Sunday, June 10, 2007

Is somebody watching me? It's probably Google or a journalist.

After reading an article in “Slate” online magazine about privacy issues and after spending my day tracking down people and police reports, I feel like a good-old blog to end the day. Google, which “Slate” describes as the “kid who brings an M-80 to the neighborhood barbecue. While everyone else is goofing off with sparklers,” has created an online updated photo album of your neighborhood, maybe.
“Google Street View,” uploads photos from camera-equipped vans that drive around taking photos of the streets of San Francisco, Las Vegas, New York, Denver and Miami. While we all love spending hours on “Google Satellite” and have so many times thought how great it would be if those satellite photos could get a bit closer, how close is too close? Too close for Mary Kalin-Casey who is upset that a Google camera took a photo of her tabby cat, Monty, through her window.
Little Monty is stirring things up.
How much of journalism relates to getting in other peoples’ business? A lot, and often rightly so as journalism functions as a watchdog on the government, updater on law regulation and decider of social rights and wrongs. Most readers are nosy and want to know what’s going on, but I can’t help feel like I should mind my own business sometimes.
Maybe it’s not just me, maybe society is encouraging this behavior and I feel guilty for everybody caught on the wrong side of “newsworthy.” Is it newsworthy when a celebrity gains five pounds and smokes a cigarette at the beach? Do journalists have the right to destroy somebody’s reputation, even when the information is correct, for the sake of a story that will be forgotten in a week? Beyond legality, what is ethical? We all make mistakes, and I feel lucky there isn’t somebody around with a camera and recorder to document my screw-ups. We all deserve a do-over.
The sad part of all of this guilt is that it’s trumped by excitement. Adrenaline is a funny thing and maybe a necessary thing when it comes to being a good reporter. I need that shocking flow of goodness driving me to ask the controversial question or make the phone call to the family member who lost a loved one or the student charged with drunk driving.
I do feel guilty, but I also feel thrilled when it all comes together.
Click here for the “Slate" article
Click here to go to “Google Street View”

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Sorry, did you say something about growing up? No... I don't do that.

After reading a blog on change, talking with friends about “what’s next” and avoiding the idea of growing up at all costs I’ve realized… nothing.
When I was five I made my mom promise I would never have to leave home. Oddly, while I never like things to change and dread the future like stumbling into a garden of wind chimes (yes, I seriously hate wind chimes with a passion), I am nothing but thrilled when life does change.
At 16 I left home to live in London for a summer with my cousin and a horrible family who believed “nanny’ meant maid who will pack and clean my house when I move, leave five children under the age seven with for a weekend and not pay. Although, I loved the city and actually had an amazing time escaping downtown on my off-days. I wandered the streets excited to meet new people and see new things.
At 17 I decided to study abroad in Spain for the summer. While my first family believed there is no reason to leave the house when the TV can stay on for 12 hours at a time, my second host family was amazing. We’d spend the days at the beach, the evenings learning each other’s languages and the nights at the discos. By the time I left I couldn’t think about anything else but returning, which I did my junior year in college.
This experience was the absolute most eye-opening, exciting adventure I have experienced. I traveled to France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Morocco and all over Spain. I met some life-long friends and immersed myself in a new life, which I didn’t want to give up. Once things do change it’s hard to go back. I guess my point it that through all of these good and bad experiences and changes in my life, I’m still scared of the future. Maybe that doesn’t mean I’ve learned nothing, because I’ve learned how to conquer that fear and push myself through the hard times, like graduating from college.
Photo: Near Lagos, Portugal, at the most southwestern tip of Portugal.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Reporting then and now

