Tag Archives: journalism

Win for citizen journalism, loss for PR?

This video and many others like it have been swarming every media outlet—social and traditional—since the pepper spraying incident at UC Davis occurred.

Is this the big break citizen journalism needed to gain clout? Zack Whittaker at ZDNet argues that it does, and conversely that public relations has taken a hit.

With camera phones in nearly every person’s pocket, it is easy to be prepared to document everything from Ryan Gosling breaking up a street fight to incidents of police brutality.

“It gives citizens around the world chance to bring raw, unedited and unfettered truths to the masses,” Whittaker wrote.

Statements have been issued defending the actions of the police at UC Davis, as is to be expected. Whittaker dismisses these statements as “spin” and says the proof is in the footage. The “spin doctors” were caught and “spin no longer works,” he wrote.

Although on its face this may seem like a hit to public relations, I think it is actually quite the opposite. This shows how bad public relations fails. Good public relations should tackle issues with the same level of transparency as news because—as this incident made clear—the truth is what matters to people in the end.

A recent speech by Richard Edelman outlined principles to guide the future of public relations, and one of those principles is to “practice radical transparency.”

“More than ever, business must explain how and why decisions are made,” he said. “This is not a strategic opportunity; it is a necessity. Business is at its strongest only when it is transparent about its intentions and way of working.”

Although Edelman’s focus was business, the idea remains relevant to PR in all avenues. “Spin” is a dirty word to PR practitioners, and all one has to do to avoid the label of “spin doctor” is to be honest.

Ultimately, I think Whittaker’s article places far too much blame on PR in order to make his argument in favor of citizen journalism. Citizen journalism helped bring this incident to light, but public relations wasn’t the cause of the problem, it was just another player in the scene.

For good discussion on the underlying problems that really caused this incident, I found several articles in The Atlantic to be fascinating.

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Plagued with plagiarism

Plagiarism is arguably one of the worst offenses a journalist can commit. I have to admit, though, I think it’s also one of the most fascinating to examine.

The Cavalier Daily, University of Virginia’s student newspaper, recently uncovered a series of plagiarized articles from one of its writers. After dismissing the writer and notifying the school’s “Honor Committee,”—a student-run Supreme Court-like entity that upholds the student Constitution—the paper ran an editorial explaining it all.

The editorial board was attempting to do the right thing by being transparent to the audience. However, this transparency has brought scrutiny to members of the editorial board. In the editorial tell-all, the student accused of plagiarism was not directly identified by name, but the Honor Committee found enough evidence to say the student’s Honor Committee Constitutional right to confidentiality had been violated.Ultimately the case was dismissed by the the University Judiciary Committee.

This situation fascinated me on several levels. First, there is an issue of freedom of the press. The staff at The Cavalier Daily were reporting truth, which is often the first and best defense. However, as the Honor Committee pointed out, there is some gray area concerning the rights of the accused. The editorial board argued that by leaving out “the plagiarist’s name, gender, staff position and class year, as well as the titles, dates and content of the plagiarized articles,” the members had done their due diligence to protect the identity of the accused.

If this had been a libel case, the editorial board’s argument would fall flat. The writer may not have been directly named, but several unique attributes would make the person easy to identify. Was there more than one person dismissed from the paper’s staff during this time? If not, there’s your answer. If so, then whose stories were pulled from the website? Anyone with access to a back issue or two can find out with a quick search.

Finally, I think there is good debate to be had on the pros and cons of protecting the identity of a plagiarist. In this particular case, I can understand the desire to protect the identity to follow school standards. Additionally, it’s kind to be lenient with a student and not let a mistake in school result in being blacklisted from future employment. Students who cheat in other classes do not get their name in the paper because of it, and many other professions would keep personnel issues internal.

However, it’s universally recognized that cheating and plagiarism is wrong. Journalists get an especially heavy dose of this lecture, and this student chose to be unethical. Punishment by identification would be in line with the consequences in any other journalistic workplace. Plagiarism destroys a writer’s credibility and the audience deserves to know if they’ve been duped in the past and by whom. If the reader doesn’t know which writer and articles were involved, the entire paper’s credibility comes into question.

Although being publicly identified as a plagiarist may be a harsh punishment, I think news organizations have little other choice. Choosing journalism as a profession means taking on a higher responsibility to the public, and with that comes graver consequences.

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Misinformed

A few days ago I read about the uprising in Egypt on Tumblr.

Bits and pieces of information littered my dashboard and I became engrossed. Social media helped organize a revolution, so any former thoughts of Twitter as a useless dumping ground for opinions disappeared.

When I discovered the Internet was shut down in Egypt, it was difficult to absorb. The place where anyone can have a platform to speak was cut off in an attempt to silence the protests. This is the first time in my lifetime–that I know of–where such blatant and widespread censorship occurred. (This is not counting censorship in areas where people never had the right or freedom to express themselves in the first place.)

While the power of social media has gained respect due to these events, much is being done to harm its reputation as well.

Information is disseminated so rapidly that fact-checking and context can be lost. As I’ve said before, the Internet can be full of lies, and we should remember that especially when everyone is clamoring to read the latest breaking news.

