Archive | February, 2012

Remembering basic journalism standards

27 Feb

Stereotypes help people understand the world around them. They simplify things into easily comprehendible categories.   However, simple is usually not best. Journalists must take extra care with every story they write to not fall into the trap of over emphasizing one aspect of person.

In one of my reporting labs, we had a discussion on writing about the elderly. Anytime you are going to add on a caveat of “that is impressive for someone like them!” you are probably being insulting. Although there are examples where this is dealt with in a professional manner.

Another common mistake journalist make is letting their own biases and opinions influence a story, which I have talked about before .

While reading a story on a murder trial of a “suicidal blonde”  I could tell that the journalist was making both of those critical mistakes. The story reminded me of that reporting discussion, and I feel the writer behind this story could have benefited from a similar lesson. The story condemns Jeanette Sliwinski with every sentence. Although the original write up of the story does write alleged suicide attempt once, many other times in the story the crash is referred to as suicidal although Sliwinski denies she was attempting suicide.

The writer has clearly decided that Sliwinski is guilty and therefore it is ok to stereotype and demean her. If the writer was reporting this story as a journalist would report any other piece of news, the first references to Sliwinski would have used her name rather than referring to her a model. I believe the writer is attempting to belittle and discredit Sliwinski and her defense by referring to her this way. This is a new low of the stereotyping habit.  This is an example of irresponsible journalism. Her job and her hair color have nothing to do with the trial. These details are included simply to serve the purpose of the writer to describe her in an unflattering manner.  The line that bothered me the most was, “The 3 young men died. The woman walked away with a broken ankle.” This is clearly an attempt to make the readers despise the woman that caused the death of these three men because she did not get seriously injured herself.  However, she did have a broken ankle so I can only assume the writer uses the line “walked away” for dramatic effect.

Before writing a story a journalists needs to assess their view of the information. If a writer is overly invested in a story or not looking at the people involved as real people with their own sides to tell, then this may not be a story to bother writing. Being entirely unbiased is impossible. But when you stop making a conscious effort to even seem unbiased you are no longer writing a news article. I am curious how the suicidal blonde story was able to make it past editors and in to the paper. Editors need to watch out for emotionally invested journalists and help them to make their stories more news appropriate.

 Chicago Murder Trial Begins for Suicidal Blonde

Former Model Killed 3 Musicians With Car in Bid to End Her Life, Prosecutors Say

They probably never saw her coming. [if you don’t know whether they saw her coming or not should this be the introduction?]

It was July 14, 2005. Lunch hour in Chicago.

Three local musicians who worked day jobs together at an audio electronics company were stopped at a traffic light in a Honda Civic in a suburb north of the city.

At a speed authorities estimated at 70 miles per hour, Jeanette Sliwinski, then 23, who, police said, was trying to kill herself ran three red lights and slammed them from behind in her red Mustang convertible.

Both cars flew airborne on impact, witnesses said, each landed crushed upside-down on the pavement.

Sliwinski’s lawyers have denied that she was attempting suicide. Her current attorney did not return a call seeking comment on the case.

The 3 young men died[What are the names of the deceased?]. The woman walked away [How did she walk away if her ankle was broken?] with a broken ankle.

Her murder trial begins this week, more than 2 years after the crash.

“The one thing that would have brought this thing to closure would have been had she been successful in what she set out to do that day,” said Dave Meis, older brother of victim Douglas Meis, referring to the alleged suicide attempt.

The crash and subsequent arrest brought Sliwinski internet infamy. Many blogs and websites have posted modeling pictures of Sliwinski since she was arrested. [is it appropriate to link to her modeling photos?] (Click here for pictures.)


Linking adds to learning not to length

27 Feb

Linking is becoming an everyday activity for social media users. If people read an article they like they post it to Facebook and they tweet out the link to a photo that makes them laugh. Most people today are familiar with the way information is shared online. So, journalists need to take advantage of the internet-savvy audience of today and use links to tell interesting and complete stories.

Some news sites are quicker than others to recognize the importance of linking, and they are creating policies that encourage linking rather than keeping it the taboo it used to be  . One main shift in the way news companies think originated from the success of search engines. The theory goes that search engines constantly send people to sites other than their own but people return because they get quality information. News companies want the same relationship with readers. If readers know they can get the full story from a particular site with just a few clicks to other conveniently displayed sites, then readers will start to rely on the main site to keep them informed. Connecting readers to helpful sites will make them value you more and create a better more well-rounded story in the end. Linking is connecting the internet  for the good of all  readers. The New York Times actually has an entire blog dedicated to giving readers background on their stories through links.

