Sunday, December 2, 2007

J-School is for Losers

I recently read an article titled “The Vigilante Journalist” that was an interview with Matt Taibbi, a national reporter who writes from the left-libertarian perspective, whose column is the reason for over a million-plus subscribers to the Rolling Stone’s. When asked whether any sane young person should consider a career in journalism Taibbi replied:

If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great think about it is that you don’t need to know anything...I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days.

His advice to those going into journalism is to go to school for something concrete like medicine or science, then use that knowledge as a wedge to get yourself into journalism. Because what journalism really needs is more people reporting who actually know something instead of a bunch of liberal arts grads who write about health care like they are doctors.

Even though I’m not going to school for journalism I have had the privilege of taking a few journalism based courses and I must say that while the basics are easy there is no possible way that anyone can learn the entire ins and outs of journalism in simply a matter of days. While I see, and respect, where Taibbi is coming from with wanting those who write about the news to actually have background knowledge about what they are writing about, I can’t help but feel that he is a little off in his assertions. Maybe he has never taken an editing and design class, perhaps he should try it before he speaks so loudly.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Fly-By Viewers

According to the article “Online Salvation?” published by the American Journalism Review, Internet revenue is growing at a double-digit rate. Last year newspapers collected nearly $2.7 billion. This is the kind of news that “soothes beleaguered publishers and journalist.”

As print circulation and advertising increases, the newspaper industry and news providers generally look towards online where Web sites run by local newspapers are typically the most popular sources for news and online advertising in their local communities. What seems like a bright light for news agencies is actually proving to be a dark cloud. According to the article:

Online newspaper audience seems to have all but stopped growing...Newspaper Web sites are attracting lots of visitors, but aren’t keeping them around for long. The typical visitor to an average of just 34 minutes and 53 seconds browsing its richly detailed offerings in October...about 68 seconds per day online.

Hard-core news visitors tend to linger longer online, but they are a minority. Greg Harmon, director of a newspaper research firm, estimates that as many as “60 percent of online newspaper visitors are fly-bys, people who use the site briefly and irregularly.”

I found this to be a quite suiting article as we are about to judge local newspapers on their Web sites. It sounds like now, more then ever, news organizations need to focus on what makes a good Web site in not only attracting viewers but keep them. It doesn’t do a lot of good when a reader is on your site for barely a minute a day, it especially won’t do much good if advertisers start finding out that online ads aren’t a good investment plan. I think that newspapers should really focus on their Web sites to make them not only user friendly and appealing to the eye, but full of useful information. They need to find ways to get readers to their sites for reasons other then simply browsing headlines for the possibility of a current event news quiz. They need to draw readers to functions that they actually want to utilize.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Does Anyone Else See the Elephant in the Room?

According to the article “Making News, Without Saying a Word” The Associated Press ran a news article about Paris Hilton’s supposed desire to publicize the plight of elephants in northeastern India. Only later they found that the quotes and the linking of Hilton to the story were completely falsified. The article noted that “as journalistic blunders go, it wasn’t quite up there with Dewey Defeats Truman” but it was still a horrific error.

While it is a fact that elephants are getting drunk on farmers’ homemade rice beer, then going on rampages, it is not true that Hilton made any statements about the issue at all. She was quoted as telling reporters that:

The elephants get drunk all the time. It is becoming really dangerous. We need to stop making alcohol available to them.

The quote showed up in numerous places after The Associated Press ran their article. An A.P. spokesman said that they received the quotes from a highly regarded reporter who inappropriately lifted the quote from the World Entertainment News Network Web site without waiting for verification. Upon further investigation, the World Entertainment News said they got the quotation from Daily Star, a British tabloid.

The Associated Press hastily withdrew the article shortly after releasing it but the damage was already done. Hilton’s publicist stated that “this is just another example of people putting words in Paris’ mouth.” She went on to say that quotations shouldn’t be lifted from anywhere without verifying them.

While I always knew that people were often misquoted or their quote was misrepresented, I never thought that The Associated Press would make such a mistake as to not verify the quote at all. Even though they pulled the story the story immediately it doesn’t detract from the fact that they screwed up, big time. The fact that the quote actually came from a tabloid, best known for their gossip, and made it all the way into a news article circulated by The Associated Press is both astonishing and scary. To think that someone could completely fabricate a story and have it turn into factual news makes me wonder what we will hear in the future. One can only hope that news organizations will learn from this blunder and check their sources more thoroughly, before running a story.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Free the News

According to an article published by the Freepress, News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said he “intends to make access to The Wall Street Journals’ Web site free trading subscription fees for anticipated ad revenue.” News Corp. has signed an agreement to acquire Dow Jones & Co., and Murdoch believes that:

A free model, with increased readership for, will attract large numbers of big-spending advertisers.

