Project questions?

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Hi, everyone. I noticed you have been leaving questions in various places, on Twitter and Facebook.  If  you leave them here, I will try to answer universally.

Your draft is just that — a draft that will allow me to offer input on your progress. Don’t kill yourself over it, but do as much as you can and provide an outline for what you do not complete.

Your digital issue paper does need five humans — if you have five humans and several other pieces of documentary evidence, that is OK, just as long as everything is attributed and cited according to journalistic standards.

In the meantime, I am enjoying reading some of your posts and stories from the week before the holiday. Here is a nice blog post by your classmate, Jolie.

— Professor Eisman


CNN I Reporters

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By Julie Kinzer

One of the first web sites I look at when I want to get breaking news is CNN. I really enjoy reading their IReport section because I see different perspectives from citizen journalists and read the comments people post as well. As an FEC employee the biggest story this week for me personally was President Obama’s pay freeze for federal employees. When I read that in a headline I immediately went to the IReport section to see what others are saying. I realize that a lot of people posting on the IReport aren’t actual reporters but I enjoy reading articles because it makes me realize that people just want to be heard and express their fustration or agree with President Obama on his choice.  I saw stories on IReports where people were asking others on the street about their opinion on the salary freezes and what struck me the most was listening to some fustration with Congress and wondering if they’ll get a pay freeze too if this plan should be implemented.

Not only can you read articles by CNN but you also get a perspective of IReporters who work for the government and private sector. It also makes me realize that just because you don’t have a degree in journalism that doesn’t mean that you can’t go out in public, find a story and contribute it to CNN or other media outlets who will take your footage. There are pro’s and con’s with the IReport section, some stories are one sided so it makes it hard to form an opinion. Overall CNN IReporters do a good job with finding stories, sharing their thoughts and informing the public what is going on in their communities.

Here’s the link

Hope Everyone had a good Thanksgiving.

Julie Kinzer

How Upton Sinclair Brought Down ACORN

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Citizen journalist James O’Keefe took down a national organization with tactics long considered unethical by traditional journalists.

By Jon Hussey

Undercover journalism is alive and thriving among citizen journalists.

I was first introduced to the concept of undercover journalism when I read Upton Sinclair’s novel, The Jungle, in high school. In 1904, Sinclair went undercover in a Chicago meatpacking plant and exposed horrific working conditions. More than a century later, conservative blogger James O’Keefe has bankrupted the community group ACORN with similar tactics.

But didn’t undercover journalism become unethical decades ago?

As an undergrad journalism student, I was taught to always identify myself and the newspaper I was writing for any time I did an interview. That rule stripped me of the visions of cloak and dagger journalism I had after reading The Jungle. There would be no Serpico meets Carl Bernstein heroics.

Unfortunately, many citizen journalists have never had a journalism professor. They haven’t been read the rules and are operating without restrictions. If journalism is to be truly collaborative, shouldn’t everyone be playing with the same rulebook?

Two Centuries, Two Causes, One Tactic

A socialist, Sinclair hoped his undercover work would expose the plight of the turn-of-the-century worker.

But it was a 12-page section of the book, on the nation’s meatpacking industry, that created a national uproar and forced the government to create regulations on food preparation.

In Sept. 2009, O’Keefe, a blogger for, dressed as a pimp and secretly videotaped officials from the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). The officials’ conduct, seen in videotapes O’Keefe edited, left ACORN under intense scrutiny. The scrutiny, much of it fueled by cable news stations, eventually forced the government to respond by pulling all funding for the organization.

In both cases, a journalist with a political agenda used a disguise to infiltrate a community, expose it, and force policy change. While every journalist longs to expose wrongdoing and affect change, do the ends justify the means?

Skirting the Rules

James O’Keefe didn’t have to worry about journalistic ethics. But when Fox News began airing his videotapes of ACORN employees, the network should have been concerned about ethics.

Fox News’ coverage of the story forced the other cable news outlets to report. Once the story got into the non-stop media stream, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the rest of the nation’s trusted newspapers began covering the story.

Their coverage was fueled by a competitive media market. But did anyone at those news organizations question the content or the means with which it was obtained?

Whether traditional journalists like it or not, community journalists are becoming part of the news landscape. It’s time to take a serious look at the ethical implications of this landscape.

Either news outlets need to ignore stories produced unethically by community journalists or traditional journalists need to be given greater leeway in their reporting.

Or perhaps any community journalist producing content for a traditional news outlet needs to have a few hours in front of a journalism professor to learn about ethics.

Without some ethical structure, history will continue to repeat itself.

How Much Does the Public Need To Know?

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By Michael O’Connell

Check the New York Times right now for the latest article based on WikiLeaks info. The scope of this story is pretty amazing when you consider how many different areas and issues it sheds light on concerning the way the State Department conducts itself.

As a journalist, my gut feeling is that the more the public in a democracy knows about what its government is doing and how it is doing it, the better off it will be. Of course, in the matter of secret and confidential documents, you have to remember to pause and consider what might be the effect of releasing such documents. In the rush to release information, remember that lives may be at stake, some directly and some indirectly.

What’s fascinating is the way that the Times approached publishing the information, the steps it took to redact information and then run the material by the Obama Administration. The paper redacted some information at the request of the government, but also it chose, in some instances, to not redact information that the government requested be redacted.

