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April 30, 2007

Mission of Journalism and Future of Journalism

To use a cliché, a wise man once told me that there is no option in journalism. The paper must come out. Some way or another, it just has to. It provides necessary and relevant information, and if it goes will be sorely missed.
People say that the newspaper is a dying industry. I say we can’t let that happen. It is too important. In this age with all the information at your fingertips, people don’t have to time or the gumption to sift through all this information, pulling out the relevant pieces. This falls on the journalists, the people who not only have the time and the skill, but are actually paid to sift through. This isn’t to say that ordinary citizens can’t or won’t do this for themselves. Journalists are aids to information. Our traditional role of gatekeepers serves an even more important role in an era with so much information.
There is a lot to be said about how today’s journalists are failing this mission. Time and financial constraints are testing the press every day. There are publishers running newspapers that have never been journalist, and only care about lessening the news hole so they can sell more advertising. They will fire the most talented reporter on the staff because they need to cut margins.
What can a journalist do in such a world? Talk about it. Fight back. I know of one woman who, upon hearing that her colleague was laid off to budget constraints, quit, leaving the newspaper with only an editor to put the paper out the next week. While this temporarily disrupts the need for the paper to get out, she took a stand. She would rather see no paper than one put together sloppily, without forethought, used only to sell ads—this will only result in the further corruption of the media in the public mind.
And newsflash: you publishers most concerned about this, the moves you make today with your papers directly affect the future of the newspaper as we know it. The less we stick to the mission of journalism, the more we devalue our work, and ourselves in turn, and that directly affects each and every newspaper’s bottom line from now until eternity.
So what and who cares? That’s right. Who cares? I do. I don’t want to see that happen. I have seen firsthand how a newspaper works in a small community—the first and only source for this information. The newspaper that upholds its integrity, that publishes that story that reports on an important advertiser or speaks bluntly about the firing of a popular coach, will continue to sell newspapers.
Where do I fit in? I wish to tell the stories that remain untold. I hope to strengthen the mainstream media with the social consciousness that it sometimes lacks, so that newspapers can tell the whole truth, not just the accepted truth. I set a high goal for myself, because I wish to better an industry that sets such lofty goals for itself—though in recent times panders too much to advertisers and audience whims. If I have to, I will single-handedly fight to save the newspaper and its ideals, no matter what form the newspaper may take in the future.

April 27, 2007

Interim Premier declares the war won in Somalia

The Interim Premier of Somalia has declared victory in that the Islamic Front that had taken control of the capital city of Mogadishu in recent weeks. These past weeks have seen the bloodiest fighting in Somalia in years. The government declared victory but the fighting still continues. More than a thousand civilians have been killed in the fighting and many more were wounded.

Jeffery Gettleman, of the New York Times, wrote an article on the subject. He choose to focus on the fact that the Interim Premier made an announcement as the lead of the story. Then he provides paragraphs of relevant background information for the reader who may not have been following the story. There isn't too much new information or much in depth analysis, but as a general reporting story, it covers everything I'd need to know to understand the latest news.

Aweys Osman Yusuf, from the Shabelle Media Network, reported only a day before the New York Times piece that 20 more were killed. This article talks more about the specific day to day fighting, that a Somalia audience would be interested in, rather than the general overview that the New York Times gives.

They both give relevant detail to their respective audiences. Yusuf's article still provides background near the end of the piece, even though presumably he's writing for people that would already know.

Survey studies Lations and religion

A recent study was released on Latinos and their religion by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Pew Hispanic Center. The study had a lot to say about where, how and why Latinos worship, and how that affects their views on social and political issues.

This article is a good example of how numbers can be used to the advantage of a journalist. The story here is in the percentages and the numbers. There is no current breaking news on this issue, besides the fact that the survey was released this week.

The AP reporter Eric Gorski wrote an article about the survey. Kim Vo of the San Jose Mercury News did her own reporting, and presumably her own number crunching on this story.

Gorski’s story summarized the findings of the story quite well, though it seems as though he used the same wording as the study, that is ambiguous, such as “ charismatic style of Christianity.? He also wrote about the intersection of ethnicity and religion, that the study looked at. He choose to focus on the ethnicity aspect over the religious aspect. He wrote more about how churches and church leaders were dealing with the new congregants. He didn’t quote any “everyday Joes,? only leaders and experts.

His use of numbers varied. Sometimes he threw a bunch of percentages at the reader all at once, which is informative but sometimes a bit much, leaving the comparison to be made by us. Sometimes he quantified them for us, making the numbers relatable, and these were easier to digest.

Vo took a different approach. She choose to contrast the Roman Catholicism with evangelical Protestantism. She too used the words “charismatic worship,? though after both articles, I’m still unclear as to what exactly that means.

