Is this a thing with news sources’ RSS feeds?
But really. You’re killing me here.
(Note: I did work at The Maneater. But this is an unbiased — as actively and consciously unbiased as possible — post about the recent events there and across the country. I write this as a student journalist, because I think it’s too important not to write about and is a good way to open up discourse and transparency within our journalism here.)
I’m taking a break from my writing to post something about the recent developments for college newspapers.
There’s been a surge in student newspaper resignations across the country stemming from reasons including inaccurate information, misleading information and more recently, inappropriate humor. There was the resignation at The Daily Free Press because of the paper’s disregard over the impact of their April Fool’s edition that trivialized rape especially after several related events had occurred earlier in the year. There was the resignation of an editor at The Daily Iowan. A while ago, there was the resignation of the managing editor at Onward State for a faulty tweet. Now, the razing of the Maneater’s April Fool’s edition that had an inappropriate LGBTQ slur as the masthead as well as other offensive remarks throughout the issue has wreaked havoc within the newsroom.
What does this all mean?
There’s a lot behind it. Perhaps a lack of oversight at the papers, perhaps ignorance, perhaps a tendency to post information as soon as possible — without verification.
The thing with the Maneater debacle is that this apology letter shouldn’t have been written in the first place. What should have happened was a re-assessment of the impact of an April Fool’s Day issue of the newspaper. There should have been a better thought process by the few people involved in the error. I’ve spoken to many of my friends about this. There are plenty of ways to be humorous — even searing — without resorting to lowly derogatory comments. Just because they’re young and hip, doesn’t mean they had to go full-blown Adult Swim on the front cover of the newspaper. We don’t have to degrade ourselves to meet some unwritten standard of humor. A newspaper is a newspaper. Although our definition of journalism is changing, our adherence to its values should not.
Call me a grandma, but I just simply can’t get behind the idea of an April Fool’s issue. What’s the point? I understand, it’s funny. But do something else. Make a comedy section. Heck, make an entirely separate comedic news source. But once you blur the lines between what is news and what is satire, especially when the newspaper itself is wrapped literally in this farce, how can you expect readers to differentiate between it themselves?
And let’s just focus on one word — “newspaper.” This was an ‘egregious’ error not only because was it just poorly thought out (or not thought out), but because it breaks the basic rules of what we as young journalists are learning and striving for, those rules that are instilled into us every week in Gannett and Lee Hills: fact-checking, context, proportionality, truth, awareness of our readers, devotion to our readers, fairness. If we digress from our own rules, then it will only become easier for the public to become skeptical about our role.
I’m not writing this post to attack The Maneater or its editorial board. I just think this is too important of an issue to not discuss. I also don’t want to wish ill upon the former Maneater editors. But I do believe that their actions are the best to take in a situation like this. Although, I don’t think that a complete withdrawal from journalism should be the immediate response.
Sidebar: I also disagree with the disciplinary action the university is reactively taking. It’s extreme, unnecessary and tiptoeing around very volatile territory for a student publication’s rights. These editors have been through hell and back, and it’s not over yet. But deliberately ruining them is not, in my opinion, the mature reaction at all.
We live and we learn, and this just happens to be one of these learning moments that happens to be relentlessly burning in the spotlight of criticism. But I do believe it will help the newspaper grow stronger and help everyone involved learn important lessons that really, truly may not have been learned had this not happened.
Some people have used these unfortunate events to say that journalism today is so easily compromised and held to a lower standard. Others have defended the papers and the editors, saying that they should be forgiven. I think that both of these claims have some truths to them. I also have to admit that, as my ethos and pathos tells me to, I have to sympathize for these editors. They’re going through a strife that a lot of us won’t understand. They do need forgiveness. Because, after all, they did make mistakes. But we all have done the same (although maybe not to the same scale).
“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.”
― Elbert Hubbard
But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable. They should. As a community, we need to hold them accountable for their actions. We also need to, as a community of journalists, hold ourselves accountable. Because what one man (or woman) does in our crowded profession will undeniably affect others. So while we must take responsibilities for our individual actions, we should also keep an eye out and an ear open as a cohesive unit so that we can continue to function. People see us as an entity, so we should do that as well.