A 30-year-old white, good-looking man with dark hair sits at a wooden desk, his reporter’s hat shadowing his face as he leans over a typewriter and punches at its keys one finger at a time. The room is dark and his tan trench coat is the first thing that catches your eye. This Dick Tracy type man stares deeply at a small reporter notebook filled with scribbled black ink marks. This is what I picture when I think of old journalism.
Journalism used to be a hunting and gathering process, according to Phil Meyer, an innovative semi-retired newspaper reporter and Pulitzer Prize winner for his coverage of the inner-city riots for the Detroit Free Press.
“We looked for news, found it and delivered it. When information was scarce, the end users were so glad to get it they didn’t make much fuss about its quality,” Meyer wrote in a 2004 USA Today article, titled “Journalism must evolve--and quickly.”
Meyer continued to say information has changed, and so has reporting. I like to think a third element has been added to the hunting and gathering process, the presentation aspect. This is where creativity is expressed through word choice, description and imagery. Not to say there is no creativity used in the reporting part of journalism, but this is a different type resourcefulness.
In another USA Today article written by Meyer, titled “Closely watched media humbled,” he said journalists were able to get away with more before the Internet came about, because the standard wasn’t as high and reporters weren’t watched as closely as they are today.
“One old-fashioned investigative technique was to publish unverified information in hope that the resulting uproar would smoke out new sources that would provide the verification,” he wrote. I can’t imagine doing that today, but in a world where the media are constantly trying to increase ratings and beat out the competition, I’m sure it’s desired. Attention has become hard to grab on to and even more difficult to hold on to, making creativity, in place of trickery, just as big of a player in the game as information gathering.
“All of the cheap ways of getting attention are about used up. Sex and violence in entertainment, the quirky reality shows on TV, the screaming heads on news programs have gone about as far as they can.” Meyer wrote in the evolution article.
Agreed, and grateful as both a journalist and a receiver of those cheap attention grabbers. I suppose good old-fashioned storytelling is the answer. Sure, people can only pay attention for what, seven or 15 seconds? If you catch them in that time and provide them with quality work in those few precious seconds, I think they will stick around. Good writing is beautiful and more than just entertaining, but inspirational, and I think people both want and need to be inspired.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Blogging the Digital Divide

After learning about the benefits of blogging, such as the possibility of expanding sources, opinions and freedom of expression, I began wondering what are some of the disadvantages of using blogging, or the Internet in general, for communication and information flow? Lets see, if it benefits me, this power journalism class, Western media and the developed country as a whole, then everybody who doesn’t fit into this category is disadvantaged, right?
Not to say the Internet is intentionally used by developed countries to further suppress the voice and already limited powers of the “Global South,” but in a way it is. By being in control of technological developments and making English the language of these developments, how is blogging benefiting the nations that neither speak English nor have Internet access? I’ll find out for you. Don’t worry; I won’t make you think too hard fellow bloggers.
Thank goodness it wasn’t America’s fault to begin with, we have enough guilt on our shoulders at the moment. Actually, the British control of global telegraph networks led to English becoming the main language of international trade and communication, according to the book I’m reading, “International Communication: Continuity and Change” by Daya Kishan Thussu. As the 21st century rolled around English (and yeah partially our fault now) became the main language of multinational interactions by being used within the UN system, large corporations, media, scientific publishing and, of course, the Internet.
English is the second most common language spoken in the world (some sources said third though, hmmm) with more than 500 million speakers, while Mandarin is the first with 1.1 billion speakers. Hindi is around the same as English, about 500 million, hence the confusion about placement. Thinking that either placement would earn us a gold medal at the Olympics (out of the 6,700 languages spoken in the world), it almost seems exciting. Well, this isn’t a competition.
There are 34 countries with a rich multilingual tradition, meaning there are more than 50 languages in daily use. They seem more like the winners to me. Imagine how much more interesting and culturally diverse our country and media system would be if we spoke more languages. Where are these 34 language-gifted countries located? None in Europe if you were wondering, and two-thirds of them are found in Sub-Saharan Africa, South East Asia and the Pacific region. Sun-Saharan Africa is one of the worst areas when it comes to access to telephone lines (coincidence?). In 2005, nearly 1 billion people worldwide had no access to telephones, and without telephone lines you have no Internet. While Internet access has opened up in Africa recently, the high cost for using telephones make them expensive to use, which the majority of the continent’s citizens can’t afford.
What does all of this mean? We should stop using the Internet, learn a new language and travel to Africa to help increase teledensity? I don’t know what you should do because I don’t know what to do myself. I guess writing about is a start. I feel like the whole situation is a catch-22. If I help I’m further supporting Western power over the developing nations by forcing them to “modernize” and lose the rich culture they have managed to hold on to for so long. But if I don’t, will the digital-divide continue to stretch and pull on global relations until we break into two separate worlds? Maybe it already has.
Want to read the book“International Communication: Continuity and Change,” or learn more about it? Go here.

