November 30, 2008

Trying to get international news to the local media

Global Post is an operation designed to fill in the slots left as news organizations close international bureaus.

Good idea, but the issue -- to me -- is still trying to get local editors that international news is important.

Nerf factory riots and ideas for stories...

Nerf workers riot in China

Yes, the main Nerf factory in southern China is laying off workers. In response, some of the workers demonstrated. Eventually the demonstration turned into a riot. (China has a hard time dealing with peaceful demonstrations.)

Workers riot at Chinese toy factory.

Possible story angles:
  • How have local sales of Nerf or other toys been in this economic downturn?
  • How have other manufacturers dealt with the layoffs that come with an economic downturn? (Hint: contact the AFL-CIO and National Association of Manufacturers for their views.)
  • How significant is the economic connection between US buyers and other countries? (To mention the obvious: China and toys; Korea and cheap cars; India and call centers.)
  • What are the laws in the United States that deal with layoffs and firings?
  • How do the individual state laws affect how a person is treated when he/she is laid off?
  • Are public employees (i.e. GMU employees) treated differently from the private sector?

November 28, 2008

New, old media good for each other, Huffington says

NEW YORK (Reuters) -
New media and old can clash and crowd each other out, but blogger extraordinaire Arianna Huffington argues in a new book that the two worlds are rapidly joining together to bring out the best in each other.

Read the rest of the article here.

November 26, 2008

Info and story help -- State finance data

The Census Bureau just released the State Government Finances. This is a good source of information about income and expenditures in each state.


Why covering the econ crisis is hard for CNN

A slightly tongue-in-cheek rebuke to CNN from Boing-Boing on why it is so difficult to cover the economic crisis going on.

Some of my favorite reasons:
  • It's not a hurricane so Anderson Cooper of CNN is unable to position himself in the middle of the storm for optimal drama...
  • Where are the winning and losing teams?
  • I can almost hear producers wondering each night if there isn't a
    better story to lead with. "Isn't there a story we can do on Sarah
  • Why can't this be happening to Russia or China? CNN would send Christiane Amanpour there.

Health and Religion and campaign coverage -- Pew Reports

A couple of reports were recently released by the Pew Trusts.
Some interesting reading.

From Health News Coverage:
Network evening news viewers were the most likely to find health news
in their programming. Looking at every newscast (Monday - Friday) on
the three evening news programs from January 2007 through June 2008
reveals that fully 8.3% of airtime was devoted to health-related news,
with a heavy emphasis on specific ailments such as heart disease and
cancer. This was more than twice the coverage of health in any other
news genre except newspapers (where it was 5.9%).

Cable news, on the other hand, found very little room for health news, just 1.4% of programming studied

From Religion in the General Election:
[T]here was little attempt by the news media during the campaign to
comprehensively examine the role of faith in the political values and
policies of the candidates, save for those of Republican vice
presidential nominee Sarah Palin. And when religion-focused campaign
stories were covered by the mainstream press, often the context was
negative, controversial or focused on a perceived political problem.

Bail out journalists -- PJ O'Rourke

Nice (and funny) piece by PJ O'Rourke on the state of print media from the Weekly Standard via Fishbowl DC/MediaBistro.

Journalists Need a Bailout, Too

Pull Quote:
We print journalists are victims of economic forces beyond our control. We were as surprised as everyone else was by the sudden collapse of the reliable reporting market. We had no idea that real news and clear-eyed analysis were being "bundled" with subprime celebrity gossip, US Weekly
derivatives, and Jennifer Aniston/Angelina Jolie swaps. We need a swift infusion of federal aid. Otherwise all the information in America will be about Lindsay Lohan's sex life

November 24, 2008

The comics and journalism

A comic look at our profession that many (unfortunately) will take as truth.

Get Fuzzy

November 23, 2008

Story Idea: Foreign Students Flocking to US schools

The numbers are finally up again. Enrollment of foreign students in US universities  jumped 7 percent between 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years.

See ABC story.

So here's the pitch...
What are the numbers like at Mason?

How have they changed?
How has the increase (if it has happened) affected how Mason operates? Looks? Feels?

And if the Mason foreign enrollment has not gone up, while the rest of the universities have, why? What were Mason's numbers like immediately post 9/11? In the years after 9/11? And compare those numbers to other colleges in the area/state/region during the same period.

November 21, 2008

More cuts in news gathering

Reuters reported Nov. 20 that the Associated Press plans a 10 percent cut of its workforce next year.

AP Chief Executive Tom Curley delivered the news as part of a "town hall" meeting with employees.

"All areas and ways of doing business are being reviewed," said an
AP statement provided to Reuters. "The AP, which recently instituted a
strategic hiring freeze, may need to reduce staff over the next year.
If so, it hopes to achieve much of the reduction through attrition."

November 20, 2008

Follow up to PC Mag and Ziff-Davis

I just received a message from a computer columnist about some more strange goings on at Ziff-Davis.

Seems to cut costs one of its publications is accepting vendor-supplied content for news articles and slide shows.

EWeek news editor John Hazard is reportedly frustrated with the situation. He said he has had to reject most of what comes in.

In addition, Eweek is doing a print feature for 2009 titled "Products to Watch." They are printing a notice that the "products may or may not be reviewed by eWeek Labs. The point of the section is to expand our ability to recommend products that we think are compelling for our

[Thanks to for this insight.]

So that takes us back to the issue of local television news accepting VNRs without revealing the source. Or the hack who sits in the back of the newsroom who just puts his byline on a press release.

It keeps happening and we are not talking about it enough in classes to make sure our students know these things are wrong. (I know some students are confused about this issue because some have told me they saw nothing wrong in it. And I had many 303 -- intro class -- students write their stories by just paraphrasing other reports.)

Another publication bites the analog dust

PC Magazine is going completely online.

The Ziff-Davis flagship publication will no longer be available on newsstands. According to the New York Times, the publication made 80 percent of the profit and 70 percent of the revenue came from the digital business. The print edition was a drag on the company.

The Times article looked at other publications that are no exclusively online, including the Christian Science Monitor and The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.(FYI, the Doomsday Clock that has been at the top of each issue of the Bulletin is still there. The timeline makes interesting historic reading.)

In my classes when I asked my students, "Do you read a newspaper," they always answered, Yes." But when I asked how many read a print edition, I usually only got one or two positive responses.

Online news delivery is here and finally making money -- for some.

I figure it is our job to make sure that the same rules of ethics and clear writing apply. Just because the reproting is being done online should not mean the rules of proper journalism should be relaxed. (And that, for many of my past students, was a hard part to accept.)

November 18, 2008

Stars and Stripes and Doonesbury

A friend currently on assignment with the US Army in Iraq sent me a note about the latest controvery over Doonesbury and Stars and Stripes.

The latest dust up is that the liberal cartoon -- which has been in Stars and Stripes for more than 30 years -- came over the cartoon that showed soldiers' reactions to the Obama victory.

Hoo-boy did the letters fly into S&S.

Here is the Ombudsman of S&S addressing the issue: Trudeau’s election ‘Hoo-Ah’ escapes an Uh-Oh  (Links to the orginal letters are in this story.)

And here is a letter from Doonebury creator Garry Trudeau: How 'Doonesbury’ serves the troops

This is becoming a very interesting lesson on freedom of the press and expression -- the very thing the U.S. military is sworn to protect.

November 15, 2008

Political Reporters Defend Selves Against Bias Rap

Report of a panel discussion in Cleveland sponsored by the National Press Club.

Offers some good ideas to get discussion going in class -- especially when discussion ethics.

November 14, 2008

Today in history: Colombia volcano erupts

Looking for a story idea?

Not the history of the volcano erupting but rather the historic search and rescue operation that took place. See my note at the end.

November 14, 1985

Volcano erupts in Colombia and buries nearby towns

this day in 1985, a volcano erupts in Colombia, killing well over
20,000 people as nearby towns are buried in mud, ice and lava.

What the history books don't say is that many of the dog search teams that the United States sent to the area were used just a couple of months earlier in Mexico City.

In Mexico the dogs were used -- for the first time ever -- in an urban disaster environment.

In Colombia it was the first time dog search teams were used in a natural disaster environment. Usually the dogs are used to find lost children in the wilderness.

The operations in Mexico and Colombia saved lives because people who would have otherwise been missed by normal search and rescue methods were found by the dogs.

Do I get points for creativity? Actual exam answers.

A budding journalist here. This person did not approach the question in the obvious manner but looked for the unusual answer.
Now I know that journalists are not supposed to be math wizards, but even I can see that this is not the way to solve this problem.
Or this...Or this way..Or you can use the Discovery Institute "And then a miracle happened" method and insert whatever you want to make the answer come out the way you want it to...

But my favorite is...

November 13, 2008

Covering bombers: An Indonesian Perspective

The latest issue of Asia Media has a story form the Jakarta Post complaining about how the 2002 Bali bombers got way too much unfettered publicity from Indonesian media outlets.

The terrorists were executed last weekend.

The lead up to their execution was a series of interviews that were described more as terrorist propaganda instead of a serious look at what makes a terrorist.

"Even on death row, they continued to make news, obviously aided by the
prison authorities. There were the media interviews they gave, always
using the opportunity to justify their acts in the name of Islam and
not for once showing any sign of regret; one of them even got married
while on death row; and they were constantly in contact with the
outside world with easy access to telephones and the Internet. So much
for Indonesia's high security prison system."

The story, Good Riddance, criticized the Indonesian media, especially television, for seeming to "be a willing partner throughout this whole spectacle, especially during
the last four weeks while the authorities hesitated in carrying out the
execution order."

CNN International (I don't know about the US version) is also airing interviews with the bombers. The teasers show nothing but unrepentant killers who hide behind religion to justify their actions.

So, the $64,000 Question is: At what point should journalists pull the plug on these kinds on interviews?

South Asia: Media reponse to US election

Just to make sure everyone is aware, the rest of the world was watching the US elections closely.

Here is a report from Asia Media on the response in South Asia.

BTW, if you are ever looking for reports on how things are going in Asia for journalists, Asia Media is a good place to start. (Some students might even be from the countries covered in these reports. Would be interesting to get their perspectives on the differences between the US media and that of their home countries.)

That was no computer Walter, just Christmas tree lights in a cardboard box

Discover Magazine has a 20 Things You Didn't Know About...Elections.

Among them:

On election night in 1952, TV viewers saw Walter Cron­kite sitting beside UNIVAC 1, which famously called the race for Eisenhower after only 7 percent of the vote had been tallied.

Not quite. Cronkite sat beside a cardboard panel
with blinking Christmas lights. The real computer was projecting
returns in Pennsylvania.

An intersting story might be a follow up to this item:

16  For the 2006 elections, the Department of Defense
launched a Web-based voting system for overseas military personnel and
American expatriates. The system cost more than $830,000; 63 people
used it to vote.

How many used the system this year? I recall reading that military absentee ballot requests were way up this year. Was it this system or good old fashioned snail mail?

November 12, 2008

For students looking for a story idea...

This is a tongue firmly planted in cheek story about the history of ketchup by a friend of mine in Hong Kong: The history of ketchup.

So here is the story idea:
  • What are the history of other condiments?
  • What is the most popular condiment in the States? (Hint, it's not mustard or ketchup.)
  • What are the most popular condiments on campus? Why?
  • How do students use condiments? (For example, I always travel with Tabasco sauce for just about everything -- except fine French cooking. I find most American food too bland and Brazilian food too salty.)
  • What is "American" food? (Look at the food lines in the Johnson Center. Pretty international fare if you ask me.)
Just ideas being tossed out to help students think outside the box for stories.

November 11, 2008

Wake up call to traditional media

A forum sponsored by the National Press Club addressed election coverage and what it means for our industry.

"On Tuesday night, for the first time in the history of the craft, there were so many voices that it was very difficult to separate the voice of what we would call traditional media and the voice of all the others," said Con Psarras, news director at KSL-TV, the Salt Lake City NBC affiliate. "That confuses people."

Read the report on the panel discussion here.

November 10, 2008

For future journalists...

Young American Broadcasters is a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating the next generation of print and broadcast journalists. Each year YAB hosts an annual conference directed to college and university students with an interest in pursuing a career in the industry. This year’s conference will be held Nov. 19, 2008 at the National Association of Broadcasters, 1771 N Street, NW, Washington DC 22036.


Accuracy in Broadcasting & Journalism:

The Critical Influence to the Future of a Democracy

November 19, 2008

National Association of Broadcasters

1771 N Street, NW

Washington, D.C.

7:30 -8:00 a.m. Welcome and Continental Breakfast

“Being a Responsible Journalist”

Bob Franken - TV correspondent and columnist (confirmed)

8:00 -9:30 “Acquiring and Keeping Sources in Chaotic Environments”

Richard Miniter - Author and columnist (confirmed)

Jane Watrel - Freelance Reporter NBC (confirmed)

Kathie Scarrah-Associated Press

9:30-10:30 “America’s Financial Meltdown –Who Got It Right, Who Got it Wrong”

Beverly Kirk –Host, Washington Report-News Channel 8 (confirmed)

Jane Norris – Host, WFED “The Federal Drive” (confirmed)

Jodi Schneider-Congressional Quarterly

10:30-10:45 Break

10:45-12:00 p.m. “New Media Challenges - The 21st Century Journalist”

Mike Allen – Chief Political Writer, The Politco (invited)

James Taranto – Editor, Wall Street Journal’s “” (confirmed)

Michael Levin-Host,

12:oo-12:45 Lunch & Keynote Address

Michael Harrison

Editor and Publisher TALKERS Magazine

12:45-1:30 “Accuracy in Reporting: The Influence of a Responsible Press on the World’s Conscience”

Dr. Walid Phares – FOX TV correspondent (confirmed)

Jim Bohannon – Host, “The Jim Bohannon Show” (confirmed)

Paul Rodriguez – Former Investigative Reporter and Editor, Insight Magazine, Burson Marsteller (confirmed)

1:30-2:30 “Adversity at Home and Abroad: Beating the Odds to get the Story”

Jigme Ngapo - Tibetan Service Director, Radio Free Asia (confirmed)

Joel Mowbray – Columnist, “Town Hall” (invited)

Cyndi Scott, President = Three Roads Communications

2:30-2:45 Break

2:45-4:oo Communicating in a Time of Crisis and Political Uncertainty

Don Baer – Vice Chairman, Burson-Marstellar Global (confirmed)

Russ Hodge-Three Roads Communications (confirmed)

Lucie Morillon – Director, Reporters without Borders (confirmed)

4:-5:00 Closing Remarks

Mildred Webber-National Association of Broadcasters

Blanquita Cullum – Founder & President, Young American Broadcasters

Globalization hits the roads of Iowa

Al Tompkins had a brief piece on how Brazilian road salt could cause problems in Iowa.

Now I ask, how can it be so much cheaper for Cedar Rapids to import salt from more than 5,000 miles away than the Detroit or Canadian version? I would think that any reporter would ask this question but Channel 9 in Cedar Rapids did not make that connection. They went with ONLY the danger to car windshields from the larger grain Brazilian salt.

Is the lack of curiosity a result of limited air time -- so they could not discuss the larger issue? Or is it a result of what we are seeing in more and more U.S. journalists: a complete lack of interest in the rest of the world?

And are our students any better?

A look at correspondent selection in a new administration

Politico has an interesting piece on the changes that will be occurring in the White House correspondent scrum.

November 8, 2008

How the world press reacted...

FYI, a graduate student at the University of Florida worked through election night grabbing and tagging 98 different screen captures from news web sites around the world.

Mindy McAdams writes about the project.

To go straight to the project, click here.

Pretty interesting look.

November 7, 2008

Positions the president can fill

As a story resource:

The Presidential Transition website has loads of information about how the transition works and what positions the president can fill.

Here is the main page for the Leadership Positions. And for anyone who has been in Washington for more than 2 days, here is the all-powerful Plum Book.

For a bit more information on what these powerful people are supposed to do, Brookings has the Prune Book.

Loads of good information for background stories.

Or to start a pool as to who gets what positions in the new adminsitration.

November 6, 2008

Even Geeks have to use correct grammar...

The Tech Republic website is usually more concerned with making sure IT managers do their jobs right or providing the latest gizmo news.

Every now and then, however, they have a piece that crosses the line into the world of us lesser mortals.

Toni Bowers, head blogs editor for Tech Republic has a create little column on correct grammar.

Think of this as a way to get the students who are so computer/geek oriented to realize we, who push correct spelling and speaking, are not always old fashioned and wrong. :)

Six grammar and punctuation mistakes you might not know you're making.

November 4, 2008

More on journalists and voting

Jim Romenesko from the Poynter Institute brings forth a column from John Archibald of the Birmingham News about why he is not voting in the election.

The reasons I won't vote

Election Sites and Online Tools

PC World Magazine has a great article about websites to help track the election results.

Everything from MSNBC and CNN to The Onion and InDecision 2008 (Jon Stewart and friends) are on the list.

Worth a look.
Some basic numbers for those looking for election numbers.

With all the talk of the Obama wave of young voters, I thought it might be prudent to see just how much young voters have participated in the past.

The largest percentage of 18-24 year olds voting was 1972, the first presidential year they could vote and when the draft for the Vietnam War was an issue.

The following table was gleaned from the U.S. Bureau of Census Historic Time Series Tables of Voting and Registration by Race, Hispanic Origin, Sex, and Age Groups: November 1964 to 2006. The table is in Excel
format and CSV.

Year Total voting-age population Voter turnout by Percentage
Total population 18-24 25-44 45-64 65- Older
Years Years Years Years

2006 220,603 43.6 19.9 34.4 54.3 60.5
2004 215,694 58.3 41.9 52.2 66.6 68.9
2002 210,421 42.3 17.2 34.1 53.1 61.0
2000 202,609 54.7 32.3 49.8 64.1 67.6
1998 198,228 41.9 16.6 34.8 53.6 59.5
1996 193,651 54.2 32.4 49.2 64.4 67.0
1994 190,267 45.0 20.1 39.4 56.7 61.3
1992 185,684 61.3 42.8 58.3 70.0 70.1
1990 182,118 45.0 20.4 40.7 55.8 60.3
1988 178,098 57.4 36.2 54.0 67.9 68.8
1986 173,890 46.0 21.9 41.4 58.7 60.9
1984 169,963 59.9 40.8 58.4 69.8 67.7
1982 165,483 48.5 24.8 45.4 62.2 59.9
1980 157,085 59.3 39.9 58.7 69.3 65.1
1978 151,646 45.9 23.5 43.1 58.5 55.9
1976 146,548 59.2 42.2 58.7 68.7 62.2
1974 141,299 44.7 23.8 42.2 56.9 51.4
1972 136,203 63.0 49.6 62.7 70.8 63.5
1970 120,701 54.6 30.4 51.9 64.2 57.0
1968 116,535 67.8 50.4 66.6 74.9 65.8
1966 112,800 55.4 31.1 53.1 64.5 56.1
1964 110,604 69.3 50.9 69.0 75.9 66.3

* 1972 is the first year 18-21 year olds could vote in national elections.
* Note that since the 26th Amendment was approved in 1971 the
the 18-24 year old group has always been less than 50 percent.

Figures courtesty of the U.S. Census Bureau

November 3, 2008

Follow up to the Mindset List

WIRED has a fun little article about 5 useless gadgets.

The uselessness comes from the generational differences in what is useful and familiar.

So how about a discussion with journalism students about what they see as useless and what we older folks see as comfortable? (And granted there may even be some old-timers not comfortable with the fax.)

And remember that there is always the Beloit College Mindset List to see how today's students perceptions of the world are different from the profs. (And I am told by the authors of this list that it will be available in an expanded book form in time for the 2009 Fall term. Maybe the feature writing profs should look at this.)

Discussion for journalism students: Should journalists vote?

This is the age-old question.

How can a journalist be fair and balanced if he/she has opinions strong enough to go into a voting booth?

This is the question that purists in the industry AND critics of "the media elite" raise time and time again.

It is always worthwhile for incoming journalists -- our students -- to address early. They really need to get their minds wrapped around the idea that the role of a journalist is to be a fair reporter of events.

But then, what is fair?

Do creationists deserve equal time with evolutionists in a science article?

Does Ralph Nader deserve as much equal space as Obama or McCain in an article about what steps the next president must take? If yes, how about Bob Barr? The Communist Party candidate? Where do you draw the line?

Just thought this time of year is a good time to once again raise the issue of ethical behavior in journalists.

November 2, 2008

Boy those debates really got the candidates talking!

This is a funny and interesting look at how the candidates stayed on message throughout the debates.

Any ideas on how to fix this in the future?