I also do think it is concerning that this dire situation is the only thing that really motivated the paper to take direct action against itself. I can’t fail to mention that there have been other apologies this semester for debatably poorly executed and thought-out editorial sections. It’s just such a shame that this had to happen to initiate the change.
Student papers often lament about not being taken seriously by readers. But if they want to be taken seriously and be treated as professionals, they need to act like them. This must happen in the newspaper itself, but also within the newsroom.
But overall, I think this is a learning experience for everyone. It’s a chance for the newspaper to change. It’s a chance for the former editors to think about what happened, and what will happen now. It’s also a chance for us, as outsiders, to learn what happened, to become part of the conversation and — gasp — to forgive, at least eventually. The consequences will be bad. But we should not be so quick to bring out the pitchforks.
This is also a good chance to reflect on our society, and more specifically my generation and my generation of journalists, as a whole. We’ve become a very attack-prone, negative, “insta-everything” (a phrase I like so much I took it from the NYTimes; forgive me!) generation and it’s perpetuated by the internet and our often stubborn perceptions of people. We make fun of each other. We make fun of strangers. It’s become insensitive and unsympathetic, our humor. And often, it’s hard to separate this humor and our critiques from how we present ourselves. But as our Twitter and Facebook profiles become intertwined with our professional life and we combat with “being ourselves” and still being respectable professionals, we’ve gotten into the habit of feeling entitled and being selfish about what we’re really doing and what consequences — and public opinion — could result from our actions.
Yes, you can technically tweet about whatever you want. Sure, you can post that crude article from Cracked.com. But you can also refrain from doing that, too. I think the plague of “instant gratification” my generation finds itself coming back to over and over again can really just stem back to both an ignorance about consequence and a selfishness, which is both innate and learned. And let’s not forget that way too many people still say “gay” to mean “dumb.” It’s just…lazy.
Yes, April Fool’s editions are funny. So is that tweet that you want to send about a boring event you’re covering. So is that mean comment you really, really want to say (and don’t lie…you know we all think these things.) about your ex and his/her bad hair day.
But it’s this lack of restraint that is maybe a big reason why these events happen and also why people still are so quick to hound on journalism.
Sometimes we need to refrain from the betrayal that comes from our quick-moving minds and quick-typing fingers. We’ve become too greedy over becoming the most shocking and we’ve become too accepting of extremity and we’re losing regard for ourselves as a community and as a profession that’s always under scrutiny. We too, therefore, are at fault.
I’m not saying that we should resort to inaction. Rather, I’m saying that through our action, we should consider the difficult option of restraint. Sometimes it takes more action to restrain ourselves than from instinctively reacting. And that’s an action that the editors, and also my generation — as journalists and people in general — need to hone. Because otherwise, we’ll just keep shooting ourselves in the foot. Because otherwise, we risk losing the respect of our superiors and also the ability to respect one another.
Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own. – Carol Burnett
And my rant goes on.
I want to write about this before I forget about it: my friend today made a very interesting point about journalists/journalism students learning multimedia for the “future of journalism.” He made the point to say that, yes, there is a future for multimedia in journalism but the sad thing is that the jobs where these skills may put us a head above others are dwindling at best. Learning multimedia is good for us, but the jobs we’re looking to court with these advanced new skills may not even be there by the time we get to the job pool. That’s a sad thought…but it’s true.
I think the argument that “Journalism is dying” is fatalistic and kind of annoying, but I can’t deny that it’s true. Yes, the newspapers are struggling. And multimedia will help them stay ahead of the curve. But, as my friend said, this new technology doesn’t necessarily mean new jobs. I think that young journalists like myself need to find a way to
Another issue with the future of journalism is the journalism-as-a-business model. Tell any journalist (or budding journalist) that journalism’s a business and expect a gasp in response. Newspapers have been grappling with profit and how to get it and still run good copy really since newspapers started making money. Now it’s become even more of an issue as profit seems to go by the wayside as “citizen journalists,” bloggers and the Huffington Post have dutifully declared themselves as the “future of journalism”, effectively sending harrumphing journalists into despair and good writing into the black hole of forgotten crafts like quilting.
But I don’t think that this change in perspective about what journalism is in the new age means that all journalism has to change. We don’t have to be little sheep following the SEO and aggregation shepherds of the internet.