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AAJA Convention, Day 3

Friday was the last day of the convention for me.

My overall impression of the convention was positive, but only just. There was nothing that I disliked, but I felt indifferent about several of the panel discussions and workshops. There were some disappointments, because the discussion would veer off track or focus on things that I didn’t think were the most important. I also found that there were pleasant surprises, like the diversity panel from day two of the convention.

Though some of the discussions were dry, I know that I learned something from each workshop and panel, and I’m glad I attended.

Beginner Interactive Narrative

Your Career, the Sequel

Be Your Own Boss

Career Fair and Expo


Beginner Interactive Narrative

The focus of this discussion was how to tell a story in a non-traditional way. It started off with a short documentary-style film about student diversity in a small town. It included staged, artistic shots of the students and voice-over where the students would be reading their thoughts aloud.

The question was then posed: Is this journalism? The consensus was surprisingly “yes.”

Despite the staged aspects of the video, the reporting done was valid and the audience thought the artistic nature of the video was acceptable to create tone.

From there we discussed other forms of storytelling, focusing on the options for interactivity on the Web.

First, there are the more obvious advantages of the Web, such as virtually unlimited space and the ability to provide dynamic content. However, simply using the Web to connect to audiences directly is a powerful tool.

Live blogging events have found audiences, and the power of interactivity has been shown even in advertising, like the Old Spice campaign.

A newspaper can take examples like these and tailor them to their audience. For example, when running a story on a resident trying out for American Idol, the paper can host its own local competition and post it on the Web for readers to participate and vote.


Your Career, the Sequel

Be Your Own Boss

These two workshops were more tailored toward the people who had recently lost their job in journalism or were looking for alternatives. I attended these because I thought it might give me an idea of what else I can do if the job market was unwelcoming upon graduation. The possibility of freelancing was discussed, and it was interesting to hear the frank discussion about what the job really requires; things such as calculating costs, deciding what stories to take and how much time to spend on them. Other panelists shared their success stories of delving into other fields, such as Web startup companies and authoring a book. Although all of these other careers seemed interesting in their own right, I don’t see myself heading in that direction.

Career Fair and Expo

Perhaps if I was at a different stage in my life I would have found the career fair more useful. The fair undoubtedly offered many opportunities for out-of-work professionals, but students just entering the job market were mostly overlooked. If nothing else, I appreciated having the opportunity to see what the job hunt could look like. 

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AAJA Convention, Day 2

Okay, I’m back!

I wish that I had been able to continue this sooner, but when school and work have piles of deadlines, personal deadlines have a tendency to get pushed back.

On to day two of the convention…

The Present and Future of Print Journalism

Opportunities in Digital Journalism

A Hyphenated World

The Future of Mobile

….


The Present and Future of Print Journalism

I started off by attending “The Present and Future of Print Journalism,” which was sponsored by the Seattle Times.

The talk was focused on whether print even has a future. The answer I came away with was “yes,” but not a resounding one.

Although there was plenty of of discussion about the apparent problems with print—mostly the corporate ownership and lack of community focus—there were few proposed solutions.

For print to survive, it was proposed that news organizations need to figure out what it is “uniquely suited for,” or what it does better than any other medium. What that unique purpose might be was never elaborated on.

Don’t get me wrong, I love print. I think people will always prefer to read paper over a screen, but I also think that people will adapt to reading screens if it is cheaper and more convenient.

Much of this panel was focused on print’s transition to the Web. The concept of pay walls was debated well on both sides, and it is an issue that I think will need to be resolved for publications on an individual basis.

On the one hand, people are very much used to getting everything online for free, and consumers can feel betrayed when that suddenly changes. However, a company can’t continue to provide the news if it can’t pay the staff.

The pay wall has been proven to work for some companies, like Spot.Us. The trick is to keep the readers in control of the news. They can choose what news they are interested in and help fund those stories so they are able to be reported on.

Spot.Us has also played with the advertising model to make it work for them. Readers can participate in surveys to earn credits usable for funding stories.

It’s a clever way of doing business because the company only pays for stories that will get read, and they don’t have to guess as to which stories are “newsworthy.” The public tells them what is.


Opportunities in Digital Journalism

This panel, sponsored by NBC, focused too much on defining digital journalism, rather than exploring new opportunities it provides for journalists. The audience was told over and over again that digital journalism means a journalist who does it all, from the writing to the photography and video.

The “one man band” label was thrown about several times.

But what does this mean for journalists and journalism as a whole? Audience members were concerned that being the only one covering a story will compromise quality. After all, one person is never going to be as good at everything as a band of dedicated specialists.

The panel pointed out that although reporting single-handedly isn’t always the best approach, it has its benefits. Obviously, for a news corporation the money-saving is a huge benefit. The immediacy digital journalism allows for is rewarding for the audience.

But in terms of story-telling and producing quality journalism, having the ability to cover a story comprehensively by yourself allows greater freedom at times. Following the BP oil spill, one digital journalist was able to uncover the impact on the Vietnamese fishing community. This was in part due to his ability to speak Vietnamese, but it was also due to the fact that he didn’t have to wait for others to start reporting.

