Friday, March 30, 2007

A little too cozy?

The White House Radio and Television Correspondents' dinner was held earlier this week, and you may have seen the video that included a rapping Karl Rove.

But the notion of such a dinner strikes me as odd. All the writers and reporters who cover the White House get together to joke with the president and vice president? Before going back to supposedly being a watchdog on the executive branch 24 hours later? Isn't there something incongruous about that?

Politics isn''t the only area where this takes place. At ESPN, the ESPY awards feature sports journalists hobnobbing with the athletes that they're supposed to cover critically (at least when necessary) -- although, as the previous post pointed out, ESPN has never really practiced great "journalism" in the first place.

I think this takes away reporters' credibility with the public, something of which the press already has precious little. I suppose it's nice to show that the president can get along with some of his critics and people can put an adversarial relationship aside for one night, but I think it's inappropriate to go to what is essentially a celebration when you're responsible for asking tough questions to the man hosting it.

The other thing noteworthy is that, of all presidents, Bush seems to have the most aversion to the press. He constantly evades reporters, avoids questions he doesn't like and spins the truth. He sends out Tony Snow and various other spokesmen and women to do the same. Given Bush's open disdain for the media, why would correspondents join him at such an event? It seems to give the impression that they're okay with everything that goes on, when they should be more upset about his administration's relationship with the media.

ESPN and its coporate journalism

ESPN/ABC inks a huge new deal with NASCAR and suddenly coverage of that sport across all ESPN platforms explodes. SportsCenter now dedicates large chunks of its 6 p.m. program to a sport that was once barely covered. But the telltale sign for any ESPN observer that corporate pressure is being exerted can be found from 5-6 p.m. on any weekday afternoon.

Prior to the new deal with NASCAR, panelists on ESPN’s afternoon sportswriter screaming match known as Around the Horn made fun of stock car racing. Now the panelists pretend to talk seriously about the sport. It’s a joke. And how about NASCAR popping up on ESPN’s most popular afternoon show, Pardon the Interruption. Both Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser, the two hosts, admit to knowing nothing about racing yet they have a contrived, forced discussion about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am actually a huge NASCAR fan. So I find the increased coverage interesting. The problem I have is that the increased coverage is the direct result of a corporate relationship.

Perhaps even more egregious are the recent developments at ESPN involving the Arena Football League. ABC and ESPN, both Disney Company properties, are part owners of the quirky indoor football league. And this year, coverage of the AFL has skyrocketed on ESPN. Scores from games are making the ticker across the bottom of the ESPN screen, something that never happened before this new ownership.

Ron Jaworski is the lead analyst on ESPN for the AFL. And normally that would be good news for any sports television viewer, Jaworski is a knowledgeable and no nonsense guy.

The problem is Jaworski is the President of the Philadelphia Soul, an AFL team. How can he possibly be objective?

Check out what ESPN’s outgoing ombudsman George Solomon has to say about the wayward sports network. He specifically points out ESPN’s questionable corporate relationship with its news coverage.

The network would be wise to heed his advice on a number of matters. Unfortunately, his columns were usually buried somewhere deep on the site, making it hard for concerned customers to locate his articles.

ESPN is so large that consumers of sports on television have no choice but to watch. The network takes total advantage of its incredible power and sometimes viewers are getting hurt.

In his article Solomon mentions that hockey coverage on SportsCenter and across ESPN has been lacking. It is a terrible truth that what was once a major sport is being forced into obscurity.

A lot of that can be blamed on the NHL lockout, but after the lockout ESPN declined to carry NHL games. As a result, it seems like they no longer feel like they have to cover the sport with the same vigor and fairness. Scores of casual hockey fans across America are missing out on an incredible playoff race as this season winds down.

Instead, we are all being force fed the AFL. ESPN is right about covering a sport played in an arena, they are just wrong about what sport inside the arena they should be covering.

News you can relate to

Meredith Viera stumbled into Youtube infamy Monday as soon as she plummeted head first into the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink in the middle of an interview with Will Ferrell. Viera was interviewing Ferrell about his new movie, Blades of Glory, about an Olympic skater/sex addict, when she attempted to skate through his legs and failed miserably.

Within minutes the video was replayed over and over again on the Today Show. Hours later, I had already seen the video countless times. I saw it on the TV at the gym, on the web pages of my trusted news sources and in emails from my friends.

Normally, I’d be bored after watching it for the tenth time—but this time I found myself unable to stop watching the clip.

I’m not sadistic—I don’t take pleasure in watching other people’s pain. I loved watching it because I sympathized with her. This is the type of thing I would do. I once got a bloody nose in the middle of a class play and I tripped up (no, not down, but up) a flight of stairs while leading a tour of U.S. Capitol building.

I cannot remember the last time I really related to someone I saw on the news.

While watching the clip on Youtube, I found links to other news bloopers, so I clicked on a few.

There was hilarious footage of a news reporter who was doing a story about cats. She did a live shot with a cat in her hand when all of a sudden it began clawing at her.

She laughed hysterically, dropped the cat and then appeared to burst into tears. (To be fair to the reporter, the next day on the newscast, she insisted she was laughing and not crying.)

There were so many other hilarious clips of reporters mixing-up their words and others of props gone disastrously wrong. But what struck me the most was the reporter’s and anchor’s reactions. They were not afraid to laugh, admit their mistakes and appear like normal human beings.

One of my biggest hang-ups about the news is that the reporters and anchors are not always people I feel I can relate to. Most of the time, I feel like they are not even people I’d want to be around.

I cannot stand “reporter’s voice.” If someone started talking to me in their reporter voice at the grocery store, I’d be scared. I’d never want to be hit on by a guy who was using his reporter voice.

I also don’t aspire to have hair that does not move in a windstorm like most female reporters and I certainly don’t want my nickname to be “Pancake” after people see how much make-up I’m wearing.

So to watch these clips and to see anchors and reporters behave like normal people was inspiring.

A number of webcasts and video blogs that are gaining popularity are those hosted by every day people. Amanda Congdon soared to fame by delivering the news from her blog in a personable manner and in jeans and a tshirt. Now, she can be seen on

A number of local news stations are also having their producers come out from behind the camera and report some of their content for the web.

I’m not asking anchors to show up on the desk in track suits, but I want my anchors and reporters to be real. I want them to scream when something is scary. I want them to laugh when something is hilarious. They do not have to crack their head open on an ice skating rink, but if they do…I’ll be watching!

Media roast heats up

What makes a television personality popular? I've heard that people watch television reporters who represent their ideal selves: smart, attractive, confident, witty and well-mannered. Think about your favorite news reporter. That person probably has a quality you'd steal in a second, whether it be batting eyelashes, an excellent sense of style or razor-sharp wit.

But for a growing number of viewers, the jig is up.

Cynics have begun to catch on to an industry secret: Many reporters aren't as special as they seem. They have "duh" moments, get acne and even feel insecure. As mainstream TV news does its best with the powers of editing, concealer and acting classes, comedians are proving that an attempt to appear impeccable is, well, laughable.

The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are leading a roast of the TV news media. The newest member of the satire club is the Onion News Network, a Web offshoot of the Onion. The prince of print news parody launched the Web site on Tuesday, according to the CJR Daily (the Columbia Journalism Review's blog site).

The ONN tries to differentiate itself from its satirical brethren. It mocks the Secretary of State's recent peace-making trips with a fake story about Condoleeza Rice's perilous visit to the "Orient." Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would have lampooned the U.S. Secretary of State's real peace mission to the Middle East. The comedians usually poke fun at the news of the day -- with tongue-in-cheek and ocassionally crass delivery, while ONN makes stories up but its reporters execute the silly scripts with the polish of CNN's Headline News gang. No ums, no mischievious smiles, no overly dramatic head snaps to camera two (like on the Colbert Report).

As more funny people take jabs at the news, the only way for the industry to maintain its credibility is to try to loosen up a bit. It needs to stop taking itself so seriously. People don't want a grand, showy performance -- they want professionals who deliver honest stories. The caked-on makeup, the cheesy set and the unnatural banter are unnecessary -- even detrimental. People are too smart and cynical to believe journalists are perfect -- and they'll laugh at anyone who tries to change they're mind.