But this also doesn’t mean that we should be stubborn about ourselves, either. I think that we can be extreme about our approach to our role as journalists — we either go all out or none. Maintain print or go strictly online. But this approach is very short-sighted. I think that there are ways to not only embrace both the print and the online structures, but also enhance the role of the reader and the opinion of the reader.
Like I said before, I think that readers today are really underestimated. It’s wrong to assume that they prefer a short tidbit of information over an in-depth long-form piece of journalism. It’s also wrong to use readers as pawns in the constant tug-of-war between newspapers and their advertisers. Now, I think short, scanner style stories are really important for helping readers wade through the unimaginable amount of information there is to process every given day.
But as we become bogged down with so much content (and advertisement), I feel as if citizens have become confused about the real meaning of journalism. Is its goal to pump out as much content as it can, with a lack of regard for what’s really important? Is the finish line more important than the actual race?
I think there’s a lot of potential for journalism online that can help us get back on track. Matter is one of the best ideas today. Basically, it’s this project that a great group of journalists have come up with that really is encouraging long-form, well researched, heavily investigated journalism. It’s not about one topic, and will only release one long piece of journalism a week for .99c per article, iTunes-style.
This leads to another issue: finance. We don’t want to have subscription-only sites, yet we don’t want to give out free content. So how about 10 free articles per month? 5? Take away the print edition entirely?
Barraged with ads and clogged with news stories from every section in a labyrinthine setup, news websites are constantly trying to figure out what people want to see online and why people so quick to criticize.
I think there’s a lot more to consider when it comes to finance of journalism, like this Reuters piece describes.
1. I like the idea of the iTunes-style model. I really do truly believe that people would buy a piece of journalism for $1 (I mean…it is only one dollar). We buy books that are popular, we buy albums, we buy clothes. All online. If this Matter site proves itself as much as it’s saying, there’s no reason why the bandwagon effect wouldn’t translate to long-form journalism.
2. The ambition of one story a week is perfect. It’s not too much content to handle, and it embraces the idea of anticipation. It works. (Or it should…I guess we’ll see.)
3. Embracing the online and the print, focusing on statistics and the readers. What if news organizations DID give free content online, but also kept their print edition for a subscription fee or a per-purchase fee? This print edition could even be made reader-specific by looking at the stats of what people read, what type of people read what, where they’re from, etc. This technology is possible and is used in newsrooms…so why not apply it to the product itself and to the way the news source makes money?
Say your steady readers who keep coming back really like to read about the Arab Spring. So, in your print edition, include stories about these revolutions. You’re catering to your steady devotees, but you’re also gaining profit while maintaining interest. And you also include other things that you think are important. We shouldn’t undermine our own role in the newsmaking process.
4. Paying past the first page. There’s also another way to make money that’s described in the aforementioned article. What if we re-configure how readers read the inverted pyramid style and translate to profit? Most of the information could be on the first page of an article, and subsequent information on further pages could cost 5, 10c at some point.
5. Suggested cost. Or, you could do it Radiohead style and ask readers to donate money for longer-form stories at the last page (or the first, whichever, who knows?). People bought Radiohead’s “In Rainbows” online when the band website let them enter however much they wanted to pay. (I do know people who paid little to nothing…but the important thing to think about is the people who DID pay.)
This is where the rest of journalism can play in — the bulky middle that is between 10 and 20 inches and isn’t quite long-form, isn’t quite scanner-style. It’s as if we feel guilty about making people read our stories. It’s a strange reverse psychology. We lament in how we’re unappreciated, but we can’t stick up for ourselves when the big-bad Internet reprimands us for writing too much.
Simply, we can’t treat our readers like they’re uncompromising royalty exulted by the journalism who can reach them the fastest or keeps them on the page the longest. We also can’t underestimate them and their genuine interest in reading. There’s been a growing gap between journalism and the readers, even though we’ve, at face value, created more connections like guest bloggers and sister citizen-run sites. We should think about what we’re really doing, though.
