A Poignant Picture Essay of My Year in J School

It’s the last week of classes and, as a grad student,  I am naturally experiencing the constant urge to pluck every hair from my head. Additonally, I only have ONE chocolate left in my rabbit-shaped box of delightful Fererro hazelnut chocolate balls. Serious times, y’all.

Anyway, I am procrastinating writing my several ridiculously long papers by writing this eloquent blog post. And since I don’t exactly feel like glazing your eyes over with the usual text overload I have decided to put up a fun picture post. Yay picture posts!

Katie’s Life in Grad School: Phase One

This is me in August stepping onto Alabama’s campus and preparing to start my epic journalism journey and the proud owner of my OWN bathroom.

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LET’S DO THIS!!!

This is me at the end of the fall term.

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Oh Oh OH Stayin alive stayin alive

This is me at some undefined point during the spring semester.

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I picked Journalism?!! JOURNALISM??!!!!?

This is me whenever I get a blog post compliment.

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This is probably how I look and sound to my roommate when I walk into our apartment after class.

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This is me when I check my bank account balance weekly.

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This is me when someone asks me what am I planning to do when I graduate.

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This is me when a professor confirms I have a future as a writer.

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This is going to be me for the next 2 weeks before I move to Anniston, Alabama for the summer.

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And finally, where I imagine myself in 5 years, obviously.

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Not Your Grandma’s Journalism: A Grim Look at Economics from a Doe-Eyed J Schooler

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In the first chapter of The Vanishing Newspaper, Philip Meyer states, “the best way to ensure the future of newspapers would have been to conserve their influence and pay the costs of the radical experimentation needed to learn what new media forms would be viable.”  I agree with Meyer’s statement but am also acutely aware that preserving influence in this new age of radical experimentation is easier said than done. Meyer asserts that while new technology does allow for a faster, cheaper, more durable product, it also leads to a confused audience lost in the land of sensory overload.

A central question that has formed in my mind: Can journalism still deliver a quality product using today’s electronic channels that is relevant, meaningful and profitable? There may not be a clear answer but possible solutions lie in the models and strategies outlined in Meyer’s The Vanishing Newspaper.

Meyer examines the societal influence model, which serves to provide an economic rationale for journalists’ fulfillment of civic duty. Through the investment of quality resources, publications are able to produce a quality product. This product either creates trust or strengthens already present trust and leads to increased readership, more advertisement opportunities and ultimately, the golden egg of profit. This model proposed by Knight Ridder’s Hal Jurgensmeyer is a logical business strategy but does not account for increased trust leading to monopoly and also neglects the reality that many newspapers no longer have the funds to increase resources.

Therefore, we transition into the goose and the golden egg scenario Meyer describes in the second chapter of The Vanishing Newspaper.  Meyer offers two models for newspaper owners. The first one is the harvest model, which focuses on short-term investments that have immediate rewards but future concealed costs. The second one is the nurturing model, which encourages owners to accept this new reality of competition and change and focus on improving their products to fit the electronic delivery market.

As the New York Times and more localized publications place their news behind pay walls, there is the concern that journalists will let quality suffer due to the fact that electronic distribution is produced at no variable cost. However, I believe in the future success of the entrepreneurs that view this change as an opportunity instead of a threat and are willing to take current risks and settle for rewards that may not happen for several years. I personally think journalists should accept that news is no longer a linear relationship and look for unique, creative ways to deliver news in this ecosystem of opportunity.

In the chapter titled “Saving Journalism” as well as in the 2013 State of the Media reports, it is clear that journalists have reasons to be optimistic but should know that the hard numbers don’t lie. Meyer points out that entrepreneurial risk takers need more than an income as compensation for their efforts. They need their news product to have value and meaning.  This balance of profit and public journalism is really put to the test on the Internet where, as Meyer puts it, there are “low costs and anyone can play.”

In “Newspapers: Stabilizing, But Still Threatened,” it is evident that while the new pay wall system seems to be working okay at the moment, it does not take away from the ugly reality that downsizing and cutbacks are covering the industry like an outbreak of weeds. Digital advertising does not seem to be making up for the loss of print advertisement, which implies a long lasting game of catch-up is set to happen over the next decade.