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Fact, fiction or a little of both?

The line between journalism and entertainment continues to blur and it seems like everyone is jumping on the bandwagon. And it's not just for the MTVers of the world anymore.

CBS producer Susan Zirinsky is in on the trend. She has been the executive producer of "48 Hours" for more than 10 years and she now has a side project. She and a few other fellow "48 Hours" crew are producing a series of "Webumentaries" that complement the post-nuclear disaster drama "Jericho." The low-budget, five-minute pieces are part of the "Countdown" series on that add add a non-fiction element to a fictional show. The mini-documentaries contain interviews with real experts about disaster readiness, radiation poisoning and similar topics meshed with a prequel about one of the show's characters.

For example, a character wants to find out how to survive a nuclear attack.....well, he gets on his cell phone to receive a video transmission, which is actually the real-life reported piece, complete with interviews of government officials, academic experts and other nuke know-it-alls. The total package is a combination of facts and fiction; and it's pretty cool. Okay, a little hokey at times but I think it works.

Zerinsky, who has a serious background in news, thinks the series keeps all journalistic integrity intact.

"What we want is, in an interesting way, to impart a nugget of information," she told the Tribune. "It's just the appetizer. The meat of the course is still what we do for a living."

Isn't that what we're all trying to do as journalists? Entice readers and viewers to read or watch our stuff with "appetizers," whether it's with a jazzy lead or catchy tease. I think it's a good idea and it's somewhat rooted in a tried-and-true journalistic theory.

The concept is a little fluffy and it can be kind of corny. Even Zirinsky was wary about it at first. But as readership and viewership is dwindling, we might need to spice up news to make people actually want to watch it!

CBS, like all networks, needs to get on this web fad if they want to keep up and stay "cool." And while I wish people wanted to watch the news without entertaiment programming, that's not reality. So if we, as journalists, can give them a little of what they want maybe they'll also get a little of what they need.

Eat your broccoli!

The audience may not want to be fed healthy greens, but journalists have the responsibility of informing the public on news that they may not want—such as international news that might not have a direct impact on Americans.

Higher-ups at a news station should also focus on delivering good journalism; that means investing money on foreign correspondents to do first-hand reporting. Many newsrooms like the L.A. Times are embracing “hyper- localism,” and more media outlets such as The Boston Globe have closed down many of its bureaus abroad.

It’s probably safe to say that most journalists get into the business— clearly not for the money or long lunch breaks— to eliminate some of the ignorance around the world and shape informed people.

But in order to make any kind of impact is to get people to actually consume the news. It’s discouraging to hear that people just aren’t interested in knowing what’s going on in the world.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism released the State of the News Media 2007 earlier this month. According to the report, the total evening network news audience now stands at around 26 million, down about a million from the year before. It has dropped by about 1 million a year for the last 25 years.

Take a look at evening news viewership:

Moreover newspapers, cable television, network news and local television are all losing its audience. And it’s definitely not reassuring when studies show that internet is not a medium that’s continually skyrocketing. Growth in audience and money in certain sectors of online news is actually slowing.
A Pew Research Center report included in the State of the News Media 2007 said the audience for online news is shrinking:

Between June 2005 and June 2006, the percentage of people who said they go online for news every day dropped from 34 to 27 percent. Growth in online advertising has also cooled, slipping below 30 percent for the first time in a decade.

So while there is an argument for the journalistic duty of delivering substantial news to people, it’ll be a nightly struggle to get Americans to pay attention to any news, let alone getting them to eat the veggies.


50,000 YouTube users can't be wrong

White men can't dance.

Disagree? Just ask the all the audience at this week's Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C., or watch for yourself.

Karl Rove, aka "The Architect," broke it down with a little help from a couple of "Whose Line Is It Anyway" comics and the whole routine is available for your viewing pleasure on Web sites like YouTube.

Looking like he stole your grandpa's moves, Rove bounced around the stage referring to himself as "MC Rove" and making anyone with rhythm cringe.

It makes me wonder how accessible these black-tie roasts were to past generations. The broadcasters' dinner is a lighthearted evening with politicians, like President Bush, poking fun at themselves. The event is always covered by the media, but unless it showed up in the next night's broadcast, it doesn't seem like the general public would get to see much of it. There was probably no staying power.

Now video sharing sites make stunts like Rove's boogie-down readily available for posterity. For someone as behind-the-scenes as Rove is, it was a startling peek at the man behind The Man.

While the skit was improvised and Rove was coaxed up on stage, I wonder if he ever gave it a thought that his zombie dance would be traded around the Internet the next day? President Bush skewered himself pretty well but Rove certainly stole the show.

Would Rove's routine happened before the Internet and video sharing sites like YouTube? Is it conceivable that he was playing to the cameras? But I don't think anyone could have consciously danced that poorly.

Without YouTube, this story seems like it would have been a footnote and not a lead. Many papers led with the president's stabs at his approval ratings and his suggestion that Vice President Cheney should vacation in Afghanistan where he is more popular. But the news on TV and the Web was MC Rove.

It is important to think about how video sharing sites are revolutionizing media coverage and the public's consciousness. If TV cameras had not captured the gyrations, maybe someone would have recorded a few seconds on their camera phone. The Michael Richards race rant and Saddam Hussein execution were captured on camera phone. All it took was an Internet connection to have those videos fly around the world at warp speed. The stories made news but so did the way they were captured.

Could YouTube or another similar user video site ever launch a news division? It seems possible even in its infancy. News packages could be uploaded by a YouTube news division or by citizen journalists or both and the power of arranging the "newscast" would be in the mouse clicks of Web surfers.

While Karl Rove's dance may not have taught us any new moves (except ones to never do), it may have shed light on the changing nature of newsworthiness. The Web's "you gotta see this" factor - silly, outlandish and bizarre videos and e-mail forwards - could shift how the traditional media does its work.

As for the Architect, let's all hope his next dance number comes when the cameras are turned off.

At least Moran's got better hair

When Ted Koppel left "Nightline," he gave the audience a quick quiz, listing three different names and asking the viewer to identify them. Supposedly it was the same quiz he gave to the show's interns; as it turns out, he had named the three predecessors to Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather. I'd repeat those names here, but I can't because I don't remember them, which pretty much emphasizes Koppel's point. "You've always been very nice to me," Koppel said. "So give this new 'Nightline' anchor team a fair break. If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. And then, you'll be sorry."

Granted, some argued that 24-hour news channels like CNN should have made "Nightline" obsolete, but I don't think that was ever the case. I don't think you can compare a well-produced 30-minute program on "Nightline" with cable news, not when most long-form cable news programs consist of live, talking head discussions (or rabid, inchoate debates, depending on which program you're talking about).

In the years since his departure, Koppel's presence has been missed, but for reasons he did not discuss. It's not the new faces that disappoint, it's the format. When Koppel ran the show, it was essentially a daily news documentary on one interesting story; sometimes, it would take multiple nights to cover every detail. Now, each show covers three short stories in newsmagazine fashion.

There's no reason a half-hour program of short stories can't be compelling and informative, but compared to the old show, not only has coverage been diluted, the stories themselves don't carry the same impact. The lead stories usually just scratch the surface, and the "Sign of the Times" stories often consist of something so cloying and frivolous, it's cringe-inducing: a story on baby spas, bilingual babies, pampering puppies, and possibly the most common topic, the public's fascination with celebrities (apparently, we haven't milked that one for all its worth).

So what I'd like to know is: how is this better than "another comedy show"? Does a light story on "couch surfing" (reserving couch space instead of hotel rooms) outstrip a typical broadcast of "The Daily Show"? Or even a decent installment of "Weekend Update" (even if SNL is in the pits right now)?

Desperate to be a Housewife?

