Monthly Archives: June 2012

Why I Stopped Watching Fox News and MSNBC

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Let me get this straight–

I’ve never legitimately watched Fox News. Sometimes I happen across it when I’m working out at the gym or it’s turned on at a friends place, but other than that, I avoid Fox News like the plague.

MSNBC on the otherhand started out like a good friend. I adored Rachel Maddow, enjoyed the hosts commentary on the Iowa caucus in 2011 and kept it on in the mornings while I was busy working on other things.

But after a while, MSNBC left a gritty taste in my mouth. That feeling where you want to believe what is being said to you, but you know deep down that someone is lying straight to your face.

It took a while for me to figure it out. After all, I agreed with a lot of the things that were being said on MSNBC, but I soon realized that my blind acceptance was the issue.

I was watching the channel because I agreed with the information being fed to me and I gobbled it up like a delicious cheesecake: no bitter aftertaste but just sweet sliding down my throat.

We all enjoy listening or reading things that parallel our views. We watch fashion shows because we enjoy fashion and we watch sports because we root for our favorite sporting team.

But in the realm of news, we do the same thing. It seems obvious but it took me a while to notice that I was blindly watching only one side of the story.

And it’s difficult these days to determine what is biased and what is objective. The segments on both MSNBC and Fox seem fair to their viewers, but from a different eye, the subjective nature is obvious.

But is it okay for us to knowingly watch or read a news source while having knowledge of the bias? We still eat chocolate cake with knowledge of the calories and we still smoke and drink with the knowledge that they are both unhealthy for our bodies.

I occasionally indulge and watch the Rachel Maddow show. After all, she is humorous and delightful. But a grain of salt is necessary, even when she is spouting her hilarious commentary.

But is it ethically okay as journalists to listen or read these stories that are being presented to us, or do we need to waver more towards objective publications and broadcast sources?

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Student Journalism: The Best and the Worst

We’ve all been there. No matter what age or occupation, we’ve had those days that we never want to end, and those miserable days that seem endless.

In the world of journalism, we can distinctly remember those adrenaline moments when we uncover a hot story or get the chance to hear an exciting tip from a source. We can also distinctly remember the rough interviews, the angry people and those horrendous moments where it seems a story is going absolute nowhere.

As a student still learning the ropes, there are definitely distinctive high and low moments in student journalism.

The Best:

You Can Mess Up and People Are Understanding

We all make mistakes. Luckily for students, people are much more forgiving since they understand that you are still in the learning process. Once when I was investigating a story, I did not interview a person who was blatantly important and needed his voice to be heard. When he later emailed me and shared his thoughts, I immediately apologized and did my best to correct the situation.

“Are you a student?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m a freshman.”

“Aaaah, that’s alright then. We all make mistakes.”

It is the card that you can pull that makes those big mistakes just a tad bit lighter.

On the otherhand…

The Worst:

Not being trusted with responsibilities because of student/ year status.

Luckily for me, as I come from a small school, my year in school doesn’t matter that much, but at bigger universities all of the practical experience goes to upperclassmen. I don’t agree that it’s a bad thing since upperclassmen certainly deserve the respect and the work, but underclassmen lose the chance to gain some necessary experience.

When interviewing people for a story, they are also less serious when it comes to a student newspaper. There have been times when I haven’t been invited to a press conference while other neighboring newspapers have been invited. It wasn’t because the quality of work wasn’t up to par– it was because we were viewed as less important since we were merely seen as “caterers to students.”

The Best:

Receiving the opportunity to dabble in a mix of mediums

For my sophomore year, I am covering three different beats for our student newspaper, while also serving the role of news director for our radio station. I don’t have any experience with budget cuts even though that is one of my beats, and I definitely don’t have any broadcasting experience.

That doesn’t matter though. Since I’m a student, I have the opportunity to use the university’s different equipment and educate myself on a variety of things. When out in the real world, there’s no way that you can work for a newspaper and for a radio station. Sure, you can have video on a newspaper site, and these days, websites are integrating a variety of mediums, but generally, it is still one major emphasis while something else takes the background.

The Worst:

Gaining an understanding of “the real world.”

I definitely believe my experience in the newspaper and my upcoming experience with the radio station will benefit my career later on. However, there is still a distinct different between an extracurricular and a professional job.

Unfortunately, the things that we learn in classrooms are often outdated by the time we graduate. While we assume that our classroom time and education is so unique, that same theme or lesson is being taught in just about every other journalism class.