In looking at the television side, viewership and advertising are at low levels, which suggest that the Internet is consuming this form of media in the same way it did with print. An important factor in this digital shift is clearly the increased use of mobile devices to consume news. Not only are journalists going to face the pressures and difficulties of switching to electronic delivery in general, they will also have to acquire the in-depth skill sets that ensure readers can consume the news on phones and tablets. From an optimistic standpoint, I believe this need allows for more job opportunities for those who can master social media and other components that come with this digital shift.

The major concern always seems to rotate back to gaining profit without loss of trust. I appreciate Philip Meyer’s reference to Henry Ford’s sentiment that profit will be a natural byproduct of a well-performed service to society. I hope this sentiment will hold true as more and more doe-eyed journalists are hurled into this tumultuous digital era.

Covering Tragedy: The Newtown Bee

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(Courtesy of newtownbee.com)

Coverage of tragedy and crime is arguably one of the most sensitive and difficult topics to explore in journalism. When done poorly, stories can exploit and stereotype victims and their families, all for the sake of a sensationalized dramatic tale that will boost ratings and do nothing to further truth or understanding. When done correctly, coverage can lead to a better-informed community and promote safety by clarifying what is and what is not acceptable behavior.  Newtown Bee editor Curtiss Clark stated that, in terms of people’s interest in the Sandy Hook story, they needed “architecture to make sense of this randomness.” Journalists should provide this architecture in a thoughtful manner.

In “Coverage of Crime” by Melvin Coffee, the two sides of the crime debate are outlined with a focus on crime distortion and stereotyping. On the con side, Coffee examines how depiction of youth and racial crimes is unbalanced and also mentions the “copycat” effect, which is the idea that the more attention the media gives to the details of a crime the more likely a member of the community is to commit the same crime.

This concern was prevalent in the Sandy Hook shooting as Rachel Aviv mentions in her New Yorker article “Letter from Newtown: Local Story: A community newspaper covers a national tragedy.” Newtown Bee editor Curtiss Clark worried that by giving too much media coverage to shooter Adam Lanza and his methods the paper would be inadvertently giving troubled teens in the community similar ideas.

Excellent crime coverage is all about how you retrieve and interpret the information. Aviv’s articled mentioned how some outside reporters arrived in Newtown and took the approach of ringing the doorbells of the grieving families. I definitely agree with Clark that bothering parents who have just lost their child to get a good story is exploitation and a step too far. Journalists should be acutely aware of not crossing this line, as there comes a time when we must respect privacy and help the public discard the idea that we are their enemies.

Another aspect of reporting crime that deserves a significant amount of attention is self-care for journalists. We think of the people who experienced the horrific events as the only ones in need in help, but in fact, journalists who become intimately involved with these stories can be forever scarred and traumatized. Aviv’s article mentions how in one sad case a reporter who wrote about the Columbine shooting had to quit her journalist career and work at a coffee shop because she was so traumatized by the events. In this area, The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma seems to do an excellent of job of improving the coverage of crime while also making sure not to neglect the health of the journalists themselves.

In conclusion, I think it is crucial to note how Aviv’s article stresses that Newtown will forever be changed by this tragedy and the newspaper that writes for that community will forever be grappling with this change as it struggles to redefine its purpose. In the weeks after the tragedy, Bee editor Clark made a conscious effort to focus coverage on the positive outcomes that were happening as a result of the tragedy in order to keep a broken community delicately intact. With national media flooding the town and the entire country watching closely, the paper could have faltered and ultimately crumbled, but after reading this article, I think this newspaper fulfilled its journalistic duties under the most unimaginable of circumstances.

My favorite quote from editor Clark in the article is from the section that details his struggle with the plethora of gifts and kind words the paper received. He felt, “Like he was being hugged repeatedly by an eight-hundred-pound gorilla. You feel the love, but you end up walking around with cracked ribs. It hurts.”

Journalists as Political Referees

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In examining the various guidelines journalists should follow when covering politics, I believe Philip Seibs says it best in the first chapter of Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism:

“Journalists must resist the allure of trying to be all things to all people (leaving that to the politicians) and just try to construct a sprawling, helpful framework on which voters can base their choices.”

First, it is our job to present the important issues to the public, and Seib points out that those issues especially include those facing minority groups such as the homeless, Native Americans and the mentally ill. These groups do not have the funds to grab the attention of powerful political parties. By pressing for specifics and resisting manipulation of the politicians, the press can allow the truth to advance to the forefront.

