I saw it on the internet, so it must be true

This recent Poynter article made me think of an interesting topic in how the modern transfer of information happens so rapidly that lines of known fact and truthful communication starts to break down.

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In the article there is a discussion of how modern media worldwide covers ISIS. Specifically it addresses how said media covered the coup ISIS held in the Libyan port city of Dema. Even more to the point, how they covered it even though it didn’t happen. The article goes on to talk about how a lack of competing information combined with a tendancy towards overall less fact checking has lead to it being much easier for invented and exaggerated fact to somehow how become the well known and commonly accepted media truth.

The topic interests me, because of the common trend on the internet that’s sprung up lately of stories that are a joke or farce gaining traction, taking off, and quickly being accepted as truth. It’s gotten so extreme now that whenever news of a famous person’s death surfaces, I have to wait a few days to see if it’s true or not, personally double checking over and over again. It’s frustrating, and in my opinion endemic to out new age of knowledge.

Mobile media army draft

So for this week I decided to blog about this article on Poynter. The article was by Shadi Rahimi and it covers how she and her team reported on the Baltimore riots by utilizing a strictly mobile method of news coverage. She and her team moved around the city and observed goings on, reporting via Facebook updates, livetweets, and by streaming video back to the station to be posted online.

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The article went into a fair bit of detail on how they went about focusing on certain topics. They went in with the intention of having as much of their content go viral as possible, and to that end they specifically sought out news they thought would fulfill that end. As the article talks about, this meant things evoking raw emotion, particularly anger. The idea is that if enough people get about it, they’ll spread the word, helping it go viral.

Personally, I find it rather, for lack of a better word, detestable. It’s sensationalism at it’s core, and sensationalism for the purpose of facilitating a novelty. I’m not saying mobile journalism is bad by any stretch of the imagination. But when journalists go out of their way find emotive news purely for the sake of an emotional reaction, whether or not it’s really worthwhile news, they are diluting the profession.

Massive uptake in freelancer safety coalition

This week I’m going to be talking about this article from Poynter, a discussion of the rapidly growing acceptance of a set of guidelines outlining safety precautions for freelance journalists.

As the article states the guidelines are not legally binding, recommending a number of things fro freelancers ranging from first aid and appropriate clothing for the war zones they work in. Further, the recommendations urge news organizations to treat these freelancers as they would any other employee in cases of things like kidnap or injury.

I don’t know what I’m going to end up doing after I graduate and I doubt I’ll end up being a freelance wartime reporter, but these guidelines nevertheless give me a measure of comfort. It’s good to know an appropriate amount of care for the people that work so hard on these kinds of things.

Media’s civil duty

While perusing Feedly I discovered this article about the recent gyrocopter incident in DC. The incident involved a postal worker flying a gyrocopter through restricted airspace to land on the lawn of the Capitol Building. This was obviously highly illegal, and constituted a fairly high risk to national security.

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The point of the article is that the Tampa Bay Times recently revealed that they knew about the pilot’s plan almost a year in advance. This raises a pretty serious concern over their lack of, well, telling anybody about it. The obvious defense for them is that they talked to the pilot, who said he was trying to make a demonstration of non-violent protest, and that the Tampa Bay Times thusly came to the conclusion that posed no real threat.

Which raises the question of who the hell do they think they are to make that decision? I understand why the came to the conclusion they did, I honestly do, but when we’re talking about a small aircraft flying over DC to land in front of the Capitol Building? That’s not something you take a chance with. If the pilot had been lying about his protest being non-violent? If his gyrocopter had contained bombs instead of just him? There would be a lot of deaths the Tampa Bay Times was at least partially responsible for.

Begging the question: because the quesiton should be begged

Initially, I was going to do my blog post about this article on Poynter about the use of cameras in the courtroom, why it’s still not allowed, why it should be, more along that line. In a sense it still is about that article, but not about the article itself. Instead I’m focusing on the first comment on the page.

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The commenter, John L. Pitts, said, “That’s not what ‘begs the question’ means, but obviously that battle has been lost.” This piqued my interest so I looked it up and was surprised by what I found. In the common, modern vernacular many people use the expression “begs the question” as a lead in. It’s preempted by some facts that would point to a question they then ask, mostly for dramatic effect. But, as I discovered upon looking it up, that’s not what the expression means at all. In fact it’s a technical philosophy term meant to reference a logical fallacy similar to circular logic.

Obviously, most people don’t know that. I certainly didn’t. I’ve heard dozens of people use the phrase in a way I now understand was incorrect. I’m the kind of person that’s nitpicky about this stuff, so I won’t be using it wrong again, but I’ll admit I probably wouldn’t be bothered as much by other people using it wrong, as it’s fairly minor. But it brings up an interesting point, in that a large number of words and expressions like this are being misappropriated, their original meaning slanted or altogether changed. You might say it’s a natural progression of the language, and maybe it is. Personally I’m not a fan, as I rather like my language the way it is.

