Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blog No. 4

    Last week’s readings showed me how news organizations can use the Internet – their alleged enemy and downfall – to gain readers, and possibly revenue. There are a lot of websites, of both traditional and untraditional media organizations, that are doing really cool, original things with the Web. I think maps are a great way to present information, and using them to present news is an efficient and fun way to engage readers.’s CinciNavigator and The Washington Post’s TimeSpace are two examples of how news sites are using maps to allow readers to interact with the news. This is a great way to divide news into different regions, besides the traditional foreign and national news departments. Google also uses the map in a very effective – and possibly even lifesaving – way. Their Flu Trends maps out the areas in the country (and world) that are most susceptible to flu outbreaks based on what people from those areas are searching on Google. I’m not sure if this is a scientifically sound method for predicting outbreaks, but it is a great way of employing maps to display information that just wouldn’t be sufficiently communicated in words. And if it is a sound method, it could save lives, or at least a few doctor visits. 
    The Chicago Tribune’s Colonel Triune and Politifact’s Obamameter are more examples of how media organizations are trying to present news in a fun, engaging way. Colonel Tribune is described as the newspaper’s “Web ambassador,” and is designed to keep readers informed on the latest news. The Obamameter ranks the president’s success in fulfilling campaign promises through engaging graphics. I think the Obamameter is a very effective tool, but I’m not 100 percent sold on Colonel Tribune. I think the Colonel takes the “fun” side of news a little too far, and may come across as ______to readers. Newspapers have to trust that their readers are intelligent, and presenting the news with a fictional tour guide may be insulting to their intelligence.
    Of all the links listed on the blog, I found to be one of the most original and interesting ideas. I’m interested to see if the idea of readers funding news stories works out. Do people care enough about investigatory news to pay for it? If they do, this could be a very profitable form of journalism, though it defies all the traditional rules and ethics of the industry.
    This week’s readings again reminded me about the importance of being skeptical when editing. After reading so many bogus trend stories, I can’t help but wonder if any of these types of stories have any real worth. These stories often make assumptions given only a small number of statistics – figures that may not even be accurate. It’s with this skeptical eye that I read the letter/advertisement from the president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America. Sure, he throws around some very convincing statistics about the strength of the newspaper industry, but what is he not telling us? He’s leaving out the alarming number of layoffs that newspapers have experienced in recent years, among others. I can’t help but read this wondering if he is just trying to reassure himself that his industry is not indeed dying. 

Case Study 8

    After reading all these bogus trend stories, I think I will be much more attentive when I come across one of these in the news. I was surprised as to how many established and reliable newspapers fell for the lies of various government organizations. It’s easy for reporters to attribute information to a spokesperson or “expert” without double-checking whether it’s true. I suppose when the information is coming from someone else’s lips, reporters seem to think it’s not their fault if it’s not true. Skimming through these stories, I made a list of words, phrases, etc. that should raise a red flag in stories about trends.
1.    The use of confidential sources, especially on issues that aren’t particularly serious. If the source refuses to be named, it might be because they don’t want the spotty information attributed to them. This is seen in the shoplifiting story by The New York Times.
2.    Many: What does this word even mean? One of the first lessons we learned in Reporting is to avoid this ambiguous, meaningless word like this. One person’s “many” could be another person’s “few.” If a reporter can’t get a number or percentage, he or she shouldn’t use the word.
3.    May/seem: This word, like “many,” means nothing in the world of news. There’s a lot of things that “may” happen, but they don’t make the paper because they haven’t indeed happened yet.
4.     Curious numbers and statistics: If a story relies completely on one study or one source for its numbers and statistics, an editor should be careful. When faced with numbers and statistics, I ask myself, “do these numbers add up/make sense?”
    I think what happens a lot of times is reporters are assigned to “go see if the economy makes people do this or that,” and they may find a few statistics to back up that it’s true, and a few people who are prime examples, and they deem it a trend. But you can’t let a few people represent an entire population. You can’t let a few numbers stand for the behavior of an entire nation.


