Because NPR Always Ignores My Submissions

Monday, July 02, 2007

I love Paris Hilton, and I think you do too.

So this thing got spread all over YouTube like fake cheese on a Ritz cracker, and it begs the ongoing question among newsmakers as to what is newsworthy and what is not.
I go back and forth on this issue, and I've been contemplating it since the Associated Press attempted a moratorium on stories about Paris Hilton.
On one hand, I'd like to argue that the readers in part determine the content of the news, meaning if the people want it, the people get it. In a sense. While we don't want to jeopardize our integrity by merely feeding the masses what they demand, we definitely create our news (in part) based on what we think people will actually read.
On the other hand, most of us got into this business with a bit of the "save the world" complex, and the actions of Paris Hilton certainly don't fall under that umbrella.
But then I look at my own newsroom and how the reporters respond to Paris updates — we were rapt the day she went back to jail — I realize the bit of hypocrisy that surfaces when the media complain about these kind of news stories. The fact is, we love to hate it. Some of us even just love it. For whatever reason, we love it as much as anyone else, and that's why it hits the news.
I could go on to a diatribe about her trial, and what it said for the justice system. Her being released because of medical issues was a smack in the face to any Tom, Dick or Harry trying to work their way through the courts. And I believe that. But that doesn't obscure the fact that if I hear some ridiculous news story about some ridiculous celebrity (Tom Cruise is one of my personal favorites to mock), I eat it up just as much as the next person.
Am I proud of this? Hardly. Am I ashamed? That's another question, but I think I stand firmly on the fence on this issue, because as much as I'd love to cheer when I see news clips like this (and really, bravo for making a stand), I feel a little sheepish when I realize that I'm only watching it because someone forwarded me a funny clip with promises of gossip about Paris Hilton.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Tomorrow's Journalist

Last night I went to the Clatsop County Fair to cover a panal discussion on tsunamis. What made the evening interesting was not the conversation, but what I carried on my back.

At one time I would have said the only tools a journalist needs is a pen and paper - we're frequently told we should never be without them. But at the fair last night I carried almost as much equipment as our photographer at the Astorian. Along with my pen and paper I hoisted around a digital camera and a large bag holding audio recording equipment.

As I walked around with my multi-media tools slung on my back I kept thinking, "I love this job." Where else am I given the space to research and really write on a subject while I get to excercise my audio media skills as well.

The advantage I see to newspapers is that, despite the ad space we devote, we have the room to really develop a story. The television news, though it's quick and relentless, has just minute to get each news event out. With a newspaper, we have inches and paragraphs in which we can set the scene, get out the detail and really bring the reader into the story.

What we're learning in newspaper journalism is that the Internet allows us the best of both worlds. With audio and visual media, we can take the story that much further. We did this last night. Along with a story discussing the meeting at the fair, we were able to look closer into one aspect of the story.

As much as I would have liked to focus on him, my story sadly had to neglect one individual, a geological researcher from the University of Washington who recently made Time Magazine's 100 most influential people list. I could have written a story entirely about him, but that went beyond what we needed for this story. What's a print journalist to do?

Cram a microphone in his face and make him talk about himself for a while, THAT'S what a journalist is to do... Along with the story trying to explain the difference between "distant" and "local" tsunamis, we can now take a closer look at the researcher that learned so much about how these tsunamis affect the Pacific Coast.

Along with that, I'm a big freaking geek, and trucking around with a big ol' microphone in hand and a couple hundred dollars worth of audio equipment strapped to my back is my bread and butter.

But the point is, yesterday's best journalist needed little more than a paper and pen. They needed to be inquisitive and persistant. Today's journalist needs that too, but today's best journalist is also going to have experience in many different media, so we can continue to prove that we can take a story that extra inch of depth.

What I did last night was hardly revolutionary, but imagine what we could do with this stuff when an actual tsunami hit the area. How much could we do for the community if we expand what it is we call "the newspaper."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Bias and God

As a windshield expert skillfully removed the spiderwebbed pane of glass off of our car and put a clean and pristine new pane back onto the car we talked about the news, and what kind of journalist I would be.

"Are you a liberal journalist or a conservative journalist?" he asked.

