Monday, October 24, 2011

Good Night and Good Luck

We watched the film Good Night and Good Luck (see trailer here) in class and the first thing I thought about it was, “Edward Murrow is the man!” The film depicts him as this unflappable journalist who took down McCarthy without missing a beat, even when McCarthy accused him of communism. It was interesting to me that I thought that since journalists are supposed to be objective and Murrow was not at all in that film.

I would call what Murrow does in the film “advocacy journalism”. It’s fact-based, not propaganda, but supports a cause. Murrow supported stopping McCarthy’s communism witch hunts. We learn that a journalist has to be objective, to tell the truth without making judgment calls, but Murrow commented and judged what McCarthy did and is hailed as a journalistic hero. I suppose that is because another important quality of journalism is loyalty to the citizen, and when the citizen is under attack journalists can see themselves as having the need to protect them. So, objectivity versus civic duty. What is a journalist to do?

I guess he’s supposed to support the citizen and take down McCarthy. To me, the most important thing a journalist can do is speak out even when it’s hard and especially when it’s dangerous. It is a journalist’s job to tell the truth that no one else can. That means telling the country that people are being deprived of their Constitutional rights because they may have spoken to someone who spoke with someone who was friends with a communist.

Words have power to change the world and sometimes that brings the tenets of journalism into conflict. When that happens, the question arises: is a journalist’s first loyalty to people or to an ideal? It’s not an easy question, and I’m sure the answer is different for every situation and journalist.

But yeah, I still think Murrow was the man.

Journal Report #8

Last week was a bit of break for me, writing-wise, which was great because I needed it. I just finished a revision and I needed to get it out of my head so I can start another revision fresh. This week I'm going to read over my work and jot down places that need work. That's not to say I haven't done any writing - I've brainstormed ideas for my YA short story (sorry, I don't feel secure with any of them to talk about them where others can read. I'll likely change my mind) and I worked on my other novel some.

Yes, I have 2 novels in the works. My thesis is the one I'm revising like a madwoman. But I have another one I've worked on for almost 4 years and am trying to get published. It's been rejected a lot, so to cover my bases I gave my manuscript to some readers. One woman sent back some great tips for strengthening my writing, so that's what I've been doing. She also stayed up until 3 in the morning to finish reading my book. Best compliment ever!

Her tips included some places in the plot that were weak and a little pointless and she advised me to get rid of as many adverbs as I can. You bet I will, just as soon as I get a chance. For anyone wondering, this other novel is called "Nightshade" and is about a high school senior who goes into other people's dreams at night. Because of this gift, he sees things he wasn't meant to see and has to decide how much of what he sees is fact and how much is fantasy.

I think this week will be a big one for me, aka, I will do a LOT of writing. I did some reading the past week: "Matched" by Ally Condie and FINALLY "The Beyonders" by Brandon Mull. Both were good for different reasons. "Matched" reminded me of a more militant "The Giver," with a spin for teenage girls. "The Beyonders" satisfied me and I admire Brandon Mull's ability to mix humor with people dying left and right. Sounds weird, but I think it's a good skill to have.

Monday, October 17, 2011


Journalists are journalists and not bloggers because they’re held to a standard of verification. They cannot simply publish something for the sake of “getting it out” to be verified later, as tempting as that may be. Bill Kovach, a co-author of Elements of Journalism, delivered a keynote speech on verification in a changing, 24/7 news world. Journalists are dependent on pre-packaged news from organizations that create their own realities, so if they don’t independently verify their work they risk accidentally deceiving the public.

