Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NPR beating print

I figure I would have my last post be about how print is getting its but kicked by radio

Over the past couple months, I have gotten hooked on podcasts from NPR. The one that sticks out the most is "Planet Money." It is more or less a blog and podcast breaking down the financial crisis issues down, so ordinary citizens can understand what is going on.

For my money, I have not seen any print news journalism come even close to how good they are. Print has not been good at defining terms (simply laying them out there, leaving the reader scratch their head) or talking about the issues.

Print journalism needs to step it up. If a reporter is talking about the Dow Jones falling, the reader needs to know what that is, and why it is important. The reader needs to know why inflation is going to cause trouble for middle-class Americans. The readers need to know why Zimbabwe is going through hyperinflation, and why it is important to them. They need to know it in the simplest terms possible.

It is not explained very well, and it can be. Print journalism usually takes the lead for being through and very investigative, but in this case, they are falling behind. I advise reporters everywhere to step it up, because competition is getting harsh.

That is all I have to say about that.


The Daily Illini only allows a few acronyms to be published.

Among the few are CITES (Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services), ARC (Activities and Resource Center) and CRCE (Campus Recreation Center-East). The rest need to be spelled out, or at least be given a shorter name on subsequent references.

I'm not sure how I feel on this. On one end, it makes for a lot of words that could be cut down. On the other end, it is to prevent confusion for the readers. A new acronym may not be the easiest thing to remember.

Ultimately, though, I have enough faith in readers to think they can figure out an acronym if it is spelled out on a first reference in an article, they will be able to figure it out. An article is not like a novel, they will be able to remember for the remainder of the read.

I would also agree that it does take up a lot more space in an article, essentially taking up space that could be used in other ways. If it needs to be spelled out, that can add a lot of words to an article, and really make it a pain to read.

I have heard from readers before about why we don't use acronyms. I know it is The Daily Illini's policy, but it can be a pain if a student organization or government branch is talked about. Maybe there is a compromise, maybe we should just start allowing more of them than the select few we do now.

How much editing does editing entail?

This blog is starting to sound like me putting all my editing problems on a public forum, but oh well.

There is a certain way I like to have things worded. I want everything to read that way. However, there are other writers who have their own style. It's different, but it works for them. it's not any better or worse, it just kind

When I started as an editor, the first thing I wanted to do was to make it read well for me. It didn't matter if the reporter had any preferences, it was my way or the highway.

Needless to say, it didn't work very well. I may have not got any really huge complaints, but I definitely did feel some discomfort as the editing process went on.

As the semester wore on, I decided to loosen up a bit. After all, just because it is worded differently, it doesn't mean it is wrong, right?

I think I have gotten better with this. The editing process, as far as grammar goes, has gotten easier for me. I am a bit more lenient as long as a word or phrase is grammatically correct, I will let it slide. Sometimes I will change it just because it will sound better in my eyes. I will give in a bit, but not all the time either way.

A person who writes "John's brother" is not wrong if I think it should be written "brother of John." It is merely a preference.

Blogging: Changing Information, is it okay?

For my research paper for J420, I was able to interview Jeff Finley, an editor for Pioneer Press who also writes for the religion blog "What Do We Believe?".

During the interview, one of the things we talked about was his views on going back and changing things in a blog. I asked him if he thought it was okay, and he said it was okay for things such as punctuation or errors, but not as an opinion.

However, for something like an opinion, he doesn't think it should be changed. Finley said that he writes his posts late at night, and in the morning he has sometimes found himself thinking about the topic differently.

Still, if he is thinking about a post a different way, he will not change it, but instead put his new thoughts in the comments section of the blog. To him, the post is complete, and was a reflection of what he thought at the time.

I'd have to agree. A blog post is a representation of the frame of mind the writer is in at the time of posting/publication. That should not be changed. It is not possible to change it in print, and a blog post should not be different.

This is content-wise, at least. I do agree grammatical errors should be changed. Point of views should be left alone though. It is a viewpoint from a certain point in time.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Music reviewing and fact checking

I figured this would tie in a bit after I addressed the JOUR 200 class on Monday regarding music writing and reviewing. I wanted to talk a little bit about accuracy not just in music writing, but in any form that requires opinions.

There are way too many examples of writers being careless because they feel that if it's their opinion, the information is correct. As a result, a lot of opinions articles suffer from misinformation. If a writer feels they know something, they feel they have no reason check up on the facts.

Of course, this is an over exaggeration, but it does paint a picture of a prevalent problem (not to use too much alliteration). Columns and opinions pieces should be subject to just as much scrutiny as regular articles, if not more. In a column, not everything is attributed, so the error falls on the writer's shoulders, not a source.

Still, if an album release date is wrong or title is incorrect, it can be overlooked (which this blogger did in this article. It's fixed on the Web site, but it was embarrassing to make an error like that). It's that kind of carelessness that can label music writers, and opinions writers in general, lazy, which is not the case.

They should take responsibility for their work though, and make sure everything checks out. That way a mistake like the one I made is not made. Fact checking is essential, especially when it is not attributed to anyone.

A little late, but it's still relevant to talk about politics

It's been a while since I've posted on this thing (laziness may be a factor, but it isn't the main one, I assure you), but I think it's still okay to talk about politics.

I have never made any bones on where I stand politically. It isn't a big deal, but at this point in my life, I know where I stand.

Still, maybe it's because I am in the position of power (if an assistant editor can be considered a powerful position), but I have become aware of others stances. A lot of times, they are different than mine. The purpose of this post isn't to deride anyone's beliefs, but rather to talk about making an effort to be more accommodating.

As a part of The Daily Illini's ethics policy, employees are not supposed to show any of their political affiliations, for fear of alienating a prospective source. I understand that. However, it can make the editing process a lot more uncomfortable if something is said. For example, if I was to criticize John McCain's view on immigration, and to demean him for it, I may alienate a reporter. It may create for a more strained relationship.

