Keep celebrities out of journalism

Michael Strahan, Kelly Ripa

I can feel it as I type this: my opinion on this wouldn’t be popular with the general public.

All I really have going for me is the fact I’m not debating a heavily-contested issue, such as politics, the NFL Draft (that guy who is good with a football should have totally gone to another team last night) or the whether the dog filter on Snapchat is cute.

No, my opinion lies within the “national nightmare” that was Michael Strahan up and leaving his show with Kelly Ripa for Good Morning America, without even so much of a mention.

Rude? Maybe. From a rational person’s standards, I’d say its pretty likely, but I don’t know what kind of co-worker Ripa is.

My issue comes in when celebrities are given the job of a journalists, because they’re personable and have name-recognition. I believe there’s a part of the media industry where that kind of mentality belongs – it’s called advertising.

When it comes to the news, it should be reserved for people who worked as writers, reporters and producers for these shows for years, who deserve a promotion for their hard work. I think we need to be asking ourselves where the objectivity and reputation of being truthful has been during these celebrities’ whole professional career before we accept them onto our TV sets each day.

To drag advertising back into this, Strahan has done advertising, with Vaseline, GotMilk? and Subway.

Michael Strahan

You know for a fact that David Muir, Lester Holt and Scott Pelley would have never gotten where they are now, had they sold their image and likeness. It would have been considered a compromise and a betrayal of their objectivity.

It’s again that same song of ratings-driving-content that has come to bother me in the past year. I think it’s fine right now for celebrities to host entertainment shows, but the news needs to be off-limits.

I wouldn’t want to have Kim Kardashian moderating a political debate or Robert Downey, Jr. covering a catastrophe the size of 9/11 or the Boston bombing, and neither should the American public.

We all deserve better news, and better journalists. Celebrities are not the answer.

If you ain’t first, you’re … probably right

I titled this photo when I saved it after a Leslie Knope quote, "you rule-breaking moth." However, the irony lies in the idea that we need to stick to our journalistic principles of finishing the race to the story without mistakes, while not worrying if we're going to come in first with them. Photo courtesy of Yahoo (a little awkwardness here with Katie Couric)

I titled this photo when I saved it after a Leslie Knope quote, “you rule-breaking moth” because of how much I have admired Scott Pelley, even before he took over the CBS Evening News. However, the irony lies in the idea that we need to stick to our journalistic principles of finishing the race to the story without mistakes, while not worrying if we’re going to come in first with them. Photo courtesy of Yahoo (a little awkwardness here, when we consider Katie Couric…).

Oh, how perfectly this blog post assignment flows directly from last week’s post about “The Newsroom.” As I talk about journalistic integrity the show has taught me, I sometimes forget one thing: I can learn the same things by watching the news as well. I just need to listen a little closer, and consider the presentation a little bit more.

What I’m about to say is going to need a little bit of context, so here you go. Is the video a little pixelated to the point where I had to look away at times? Yes. But what’s really important here is the message about our current state of journalism ethics.

I agree with Pelley wholeheartedly on what he says about the current state of journalism, and how we rush to fan the flames of gossip and rumors, while our own house is burning, as he says.

We’re fighting fire with fire, and then wondering why the American public has lost trust in us. Some of it is because the American public wants to hear news commentary that reiterates and confirms their own opinions, instead of prompting them to think outside of what they’re being told. As frustrating as that is, we can’t change the minds of those who have closed them and buried the key deeply inside their own egos. There’s no fix to that.

What we are doing, when we forego confirming information and running with the first piece of information we get, is we are alienating the viewers with open minds who just want the facts of all sides of the story.

Pelley says the medium we publish our work on should not change the integrity we write it with. A couple things have led to this downfall, and it has to do with the need to be first to report a story, and the idea that social media is all we need as a first and second confirmation on our stories.

I agree with Pelley in saying these two ideas are wrong, and here’s why:

The need to be first

This is especially where my commentary from last week’s “The Newsroom” really comes into play.