The thing to remember is that other international outlets had the same material and were intending to publish it. As you would expect, the Times did everything it was supposed to and went even further. It shared with the other news outlets its exchanges with the government and the choices it made about what to run. The Times was presenting itself as an ethical leader. Whether the other news outlets follow the paper’s lead is anyone’s guess.

As the paper of record, the Times also made it clear that it had a responsibility to its readers to report the information that was readily available via other sources. What the Times was able to add to the information was the application of its journalistic standards and its reportage. It could help put the information in context. Being able to report the content of the information facilitates the paper’s story about how the release of the information could affect America’s diplomatic standing. Admittedly, that’s a strange snake eating its tale situation.

Part of the public’s “need to know” is the ability to view information that is understandable and relatable to the larger issues at hand. Information without context is just noise.

Just Like Reality, Only Funnier

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By Michael O’Connell

I was watching the TV show “The Good Wife” a few weeks ago and a Taiwanese animated newscast played a part in the story. The show presented a clip of an animated version of Tiger Woods’ infamous late night argument with his wife. I’m not sure if this is the same video, but this should give you an idea of how animation can be used to illustrate a story.

While a bit sensational, it does tell the story of what allegedly happened and, perhaps more importantly, it does so in an entertaining fashion.

Animation is nothing new in broadcast news, especially when it’s something that you can’t actually cover and where a video presentation would help to tell the story better. A good example is when NASA creates an animated video to explain how a spacecraft functions during a mission. It’s easier to do that than send another spacecraft to Mars just to film a second spacecraft as it lands.

The question that I have about the Tiger Woods animation is how does something like this figure into the coverage of a crime? It’s easy to forget when the video is funny that it is also presents something that may end up in court. What responsibility does the news outlet have to present something fairly? Obviously, the news outlet has to be very careful to follow the police report and not embellish the facts just for humorous effect.

Without knowing Chinese, I can only guess that the facts of the case are presented and the reporting provides responsible context for the animation. The inclusion of some video of the police officer involved helps to give some journalistic validity to the clip.

Here’s another example:

This one is much more humorous. I see this as something akin to a political cartoon, where the exaggerated aspects are so obvious that the average person can recognize the exaggeration. It also helps that it’s telling the story of two comedians.

There’s still a serious story to tell, of course, so it’s the responsibility of the news outlet to get the facts right. The combination of humor, animation and good reporting makes for a memorable presentation. I don’t think this is a substitute for a news story, just a different way to catch a reader’s eye. Hopefully, the reader will remember the facts of the story and not just the joke.

Twitter to become a news service?

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By Jolie Lee

Last week Twitter’s co-founder Biz Stone said he envisions a “Twitter News Service” that partners with other news organizations, Reuters reports. Twitter could help news organizations get in touch with people on the ground, Stone said in Reuters.

Already, people are using Twitter as a kind of news wire opposed to a social network, according to Korean researchers.  Computer World reports that the research team gathered more than 41 million user profiles, 106 million tweets and followed more than 4,200 trending topics via hash tags.

More than half the tweets were about breaking news, according to the study. Researchers compared the first mention of breaking news in Twitter vs. CNN. The CNN Headline News site had a first mention more than half the time, but Twitter also had a first mention a “considerable number of times,” according to Computer World.

But how would a Twitter news service function?

Mashable’s Ben Parr argues that Twitter shouldn’t report the news but focus on what it does best – delivering information quickly and widely.

Parr calls Twitter an “information network,” opposed to a social network. He writes that he sees a Twitter news service as “selecting and repackaging relevant tweets based on queries from traditional news outlets.” In other words, a Twitter news service is not a Twitter news network, with Stone sitting behind an anchor desk delivering the news.

I’m curious about how the specifics of a Twitter-news organization relationship would work, with Twitter as the data provider and the news organization as the data curator. What kind of data could Twitter provide? Would Twitter sell this data to news organizations?

And going along with the argument by the Korean researchers that Twitter already acts as a news feed, what exactly could Twitter provide news organizations that they – and the public as well – can’t already access now on their own?

Journalism for kids

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By Barry Gordemer

I just returned from London where I met the author of a new children’s book. It’s called Just Like a Journalist: Helping Young People Get Involved With Newsletters and Newspapers. The subtitle is a bit odd because the book is about more than just printed media. It also covers writing for the web.

Suzy Bender is the author. She’s a freelance journalist who’s written for The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal. She uses simple language and clever cartoons to help explain the fundamentals of journalism.

I particularly like Bender’s definition of news–“Something that has just happened or is about to happen.” It does not get much simpler than that. The simplicity and clarity of Bender’s explanations are the book’s strength.

She says the best way to bring a story to life is by “people-ising” it–showing “…how the event affects the people involved.”

Bender offers this tip in the chapter on interviewing: “Use your eyes as well as your ears.” Paying attention to people’s gestures, whether they played with their keys or leaned forward as they spoke can add meaningful detail. On the practical side, politely refuse food or drink. “You have enough to concentrate on without worrying about spilling liquid.”

Bender warns, that when writing for the web, “you have only a few seconds in which to get the reader’s interest and you can lose it very quickly.” She says don’t spend so much time on the design of your site that you lose track of the importance of words.

The book also covers story selection, writing, editing, and photography.

I have a few quibbles. Bender has a chapter on layout and design but the book itself is a mess. It features long, unbroken paragraphs in wide, sometimes hard-to-read columns. The cartoons are great but many seem to have nothing to do with the surrounding content.

That being said, Just Like a Journalist is a fast read and, I must confess, I learned a few things.

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