The internet has shackled journalists and readers up in chains as it dominates how people use it. We’ve become reactive to the internet instead of proactive, and with some re-assessment, I think that role can change. But for now, until we figure out how to maintain journalism’s integrity online and serve our readers to the greatest extent, we’ll join the perpetrators in the active (and often unintentional) crippling of the craft of newsmaking in the new era of journalism
Long-form is a way to connect people. Everyone loves a good story. If only we found a way to bring back that mentality, we’d be able to improve our legitimacy as journalists and the trust and interest of those we write for.
First of all, there’s one point I’ve come to about the lambasting of long-form in modern journalism:
There is a time and place for everything.
And as you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of long-form journalism. Look at any of my past posts.
Well, I’m actually a fan of long-form anything: books, seven-page magazine pieces, essays, long-winded sentences, analyses…etc. It’s actually so much an interest that it’s permeated through my own work (to the dismay of my editor…) and my speech. Being concise has become my battle du jour as I, on a daily basis, fight with unnecessary jargon and too many commas and lengthy prepositional phrases. It’s something that I think is pretty characteristic of me, but often plagues my reporting.
But, it has gotten better. And yes, I’ve considered before, why am I not doing magazine?
I answer myself with the assuaging response of the fact that I like to be challenged. I’m doing reporting because I feel like you can get a solid set of skills that you may not in magazine. (That’s not to say you don’t gain skills in magazine. Sometimes I think I’m crazy for not letting my creative juices flow just a teensy bit more across the way at Vox.) I’m very creative-minded, and I think magazine is good for people like that. But I personally need to hamper down on the wandering ways of my mind and get (relatively) hard-lined mindset of news reporting. Getting the most important information and being concise continues to be my weakness and my goal, simultaneously, and as I actively am aware of myself as a reporter, I think I can continue to develop.
But that’s not what I really want to talk about in this post. I mean, in all honesty, who wants to read about me and my personal afflictions with my unruly creative expression? No one.
As I learn to balance creativity with being succinct, I want to stress that I’m not simply trying to suppress my creativity. I’m simply learning how to manage it. But I think there’s something to say for how the changing nature of journalism has essentially begun to ruthlessly suppress journalists’ creativity.
We talk about the future of journalism — using SEO lingo, scanner-style stories, making stories as short as possible — and in this talk, I think we’ve become the victims of self-flagellation because we think that people simply aren’t going to read long articles or click on “page 2” to continue reading. I’m not saying that I don’t agree with transforming how journalism is presented. I think there’s a lot of potential for using bullets and Twitter and news aggregation. But I think that the cost of entirely gutting the structure of journalism is very detrimental to both the journalists and the readers.
Does this sentence look more appealing now?
I think these new styles are successful in drawing in a reader’s attention. That’s pretty much understood. But what does it really mean? It may work short-term, but what about long-term? Where will these new ideas be in five years? Is it too hopeless-romantic of me to think that a really good long piece will leave more of a lasting impact than an online-oriented piece?
And there is a difference between the two. Long-form is supposed to make an impact. Breaking news, short scanner-style — they’re not. They’re simply there for the info. Which is fine…but I think this mentality may become dangerous as it begins to pervade through all of journalism. We shouldn’t be ashamed of writing lengthy pieces, and we also shouldn’t think that people will automatically say “No.”
A lot of the people pushing for journalism “reform” (is that too stuffy of a term?) say that it’s beneficial for future generations. They’ll say that as attention spans shorten and the internet becomes more user-specific, generations to come will see long-form and (hopefully consequently) well-researched stories as cumbersome and unappealing. Thus, in comes the argument for a new perspective on journalism, for new formats that essentially devalue the power of a long article or, at least, an article that takes longer to put together. I’m not saying that these new formats like scanner or even citizen journalism are bad. My opinion is that there’s simply a time and place for everything. But when we start to re-define ALL journalism — including the longer forms and less “I-want-to-read-it-right-now” pieces — we become irrevocable victims of influence.
I think it’s naive and way too judgmental to say that my generation doesn’t have the capability to maintain the attention necessary for long-form. Yes, the internet has changed us. Yes, technology has drastically shortened our attention spans. Yes, we prefer to get quick news from Yahoo! rather than from a feature in the Times (sadly). But I don’t think our entire mentality has changed.