On the subject of ‘they’

Poynter recently did an interesting article about the use of they as a singular pronoun. It caught my eye because it’s a discussion I’ve had with teachers repeatedly before. Technically speaking most dictionaries list a gender-neutral singular pronoun as long it agrees with a similarly generic antecedent.

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To that end I’ve always used in in papers and the like, but obviously I’ve always avoided it for articles, since AP style says it’s a no-no. It’s really easy for it to lead to confusion, and admittedly, that’s true. Particularly as far as quote attribution is concerned, it can be bewildering for readers to figure out who said something, or if multiple people said something. Obviously that’s fairly antithetical to our objective as writers, but sometimes it’s hard for us.

The point brought up in the article was for people that are harder to identify with the more common ‘he’ and ‘she’. It talked about people who wear drag, or transgendered people. Political correctness and simple human decency make it far more difficult to accurately match these people to a pronoun, so in the absence of an abundance of them why not simply use ‘they’? As the article says, we need a generic singular pronoun, and we already have one.

Week 9- Bad teams lose coverage

So for this week I read this article. It talks about a writer for the New York Times named Scott Cacciola, explaining that although he started the season as the beat reporter covering the Knicks, he spent most of the season not covering them at all, but rather traveling around to write about other basketball themed things that are a little more interesting than the Knicks.

Which apparently wasn’t hard, because according to the New York Times the Knicks are currently really bad. As in bad to the point where they’re basically not trying and aren’t even worth having a reporter cover them. It got to the point where they would rather have Cacciola go off and cover other things. Apparently it worked well, as the reporter contacted his readership for ideas and ended up with a season of varied and interesting stories that he calls a success.

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It’s a fairly interesting situation to be in. Readers and fans of the Knicks expect coverage of the team, but at what point are there honestly just not enough meaningful things to write about? And if the team isn’t being covered what other stories should the reporter do? Obviously it worked here but how often would it? As the article points out there are plenty of other teams doing potentially bad enough to warrant not covering them or at least cover them less.

It’s an interesting, and humorous, debate.

Week 8- Blurring the line between private and public

While perusing my Feedly I cam across this article. I’m not really a sports guy but this one caught my eye as being less about the sports story and more about the story of the sports story. The topic of the article was Patrick Sharpe, a hockey player for the Chicago Blackhawks, and the scandal he is currently in over allegations of an affair with multiple women, including the wives of some of his teammates. Sharpe staunchly denies the scandal as false, but a website called SportsMockery has claimed to have confirmed the story via four independent sources.

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The story was interesting not because of the scandal, but because of the discussion that arose of the merit of covering the scandal at all. SportsMockery has cited itself as a website interested in both delivering sports news and making that news fun. In my mind that doesn’t seem to lead it to seem like a reliable source. I don’t know who their independent sources were but they sound a little on the, for lack of a better word, sketchy side. The blog went on to talk about some writers from the Chicago Tribune and how they reacted to the story, which is to say they basically didn’t. Many of them didn’t care and had no interest in covering the topic, one going so far as to say he didn’t want to if he didn’t have to.

The article goes on to talk about how the personal lives of athletes are covered by the media, particularly in the wake of the 2009 Tiger Woods scandal. It’s an interesting topic, because while the private lives of these people really shouldn’t matter to us, how their lives affect their performance on the field or court or course or ice or what have you does matter to us. It gets tricky when these two become blurred, and even the best journalist can have a hard time figuring out if they should be covering it.

Makes me glad I don’t really do sports.

Week 7- Photojournalistic ethical conflict

A recent article on Poynter talked about a controversy in the 58th Annual World Press Photo competition. The first-place prize winner had his award rescinded after 22 percent of the entries that had made it to the semi-final round were disqualified. The first prize winner, Giovanni Troilo, an Italian independent photographer, had submitted a photograph series of the city of Charleroi in Belgium, but had manipulated the photos too much.

This has apparently become a serious problem, with that being the reason for the 22 percent of disqualifications. More and more photojournalists are finding it difficult to resist the urge to try and fix their images, taking out small things, making it less cluttered. It’s a small thing, but it’s meaningful, and it actually reminded me of a quandary I’ve had with photojournalism for a while.

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It started with an ethics class I had a while back where we talked about this very thing. A photojournalist in Africa saw a small child, asleep or too weak to move or both, lying out in the open with a buzzard walking towards it and instead of helping, took a picture. The argument was that saving the child would have saved one child, but taking the picture delivered a message that could potentially save many many more.

I thought of it again recently as I watched the movie “Blood Diamond”, and at one point a bus full of journalists piles out and starts reporting on and taking pictures of the wreckage of a roadside bombing, with several of the victims and dead still there. If they tried to help the people they’d lose the story. It was a moral choice that none of them seemed to hesitate on.

It makes me glad I’m not a photojournalist.