I'm not sure how much time passed after this question, but I sputtered and stuttered trying to figure out how to carefully answer that question. But since then, my answer to his question aside, I realized that the complaint of liberal bias in the news does not even begin to touch the depth and complexity of the problem.

People assume that in the newsroom it's a problem of liberal versus conservative, and that we lean too far one way, and never realize that the problem is so much more difficult than that, and I've found that religion coverage shows just how hard that is.

My current internship requires that my editor and I set aside time each week to discuss ethical issues, and we stumbled all over the issue of religion last week. Should the person reporting on religion be themselves religious, or should they be unattached?

My editor wisely pointed out that it's difficult to find a beat reporter to write about their subject if he or she does not care about it. Do we want someone who's interests and involvements revolve around the arts reporting on politics? The Daily Astorian has an environmental reporter, and as my editor mentioned, he doesn't want someone who doesn't care about the environment in that position. How can they do the subject real justice if they just don't care?

In religious issues, I realized there's a real difficulty in this. I'd love to cover the religion beat of a newspaper, because I'm very interested in the subject and I've got some life experience there. But if we are to cover people properly, is my very liberal and unorthodox viewpoint appropriate for the page?

I put myself in the editors position and came to a different conclusion. Let's pretend I'm hiring a religion reporter... I've come to the conclusion, biased and prejudiced as it may be, that I would have reservations with hiring a very conservative christian to be my religion reporter, in the imaginary Aaron News Tribune.

How liberally biased of me right? But can I hire someone to report on a topic when they have strong enough opinions to have judgements as to who will go to heaven and who will go to hell? Can I allow a reporter who thinks Muslims are evil to report on religion appropriately?

The pool of reporters becomes smaller, but I would want to hire someone who's outlook is generally pluralistic, because they must properly represent various people, and respect their beliefs.

This, however, is where my stomach starts to churn and the issue of bias becomes more complex, because my assessment is making a real judgement about people with more conservative beliefs. I'm saying they can't look at things objectively, and also saying that their viewpoint doesn't deserve a position in the world of media.

I have no solution to this, but it illustrates why liberal vs. conservative is not so simple in the newsroom.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Just take a few moments...

As I've mentioned before, and will probably not mention again in the future, this blog was conceived to fulfill a classroom requirement. Tomorrow our professor will go through each blog and grade it based on content and creativity, among other things. One of those other things is basic stuff like spelling and grammer.

So we were allowed to go through this week and clean up our article, which brings me to a little lesson bloggers, professional journalists and other writers could all learn. But especially to bloggers, when you crank out a thousand words really quick and without thinking hit the "Publish Post" button.

As I went through to clean up my articles, I was astounded by the spelling errors, the sentence structures and the length of my articles. As I waxed poetic on the state of blogging and wikis, I wrote lengthy posts which could have been shortened without any loss of content.

Imagine for just one moment how your article would look if you took five minutes to step back and look over it? What if you saved it and came back to it later to revise before posting?

Here's the money question though. What if you took one hour to research what you were writing? What if, rather than merely comment on the news, which is something bloggers and professionals both do, you took one hour of your time to look online, flip through a book or, even better, make a phone call?

That's my challenge to bloggers everywhere, including myself. When that issue hits you and you just can't wait to get online and post your thoughts, just take one brief moment and think of one thing you can do to make your article that much more interesting, credible and informed. How much better can it be in 15 minutes? And if it can be better then, what about an hour? C'mon people. You can miss Oprah for just one day to write a kick ass blog can't you?

Sunday, June 11, 2006


I spent the weekend with my family because my brother graduated from the University of I'm-not-going-to-tell-you-because-I'm-a-Duck. And as we talked, laughed and shared, we took a break to share some of our favorite amusements.

They weren't TV shows. They weren't videos, CD's or anything. For a good thirty minutes five of us huddled around a laptop and showed each other the amusing online videos and other oddities that we like to watch. And there was an interesting pattern that emerged. As we shared cool websites and programs that tickled our funny reflex, I noticed that by and large these were written and produced by non-professionals.

I'm amazed constantly about how the internet and current technology has allowed us to create and publish works on our own. It has maximized the amount of creative output and allowed individual people to participate in the process of creation and production. No longer to the big execs get to decide what is funny and what isn't.