 I appreciated Michael Shudson’s sentiment inThe Concept of Politics in Contemporary Journalism when he mentioned that there is an abundance of reporting on what’s wrong but not an adequate amount of coverage on what’s right with politics. Journalists’ roles boil down to providing the facts while making this information both interesting and relevant.

However, this role is easier said than carried out and journalists can turn into what Christopher Hayes refers to as “well-paid pundits telling us how the working class people think” in his article about the right way to approach political coverage. Hayes is clearly very opinionated and blunt in pointing out what is wrong with political coverage today. I agreed with his suggestion of more feature writing and less mundane daily reporting as well as his idea that while covering the campaign itself, journalists should remember to emphasize global and economic events that are the living examples of the issues candidates are asserting they will address.

Along these lines of sensationalized stories, the candidates themselves obviously have a checked history with the press such as the case with Richard Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, who used his speeches to target the press for their obsession with controversy and feeding lies to a gullible public. I agree with the press delving into the private affairs. Candidates running for office are well aware that skeletons are going to be yanked from their closets and the public deserves access to information that will help them determine the true character of their public officials up for election. However, journalists need to be extremely careful that their sources are reliable and their facts are correct, as during an election, sensationalized rumors can easily find their way into tweets, blogs and front pages, creating a mass hysteria. 

In conclusion, I think Schudson’s model is a fitting summation of journalism’s place in politics: “…the political world is not so much a complicated place that requires fair-minded description and analysis but a misleading construction of self-interested powers that demand a professional truth-teller.”

Truth is the foundational pillar of journalism and this concept is muddled and twisted in the contests that make up the political arena. Therefore, journalists are meant to be fair political referees delivering information to the public that leads to informed decisions about both the candidates and the issues they aim to address.

 

The New Networking: Eating Goldfish With Don Lemon

Today started out as as typical Thursday.  I woke up like a zombie at 10am after a late night of furiously attempting to be productive. I did homework on the computer while Gilmore Girls played comfortingly in the background. I drove around downtown a bit and took some pictures for a story, which included a random lady getting out of her car and yelling at me, “I GOT YOUR BACK GIRL!!” Ok, so not entirely my typical Thursday.

I then went to my Ethics in Journalism class where I had the distinct pleasure of listening to CNN anchor Don Lemon speak to our class about his career journey and share advice to a group of young people hungering for his success secrets and hopefully an Iphone snapshot. Additionally, I had the even greater honor of letting him greedily grab goldfish off my plate after I awkwardly rushed to the snack table immediately following his talk.

First. Just check him out.

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Buy his book Transparent here. Read my professor’s blog post about him here. Read an article about his good-looking-ness here.

Lemon is the kind of guy you went to get cocktails with after work and bash Jonah Hill. His quick wit, charming demeanor, and headstrong determination to simply never give up despite being told you don’t have “it” is inspiring and refreshing as I enter a field described to me by many as “dead,” “dying” or “What are you doing?”

The Baton Rouge native’s advice is simple but as lovely as his facial features: Be yourself. Be excellent. Don’t be perfect. That’s not how people are. Appreciate the journey instead of miserably scurrying to the TOP.

“The top is really not that great,” Handsome, baby faced Lemon remarked with a laugh. “Yeah, I get in limos, I get special tables at restaurants, but I don’t care about that…Once you get to the top, everybody’s trying to take you down because they want to be there too.”

Although I find it hard to believe that the limo rides and speedy service don’t put a sparkle in his already twinkling eyes, I do believe that Lemon is 100% on this one.  His advice came at a perfect time for me, a grad student wrapped in the chain links of deadlines with a question mark for a future. Neck deep in the “mental breakdown” phase of my Master’s program, I’ve been feeling not unlike a chicken that was recently beheaded.  All I can think about is getting there, graduating, finding a job, and MAKING IT. Not that I know what “making it” means but it sure has sounded nice…up until now.

Oh Don Lemon, my little CNN buddha in a skinny tie. I should just appreciate the freaking journey! And what is that journey you ask?

The journey is experiencing all the highs and lows with the grad girls that are in this program with me. All the late nights, the laughs, the tears, the jokes, the funny drawings. The journey is the feeling you get when Rick Bragg scrawls an A on your paper after once referring to your writing as “abstract pretentious bullshit.” The journey is singing “I Will Survive” for your kindred spirit of a roommate while she videotapes you on her Iphone. The journey is interviewing someone for a story and seeing their eyes light up as they talk about Tuscaloosa Civil War history or cooking locally grown peaches.