After a few introductory paragraphs summarizing the story, she listed some key findings of the study. I think this is an effective way to get the information out there directly, instead of burying it in the article. It’s easy to get the jist of the article very quickly.

I like the comparisons that she drew between the two religions and how she spelled out what this meant for social and political issues.

The failure of both these articles lies in their dealings with the topics of ethnicity and its effect on religion. I think they relied too heavily on stereotypes, letting the reader draw conclusions through our own biases—for instance what charismatic worship means. It’s hard to escape our own biases, and these stereotypes make it much easier to communicate with the reader. However, the result is a perpetuation of these stereotypes and shallow reporting.


Feds want more power lines

A law passed in 2005 gave the federal government more power in controlling power lines in key areas that were of national interest. This past week, they are attempting to use that power, claiming that state and local governments are failing to act. The state local governments argue that the federal government is taking too much power, and that this gives the energy industry the upper-hand.

This is a complicated issue dealing with levels of governmental bodies, and though relatively boring on the outside, follows a key debate of just how much power the federal government should have, and when they exert their power, in whose interests are they acting.

The AP covered this story, with reporter Devlin Barrett. The story was picked up by many newspapers across the nation, including the Press-Enterprise in southern California. The LA Times put two of their own reporters on the story, since the primary corridors the government is looking at are the northern east coast and the southern part of California. The two reporters on that story are Marc Lifsher and Janet Wilson.

The AP gave a general overview of the story, doing his best to explain the latest news in the situation. They relied heavily on the Department of Energy for their information. The opposition to the new plan does not come until seven paragraphs into the story. He goes on to tell why this would be a good idea, relating it back to the blackouts on the east coast in 2003.

The LA Times stories stated the opposition side’s point of view much higher in the story, and fully explained their point of view. “Critics warned? came in the second paragraph, so right away, the reader knows that there is a controversy here.

The AP article gave the impression that everything is good and well, and because they didn’t give much time to the dissenting opinion, effectively endorsed the move made by the government, simply through omission.

The LA Times article could be criticized for demonizing the federal government with all of the attention given to the opposition. This is exactly what their readership would want to read, because it is heavily California-centric. They were catering to their audience.

Overall, I think that the LA Times did a better job in explaining the controversies, even if they did tend to lean the opposite way of the AP article.

April 23, 2007

French Elections

The French are in the midst of their presidential elections and the event is getting a lot of media coverage. The first round of the run-off election has taken place and though pollsters are predicting left Segolene Royal and conservative Nicolas Sarkozy the likely winners with 25-26 percent and 29-30 percent, respectively.

There is a lot involved in this story, many actors and acting forces, including a large number of presidential candidates and a national mentality and history that most average Americans don’t know about.

The challenge of this story is to get all of this information across in a short news story, and to get the latest news to the public.

There were two versions released by the AP. The two writers used different styles to meet this challenge.

Elaine Ganley had a story picked up by the Kansas City Star. John Leicester had a story in the Houston Chronicle.

Both articles covered much of the same material, down to having the exact same paragraphs at the end. I found this odd because Ganley’s article cited AP writer Herve Brival as a source though Leicester’s article did not. The paragraphs are identical and its not clear where they come from. Am I missing something?

Leicester accomplished through clever writing. His sentences were jam packed with information. He used adjectives very freely and managed to pack a lot of information in without going into large paragraphs of background.

Ganely does exactly that. She uses longer paragraphs of background to help us understand. This method is effective, and a little more clear and easier to read than Leicester’s version.

I like both versions and I hope that I will be able to do both. Leicester’s way is especially useful in a space crunch.

April 15, 2007

FOIA in action

I never had to leave the comfort of my dorm room to put the Freedom of Information Act to the test. A few phone calls to my city council woman and I knew exactly where to look on the Internet for the complete agenda for the Minneapolis City Council meeting.

I found out that the agenda was posted online when I was working on the profile lab, choosing to profile City Council member Cam Gordon. I didn’t realize then that the online version links to the minutes of the various committee meetings, which provide complete information for the topics discussed at the City Council meetings. Anyone with a computer can access this information. They no longer print out copies of the agenda, so it may be more difficult to get if one does not have access to a computer or a printer.

The site is also not all that easy to negotiate sometimes, so the help of Diane Hofstede’s office was useful. They referred me to the City Clerk’s office which spent five minutes explaining to me how their posting worked.

This information is readily available, at your fingertips, if you know how to look for it.

April 8, 2007

Grunge Music

A sub-culture of music exsists outside the norms of pop, rap, R&B, and rock--grunge. A mix of heavy metal, some screaming, and more chilled hard rock--it attracts a diverse crowd. I would seek to define this type of music, maybe providing a vignette about what a grunge concert is like for those readers from an older generation that might like to relive their woodstock days.

