Goodbye to freedom of the press?

I am more than alarmed to read that the United States Department of Justice seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press. I think that this could have devastating effects for the entire news industry.

Those phone records contained the phone numbers of sources, many confidential. The confidential sources would not have agreed to talk to AP journalists if they thought that the United States Department of Justice could find out their phone numbers and potentially contact them. If this keeps happening – or even if it doesn’t – confidential sources will be scared away by the possibility of not actually being that confidential. Journalists will lose out on important news opportunities and leads.

We need the freedom of the press in order to give the public the best journalism that we can. If the government can simply seize journalism records whatever it wants, the public will lose faith in the entire journalism industry. We cannot allow this to keep happening.


Should internet journalism be free?

It’s an old debate. Some newspaper websites swear by their paywalls, while others prefer to make sure that everyone can access their comment. But what about video journalism?

According to the New York Times, YouTube may be planning a subscription option. Is this fair, and should journalists take advantage of it?


Accuracy in Breaking News Coverage

When I first heard about the Boston Marathon bombing, I heard a lot of different stories. First, I heard that the JFK Library had also been bombed. I then heard that the police had stopped cell phone service, preventing cell phone use, because the bombs had probably been detonated by a cell phone. Finally, I learned that the police already had a likely suspect in custody.

According to news stories that I heard and read later in the day, all of these things are false. These aren’t the only misleading stories. The New York Post reported that 12 people had died instead of two, and the news of the number of people who were dead and injured wavered throughout the day. Finally, the news also varied by news station. A few hours ago, my boyfriend watched the news and told me that two people had died and 86 were injured, but I had just read that three were dead and over 100 were injured.

Reporting breaking news, especially when it is emotionally charged news, must be incredibly hard. The public wants information fast when this information may not be readily available. But reporting inaccurate news can have serious consequences, most notably creating widespread panic and confusion. So the one thing that I would like future journalists to learn is how to report breaking news more accurately.

I like the first three or four minutes of this video:


Wikipedia’s High Standards

On his blog, Steve Buttry documents the struggles that he went through while trying to create a Wikipedia page for his grandmother, Francena H. Arnold. Writing the Wikipedia article wasn’t the hard part; getting it posted was. Although Arnold is certainly a notable figure–her popular Christian novel “Not My Will” (1946) has sold 576,366 copies and is available on Kindle–it was difficult for Buttry to convince Wikipedia’s editors of this.

“One also has to ask, if Not My Will really is a ‘classic’ as described, why don’t we have an article for it?” one Wikipedia editor questioned.

The process for posting new information to Wikipedia has become more extensive lately. When Buttry tried to create a new page, he had to first submit his page to volunteer editors to see if it met Wikipedia’s standards. This process took over a week. He then had to edit the page twice, including doing more research and taking out all references to primary documents.

This makes me wonder if holding writers to tough standards helps or hurts their work. Should we use a Wikipedia-like process to screen articles for things like libel, plagiarism and bias? If it was as hard to publish an article as it was to publish on Wikipedia, perhaps we would have less journalism, but higher-quality journalism. Or maybe the long editing process would result in less interesting articles and less relevant reporting.

You be the judge. This is Buttry’s Wikipedia article for Francena H. Arnold, and this is his original article. Which do you think is better?


How Twitter Can Get You Hired and Fired

After one of Jake Lobb’s middle school classmates committed suicide, Lobb wanted to find a way “show respect.” The fourteen-year-old created this professional-seeming video:

To create the video, Lobb utilized social networking. He used Twitter to ask his followers for necessary information about Tyler Nichols, the boy who died, as well as to find pictures and make sure his information was accurate. He also used Facebook to find information.

Lobb is now earning praise and publicity for his video and for his masterful use of social networks. Lobb’s use of Twitter could possibly jumpstart him into a career in journalism, or at least help him to engage in further tasteful citizen journalism.

However, while Twitter can be used to help your career, it can also hurt. A new Twitter app, FireMe!, automatically sends tweets to users who are theoretically in danger of being fired. These are people who use Twitter to complain about their jobs and bosses–or, more worryingly, threaten to kill their bosses (see the “potential killers” section of FireMe!’s website). The app also takes into account how often users swear on Twitter.

Interestingly, people who complain about their jobs on Twitter are likely to tweet more often and to have fewer followers than people who take a more positive attitude.

These news stories make me wonder how relevant social media should be to careers. Yes, employees should not be publicly complaining about their bosses, but should bosses really be reading the Twitter feeds of their employees?