So I wanted to share a few things that entertain me quite a bit, but are produced by little more than a few people and a computer. Ah the power of the internet!

Happy Mother's Day: Two students from Gonzaga studying film and production make amusing videos in their spare time. This one tells the hilariously-violent tale of two brothers just trying to take a photo of themselves to send to their mother. As someone who had three brothers, this rings true and hilarious. They went from being a couple locally known Gonzaga University students to being internet celebrities that got over one million hits for this video.

The Lonely Island: Here's a rags to riches tale for you. Three guys try, and fail, at producing a show called "Awesometown." They pitch it to Fox, MTV and Comedy Central, each of which turn it down. They continue to work hard and post all of their videos online, including a fake teen drama set in Malibu called The 'Bu and in the process become regular guests on "Saturday Night Live." They went from recording little sketches like this one and this one to appearing on "Saturday Night Live" with this ridiculously hilarious video.

Cute Overload: I challenge you to dislike this website. It's a blog style site in which readers contribute photos of animals that are cute beyond belief. And I swear to god, these animals are cute. Everything from a pug with a cast on one leg to a turtle the size of a DIME!!!!!.

These contribute little to the news media, but they are entertaining, quality pieces of work, put together by regular joes and done with little more than a computer. It may not expose a scandal, but it's a nice amusement during your coffee break.

Let's not forget why we're in this...

Here's my favorite paragraph from an column called "How To Get Ahead in the New Media Newsroom, Circa 2006" by Steve Outing:

What seems to be becoming the norm in newsrooms these days is that a growing group of reporters, photographers and editors are now working in jobs where there's a wide variety of tasks to be done each day: feeding the newspaper's Web site; writing for blogs and interacting with blog readers; gathering audio for the website and/or radio partners; recording video clips; participating in online chats and discussion forums ... Oh, and writing for the newspaper's print edition.

I'll be the first person to stand up and advocate for journalists stepping up to the technological bat and taking a swing at some new media device that they hadn't before. I always commend the old school for either trying, or letting someone else try their hands at blogging, filming, audio recording or anything along those line. New technology, to put it bluntly, freaking rules! I love it to death, but as I sat down to read this Sunday's newspaper from a nearby but here unnamed metropolis, I couldn't help but balk over a few lackluster articles that left me with far too many questions.

I was impressed at first that the newspaper had taken on a little more daring and modern front page design on the major story. The front page boasted not one, not two but six photos related to the story, each numbered with a corresponding extended caption on the side. Again I say, kudos. I love seeing this kind of thinking outside the box both online and in print. But as I skimmed through the A section, new ideas aside I kept running into articles that did not cover enough of the story.

I shouldn't end the story wondering why in a 20 inch article covering a controversial local issue that the reporter only quoted one source. I shouldn't start a story thinking to myself, "That lead just doesn't make any sense."

I'm not trying to be snobby. I'm willing to accept that there are good days and bad days at the paper. But it highlighted one thing for me that's important. All the thinking-outside-the-box in the world can't replace good reporting. Outing ends his quote above saying "...oh, and writing for the newspaper's print edition."

It's a joke, but I think this makes an important point that we shouldn't forget our first priority as we add all the fancy bells and whistles to our news. Outing lists a number of good journalists, such as Frank Cerabino and Leslie Streeter, but they didn't get where they are now by writing a cool blog.

Over here at the University of Oregon we have it beaten into our head regularly that nothing replaces good hit-the-ground-running reporting. Have a computer, crunch numbers in Excell, blog, record, post and wiki your heart out, but make it worth reading first. Bells and whistles don't replace good content.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Blogga blogga blogga!

Okay, so maybe I’m not Kurt Vonnegut, but that doesn’t mean I can’t spout off about whatever I want! I’ll spout and create a personality driven blog whether Ken Sands says I can or not!

Okay, that’s not true at all, and he makes a pretty decent point in his article It can be tough to train journalists how to be bloggers when he says that people can’t just get the web space and write whatever they want.

A quick stop by Movies and More at the Spokesman-Review site to see what a really well done blog looks like. It’s focused, it’s clear, it’s entertaining and it’s interesting.

I hope that I can provide just such a blog myself. For a moment, I wondered if my generation has an advantage over older writers because we’ve grown up with the Internet and evolved write along side technology.

