Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy Holidays

Hey, I know it's been a while since my last post (which was for school). But then again, I'm on my Christmas break after a hectic semester and I feel I deserved a week or two to rest. Whatever the case, I'm back now after reading a lot and finding some fun Youtube videos. I wanted to share this one on media bias after all my posts on journalism. I like the "What You Ought To Know" videos and this guy's research is accurate to what I learned in class.

So yes, I've been reading a lot. It's Christmas break, right? Since I don't have to read for school, I read for fun. The books include "The Power of Six" by Pittacus Lore, "The Son of Neptune" by Rick Riordan, "The Peach Keeper" by Sarah Addison Allen, and finally, "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak.

Of these books I have to say I'm most excited about "The Book Thief." I've wanted to read it for years, but because it wasn't my typical choice I preferred to borrow it from the library first, and it was always checked out. "The Book Thief" is a story of WWII and Nazi Germany as told by Death. It's about a girl who steals books while Germany falls apart around her and her foster family hides a Jewish man in their basement. But more importantly, it's a story about the power of words. Hitler rose by the power of his words - he was no intimidating soldier, he was an orator - and the protagonist of Zusak's book is stealing back the words. As a potential writer I like the message that reminds readers of the power of language. I want to learn how to wield that power well and for the right reasons.

Overall, it was a good story and I'm glad I own a copy.

I also read "The Son of Neptune" by Rick Riordan. Just when I think this author can't get better, he does. I'm not saying these books about the demigod Percy Jackson are one day going to join the ranks of classic literature, but I have to say Riordan does a very admirable job translating mythology into a modern world. Not only that, but his plots are exciting and tight and his characters feel real. The characters are clever, funny and heroic. I just found out that there will be a film version of the second Percy Jackson book "The Sea of Monsters" and I'm looking forward to seeing it.

As for my writing, I'm taking a break. Well, sort of. I have a couple of friends reading "Nightshade" right now and after I return to school I will get their feedback. As for the thesis (tentatively titled "The Shifting" or "Midsummer Magic"), I'm resting before the last final dash to the finish. I'm becoming antsy, though. I may start the project up again in the next few days. Stay tuned for updates.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Code of Conduct

This is my journalism code of conduct. It's a little longer than my usual post:

Ethics play an important part in being a journalist. As the Fourth Estate, Journalists are supposed to watch government and big business and report if they act contrary to the best interests of the citizens. That said, codes of conduct are very important, and as a potential journalist and definite consumer of news I feel the need to have a code of conduct for myself and for the reporters I learn news from. News is only as valuable as the reputation of the reporter who tells it, so the reporters I learn news from must have good reputations as ethical, honest civic servants. Likewise, if I someday become a journalist, I must act ethically to be taken seriously and also to be an honest human being. To do this I must act with independence, verify my facts, and always remember my first loyalty is to the citizen.

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel states the first element of journalism as, “The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing” (12). This, I think, is the first part of the definition of excellence in journalism. Journalists exist to maintain free communication between citizens and leaders, so a good journalist must be capable of carrying messages to the public so that people can govern themselves. Thus, journalism is the Fourth Estate, an unofficial branch of government that must do its job well if democracy can succeed. When tyrants want to control a populace, the first thing they do is control the press. I consider providing citizens with the information they need to self-govern as part of being a good journalist because it’s simply competence at the job – no one wants to listen to a journalist who cannot bring important and relevant news to the attention of the public. Part of my code of conduct for journalists is a kind of professionalism that seeks to find the truth and report it so citizens can hear it and understand it. Also, with the growth of electronic communication, journalists should learn how to use new methods of communication to get their message out to the public. In short, be good at what you do and keep learning so you’ll be even better in the future.

Competence is one important part of the code of conduct, but the other part, ethical behavior, is even more essential. A journalist may be very adept at telling a story so it is clear and engaging, but if the public cannot trust her to tell the truth then all the well-written words are worthless. As a writer, I cringe to think any words I might write would be completely without credit. To me honesty is a time to use Kant’s Categorical Imperative – never, ever deceive. When a journalist reveals something, it had better be the truth as far as that journalist can determine. Likewise, journalists should be independent not only of government and business organizations but also of each other. They should find their own facts, and double-check all facts told to them by sources. It’s all too easy for a lie to spread because journalists assumed it was true because it was told to them by another journalist. Independence and verifying facts are twin components of honest journalism, built upon the foundation of capable reporting. A journalist who along with being good at her job is also honest in her writing and fact-checking will have a steady reputation with the citizen as an ethical journalist. Therefore, she will be in a better position to serve citizens because citizens will be willing to listen to what she has to say.

