Monday, September 26, 2011

Truth in Journalism

The very first part of the Society of Professional Journalist’s code of ethics is “Seek Truth and Report It.” This shows how important it is to journalists to tell the truth. In class this week we discussed truth in journalism and how to determine what the truth is. It is not an easy question – truth may be hard to extract in gray areas like, in the example given in class, the reason why a football team lost.

Yet journalists have to tell the truth. They have in the past, and as they haven’t dropped that part from the code of ethics I assume they will continue trying to tell the truth in the future. But maybe not. I found a video clip of journalists talking about modern news and if it’s still necessary to tell the truth in a modern age where people have become more skeptical of what they hear. If people are more skeptical, does that mean journalists can express their own opinions more? Or should journalists try to tell the truth because people are not as skeptical as they seem.

There’s actually a Center for News Literacy now to help people judge whether or not the news they’re receiving is the truth. I think that’s sad. News is a public service that gives people the information they need to be self-governing. If people can’t trust journalists to serve them true news, then they either can’t govern themselves correctly or they have to find truth through other means. Which is bad news for those people (journalists) who get paid to tell the truth.

In the video one person mentioned that modern news can be verified or contradicted by blogs and other electronic postings. If journalists do not tell the truth, the world will know. And they will know fast.

Journal Report #4

This week has been hectic. Blame standardized testing and illness. But I have still read and written, like a dutiful aspiring author. The book I read this week was also for my class, although I don't have to have read it until later. It was The Chosen One by Carol Lynch Williams. It is about a 13-year-old girl who belongs to a polygamist colony. And it made me mad.

Not the writing, of course. It was very well written, an excellent book. No, what made me mad was what happened in the story. It felt like I was reading a dystopia novel, like The Hunger Games or The Giver, but this didn't take place in a future world; it is a present day story. I don't know how much of it is an accurate representation of what life in a polygamist colony is like, but if it's like how Carol Lynch Williams wrote it I have a right to be upset.

As for my writing, it's going well enough. We've moved on to middle grade writing in my class and so I have drawn sketches for three middle-school aged kids. One of them really shines - he has a very distinct, very strong voice and I want to pursue this. I call him Jeremy, he's 12, and he provides his fellow middle schoolers with a service that isn't always legal. All right, he's a bit of a thief, although he would call himself a "retrieval specialist." I've even drawn up a fake advertisement Jeremy may have written.

"Forget something at school and now the door's locked? I can get through. Someone steal your lunch money? I'll take it back before the lunch ladies pick up a pan. Homeroom teacher confiscate your iPod? You won't be without it long. Your lost or stolen property will be returned to you, no matter how impossible the job may seem. And I promise, no one will ever know."

Still polishing it up, but you get the idea. There's a lot I can do with a kid like this.

I've also been working on my current "big project," aka my thesis novel. It's time for me to start revising and making my characters a little more human. Right now they represent ideas of where I want them to be. But they have to have more weaknesses. For example, my 26-year-old Thomas was pretty wise and collected at the beginning. Now I added a paragraph about his worries and his video game-esque pursuits that make him less of an adult and more of a man-boy. Don't worry, he'll grow up quite a bit through the novel.

So that's me this week. Busy in many directions, but still a fan of stories.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Journal Report #3

So, this has been an interesting week for writing. I've read a lot this past week but it's all been homework. One book I read was Missing in Action by Dean Hughes. It's a middle grade novel that I had to read because the writer is coming to speak to us. I say "had to" because it wasn't something I would have chosen for myself, but I'm glad I did. It is a historical fiction about a boy named Jay who is living in Delta, Utah with his mom and her parents. Jay is one-quarter Navajo and has to deal with people's stereotypes about Native Americans. He works with a boy named Ken, a Japanese American who lives in an internment camp. The book is about stereotypes and truth, and most of all being yourself and not being ashamed by labels or what others think. At least that's what I got out of it.

What I liked about the book was that the author sets his story in a small Utah town and his characters are LDS (Mormon). However, the story is not about Mormonism. His characters are people living in a difficult time and their faith does help them, but the author is not preachy or defensive about the use of religion. Neither does he strike against it. Religion is a fact in the story rather than the main point. It's an example, for me, on how I as an LDS writer can write characters of faith without making faith the main theme of my story. Sometimes a story on faith may be appropriate, but when it's not it's possible to write like Dean Hughes.

As for my writing, it's been rough. I've been working on my picture book. It's a lot better than it used to be. Simpler, but better. More like the picture books I read for my other assignments. Here's the opening:

Once upon a time there was a princess who could sew, sing, and paint perfectly. She was also excellent at sword fighting, rock climbing, and horse racing. Her name was Princess Charming.

When Princess Charming was old enough to marry, her fairy godmother left her at a dragon’s cave. “Wait here,” she said. “And a handsome prince will slay the dragon and marry you.”