We read books. Take The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Harry Potter or most recently, The Hunger Games. We even read ghastly simple books like Twilight. But the level of intellect needed to read these books isn’t my point. My point is that we still read. We’ll go out and buy a book and read all 500 or so pages. Perhaps this is due to social pressure, and maybe the quality of these books aren’t great. But reading is still present in our society, and in these moments of literary fervor I can see that my generation still can really, truly enjoy long-form. And when journalists begin to debase this simple observation, I think the future for the craft of journalism is doomed. We can’t assume things when we write stories — that’s heresy. So why should we assume that long-form is dead? Because, honestly, it’s not.
(There’s also another issue with format that I’ve been debating. That’s the more creative style story. These stories break the boundaries of how an article should be written, how a lede is put together, how grafs are juxtaposed, how much you can break away from the inverted pyramid style. We talked about this in class the other day. We talked about a quite creatively reported story about a toilet bowl flushing contest and another about an errant, crazed rooster that attacked a child.
But I had a problem with these stories. You know, I talk about how I support creativity, and now you see me being hesitant about taking “creative liberties” with stories. I only hesitate during these examples because I think simply that these stories are unsuccessful for two reasons: 1, they seem to patronize the subject matter and 2, their creativity just seems out of place. They just didn’t seem newsworthy to me.
I understand the bizarre nature of events like toilet flushing contests and an AWOL rooster. But I think that when a reporter created the proverbial mountain of a molehill, I think that the journalism simply fails. Yes, it’s a good story. It’s funny, and people like it. But is it worth it?)
Again, I think there’s a time and place for everything. And I think reporters often have trouble figuring out not only what is worth covering and what isn’t, but also how creative we’re allowed to be.
I think that self-censoring of creativity is terrible, but sometimes it’s necessary. Journalists are subject to criticism, so we take it into our own hands to figure out what the people want and how we should give it to them. But in being so focused on the consumer, I think we can stray from what the point of journalism really is: to make news. Yes, citizens are important, and they should play a role in
But do we really want to have society dictate our every movement? Should we really have to change our profession just to ride through the current storm of cultural and technological upheaval and change? We shouldn’t underestimate ourselves, and we shouldn’t underestimate our readers. We are professionals, even though it’s hard to prove, without a license or framed diploma. But just because we essentially are caterers to the people and reliant on the people they want to know about, doesn’t mean we can’t have control over our own content.
SEO is important. So is bold lettering and scanner style journalism. But sometimes I think we’re getting away from the actual reporting, the actual writing. How can we remain a profession if we’re constantly willing to compromise ourselves for the next big thing? Aggregation won’t save journalism. Good reporters will.
I’m also not saying that every news article should become a 70-inch novella. I think, again, that there’s a time and place for everything. We need breaking news. We also need features. We need magazines and newspapers that people will buy and genuinely enjoy. But we don’t need to completely re-define the profession. We amend the constitution, we don’t rewrite it. We need the same perspective in journalism. But catering to the whims of culture instead of to the actual needs and potential of the people, we run the risk of de-legitimizing not only the profession and citizens, but ourselves as well.
NOTE: The photos I used are not mine.
After listening to the “Retraction” piece on This American Life (it’s episode 460, I believe), I was absolutely blown away. I was first blown away, firstly, because I had originally heard the piece on the radio and was blown away by that. Double blow-away. Too much to handle.
But this episode is significant because it’s not a new story; it’s a bare-boned breakdown of one of the worst faux-pas’ in journalism: fabrication. If you don’t know, there was a story that ran back in January on This American Life based on Chinese factories that manufacture Apple products (cue the reactive groan and nasty gut feeling within every person who owns one of those products with the bitten-apple logo that signifies everything capitalism and consumer) that became the show’s most downloaded episode ever. It’s a very moving piece, and very dramatic. And that’s very indicative of This American Life, the story-telling style of journalism. But what was so significant about this newest episode was the fact that it revealed something glaring about that original story on Apple factories: that is was, for all intents and purposes, a lie.
Now, a lot of what Mike Daisey (the guy whose theatrical show was excerpted as fact on the January episode) told Ira in that first episode about the Apple factories has been proven to be true and has occurred. Yet, what was most important wasn’t the “greater picture” that Daisey was trying to paint through his act tainted with elaborate statements and stretched observations, but that he deliberately lied in his portrayal of his observations of the factories in China to Glass during the segment in January.
