of art style.

In the 1970’s Burden’s began with a more drastic style of art. In the article, they mention that he was shot in the arm for an art piece. Now, he has been drawn to a more objective form of art. After four years, Burden is now opening up his new art piece: Metropolis II

The writer, Alex Schmidt, explains the sculpture:

The piece is a 10-foot-tall model of a city. Basically, it fills up a room. There are colored buildings here and there, and dozens of aluminum tracks sloping over, under and around them at different levels. An operator steps under some tracks, into the middle of the sculpture, and flips a few switches.

It’s not your ordinary piece of artwork. Artists have been known in the past decade to stretch the boundaries of what exactly art is. Truthfully, in my opinion, it looks like an adult version of a hot wheels racetrack.

In addition to the article is a short documentary on his new artwork.

The article is well written and gives you a good image of who the artist is. The quotes that are used bring the story to life. The explanation of the sound that the cars and the machine makes, make you feel as if you are there listening to them. I also enjoyed the quote about how all the cars are not attached to tracks and so an actual car wreck is possible.

In the end, my main question was, is newsworthy? If it is newsworthy, what makes it worthy?

Also, do you feel that this is focused on a specific audience? If you weren’t interested in art, would you click on this article and read it?

Even though the documentary is nearly six minutes, did you feel it was worth watching? Was this beneficial to the rest of the article?

Here is a link the to article:

For January 19 Discussion: Captain of stricken ship blasted for leaving ship; cruising close to coast; divers find bodies

Since I just safely voyaged to the Bahamas with my family over the holiday break, I thought this story was relevant since a present day 'Titanic' catastrophe surprisingly hit world news today. Being on open water just a mere few weeks ago, I came to the conclusion that a ship of mighty caliber, including the one I was traveling on, was indestructible. Not even the jagged ocean waves could scare me into a wicked slumber. I gently eased into my dreams with the water as a gentle guide. Now looking at how the Costa Concordia took five innocent lives as it toppled over off of the coast of Giglio, Italy, it's hard to imagine the water as anything but treacherous.

This article was impacting and very informative on how the cruise ship came to capsize. Details on rescued passengers and officials were used effectively as well in order to bring a sense of realness to the piece. Captain Francesco Schettino seemed to get heavily bombarded on his foolish actions over the course of the rescue as the article went on. Obviously everyone wants answers to these types of avoidable tragedies, but I felt like the accusations and implications being made toward Schettino had no worth because there wasn't any evidence seen to back it up. He was portrayed as this careless captain who steered towards failure just because that is what every source described him as. What opinion did you form of him by the end of the article? Did it change throughout the piece or was it the same from the beginning? Notice the picture gallery and different mediums of media tied in with the article about the story. Do you think these mediums do a good job at depicting the events that went into the story? Look at the quotes relating to Schettino and his actions during the course of the rescue, do the pictures convey the emotional aspect trying to be reached in the piece as well?

In my opinion, I felt as though the events of Costa Concordia's ordeal was scripted in a 'breaking news' sort of way. But I thought the pictures conveyed the course of the day in a good light especially with the rescues made by the helicopters. Here's the link to the story:

Where Optimism Feels Out of Reach

Written by Ginia Bellafante for the New York Times, this is a short but interesting story regarding a specific area in Brooklyn. Riddled with crime and poverty and a general depression, it stands as one of the more grim examples of the harsh realities of life in America. The story itself is not really a story--there's no real plot or progression of events. It's more a portrait of an area. The writer offers up a short backstory of the area, one that, aside from a few brief periods of progress, has remained in squalor for its entire history.

"As I walked up and around Pitkin Avenue, the neighborhood’s main commercial thoroughfare, I encountered people who felt not only that the quality of life had barely improved since the days of the crack epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s, but that in certain respects it had grown worse."

It ends as it began. There have been no huge events in Brownsville to bring it to public attention, and so far no great attempts made by the state to assist the area.

In your response, it might be good to consider the purpose of this story. How does it reflect the current situation in America? Does the writer offer up any solutions or hope for Brownsville? Assuming she intended for the reader to finish the story with a certain feeling or mood, does she effectively achieve this? In what ways could she have improved the story to bring a fuller portrait of Brownsville to the reader?

Here's the link to the story:

Monday, January 9, 2012

For Jan. 12 discussion: Pirates, Iranians and the U.S. Navy ...

... what else could you want out of a story?