Consolidation in the newsroom and cost-cutting may not be the ideal situation to work in, but the resulting digital journalism trend will be here to stay.


A Hyphenated World

This was by far my favorite panel to  attend, and I almost didn’t go. Being a minority in the workplace, hearing about diversity can often time be boring. Obviously there needs to be more diversity; tell me something I don’t know!

The discussion here transcended that surface-level critique and delved into issues that are more relevant, but rarely mentioned in traditional workplace analyses. And all the while the discussion was funny and entertaining.

Being Asian-American means that you’re automatically part of this community, even if you aren’t actively involved in it. Just by being a member of a minority group, it can seem like you have to be an advocate for “your people.”

But advocacy isn’t journalism.

When reporting on stories involving people of your own race, the coverage still has to be fair. Sometimes, this can be difficult.

As a minority, it’s not uncommon to be stereotyped and wrongly associated with a certain ideal or behavior. When one member of the race is looked down upon, it can easily translate to the group as a whole. Just look at the way terrorism in America has given a bad reputation to the Middle Eastern community.

It can be tempting to give a member of your own race the benefit of the doubt in order to save your own skin. Similarly, a source might expect that you present him or her in only a favorable light due to shared race.

However, the fact of the matter is that if you engage in this behavior, it’s biased reporting.

The panel also brought up the idea that seeing negative coverage about a member of your race might actually be a good thing.

It used to be that Asians had such limited exposure that negative examples would seem too prominent a badge for us as a group. Now, increased exposure has allowed us to be more comfortable with a few bad seeds because it means we are being seen as equals in the media. There are a variety of personalities within the group, and we are not viewed as homogenous.

Bloggers from Disgrasian spoke at the panel and strongly held this view. Opening criticism toward our own race shows that there are people within our group that we like and don’t like, just as with anyone else.


The Future of Mobile

This panel focused on the latest technology in mobile and how it can be used to our advantage.

Part of using mobile effectively is understanding how people use it in their daily lives. If a person is reading a news story on their phone, they want the news to be quick and concise, because they’re probably looking at it in between other activities. A person’s attention span on a mobile device is much shorter than with any other medium.

A significant part of the discussion examined the latest iPad apps. Tablets are a relatively new part of the mobile market, and can be used differently from phones. The innovations in these apps may yield significant results, but at this point it’s just exciting to know that there are new possibilities.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I gained as much from this workshop as the others, but it was interesting to see what apps are being developed. More than anything, I left that discussion with a desire to own an iPad.


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AAJA Convention, Day 1

I went into the convention with the intention of being open to whatever experiences it led to, but my only goal was to have the experience and to learn something from it. Many people touted the networking opportunities the convention would provide, and I was open to that idea. I failed at being a networking machine, but I think I achieved my goal.

The first day offered special workshop sessions that required advance reservations to attend. I skipped those and opted to spend most of the day touring Hollywood and the surrounding areas. I wasn’t the only one playing hooky—I met two other convention-goers on the sightseeing tour. Tip for anyone interested in a double-decker bus trip: Wear sunscreen! I returned just in time for the student and new attendee mixers, where I hoped to make a friend or two to wander the convention with me in the coming days.

I met several people, but made no actual friends, just one “single serving” friend; it was a friendship of convenience that lasted for only the duration of the convention.

Many students came from more “prestigious” universities, which was slightly intimidating, but I was glad to be there to represent my school. I was surprised to find that there were non-journalism majors attending the convention. I wonder if it is better to be a major at a small school with a great journalism program (ahem, like mine!), or to attend a well-known university an be an English major who works on the student newspaper.

I’m not a neutral player in this game, but I think that the former is the better option. Though many people I talk to outside of school think that journalism and English courses must overlap, they don’t. My classes are tailored specifically to reporting, news writing and editing, and mass media law, whereas my English major friends are learning about things like modern British literature and poetry. I usually explain that my major is almost like attending a trade school. I cannot see how students can learn all this specialized information as well through a few weeks training before they begin writing for their school’s publication. But that’s just me.

Speaking with other students was interesting, but at times I felt a tension. Though we were supposed to be united by our common career ambitions, there was also a distance. Many people I talked to acknowledged the tough job market that we will be entering soon, and it was like meeting the competition. I also noticed a line between broadcast and print people. I was one of the few on the print side, which led to dead air on occasion.

Perhaps my inclination toward print, specifically editing, says something about my personality. I tend to be more of an observer, I don’t like to schmooze. If I meet people, I want genuine interactions, not just a quick exchange of business cards.

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Ask the experts

It’s been a while since I’ve updated this blog, but this past week I attended a journalism conference that has given me a reason to dust of the keyboard, so to speak.

The 21st annual Asian American Journalists Association convention was held in Los Angeles this year and I had the privilege to attend.

You can read about the convention at the official website, but over the next week or so I will post about my experience with the panels and workshops I attended. Topics included the future of print, mobile technology and diversity in the newsroom.

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