Women often reach the juncture in their life when they must decide: career or family? As my 34-year-old sister says, “I chose a career as a lawyer over having my own family. It is a decision I think about all the time.” I bet that it is a decision one would think about and re-think constantly—even after the decision has been made to break the glass ceiling and put off being a wife and mother. Simply, the decision (at least in my sister’s case) is: Have a closet filled with Jimmy Choo shoes, Hugo Boss suits, Louis Vuitton purses, Burberry trench coats, a lucrative career as a criminal defense attorney and money in the bank or have a husband and a small child wake you up at 3 a.m. saying, “Mommy, there is a monster under my bed.?” She chose the former. And, I feel is secretly yearning for the latter.

But you may ask: why can’t a woman have both? The fact remains, having a high profile career and balancing that with pregnancy, marriage and a family is juggling act that not many are qualified to attend to. As my sister says, “I could not imagine having a screaming baby to come home to after I had a long day in court. And, I do not want to rely on a nanny to watch my children—they cannot raise them exactly the way you want them.” Women who do bare the double-burden without outside help, we all want to ask, what super drug are you on? On Wednesday, after a grueling day in class, I headed directly to watch my neighbors 7-month-daughter for three hours. I was so dead tired; the three hours felt more like a lifetime. However, I found comfort in holding this little baby in my hands and realizing how precious children are. Ah…and this is where the thought of becoming a mother really started to infect my mind.

This choice (between a family or a career) looms over my head as I inch closer to graduating from Medill. While my entire mind is one track: get a job, work up the markets and be a television reporter…lately, I have realized, I want to be married, I want to have children and I want that sooner rather than later. While my mom tells me, “There is more to life than marriage,” I try to not hear her. After all, she calls me every week to cry about why she does not have grandchildren yet and only a grandcat (my baby Wooter—a devastatingly handsome Tuxedo cat). So, once again, I am tossing around this question in my head: do I want a career or my own family? I find it unrealistic that I will meet Mr. McDreamy, he will agree to move to Podunk, Idaho (so I can report) and we will live happily ever after. So, inevitably what will happen…I will work my way up (with the grace of God) the ladder of television news and finally meet someone in ten years. But, by that time, will I quit my career to tend to the home…No! No! No! I will need a stay at home dad.

So, am I desperate to be a housewife or desperate to be a television reporter? Only time will tell. But I will dip my feet into the Chicago dating pool to try my hand at finding a boyfriend.

The television-Web mix: Why doesn't it work yet?

At Medill we talk constantly about the changing landscape of media and the Internet tidal wave. It seems that news stations across the country are doing their best to acclimate to this new environment, but for some reason they all seem to fall flat in their attempts. What I've been trying to figure out, particularly since coming to Medill, is what exactly they are doing wrong?

"The Most" on MSNBC is the most thorough attempt I've seen yet, and I still think it does a less than stellar job. The idea is that it's a show (as the opening tag puts it) "where you decide and we report on the news you want--the news you need--the most." It draws its news primarily from the "Most Viewed" and "Most Emailed" articles on Internet news outlets like Yahoo!, Google, and of course "The Most" has also started a webcast of the show (there's even a Web pre-show before the host, Alison Stewart, goes on air). Its website posts a question each day, and then airs several of the Web responses during the television show.

On the surface, I think the idea is pretty clever. It tries to make the television show as interactive-seeming as possible. Plus, the stories are ostensibly the type of stories that viewers themselves select. The show also has "Webby" elements: it has a tech segment every day and often showcases YouTube videos.

So where's the problem? Why doesn't "The Most" have the type of appeal or profile you might expect?

It's possible that part of the show's low profile comes from factors beyond its control, such as the midday time slot. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the show's main problem is really that the innovations act more as a gimmick than as a strong foundation.

The show still adheres to the standard broadcast format (with the exception that Alison Stewart keeps a laptop in front of her at all times). Moreover, the stories look a lot like the ones you see everywhere else. MSNBC has made sure that the show's A and B blocks are all the top news stories of the day. This means that most of the "Webby" features come in the form of graphics or feature stories at the end of the show.

Another problem is that the show overall doesn't seem targeted to the right demographic. I think it needs to carry the young vibe throughout the programming. The tech segment and Multimedia approach attract a younger viewer, but a lot of the stories are told from an older perspective (to a homeowner, a mother, etc.). The content doesn't gear itself consistently toward a specific age group.

The result is a show that has a lot of great concepts that could push forward a new approach to television. But in the end, it lacks the full commitment to its endeavor.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The gaping hole in mainstream news coverage

In its February/March 2007 issue, the American Journalism Review called hyperlocal news “one of the hottest trends in journalism.”

That verdict left me ecstatic.

Hyperlocal news is what I would call my Nguoi Viet Daily News, Viet Bao or Viet Weekly. These are the names of the two dailies and one weekly that cover my home town: Little Saigon (better known as Garden Grove, Santa Ana and Westminster, Calif.)

Just like many other mainstream publications, they have a national and world news section, usually a Vietnamese translation of Associated Press or Reuter stories. But the local section is, well, really local.

The AJR article said “there is no official definition, but generally a hyperlocal news site (also known as local-local or microsite) is devoted to the stories and minutiae of a particular neighborhood, ZIP code or interest group within a certain geographic area.” I thought Wikipedia’s definition nailed it. Hyperlocal, it says, “refers to news coverage of community-level events usually overlooked by mainstream media outlets.”

And that is the draw for many of us community-minded Vietnamese Americans. Nguoi Viet, for example, will report on the 12-person meeting of local associations, when the Los Angeles Times, or even the Orange County Register, will not – for apparent and probably good reasons.

But even on larger events that do draw the attention of regional mainstream media outlets, like a big Vietnamese holiday or a huge protest, the mainstream media usually misses the point. One way or another, they tend to misrepresent something. For example, a report that paints the Vietnamese American community in one sweeping motion, when we are as diverse as any other group. Nothing infuriates me more. Or when the media again and again quotes the same guy, just because he is the only Vietnamese person they know of. Back when Van Tran was the first - and only - state assembly member of Vietnamese descent nationwide, he was quoted in almost every story that called for a Vietnamese perspective. Unfortunately, he only represented the Republican side.

Hyperlocal media “gets” the community. They understand the community. Where I live, they know who is who when mainstream would ask “who is he?”

Let’s admit it, the main enthusiasm for reading hyperlocal news stems from the fact that you read about people you actually know, personally. The coverage in the above-mentioned Vietnamese-language publications is in fact so grassroots that I often find the names of my very friends or neighbors in the headlines. That’s quite a thrill.

But there are also big problems with hyperlocal publications. Some are quite obvious, like the fact that the reporter and the subject on both sides of the story probably know each other really well. Take that thought a little further, and it pretty much leads to compromising objectivity or even corruption. We all have heard about the payola, commentator William Armstrong support for “No Child Left Behind,” etc. Well, the additional problem in hyperlocal news, with maybe couple dozen readers, is who will care enough to investigate the pay-to-play schemes if there are any? There are many more problems with local-local, I’m sure the more you think about it, the more it’ll drive you loco-loco.

In fact, the drawbacks can be so off-putting that they turned me from a lucrative job in IT to scary job prospects as a lowly-paid reporter. I felt that what I was getting from my hyperlocal media wasn’t good enough.

But that is not to say, hyperlocal is overhyped.

As I said earlier, I’m excited that AJR identified it as a hot trend. I only hope that with the mainstream picking up on this trend, the low standards at hyperlocal outlets can be improved while the mainstream will expand its appeal.

Smoke-free means stench-free, hopefully

Wait for it... wait for it... and it's finally arrived.

The Illinois Senate passed a state-wide bill Thursday that bans smoking in public places. Following New York City and Paris' lead, sounds like Chicagoans will eat, drink and be merry in smoke-free environments.

I am going to go ahead and laud the Illinois government for passing this bill. As a non-smoker, quite possibly the worst feeling is to come home from dinner or drinks smelling like a cigarette butt and coughing because I spent all night involuntarily inhaling cigarette smoke.