Social media also creates issues for journalists, whose jobs are becoming increasingly dependent on new media. It seems appropriate for fourteen-year-old Jake Lobb to use Twitter and Facebook to gather information, but should adult, non-citizen journalists use social media as sources? It seems like this could be an invasion of privacy.

I personally have a Twitter account, which I like to keep public so that I can reach a larger audience. If I become a journalist, I’m not sure what I should do with this account because I don’t want to connect my personal life with my career.

Social media may seem to make our lives easier, but when it comes to journalism, social networks can make things much more complicated.

-Sabrina Gaylor


Newsroom Etiquitte

Is this how newspapers should be soliciting new editors? Regardless of how politically contentious a journalist may be, there should be a basic level of respect in the newsroom. (Of course, this means that journalists also shouldn’t attempt to “order the rest of the newsroom around.”)

Arguably, our society is at a particularly rude point. Studies have shown (I can’t find verification for this, so you’ll have to trust me as much as you feel comfortable)


My Top Five Travel Destinations

I wish I was going to these places for spring break. I’d like to get away to somewhere warm, sunny and exciting.

View Larger Map


Be Careful What You Write

When Vermont newspaper the Caledonian-Record published posters supporting their home team, they weren’t expecting controversy. But Chinese-Americans found the posters, which read “Go ‘Toppers / Fry Rice” (image here), offensive and racially insensitive. Paul Cheung with the Asian American Journalists Association said that he had no issue with the slogan itself, but that the typeface it was published in, made to look like Chinese calligraphy, made the poster offensive.

The Caledonian-Record addressed these complaints by publishing an editorial. The Caledonian-Record said: “There is nothing about fried rice, or the font, that refers to a trait or capacity of Chinese-Americans . . . We think a fair accusation of racism would at least pre-require the reference to actually be demeaning or degrading.”

Because of the newspaper’s poor response to criticism, and its initial bad judgment in printing the posters, this story has been all over the news and is changing the reputation of the Caledonian-Record.

This is a warning to all future journalists: be careful what you write. Pay attention to the issues of all oppressed people and do not write anything that furthers their oppression. Most importantly, take your criticism seriously. If multiple people find something you wrote offensive, consider the possibility that you owe an apology. It’s difficult to be a good journalist when you don’t listen to your readers.


Students Should be Tech Literate

This week in my Journalism for the Web class, my class has been learning about the inner workings of websites. We learned the basics of HTML and CSS, and briefly practiced our skills.

In 2013, it’s important for aspiring journalists–and for many other students–to learn web basics before we graduate.

Earlier today, I talked to someone about a potential social media position. She told me that she has been maintaining an entire organization’s social media pages based solely off the scant knowledge that she gained at one conference.

Newspapers and organizations want to be able to utilize today’s new technology, but they may not have the skills to do so. That’s one of the reason why it’s so important for undergraduate students to learn about the web and technology.

But undergraduates aren’t the only people who stand to learn about technology. Teenagers can learn even more, and arguably gain more benefits, from learning about technology. According to a post on Mashable, a design organization called AIGA held a series of free workshops for teenagers, teaching them to build machines and create functional apps.

If students enter college already having a firm grasp on technology, who knows what they will be able to design and create?


These Purdue students created a supersonic ping pong gun:


Piracy Leads to Man’s Death

This January, 26-year-old Aaron Swartz, computer genius and “Internet folk hero,” committed suicide.

After illegally downloading millions of scholarly JSTOR articles to distribute to the public, Swartz potentially faced 50 years in jail and a fine of $1 million. According to Mashable, he had been targeted by the government because of his internet activism.

“Aaron did not commit suicide but was killed by the government,” Swartz’s father said, according to web producer Andrew Blake. Swartz’s father likely means that while Aaron Swartz did commit suicide, he did so because of the government’s actions against him and not because of some internal conflict. This is an incredibly strong statement about the severity of the government’s prosecution of Swartz.

However, when looking for the cause of his death, we should not overlook Swartz’s mental health issues. Swartz had depression as well as a painful chronic illness, something that I know for a fact can make life seem hopeless and impossibly difficult. He also reported having suicidal thoughts in 2007, long before his troubles with the government.

Unlike Swartz’s father, I don’t think that we can isolate one single factor that caused his death. Being in massive legal trouble would seem much more overwhelming to somebody who was already depressed, in pain and possibly suicidal.

But of course, nobody but Swartz can know why he died. We can only work to make sure that his ideas live on.



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