Monday, May 28, 2007

This I believe

The first day of third grade consisted of emptying your markers in the communal tub, getting to know the other students at your assigned table and selecting a locker mate. My best friend was in my class and on the first remark that we could choose our locker partners, our eyes shot across the room towards each other, sparkling at the excitement of the freedom from alphabetical constraint. I don’t remember how the chaotic decision-making process was planned on being carried out, but I do remember my teacher announcing we had a transfer student who could choose first. Since she didn’t know anybody my teacher asked who would like to be her locker partner, clueless to the silent and rapid agreements made throughout the classroom within the first 10 seconds of this announcement. The new girl sat quietly, looking around the room and waiting for an arm to rise, but none did.
She was big for her age, larger than any other girl or boy in the class and in most of the 3rd or 4th grade. Her cheeks were puffy, her hair frizzy and she smelled of body odor that nobody else in the class had yet to develop. The class sat in silence as 10, 15, 20 seconds passed. Her head sank in embarrassment. I reached my hand up said I’d like to be her partner if she would like to be mine.
I hated sharing a locker with her all year long, but I knew it was the right thing to do all year long too. I believe in doing the right thing, even when it’s the last thing you want to do.
While there are so many times in my life when being selfish seems to make the most sense, I think I overlook the importance in seeing the big picture. By placing myself back at in the third grade and remembering how badly I felt for this girl and how this simple gesture, even though it felt so big at the time, really made a difference to her.
The answer seemed to be so simple at the age of nine. Sometimes with the complications that come with growing up, I lose track of the right answer and only see what I want to. Now that I can do what I what whenever I want I don’t stop enough to think how my actions truly affect others. Whether I let somebody in while driving, give a dollar to a homeless person or donate time or money to a worthy cause, it makes me feel better to know I did the right thing.
Click play below or on this link (This I believe #1) for the audio version.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blogging Gets Furry

The Chicago Tribune’s blog titled “Unleashed: The Tribune's pets blog,” exemplifies the charm and temptation of the blogging world. It’s different, innovative and allows journalists to break away from their own leashes tightened by editors, advertisers and lawyers.
In “Blogging Between the Lines” author Dana Hull, from the American Journalism Review, spoke with Robert Cox, president of the Media Bloggers Association. Hull paraphrased Cox saying, “the allure of blogs is their willingness to venture where newspapers have hesitated to journey.” The Chicago Tribune has ventured far from the average newspaper’s blogging in Washington or the behind the scenes perspective on the newsroom staff. These blogging subjects are no less crucial, but perhaps in the bizarre-o-world of blogging they should also be no more important.
The Chicago Tribune’s pet blog features posts relating to issues such as the search for foster homes for shelter animals about to be euthanized. Although there are also more bizarre yet also interesting topics, such as a video on a frog jumping competition in Angels Camp, Calif., which honors Mark Twain. More serious, or newsworthy, was a video feature on a black bear who wandered into the backyards of the residential area of Hartford, Conn.
While the majority of these posts are not “windows into the Editorial Board’s thinking on issues,” such as discussed in Hull’s piece, they are windows into somebody’s world. This blog probably attracts animal lovers and anybody looking for less serious and perhaps fluffy news. We can always use a break from the seriousness of life. Additionally, the site rarely fears any type of lawsuits, unless that black bear has a lawyer on hand to sue for slander.
I have always taken the role of reporters and the word of newspapers seriously, and in return I expected earnest work. Newsroom blogs were reflective of the tone I expected and therefore tolerable in my once anti-blogger viewpoint. This is why I forced myself to examine a newspaper’s more lighthearted blog. Since the idea of a blog is to open your mind to less serious reporting, I decided to loosen my choke collar as much as possible.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Ethics beyond the newsroom

Sacrifice is a word journalists know well. Our lives revolve around other peoples’ schedules, our personal opinions are set aside at the cost of others and whatever our editors want us to do is answered with an enthusiastic yes. Most of us agree to these sacrifices for the integrity of our newspapers and ourselves as reporters. When this integrity is lost, however, our jobs become the sacrifice.
Ethics in Journalism is a subject widely discussed and argued about. I think most journalists would agree our words our are power, and when they are misused this is an abuse of power. In order to preserve our voices and maintain our right to inform the public we have to earn respect through honestly. This responsibility spreads throughout the newsroom, into the field and into the hands of the media owners and operators. Without this, we have nothing.