Story idea: How will  Obama’s changes to NASA affect the Space Coast economy?
1.    How much does the Space Coast rely on the Kennedy Space Center?
Will any jobs be lost as a result of the changes? (Especially contractors, engineers?)
Are there going to be any launches? By private agencies other than NASA, for example?
If there will not be any launches, how will the Kennedy Space Center be used?
How do local residents feel about the changes? Employees?
If there is an expected downturn in the economy, how are people preparing?
2.    Most of my previous questions revolve around change. How will the Space Coast be changed?
3.    The unusual: Perhaps finding someone who has gone to a lot of launches in their lifetime. I’m sure there’s someone out there who has gone to nearly every one. What are their thoughts?
4.    I enjoy reading from the perspectives of the people affected, so I would try to include that as much as possible.
5.    What is the Space Coast going to be known for now, if not for space? Its entire identity is changing. How are they going to advertise themselves to potential visitors as the Space Coast?
6.    Already talked about talking to the people most directly affected
7.    Who? Who is going to be affected most severely? Who is in support of the changes? Who is against them?
What? What are locals doing to prepare for potential changes?
Where? Where are potential tourists going to go if they choose somewhere other than the Space Coast?
Why? Why do people visit the Space Coast in the first place?
When? When will the economy start having real effects on locals?
8.    How are residents going to prepare? How will the Space Coast advertise itself? How many people are going to be directly affected?

This enterprise story, published in the Gainesville Story, is a sort of “one year later” story, following up on how the University of Florida’s student health center has adjusted to the shooting of UF doctoral student Kofi Adu-Brempong. Although the writer answers a lot of the questions I had, some holes remain. My first question is, have a significantly greater number of students utilized the health center’s services since they made their adjustments? I ask because I know personally that not many of my friends would feel comfortable going to a mental health counselor at the university. Do people who are mentally unstable really want to see a mental health counselor at a university? The way the story reads, it sound like the mental health center is just trying to make itself sound noble, saving lives and preventing suicides. But is this really true?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I found this story on the Newsies website, a news website that is part of The Gainesville Sun and is managed and edited entirely by undergraduate students. I realized after writing this that it was published in December, but it was one of the most recent posts.

I had a lot of issues with this story, including where the writer got her information, whom she interviewed, the objectivity of the story itself, its newsworthiness, and whether the writer even understood what she was reporting on. It seems it is a mix between an opinion column and a news story. The first thing that needs to be done is deciding between the two, because you can’t mix the two. The actual "news" of the story is that a study was released that Americans are less confident that Obama will win the 2012 election. That information doesn't come until the very end of the story. Also, the writer does not attribute ANY reasons for disapproval except racism. Why is this the only factor? There are so many other reasons that people have lost confidence in Obama as a reader, and I personally doubt that his skin color has anything to do with it. Attributing his decline in approval only makes it worse.

I questioned every single sentence of this story, but I chose to highlight only those that applied to the section on credit (attribution, sources and substantiation)

The Existence of Racism
 By Mia Saunders, Newsies Contributing Writer
The prejudice, who feel members of one race are superior to other races, are still prevalent in today’s society. When asked  if racism still exists, opinions varied.
 Roughly 38 percent of Gainesville residents believe racism has only gotten worse, especially now that history has been made with the first black president of the U.S. The moment Barack Obama won the election and smashed racial barriers, he has been suffering from taunts from the public, magazines and cartoons.
Poking fun at presidents has always been a hobby for the media, however, the line is crossed when the jokes are only based on skin color. Former President George W. Bush was taunted by the media who believed he was inarticulate.
Bill Clinton was the bunt of many jokes on late night talk shows. Nevertheless neither of these former presidents underwent the racial slurs that Obama has endured. One must ask where to draw the line.
In some cartoon illustrations the president’s image has been altered to look like an African, witch doctor, his wife’s to look like a gorilla, and their two daughters like little monkeys. The idea of having a black family in the White House remains to be a sensitive subject.
“I cannot sit here and lie to you or anyone else by saying I even considered to vote for that black guy,” said Bobby Lee Jameson. “I had McCain stickers, posters and refrigerator magnets all throughout my house, I supported the man who should have been president.”
The most recent racial study was in May 2008 to see how many Americans still use derogatory racial slurs. Faggot, Nigger, Kike and Redneck are still at the top of the list.
Forty-eight percent of Americans still use the term faggot to describe homosexual males, 28 percent say nigger, 39 percent for kike, and 12 percent for redneck. Society needs to adapt to the times, and come to the realization that the world has changed. The people are different and have evolved in this day and age.
In the eyes of some it was truly tough to see the first African American president. The first-term senator from Illinois shattered more than 200 years of history by winning the 2008 presidential election.
Aside from much criticism about Obama running for presidency, he gained a victory. Critics thought of him to be unprepared to run the White House, inexperienced, and out of touch with the necessary tools that are needed to effectively run a country.
“I believe racism still exists in our society because there are people who still look down on other races,” said David E. Carlson, a new media of Journalism professor. He said, “To me it is not necessarily about being racist rather it is about people who choose to be bias.”
Carlson said that people are still bias to different races. In order for us to fight against racism, people should start exposing themselves to others.
Racism is still alive and no culture or ethnic group has a monopoly on racial hatred. That is not to say that this nation has not made great strides in this arena that are both unprecedented and undeniable.
People should be aware that racism exists in a society that hasn’t fully developed. Many people still share the mentality of one race being superior to others. 
Minorities are at a disadvantage, given past issues of slavery, segregation, and discrimination, which all continue to spill over into the present condition of minorities today. America has made advances to ensure racial equality, however racism still lurks.
The 2008 presidential election truly shaped a new era in American history. America has its first black president. The question now is doesObama have any chances of being re-elected?
He faces uncertain prospects for re-election in 2012 as many voters question whether he deserves a second term, a new poll said on Monday.
The Quinnipiac University poll said American voters by 40 to 43 percent do not think Obama has earned a second four-year term, and place him as dead heat with potential Republican challengers Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
“I had hope during the 2008 presidential election and I will carry that hope into the 2012 election for my president,” said graduate student, Elizabeth Thomas. “It almost feels like everyone is blaming Obama for America’s mistakes.”
Thomas goes on by saying, “people must realize that coming into the white house Obama had a huge mess to clean up. Bush left behind a bad economy and a shit load of mistakes, whether America likes it or not those mistakes take time to solve."