Complaints about such bills come from all sides, including smokers, bar and restaurant owners, club owners, etc. But I don't quite grasp why designating an area 15 feet from the entrance would deter customers from coming in. Convenience-wise, I suppose if I were a smoker then I would prefer the bar that allowed me to smoke indoors on a rainy day than the one that does not allow me to do so, but this bill is state-wide, meaning no public indoor establishment may allow smoking. In this respect, it seems to me that the argument that businesses will suffer is voided and more importantly, one can only hope that a smoking ban will promote greater consciousness of the health risks of cigarettes. At the risk of sounding naive, I wouldn't be surprised if the number of cigarette smoke related illnesses decreases in Illinois in the next few years.

The American Lung Association marked Thursday "a historic day" and applauded the Illinois Senate for supporting the smoking ban bill. The next step is to get the House to approve the bill, then to get Governor Blagojevich to approve it, and Illinois will be on its way to be the 18th state in the United States to implement a state-wide smoking ban. My fingers remain crossed. Meanwhile, I look forward to getting rid of the cigarette perfume that I have been acquiring on my nights out.

Does talent count?

This morning when I woke up, it was very interesting to me that American Idol made it into the Today Show headlines. I was unsure if this week's A.I. "hot topic" was an appropriate headline, much less an Okay topic to blog about. I figured it was when I saw Larry King talk about it, Joe Scarborough talk about it and Keith Olberman talking about it as I write this. Last time I checked, all three were established journalists.

It started this past Tuesday night when Sanjaya Malakar, a 17-year-old from Federal Way, Wash., sported a Mohawk. Although, now the new saying "faux-hawk" has been coined for him in the media. From the beginning of the competition, his talent has been in question with the judges (and in this case, Gwen Stefani). Watch if you dare...

Now, after watching the performance, you have to sit and wonder. How is he still in the American Idol competition? When the Top 12 were picked, Sanjaya nailed the last spot. After he went over to join the other top finalists, Ryan Seacrest asked Simon Cowell what he thought. His response, "The volume was turned down?!?! I don't know." That has not been Cowell's only public statement about Malakar. Publicly, he has made statements saying he will quit if Malakar goes on to win the competition. Tuesday was no exception. Cowell had nothing nice to say about the new "faux-hawk."

"I presume there was no mirror in your dressing room tonight," Cowell said.

All kidding aside though, is American Idol still really looking for talent or higher ratings? I find it hard to believe this "talent competition" is not in some way fixed. Malakar was in the bottom two contestants for weeks, and suddenly after Tuesday's performance with the crazy hair and crazy media attention (when he forgot the words, I might add) he is not even in the bottom three. How is that possible?

As a religious American Idol voter and dedicated fan, I expected a little more and am beginning to wonder if Fox is fixing the vote for ratings. I realize there are always going to be multiple favorites, but I, like Simon Cowell couldn't believe when he made it into the Top 12. That even surprised me. Whether it really is America voting to keep him in the competition or not, I know I, as well as many others, will be tuning in every week now just to see what he will do next.

Nice move, Iran

Getting ready today, I listened to CNN's American Morning while in the bathroom. Just hearing the video of the female British soldier being held in Iran ( ), I thought the sailor seemed fine, a little bored maybe, but fine. Her voice was monotone, but she was composed and without crackles of emotion. Beyond her compusure, the little monologue was thoughtful and well-spoken. Maybe her use of the word 'hospitable' to describe her Iranian captors was discordant with her tone, but whatever. It's not like she was sobbing or screeching in terror while exclaiming, "I love it here! Why didn't we do this earlier?"

Seeing the still and then live video on later, however, I instantly knew this woman was not in a good situation. Her face and the black scarf around her blond hair sent entirely different signals about how she is doing. It looked like almost any other terrorist video where an executioner may be waiting in the wings to decapitate her or put a bullet in her head. The chilling image brought on a ton of thoughts: what are they doing to her? Has she been raped? Are they all being beaten? Have they talked to anyone non-Iranian? Are they dealing with someone who speaks only a little English? What is going on with them?

Two things struck me about this - one is the power of visual imagery. Had I just heard the sailor, I would not have worried for her. I would have just thought that she was tired, like anyone in a captive situation would be. Even her "admission" that they had trespassed meant little to me. I accept that the sailors must have trespassed; I don't believe the Iranians would poach them from international waters.

My more pleasant conceptions were out the window upon seeing her. That black scarf, the submissive posture and the crappy production values signal to me that someone is going to die. It's scary how much my reasoning and sense about the situation changed after experiencing the visual. Seeing her allowed me to put myself in her shoes in a way that hearing her or reading her words cannot.

Also, what is wrong with the Iranians? How could they orchestrate and diseminate a video like that for pr reasons? They seriously need a media consultant. Someone who would say, "Ya know guys, this looks a little terroristy."

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Disappointed by a role model

I have always been motivated by the expression, "If you want big rewards you have to take big risks." But sometimes, taking a risk, or trying something new, doesn't always work to ones benefit. And in Katie Couric's case, I think her switch to CBS Evening News was a risk she shouldn't have taken.

I was shocked and disappointed when watching the recent 60 minutes interview conducted by Couric with Senator John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth. Days after the Edwards' announced the recurrence of Elizabeth's cancer, Couric engaged the presidential candidate and his wife in an unsympathetic and rather heartless conversation. Watch the interview here.
I will admit, that growing up I turned on NBC every morning to catch the TODAY Show with Katie and Matt, before heading off to middle school. I dreamed of being Katie Couric. After all, who else gets to talk to everyone from Hollywood celebrities to members of the senate, travel around the world, and get makeup and a designer wardrobe handed to her? (Not to mention a $16 million a year salary). My dream job! However, as I grew up and became more independent to form my own opinions my view for the perky brunette morning news anchor began to change.
Don't get me wrong, I think Katie Couric is an exceptional newswoman and I loved her chemistry with the rest of the TODAY Show family, and I don't blame her for wanting to move on, and sleep in, after 15 years as TODAY show co-anchor to become the first solo female nightly news anchor. She made news history. Unfortunately, her move has done nothing to the CBS News rankings, which sit third behind the NBC and ABC nightly newscasts, and Couric, once named as one of the top five most influential women in Time magazine, is now being watched by less viewers and having some once devout followers, questioning her credibility as a hard news journalist. I wonder if Couric regrets her decision to leave the TODAY Show because in my mind, she was much better when she had Matt, Al, and Ann to lean on.

With that said, I thought Couric's interview with the Edwards was inappropriate. She asked harsh questions in a time of sensitivity, was overly brass, biased and downright rude. It amazed me that Couric would come across with such a lack of sympathy for Elizabeth and Senator Edwards, especially pointing fingers with phrases like "Your decision to stay in this race has been analyzed, and quite frankly judged by a lot of people. And some say, what you're doing is courageous, others say it's callous." And "Some have suggested that you're capitalizing on this." More interview questions here. Couric frequently made it out to seem that Senator John Edwards was putting his campaign before his beloved wife, which I thought to be completely out of the line. By the way, "who" says these thing? She was very vague and subjective.

The demeanor of the interview is what made me the most embarrassed to call myself a once Katie Couric fan. This was the journalist I looked up to? Not so much anymore. I commend the Edwards for taking a more lighthearted approach to Elizabeth's illness and remaining strong when faced with Couric's blunt commentary. After all, only Elizabeth knows how she feels and only she can decide how she wants to deal with living with cancer. No one should judge her for wanting to live each day to the fullest, instead of sulking in bed while her husband hits the campaign trail.
Couric only cracked a smile once during the entire interview, not that the conversation covered a happy subject, but she seemed to have a skeptical glare on the couple as if she was telling all those watching that she disproved of their decision to remain in the 2008 presidential campaign.

It is disappointing to see one of your role models let you down. Being at Medill I have learned the importance of being as objective as possible when reporting, and now, more then ten years out of middle school, I have come to realize the importance of taking risks, chances and embracing change in my life, however I hope to do it with more class and compassion than Couric showed in the interview.
As journalists I think it is important to be as objective, respectful and as human as possible when conducting any interview.
My heart goes out to Elizabeth and everyone else who is fighting the vicious battle with cancer. It is time for all of us to take a moment not as journalists, but as people, and appreciate the preciousness of our life and the lives of those around us.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

why news could bridge a divided world...

