News next: a journalism teacher's diary

November 28, 2010

If it’s on the web you can use it, can’t you?

When a student in my Neighborhood News class posted a story on the Hunts Point Express website, I was surprised by the quality of the accompanying photo. Then I looked at the credit. The photographer was one of The New York Times’ best.

“That’s stealing,” I wrote to her. “Photographs are copyrighted, and can’t just be lifted and used.”

She replied: “I thought that that was okay. Ive seen that done before as long as credit was given to the photographer.”

Well, we’ve all heard of people who rob banks or mug old ladies, too, but that doesn’t make theft okay. (more…)

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…)

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…)

March 6, 2010

Stop, thief!

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 11:46 am
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Illustration by Johnny Grim available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license.

On Feb. 2, the Miami Herald published a story that began “The widow of slain Fort Lauderdale businessman Ben Novack Jr. — a suspect in his death — won control of his $10 million fortune Monday, despite relatives’ efforts to cut her off without a dime.”

The Novack marriage had been “tumultuous,” the story said, and to prove it, continued:

In 2002, Narcy Novack and two others tied Novack Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and removed money from his safe, according to the police report.

Later that same day, the Daily Beast, celebrity editor Tina Brown’s year-old e-zine, which claims a readership of nearly four million, published a story by its chief investigative reporter Gerald Posner, headlined “The Murder Mystery Rocking Miami.” It included this passage:

There is little doubt the Novacks had a volatile relationship. In 2002, 11 years into their marriage, Narcy and two others tied Ben Jr. to a chair, threatened to kill him and took money from his safe, according to the police report filed at the time.

Three days later, the on-line magazine Slate busted Posner, who resigned and declared he had “inadvertently, but repeatedly, violated my own high standards.” (more…)

Stop, thief, continued

Gerald Posner's Facebook photo

When award-winning writer Gerald Posner admitted that he had plagiarized a substantial part of his story about a sensational murder case from the Miami Herald, he blamed the World Wide Web.

The core of my problem was in shifting from that of a book writer – with two years or more on a project – to what I describe as the “warp speed of the net.”

That’s like a carpenter blaming his hammer when he hits his thumb.

Here’s how Posner describes his working methods, the methods he says made him an “accidental plagiarist.”

For the Beast articles, I created master electronic files, which contained all the information I developed about a topic – that included interviews, scanned documents, published articles, and public information. I often had master files that were 15,000 words, that needed to be cut into a story of 1,000 to 1500 words.

In the compressed deadlines of the Beast, it now seems certain that those master file were a recipe for disaster for me. It allowed already published sources to get through to a number of my final and in the quick turnaround I then obviously lost sight of the fact that it belonged to a published source instead of being something I wrote.

(more…)

February 28, 2010

Don’t shoot: journalist

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:54 am
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The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the Knight Citizens News Network have collaborated on a terrific guide to avoiding the pitfalls of publication. I urge you to take a look.

It has always been dangerous to tell the world what you think or what you know. Just ask Galileo or Thomas More. But if publishing your thoughts and findings has always been risky, in the world created by the internet, where anyone has access to an audience, it has become riskier still, and on a far larger scale.

Whether you’re posting to the blog for this class or your Facebook page, you’re publishing. You need to be aware of the rules and the risks that come with gathering information and disseminating it. (more…)

January 5, 2010

An experiment in teaching and learning

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 2:12 pm
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Though no one can predict the future in detail, it is likely that at some point in my students’ lifetime, newspapers, magazines, television, and radio as we now know them will have migrated from the printing press and the airwaves to the World Wide Web.

I’m an old-fashioned newspaperman trying to learn new ways and hoping my students will help me. As I show them the fundamentals of reporting and writing news, together we’ll practice enhancing our story-telling with the tools the Web makes available, incorporating photography, audio, video and interactive features into our work.

I’ll use this blog to share ideas and to keep track of successes and pitfalls.

I’ve stolen some ideas from a former colleague, Cindy Rodriguez, whose students at NYU published their classwork on individual blogs. (To my students: Note that a hyperlink is one of the simplest but most effective interactive devices, allowing the writer to acknowledge the work of others and to offer illustrations and expanded explanations without bogging the text down.)

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