Questions about attribution
1. Second paragraph: Did this 38 percent of Gainesville residents come from the writer's own poll? She doesn't cite any study at all. Was this based on her own reporting? If so, this is not at all a legitimate figure. How many people did she interview? Was it a diverse group, or was it all students?
2. The latest information she could find was May 2008? That's hard to believe. Also, what does a poll on derogatory terms have to do with a president's approval ratings? 

Questions about Sources 
1. Who is Bobby Lee Jameson? From reading this story, I think it could be some homeless guy on the side of the road or a Senator.
2. Is Carlson really the best source for a story like this? What makes him the most knowledgeable source on race relations? This is just the opinion of one journalism professor. It has no valuable information that contributes to the story in any way. In fact, I'm sure she just chose to interview one of her professors because she was too nervous to talk to anyone else. Sorry, that was mean. 
3.  What makes a UF graduate student a reliable source to analyze the performance of the president of the United States? This is just lazy reporting. Could she really not talk to anyone else? What about someone who voted for Obama in 2008 but has changed his/her mind? Why did he/she lose confidence? I guarantee it isn't because he's black.

Questions about Substantiation
 All of the remaining questions dealt with substantiation. It seems the writer is inserting her own opinion into what she believes to be a news story. Anything that is opinion should be coming from a source, not the writer. Even then, these claims and opinions should be backed up with sound facts. 

Needless to say, I have a lot of problems with this story. After reading it, I was almost fuming. 

Google Docs

My Google Doc

Case Study 7

    One day during my Dow Jones Newspaper Fund editing residency (a weeklong editing boot camp before my internship), Bill Connolly came in to speak to us. Connolly, who used to be an editor for the New York Times and is mentioned in “How a Copy Editor Might Have Averted Disaster,” shared this story with us. I learned a lot from him, as well as how the mind of an editor should work. He read through the entire story with us, raising every question that popped into his mind. He questioned small details I had glanced over in my first read-through. But at the end of the exercise, I had learned that the best editors – like Bill Connolly – are skeptical ones. That’s what editors are there for. Who else is going to question the validity of a story, except, of course, the readers? Editors should be asking these questions so readers don’t have to.
    Throughout the exercise, we circled aspects of the story that seemed questionable. By the end, my paper was littered with red question marks and circles. The first came in the first sentence: Doesn’t it seem a little odd that an African American boy would have sandy hair? There were many questions like this on little details that just didn’t add up (if he is living in the ghetto, how can he afford fancy running shoes and izod shirts?) Also, the mother seems almost impossibly callous to her son’s addiction. Even though Cooke writes that Andrea too is an addict, she seems unrealistically undisturbed by the situation. A lot of questions came up after reading about his spotty school record. As Connolly brings up in “How a Copy Editor Might Have Averted Disaster,” would Jimmy really have been in fourth grade as an 8-year-old if he rarely attended class? Also, wouldn’t his teachers have inquired if he was constantly missing school? Why didn’t the writer contact the school? These are all questions that should have raised a red flag in the editor’s mind. It’s scary to think that this story somehow endured through so many levels of editing without thought.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Case Study 6