American Journalism Review's February and March edition featured a column on two cable news channels that are inaccessible within the U.S. (but portions of their programming can be viewed via the Internet.) The article, entitled "what we're missing", showcases what LT discussed earlier this quarter and what I discussed two blogs ago on the increased streamlining of global journalism; limited access, limited resources, closing bureaus and the opening of new news outlets--but only for a select viewing audience.

The article's focus news networks Al Jazeera English and France 24 add (2) stations to a now (4) global stations that feature English news anywhere in the world. Although both new stations estimate reching more than 260 million households, the big two haven't raised a brow. The BBC and CNN might be apathetic partially because their American audiences have very limited-to-non-existent access to the two newbies, AJE and France 24.

As JP discussed in class, AJE tried to get sponsorship by a U.S. Cable company, but no one would bite and so like LT mentioned...if you want AJE--better get onto the w-e-b.

When the global all-news 24hrs France 24 launched in December, French President Jacques Chirac said the news channel would help France "maintain and diffuse its view of the world." But providing a globally competitive French perspective on news isn't easy on an $112 million budget annual budget (about a fifth of CNN's) A January Time Magazine article on the launch of France 24 states the station claims to reach 190 million households in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia, as well as viewers in Washington, D.C., and New York. For the rest of the world, French 24 is only available via the Internet.

So, what does this all mean. Well, I think it's great that CNN and the BBC are being challenged. And even if there's little reaction now....I'd like to see if either station doesn't raise both brows this time next year. The reason? CNN and the BBC (filtered through our PBS station) have never really been challenged--challenged globally in terms of English-audience viewership. But the smaller the world becomes and the greater the demand for intercontinental business exchange and travel, the bigger the challenge it will be for CNN and the BBC to maintain all of the English news viewing global audiences.

In time both the AJE and France 24 could not only force CNN and the BBC to step up their reporting game, but it could force U.S. stations to re-consider other stations when it comes to projecting global news. More viewers are demanding to accuracy, more viewers are asking questions and the longer the U.S. remains in conflict, the longer the media covers itself and it's issues (i.e. Libby trial), the more viewers will begin to question authenticity and will begin to want more choices or at minimum, better news coverage.

AJE and France 24 cover the same issues that everyone else covers in the U.S. but as the American Journalism Review noted, these newscasts take more time to hone in on the background, to fact-check and to interview their own, native sources rather than recruit not non-native analysts who read books/cite stats and "other" issues pertinent to the Muslim and French communities. It cited an example a December AJE news block: The network led with a report about Israel's prime minister appearing to admit that his country has nuclear weapons, and 10-minute violence in the West Bank (which the AJE calls Palestine). Both issues are mentioned by CNN, the BBC and other national/international news outlets, but the content differs slightly. The AJE allowed for more background, analysis, and expert guests when it came to its West Bank coverage. It took time other networks won't use; time that is likely needed to put more of our questions and more of the religious, social, economic and political issues surrounding war into context.

I believe that Sept. 11th was a wake up call, but had we been listening and viewing rather than blockading and refusing to include others' opinions of the US, the alarm might've sounded sooner. We would've woke up to the reality that a large portion of the world could care less about "our news" and would totally disagree with our sense of world reality and international issues. If we had been paying more attention....if we start paying more watching news through their eyes, then maybe Sept. 11 and the ensuing conflicts, anger and emotion wouldn't come as such a shock.


Newspapers are doing well in Queens....

There was an article today in the New York Times about small, local newspapers in Queens, NY.

Apparently these newspapers are so small, the reporters go to even the tiniest community meetings and 'stay until they are adjourned.'

Though some might find that pretty boring, apparently the people in Queens enjoy it. The Times Newsweekly has been on sale for 99 years and has a circulation of 35,000.

There are other community papers as well. By the New York Press Association count, there are 55 community weeklys, not including the 29 papers geared toward specific immigrant groups. And every paper is hyper local to their neighborhood...right down to the block.

In a slumping time for newspapers these little guys are gaining ad revenue and readership.

So, of course, Rupert Murdoch wanted in. His News Corporation, which owns the New York Post, bought 16 of the small community newspapers in Brooklyn and Queens. He inevitably will make changes and try to make even more money, and eventually these papers won't be as local and relevant to the neighborhoods as they are now.

Why did he do this? "Among the holdings of the News Corporation are the Fox Broadcasting Company, HarperCollins Publishers and MySpace. In December, the company had assets of $59 billion and annual revenues of $27 billion."

Did Murdoch need these newspapers? No, it was all about money, which is precisely the problem in broadcast news as well. As our guest speaker mentioned last week, whenever the news corporations decided they needed to make money on the news, the "news" was forever changed.

Whether or not you believe the community meetings stories in those small papers are news doesn't matter. It was relevant and news to the people that lived there. The whole "know your audience" adage that we all know so well.

I hope Murdoch doesn't change those small papers, I hope he leaves them to produce the journalism that has worked in Queens for 99 years, but I have a feeling he won't.


The Best of Television Photojournalism 2007

Check out some of the winners of the NPPA's Best of Television Photojournalism 2007 - Poynter has video clips of all the winning entries.

I choose this as my post this week for a couple of reasons. First- it's always inspiring to look at really great work of others and to kind of figure out how they might have gone about the story. Also, this year they've added another dimension to the contest - online video and editing. But Al Tompkins of Poynter talks to some of the judges of the contest - and they say that there is still a very long way to go in online photojournalism - see here.

This bit about the online videos was fascinating: "The judges said the most common mistakes they saw were backlit interviews, sound bites that lasted far too long, jump cuts that were jarring to the eye and stories that were overwritten. The judges also said some stories used too many special effects. The best surprises were sometimes buried deep in the story, and while many of the entries were heavy on useful facts and information, they lacked memorable central characters. The judges also are put off by natural sound "pops" that constantly and unnecessarily interrupt the storytelling."

For me - that's just helpful info to remember.

Returning to my second reason for posting this - our simply amazingly talented photography/editing instructor passed on a very nice compliment to all of us this week - that others have thought our shooting to be very good this quarter. A pat on the back to all of us! It's so hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes, but I just wanted to say that we've all come such a long way in shooting, editing, reporting, putting stories together. And it's been so nice to see that develop.

I'm going to get all nostalgic - I will miss all of you very much while you're in DC! It's been a rough quarter mentally and physically, but I've learned so much from everyone and really gotten to know you better. I'm sure, though, that you're going to do some fantastic work there, and I can't wait to see it on the Medill DC website.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Moving and shaking in the news business

After reading TD's post last week, we all know that Katie Couric and everyone at "CBS Evening News" are in trouble. That shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the progress of the newscast. It has remained in a solid third place behind the other network evening newscasts. But CBS news execs continue trying to remedy its dismal ratings with change-ups in the staff.

The NYT reports that the executive producer of the show has been ousted. Rome Hartman was informed after CBS's Wednesday night newscast that former MSNBC president of both CNN and MSNBC Rick Kaplan would be replacing him.

According to the article, Hartman was the one responsible for a lot of the stylistic changes to "CBS Evening News" even prior to Couric's arrival as anchor. These changes were often received negatively, criticized as being more feature-y and soft.

After Mr. Feder's talk with us last week, I'm interested in seeing what this change may do to "CBS Evening News" ratings.

Actually, I've met Mr. Kaplan. He was a special guest to one of my classes at Wellesley last year, and he knows what he's talking about. He spent a good 3-4 hours talking with us about how to stack a newscast. And heck, he's pretty darn brilliant.

But as brilliant as the man is, I don't know that his presence at "CBS Evening News" will revive ratings. I wonder if he knows what is so fundamentally wrong with the newscast that people don't watch it. Because I don't watch it, I can't say I know what is wrong with it. And I am doubtful that this staff member change will do more than past changes have.

Maybe we can blame the continued dismal reception on Katie. If only we could do an experiment and replace her with a different female anchor for a couple months. Wouldn't that be interesting.


