All-digital newsrooms may be in our future

4 Apr

If the Alligator blog site ever broke off from the Independent Florida Alligator and became more successful than said paper, I would be dumbfounded.

What happened at Penn State University is a gigantic leap forward in college journalism. Of course, many local and national newspapers may have more online readers than actual paper subscribers, but tons of printed college newspapers still have a large readership. However, I do think it’s good that The Collegian is still on Penn State’s campus because, as editor-in-chief Rossilynne Skena said, the newspaper provides detailed accounts of events on campus from different perspectives.

That being said, it is no surprise that many journalists are proponents of newsrooms becoming completely digital. In response to the widely circulated essay “Confidence Game” by Dean Starkman, NYU professor Clay Shirky argues newspaper institutions will fall behind if they do not adapt this practice. In a way, he’s correct. I’m pretty sure that in 20 years most newspapers will no longer be in print. Our generation has been raised with online news readily available to consumers. We are going into adulthood with Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets under our belts. This really is the only logical direction newspapers could go in. Steve Yelvington couldn’t have described the future newsroom better: “The monopoly era of factory-produced, one-way, institutional journalism has ended.”

The “factory-only” system worked really well for everyone from the early 1900s until about the mid ’90s. However, even though printed news has its benefits, you can’t fight change. Starkman’s idea of reinventing the newsroom rather than creating new entities isn’t totally without reason, though. A fair amount of people do still read newspapers, and news websites have proven to be effective. His essay has still received plenty of criticism from people other than Shirky, including Steve Buttry, who calls journalistic nostalgia “seductive and dangerous.” Needless to say, an absolute decision about what to do with newspaper institutions is not going to be made anytime soon.

I admit, I would be sad to see the day printed newspapers disappear forever. There is still something wonderful about holding a paper in your hands while reading about the latest happenings. For now, though, I can deal with some new, innovative techniques that are bound to raise their heads in newsrooms all over the world.

Unborn fetus: person or not?

4 Apr

The story about a grandfather involved in arson that killed his pregnant daughter, son-in-law and grandson is a difficult case. Whenever a controversial issue is involved in a story, nobody ends up agreeing with each other on how it should be reported.

I think that, no matter how reporters Smith and Shah handled this story, it would invoke some sort of complaint with how the “three vs. four killed” situation was handled. I would say, though, in this case, to follow the Tribune’s stylebook. At least by doing this, you let the public (and the editor) know that you were strictly following the stylebook’s rules, which do not consider an unborn child or fetus to be a person. This is probably the only way for this story to remain semi-free of bias. Newspapers have stylebooks exactly for difficult situations like these, especially involving morality and the public interest.

However, the headline and the text clash with each if these rules are followed. Changing the headline to something like “Grandfather charged in blazed that killed relatives” makes the headline a little more general and not as specific, although this may not be as SEO-friendly as the original.

What confuses me, though, is how editor Timothy McNulty reacted. Although I agree with him when he says that journalists “should recognize their weak spots and moments of unintentional bias when dealing with religion and morality,” he then almost counteracts that by saying the headline doesn’t agree with the story. He should probably have used more care in this matter before sending it out to print.

Open sources, digital journalism weave together

28 Mar

Over the past 10 years, journalism has gone from mostly newspapers to almost completely digital. With the massive growth of technology that has occurred, this has been pretty much inevitable.

One growing portion of digital journalism is the blog. Blogs are becoming some of our main sources for news, so they need to be marketed efficiently. Liz Borod Wright of Mashable gives some great tips on how bloggers can utilize social media; even I have started using them for my own blog. Digital journalism has also allowed for reader participation. Programs like OpenFile let readers suggest the story ideas rather than the editors. Although through this tool some may think readers are becoming the journalists, they are only suggesting the ideas for a story, making both regular and digital newspapers more interesting to read. Readers can then tweet about stories they’ve suggested, sparking discussion.

Although this is not news to anyone, even newspaper websites are using social media in their reporting. Foursquare and Facebook check-ins by both reporters and average citizens can help viewers find out where something is happening in their community. If they wanted, Twitter users could even tweet something they saw happening in their neighborhood to their local news station, thus allowing even more open sources. To think that the Wall Street Journal’s use of Foursquare was a small contribution in helping bring Hurricane Irene to the national circuit is incredible.

Since news has become a flurry of tweets and status updates, Mathew Ingram of Gigaom is correct in saying that news is now considered a process rather than a finished piece. Recently the Trayvon Martin story has been gaining awareness through Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, and more updates on his death are being posted every day, even every few hours. Hashtags have made finding news topics easier (ex: Justice4Trayvon).

Of course, with the addition of new technology, news story structures have changed as well. There are so many components that go into an article now, from personalization to participation. The practice of “real-time” news has also become important with the rise of instant updates via computer and mobile phone.

Magazines like Sports Illustrated and The Atlantic have done remarkable jobs of keeping up with digitalism in this new age of journalism. Because Sports Illustrated lacks a digital department and is therefore practicing digitalism in all aspects of its newsroom, they have set forth a movement that other magazines should follow.

NY Times story shows more bias, but gives a narrative look

28 Mar

Both articles showed that, although about half of the Afghani population feels the country is moving in the right direction, many Afghanis are unhappy with the way their country is moving.