In the episode “Fix You,” one of the graphics designers in the control room has Arizona Sen. Gabby Giffords declared dead, as corporate executives are begging the news team to report it first, despite NPR already declaring it.

Will refuses, saying a doctor pronounces someone dead, not the media – and they were right. You can feel the relieved look of the graphics designer as he removes the “2011” from alongside her birth year.

Pelley says the need to be right comes from our own egos and the competitive game news networks play with one another, which I agree with. On the other hand, I wonder if we would have that same need to be first to break a story all the time, should we not have the company executives, who are more concerned with ratings than our journalistic principles of being right, telling us that we need to be?

It’s a combination of both, in my opinion, because company executives threaten the jobs of journalists, editors, executive producers, anyone and everyone, through the ratings.

It’s ratings-driven content, versus the quality of your content driving ratings.

Because, as Pelley said, no one will remember if you were first, but they’re never going to forget that you were wrong. Journalists need to report the news, and forget about the ratings for those broadcasts – and their business execs at the top need to do the same.

Social media

I love my social media as much as anyone, and I love live-tweeting events I attend. But should I base my stories off of what I’m saying, without taking other perspectives into consideration to balance out the story? Absolutely not.

This is me, as an aspiring journalist, saying each and every journalist will always have the slightest trace of bias in their reporting, if we’re only using ourselves as a source through social media. It’s why we balance things out with multiple perspectives and verify/attribute every piece of information we get, or so we should.

Pelley says that in the rush to be first, we take what we find on social media and run it, with no verification or confirmation. It’s what makes the concept of citizen journalism so dangerous, on the flip-side of the coin of it being helpful.

It’s only helpful when we can confirm things, but who has time to do that when you’re rushing to be first?

I also find myself agreeing with Scott Pelley in the idea that social media is gossip, and has no place in a newsroom if there’s no trace of verification behind it.

I take it a step farther than Pelley by saying reporting anything trending on social media that doesn’t have a direct impact on a portion of your viewers doesn’t belong in the newsroom either. Does the trend of #BlackLivesMatter belong? Yes, since the riots are taking over Ferguson. Does a trending video of two twins laughing at one another have a right to be on the news, just because people think it’s cute?

I’ve told the station director at UWW-TV that I don’t want to see anything trending from Twitter or Facebook on that show anymore, for that reason. Those on the show already force their show to suffer from a lack of original reporting from the writers as it is, why add in a topic talking about a “possessed baby” standing on the edge of its crib?

There’s no integrity in that, and you know for a fact that Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite would have passed on it.

A final note, on watching Pelley speak

I’ve admired Pelley for a while – hell, I even wrote on my Facebook page that we would be “bros” when sharing a 60 Minutes Overtime video about how his first love was still photography.

I love listening to professionals speak, because they’ll dig deep into their roots, and it allows me a measuring stick to align my own beliefs up against.

So thanks for the knowledge, bro.

A few takeaways from “The Newsroom”


Photo courtesy of HBO. Hearts placed carefully by yours truly.

I know you’re not supposed to say this only five episodes in, but I love “The Newsroom.”

I live on a constant rule that I need to be working hard every day, but not all day – it’s mandatory to take a Netflix break when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

So, because “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” hasn’t come back for a second season yet and I finished off “30 Rock,” I had a hole in my heart I thought couldn’t be filled. I had such a connection with Liz Lemon, as we both worked long hours rewriting. Together, we dealt with sometimes-ridiculous staff who, if they’d have done their work as well as they’d pushed our buttons, they’d have been stellar.

I thought I would never find a connection with a fictional character like that again. But along came “The Newsroom’s” Will McAvoy, and Mac. They started to heal me – and made me consider what kind of journalist I strive to be, both in the now, and someday, in the real world.

1. What I should be reporting

I think this is what struck me the hardest, looking at what I write now, and what I’ve reported in the past. I haven’t done too bad, when we look at my track record with the Royal Purple. Knowing I write long, I pick only the most impactful stories and art for my section.

My track record with UWW-TV, however, isn’t quite so nice and polished.