Then I remembered Live Journal. This is where I believe the false notion that a blog can be about whatever is on your mind at the time came from.

Let me put a big disclaimer right here. In no way am I saying anything against the Live Journal community, or the use a blogs to relate personal and anecdotal information to mainly friends and loved ones. I keep up with a handful of friends through their blogs, and in fact the conversation therein has evolved to the point that I more often send notes through their postings than I do to their actual e-mail address.

However because these types of blogs really took off much faster than blogs put up by journalists for a specific purpose, somehow professional journalists thought they could just write about whatever, turning themselves into their own Dave Barry with millions of fans.

Unfortunately there’s already one Dave Barry, and if we’ve learned anything from blogs it’s that although you may be famous for 15 minutes through this medium, it may be only to 15 people.

No, Sands points out, and rightly so, that for a blog to succeed, it must have a point. That’s what brings people back to it each and every day.

I learned this with my first blog Discord/Harmony. What started out as random ranting over various issues quickly turned into a posting place for my radio show at KWVA, Eugene. As time went on I realized that there was no room on this blog for anything else. It had become what it had become. It’s introduced me to some great people, and opened up some new ideas and connections.

I may not have the spot to air out my personal feelings about the moron that cut me off on the freeway, but in a journalistic sense it’s quite fulfilling to have a task oriented and goal directed project to keep my neurons sharp.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This I Believe

As I have mentioned, this blog exists in order to fulfill a class assignment. I always like to mention that even though this is a requirement, I do plan on keeping this going after I finish my program. It's my way of letting you readers know that my heart is behind this work, even though I'm doing it as a requirement.

This week we've been set to articulate belief, an opportunity rarely afforded to most journalists. These things are left to the editorial pages, and in my humble opinion even those lack in any real human emotion. Because editorials are, ideally, still a form of journalism.

But NPR, in all its brilliance, allows listeners to contribute their beliefs, without the underlying idea that this should be based on the news or any research. Just beliefs.

This was fun to write, but also difficult. There were aspects of the story left out that I wish I could include, as well as anecdotes and other characters. but in the spirit of NPR's This I Believe I'm keeping it short.

So here is my own contribution about my experiences at the Seattle Public Library. Listen to it at the following link, or if you prefer, read it below.

Music and libraries

My parents regularly encouraged me to focus my interests on something more career oriented. But in high school and through my undergraduate education, despite getting a “practical” degree in psychology, I subconsciously decided that I really to learn about the history music.

I sought this education outside of the traditional methods, and since I did not have the financial ability to acquire music at a rate to keep my hunger satisfied, I turned to the library, an educational sanctuary from my large, chaotic family crammed into a small house.

At the library my fingers endlessly flipped through CDs and records, scanning names that I loved, names that I recognized but never heard and hopefully the unusual gem that catches my eye and somehow leads me to a musical realm I could not imagine.

A man in his mid-thirties worked at our local library, and became a close ally in my effort to absorb every possible kind of sound. It started at first as he scanned through my stack of 10 to 20 CDs and LPs occasionally pausing and letting out a small inquisitive grunt or hum.

But soon the pauses turned to conversations, questions and recommendations. As I leafed through Miles Davis, The Beatles and Elvis Costello, he slowly guided me towards John Coltrane, The Zombies, and Television.

Soon after I did not look forward to the albums I would bring home, but the brief conversations I would have with the pony-tailed librarian. I started spending more and more time at the library; on the occasional week I would go there every day.

Many times I would keep my interests secret, hoping that the selection of a Charles Mingus or Eric Dolphy album would impress him. I wanted to prove to him that not only did I take his recommendations, but also expanded on them.

Unconscious of both of us, I became his student, and he became my teacher, with little more than a few minutes of conversation every couple of days. I had found someone who took my interest seriously, and encouraged it to grow. But what I learned from him was more than music. He sparked a small scholarly impetus deep inside me that lives with me today.

I believe in education, but not the kind that you find in a school building. It’s not the kind that can be tested or lead to some qualification or career. It’s the kind of education motivated merely by the desire to know more. I believe in the kind of education that has a teacher and a student, but no program.

I sought that education, and with the help of a man who’s name I never knew, I found it. I hope one day to be a teacher too, just like the one I had.