Lemon was asked how he kept his composure while reporting in Connecticut during the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. He replied, “In Newton, I wasn’t a reporter…I was a human being. I cried on camera. I said things I never would have said. I was there experiencing things people watching from their comfortable living rooms or fancy offices could never understand.” It gave me chill bumps and it made me realize that being a journalist means being a human being and telling stories about what makes us that way.

I think I can do that and not being perfect is definitely something I am excellent at. Here’s to the journey (raises large glass of wine)…and looking as handsome as Don Lemon is when I’m 46! No botox he claims. But a fierce love of goldfish.

KT

Choose Your Own Adventure Journalism

I recently read an article on buzzmachine.com by Jeff Jarvis titled “Public is public…except in journalism?”  The article was written in response to criticism of a map published in a newspaper showing the addresses of people who have acquired gun permits. This issue falls under the debate over gun control that has exploded across the country following the Newton school shooting that occurred last month.

While I’m not going to debate the issue of gun control in this post, I do wish to talk about the relevant argument Jarvis is making, which asserts that it is up to the public to decide what information is important and not necessarily the journalist. This argument may be hard to swallow for those dubbed as “old school,” but I think it makes sense, considering a journalist’s main responsibility is serving the public. However, this argument makes the assumption that the pubic is informed enough to handle the power and responsibility of regulating important information, which relates right back to the duty of the journalist. It’s a very chicken or the egg type deal.

Jarvis states, “Our default as journalists should be that more information is good because it can lead to more knowledge.” At first glance, this statement is very appealing to me. Information is the fuel that leads to decisions, change, and actions in our society and larger world. However “change” and “actions” are broad terms that don’t always mean inspired and positive movement. The reality is misuse of power can lead to violence and danger. Jarvis admits that certain topics relating to criminal investigations and security should be kept private. So, does that mean that everything else is fair game?

This issue of gatekeeping can’t be discussed without bringing to light the fact that we are moving into a very digital world. I realize everyone’s tired of hearing that, but we might as well open our laptops and face the music. “Back in the day” (Sorry Mom and Dad), when the news came only in print delivered directly to one’s doorstep, journalists had a different, arguably greater responsibility. What was written in ink was permanent, in the sense it couldn’t be erased forever with one click, and it was brought to the entire public’s attention whether they wanted the information or not, whether they were equipped to handle it or not. Sure, they could choose not to read it, but what was there, was there. There was a clear divide between the journalist and the public the journalist was writing for.

Today, in an age where not having a twitter account makes one as archaic as a record player, journalism has entered a Choose Your Own Adventure type world. Reading the news is your choice, just one carefully tracked click away. Google search, type in a web address, or click on links but ONLY if you want to . You have the ability to actively search certain terms, follow whoever you want, and select the personalized news and updates that appear on YOUR page. Additionally, there is no longer a clear divide between journalists and the public. Anyone can blog, tweet, facebook, and comment on posts. All you need is a computer, a username, and occasionally the ability to pass a test stating you are not a robot. Then BAM, your thoughts are out there, right alongside someone who got a degree and or $ to write something.

I actually am a fan of new technology giving the public more power, which may seem strange coming from a journalist who hungers for such power. Yes, people will misuse information, and it could lead to danger, but I think the positive outweighs the negative here. For every irrational, ill-informed, frivolous blog rant, there is an active discussion forum happening somewhere. If someone is spreading lies on twitter, challenge them on it or unfollow them and find someone else to follow that makes you think.

The fact is PEOPLE ARE TALKING. Yeah, the political rants on Facebook are highly annoying, but I honestly think we are getting somewhere. I think the fact that the public is discussing issues right alongside those who write professionally is a great achievement for journalists who aim to reach their public in a new, personal way. It doesn’t make our jobs less important or meaningful, just gives us more reason to keep doing what we do. We can sit here and gripe about journalism dying or we can have a little faith in journalists and the general public to take information and use it in a totally new,different, and effective way.

Jarvis says, “I would hate to see society and especially journalists find themselves advocating the regulation of knowledge.” Truthfully, I guess I have no choice but to be excited for this idea of making more information available. This field IS what I am getting my Master’s Degree in, after all.

I, as journalist and public news consumer, Choose My Own Adventure. What are you going to do?

Katie