However, there are a few pitfalls to linking journalism which writers must be careful to avoid. If a link is added to a story, the writer must be sure it is an appropriate link. Linking to commercial sites or sites with questionable content reflects poorly on the original site. Another problem comes from failing to link. Linking is becoming such a common way to share information that sites pay close attention to who attributes them for the information they found originally, who links to them for it and who is simply ripping them off. When using information from another source linking is a simple and courteous way to give credit to the original reporter and is an important step in keeping good relations in the journalism industry.

There are a few different ways  that journalists can place links into their stories. Linking directly in the text is becoming the most common way, but it is not always the best option. Now that more sites are taking advantage of linking, it is important to figure out the best ways to link effectively . The type of link and where to place it in the story depends on the type of story. If a story is more facts and hard news, placing links that are more traditional in a list at the end, a more traditional format, will be most effective. However, if the story is less linear or needs more in-depth explanation placing links with more background information directly into the texts is the best way to tell the story.

Linking is an easy way to give readers the full story without bombarding them with facts they don’t care about or already know. But linking should be done thoughtfully. Placing only the most relevant and interesting links in intelligent locations on the webpage is a skill journalists must develop overtime.

Google Search

Vampire Compile

24 Feb

Vampire Compile:

Open minds keep stories accurate

22 Feb

Keep your mind open. It is simple advice that everyone hears from teachers and friends all the time. Keeping an open mind is critical to a good interview. The way a journalist formats questions, interprets quotes and lays out a story can all be distorted by a journalist’s bias.

In a recent story by, the journalist used one quote to support the entire text. The story was about the Falcons and Saints recent game and the record-breaking throw of Drew Brees. Brees now holds the record for the most single-season passing yards in the NFL.  This is an example of a journalist expecting an interview to go one way and finding very little information that actually supports those expectations. The journalist, Dan Hanzus, went into that interview after the game convinced the Falcons were angry about Brees end of game heroics. What he got however was one unnamed player saying the team would not forget what the Saints had done.  Rather than change his story to match his information, Hanzus stretched that information to make it into the story he had already envisioned.  He even went so far as to use that one quote as the headline for the entire article. While other members of the team may have agreed with the quote, Hanzus had no evidence of that. So saying the whole team would not forget this moment and taking it out of context of the quote to make it the headline, is completely irresponsible.
Other news outlets dealt with the story in a very different manner . If a reporter feels there is an air of animosity because of the actions of a player, than it is fine to point that out. However, it cannot be the focus of an entire story without actual attributed quotes to back it up.

Keeping a story unwritten until you know the facts is the key to writing unbiased stories. Journalists need to let the quotes and the information gathered from sources direct the story. Personal feeling or interpretations about a situation must not color the news. Journalist’s job is to accurately report the information gathered. So, journalists must approach every assignment with an open mind.

Topic pages help readers follow news

22 Feb

Keeping up with the developments on a particular topic or beginning to learn about an ongoing news story can be intimidating to some readers. A new way to deal with this problem is to create a topic page.

Topic pages contain all of the context and background on one particular issue. The goal of the page is to provide information that will remain relevant to the issue no matter how it develops. Journalist often calls information that will remain relevant overtime evergreen. Evergreen content, which gives context without being connected to any one breaking event, should be the focus of a topic page. The topic page should also function as a hub for all of a publications links on that certain topic.

When a news site creates a topic page thoughtfully and on a subject that readers truly want more insight into, the page can become the go-to source for information on that topic. Which will not only earn a publication respect but more of those highly coveted page views.

There are some key elements which a topic page should contain.  The page needs to explain to the reader the history of the topic and the topic’s importance.  A benefit of a topic pages is that it will generate more natural search engine optimization for a website simply through having a page dedicated to a highly searched issue. Topic pages take advantage of the digitization of journalism. Topic pages allow for the kind of in-depth stories traditional print journalism could never afford the space to provide.  Topic pages draw in readers who are interested in exactly what the page is focusing on. This brings a much more interested and engaged audience to a sites articles and saves the reader time searching through a more traditional homepage of various stories.  Many news sites such as the New York Times and BBC News are having success with the topic page model.

One of the reasons topic pages are so successful is their ability to make readers feel as if they are getting the full story. Rather than throwing news out and assuming readers have background knowledge, topic pages allow readers to learn about issues at their own pace. They give the readers a wider-scale view of an issue.

Topic pages act as central locations for readers to learn about topics while simultaneously linking them to the latest developments. Topic pages are a hybrid of in-depth topic sites and breaking news. This advantage of being two things at once makes topic pages lucrative to news sites and valuable to readers.

My Delicious links:

Journalists can use delicious to bookmark sites relevant to their beat. Having a collection of resources for a range of topics a journalist may have to cover is a great way to streamline research and keep on top of any developing stories.  Delicious is a great tool for discovering other sites similar to resources journalists have already found, thanks to the great tagging aspect of the site.