And that complacency and laziness that you were allowed to have as a student in an activity will bring you the pink slip in your professional career.

The Best:

Making a name for yourself on campus

I’m sure it’s happened to any student who has worked for some sort of media outlet that’s popular on campus. Sometimes when you walk around or introduce yourself to someone, they’ll recognize you and say, “Hey aren’t you the person who was on —- or hey, aren’t you the person that always writing for —–?”

It’s heart warming and nice when your peers and professors notice your work and compliment you for it. Especially at a large institution, it’s even more flattering to be recognized.

And it doesn’t hurt that in the future, your peer may be a future connection or employer.

The Worst:

That bubble where you think, “I’m the awesomest person everrrr.”

You know what I’m talking about. I’m sure in class or at your paper or station, there’s that one person who thinks they’re the next Diane Sawyer. And sometimes, you can’t blame them for thinking that. We pamper and groom students so much and compliment them for every little thing that they can get egotistical.

But when they’re shoved out into the real world and employers are rejecting their application left and right, they’re dumbfounded. They were great at school and everyone thought their work was fantastic, why can’t they land an entry-level job?

 

Through thick and thin however, student journalism is a necessity for our up and coming age of young media socialites. It gives us the opportunity to spread our wings, get shot down and then fly back up again, ready to take on whatever may be out there.

And so I ask, what are your best and your worst in journalism?

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What Journalists Can Learn From Reality Television

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Reality television consumes a massive amount of air time on our cable/satellite waves. It also festers in our conversations and entertainment stories that we read online.

It seems that we talk more about trashy events on television or celebrities lives rather than serious issues occurring across the globe.

What can we as journalists learn from the popularity of reality television and gossip magazines, while also remaining the austerity and ethics of our own practice?

1. Being simple and to the point

It’s not hard to get the point when watching a reality television show. Often the story goes: this boy cheats on a girl– she gets revenge on him– huge fight and then resolution.

When it comes to structure, news stories are not so different. We point out the issue in the lede, explain both sides of the story and the action that goes on in between, and end with either a resolution or what may occur in the future.

However, our audience wants brevity and meaning with each word. That means that each sentence should keep readers or viewers on their feet, curious about what is going to happen next. While we want to put in every detail that we personally find important and hate it when our editor’s cut content, it’s a necessary action.

Let’s not muck a story by unnecessary details and make each word count.

2. Connecting with the audience

While an appealing factor of reality television is watching people who lead a different life, another contributing factor to the addictive viewership is the connection a viewer has with an actor or conflict.

It’s easy for reality television shows to connect with viewers since they market towards a specific group and create content accordingly, but news writers can also connect with their audience.

A journalist covers a massive trial and listens to the hearings, and speaks with the lawyers and attorneys. That information is important, but delve deeper. What about the family of the defendant? How are they feeling? What about the parents and friends of the victim? Readers may connect more with a conversation with the family rather than a lecture from a lawyer.

3. Conveying your voice

The actors in reality television shows definitely have a distinct voice. I’m pretty sure most teenage girls could recognize Snooki’s voice without needing to see her face.

Obviously news writers don’t convey their voice in the same sense as they want to remain objective, there is no reason that your writing (or broadcasting) should not have a distinct edge to it.

Think of your favorite news broadcaster or news writer. There’s a reason they’re your favorite and a reason they stand out to you. Whether it’s by the way they form their sentences, or their exquisite attention to miniscule details, every journalist has a voice.

Editors have a more difficult time connecting with viewers than a director for a reality television show does. But while  maintaining our moral integrity, there are a few things that journalists can learn from these shows and appeal to more viewers.

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Old School Meets New School

As time and technology tinker on, they either leaves us in the dust or we run alongside them, trying to improve ourselves and evolve our standards.

We’ve seen this in the realm of journalism. Major newspapers are enforcing paywalls, newspapers are cutting days from their publishing week and readers have such a vast variety of choices when choosing the news that we struggle to keep up.

Some see this evolution into the age of technology as a stab to newspapers. Other’s see this as a wake-up call, urging journalists to revolutionize and appeal more to readers.

Whatever you may choose, right now the most dangerous thing to do is remain stagnant.

Ignoring change and continuing on like it’s 1980 is doing nobody any good. It’s not giving readers the full experience that can come from quality journalism and creative technology.