The Web site, which is one of the few news sites around the world to successfully introduce a subscription model, has around 1 million subscribers generating about $50 million in user fees. After conducting several studies Murdoch expects that by making the Web site free they will have at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth.

True, was a very successful subscription Web site, but why stop there if there is the possibility for even more success, not to mention revenue. I for one don’t want to have to pay for my new. It’s my news so let me have it. The fact that the was a subscription Web site actually turned me off from The Wall Street Journal all together. There are thousands of other places that I could get the exact same news, for free, so of course I went other places and I have a feeling that advertisers had the same mentality.

Big Brother China

According to the article “Oh, (Big) Brother” fake journalist are posing a big problem in China. These fake reporters are posing as reporters in an effort to blackmail and extort people by using the threat of negative press coverage. In an effort to remedy the situation:
The authorities are building a database of overseas reporters’ profiles for the reference of interviewees.
The database is coming under question because of China’s extreme limitations on media – threatening reporters, monitoring their communication, and censoring their stories. The database seems to take on “an ominous Big Brother quality.”

I tried to imagine what the situation would be like if here in the United States we had a similar problem and came up with a similar solution. Would there be such an outrage since we don’t have a history of censorship? Would the database simply be swept under the rug with little attention? Or would it be totally opposite and demand more of an outcry then it does in Chine because we pride ourselves on our freedom of speech? I don’t really know if I have the answer or could even foresee what that answer might be. Maybe the answer isn’t the question at all. Maybe we are getting to caught up in China’s censorship to remember the issue at hand, people are posing as reporters to harm blackmail people for money. I remember how outraged the U.S. was in with FEMA’s attempt at fake reporters.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Where Did Your Information Come From?

According to the article “Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proudDeroy Murdock, contributing editor to National Review Online, wrote an article stating that not only should American’s be proud of it but that:

Though clearly uncomfortable, waterboarding loosens lips without causing permanent physical injuries and unlikely even temporary ones.

But according to medical experts on the effect of torture, waterboarding results in both short and long-term negative consequences for mental and physical health including the possible risk of death.

Murdock tried to justify his reasoning in that:

Waterboarding makes tight-lipped terrorists talk. At least three major al-Qaeda leaders reportedly have been waterboarded...waterbarding is not used on American is used on foreign Islamic-extremist terrorist, captured abroad, who would love nothing more than to blast innocent men, women and children into small, bloody pieces.

Murdock went on to state that “there is nothing repugnant about waterboarding.” But contrary to Murdock’s assertions the director of Program for Survivors of Torture said:

To think that abusive methods, including the enhanced interrogation techniques [waterboarding], are harmless psychological ploys is contradictory to well established medical knowledge and clinical experience...[including] panic attacks, depression and post traumatic stress disorder...There is a real risk of death from actual drowning or suffering a heart attack or damage to the lungs from inhalation of water.

Perhaps Murdock missed the memo about the whole death possibility, an actual occurrence in some cases, involved with waterboarding when he decided to release his opinions. I feel the fact that he wrote a column with such unfounded statements, which can easily be contradicted with the slightest bit of research, is a perfect example of the impact credibility has on a story. Reading his factual assertions that were proven to be false makes me as a reader highly cynical of anything else he has to say. If I were to come across another article written by him I wouldn’t waist my time reading it.

The Advertisers are Lurking

AZCentral has started to put two green lines under words in stories called “Vibrant In-Text Advertising” indicating that the word has been sold to an advertiser and when you place your cursor over the word a box showing an ad with flash on the screen. If you click on the box it will take you to a more complete advertisement for the company. According to the article “Three words per story are for sale now on” Ford Motor Company owns football, American Express owns Texas, and Pitney-Bowes owns business.

AZ Central says that there was a lot of negative reaction to the concept internally but they haven’t heard or seen a single reaction from an external reader.

I think this article raises an ethical issue of whether it is justifiable for organizations to sell their stories to the highest bidder. I feel that it blurs the lines between news and advertisements even further and in my opinion just might backlash on the companies selling their words. As a consumer I don’t want to be bombarded by advertising embedded in what I am trying to read. If I had to constantly dodge ad boxes popping up just to read a story I would mostly likely give up on the source completely and turn my attention somewhere else, anywhere else.