Outrageous to whom

Pundits are a dime-a-dozen these days. But there is only one Ann Coulter. The tall, blond drink of water makes you want to throw yours at the television, but is she deserving of the witch-hunt?

She is under fire right now from liberal organizations and the Media about an offensive name she called John Edwards. See the video below if you haven’t heard the story.

She called him this in reference to the scandal happening on the set of Gray's Anatomy. Is it funny? Not to me. But it’s funny to HER fans.

Another writer/political commentator that says outrageous things is Bill Maher. In terms of this post, I serendipitously watched Jay Leno last week when he was a guest. He said joke after joke about Bush. It was so outrageous it made Leno uncomfortable. Is this funny? Not to me. But it’s funny to HIS fans.

This article says Bill Maher is not like Ann Coulter because he is a comedian and Ann Coulter is a pundit. Thus Bill Maher’s comments should not be scrutinized. I completely disagree.

Bill Maher might have started his career as a comedian, and he may have his own talk show, but he is one of the biggest political advocates in Hollywood. Plus I think if you appear on prime-time cable news shows, you’re a pundit automatically. Just watch his appearance on Joe Scarborough (Florida Gator).

Now, even as a Catholic, I’m not really offended with these comments. But I’m sure a lot of Christians were, and you still don’t see an uproar about it. He also mentioned on his show last week that if Dick Cheney would have died during that bombing in Afghanistan, the world would be better off essentially. This comment, again, doesn’t really offend me, but it did upset a lot of people. Yet, no uproar? In fact Bill Maher only receives praise from the Media.

I wasn't able to find any positive articles about Ann Coulter.

I think this is a double standard, and something you see with political advocates on the right, like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. I think liberal organizations and liberal journalists are so threatened by what these people say, they take any opportunity to berate and discredit their reputations.

Check out the home page of Meida Matters. This web site is so blatantly liberal I’m offended that they hide under the name “Media Matters.” It has listed all of the publications in which Coulter’s column appear, and encourages readers to put pressure on the editors to drop the column. It has worked: 7 newspapers have dropped her.

And Keith Olbermann’s show is keeping track. I was watching it last night and they were pretty much praising the newspapers for doing this.

But just like Bill Maher and Jon Stewart are comedians to their liberal base, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are the comedians to their conservative base. I looked up some of her columns, and wow, they are outrageous, but no doubt she has a gift for clever writing.

Another criticism of Ann’s comment is she only said it for attention. I don’t think this is true. Ann Coulter was being Ann Coulter. She only thrives off this witch-hunt.

None of these comments I’ve mentioned offended me, but I’ll tell you something that did: John Edwards is trying to capitalize on her comment. Asking those who are mad to donate to his campaign.



The role of Nancy Grace will be played by…Nancy Grace

NBC announced this week that CNN Headline News legal host Nancy Grace will be appearing in the season finale of “Law and Order: SVU.” She will play herself, giving legal commentary on a case involving the murder of a woman and her baby.

Now I’m not sure if Grace is considered a journalist in the same sense that NBC’s Andrea Mitchell is considered a journalist but here are some facts. Grace hosts two legal analysis programs on two separate, bona-fide news networks – CNN and Court TV – as a former prosecutor she writes articles for law journals and law reviews and she does investigative journalism reports for Court TV specials.

Based on that information, some people would classify Grace as a journalist. Whether Grace is indeed a journalist, I don’t think that it’s right for reporters, or even “hosts” affiliated with news networks to play themselves on TV or in movies.

Journalists shouldn’t be the subject of stories like TV or movie stars, they should be covering them. The danger lies in that someone just turning on the TV to SVU might see Nancy Grace and confuse her commentary and the rest of the fictional drama for the real thing. (You have to admit, crime dramas these days do a pretty good job with realism).

And besides that, it undermines our job as journalists to the general public. “Oh isn’t that actress in that show the journalist we get our news from?” That particular scenario is not exactly the picture of credibility for a news network.

What does it mean for us as journalists? Prepare yourself for more competition. Tara Reid might be after your job!


Dear online blogging community...

So, you want to be part of the journalists' club? Well, let me tell you, that will happen over my dead body if your fellow bloggers continue to prostitute themselves to commercial interests.

I was shocked to read an L.A. Times piece by Josh Friedman entitled, "Blogging for dollars raises questions of online ethics." The article calls out marketing middlemen like PayPerPost Inc. who solicit popular bloggers on behalf of advertising companies. The bloggers promote a product or service in their blogs in exchange for money. The article is not clear whether the blogger is paid for every page view or for every visitor who clicks on a sponsored link, but the payout can amount to thousands of dollars.

PayPerPost's Chief Executive, Ted Murphy says the majority of bloggers don't consider themselves journalists, so they don't need to follow that profession's practice of separating editorial content and advertising.

Still, the Federal Trade Commission sees a problem with this practice. In December the FTC said it would be on the lookout for bloggers who fail to disclose these kinds of advertising agreements.

PayPerPost responded by requiring bloggers to inform readers of their sponsored status.

This practice may not seem at all controversial to the housewife who bloggs about her children's latest encounter with head lice or a school bully -- but it is extraordinarily damaging for aspiring journalists using this medium to make a name for themselves.

The FTC was right in saying that bloggers being paid to promote a product must, at the very least, disclose this fact.

The question is, do we stop there? Should we try to erradicate this phenomenon altogether? It seems impossible to regulate -- and probably is. But perhaps we could establish a "certification" ... a kind of seal of approval ... for those blog hosts or individual bloggers who agree not to partake in this practice. It would tell readers: this blogger isn't full of s*it. Anyone who violates the agreement, would be fined.

Ultimately, if bloggers want their opinions to be taken seriously in the future they must consider lobbying for stricter regulations.

Blogging for dollars raises questions of online ethics


Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pardon the Interruption

So little Scootie may be going to jail... and already the editorial pages are abuzz with presidential pardon fever. Will he? Won't he? Tony Snow says "there is a process"... Dubya says he's "sad"... Maureen Dowd somehow managed to turn the topic into yet another ditty on her love life.

The NYT had this to say:

Debate Over Pardon Follows the Libby Verdict

Of course my favorite part of the article is the reference that Intrade, a prediction market, has the odds of a presidential pardon by the end of 2007 at 23%, by the end of Bush's term, 63%. But I digress...

One juror who convicted the Scootster even said she thinks he deserves a pardon (?!) Democrats say Bush must not pardon. The WSJ and other 'conservative' rags demand a pardon, and now!

Debate The Libby Travesty

It's an interesting idea, that Scoots could just get off the hook after all the hullabaloo - after all he wasn't the real focus of the investigation... And 25 years seems like an awfully long time to go without 18 holes...

So if Libby get's the good ole wink and nod from Bush, what was the end result of the whole Plamegate fiasco? Bush and Cheney are still illin... (literally.) Valerie and Robert are a-ok. Patrick Fitzgerald, presumably, is on vacation.

So who suffered? The NYT says the media... and I have to agree, although the trial didn't make us out to be the most sympathetic characters.

After Libby Trial, New Era for Government and Press

Fitzgerald's tactics proved effective and for the first time (according to NYT) two major media institutions differed on a fundamental question of journalism ethics... Now, Josh Wilson, the poor vlogger from San Francisco, is behind bars and I'm sure many more to come.

At the Libby trial, 10 of 19 witnesses were journalists... 3 of them helped secure Libby's indictment. I remember reading something about journalists not allowing themselves to become an arm of law enforcement... but I must be mistaken.

...Pardon me?


(And yes, much like the Fox masterpiece on 'reefer', I was looking for as many conjugations of Scooter as possible.)

Saturday, March 03, 2007


I can always remember thinking this about news: like cookies or Stephen King novels, the news keen and glorious and gratuitous and addicting ... and it MUST, therefore, BE TAKEN IN MODERATION.

Walter Brasch got me thinking today. He calls himself a "social issues journalist," but I'd describe him as a genius old guy who takes issue with the American situation -- everything from Katrina to -- . He writes these brilliant condensed (but not reductive) diatribes that poke sardonic little holes in a zillion different aspects of life that have probably got you pissed off, whether or not you know it.