Now, Daisey’s free to do whatever he wants on the stage. I understand. The standards that journalism holds itself to don’t necessarily apply in theatre. It’s art. I get it. But when this art begins to intertwine with journalism as it did on This American Life, that’s when problems begin to arise. Daisey created some minor (and major) lies in his story, and he deliberately said that these things were fact when he spoke to Ira — even during the fact-checking stage.
When you listen to the piece, you can hear the sadness in Ira’s voice as well as the (perhaps exaggerated) regret in Daisey’s. It’s very moving.
“I simultaneously feel terrible for you and I also feel lied to,” Glass says at one point.
Later, Daisey gets as close to an apology as ever.
“I really regret putting this show on This American Life,” he said. “And it was wrong for me to misrepresent to you and to Brian that it could be on the show.”
There are many things that I thought about after listening to the hour-long piece. (And if you’re wondering, it really is worth listening to the entire hour. It’s goes by in what feels like 5 minutes.) Here’s a (relatively) digest-able version.
1. What role does truth play in storytelling? Can journalism be prose without stretching the truth? How does it go about doing that? Where do you draw the line?
As written in a reactive piece in the New York Times, “Daisey admits in the monologues that he once fabricated a story because it connected with the audience. After telling this lie over and over it became so integrated into the architecture of his piece that it became impossible to remove or perhaps to distinguish what really happened.”
2. Is it worth it, as Mike Daisey says, to create a story like this that may have truthful inaccuracies and discrepancies when it reveal a greater issue that might be true in another situation or factory or place?
3. It’s interesting that a very narrative story is needed to attract attention — would a more news-oriented structure made it less appealing?
4. Would Daisey changing the title of his piece from “real” to “fiction” to dilute the impact, and therefore the response, of audience members? What does this mean about our reactive culture in the U.S.? Is shock therapy really the only way to get us to act?
5. How much fault should be put onto Ira and This American Life for not pursuing the translator/more fact-checking/being more skeptical? How powerful, really, is the overarching blindness that comes from people being drawn into a really good story?
Moreover, there is multi-faceted fault when thinking about this awkward situation.
1. Mike Daisey. That’s obvious.
2. This American Life. There could have been better fact-checking. But Glass acknowledges this, and really does feel betrayed by Daisey. It’s just a shame that it all had to come out during post-publication sleuthing.
3. Apple. Razor-thin profit margins and negotiation benefit of Apple as a client, flexibility of the Chinese manufacturing system — they’ve created an unhealthy environment for workers, consumers and the supply-demand system as a whole. Everything is made in China, so next-door communication between factories (like bolt-makers) is easier than dealing with manufacturing in U.S. and other far-away countries.
So, Ira concludes, “Should I feel bad about this?”
“Our system in the U.S. used to hae bad working conditions, but we passed laws to improve conditions and introduce protections for workers so these conditions wouldn’t ever hit our workers here ever again. But what has happened is we’ve simply exported — like we have with the products — this pressure to compromise working conditions for economic success via encouraging high quotas and cutting profit margins in foreign countries. And as we continue our demand-supply system, this process of getting the most product for the smallest input will continue,” Times reporter Charles Duhigg describes in “Act Three” of the new “Retraction” segment.
“Do you feel comfortable knowing that iPhones and iPads could be manufactured in less harsh conditions but that these harsh conditions exist because of an economy that you are supporting with those dollars?” he continued. “You are actually one of the reasons why it exists. If you made different choices, if you demanded different conditions if you demanded that other people enjoy the same work protections that you yourself enjoy, then those conditions would be different overseas.”
This is pretty sobering. Yeah, not a great thing to think about.