Likewise, ignoring the past and assuming knowledge of HTML and embedding videos are all you need for journalism leave you without the solid background of good writing and high journalism ethic.

But what is the next thing that is going to make the reader’s head turn?

Is it interesting interactive features or more “soft news” type articles like celebrity gossip or house cleaning advice?

And when is that you care about viewership too much and lose the integrity and hard news that once appealed to readers?

Whenever I tell people that I’m interested in journalism, some of the most common responses are, “Oh, you wanna be on television? Kind of like Good Morning America?” or “The news is so sad/boring.”

It’s obvious that reader’s (especially younger one’s) have a distinct opinion of the news. It’s either that thing that pops up on your local channel at five o’ clock, or it’s a newspaper story that involves tragedy and war.

What is the next big thing we can do that attracts readers of all ages that doesn’t bore them but also retains integrity?

Putting more emphasis into online journalism is definitely essential. Sure, hard copy newspapers are nice to have and advertisements are more expensive, but more and more people are reading or watching the news on their cellphones and tablets. I admit that I only pick up a hard copy when I get a newspaper for free when I buy a tank of gas. Otherwise, it’s all read on my iPad or online.

I’ve seen many atrocious small local newspaper websites that don’t contain any special features or interactive part to their online site. Also, the interface is clunky and hard to look at.

There are other sites however that overdo it with videos that automatically play, obnoxious backgrounds and pop-up advertisements that show up with each page click.

Keeping a balance between the old and new is essential, just like with any job. It’s no secret, and it’s advice we hear everyday.

Yet why is hard news journalism so slow to change?

Don’t stand still. Think of what the reader likes right now, and be set and ready for what they’re going to want in the future. Use creativity and think of the next big thing– don’t wait for technology to blow your newspaper out of the dust.

It all seems like obvious statements, but why are we in the current state of newspaper purgatory right now?¬† We’re neither alive nor dead, neither needed nor unwanted.

We need to make ourselves alive and wanted. Think of what your readers want, and then one up that.

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Writer’s Block

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Writer’s block is one of the most annoying/horrific things that can occur. Whether writing a paper for a class or composing a poem for fun, there is nothing more stressful or time consuming than writer’s block.

For me, I’ve been stuck on things to create for this blog. Without much former blogging experience or set schedule for posting content, I just post things on a whim.

While I like having the freedom to do anything, whenever I want, that doesn’t help me stay inspired and create new content. It’s the forced, “Oh my god, I have no time!” feeling that keeps me going and makes me rush through a barrage of ideas.

While luckily, writer’s block is less prevalent for writing news stories, there are situations where I have no clue what the next step should be, or how I can fill some extra space with meaningful content.

Sometimes I just want to stick in a bland quote here or there and call it a day, but that doesn’t solve the true issue behind writer’s block, does it?

From Columbia University comes a great series of writing tips called “Break Writing.” I would suggest looking through them if you want tips on how to be a great writer, but for the particular page I linked, there are various tips and tricks on how to break past “writer’s block.”

One of the best tips they provided however was, “Just keep writing.”

No matter if it’s an utter mass of garbage, the act of thinking through something and typing it down gives enough momentum for something spectacular to conjure up.

For every crappy few paragraphs one writes, there has to be a shiny great sentence underneath the rest of the trash.

When I’m over-critical of myself, I find myself doubting my abilities and unable to create an idea that I find worthy.

I find that the great writers I’ve met in my life often have this problem. They start on a project, deem the content worthless and then decide to throw it all away when they can’t come up with what they consider magnificent.

Why do we do that to ourselves?

Creating something from nothing is always strenuous and extremely personal. When I write short stories for fun, I judge myself harshly for my work and consider what other people would think if they read my piece.

As writers, we are our own worst enemy. We are asked to delve into the depths of our minds and lay out a piece of ourselves, even if it’s fiction or non-fiction. It’s terrifying being asked to explain ourselves in words, and worse when we are misunderstood. It’s no wonder that writers often find themselves in a rut. We put so much pressure on ourselves that the free flow of ideas are hindered by nervousness and stress.

And that is why, for myself, being on a time crunch where I don’t have time to over-analyze myself is helpful when creating work. I wish I didn’t have to do that since I feel like I could create higher quality pieces with more time, but we have to deal with our own faults.

The best way to get through writer’s block? While it sounds ironic, just keep writing.

So I ask, when faced with writer’s block, how do you escape from it?

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