April 23, 2007

News Can Make Itself

The coverage of the tragedy at Virginia Tech is the most recent example of how news stories can "make themselves."

The killings in Virginia certainly were news worthy of national coverage--what I am focusing on here is how news stories can prompt other issues to become stories.

For example, in this case, after the coverage of the main facts and background of the shootings in Virginia, stories now appear around issues only related to the tragedy. The Star Tribune published a story about security at Minnesota colleges and campuses; the Daily has been publishing opinion pieces on gun control using VA Tech as an example; links to an opinion piece by a soldier wondering why flags are half-staff for the students, but not for Iraq casualties.

This spreading activation in the news is expected and often appropriate. The tighter airport security after 9-11 is an example of improvements made to some system after a national news story.

It seems that it is necessary for some widely-known event to occur for certain issues to gain prominence and respect, which is understandable.

But how can the media make less "famous" news more important to people when the issue is long-term, like global warming? I cannot think of when "green" issues get lots of coverage apart from when famous people bring them up, like Al Gore's movie, or when a report or annual event like Earth Day occurs.

Can the media attract attention to more long-term news without a "prompt"?

April 20, 2007

What is Role of Media During Tragedy?

Several national news networks will be greatly decreasing or altogether eliminating images of VA Tech shooter Cho Seung-Hui from thier broadcasts, the Pioneer Press reports in an article from Associated Press reporter David Bauder.

As you may recall, Cho sent NBC News a package with videos and messages that arrived at their offices posthumously. NBC aired some of the footage, as did many other networks. The pictures were widely available on the Internet, as well.

The decision to pull the material from the air was made, apparently, in sympathy for the victims' families.

"It has value as breaking news," said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, "but then becomes practically pornographic as it is just repeated ad nauseam."

There are ethical questions towards both putting the material out there and pulling it. The images have been described as disgusting, and are certainly disturbing to anyone familiar with the VA Tech tragedy, so should that have overridden the news organizations' instinct to show the public what was in their possession?

As far as pulling the material, is it the media's responsibility to decide what is too disturbing for its audience?

I can't help but think back to the coverage of 9/11, where several outlets repeatedly aired footage of people jumping from the twin towers to escape the fires inside. It was shocking to see, but just hearing about it would not have done justice to the enormity of the decision these people made to jump.

It is also interesting to note that NBC also gave the package to the police before they showed the images and writings in broadcast.

I have heard in several classes a form of this quote: "The media's job is not to police." If this is the case, why did NBC hand over the package from Cho before telling its audience?

At the same time, many of us have heard that "the media (especially newspapers) are a public service." If that is true, it gives a lot more implicit power to the media. If the media are supposed to serve the public by providing news and analysis, the media would also decide what is important enough to be reported on. It can, then, decide how to report it, how much should be reported, what the audience should think of it, etc.

It is certainly enlightening to see how the media responds to events such as those at VA Tech. I believe it tells a lot more about the media's values than textbooks.

April 17, 2007

Coverage of the Virginia Tech Massacre

The Pioneer Press and Star Tribune featured the exact same story from AP writer Matt Apuzzo. The Pioneer Press posted it online at 1:40 am, and the Star Tribune posted it most recently at 4:43 this afternoon.

The story is appropriately long, having been written well after the attacks, it is filled with not only a description of the events that unfolded the day of the shooting, but also background on the shooter, Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old English senior. The story also provided quotes with reactions from students, instructers, the University president, and police officers.

The coverage of this story is mostly predictable because it is a predictable scenario: Of course the gunman was distrubed. Of course there were signs and missed opportunities for intervention.

It is interesting to compare national coverage to the local media at the university. The Collegiate Times is the Virginia Tech student newspaper. In an article posted yesterday afternoon on the paper's Web site, written by Saira Haider and Kevin Anderson, details such as the place where news conferences were held, the floor of the dorm that the shootings occured on, and a more detailed account of the attack from a student witness.

One feature of the school paper's article I thought was helpful in understanding this story was a timeline of events, including the two-hour gap between the first shooting and notification to the campus community.

I don't know exactly how the logistics works for newspapers using AP stories, but I think a good idea would be to consult more local sources for information when national news occurs. The AP reporter might not be from the area the event(s) occured in, so a credible source that is closer to the community may be very helpful in understanding the story and humanizing it.

March 20, 2007

Massive Pet Food Recall Shakes Owners

Ten pet deaths-one dog and nine cats-have been linked to a massive recall of canned food sold in North America.

The recall covers 60 million containers under 51 brands of dog food and 40 brands of cat food, including Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba.

"A small number" of cats and dogs have developed kidney failure after eating the affected products, said the Food and Drug Administration.

An investigation has focused on wheat gluten as the contaminated source, said Stephen F. Sundlog, an FDA veterinarian.

Menu Foods, an Emporia, Kan.-based company, said through a spokesperson it recalled the "cuts and gravy" products when reports of sick pets surfaced. The announcement is the largest recall for pet foods, said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota.

Missing Student's Body Found in Purdue Dorm

The body of Purdue University freshman Wade S. Steffey, 19, missing since Jan. 13, was found in a utility room at a dorm on campus.

Steffey was found in a high-voltage utility room in the Owen Hall dorm. He apparently died from accidental electrocution.

A utility worker discovered the body Monday when she was called to investigate a noise apparently coming from the room.

Purdue spokesperson Jeanne Norberg said that Steffey probably tripped over some wires while searching for his coat after attending a fraternity party over the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend.

After Steffey went missing, large searches were organized and the dorms were checked, including the utility rooms. Norberg said the location of Steffey's body, hidden behind a transformer, would have made it difficult to see him. To completely check the room, Norberg said all power to the residence hall would have had to be shut off.

An independent investigation will continue.