I found a list of resources to help journalists verify their reporting. It’s important for journalists to be honest when reporting, and that means not only not deceiving but also being sure they’re telling the truth. There are 5 things journalists must do to be accurate and honest:

1. Never add anything that was not there.

2. Never deceive the audience.

3. Rely on your own original reporting.

4. Exercise humility.

5. Be as transparent as possible.

When reading a book for another class, I found an example of deception in the news. The nonfiction book Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe, the true story of Emmett Till’s, a 14-year-old African American boy, murder for whistling at a white woman, has an example of deception. It was a very good book. The book tells that the mother of the victim said she would “seek legal assistance to support the prosecution of the killers” (70) and added “Mississippi is going to pay for this.” However, Southern papers only printed the last part so it looked like the mother blamed the whole state.

Even unintentionally focusing on certain words or phrases can change the meaning of a piece. That’s why checking for accuracy and making sure no one would find undue justification for their opinions in the report is so important.

Journal Report #7

This week was the week of nonfiction books that made me mad. One was Hitler's Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow by Susan Campbell Bartoletti and the other was Getting Away With Murder by Chris Crowe. They are both expertly written and made me feel personally connected with real, historical people. Therefore, I got mad. I am sick of discrimination and I hope if I were faced with similar circumstances I would be strong enough to stand up against a society that encourages discrimination and do what is right. I am sick of discrimination against anyone based on gender, race, or religion.

So, in happier news, I finished my first revision of my novel! I'm giving it a week before I reread it and start a new revision. I need to get those characters out of my head and forget that I wrote it. The evil editor needs to have full reign here. It's been interesting, fixing the beginning and watching the changes affect the rest of the story. By the end I was very happy with who my characters became and how they got there. So, I'm high on accomplishment. Need to calm down and check it again when I have a cool head.

In even better news, my roommate read my short story "The Master Key" (remember that one? Featuring Jeremy Wilderson the 12-year-old retrieval specialist?) and liked it! She was laughing out loud as she read my story! She also found some typos, so her reading helped me polish my story a little more. Speaking of Jeremy, I got on a roll this week and drew up a bunch of "case files" as if I were Becca, my detective. These files describe future cases where Jeremy and Becca come into contact (and sometimes conflict) with each other. Here's a sample:

"A series of local robberies seems linked to the activities of a out-of-school middle school boy's football league. One of the teams in particular is made entirely of known spitballers, bullies, and other past offenders. This team is looking for a second-string running back.

I need an inside man to go to tryouts and make the team. It's likely the team will only accept another criminal. Like Jeremy (dang it!)."

I keep coming up with ideas. They're not too great right now, but I see possibilities. Such as Jeremy and Becca being hired for the same job. That could be interesting....

Monday, October 10, 2011

Journal Report #6

I did a lot of writing this week. A lot. A lot. I'm working hard to revise my novel to my satisfaction before I send it to my mentor for his thoughts. So I revised one chapter a day this week, and since some chapters needed a lot of work I spent a good portion of my week doing this. I will talk about this later.

In class I got my short story, the one about the 12-year-old retrieval specialist, workshopped. The class found a lot of logic problems (story doesn't work, plot doesn't fit the characters), but it always feels good when they like my characters. Characters are the most important part of the story to me; they affect everything that happens because they react differently to events. Also, if you hate the characters you generally put the book down. But I think as soon as I fix the plot holes in my story it will get a whole lot better. But I'm not changing my characters. I love them too much.

As for my novel, it's going well. The problem I'm having with that is when I fix a plot hole (Thomas is a hero. He gets in fights. Shouldn't he have some kind of weapon?) it changes the dynamics of a lot more in the story. If Thomas has a sword, he would probably use it when monsters are trying to kill him. If he doesn't, why not? Does he lose it? Leave it behind? Can he do something else? If he doesn't use it, what does that say about his character? All because I added a sword. Adding it actually solved one of my big problems with another character, but it took a lot of revision.

I'm not trying to make my book complicated. It's a YA fantasy, for crying out loud. But the more I write it the more certain deep themes come out. Thomas in particular is really making the story deep and complicated, but Sarah's throwing me off too. The more I write them, the more certain parts of their personalities come out. They fit the story, they fill the holes I'm patching, but suddenly I sense something huge inside this story. I might be over-analyzing my work because I'm an English major and over-analyze everything. But I'll need to get my friends reading this soon and see what they think. I may need to cut things to make this less intense.