Alas, another not-quite-positive thing to think about is what I really took out of this! What is that? Something that I have decided to call “flashbang journalism.” I don’t know why I chose “flashbang.” It just came to my head, because, like a flashbang, stories like this seek to draw the immediate attention of whoever the target is. It’s like we need shock therapy to make 5,000 — and even more to make 50,000 — people take action, or at least “like” a YouTube video. Through elaborate prose and enticing details, Daisey drew everyone in — Glass, the listeners, his audiences. It’s a shame that it had to be so blatantly inaccurate. It’s also a shame that Daisey didn’t ever say, “I’m sorry.” He fessed up, but really stuck to his story. I have been seeing this trend pop up as of late, particularly most recently with the Kony 2012 campaign. The Kony campaign introduced this 30-minute video that dramatized (or didn’t dramatize, I’m in no position to categorize) the atrocities committed by the African Lord’s Resistance Army’s brutal leader Joseph Kony. The Kony campaign has attracted controversy about its paintbrush coverage over a very complex issue. The truth of the reality behind the Kony issue was criticized by many as being put on the back burner.
Has truth been compromised for a good story?
What I thought was most interesting from this series of responses to Mike Daisey’s portrayal of his story to NPR is the fact that such a dramatized story drew the attention of so many listeners. Why did his story create such a huge response? Why did the Times’ series about Apple factories not get as much exposure? Do we need to dramatize human rights issues — and important issues in general — to get a big response from U.S. citizens? Our country is a very reactive country. But this could become a flaw if we continue to only react to bright descriptions and heightened inflections. We’ve begun to digress from truth and focus more on the sentence structure. Structure is important, this is definite. I’m a very long-winded (obviously), literary person. I’m not sure what it means that a theatre-oriented story garnered more responses than a lengthy series on the same issue (it’s probably because of our short attention span online and love for a good story, but that’s a whole other 10-mile-long blog post). But I think we need to sometimes focus less on how our pen moves across the page and more on what we’re actually writing.
David Carr also wrote a very insightful response to the debacle, where he also mentioned the reoccurrence of the dramatization of reporting of human rights (or not-so-reporting).
So, I thought I knew all there was to know about social networking. But alas, I do not! Here’s a link to a website that was created to explain Twitter, one of the big, bad wolves of the social-network-verse (play on “universe”. I’m bad at this.) I’m definitely an advocate for the use of social networking in journalism, because without it, our profession would fall behind. That’s just not a question. As we learned in class the other day, a Pew report stated that 13 percent of adults use Twitter now. Because of this increasing use of social networking, I think that embracing the technology is more than necessary to push journalism into the future.
But, the role of the journalist, as we talked about it class, is more muddled when it comes to Twitter and other social media networks. I would like to stand on the side of an all-encompassing profile for a journalist to maintain transparency. “Perceived similarity” is good for journalists: who we are in the newsroom should, essentially, be who we are online. What I mean by this is that I don’t think journalists should have separate accounts or censor certain things from other people. I understand that we are people, too. We have individual rights and the ability to write about whatever inane thing we’d like to, but let’s be real. When we choose to be journalists, we choose to put ourselves into the spotlight of equal parts public criticism, public respect. We have a devotion to the people. While we’re not necessarily public officials, we do represent the people, and moreover, the information that these people might not be able to access otherwise. We get mad when a celebrity tweets something racist or homophobic, or when an athlete cheats on his wife, so why can’t people get mad when journalists portray a jeopardizing opinion?
I’m not saying journalists can’t have opinions. Saying that is a futile gesture, because humanity is riddled with opinions. Our biases, our experiences, our passions, our disdain—it all factors into what we do in life. And in a journalist’s life, our work just happens to reveal the clashing armies of accuracy and of personal interpretation. If it’s already hard for us to distinguish to our readers how we manage to maintain objectivity in our reporting, then why make it harder on ourselves and ruin our image online? I think it’s a matter of laziness. Do you really need to post that snide comment about Rick Santorum’s latest innuendo misstep on Twitter? I will admit, I have failed and let loose some personal opinions online that I have immediately regretted. But I try as hard as I can to avoid doing so. It’s hard to constantly censor yourself, and sometimes I feel like it’s not worth it. But it’s the moral effort of doing so that I think makes maintaining your professionalism online worth it. If you don’t want your mom to see it online, why would you want your readers to?
In any sense, I believe Twitter and social media is a fantastic tool for journalists. But I do have some qualms with it.