I think the USA Today article “Afghans express confidence in country’s direction, security” did a great job of pulling straight quotes from the Asia Foundation’s poll, and I think this helps readers look at the facts that stand out to them the most. However, the New York Times expressed the people’s feelings rather than just facts, and it explained each statistic rather than just listing it.

In this case, the New York Times did a better job of putting both statistics and descriptions together. Although it may seem a little biased because of the narrative style, I don’t think most articles are entirely without opinion.

———-

Afghans have lost a considerable amount of confidence in the direction of their country over the past two years, according to an Asia Foundation survey released Wednesday.

It was the largest opinion survey conducted in Afghanistan, with 6,226 Afghans ages 18 and older being surveyed in 32 of the country’s 34 provinces over the summer.

Although the number of people with negative or mixed views on the trajectory of the country has grown significantly since a similar survey in 2004, the national mood remains positive on the whole.

44 percent of Afghans interviewed said the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 64 percent in 2004 on the eve of the first democratic presidential elections in Afghanistan. Twenty-one percent said the country was headed in the wrong direction — compared with 11 percent in 2004 — and 29 percent had mixed feelings. Four percent were unsure. Security was the main reason for the increased concern, the survey said.

The main goal of the survey was to determine the attitudes of Afghans toward the political process, public policy and development progress.

Security was the main source for optimism among those who said the country was headed in the right direction. But among those who expressed pessimism, more than half said the biggest problem was a lack of security, the Taliban threat and warlords. The southern provinces of Zabul and Uruzgan were excluded from the survey due to extreme security problems.

87 percent said they trusted the Afghan National Army, and 86 percent said they trusted the Afghan National Police, although the International Crisis Group called the Afghan police “little more than private militias” and are “regarded more as a source of insecurity than protection.”

Corruption, which has become one of the main criticisms of the government, was less of a concern for respondents than unemployment and lack of services, with only 8 percent naming it as the biggest problem locally. But when asked specifically if corruption was a problem nationally, 77 percent of respondents said it was, and 60 percent said it had increased.

George Varughese, director of the poll, agrees that some of the results “appear to challenge the current wisdom on issues in Afghanistan,” but said it is still an important, solid piece of work.

However, Frederick Starr, chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said the findings do not mean the country does not still need help.
“What they affirm is that help produces results, which in turn generates appreciation.”

BBC’s Liege story action questionable

14 Mar

While both RTE News and BBC News tweeted about the grenade attack in Liege, these two news outlets approached the subject differently. On the RTE News website, there are ways readers can share the article: via Twitter, Facebook and Google+. BBC News, however, does not have a sharing toolbar on its story and instead asks readers to post pictures of what happened in Liege if they were there.

BBC’s approach raises several issues. People could fake that they were in Liege during the attack and send in fake/Photoshopped pictures of the disaster. This could skew the story into an entirely different direction.  Also, computer “robots” are known for stealing content from other people and aggregating it onto other websites (this happened with one of my websites). A bot could post false information and even give a fake phone number. Like “Jimmy’s Story” and the “eagle snatches dog” legend, BBC’s request for pictures could bring in fake or negative sources. Although BBC may have been trying to be more interactive with its readers, this just isn’t the right way to go about it.

RTE’s allowing people to share the article is a much more effective (and accurate) way to let people interact with the story; whenever a story is shared on a social network, it can be discussed. Also, requests for help can be made this way.

Poligraft

14 Mar

Based on how I’ve used Poligraft, it is a pretty good fact-checking tool, but a few things could be added. Right now, citations only include which organizations have given contributions, but additional information could be added, such as the politician’s state and a few other facts. This way, journalists would not have to constantly look up other facts about politicians.

The story I used describes Rick Santorum’s primary victories in Alabama and Mississippi. Mitt Romney and Newt Gingirch had been battling each other for the second-place victory, although Romney also picked up a caucus victory in the American Samoa. One of Romney’s senior campaign advisers said the campaign met its goal of taking about one-third of Alabama’s and Mississippi’s delegates.

When I ran this article through Poligraft, it showed citations for George W. Bush, Rick Santorum, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and it tried to cite Chris Welch, one of the writers of this story. However, Chris Welch ended up being incorrectly cited as Emanuel Welch, a Democratic politician.

Live tweeting unethical if subjects are named

14 Mar

Andy Boyle’s piece couldn’t exactly be called journalism. However, it certainly appeals to human interest, and people are bound to read Boyle’s account of what happened. As far as ethics goes, I think it would have been a bit unethical to post this if the couple’s names were mentioned. Still, since Boyle took pictures of the couple, they may be able to be identified by a Twitter user, although the likeliness of this is small since we don’t know which Burger King Boyle is tweeting from. It may not be tasteful to be publish this, but Boyle’s “storytweets” are definitely likely to be retweeted.

Similarly, last year actor and comedian Donald Glover tweeted a picture of a couple hooking up at a Bank of America ATM. Although Glvoer did not identify who the couple was, police could find this picture on Twitter and possibly find out who the perpetrators are. However, since the picture quality is poor, the couple may not be able to be identified and it could just be a good laugh for Twitter users.