The New York Times shared this story last week about the dramatic rescue of Iranian fishermen who were held captive by pirates. Reporter C.J. Chivers was actually on the ship that came to their rescue

The article includes this nice paragraph, which puts the piece in context:
The rescue, 210 miles off the coast of Iran, occurred against a tense political backdrop. On Tuesday the Iranian defense minister and a brigadier general threatened the Stennis with attack if it sought to return to the Persian Gulf, which it had left roughly a week before. The warning set up fears of a confrontation over the vital oil shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz. 
Consider these questions: We discussed the news value of conflict last week - does conflict play a role in the newsworthiness of this story? What other elements of newsworthiness does this story have? Why is this important? What did you think about the descriptions, and the way the story was told?

For Jan. 12 discussion: TMZ's Levin says media must change or die

Newspapers? They'd better kick print to the curb, or they're done for.

Magazines? Same deal.

Television news? It operates on a old model that no one cares about anymore.

At least, that's what Harvey Levin told the National Press Club late last year.

As creator, executive producer and guy who gets to write on the big glass wall at, Levin has made a lot of money and generated a huge following by creating "news" about the details of famous people's lives. During the press club speech, he told a room full of Washington news correspondents that young people didn't care about the mainstream media anymore, and that by sticking to old formulas and methods of delivery, newspapers and magazines are killing themselves. Likewise, TV news is stuck in an old, increasingly morbid formula that doesn't connect with readers, he said (Levin is a former television news reporter).

Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi writes:
It takes a pinch of chutzpah for Levin to go all media visionary on the Washington press corps, especially considering that Levin’s brainchild, TMZ, became an Internet star based on a brew of Kardashian videos, naughty bits (one of its Monday headlines: “Dancing with the Stars’ — Genital Exposed on Live TV”), and the latest Britney and LiLo legal news.

On the other hand, brashness has been golden for Levin, who is one of the most successful news entrepreneurs of the Internet generation. Levin, 61, seems to know a thing or two about what the celebrity-obsessed public wants. Since its launch in 2005, has become the foremost entertainment-news Web site in the world, with some 20 million unique visitors a month.
Levin argues the future of the news business is on the Internet, which will eventually merge with TV. When that happens, he said, journalism will become faster and more engaging. Farhi relates this argument from Levin:

Traditional journalists should throw off their tired old media, embrace the Web, and not worry so much that the speed and round-the-clock demands of the Internet will compromise traditional values, like accuracy. 
Here is the Washington Post's coverage of Levin's speech. You can watch his speech in its entirety on C-SPAN's website. If you watch the video, you'll hear Levin discuss his ideas on how to address young people. "Young people aren't interested in traditional media for the most part anymore. It doesn't speak to them," he said. The clip is an hour long, but it is worth your time (especially the first half).

Newspapers don't have to die, he says, but they do have to reinvent themselves online. But the way newspapers are trying to do that now aren't working because they are still entrenched in old ways of thinking. In five years, he suggests, media will be radically different - a "revolution" that will be guided by young people in the industry.

At age 61, Levin acknowledges he is "way over" his target demographic. He's interested in people your age. So what do you think? Is he right? How do you feel about what he has to say, given the fact that we're all interested in careers in mass communication? And how did you feel about the Post's coverage of his speech - did they give him a fair shake?

For Jan. 12 discussion: "The true meaning of the vow 'in sickness and in health'"

The Lifestyle section of last week's Washington Post featured a moving story about the relationship between former Post journalist Robert Melton and his wife Page, and the ways in which their relationship changed following Melton's traumatic brain injury.

I don't want to give away a lot of the details in this post, because the writer of the piece (Susan Baer) uses a lot of foreshadowing and suspense to move the story along. Rather than telling you what it is about, I will share with you how I came to find it, and how I responded as I read it. This description is intentionally vague ... I don't want to spoil the story for those of you who read it.

I came to read this story after seeing it several times on Twitter. As a former journalist who has a wife and children, I could relate to Robert Melton. I read the first 10 paragraphs and was interested in what, at the moment, seemed like a contradiction - Page's departure from the house seemed to be at odds with her dedication to her husband.

I kept reading, becoming more emotionally invested. Then, on the last page, the questions I had were answered. The answer was not the one I expected, and it troubled me (especially given the fact that I had continued to identify myself with Robert). At a point, I was so troubled that I kind of wanted to stop reading. However, the end of the story was near and I was, to use a poker player's term, "pot committed."

So read the story, and consider these questions. How did the reporter want us to feel at the end? What do you see in the story that makes you feel that way? Was everyone in this story treated fairly? If not, who was unfairly treated, and what might have been done to address it? Why is this story newsworthy? What else strikes you?

Also, if you are interested, the Post conducted a live web chat with Page Melton and Susan Baer. You can read the transcript here.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

For Jan. 5 discussion: In search of political civility

The finger-pointing started almost immediately after the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Arizona Republic reporter Shaun Mckinnon reminds us in this USA Today piece.
We were told that shooter Jared Lee Loughner was motivated by caustic campaign rhetoric, that he was told (in his own mind at least) that Giffords should be a literal target for violence.