Ethical behavior boosts everything a journalist may say. Of course, ethics can be a tricky subject on some points. While I agree wholeheartedly that a journalist must never deceive the public, there are times when it seems some facts should be withheld. I believe that this is okay, beneficial even, as long as those facts held back are not relevant to the story or would cause more harm than good to report. For example, if someone is murdered it may cause pain to the families of both the victim and the murderer to have their names and information posted in the paper. Journalists should weigh their options when writing about sensitive subjects and here, I think the ethical theory of utilitarianism is best to use, along with the Golden Rule. A journalist’s first job, as stated above, is “to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing.” If including details in a story will cause discomfort to a few but will greatly benefit the rest of the public, then perhaps the journalist should include them. The Golden Rule also applies because journalists have to remember that the people they are writing about are not imagined characters – this is how journalists differ from novelists. The people affected by an event will have real reactions to it just as the journalist would if she were in the same situation. In some cases leaving out details minimizes harm, and the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics requires minimizing harm.

In my personal code of ethics I would consider religion quite a bit. As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints my religion shapes my thoughts so much that I do not think I could divorce it from my ethical code of conduct. It has formed by beliefs on how to treat other people and what kinds of actions are right and worthy. I believe all religions should be treated fairly by journalists, and if I decide to become a journalist and am asked to cover religious stories I will gather all the relevant facts, be they secular and religious. That means both sides of controversy and I would do my best to display the religion in my story as objectively and respectfully as I can.

The main belief that would form my code of ethics would be: place the citizen first. If I do that, then I should have no reason to doubt if a moral dilemma came my way. By putting the citizen first I would be sure to tell the truth accurately and objectively; there is no place for opinions in straight reporting. If I covered political, ethical or religious stories I would be safe from ethical problems if I put the citizens first and made sure I paid attention to the human emotions the citizens who happened to be part of the story. “Journalism’s first loyalty is to citizens” (52), Kovach and Rosenstiel write as one of the elements of journalism. By treating citizens as they want to be treated – without deceiving or causing undue harm by hounding a suffering person – I would show my loyalty to them and stay away from ethical problems. My credibility as a journalist would remain untarnished.

If this is the kind of reporter I plan to be, then this is the kind of reporter I want to see. When I read the newspaper I expect that the journalists are telling the truth. I expect them to provide the facts that are relevant to a story without hyping it or omitting key facts, both of which I consider forms of deception. The journalists who write the stories I read should be considerate servants of society in how they treat the people they write about. The truth always comes out and if a journalist behaves unethically, I will someday learn about it in an ethical reporter’s story. An example of this is Rupert Murdoch’s News International hacking a missing girl’s cell phone. The scandal is well-known now and unethical behavior did not pay off. Some reporters may argue that deception and trickery are necessary to tell the truth, but I think there are better, ethical ways to get at the truth. Each situation is different, yes, but journalists who are not independent, honest and ethical are punished if they are caught no matter how “necessary” the deed was.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Journal Report #13

This is my last journal report for my Creative Writing class. Sad, but I'm excited to get out of Provo and go home for Christmas. Writing has been good - I wrote a query letter for my independent project. It's not the first query letter I've written, but I have hopes that it will be the best since we learned techniques for writing one in class. I always feel a little like a ham when I write a query letter, like I'm getting too braggy. Anyway, I also added a chapter to my project. I realized the plot needed a few twists to complicate it a little, just enough to make it a novel and not a long short story.

Let's just say Jeremy's taking some small jobs along with helping out Becca, and one of them involves missing allergy medicine. Which will soon tie back in with the main job of taking down the football team.

Work in progress, will workshop it tomorrow.