I used to co-host a show referred to as “The 10,” because, well, we talked about our top 10 stories of the week. For the most part, I wrote about things I thought mattered – the latest terrorist attack or shooting, politics (which my co-anchors loved) and breaking news that I’d push back the script for.

But then there would be times I’d write about a new iPhone. The Kardashian family adding a prematurely canonized family member. A story about a birthday cake that went viral.

I wonder what the hell I was thinking when I thought a cake had any relevance to my life outside a glance on Facebook.

I still see things from my prior perspective. Yes, people think the news is too negative, so we should fill it with just enough feel-good stories about overly cute dog-shaming and babies to make the audience happy.

But we make the audience happy like the parent who lets their children get dessert without making them finish their vegetables. They’ll love you for it, but it’s not good for them – we have to give the broccoli of the truth before we appease them with the chocolate pudding of puppies and viral videos. It’s the concept of content driving ratings, not the other way around.

You can’t tell me you wouldn’t be able to replace the last puppy package of the night with another news story – be it national, local, community-based – that could be beneficial to someone.

Seeing Mac list out her rules for their News Night 2.0 made me feel guilty. As it should, since I was feeding into the hashtag trend, and ignoring the problems right in front of me.

So now, I’ve loosely interpreted Mac’s rules to my own journalism career. Is this story in historical context, is this the best possible form of the argument? “Is this information we need in the voting booth?” has translated into “Does this matter to anyone on Whitewater’s campus?”

I’ll follow these rules, to be a journalist I’m proud of.

2. How I should treat my staff

I know having worked with people at the Royal Purple and UWW-TV long enough, if you don’t treat people like they’re valuable to you, they leave, or at least they think about it.

Watching Will wire a quarter of a million dollars to Egypt for the freedom of a native correspondent on the ground only reaffirmed that thinking. You stand up for one of your own, and for others, even if they aren’t your own.

I don’t necessarily only want to show my staff I care through monetary form, however; I want to make time to help them learn, and learn from them. Take time or them, and no matter what, let them know they’re invaluable to you, even if they aren’t.

3. What my role is

Prior to going off at the sorority girl, Will didn’t want to bother anyone, so he ran what all of the other news orgs did. He wrote what was safe. He’d approve ratings-driven content, not content-driven ratings.

Watching him interrogate anyone and everyone has clued me in as to how I should be approaching my stories, especially when I take on my role as a political journalist.

He’s not afraid to call people out and make them defend their position, and works to expose corporations like the Koch Brothers. I won’t be looking at the Koch Brothers any time soon, most likely, but I can at least take a more aggressive, in-depth look into the topic so I can make people really own up to their words, like Will and his team do.

My role is to be the representative of the people watching and reading, not the people I talk to.

I think my biggest take-away, however, is I have to live with the fact that I’m a Will McAvoy, who’s tasked with explaining the world to a bunch of “Dumb and Dumber” Larry’s.

Mother knows best: Join the Royal Purple

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A sick, sappy post about how I love the RP and all it’s done for me – and I said this back in May, when I had no idea what kind of journalist the role of News Editor would make me into. Prepare yourself. And yes, I did log into Instagram on my computer for this. Judge me.

I’m going to be your mother here, in some aspects.

No, I’m not going to call you at the most inopportune times to pester you about your grades. I won’t tell you to be careful when going out to parties. I certainly won’t give you unconditional love.

What I will do, however, is inform you that the only way you’re going to do well out in the real world is by getting involved.

This can reference any organization on campus, really, but for all-intensive purposes, I’m going to shamelessly plug the Royal Purple – and the fact that we have close to a dozen positions up for grabs.

The turnover is high is semester because we have a lot of students holding those positions graduating in a month, therefore sending the rest of the staff into a frenzy to find a newly opened position for themselves.

So, I’ll take a little time to debunk a few myths for you, and if you feel like confident enough, check out either Kyle or Julie Ridgeman’s email on joining the staff. You can always get ahold of me as well, to ask questions.

Myth #1: I don’t have enough experience to be on the RP.