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: One of the first steps for newspapers in saving themselves from destruction is getting over their pride. This anecdote about Google alerts is a perfect example. While most reporters only had alerts on traditional news, Gary Fineout also kept his eye on blogs. Most “traditional” journalists look down upon bloggers and so-called “citizen journalists.” Many reporters and editors don’t take information from blogs seriously because they don’t consider them real journalism. But with the Internet, the definition of journalism is changing, the definition of a journalist is becoming a lot more ambiguous. Gary Fineout understood that bloggers are journalists, too, and often times their information is just as valuable as a traditional newspaper’s. By accepting blogs as legitimate sources of news, he was able to get a story other reporters weren’t.
    However, this doesn’t mean journalists should accept everything they see on blogs as fact. I do think there is legitimacy in the natural mistrust of nontraditional forms of media. Many times, these writers don’t have professional training, nor the sense of news judgment that a professional, trained journalist has. Sometimes, they just want to have as much traffic on their page as possible, regardless of whether or not the information they publish is 100 percent accurate. Although newspapers should be open to blogs, they should not be too quick to accept their information as fact. They should use their own fact-finding skills to double check the information they get from blogs.


1.    “Local legislators to meet today on police merger idea,” from The Gainesville Sun
Nut Graph: The Alachua County legislative delegation will meet in Gainesville today to discuss a proposed bill, floated by the North Florida Police Benevolent Association, a police union, that would create a study commission to look into abolishing the city's police department and transferring policing duties in the city limits to the county's Sheriff's Office.
    Summary Graph: The bill, proposed by a police union, would create a     commission to look into abolishing the city’s police department and transferring     its policing duties to the Sheriff’s Office.
2.    “Gov. Rick Scott won't push school voucher expansion — for now,” from The Orlando Sentinel
Nut Graph: Scott said this week that he won't ask the Legislature to take up his proposal this spring for "education savings accounts." He had previously spoken favorably of the idea, which was advocated by his education transition team but was also likely to spark legal challenges. The plan would have allowed all public-school students to use state school money for a variety of education services
Summary Graph: The plan, which would have allowed all public-school students to use state school money for a variety of education services, would likely have sparked legal challenges.
3.    "Mike Haridopolos addresses public concern over Florida’s budget," from The Independent Florida Alligator
Nut graph: The state senator stressed the importance of budget cuts throughout his presentation at  Pugh Hall on Thursday night. The event, hosted by the Bob Graham Center for Public Service, encouraged people to submit questions to Haridopolos in person and online.
Summary Graph: The state senator, who spoke Thursday and answered questions by students and the public, said the state is facing $3.6 billion in budget cuts.

Strat11 (Assignment 1)

I found a great example of a crystallizing quote in this New York Times article about a Valentine’s Day ban on bad words at a middle school in Alabama:
“The small issue is cussing,” Ms. Ludgood said. “The larger issue is civility. As a nation, we have gotten meaner.”
This quote is placed relatively high in the story, and it does a good job of summing up what the story is about while also taking it one step farther.

This story in The Gainesville Sun is an example where a crystallizing quote is placed far too low in the story. The story is about Marco Rubio keeping a relatively low profile in the campaign. The story is pretty long, and the qriter decided to place this quote at the very end, as “the kicker”:
“While I want to work in Washington,” Rubio said, “I don’t want to be ‘Washington-ized.’”
The first quote, however, is from someone besides Rubio. I think the first quote in the story should be from Rubio himself, and I think this quote perfectly summarizes why he has been keeping such a low profile. Instead of saving this quote for a strong finish, this quote should be used to pull readers and keep them reading, especially because it is such a lengthy story.