I will talk to:

Shane D. Kramer-handles bookings at the Triple Rock Social Club, which is a hot spot for grunge bands.
612 802 7743

Other sources would include:
people at a concert--every-day joe perspective
Chase DeGroy--provides a fan perspective--612.849.7779

the band--depends on the concert

Scott D. Lipscomb
Associate Professor: Music Education
612/624-2843
-about history of rock, on the question of grunge music then and now

Also, would like to fun a scholarly perspecitve--where this music came from, how it orginiated...

East African Immigrants in Cedar-Riverside Neighborhood

The Starbucks in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood is frequented by many
east African immigrants, who have come to Minnesota from war-torn countries
in the past two decades. I want to know why and how they got here, what
brought them to this specific neighborhood, and how exactly this Starbucks
became a make-shift community center and gathering place (mecca) for east
African immigrants.

I will seek to place this in the larger context of Minnesota, making this
relevant to our leadership.

I will speak to:

Somali Education Center
Mr. Abdikadir Adan, Director
admin@someducenter.org
Dr. Ahmed Ali, Co-Director
admin@someducenter.org
Telephone
612-872-8812
612-558-6316

Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota
Saeed Fahia, Executive Director
612.338.5282

Oromo Community of Minnesota
Alemayehu Baisa, Executive Director
execdir@oromocommunitymn.com
(612) 338-5282 ext 213

Tamara L Giles-Vernick
E-mail: tgv@umn.edu
Associate Professor in History Department, specialities Africa, Anthropology

Rudolph Vecoli
Professor Emeritus
History
UMN Twin Cities
vecol001@umn.edu
Specialities in immigration to America—might be able to speak to recent
migration to Minnesota and why

Missile Defense System Test

The U.S. military had a successful test of its missile defense system off the coasts of Hawaii this week. It fired a target missile, and then an interceptor missile, successfully blocking the target missile.

The AP wrote about this story as did the World Peace Herald.

The World Peace Herald, based in Washington, D.C., seems to be a skewed publication with obvious interests—hence the name—and I thought their take on this issue would be interesting to examine.

The AP story is straightforward, defining what happened and placing it in the larger context of U.S. defense. They also gave a brief background on where this program came from, that original tests were done in the desert of New Mexico, but they moved to Hawaii for a larger testing space. This is a difficult story to report on because there are many terms used only by the military as well as acronyms. So reporting on this story requires translation for the audience. The AP story did a pretty good job, but some of the terms relating to missiles stayed undefined—though they were familiar. I know the term but I don’t know what it means.

The World Peace Herald version, written by Martin Sieff, spoke military speak. They had a very PR feel to their story, even though their website spouts their commitment to excellence in journalism. They use a variety of acronyms in the article. They do define them, but one sentence had three acronyms in it—hard to decipher. Also, they used quotes from military personal to tell the story, even though the quotes are full of jargon and largely undecipherable. When I was reading it, I got bored. There wasn’t much deciphering for the average audience in this article.

I am willing to guess though, that the World Peace Herald’s article is more accurate, because it gave very specific information. The AP article decided that we didn’t need all of that information—but it gave the general audience a better general idea than the World Peace Herald.

U.S. Official goes to Somalia

Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer visited Somalia this week, only six days after a weak cease fire was enacted. Violence once again erupted in the country while the interim government still struggles for control. The area has been plagued with unrest and violence since the toppling of their government in 1992.

The AP picked up on this story, the version written by Salad Duhul appearing in many American papers. Al Jazeera also reported on the story with an article on their website.

The AP version uses the U.S.-centric view--the news is that our official visited there. The recent events are background information. They also give background on U.S. involvement in the past--referring to the Black Hawk helicopter incident. This makes sense as the audience for this piece is an American one, and they would be most concerned about U.S. interests. The article also links Somalia with terrorism, condemning the violence because it provides an atmosphere where terrorism can thrive.

The Al Jazeera version focuses more on placing this issue in the world context. They focus on the official saying that she wants to raise the consciousness of this issue in the world as a whole. There is no mention of U.S. involvement. They also picked up on the terrorist angle, though not spending as much time on it. Instead, they included fears about war crimes by the Ethiopian and Somali governments. Both regimes are supported by the U.S. They ended with a few paragraphs about a reconciliation conference.

I found it helpful to read both of these articles. The AP version was too U.S. centric and I missed out on some of the related issues, like the war crimes issue and the reconciliation conference. The Al Jazeera article didn’t make it clear why this official in this country was such a big deal, why it was newsworthy.