After Loughner's rampage, we said we wanted more civility in political discourse. But reporter Mckinnon tells us that civility is still quite elusive:
In the days after the shooting, the words from the memorial still fresh, lawmakers pledged to foster a new civility in tribute to Giffords and the others who were injured or killed. Yet one year later, Americans and their elected leaders still struggle to show each other respect when opinions differ. Partisan brinksmanship plays out in Washington. Back home, voters treat lawmakers with scorn and berate one another for differing opinions. Surveys suggest that Americans recognize the lack of civility and want their leaders to behave better, but experts say that until people exercise civility themselves and demand it from their representatives, little will change.
My questions about this story are twofold. First, tell me what you think about the writing itself. This piece is a little longer than standard USA Today fare (relatively few of its stories exceed 20 paragraphs). Was it interesting from beginning to end, or did you start to lose interest at some point? If your answer is the former, what kept you engaged in the story? If it was the latter (and this is, by the way, an entirely acceptable answer) at what point did you start to lose interest? Can you pinpoint the aspects of the story that bored you? How could it have been made better?

Also, if you want, feel free to talk about the media's role in fostering civility in public discourse. Should the media be interested in pursuing this? How could that be done? One could argue that visceral

For Jan. 5 discussion: I've got 99 problems but redistricting ain't one

The nonprofit investigative journalism organization ProPublica looks into all kinds of important issues. Their efforts are vital, especially at a time when many newspapers and television stations are cutting back on expensive investigative work.

Its reporters and editors come from, among other places, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. They are serious people doing serious work. And they do it very well. Last year, ProPublica won a Pulitzer for an investigation into euthanasia at a hospital in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. It won another this year for a series about the ways the "Wall Street money machine" worsened the economic crisis.

This fall, ProPublica's reporters started an investigation into redistricting the process by which the government decides where voting district lines are drawn. There are a lot of problems with this process. Partisan politics heavily influence the way voting district lines are drawn, and the resulting gerrymandered districts do more to help politicians and special interests than to serve the people who actually live in them.

To start to shed light on this, ProPublica gives us an enterprise story explaining the ways special interests can benefit from influencing the redistricting process. They offer up another piece that explains the jargon of redistricting.

Then, there's this. An original music video. Made by journalists. About government redistricting. Watch it after the jump.

For Jan. 5 discussion: After decades of secrecy, spy program becomes public

Photo: Fred Marra, left, listens as Bob Zarba describes the camera operation of the Hexagon KH-9 secret spy satellite in Danbury, Conn. They have been meeting here for 18 years, whiling away a few hours nattering about golf and politics, ailments and grandchildren. But, until recently, they were forbidden to speak about the greatest achievement of their professional lives. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

You've seen groups like them a hundred times: old guys huddled around the table at Burger King, nursing coffee and talking to each other in hushed tones. Maybe they quieted down when you sat down in the next booth.

Were they yakking about politics, or about how badly the local high school football team played last night? Maybe. Or maybe they're remembering all those secret spy satellites they built back in the '70s?

Associated Press reporter Helen O'Neill found a group of men who did the latter. After more than three decades, they told her about their formerly-classified work. O'Neill writes:
It was dubbed "Big Bird" and it was considered the most successful space spy satellite program of the Cold War era. From 1971 to 1986 a total of 20 satellites were launched, each containing 60 miles of film and sophisticated cameras that orbited the earth snapping vast, panoramic photographs of the Soviet Union, China and other potential foes. The film was shot back through the earth's atmosphere in buckets that parachuted over the Pacific Ocean, where C-130 Air Force planes snagged them with grappling hooks.
The scale, ambition and sheer ingenuity of Hexagon KH-9 was breathtaking. The fact that 19 out of 20 launches were successful (the final mission blew up because the booster rockets failed) is astonishing.
So too is the human tale of the 45-year-old secret that many took to their graves.
The writing in this piece is strong, although there are some spots where it could have been better (I'll share my opinions in class; you can do so as well, or post them here). I'd also like you to consider these questions: What makes this story newsworthy? If you were looking for a story like this, where would you go? O'Neill includes some detailed descriptions - what do they add to the story? Which ones did you like the most, and why?

Welcome to our class blog

Hello everyone, and welcome to the class blog for Clay Carey’s section of Journalism 231a (News Writing). I hope this blog will become a place where we can read, discuss and learn from excellent journalism.

For that to happen, the class must populate it with good stories. I want those stories to come from a variety of sources, and I hope that in the process of seeking them out we all discover high quality news sources that we didn’t know about prior to this class.

In this post, I will share some of the outlets that I turn to for good journalism. I will also set up some ground rules for blog posts that should keep all of us on the same page as we look for stories to post.