I have learned to be more respectful, and as a result, I would say more informed. If I have an opinion on a political candidate, I really need to be able to back it up. Saying "Obama is stupid" just will not do. I would need to know why he is stupid. That way if it is something defaming someone, it will not simply be a blind insult.

I know this may not seem relevant, but it does really help to build a rapport between reporters and editors. It is still something I am working on.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ethical photo considerations

There is one side of me that would say to run the photos. After all, they really do tell a story. A person who has a fence post through his cheek tells a powerful story, as does the one taken on Fat Tuesday in Seattle. A story is not even needed, the photo tells it all. In that respect, they are good photos.

On the other hand, these are photos designed to make people cringe. They tell the most gruesome stories out there, and will no doubt elicit the most extreme response from readers. A standard newspaper is not design to disgust people, just inform them.

I will have to say that the latter wins out in my reasoning to not run the photos. A picture usually does tell a better story than words, but in this case, the person can choose to stop reading if anything gets too graphic. A photo does not offer those choices. Once a person sees it, it is in their mind for good.

This choice would stay the same if the photos were local or otherwise. In fact, if the photos were local, my choice would be even more inclined to not run them, just because a whole community does not need to see one of its members in a position like that. It's not protecting them per se, but it does minimize harm in the community, which is always a helpful thing.

These photos are really unrunnable anywhere in the paper. I don't want to do that to the readers of a paper. The only photo that I would even consider to run is the one with the dog killed by a car. There is a dog killed in there, not a human. I'm still not inclined to run it, but that is the one I would even consider the least. It is still not a line I would wish to cross though.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The wonders of The Associated Press

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that this post's title is probably lavishing a bit too much praise on just one news organization. After all, it is just one news organization, with reporters just like any other (albeit, however, with many, many more reporters all over the world).

Still, I will say the Associated Press is always coming in handy in one way or another. First of all, it makes sure all information is consistent in papers who run it. A reader in Taiwan is going to get the same information as a person in New York. There is something nice about that, and the wire service can also fill pages where a paper does not have enough content to do so.

I guess this came into my head on Tuesday night as I was night editor of The Daily Illini. The thing that made me talk about this was not the amount of stories we can pull off the wire, but rather how often a story was updated.

The big story right now, of course, is the financial crisis. When I came in to start at 5 p.m., the story was at its 18th write through of the day. During news conference, I said I would pull the story at the absolute latest time so the story could be the most up-to-date.

By 9:45, when I pulled the story, it was at its 24th write through. In 4 hours, 45 minutes, there were six updates to the story.

The Associated Press is a great example, at least to me, about how a breaking news story should be handled. More newsrooms should strive to update their online stories more often as more news comes in. It would make the readers come back more, while really painting as good of a picture of what is going on as possible.

What The Associated Press does is not impossible to do in a lot of newsrooms (most have reporters or editors there all day, it can be done), and it would just make a newsroom look more thorough. If it did that, though, it would be.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Music journalism: The ethical considerations

This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to cover the Pygmalion Music Festival, which took place in Champaign-Urbana, Ill. I had applied for a press pass a few weeks before for The Daily Illini, and the organizer of the event granted me it (shameless plug: my coverage can be found at this site).

This is not the first time I have covered a music festival or concert. In fact, as of late, I have been making more and more plans for myself to cover music, through interviews, album reviews and concert reviews (I really tested this out this summer, when I sent away to record labels and band's managements for advance copies of albums. It worked 95 percent of the time).

This summer, one isolated instance got me thinking about the most objective way of covering a concert. I was in the photo pit for at set by The Roots at the Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Ill. At the end of the show, the percussionist in the band threw out a drum stick. Another "journalist" in the pit caught it, so proud of what he did. I looked at him, and said "You can't do that, you are a member of the press." The guy looked at me, smiling and just walked away (My blog about it, including a few comments, can be found here. The subsequent blog post to clarify it can be found here).

It is kind of funny to read the comments now, but at the time they really did bug me. Looking back, maybe I did make a big deal out of nothing, but I still believe in what I wrote. That person catching a drum stick in the photo pit made him part of the show, which is essentially the same as being part of the story. As a journalist (with some exceptions, I know), we are taught to stay out of the story, as becoming it can alter what will happen.

As a music journalist (at least for concert reviews and coverage), I think the best way to approach it is to take a few steps back and just observe. Whatever happens will happen, and the reporter will be there to document it. The closer one gets, the better chance they have to get into the story. Doing something like catching a drum stick makes one a part of the story, which, for the most part, is not what the reader needs to know...It is a privilege to be able to cover these sorts of events, and the privilege must not be abused.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Collide and Crash

This is not the first time I have run into this predicament. Still, it came up in class on Monday, and while I was night editing at The Daily Illini on Wednesday.

The Associated Press says that to use "collide" or "collision," both objects must be in motion. This showed up in a fake news story the class edited on Monday, when a person crashed into a pole. The original version of the story said the man "collided with the pole," when in fact, the pole was not in motion.

On Tuesday night at The Daily Illini, we had a photo on the front cover of a car hitting the back of the bus. The copy editor and I spent a few minutes looking at the photo, wondering if we could call this a "collision." After all, we determined that both autos were moving at the time they struck each other. Still, the photo made it clear that the car rear-ended the bus.

We decided to play it safe and use "hits" instead. Even though the photo's caption said "collided," we still wanted to play it safe for a photo headline. The car and the bus were not heading towards each other in this case, so our instict was to not call it a collision.

This is a hazy rule in that case though. Do two things have to be heading towards each other for it to be considered a collision, or do they just have to be in motion? The Associated Press does not clarify this one...