As for my reading, I've been enjoying my favorite Christmas classics. That means books like When Santa Fell to Earth by Cornelia Funke. I like this book because it's short and whimsical, a light Christmas-y read that makes me want to drink hot cocoa and eat gingerbread. It's filled with holiday magic. I also like The Legend of Holly Claus by Brittney Ryan. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful and the story is an enchanting take on Santa Claus and the North Pole.

The interesting thing about both these books is that the author is able to work a subtle magic into the writing that grabs me even though I don't read words describing it. As a writer I hope to learn how to add that subtle hint of something greater to my writing. It's one thing to be able to create a simple story - it's another to make it something worth reading multiple times.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Relevant and Engaging Journalism

This post makes me happy because it discusses the “story” in reporting, and I am, after all, a story fanatic. It also talks about what to do if the journalist is a celebrity. What do these have in common? How do you make the story interesting for readers and what if it’s too interesting? A video created based on one of the chapters I read will give a good overview of the balance between relevance and engaging.

Storytelling techniques like using plot and character make for better writing, be it in a novel or in news. That’s not to say news stories can’t still be relevant and focused on facts – in fact, it should always be. But the inverted triangle is not the only way to write as a journalist anymore. Diana Suggs wrote an article that shows good storytelling in a relevant, touchy subject. I’m excited to see more writing like this, as long as the character-building details are relevant and not just there to add scandal or “hype” any part of the story.

I also read about celebrity journalists and what they do to and for journalism. Celebrities are more likely to get stories others cannot, but there is a risk. This article from the American Journalism Review explains the pros and cons of celebrity journalists. The big problem, I think, is that citizens are inclined to see celebrity journalists as pursuing a big story not to tell the truth or be a watchdog but to increase their fame. People have to be able to trust the motives of the celebrities. That doesn’t mean that I think journalists should retire once they become celebrities, but they would have to work harder to convince the public that they’re on its side.

Comprehensive and Proportional Journalism

In the chapters I read from The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, I learned about the naked body and the guitar. Actually, as the title of this post says, I learned about the need for journalists to keep their reporting comprehensive and proportional. They compared this to cartography – if the figures on a map are either bigger or smaller than they are in real life, it distorts the way people deal with it.

The naked body and the guitar analogy is about hyped news. The idea is that if you want people to notice you, you can go outside and strip. People will definitely notice that. However, you can’t keep people that way. If you want to keep people, you can play a guitar on the street. If you’re good enough, the crowd of people watching you will grow. (Of course, you could do both.) The point is, hyped journalism may draw attention but it won’t keep it. Good journalism will.

One thing that some reporters do that make people think a story is hyped is show emotion on air. Anderson Cooper is well known for this, and I found a video clip where he defends showing emotion in public. It’s true that some people may hype their emotions to make the story more interesting, but sometimes a human reporter will have a human reaction to a story, particularly if it touches on something close to them personally. I think a reporter showing some emotion while maintaining professionalism is not out of bounds; rather, I think it shows that journalists are not robots and that they care about the citizen. And isn’t serving the citizen what journalism is all about?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Journalism and Faith

In class we learned about how a journalist balances their work with their religion. This is very important to me because I consider myself an active, religious member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons). My religion has been in the news a lot lately since Mitt Romney started running for president, and journalists have had to look at the religious side of the campaign. The problem comes, however, when journalists look too much at religion in a story or too little.

Terry Mattingly, editor of www.GetReligion.org, says, “People read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines.” About these stories that are important to people, he says, “Religion often provides a context for these issues.” I agree with this. Someone’s religion affects how they act, think, talk, etc. Religion forms core values that define human behavior, but often journalists ignore the religious context of a story.

However, sometimes a journalist can focus too much on religion. I think religion can provide context but it can also be like commenting on the race of an attacker – extra detail unnecessary to the story but there to make the story juicy. An example is the presidential campaign. I don't think religion is all that relevant; I think voters should focus more on leadership qualities and policy in deciding who would make a good president.

Religion is a tricky subject to write about, worse I think than race or gender because of the way it does influence thinking. Religionwriters.com has guidelines and aids to journalists covering a religious beat.

I think good journalism is when a journalist is honest, accurate, and looks at all relevant sides of a story. That may or may not include religion. It is up to the journalist to decide how to most objectively include faith in his or her writing, and it should be included more than it is.