Month: April 2013 Page 1 of 2

Recent thoughts on journalism, part 3

Hard to believe it’s only been two weeks since the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, coverage of that tragedy coincided all too well with my recent posts on journalism.

Millions of words have already been written about what happened, so I simply want to leave you with this:

“There’s one thing we can do to render terrorism ineffective: Refuse to be terrorized.”

To close out this series of posts, I wanted to talk about one last aspect of modern-day journalism: interaction.

In the old days, news was a one-way street. Reporters gathered the information — interviews, research, photos/audio/video — and then put out the stories. We read them. The end.

Well, I guess if you really wanted to respond, you could write a letter to the editor.

But nowadays we are not limited to that kind of silent consumption. We can be contributors, in a variety of ways. For better or worse. (Maybe both.)

– Thanks to the proliferation of digital cameras, smart phones, etc., it’s easier than ever to participate in “common man reporting,” as I called it earlier. We can gather the information now — interview, research, photos/audio/video. All at the touch of a button.

– Thanks to the internet, we can also publish the stories ourselves. Via Facebook, Twitter, email, personal sites, and more. The whole web is like a 24/7 broadcast, in a way, and each of us has our own channel, if we want it.

– And even if we don’t want to do any of that, we can still hold a microphone to our virtual mouths. Comments are like our generation’s letters to the editor. Only they tend to be a lot uglier, with worse spelling and more all caps.

In theory, I’m glad that everyone can have a voice. Because voice is power, voice is vital. Too many bad things have happened throughout history when people were denied their rightful voices.

But part of me wonders why some individuals feel the need to air such vile and vicious thoughts online. Why are they clamoring for their meanness to be heard, to be validated? And what do they think it adds to the news?

Maybe we all need to learn how to sit quietly within our own minds.

(And some people definitely need to be taught manners and common decency. Sadly, arguing or engaging with those people online is pointless — counterproductive, even.)

Anyway. Those are my thoughts. That’s my voice, being shared on my channel. For better or worse. Maybe both.


And I thought Track Changes were bad…


This is what my revision process looks like. Not all of it has happened on printed pages, though. So picture that, inside my head. Times 300 or so pages. Yeah.


What to find on the page

In her post “Brave New World,” Shari offers a whole host of excellent advice to her teenage cousin who is interested in writing. Then Shari asks what advice we (her readers) might offer. This is what I came up with.

handwritten what matters

Recent thoughts on journalism, part 2

Part of what has inspired my recent reflections on how and where we get information is a developing news story that involves someone I vaguely know. Without going into details, I will say that the story is a sad one, and unfortunately there are many questions that we won’t get the answers to anytime soon, if ever. But even being two or three degrees removed, I have enough of an “insider’s” perspective to know that the media coverage can’t be taken at face value. Skewed wording, contradictory reporting, and flat-out misinformation. Each individual error is relatively small and forgivable — some are even well-intentioned — but added up they paint a worrisome picture.

It reminds me that we, the general public, cannot be content to believe everything that we read or hear. We must remember to take things with a grain salt, and ask questions when things don’t make sense.

It reminds me just how dependent we are on these news outlets* — whether printed on paper, broadcast on TV, or transmitted online. This relationship hinges on trust, on mutual respect for the journalistic process and integrity. Fragile things that work until they don’t, easily taken for granted or abused.

It reminds me of another time that I was close to a controversial news story. Much, much closer than I am now. Zero degrees removed. The story of my senior year of high school is a long one (probably a novel someday, no joke) but despite the nearly ten years that have passed since then, I can still recall with vivid emotional clarity how frustrating it was to have one’s own life publicly misrepresented, manipulated, mangled. How small and powerless I felt, yet ironically standing in a spotlight, trapped under a microscope.

And it reminds me most of all of our common humanity. How fallible, and how noble, people can be. How much we’re capable of doing, both ugly and beautiful. How we often come together when something threatens to tear us apart. How we are driven by a need for justice and truth, though we are sometimes blinded by (or blind to) those very things.

*”Common man reporting” via Twitter, blogs, etc., can provide a sort of check-and-balance on traditional news outlets. People “on the ground” can instantly broadcast their mobile photos and eye-witness accounts — and even more valuable than any one individual’s testimony is the conglomeration of them all. Facts emerge as patterns.

But just as easily as information is spread, so is misinformation. People jump to conclusions, often without the background knowledge needed to make them in the first place. And like a bad game of Telephone, things usually become more distorted with each transmission.

So democratized journalism is no more foolproof than the traditional kind. Everything above still applies.

Recent thoughts on journalism, part 1

A few weeks ago, before I went back to Texas to visit my parents, my dad asked me to pick up a couple issues of my local newspaper. They recently changed to a smaller format, and as a fellow publisher, my dad wanted to see how things had turned out. (Spoiler alert: There were both pros and cons. As with most things.)

From there, we got to talking about where people get their news nowadays, and the differences between the various sources. Print vs. television vs. internet. Accuracy of information vs. speed of getting it out there. Metrics for success; audience demographics; costs and revenue; etc.

I confessed to being thoroughly of the Millennial generation on this, and thus getting most of my news from Google and social media. For example, Twitter was how I had learned of Osama bin Laden’s death. (However, I did then stay up to watch President Obama’s press conference on CNN.)

“Okay, but what about local news?” my dad pressed.

“Oh. Truthfully, I don’t really keep up with it… I guess I catch the nightly news sometimes?”

My dad sort of harrumphed and said, “Most of the time that’s just who got stabbed last night. Newspapers are where you find out what’s really happening in your neighborhood — changes with the school district, what the congressmen are doing, new roads being built. The stuff that actually affects you.”

Honestly, I had never thought of it that way before, but I think he’s probably right. There’s usually lot more valuable information to be found in 16 inky pages than in 16 minutes between commercials. (And don’t even get me started on the gimmicky way that TV sensationalizes stories to reel you in. “What insanely popular new toy will kill your baby in a heartbeat? We’ll tell you 3 hours from now, so don’t change that channel.”)

On a more personal level, it made me really proud to realize/remember that my dad truly considers that to be his job. Not just to sell advertising or increase subscriptions — but to keep his readers informed about their communities, about the news that will impact their lives.

(Please note: I’m not trying to hate on television news. I think it’s great for certain things. But the “we must get high ratings” aspect does have an impact, just like “we must get high pageviews” does on the internet.)

So while technology is changing a lot about the way we do things, hopefully we can all stay focused on and driven by the heart of why we do them.

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