News next: a journalism teacher's diary

December 12, 2010

Journalism school in 10 minutes and 39 seconds

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:33 am
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Thinking of going to journalism school? Now you won’t have to. And ladies, don’t miss the important information just for you at about the 5 minute mark. LOL

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September 4, 2010

Telling readers how you know what you know

Four or five years ago, while I was still editor of The Riverdale Press and before The Press had a website, I bumped into a reporter from a daily newspaper that shall remain nameless. He complained that The Press was so slow to go on-line. It made it so hard to steal its stories, he said.

When I responded that it didn’t seem to slow him down much, and mentioned several Press stories that had wound up in his paper without any mention of where they had first appeared, he responded smugly and seriously, “Hey, it’s all about serving the reader. As long as we get them the news, right?”

Slowly, times are changing, as news organizations face the fact that readers have so many sources of news, and have the ability to give search engines key words and ask them to push references to them into their mail boxes or rss feeds. Lift a fact, and you’re likely to find that readers will know it, and some may even ridicule you on-line.

What with the profusion of amateur and professional bloggers and newspaper and broadcast websites, editors are confronted with questions about just whom to credit and when. If you as a reporter get a cue from a blog but go on to turn a skeletal or incomplete or even inaccurate story into a rich, complete and meaningful report, do you credit that blogger? If so, where and how?

This fall, the Associated Press tried to answer questions like these with a new set of guidelines for credit and attribution. They’re worth reading and thinking about.

August 4, 2010

Who crucified Shirley Sherrod?

My cousin Ed is a syndicated cartoonist and winner of Hunter's Aronson Award for Social Justice. Here's his view.

My father used to say it took two to produce a news story: one to report and write it, the other to tell him when to stop. He was trying to teach a lesson about deadlines, but his observation also illuminates the truth that reporters hardly ever know all there is to know about a story.

Journalistic judgment calls for knowing when you know enough. But if that’s so, is the corollary also true: must reporters and their editors also decide when they don’t know enough? Is there a point at which a news organization shouldn’t publish what it knows? (more…)

July 7, 2010

Hardy perennials: how do you write about what everybody knows?

It’s 103 degrees out as I write this. So every newspaper website and tv station is running a story about the weather. We’ve all read these stories, again and again and again. The heat wave; the cold snap; the hurricane/tornado/wind storm. The run-up to the election. Graduation. They’re stories that have to be written, but that can be so tedious to read, and to write. And they’re stories you know the competition is writing, too. So how do you set yourself apart from the pack?

The Times did it with an amusing piece that took off from a cliche–“hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Was it really?

The Boston Globe’s media columnist surveyed his domain and offered a tip sheet on keeping the heat wave story from wilting.

Some good examples of how to cover an election without writing as though it was a horse race come from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Student reporters fanned out all over the city to collect man-on-the street reports from far-flung neighborhoods, writing about and videotaping first-time voters, immigrants, young people, people in nursing homes, even political meet-ups in bars. A far cry from either policy wonk analysis or poll-driven winners-and-losers reporting.

Perhaps the most famous example of making an ordinary story extraordinary is Jimmy Breslin’s account of the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Knowing that every news outlet in the world would be covering the obsequies, Breslin turned his back on the body lying in state, closed his ears to the dignitaries’ eulogies, ignored the grieving family, and instead wrote about Clifton Pollard, the man who dug Kennedy’s grave.

May 2, 2010

The dust bin of history

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:28 am
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In debates over the path journalism should take, I am on the losing side. Classicist, old-timer, fuddy-duddy—whether the label is flattering or unflattering, it still describes someone who is unwilling to move with the times by acknowledging that in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, speed trumps nuance and even accuracy. (more…)

April 17, 2010

Shh! it’s a secret

Whether basing a story on anonymous sources makes the story less credible is a subject of intense debate among news gatherers and news consumers.

People who provide information on condition that they won’t be identified may act out of malice, and may be seeking to mislead reporters or to tarnish the reputation of an enemy. The notorious case in which Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff sought to blunt criticism of the Bush Administration by leaking the identity of a CIA agent is a case in point.

There’s no doubt, though, that in some cases sources risk their livelihood or even their freedom by revealing confidential or secret information they believe the public should know.

A recent case of that kind illustrates both the kinds of agreements reporters make to gain access to information and the risks sources take to provide it.

On April 14, 2010, a federal grand jury indicted Thomas Drake, an employee of the National Security Agency, and accused him of passing classified information to The Baltimore Sun. (Because The Sun was not accused of wrongdoing, the reporter, Siobhan Gorman, was identified by prosecutors only as “Reporter A.”)

The Sun ran a series of articles that raised questions about NSA programs. One began

Two technology programs at the heart of the National Security Agency’s drive to combat 21st-century threats are stumbling badly, hampering the agency’s ability to fight terrorism and other emerging threats, current and former government officials say.

Another raised the likelihood that an electrical outage would paralyze the agency.

Here’s the deal Gorman made with Drake, according to the indictment: (more…)

February 10, 2010

To a worried student

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bernard L. Stein @ 2:12 pm
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I got an email today from a student who is having trouble nailing down a subject for his profile. He writes:

I’ve had a lot of difficulty finding a good feature piece of write. Since Saturday, I’ve attempted to get in contact with three sources, all heads of three separate institutions that I thought would make for a good piece, and none have returned my phone calls or emails. I had to go with a semi-last minute choice, the supermarket Zabar’s. I’ve got information from their website and I’ve interviewed a few shoppers, but I’m trying to schedule an interview with the general manager and that is proving to be problematic.

It can be hard to get busy people to take the time to talk to you. But sometimes people who aren’t bigwigs or aren’t in the public eye can make the most interesting subjects. (more…)

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