Princess Charming waited until she was bored and then made friends with the dragon. She didn’t want to wait for a prince anyway.

I also have started rethinking a short story I wrote last year and haven't looked at in a while. I hesitate to say much about it because I might change a lot, but I will say I'm taking a English major's angle on post-apocalyptic themes. It will be fun!

The Future of News

In Journalism class a group presented on the future of news, aka, how journalism will survive as the Internet pretty much takes over. They showed us a “Did you know?” video that underscored how quickly the world is changing. It was a kind of frightening thing. It made it clear that journalism had to change to keep up with the rapidly changing world, but I don’t think blogs and Facebook and “citizen journalists” are going to run professional journalists out of business.

There will always be a place for the Fourth Estate because as people grow more educated about the world and about the Internet they also become more skeptical of what they read. Journalists, whose job is to verify facts and tell the truth the best they can, are still valuable because they can provide a measure by which the news on blogs can be judged for veracity. That said, I am glad news is changing to include blogs. Journalists have now a wide range of sources so they can better get the whole story, and even if they miss something, the truth can still come out because anyone can tell it.

One of the issues with digitizing news is that it is easy to fake a picture or video when it is digital than when it is analog. This will be a problem and readers/viewers will have to be discerning when watching the news. For example, the Onion News Network is fake, and while there may be a few facts in their “broadcasts,” the news is not real and for entertainment only. However, the set-up of the ONN looks like a real news cast and credulous viewers may mistake it for truth. If the ONN can do this to crack jokes, others can do this to deceive purposefully.

Electronic news is great, if we understand the risks associated with it (photoshopped pictures).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Journal Report #2

So, an update on what I've been reading and writing this week:

This past week I've been working a lot on my picture book assignment for class, so my reading and writing have been primarily focused on picture books. I did read a few chapter books, adult books (readers will know this as I commented on them in a previous post) but I also read 10+ picture books and analyzed one of them.

I also wrote several drafts for a picture book. The first one was a story about an intrepid little kid who's showing a new baby sibling the ins and outs of the world as he knows it. The older sibling teaches the very young "rookie" baby how to fight tigers (house cats), find treasure behind the couch, and avoid the monster (teenage brother) sleeping in his room. "That was close. Keep by me, kid, and soon you won't make rookie mistakes like that" the big sib says after the baby wakes up the cranky teen. But I didn't like this story much, so I found a better one.

The other one I wrote and spent time revising was titled "Princess Charming" and was a reversal of Cinderella. Princess Charming can do anything. She can sew, sing, and rock climb. Her fairy godmother tries to make her fit the traditional princess role and get rescued by a prince, but the princess keeps saving herself. Cinder, a young man oppressed by his stepbrothers, wants to meet her. The fairy godmother quits and the king decides to throw a ball for his daughter.

Cue skewed fairy tale: Cinder goes to the ball with the help of Princess Charming's weary fairy godmother. This is my favorite part:

He arrived just in time to see Princess Charming escaping from her own birthday party.

“Why are running away?” he asked. “It’s not even midnight yet!”

The princess looked at him with tears in her eyes. “I can’t dance,” she said. “It’s the only thing I can’t do.”

Cinders smiled. “That’s okay,” he said. “Neither can I.”

The princess and Cinders ditched the ball and went exploring instead.

Much better than the first. So, a lot of writing done this week, in a genre I'm not used to. But I think I got somewhere in the end.

What is journalism for?

I will begin by saying I am an aspiring writer but for a long time I didn’t know what kind I wanted to be. I considered journalism for a while because of the attributes of journalists listed in “The Mind of a Journalist” by Jim Willis. Journalists are curious, love to read, love to write, and have a desire to add to the world. I share those loves and desires, but I am not as extroverted as journalists have to be.

Journalism has changed a lot with the advent of the electronic age, but a lot has stayed the same. “The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing,” write Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in their book “The Elements of Journalism.” Now that information comes from everywhere: newspapers and television reports, but also Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, and personal blogs like this one. Everyone can be a journalist if they want to be. Everyone can contribute to the information pot.

Kovach and Rosenstiel ask what a journalist’s job is now that every citizen can report and interpret news. “The new journalist is no longer deciding what the public should know – this was the classic role of gatekeeper. He or she is helping audiences make order of it.” While I agree with this I think the modern journalist does more than that. They act as agenda setters – the New York Times still sets the standard for what is newsworthy. Also, papers like the New York Times are recognized as reliable because journalists are held to a higher standard than a blogger. Someone may read something on a blog but until it is verified by a reputable newspaper or broadcast it’s not trustworthy. Maybe that’s just part of making order of the vast floods of information available now.

I think journalists still have the responsibilities they had before the Internet came into being. But now they have to act as a guide to the other fledgling journalists out there.