It seems to me like journalists have a bad bandwagon complex, jumping on the newest technology like it’s the callback you’ve been waiting for three hours (exhibit A: Google+). I hope that journalism embraces Twitter, but it’s the gimmick-y nature of social media that makes me shift around a little bit on my opinion. It’s great to use online resources, but there’s also a line. And I’m not exactly sure where that line is. I guess what I’m really addressing is the breaking news mentality of Twitter. It’s already hard enough for journalists to get content out fast enough that is still accurate, but when Twitter comes into the picture, that focus on accuracy seems to shift to the back burner. I think Twitter is wonderful, but it’s also dangerous. We need to embrace the changing face of journalism, but we also need to stay rooted in the tradition of the profession. Maybe long-form may be going by the wayside eventually, but I don’t think we should totally compromise our format of presenting news to the public just to keep up with the trend.
We’re a trend-following profession, but that doesn’t mean we have to be conformist.
Moreover, there’s the issue of citizen journalism. As journalists, bloggers and citizens intertwine online more than they ever have before, the definition of journalism is changing. What is a journalist now? We’ve talked about this in class, in the newsroom, and I’m sure it’s a dead-horse topic that no one can really make an answer to. We’ve got to be careful how we transform ourselves. Again, it’s great to embrace everything that’s happening in these new technologies, but as we begin to change, we need to keep our eyes open to not only the benefit of such technologies, but also the shortfalls. I think a critical furrow of the brow, which journalists are so good at conducting, is appropriate in the topic of social media and journalism.
The second piece I read today really, really got me thinking. My friend tweeted this story today about a woman who was recently accosted via Facebook by a man who had raped her as an adolescent. It’s a very interesting piece, and something that addressed so many social issues at once (social networking, privacy, etc.). I wasn’t quite sure what this story would reveal, but it’s shockingly positive end was something that kind of unsettled me.
Now, you can listen to the piece, but basically, after talking to this man, the woman essentially forgave him for everything. I’m in no position to cast any judgment over her, nor would I think of doing so. But what I thought of after I heard the story was of psychology itself, and how it plays out in journalism. This piece perplexed me because I felt like there was so much more to this story than was told—and maybe if there was more to the story, perhaps it would not be appropriate to report. Perhaps it would. This woman had dealt with a horrific emotional rollercoaster and I’m sure in any case, there would be some intense emotional boundaries, defense mechanisms and security blankets that come hand-in-hand with that. Forgiveness should never be ruled out of a situation, and the fact that this story was able to be positive, I initially thought, was pretty impressive.
But as I thought more about it, I knew that there had to be more under the table than what was presented. I’m not saying there was any shady business, like false reporting or lying, because I doubt there was. But it’s the psychology of the matter that made me question the story. I couldn’t help but think about strange defense mechanisms that people will adopt to cope with things. I couldn’t help but think about Stockholm syndrome, of victimology in general. When journalism approaches a touchy subject like rape, there are bound to be very specific unwritten (and written) rules about the subsequent reporting. When psychology comes into the matter, though, I feel like the standards of reporting are blurred. Is it right to report something that may be factually flawed based on the interviewee’s patched-up memory? Or can journalism opt out of covering something that might be veiled with psychological complexities such as this?
Is there even a psychological question to this story? Are we allowed to ask this?
When the woman spoke of her conversation with the man, it was clear that many details were left out. Journalists are not detectives, but there must be a sense of fact-checking in us when we portray a story, especially one of such a heavy emotional and social weight. Yet, where lies the journalist’s discretion? Because someone remembers something differently than they had before—is this worthy of reporting? Is there a line that lets us, as journalists, distinguish between the words of a story and the psychology behind it? Can a emotionally wavering source be reliable?
Stories can change and memories are subject to change based on a person’s physical, socioeconomic, sociological, mental (etc., etc.) situation. Yet, I began to question the story because although it had a light at the end of the tunnel, the light seemed a little manufactured. Perhaps it was just my personal perception of the story and my disbelief that a reconciliation can come so easily. Yet, I was curious to think whether or not the journalist in this case had the same perception of incredulity. And if they did have an underlying perception like I did, is it right to use this “gut feeling” to make a decision about a story?
This piece left me many questions. Journalism is often a facet of portraying the interaction of people and their surroundings to readers and listeners, but the extent to which we interfere in this psychological underpinning of society is something I find so curious. As humans, as reporters, as women and as men, where is the line drawn?