Check out this short column -- from the Atlantic Free Press today -- in which Brasch addresses how 24-hour news stations cover wacky weather. He presents his frustrations by simply transcribing his impressions of their coverage, what it sounds like to him.

We've talked before about 24-hour news stations -- the pressures of remaining competitive and profitable without compromising the integrity of what's on the screen.

And we've identified the are barbs and snags that make it so hard. Like the Anna Nicole extravaganza ... or when CNN totally called out FOX News on air ... or when most of us admitted that we, too, would probably have sent the news 'copter to cover Mr. Rifle sans Reasoning on the LA freeway.

But what about the ethics of having such immersive super-coverage in the first place?

You could argue it's important to have news available at all times. I'd buy it, too, except for one thing: the content that is so clearly guided by ratings. Yes, FOX News, you're gonna have AWESOME ratings. People are GONNA watch.

But that doesn't spell success, and it doesn't mean you're giving viewers what they really want.

I think we're all watching because you've made us terrified not to. When you step back a bit, 24-hour news sounds a lot like this: OMG Y2K, OMG SARS, OMG IF YOU MISS THIS EXCLUSIVE SPECIAL REPORT ON AVIAN FLU, YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN and NEW PUPPY MAY JUST DIE HORRIBLE DEATHS by way of AL-QAEDA, RANDOM SCHOOL SHOOTINGS and CHINESE SUPER-ARTICULATED PUPPY DEATH THROMBOSIS, respectively.

Isn't life scary enough, people?

Plus, I don't have specific knowledge of this, but it seems practically inevitable that news quantity tramples news quality. Any smart station manager would force the same people who deliver the bare bones news to spend their time coming up with outrageous filler and fluff.

Being intimate with the business, each of us get why 24-hour news stations exist. We can grasp the nuance of why certain things are reported and decide for ourselves what will sway our thinking. But we're the lucky and the few. Everybody else will be (understandably) confused and scared by what's presented to them. Some will be glued to their TVs; others will throw shoes at their TVs.

That's why I think, on the whole, 24-hour news channels undermine the authority of broadcast news. Twenty-four hour news is not, generally, edifying or thought-provoking. It's rarely balanced. These days, we're just lucky if it's accurate.

Look, boys, the First Amendment that permits fear-mongering is no carte blanche. It came out of the founders' desire to develop an informed citizenry capable of carrying out the tenets of democracy by sifting through the whole gamut of ideas and then deciding how to act in its own best interest.

With great freedom comes great responsibility.

P.S. I am reluctant to target CNN because [1] I'm addicted to it myself; [2] there are many (and some far worse) perpetrators; [3] it's Jon's baby (or does Jon belong to it? not sure). Nevertheless, the graphic won me over.

I'm not the biggest celebrity news fan, but I found it a little interesting and a fairly hypocritical for the AP to intentionally ban reporting on Paris Hilton for a week.

Their so-called experimental blackout has garnered media attention from everywhere--completely defeating the purpose of the ban. Instead of seeing what people would do without Paris, nowt the interest is focused on the media and why it felt compelled to take a celebrity diet.
The ban began on Feb 19th and extended even through Paris' 26th Beverly Hills birthday bash. (They covered her birthday, just not the party). Well, as far as I can one did one called for a Paris Hilton update...nobody noticed. Until, AP actually announced its ban.

Now, everybody is talking about it and media re-focuses on the person the AP attempted to ignore. But re-surfacing Paris Hilton forced the AP suffered a greater loss than having to report again on celebrities, and embarrassingly enough, on themselves...they are now being met with a whirlwind of questions on news tactics, selective reporting and fiddling with news. One AP editor even exclaimed, “This is a great idea—can we add North Korea?"

CNN reports that an internal AP memo about the ban had found its way to the outside world. The New York Observer included the AP ban in its Feb 28th edition, and the gossip site linked to it. Howard Stern was heard mentioning the ban on his radio show, and calls came in from various news outlets asking CNN their thoughts. On Editor and Publisher magazine's Web site, a reader wrote: "This is INCREDIBLE, finally a news organization that can see through this evil woman." And another: "You guys are my heroes!"

CNN interviewed the AP's entertainment editor who said, "It's hard to tell what this really changes and that [AP] will continue to use [its] news judgment on each item, individually."
There's the rub--news judgment. Obviously, the AP believed that Paris Hilton was a necessary news item and one that had attained so much of their attention that they needed rehab. So, if North Korea or Iraq or anything else deemed news is decided by the editors after too many pics, too many columns or for broadcast, too many sots and vo's, will media take a break? I hope not. I'll sit on the side of optimistic faith that it's only Paris who could warrant a media detox that failed nonetheless.


I want to be a soft news web celeb

OK, so my computer just shut down unexpectedly, and I lost the post I've been working on for about two hours. Needless to say, this is going to be short.

The link above is to a video blog I watch often. I love it! This girl is cute, funny and she reports a lot of fluff news. I think this is great for ABC. They took a "web celeb" from a popular web site, and brought her to their own. ABC is brining in the youngsters, which might mean the seeds of viewer loyalty have been planted.

ABC taking video blogging mainstream is great news for us, the fledgling journalist. It might mean there will be more broadcast jobs to go around.

I wouldn't mind doing a video blog when I get out of school. I think it looks like fun, and that was my main motivation to be a journalist, to have a job I don't mind waking up in the morning for.

I also wouldn't mind just reporting the kind of stories this girl talks about. I love soft news. My favorite thing to do on the weekend is to curl up with a cup of joe and a scone and watch CBS Sunday morning. Afterward, I watch Tim Russert and become depressed. I then get cheered up and end my morning with Ebert and Roeper. I have a big crush on Roeper, I don't know why.

I do like reporting hard news, but I don't thrive off of it. I'm just not motivated to finding the truth about WMD's. I rather find out the truth about c-sections being on the rise.

I could never be a Bob Woodruff, and go to Iraq to do war coverage. I'm a big panzy. Is this wrong to feel this way?

OK, now I have five million other things to do....


Real Cost...

I loved the Bob Woodruff piece on ABC last week. I think it was marketed like a tell-all about his experience in Iraq, which definately piqued my interest and got me to watch. But once his story was told, he then highlighted a major problem going on with the men and women returning home from this war.

I am obviously interested in the topic, my Medill Reports happens to be quite similar. The Woodruff piece really does in a much grander scale what I am trying to do with my piece.

It is showing the American public what it's not seeing...the full cost of war. The men and women returning home are in serious conditions. According to the ABC piece, at least 10 percent of them have some kind of brain injury. But yet, they are not getting the medical care they need. The V.A. is underfunded.

The New York Times said of the piece:
"On this ABC News special, Mr. Woodruff tells his story with candor and restraint, then turns the focus to the men and women who return badly wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan and do not heal as thoroughly."

One soldier in the piece had a severe brain injury and was taken care of at an elite medical facility, but when he was sent home, his local VA hospital didn't take care of him in the correct way. His condition digressed and there is no way to get that brain function back.

I talked to a soldier this week about the Woodruff piece, and he too thought it would be a story about a journalist that got hurt in Iraq. That irritated him because he said the public never hears about the soldiers, only famous faces. But he emailed me after he watched it and said it was excellent. He really thought it showed the real condition the VA is in right now.

The Woodruff show was a great piece of journalism. It started with a face (woodruff himself) and then showed the macro problem with the V.A.

That's what journalism is supposed to do. It's supposed to stand up for the little guy and inform the public.

Watch it

Good job Bob.


A rose by any other name...

Ruminations on why content is king:

There are lots of articles this week on how media is converging. YouTube penned a deal with the BBC to host three BBC channels - one news, and two entertainment. YouTube is under fire for struggling to meet valuation expectations and failing to appease media giants - like Viacom which pulled its content a while ago. The FT is heralded for its multimedia approach on Poynter.

Great. But the article I found most interesting was on Joost - the brainchild of two Scandinavian internet wizards (think Kazaa and Skype)

“It’s not Web video; it’s TV,” Mr. Friis said. No user created content, just old-school TV, albeit with more channels... and a retro TV Set portal to boot.