Journalists find stories through the internet and initiative

15 Feb

Finding something to write about can be one of the most terrifying aspects of journalism to a new writer. However, with a little initiative and a bit of practice journalists can find stories everywhere they look. In today’s connected world, journalists can find stories without leaving their desks.

The internet can provide reporters with story ideas and even clue them into what topics are important to people at the time. Sites like Reddit have a built in system to track what people are reading and what they think about it. Another way to track trends on the internet it to check out the trending topics  page of Twitter.  Government websites are also great online resources for story ideas. Government organizations, from the local to the national level, keep documents and produce reports on statistics that can become unique stories. All a reporter has to do is access theses great resources and take advantage of them.  However, do not forget to interpret the information properly, some of the government jargon and statistics can get confusing. A great way to write an interesting story on a community level is to localize studies. Groups of all kinds produce studies on everything from the impact of curfew to how safe bikers are in particular cities. Taking these kinds of studies and relating them to a local community can make for a popular and informative story. The internet is such a good resource for story ideas that some people think it will completely change the way journalists find and report news. Already journalists have switched from referencing archives to searching the web for previous stories on a topic. It is only a matter of time before consulting with your community online is a basic part of the story finding process. There are resources online now to get sources and answer questions. Some of these resources are specifically designed to help a reporter out while others are aimed at a broader group.

While the internet is a critical source for reporters to find story ideas, reporters should not limit themselves to the web. Stories can be found anywhere if reporters keep their eyes open. One of the basic elements of reporting is remaining aware of what is going on in the world. While this means leaving the desk once in a while it also could be the key to a ground breaking story. Listening to the people on the bus or questioning the new traffic pattern on the way to the store is the kind of awareness to the small details that can make for some of the best reporting.

Story ideas are everywhere. Sources and trends are easily located on the internet if a reporter knows where to look. Vast amounts of information are available through the public records of government agencies and studies. Though finding an original idea may seem daunting, the resources are all around.

Story idea 1: using the advice to check studies, I located a press release on research being conducted at the University of Florida. The press release states that researchers are working on a new gene therapy for people with epilepsy that could stop seizures. The story is relevant to UF readers more because of the research opportunities than the research itself. I would locate other researchers, through traditonal means or a site like Listorious,  and get their opinion on the research being done. However, I would connect to the UF audience through talking about the research itself and ways people can get involved. The universities large medical and research community would be more interested in the story that way.  The story would transfer well into a non-print mode because Shands Hospital already created a video clip about the research. We could take screen shots of the videos diagrams and post those in the online version as well.


Story idea 2:  Using the study by Monash University, Australia, “Identifying Risk Factors for On-road Commuter Cyclists” I would write a story on the bicycling community in Gainesville. While the city tries to provide places for cyclists they are often inconvenient for drivers and dangerous for cyclists. This study is very relevant to the UF community since so many students bicycle to and on campus.  For sources I would contact the researchers behind the study. Also I would locate cyclists and drivers from the Gainesville community through approaching them on the street or through Twitter. This story would transfer to an online version if I took photos of interactions on campus between bikers and drivers. Another good graphic would be a map of the bike lanes and car lanes in the Gainesville area.


Online tools help journalists get the scoop

15 Feb

In today’s connected world, finding story leads is easier than ever before. Journalists and armature writers alike have the ability to access a wealth of information. The downside to all of this access though, is sorting through it all.

Journalists use different tools such as real simple syndication feeds and news alerts to stay informed on particular topics. Writers can monitor anything from city politics to international cuisine. All that is needed is a few carefully chosen key words and time to check on the results. Still, sorting through the numerous links can be a serious task. The tools have ways to narrow down the results. Users can specify if they want stories from a particular type of site or the quality of the search result. While this helps writers, it can keep them from a good lead on occasion as well.

In 2007, Gary Fineout, a writer for the Miami Herald found out the advantages of keeping an eye on the less traditional news sources.  Fineout was able to scoop the rest of the area papers on a story about a group trying to posthumously pardon the rock star Jim Morrison.  Fineout, like many other journalists in the area had a Google alert set for Charlie Crist, the then governor of Florida. However, Fineout set his alerts to send him news and web updates. This small difference in the type of alert he received was his advantage. He was updated about the fan group’s efforts to ask Crist to pardon the former Florida resident. Crist promised to look into the case. Morrison was convicted of exposing himself at a concert in Miami and his fans wanted him pardoned.  The story was interesting and certainly, the sort of thing other papers wish they would have caught.

Journalists are still learning how to balance between the never-ending surge of information and the hunt for a truly unique story. The tools available are better than anything journalists have ever had before. But, the key is truly knowing how to use those tools to their best advantage. Writers need to have alerts set for the proper key words or they may miss something that others catch. Learning how big of a net to cast in your search criteria is also critical. Letting some less relevant stories slip by can be acceptable, as long as writers catch the big news that they need for their best work.

My Google Alerts: