December 30, 2008

Story Idea: E-commerce buying satisfaction

Seems that the online retailers did not roll out the red carpet for buyers this year, despite a rough year for sales in general.

The annual Foresee Results showed that more than one-third of the 40 online merchants surveyed finished with lower scores in retail satisfaction than they did
during the same period a year ago.

CNET Report on the study.

Get a free copy of the report from Foresee Results.

So, how was your online shopping experience? How about your friends and family members? Man/woman on the street?

December 22, 2008

Using Social Networks in Journalism

The DC SPJ Chapter is running a program Jan. 24 on using social networks such as Facebook in journalism.

Details here.

Punking friends in Montgomery County

Interesting story from the Sentinel newspapers about how students in at Richard Montgomery High School attach photos of a friend's (or rival's) license plate over their own plate and then speed through the speed cameras. The victim then gets a citation.

Local Teens Claim Pranks

(And please note the bragging rights next to the Sentinel banner: "Winner of Excellence in Local Journalism awards from the National Society of Professional Journalists..."

And here is the Ars Technica version.

Any students at Mason hear about similar things happening?

AP Top Stories of 2008

Obama's election voted top news story of 2008

NEW YORK (AP) — The epic election that made Barack Obama the first African-American president was the top news story of 2008 — followed closely by the economic meltdown that will test his leadership, according to U.S. editors and news directors voting in The Associated Press' annual poll.

Rest of story.

Story Idea: Holidays by the numbers

The 2008 Holiday Season

The holiday season is a time for gathering and celebrating with friends and family, gift-giving, reflection and thanks. To commemorate this time of year, the U.S. Census Bureau presents the following holiday-related facts and figures from its data collection.

It’s in the Mail

20 billion

Pieces of mail the U.S. Postal Service expected to deliver between Thanksgiving and Christmas last year. The busiest mailing day was expected to be Dec. 17, as more than three times the average daily volume of cards and letters were to have been mailed (more than 275 million versus 82 million).

Source: U.S. Postal Service

Rush to the Stores

$30.5 billion

Retail sales by the nation's department stores (including leased departments) in December 2007. This represented a 42 percent jump from the previous month (when retail sales, many holiday-related, registered $21.5 billion). No other month-to-month increase in department store sales last year was as large.

Other U.S. retailers with sizable jumps in sales between November and December 2007 were book stores (78 percent); clothing stores (37 percent); jewelry stores (137 percent); radio, TV and other electronics stores (46 percent); and sporting goods stores (53 percent).
Source: Service Sector Statistics

14 percent

The proportion of total 2007 sales for department stores (including leased departments) in December. For jewelry stores, the percentage was 21 percent.

Source: Service Sector Statistics

23 percent

The proportion of growth in inventories by our nation's department stores (excluding leased departments) from Aug. 31 to Nov. 30, 2007. Thanks to the holiday crowds, inventories plummeted by 22 percent in December.

Source: Service Sector Statistics

Note: Leased departments are separately owned businesses operated as departments or concessions of other service establishments or of retail businesses, such as a separately owned shoeshine parlor in a barber shop, or a beauty shop in a department store. Also, retail sales estimates have not been adjusted to account for seasonal or pricing variations.

$23 billion

Value of retail sales by electronic shopping and mail-order houses in December 2007 ─ the highest total for any month last year.

Source: Service Sector Statistics

$39 billion

The value of total retail e-commerce sales for the fourth quarter of 2007. This amount represented 3.6 percent of total retail sales during the period and exceeded e-commerce sales for all other quarters of the year.

E-commerce sales were up 19 percent from the fourth quarter of 2006.

Source: Service Sector Statistics


The number of electronic shopping and mail-order houses in business in 2006. These

businesses, which employed 263,979 workers, are a popular source of holiday gifts.

Their sales: $191 billion, of which 39.4 percent were attributable to e-commerce. California led the nation in the number of these establishments and their employees, with 2,381 and 32,728, respectively.

Source: County Business Patterns

Annual Trade Survey

If you're not sure where to do your shopping, choices of retail establishments abound: In 2006, there were 152,021 clothing and clothing accessories stores; 9,969 department stores; 9,522 hobby, toy and game shops; 31,813 gift, novelty and souvenir shops; 23,270 sporting goods stores; 28,300 jewelry stores; and 10,989 book stores across the nation.

The figures shown are for locations with paid employees.

Source: County Business Patterns

Christmas Trees and Decorations

$493.3 million

Sales by U.S. Christmas tree farmers in 2007.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

$114.3 million

Sales by Christmas tree farmers in Oregon in 2007.

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

$593.8 million

The value of U.S. imports of Christmas tree ornaments from China between January and August 2008. China was the leading country of origin for such items. Similarly, China was the leading foreign source of artificial Christmas trees shipped to the United States ($66.2 million worth) during the same period.

Source: Foreign Trade Statistics

Where the Toys are ... Made


Number of establishments around the country that primarily manufactured dolls and stuffed toys in 2006; they employed 2,410 people. California led the nation with 16 locations.

Source: County Business Patterns


The number of locations that primarily produced games, toys and children's vehicles in 2006; they employed 13,665 workers. California led the nation with 118 establishments.

Source: County Business Patterns

$3.4 billion

Total value of shipments for dolls, toys and games by manufacturers in 2006.

Source: Annual Survey of Manufacturers

$4.9 billion

The value of U.S. toy imports including stuffed toys (excluding dolls), puzzles and electric trains from China between January and August 2008.

China was the leading country of origin for stuffed toys coming into this country, as well as for a number of other popular holiday gifts. These include roller skates

($42 million), sports footwear ($136 million), golf equipment ($638 million) and basketballs ($31 million). China leads Indonesia as the leading supplier of ice skates ($42 million versus $10 million), with Thailand ranking third ($9 million).

Source: Foreign Trade Statistics

Holiday Names

Places whose names are associated with the holiday season include North Pole, Alaska (population 2,183 in 2007); Santa Claus, Ind. (2,320); Santa Claus, Ga. (247); Noel, Mo. (1,587); and -- if you know about reindeer -- the village of Rudolph, Wis. (419) and Dasher, Ga. (830). There is Snowflake, Ariz. (5,343) and a dozen places named Holly, including Holly Springs, Miss., and Mount Holly, N.C.

Source: Population estimates

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa


Proportion of the nation's spuds produced in Idaho and Washington in 2007.

Potato latkes are always a crowd pleaser during Hanukkah.

Source: National Agriculture Statistics Service

$1.3 billion

The value of product shipments of candles in 2002 by the nation's manufacturers. Many of these candles are lit during Hanukkah and Kwanzaa celebrations.

Source: 2002 Economic Census

New Year’s Eve and Day


The estimated July 1, 2007, population of Champaign, Ill., a place whose name alone may get you into a celebratory mood.

Source: Population Estimates

$475 million

U.S. manufacturers shipments of effervescent wines (including sparkling wines, such as champagne) in 2002.

Source: 2002 Economic Census

More than 305 million

The nation's projected population as we ring in the New Year.

Source: Population projections

December 19, 2008

Newspaper use of Internet

Interesting look at how newspapers are using the Internet to deal with the steady loss of hard-copy readership.

The Bivings Report

Every year, The Bivings Group conducts a study of the web features of America’s largest newspapers as a way to gauge how papers are dealing with the threat and opportunity presented by the rise of the Internet as a news source.

Some key findings:
  • Newspapers are experimenting with user generated content.  The study found that 58 percent of newspapers allowed for user generated photos, while 18 percent accepted video and 15 percent articles.  Overall, 58 percent of newspapers offered some form of user generated content in 2008 compared to 24 percent in 2007.
  • Research shows that the number of newspaper websites allowing users to comment on articles has more than doubled in the last year.  Seventy five percent of newspapers now accept article comments in some form, compared to 33 percent in 2007.
  • Integration with external social bookmarking sites like Digg and has increased dramatically the last few years.  Ninety-two percent of newspapers now include this option compared to only seven percent in 2006.
  • Every newspaper the study examined featured some sort of online advertising.
  • All of the 100 newspapers in the study provide some type of RSS feed. In 2007 all but three newspapers offered RSS feeds.
See the full study.(PDF version)

Deep Throat Dies

W. Mark Felt, the man known as Deep Throat in the Watergate scandal, has died at 95, a family friend said late Thursday.

Washington Post

Washington Post Watergate Summary


For our students, (and yes, I know everyone is on break right now) this is an opportunity to discuss the kind of work Wood-Stein put into developing the Watergate story. The leg work and phone work that went into getting just that one extra piece of information that made the story is what good journalism is all about.

I don't know how many times I told my students that they should have more information in their notebooks than they will need for the story.

But I don't think any of them believed me.

I could tell because many times it was obvious they were trying to pad their stories with fluff to reach 700 words. (And let's not even start talking about the 1,500-2,000 word stories some of them tried to push on me.)

I don't know about anyone else, but I always enjoy getting the information much more than writing the story. The thrill of the chase is always more fun.

December 18, 2008

Washington News Bureaus Are Shrinking

Published: December 17, 2008


— A new president arrived from a new party. The balance of power shifted in Congress. Legions of fresh new faces showed up in the nation’s capital with new ideas, eager to upend the way the country
does business.

The year was 2000, and Cox Newspapers had about 30 people in Washington to cover the new Bush administration.

Eight years later, a similar transformation is under way, the stakes heightened by two foreign wars and the worst economic collapse in decades, but Cox will not be there to cover it. Cox, the publisher of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Austin American-Statesman and 15 other papers, announced this month that its Washington bureau would simply close its doors on April 1.

Rest of story.


Why are people surprised? This is just the next natural step.

For the past 10 years or so US media outlets -- with the exception of National Public Radio -- have been cutting back or eliminating foreign news bureaus and foreign news reporting.

During that same period, the world has become more interconnected politically, economically and socially.

The US media turned their back on the rest of the world for a variety of reasons, including financial problems. But that only explains the reduction in full-time foreign correspondents. It does not explain the cut back in the use of wire copy or freelancers to tell American readers stories from around the world.

And now, the nation's capital is being treated as a distant country as news organizations remove their reporters from the area.

And this is good for the news industry and our readers/listeners/viewers how?

December 17, 2008

Fake News Charted

Thanks to WIRED magazine for looking at the Fake News industry.

Below is the chart of the history of this industry. Note that The War of the Worlds (1938) is included as is the hilarious That Was The Week That Was from the early 1960s. (See Tom Lehrer. Who did a lot of the music for TW3.)

Click on the chart to see it in full size.

December 16, 2008

Jon Stewart on the state of the newspaper industry

Journalists and controlling one's emotions

We now know about the famous shoe-throwing incident in Iraq. This opens up an opportunity to talk to our students about ethics, objectivity, fairness, etc.

I have already heard the argument that different cultures have different ethics when it comes to journalism. Not sure I buy that anymore than I believe the SPJ Code of Ethics are the end all and be all for all journalists in the world.

This morning I got a note from a colleague in Iraq. Seems at least one media group in Iraq is embarrassed by the action. Perhaps this could be used to spark more discussion among our students and fellow journalists.

Reject Barefoot Journalism!
16 December 2008 (KurdishMedia)

On December 14, 2008 President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki had a press conference in Baghdad. An Iraqi journalist threw his shoes one at a time at the American president. Interestingly Mr. Bush moved very quickly and dodged the shoes so none of them hit him. Apparently he is physically very fit and might have an extensive experience in dodge ball. Most likely dodge shoes becomes the favorite game of children who watch Al-Jazirah. I am wondering if the angry man had thrown the shoes at his own current leaders who welcomed Mr. Bush, would Prime Minister Maliki or President Talibani have been fit enough to protect themselves from being hit; probably not.

Nobody claims that President Bush is flawless or that he should not be criticized. In fact almost every American journalist including the one from his own party rightfully criticize him on a regular basis for his mistakes. However, compare to Saddam whom he removed from power, President Bush is actually a saint. President Bush did not feel insulted and even made a joke about the size of the thrown shoes, which might indicate his mental fitness. I am wondering if the angry man had thrown his shoes at Saddam, would he or any of his family members had been allowed to live any longer; probably not.

Although I am not an Iraqi but a Kurd, I felt embarrassed for the behavior of the angry reporter. For decades Kurds and Iraqis have fought for freedom of speech and press. If a journalist can not respect his own profession and violates the rules of free press, how could the world trust the region to become free? As Middle Eastern we are already labeled as barefoot people for taking off our shoes at our homes, mosques, beaches, and deserts. We do not need our reporters to be labeled as barefoot journalists and denied access to conferences where keeping shoes on is part of an appropriate attire and manner! In fact we need to reject barefoot journalism.

Considering his behavior, probably the angry reporter does not qualify to be a journalist at this stage of his life. The best thing he could do is to apologize to the American people for insulting their president and seek anger management classes. Once he has recovered, he might return to his profession and politely ask the American president when will we be free or as we ask in Kurdish kay azadabeen?

December 15, 2008

The problems of trusting spellcheck

There is "The Cupertino Effect" to make that case that writers need to learn how to spell.

The long version.
The short version.

And then there is my contribution

Don’t Depend on Spell Check

When ewe right, ewe should remember two double Czech you’re spelling. Spell check will knot catch awl miss takes.

As eye sit hear in my office reeding articles, eye one dear how many thymes I have scene speeling errors that should have been avoided.

Spell check a loan does knot prevent miss steaks.

Sum times using the grammar Czech helps too identify some miss takes.

There is nothing like reeding a story out loud. When ewe reed sum thing and here it, ewe can often sea wear the mistakes are.

The annual "What do the 12 Days of Christmas Cost" report.

This one is from the Weather Channel.

Just go through it yourself. :)

Sometimes certain stories have to be done year after year.

Bottom line:
Total Cost of 12 days of Christmas in 2008
: $86,609
Up 10.9 percent from last year's cost of $78,100

Happy Bill of Rights Day

Today, Dec. 15, in 1791 Virginia became the 10th state to ratify the first 10 amendments to the brand-new U.S. Constitution. (The Constitution took effect March 4, 1789.) And for journalists, right up front in that list is the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Bill of Rights is modeled after the Virginia's Declaration of Rights, drafted by George Mason in 1776. It was Mason and James Madison, among others, who criticized the drafters of the Constitution for not including a list of the rights Americans should enjoy. A compromised was reached that following the ratification of the Constitution a Bill of Rights would be introduced.

The Bill of Rights was written by James Madison and passed by Congress Sept. 25, 1789, just six months after the Constitution went into effect.

While many of us in journalism proudly wear buttons that say "It's the First for a reason," the original First Amendment dealt with the system of representation. And gun enthusiasts would be saddened to learn that the original Second Amendment had to do with congressional pay. (That amendment was finally ratified in 1992.)

The First Amendment Center is always a good place to visit to see how things have gone for the First Amendment in the past 200 plus years. At that site you can see the annual "State of the First Amendment Reports."

So go out and enjoy your freedoms. This is the anniversary of the first time someone wrote down those rights for a country and meant for that list to be honored.

Still need some work on that free press thing.

Interesting event in Baghdad over the weekend.

Seems an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at President Bush during the president's unannounced visit. (Throwing  shoes or showing the bottom of your shoes to someone is considered an insult.)

The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi is with Egypt-based al Baghdadia television.

al-Zaidi shouted, "This is farewell -- you dog," and "You killed Iraquis," as he threw the shoes.

Security forces quickly surrounded him and dragged him from the room.

Bush quipped, "That was a size 10 shoe he threw at me."

al-Zaidi was kidnapped November 2007 on his way to work in Baghdad and released three days later.

An SPJ colleague now on active duty in Iraq sent a note about the event, saying his earlier praise for the efforts for more freedom of the press should not be seen as supporting shoe throwing, but...

"If I had to choose between last night's incident or going back to the utter void of press freedom under Saddam. I'm prepared to put up with a little shoe-throwin'."

So why raise this in a journalism professor blog? Aren't we all about teaching AP style and honing those interviewing and writing skills?

Yes, but...

Our students need to understand that freedom of the press and speech is not aboslute, no matter what the First Amendment says. (BTW, happy anniversary Bill of RIghts. Today in 1791 the BIll of Rights was ratified.)

Our students should also understand how difficult it is for journalists raised in one form of press rules ("Say what the government tells you to say or you die.") have to work in another. ("Report the facts fairly and accurately and let the readers decide.") And all the versions in between and in reverse. (I still recall the shock from neophytes to China that Beijing might engage in censorship of Western media as well as their own.)

December 14, 2008

History in pictures

A friend passed on a really interesting look at the past through pictures.

And as an old Kodachrome user myself, I enjoyed the old pictures of the Kodak boxes.

Pre-World War II pictures and black history.

Story idea: So what does happen with discarded technology?

We've all faced the problem of what to do with an old computer or mobile phone.

Now think about what large organizations have to go through. And especially organizations that end up having to close up shop completely.

One such group -- the McCain-Palin campaign -- dumped about 50 Blackberries on the public market for $20 each.

Here's what happened when FOX News bought some.

Thanks to Boing-Boing for pointing this out.

A note on media freedom, democracy and the threats faced.

The following is an edited note from a friend, journalist and journalism professor currently on military duty in Iraq after being called up from Army reserve retirement.

Probably the most gratifying experience I’ve had is one I can’t discuss in detail, because it involves my work. Let’s just say that in detailing how we will help Iraq build its democracy there was no mention in the next Joint Campaign Plan (JCP) of freedom of the press, and now there is. I’m under no illusions that a Western-style democracy will take root here just because we will it, but I told them that without a free and independent press, there will be no democracy, period. Russia and Venezuela have lost their young democracies because those governments have muzzled the press.

They incorporated it into an annex of the JCP.

And the threat to journalists remains strong from more than explosive devices in the road.

There have been two troubling reports in the news here about the press in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. One journalist was jailed in October for criticizing a courthouse, another recently for writing an article about homosexuality, not condoning it, just a clinical discussion of it. He was jailed under a public decency law!

This was about the same time I was arguing for press freedom. I e-mailed the news item about the arrest to [a] contact in the working on the JCP and asked tartly, “Is this what we’re fighting for?” The president of Kurdistan did pardon the journalist the other day, after he spent about a week behind bars.

A lot of Iraqi journalists have been murdered, a familiar story. Al-Qaida killed four members of a camera crew for the leading independent station, Al-Sharqiya (The Easterner), who were in Mosul working on the extremely popular program modeled after our “Extreme Makeover.” When they showed up at the house that was to be made over, the bad guys abducted them, took them into the desert and shot them execution-style. Why? Because the program was too Western! Those bastards!

December 13, 2008

From the Department of DUH!

Pentagon May Have Mixed Propaganda With PR

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008; Page A02

The Pentagon's inspector general said yesterday that the Defense Department's public affairs office may have "inappropriately" merged public affairs and propaganda operations in 2007 and 2008 when it contracted out $1 million in work for a strategic communications plan for use by the military in collaboration with the State Department.

Rest of the story.

December 12, 2008

Quotes to look for in 2009

(NOTE: The following was written by a colleague in Hong Kong. Face it, we need a giggle every now and then.)

What will the economy do in 2009?

By Nury Vittachi

Will it recover? Will it fall further?

We asked representatives of every major professional group to sum up their members' opinions in a single sentence.

The results are in.
  • The Air Traffic Controllers' Association said: "We reckon the whole thing is up in the air."
  • The Archaeologists' Society said: "The economy will dig itself into the ground." The Air Pilots' Association said: "We will shortly be encountering a period of turbulence."
  • The Automobile Association said: "We're giving it the green light."
  • The Society of Blacksmiths said: "We're going to get hammered."
  • The Botanists' Society said: "The problems extend right down to the roots."
  • The Bricklayers' Union said: "It's going to hit a wall."
  • The Chiropractors' Association said: "The important thing is to relax and let everything click into place."
  • The Clockmakers' Society said: "It will tick over at first, but then wind down."
  • The Association of Courier Companies said: "It'll get there, but take longer than you think."
  • The Society of Dancers said: "We see it taking steps in the right direction."
  • The Dentists' Association said: "Now this won't hurt a bit."
  • The Electricians' Union said: "Sparks are going to fly."
  • The Entomologists' Club said: "Our members say they can detect a buzz."
  • The Farmers' Association said: "We see it growing organically from the ground up."
  • The Fire-Fighters' Union said: "It'll crash and burn."
  • The Society of Florists' said: "It'll blossom at first, but will then wilt."
  • The Funeral Directors' Society said: "It's dead and buried."
  • The Geologists' Union said: "It's as solid as a rock."
  • The Hairdressers' Association said: "We're going to go long at the top but definitely short at the back and the sides."
  • The Herpetologists' Club said: "It'll snake about a bit."
  • The Human Resources Managers' Union said: "We see it downsizing."
  • The Jockey Club (ed. note: These are the guys who run the horse racing in Hong Kong) said: "After lagging for a length it will beat the odds by a short nose."
  • The Journalists' Union said: "It'll be SENSATIONAL."
  • The Librarians' Society said: "Returns will be late coming and will incur penalties."
  • The Lift Technicians' Union said: "We foresee a smooth descent to zero."
  • The Glider Pilots' Association said: "It'll stay up for longer than most people think."
  • Members of the Golf Club said: "It's going to be below par."
  • The Explosive Materials Institute said: "It'll go with a bang."
  • The Union of Miners said: "We see it falling into a big black hole."
  • The Musicians' Association said: "After a slow start, it will rise to a major crescendo."
  • The Union of Lumberjacks said: "Successive cuts will weaken the structure until it falls slowly to the ground with a loud crash."
  • The Flight Engineers' Union said: "There be a short delay for technical reasons."
  • The Interpreters' Club said: "The economy will fall, tomber, vallen, jatuh, cadere, falle or cair."
  • The Financial Analysts' Society said: "It may go up, it may go down, or it may stay the same. Can I have my bonus now please?"
  • The Marine Biologists' Institute said: "It's heading underwater."
  • The Meteorologists' Association said: "The outlook is gloomy spells with scattered storms."
  • The Petroleum Importers Society said: "It'll run out of gas."
  • The Nanotechnology Institute said: "There will be improvements, but they will be very very very VERY small."
  • The Nuclear Scientists' Union said: "Don't worry, nothing can go wrong. Just keep repeating that."
  • The Union of Nurses said: "It'll be a bitter pill to swallow."
  • The Oceanographers' Institute said: "Trouble is coming, wave after wave of it."
  • The Opthalmologists' Union said: "It's hard to forecast as the top is clear but the bottom is a bit blurry."
  • The Piling Contractors' Association said: "The most important thing is to lay a firm foundation."
  • The Pilots' Society said: "We will shortly be beginning our descent."
  • The Police Officers' Club said: "It will proceed straight ahead in a westerly manner before encountering disturbances counter to the maintenance of further onward progress."
  • The Property Sales Association said: "It's as safe as houses."
  • The Expectant Mothers' Society said: "You're laboring under a misconception."
  • The Society of Public Relations Officers said: "There's going to be another massive fall, or what we prefer to call a 'negative rise'."
  • The Psychiatrists' Union said: "You're all bonkers."
  • The Association of Quality Control Inspectors said: "It's a reject."
  • The Unlicensed Bus Drivers' Union said: "Hold tight, it's going to be a wild ride."
  • The Skaters' Association said: "It's on thin ice."
  • The Society of X-Ray Technicians said: "We can see right through this one."
  • The Storytellers' Society said: "It will grow like Topsy."
  • The Taxidermists' Union said: "It's totally stuffed."
  • The Teachers' Union said: "Fail. Re-take. Must try harder."
  • The Union of Time Signal Announcers said: "At the beep, the economy will go from recession to depression: Bip. Bip. Bip. Beeeeep."
  • The Urologists' Conference said: "The notion of recovery just doesn't hold water."
  • The Veterinary Surgeons' Union said: "Anyone expecting good news is barking mad."
  • The World Council of Churches said: "Heaven only knows."

December 10, 2008

Snow and ice in Mexico

This is just too much fun.

The mayor of Mexico City created an ice rink and snow mound for the people to experience winter as we do in the north.

And it is an interesting look at Mexico that normally is not reported in the States.

Mumbai and Ethical Journalism/Rights' Anniversary

The Indian government is leaning on media outlets to stop showing pictures and clips of the Mumbai attacks. While not quite a cease and desist order, it is pretty close to one.

So why should we care? That is India and we are the United States.

Bottom line: we should care -- as journalists -- because we know that it is wrong to have any government office decide what should be presented to the public.

Fortunately journalists are also human with human compassion. And if that fails, in the USA anyway, there is also the SPJ Code of Ethics to help guide a reporter, editor or producer on what to present and how to present it.

One cannot argue that random repeated use of the gory details of the Mumbai killings should not be done. (SPJ Code: "Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage." and "Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.") But this is not something any government can decide.

And the Indian media are stepping up to criticize the government for their directives AND calling on their fellow scribes to show some compassion.

And why should we in the USA be discussing this? Because, as noted earlier, we share concerns about avoiding government interference in the news-presenting, decision making process.

Let's not forget two important dates that directly relate to this issue: Dec. 10 and Dec. 15.

Dec. 10 is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 of the UDHR states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Dec. 15 is the 217th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution. And for journalists, the First Amendment is key.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Both documents provide a clear statement of the right to print and say things without government interference.

So what happens when disasters such as Mumbai in India or the attacks of 9/11/01 in the States occur? What should the media do? Should scenes be repeated over and over on the television?

That is where we get back to humanity and the Code of Ethics.

Too often governments -- and the public -- will use episodes such as 9/11 and Mumbai to rein in the media. They will use the guise of "national security" or "public welfare." All we can do is our jobs to the best of our abilities and with the highest sense of ethical behavior.

We should stand with our Indian colleagues in the media. We should support them in pushing back against government intervention in the news gathering and reporting business. Why? Because we share values of press freedom and all the other freedoms and rights enumerated in the UDHR and the Bill of Rights.

And journalism students who are used to having the world at their fingertips, thanks to the Internet, need to understand that globalization is more than just cheap cars from Honda or low-cost goods from China. It is an interconnected web of rights and ethical behavior. (It would be pretty good if some working journalists would understand this as well.)

December 9, 2008

Wow! Political corruption that includes a major media player.

So, besides being accused of extorting campaign contributions and selling a U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder, Illinois governor Rob Blagojevich is also accused of withholding funds the Tribune Company should have received as part of the sale of Wrigley Field unless the company fired some members of the Chicago Tribune editorial board.

Suddenly newspaper people are important again!

From CNN

The government also accuses Blagojevich and Harris of threatening to withhold state assistance to the Tribune Company -- the company that owns the Chicago Tribune -- in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field baseball stadium. The company also owns the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley Field.

In exchange for assistance, the governor and his chief of staff wanted the newspaper to fire Chicago Tribune editorial board members who were sharply critical of the governor, the government said.

And from the AP

The affidavit also outlines Blagojevich conversations related to Tribune Co., which has been hoping to sell Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs which the publishing giant also owns.

Blagojevich was quoted in court papers as telling Harris in a profanity laced Nov. 4 conversation that his recommendation to Tribune executives was to fire the editorial writers "and get us some editorial support."

Harris is quoted as telling the governor Nov. 11 that an unnamed Tribune Owner, presumably CEO Sam Zell, "got the message and is very sensitive to the issue."

The affidavit said Harris quoted a Tribune financial adviser as saying cuts were coming at the newspaper and "reading between the lines he's going after that section," apparently meaning editorial writers. Blagojevich is quoted as saying: "Oh, that's fantastic."

"Wow," Blagojevich allegedly replied. "Keep our fingers crossed. You're the man. Good job, John."

Harris allegedly told Blagojevich in his conversation with the financial adviser he had singled out deputy editorial page editor John McCormick as "somebody who was the most biased and unfair."

After hearing that, Blagojevich allegedly stressed to the head of a Chicago sports consulting firm that it was important to provide state aid for a Wrigley Field sale.

It also appears that the Tribune, while doing its own investigation in the governor's alleged corrupt practices, was asked by the prosecutors to delay the story. According to Tibune editor Gerould Kern, the paper agreed in "isolated incidents."

Rabid anti-gatekeeper at KOS

SusanG, a blogger for the DailyKos got all huffy when a batch of former presidential aides and reporters got together Dec. 1 to talk about President-elect Obama's media campaign.

They suggested that too much use of the Internet -- blogs, YoutTube and e-mails -- would make the president too familiar. They said he should avail himself of the traditional methods of communicating to the American people: press conferences, Oval Office addresses, etc.

SusanG got up on her high blogging horse to say these traditional ways of communicating would also mean the perpetuation of a "mandarin class" of commentators to tell the American people what they just heard and what it means.

Oddly enough, she equates the commentator and analysis role some journalists play with the role of gatekeeper. As we all know, when we talk about the gatekeeper role it is not to tell people what to think, but rather to glean the important aspects from a much larger picture.

The fact that more and more people constantly complain about information overload does not seem to deter people from thinking that some sort of gatekeeper is not needed so that information can be put in priority order.

And that is what a good journalist does. A reporter and editor work together (in an ideal world) to get the most important aspects of a story up front and show as many sides of an issue as necessary to ensure the reader/viewer/listener has the facts and the context.

Too often the blogs provide interesting bits of information. But putting that information into a context that is usable often requires the reader to scan through dozens of other writers.

So why not trust your friendly neighborhood journalist? He/she already gets paid to gather information and present it to the public in a manner that is readable and accessible. Why waste your valuable time digging out what has already been dug?

Understanding the global use of English

First Stewart and team look at the role of the queen and devolve into leasing rights for English.

Just a morning quote to remember

Platitude: an idea (a) that is admitted to be true by everyone, and (b) that is not true.
  - H. L. Mencken

December 8, 2008

What are special interst groups saying to Obama?

The Obama-Biden transition web site ( has a section called "Your Seat at the Table."

In that section the Obama crew posts the documents the get from groups offering advice to the president elect.

For example...

The ACLU issued a paper called "Actions for Restoring America." In it the civil liberties group called for (among other points) the closing of the Guantanamo prison facility, an end to the the Ashcroft Doctrine on FOI and an end to the abortion gag rule.

The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (and no, these are not bartenders) prepared a document on global warming.

Lots of interesting reading.

At least these kids are reading a newspaper!

Click on image to see full size.

Copying documents and whiteboard notes with ease

Just ran across a great online service for turning whiteboard notes and documents snapped with your mobile phone camera.

There were times when I ran "think sessions" for my students to come up with ideas. When the white board was half way full, I would ask, "Is anyone writing these down? If so, please post them on the WEBCT site."

At one point I thought of using my mobile phone to capture the scribblings and then post the pictures on the class site. That worked as far as that went. Pictures were not as easily transferred as I hoped. (Lots of megabytes to move make for slow transfers.)

Now this new site -- -- will take the pictures from your mobile phone and then convert them to a PDF file sent directly to your e-mail.

Just for the heck of it I tried it this morning. I took a shot of a document. Within 1 minute I got a PDF back that was easily readable. And with my OCR, I transferred it to an editable WORD document.

So, I really recommend this.

The down side is you need good contrast and good lighting. Still, getting documents and whiteboard writings into a usable format quickly, this system can't be beat for journalists and educators.

Oh, and it's free.

December 7, 2008

December 6, 2008

December 5, 2008

NYT posts letter from Rangel and response side by side

Thanks to the Poynter Institute and Steve Myers for discussing a hot topic (Congressional ethics) and how the new media helps tell the story.

The New York Times ran an article that showed how Congressman Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) helped preserve a tax loophole for a company that later donated to City College of New York to create the Rangel School of Public Service.

The congressman got upset and wrote a letter to the Times to complain.

The editors decided to post the letter and the reporter's rebuttal side by side.

Myers thought the move was interesting. He stepped in and interviewed Bill Keller, Times executive editor.

The Myers interview and the side-by-side posting make for interesting reading.

The Gang of Three Ruin another industry: Private jets

Interesting read from Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute in Tampa.

Dec. 4, 2008

Auto Execs May Be Hurting Private Jet Business
I remember the days when I got to ride around in the Meredith Corporation jet a few times. A team was out looking at buying TV stations, and we hopped from town to town. It was great fun, and the executives could hit a few towns and still go home and sleep in their own beds.

Lately, though, the use of corporate jets has been highly criticized. The Big Three executives have become poster children for excess, riding in private jets to their first hearings. Watching General Motor's 6-foot-4-inch Rick Wagoner get out of the hybrid car was a picture of humility.

So what happens now to the private jet business? Will governors and other politicians have to ditch their flight plans for the time being until flying seems less excessive to taxpayers?

Time magazine makes the argument that maybe we have all of this wrong. Maybe people who run huge businesses and governments should not be sitting around at airplane gates hoping planes will leave and arrive on time. Consider this:

It was pointed out that the three could have flown commercial that morning for something like $212 each. But let's do the math. Three CEOs being paid millions a year each are going to Washington on a business trip to try to save $300 billion worth of sales and 3 million jobs -- and they are supposed to risk all of that on Northwest or US Air, a.k.a. Northworst and Useless Air, formerly Allegheny a.k.a. Agony Air? I see the connection: you fly to D.C. on a previously bankrupt airline as you contemplate the bankruptcy of your own company. The experience should be enough to scare you into devising a scheme to save your own company from such a fate. But wouldn't this be a case of America's worst-run manufacturing companies relying on America's worst-run service companies? There'd be a 50% to 75% chance of the CEOs showing up on time. What are you supposed to do, call Congress and tell them you're on a gate hold?

Even voices in the corporate aviation business worry that the public is getting the wrong message about charter business flights.

A commentary piece in the Hartford Courant offers some additional ideas about why flying commercial is not a great option for high-level execs:

High-level executives -- especially those heading up corporations in the news -- are the targets of significant and very real, threats, which are leveled at them every day. Flying commercial is not an option, even with a bodyguard. The exposure is simply too great.

Also, every major corporation I know has policies prohibiting certain senior executives from flying together, guarding against catastrophic loss to the corporation in the event of an accident. Asking three top executives from the auto industry, even from different companies, to fly together would violate the very appropriate caution imposed by this policy. Further, corporate aviation is not a royal barge, it is a time machine. 

Journalism Math

We all know journalists are notoriously bad at math.

Abbot and Costello help:

History and humor!

Today in 1952 Abbot and Costello premiered their TV show.

The show was popular but not as popular as their most famous routine: Who's on First?


Hoist a drink at 8:32 p.m. EST to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 21st Amendment

Anyone looking for a story idea?
How about campus drinking? Tie that into the 18th and 21st Amendments?
Maybe not, but at least we should all celebrate the repeal of the 18th.


Dec. 5, 1933
8:32 p.m.
The Utah legislature ratified the proposed 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Its action repealed the 18th Amendment and ended Prohibition.

Thanks to the people who wanted to save the world from the "evils of drink" and pushed through Prohibition in 1919 with the 18th Amendment we got positive results such as organized crime figures Al Capone. Besides laying the groundwork fro organized crime, Prohibition led to increased corruption among law enforcement officials and a weakening of respect for the legal process.

So let us all raise a glass of our favorite alcoholic beverage -- in moderation of course -- to praise those who finally woke up to the fact that legislating morality doesn't work.

History Channel Story.

December 3, 2008

Ground Rules for Interviews...

Bill McCloskey of the DC SPJ Pro chapter points out that the guidelines the State Department has for interviews are worth noting.

And these can be useful in setting the ground rules in all interviews.

Thanks Bill.

Ground Rules for Interviewing State Department Officials

Ground Rules
rules must be agreed upon at the beginning of a conversation or an
interview with State Department officials. The discussion should
proceed only after you and the officials are clear on exactly how the
information can be used or attributed.

On the Record
Information may be quoted directly and attributed to the official by name and title.

On Background
The official's remarks may be
quoted directly or paraphrased and are attributed to a “State
Department official” or “Administration official,” as determined by the

On Deep Background
The source cannot be quoted
or identified in any manner, not even as “an unnamed source.” The
information is usually couched in such phrases as “it is understood
that” or “it has been learned.” The information may be used to help
present the story or to gain a better understanding of the subject, but
the knowledge is that of the reporter, not the source. No information provided may be used in the story. The information is only for the reporter's background knowledge.

Off the Record
Nothing of what the journalist is
told may be used in the story. The information is meant only for the
education of the reporter.

Now where do you think he got this information?

The Loudoun Times reported on a study of the economic impact the Dulles Corridor has on the area. The study was done by GMU econ prof Stephen Fuller.

So where do you think he got all this great information?

My money is on the US Bureau of Census.

The American Community Survey of the bureau can provide loads of great information almost down to the street level.

Let's just look at the Fairfax County Educational Attainment table from the ACS.

Right from the beginning you can see that 59% of all Fairfax County residents in 2007 had at least a bachelor's degree from college. You can quickly compare that the the national figure of 27% for people 25 years and older. Or the state number of 33.6% for the same age group.

And I did all that in less than 2 minutes.

And with an additional 30 seconds I found that the percentage of 25 year olds and up who have at least a bachelor's degree in Prince William County is 37.4 percent. The Arlington County rate is 67.7 percent.

Two minutes more and I got the following income information
Median Income
  • National: $50,740
  • Virginia: $59,562
  • Arlington County: $94,876
  • Fairfax County: $105,241
  • Prince William County: $87, 243
Mean Income
  • National: $69, 193
  • Virginia: $79,711
  • Arlington County: $121,568
  • Fairfax County: $131,107
  • Prince William County: $101,032
(And if you need to know the difference between "median" and "mean," look it up yourself.)

I have long held that one of the least understood but most accessible sources for information for journalists to add perspective to a story is the Census Bureau. Journalism professors should be calling in experts from the bureau at least once a term to teach students how to mine the depths of the bureau's databases. (I did this for each of my classes. And the lesson stuck with a small percentage of the students but these were the ones who always went the extra mile to do their stories right.)

The ACS tables at the Census Bureau are easy to use and manipulate. Try them yourself and you will see how much background information is readily available to help provide context to stories.

December 2, 2008

Another bureau closes

Cox announced it is closing its DC bureau. Cox papers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Dayton Daily News will keep their own Washington and international bureaus.

Jim Romesnesko has the memo

Changes in political views?

The hear the left and right echo chambers tell it, Americans have been swinging wildly between the liberal or conservative philosophies.

A recent Pew Charitable Trust survey knocks that view on its head.

Seems the political leanings of the American public have changed little in the past two decades.

"Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal
(21%), while 38% say they are conservative and 36% describe themselves
as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George
W. Bush was first elected president, 18% of Americans said they were
liberal, 36% were conservative and 38% considered themselves moderate."


"Still, ideological labels do not always predict opinions about key
policy issues. For example, about half of Americans who describe their
political views as conservative say that all (24%) or some (27%) of the
tax cuts passed under George W. Bush should be repealed. More than
four-in-ten conservatives (43%) say that abortion should be legal in
some or all cases. On the other hand, nearly half of self-described
liberals (49%) favor more offshore drilling for oil and gas in U.S.

It pays to see what the experts say before commenting on changes in the political landscape.

Holiday Story Idea: Worst gifts possble

There are always stories about what are the best and coolest items in the holiday buying guides. Boing Boing and Gizmodo each had a series of on worst gifts. (It's getting difficult to find them right now, but I will update this once I find them.)

And now a friend and very funny columnist Nury Vittachi in Hong Kong comments on the latest item from Asia for the spoiled "little emperors": Mobile Phones for 3 Year Olds.

So I wonder, how about some stories on odd things being offered as gifts or things NONE of us would ever like to get or give?

Comments welcomed.

December 1, 2008

How is this our fault?

One of my favorite blogs, Gizmodo, asked: Who is most to blame for the Walmart trampling incident?

The poll -- copied below -- shows all the usual suspects of local store managers, crazy shoppers, the security team and our materialistic society. But one of the options is "The media."


How is it that every time something bad happens one of the choices for blame is "The Media?"

Are we held in such low regard that it is easy to blame us for just about anything?

Copy of survey:
Who is Most to Blame for the Walmart Trampling Incident?
  • The Walmart managers at that store.
  • The shoppers.
  • The security company and its employees.
  • The materialistic society we live in.
  • The media
  • Other

College students like Time -- new report

Thanks to Jim Romenesko for this...

College students say Time is their favorite magazine.

Along the way hit the top 10 and Perez Hilton dropped off.

Story idea: Sex, students and religion

The New Yorker magazine of Nov. 3 (I get my copies late, thanks to the military mail service the US embassy uses) has a fascinating article about sex and religion.

Red Sex, Blue Sex

A fixture of most college stories is the attitude of students about sex. This article provides another look at the issue of pre-marital sex. An interesting look that could be used as the basis for a campus-based story.

Irony exists: Today in history

Today, 95 years ago, Ford Motor Company debuted the assembly line.

Ironically, today (12/1/08) is also the day the Big Three (or as they say in China: The Gang of Three) CEOs return to Washington asking for a bailout.

So how soon do we see the "dis-assembly" line kick in?

Anyone looking for an idea for a story or commentary?