Tag Archives: news

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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Awkward Situations

For the entire second semester of my Freshman year, there was a man who confused me for another student. And for the entire semester, I was too afraid to correct him.

He would come up to me and strike up conversations about thing that I was completely obtuse about. My response each time was a nod and smile, and reason why I had to leave right at that moment.

The situation culminated to the moment when he asked if he could take photographs of myself and my significant other and our child. To which I responded with a vacant stare and an extremely awkward smile.

All of this could have been avoided if I had been brave enough to tell him right from the start that I was not the person that he thought I was. But instead, I didn’t want to put myself into an uncomfortable social situation and hence, placed myself in an even worse predicament.

And this fear of the uncomfortable made me think of the times I stumbled upon awkward situations while working on stories for my school’s paper. From cold calling strangers to conversing with higher officials, there were many moments where I felt my mind racing with worry and my body shaking with sweat.

For journalists, we have to go out and do what many American’s fear. Converse with complete strangers and not only that, but ask them to help us. Help us write a story, trust us that we won’t misspell your name and please don’t come running back accusing us of slander if it is not called for.

I think of my friends, whom many are too scared to even call people they know. Journalists have to make dozens of calls to people they don’t know, often prying into the intimate crevices of stranger’s lives.

I remember an investigative story I was working on about a restaurant owner who wasn’t paying his employees, who was also previously arrested for human trafficking. Calling the restaurant and realizing that I had to confront him was a cause of extreme stress and anxiety.

What if he found out where I lived? What if he starts yelling profanities? What if he has a family to take care of, and here’s me, getting ready to expose his business?

I mustered up the courage and called. Of course, he wasn’t there but I was able to have a conversation with a manager. Granted, it wasn’t pleasant because of the nature of the topic, but I was still having a conversation none the less.

It’s terrifying reaching out to strangers and putting yourself in strange situations with them. For the man who mistook me for another student, I didn’t want to put myself in the awkward position of correcting him. For many journalists, there are constant uncomfortable situations that occur with complete strangers.

However, these tense and strange moments that we share with random people are often the most memorable and the most real. There is a reason why journalists should never interview someone they know well, not just for objectivity reasons but because comfort may ironically put a wall between people.

There’s just something about the new and unfamiliar situation that comes along with strangers that helps a story move along in an unaltered sense. It’s just you and the other person. There’s no previous history, nothing to judge each other on, just one person to tell a story and the other person with an ear to listen to it.

That’s the simplistic beauty of journalism. Just you and one other person in a massive stinking heap of awkwardness. But in the end, it creates something real and tangible that will last a lifetime.

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Why Young People Like Yahoo! News (and not much else)

Everyday, when I look through my Facebook feed for perhaps the millionth time, there is a trend that I often see.

“Yahoo! News: 5 tips for look hot for Spring Break. Yahoo! News: Mother kills 5 children. Yahoo! News: Should Your Child Be Spanked at School?”

Compared to other news sources that are shared on Facebook like the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal, Yahoo! holds a special place in teens hearts and also shows us where the world of journalism is going.

Convenience. Everyone loves something that is easily accessible with no hassle. Yahoo! has a convenient application, and once you read an article it is shared on Facebook allowing other people to easily click and access the piece. Because after all, he wants to bother reading a thick newspaper or typing in a webpage when it’s all on Facebook?

Another reason why it’s so popular among young people? In my opinion Yahoo! has an exponential amount of entertainment news. People (especially in the younger generation) are generally more interested in, “What You Should Wear This Spring,” rather than, “Another 20 People Died in Syria.” (*cough* unless it’s put into an over simplified fast-paced 30 minute video. *cough*) And if it’s not that, then we love to read the most dramatic thing like “Man Kidnaps 20 Children” or “Teacher and Student: Sex Scandal.” These kind of article are plentiful on Yahoo! and easily attract a lot of attention. After all, it is easier to feel sympathy for something happening close to us that we can understand, rather than an extended global affair that has complicated government and policy issues.

And of course, Yahoo! news is free. While newspapers that offer their articles online are having to resign to restricted page views (The New York Times is reducing its 20 articles to 10) or just flat out paid digital subscriptions, Yahoo! is free. Just a download of its Facebook application, a click here or there and you’re ready to go.

Free, easy and entertaining. These are popular themes in society today. We want something now, we want it with little hassle and you better not make us pay for it. It almost sounds like a fast-food restaurant or the convenient Wal-Mart down the block.

However. I’m not saying that Yahoo! News is bad. In fact, I applaud them for tapping into the social media web and discovering a cheap and efficient way of spreading their work. There is a lot to be said about what the average young person is interested in news wise, however.

If you are under the age of 24, can you remember what was the last news cast that you watched on the television? When was the last time you read an article from an established paper like The New York Times, Wall Street Journal or even the Des Moines Register? When was the last time you held an actual newspaper.

And really. Have you ever listened to NPR?

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