Take a look at your surroundings. You are on a college campus, which is by nature, a learning institution. Which means that the RP is here to serve as practical experience so you can develop your skills to gain that experience.

Do we like people to walk into their position feeling prepared and having a little knowledge on their section or role? Absolutely. However, so few journalism majors leave their last journalism class having no more knowledge with them when they started, so that’s an unrealistic precedent to hold people to.

To be candid here? Even the staff isn’t perfect. I have my days where not enough experience could have prepared me for the situations I was put in. You grow as you go.

Myth #2: I can’t be an editor without being a staff writer first, so I don’t qualify.

I’m living, breathing, smart-mouthed proof this isn’t true.

August 3, 2014. I kept my phone within inches of me at all times, a few feet away if I was gutsy. My confidence shrank as the clock ticked past four, five, six p.m.

They hadn’t liked me and they just didn’t feel like calling to say, no, we’re not really interested. Maybe join as a staff writer and apply for Photo Editor when you have more experience.

I got the call at 7 p.m. He’d had a hectic day, forgetting to call me in the process.

And with that, I had thrown myself onto of journalists all at least a year older than me, with two, three, four times that in experience.

Was starting my collegiate journalism career the day I stepped on campus always easy? No. Did I qualify to be in a position where I could learn and grow? Hell yes.

Myth #3: I can get a job without it and be just fine.

I have to admit, you’re partially right on this one – Taco Bell doesn’t require you to work at a newspaper in order to fold up chalupas. (This goes the other way, too. My journalism degrees aren’t going to help me learn to fold up a taco like a normal human being.)

If you’re serious about journalism as a future career, you’re going to need an internship to show you can work out in the real world. Real-life editors want to see your success and abilities outside of a campus bubble. No-brainer.

To get that internship locked down, however, you’re going to have to have had a few bylines to your name first.

And sorry, Dr. Kates, but a synthetic story about Kittatinny and Mayor Petykiewicz is not going to impress a newspaper’s group editor. You need to prove you had the drive and dedication to step outside of your classwork and put that education to good use.

Yes, while I love spending my days and nights running back and forth between the Royal Purple office and the UWW-TV edit suites, I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say there’s a grand scheme involved with it. Each and every night, I’m evaluating if what I’ve done the day prior is still keeping me on track for my strategy.

I’m out here plotting to beat all of you to the race to Craig Schreiner’s studio for the Hired Before Graduation. Give me a run for my money, literally. Join the RP. Mother knows best.

Fool me once, shame on you

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Call me a stickler or a buzz-kill, but I’m not a huge fan of April Fool’s Day.

It’s not because I don’t like a good prank or a little bit of fun – NBC’s “The Office” is my favorite show. Jim Halpert had my heart from the first stapler in Jell-O. I fully appreciate humor, and the talent it takes to pull off a masterpiece deception.

I start to dislike April Fool’s Day, from a journalist’s perspective, when it starts to mislead people.

Take the article from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire above. I clicked on it, being aware of the date and knowing well enough it was probably a joke. At the end of the article, it said, “Happy April Fool’s Day!”

But here’s the problem: one, unlike what our human psychology likes to convince us, our brains do not, in fact, all think alike, and two, people don’t consistently read all the way to the end of articles, ever. This is Journalism 101. Most of the time, if you can get people to go farther than scrolling past it, that’s an accomplishment in itself.

Some people might not think this is a joke – which yes, is the point of April Fool’s Day – but then they won’t get down to the bottom of the story to find out it’s false.

I feel it is wrong for people who are trusted to be telling the truth and not delude their audiences – news outlets, public sector organizations such as universities and non-profits and politicians – to knowingly publish incorrect information. You have to understand what the significance of your name means. Someone is likely to believe your joke, if it’s coming from a source that hasn’t lied to you in the past.

That’s breaking trust with people, and leaving them to feel stupid. It’s toeing the line of bad taste, no matter what your intentions may be.

April Fool’s Day should be reserved for people to personally pull pranks and have fun. Don’t use your power as an informer of the people to poke fun at them.