Blog No. 3

    The past two weeks’ readings taught me how the Internet is transforming the way we deliver news. Writing for the web is far different from writing for print, as is editing for the web. Although I found the “Writing for the web” blog post by Jim Stovall helpful, I think he puts too many limits and rules on web writing. He says we should limit stories on the web to 200 words unless there is a “compelling reason.” He also says paragraphs should be a maximum of two sentences and 50 words and that writers should only use one direct quotation per story. I don’t think we can apply these rules to every story on the web; it’s just not practical. Every story is different. Some require more sources, more explanation, and certainly more than one direct quote. Although I agree that web stories should be concise, sometimes we should take advantage of the unlimited amount of space to go into more depth that we wouldn’t have room for in print.
     Besides the basic structure of stories, I also learned that the kind of writing on the web is entirely different from print. The writer of “Journalism’s Many Crises” put it this way: “Very few online sites practice the unearthing of facts. For the most part, they opinionate - which is a useful but parasitic activity.” In the days before the Internet, newspapers were often the first sources for breaking news, and the stories on the front of the morning paper were never old news. Nowadays, news spreads like wildfire. Blogs and other non-traditional media sites are often the first to report breaking news, so traditional newspapers must have something new to contribute to the story. News stories are becoming more and more opinion-based. This could change the face of news writing forever.    
    The reading on The New York Times’s “look up” feature reminded me of the lessons I learned working at The Times. Going from the copy desk of The Alligator to the national and foreign copy desk of The Times was a huge adjustment. Although most stories were very straightforward and clear, there were many instances when I ran across words that I had to look up, words that would never have appeared in The Alligator. Our first week, during our training, we had an hour-long workshop about Times style. The message, put shortly, was that The Times does not talk down to readers, whom they consider a very intelligent, well-informed group. They expect their readers to be familiar with intelligent vocabulary, and they also expect them to already know background knowledge about current events. In my time at The Alligator, I would always try to use simpler, shorter words. I was always taught to write like you are writing to the least intelligent of readers. But at The Times, they considered that mindset offensive to their audience. There were many instances where I had to look up a word in the dictionary, but the other editors wouldn’t even think twice about letting it in the paper. I also had to abandon my habit of inserting additional information about stories because The Times assumes that their readers have been keeping up with world news. It took me a good month or so to learn that you can’t always write for a 5-year-old.
    Doug Fisher sums this thinking up well in his blog post on social media and journalism. Fisher writes, “Part of the challenge is how to effectively acknowledge and use the audience to broaden and deepen our journalism while understanding that the institution does not give us license to think we are delivering tablets from the mountain.” Newspapers need to stop writing like their readers are dumb. Many readers are just as knowledgeable, if not more knowledgeable, about news than writers and editors. Collaboration of news organizations with their readers is the key to journalism’s survival

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Case Study 5

    The two stories by The New York Times and USA Today display how drastically different two news organizations can present the same story. Although both newspapers presented factual information accurately and clearly, one is negative while the other is positive. This is because the reporters presented the information in different contexts and relied on different sources.
    In general, I think The Times did a better job at presenting the facts in an objective way. The writer did not speak to any human sources. Usually I think having human sources is essential, but in a story about a survey, sometimes it’s best to just stick to the facts. USA Today, however, uses several human sources. This doesn’t necessarily make the story any weaker or less objective, but the quotes can sometimes get in the way of the facts.
    Although it is significant that a majority of Afghans are confident about the direction of their country, I think it is even more significant that the number of people who believe this had decreased in the past two years when the story was written. This is the context that was made clear in the story in The New York Times, but USA Today only briefly mentioned it in the story. The Times centered the entire story on this very important detail, but USA Today only said: “Still, the optimists were down from 64% in a smaller Asia Foundation survey conducted in 2004.”
    No matter how many people are confident in the country, even if it is a majority, if this number is declining, it’s not a good sign. Focusing on only the current statistics displays the state of the country in a false light, perhaps in favor of the United States and the war effort in Afghanistan. 


I used Google News to search for news stories containing any of the 25 phrases to tighten. I discovered that the three most common phrases were "reason why," "in the near future" and "in the meantime." I think these are the most common because they are often used in everyday life, in casual conversation. Some other popular phrses were "due to the fact that," "at any given time" and "in the event that."

One of the phrases that has always annoyed me is "reach a decision" as opposed to "decide." This is one of the stories that I found in my search. Although it's a pretty short story in its original form, it could still use some trimming. Here's my slimmed-down version:

MU planning snow day rescheduling
COLUMBIA —Faculty and administrators met Friday to discuss options for making up recent snow days, and they hope to decide reach their decision next week.

After Faculty Council members weigh their options, students and other faculty will also be asked to comment, said Leona Rubin, chair of the executive committee.

The situation is a new challenge for MU administration because classes have never been canceled twice in one year, let alone three times in a row.

 “Some professors might have to come up with their own ways of making up those days,” Rubin said.  “But we would like to give them an option.”