The sheer brilliance of reinventing 1950's broadcast television online is explained in the Time article:

Bringing TV to the Web

I think it's interesting that broadcast television has become so ravaged by Nielsen ratings and Ad dollars that the internet may actually be the saving grace of content. Americans will get access to international correspondents and many more international viewpoints via YouTube and the various deals they have in the works...

The BBC... would smell as sweet (online).

Hey nonny, nonny.

Risky Business...

USA Today launched its re-vamped Web site today. New features include a photo carousel for major stories; tabs to navigate between headlines, blogs, and links to other news outlets; readers can scan the day's most popular stories and even share their comments with other readers.

As with any major change, there are kinks to work out. The photo carousel is supposed to feature the day's most important stories. Current headlines include stories about: tornado damage in Alabama (fine); college basketball (I'm sure that's important to some people); the new Jake Gyllenhaal movie (this trumps the Atlanta bus crash?); and a review of the new Volvo S80 (I won't even go there...).

I think the new navigational tabs are a great idea. It appears the headlines tab (the default tab when you go to the USA Today Web site) features important hard news stories of the day. The "most read" tab, as you can imagine, is primarily fluff. Perhaps this is a good compromise in force feeding readers important headlines while allowing them easy access to the celebrity fodder they want. However, it appears USA Today is having second thoughts about linking to stories from competing news outlets; the "Across the Web" tab is nowhere to be found. I'm interested in seeing if they ever follow through on this idea.

Probably the smartest move is to allow readers to comment on stories. Canada's "The Globe and Mail" has been doing this for some time now and I think it works well. Exchanges between individuals leans toward intellectual discourse rather than thoughtless rants and raves, and I imagine reporters find it helpful in enterprising story ideas for the future. USA calls it 'network journalism' -- the idea that reporting can drive readers and readers can drive reporting.

In general, the site is more interactive and arguably more visually appealing. Reader feedback is low, but I'm sure that will change within the next few days. Above all, I think the revamp is a brave move since most people are naturally averse to change. Let's look at one reader's response. Dane Sergeant wrote:

"Goodness, what a shock. I really like the old page better. Where is the shortcut to the scores? Now, I have to click on sports to get them. Not good! I could care less about comments. I hope you listen to reader feedback and rethink this design."

Wait, Sergeant doesn't care about comments? If I'm not mistaken, he just made one.

Either way, I expect most of the changes will stick since USA hasn't moved too far from its original format -- a smart move, in my opinion.

Check it out for yourself


I think I'm just really fascinated by online video and how it is being used - by mainstream media organizations, by mainstream corporations, by political candidates, and by regular people.

The Washington Post this week has an article about "You Choose '08." It's part of YouTube, but it's where all of the official videos by the political candidates will be posted. See article!

I find this so interesting - it's YouTube acting as the content organizer - by weeding these official videos out from everything else that's posted (the fun, unscripted moments). But in a way I also feel that this is all just free publicity - because they're the videos produced by the candidates, without any commentary or analysis or comparison. But - this leaves those duties/responsibilities/I don't know what all to to the viewer herself or himself.

" "The more videos the candidates put up, the more effort they put into each video, the more they're going to get out of it," says Jordan Hoffner, YouTube's director of content partnerships. "It's like when Bill Clinton took full advantage of the rise of the 24-hour cable TV in 1992. It was great political theater. I foresee this being very similar." "

So here we have YouTube's content partnership director comparing YouTube to 24-hour cable TV. I get the point about it always being there and compelling for politicians to use. But I still just see the mediums as very different. YouTube allows for much more user-interaction, but it also allows for a lot more involvement by candidates' campaign staff. And that makes it interesting but also uncontrollable. There's no vetting (buzz word!)- besides whether or not the official videos are from whichever campaign - so, any content on the site just can't be compared to cable news.


Friday, March 02, 2007

More local news in less common places...

Now, after our diversity chat last week, I found this York Times article quite interesting. It's not really about diversity in the newsroom, but it is about smaller newsrooms doing big things for the community. Actually, there were a series of articles by different writers about how smaller stations are giving viewers "more local" news than mainstream news channels.

The articles talk about four stations specifically, all under the name of News 12: Connecticut, Westchester, Long Island and New Jersey.

Patrick Dolan, the news director at the Long Island station and the VP of the entire network said, “We think there’s a deep hunger for news of what’s happening in your own neighborhood that’s not being satisfied by other media outlets."

Is he right? First, audience. It seems strange that Dolan would say such a thing, especially since much research suggests people want much different things -- what some of us would call 'entertainment.' But yes, I have sometimes seen the strangest things on local news... things I wouldn't call news but useless filler.

Next, the news people. Now I think a lot of us like the idea of making it big. I'm no exception. I have dreams of being recognized for great things, yet I wonder how many people who are iconic journalists truly find their work rewarding. I think big-name reporters might have a difficult time breaking out of what we call daybook reporting because that's what their producers and directors want. Stuff that can be reported cheaply and easily.

I like what we do here at Medill... doing those stories no one else does but finding them newsworthy nonetheless.

Now here we have a small group of stations that engage in filling a 24-hour newshole each and every day. Where do we get the news from? As we've seen, many of the 24-hour cable news channels fill it with a lot of commentary. But this group seems genuinely devoted to serving the local community, as depicted by the NYT article.

The most interesting thing to me was a statistic in the article. Last fall, Nielsen Media Research asked more than 1,100 cable households, "When a major event occurs in your area, which one television channel are you most likely to tune to first for information?" This is how the numbers came out:

35.6 percent News 12
9.5 percent Channel 4
9.6 percent Channel 7

According to Nielsen figures, Channels 4 and 7 were the two top stations in New York. Yet 35.6 percent of households would turn to News 12 first when a major event happens? How strange is that? And the article says that, ten years earlier, only 14.3 perent had chosen News 12. If this survey is accurate, the station's credibility has risen incredibly.

But where have mainstream media news channels gone in that category? I think most of us would agree that recent polls don't look so good there. So what are we doing wrong? I'm not so sure there's any easy question to that, but I have a hunch that it might have to do with money.

The article says that Cablevision refused to say whether the stations are profitable. But whether they're profitable or not, I'd be interested in seeing what sorts of stories they do and how what they do is so different from what networks do.


Give Couric a Chance

In a March 2nd column for USA Today, Al Neuharth, founder of colorful paper, writes: “‘World News’ hot; why is Couric cold?”

Neuharth goes on to explain that since Couric’s highly anticipated September 4th CBS debut, the CBS Evening News has lost more than 600,000 viewers, keeping the program firmly in 3rd place among the major networks’ nightly newscasts.

He says it’s not due to a lack in ‘hot’ news stories like Iraq, Bush, early presidential hopefuls, etc. Neuharth says it’s because Couric is simply not adept at covering “hard news.”

Neuharth’s solution for boosting viewership is to tap into Couric’s “strength:” soft news coverage. I don’t disagree that Couric was great on the Today Show and is a natural at covering “soft news.”

But I do think that people are selling her short. Well before the Today Show crossed her path, she was an accomplished broadcast journalist with an AP award and an Emmy under her belt. I think that the drop in ratings for CBS has more to do with the fact that the public has pigeonholed Couric as someone too “cute” and “perky” to cover serious issues and less to do with her actual abilities as a journalist.

It also might have to do with the widely-held view that Couric “betrayed” NBC by jumping ship to CBS. People have been criticizing her decision and banking on her to fail.

And it’s not only Couric, any woman who might assume that network anchor chair faces an uphill battle. Many Americans simply aren’t willing to accept someone other than an older white male as an authoritative, informed national anchor. They don’t want Couric to tell them the news; they want her to bring her famous legs back to the screen.

Neuharth isn’t making the situation better by perpetuating stereotypes, he’s pretty much saying, ‘Oh, let’s keep her in the kitchen, that’s what she’s good at.’

I say get rid of the preconceived notions of what a network anchor “should” be and what Couric “should” be. Just give her a chance people!