The Profession

In class we discussed the “priesthood” of journalism and its characteristics. Journalists learn from other journalists and they see themselves as the “fourth estate” which could cause them to see themselves as above the masses in some ways. But we also discussed problems journalists deal with in being able to serve the public. One of these is keeping sources confidential.

Keeping sources confidential is done to protect them from harm: loss of job, physical injury, damaged reputation, etc. When someone could get hurt for whistleblowing it can be important for journalists to respect their confidentiality. This video is about WikiLeaks and if, because of the Internet, it’s becoming too easy for sources to be revealed. Sometimes it’s important to grant confidentiality (Deep Throat comes to mind) but sometimes it can just cause problems for the journalist. What about the people’s right to know? What if the court orders me to reveal my source? Therefore, most editors discourage using confidential sources.

On the topic of the media in a modern, electronic age, I found an article from the Online Journalism Review talking about changes the Internet is making to the journalism “priesthood.” It used to be that journalists were trained by other journalists and they kept the story exclusive to themselves. But now that anyone can post blogs on current events and answer back to the journalists, the old system fails. This article asks whether the priesthood of journalism is dying out in the modern age.

Another problem journalists have is their worldview. Everyone has one, but it’s not considered a helpful trait to a journalist. I think it could be; a journalist with a favorable worldview could understand and help report a story better than one with a different worldview. But that gets into the need for diversity in the media. I’m talking about bias. I found a webpage on bias and, more specifically, political bias in the media for all who are interested. All journalists have biases and in order to avoid twisting the story to these biases they have to be scientific when getting facts and make sure they objectively stand apart from the crowd and look at all angles.

Not an easy job, but someone has to do it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Journal Report #5

Hello! I did a lot more writing than reading this week. A lot more. I don't have anything to say about anything I've read, because I haven't really read anything in the last week. Well, I did finish the Hourglass Door trilogy by Lisa Mangum, and that was everything I hoped it would be, but I hesitate to talk about it as it was the third book and I don't want to spoil anything.

As for my writing: the middle grade story is coming along. The problem with my character Jeremy is that he doesn't think he has weaknesses and I tell the story from his perspective. He thinks he's smarter, cooler, and overall more awesome than anyone else but I have to show that he's not. I don't want to change him, though; I kind of love my cocky little thief (oops, retrieval specialist). So this is what I did. I rewrote the ending so his nemesis, a girl detective, helps him out for the greater good and now he's in her debt. Therefore, Jeremy doesn't hold all the cards for once.

I've also been revising a novel I'm working on. It's YA fantasy. Today I had a huge chunk of time so I revised five chapters. It went well, so I feel like I'm flying. Give it a couple days and I'll be back to earth. This is the same novel I've mentioned in past journal posts. I've written another novel, but that one's in the begging-for-publication stage.

As to the YA fantasy, I've cut a bit out and replaced it with better scenes. For example, I had a scene where my secondary character's mom played a big role. In rereading the scene, I saw that the mom's part was unnecessary and actually complicated my character too much. So I took her out but had to fill in the gaps where she held the plot together. A lot of writing later, I have a scene with more action and a better depiction of my teenage characters. It's too long to post here, otherwise I would.

Thanks for reading, all of you who do.

Journalism and Loyalty

Most journalists believe their first loyalty is to the citizen, as noted in this article from the Oregonian. This means that even though a news network may pay the paycheck, a journalist is really working for the people. Because of this most large newspapers have codes of ethics, like this one from the Washington Post.

The problem here arises because one loyalty, to the company, can conflict with the loyalty to the citizen. Journalists have an obligation to tell the truth; they are the “fourth estate.” But suppose some news reflects badly on the news company. Does the journalist report it or stay silent? For the citizen, it all ties into whether the reporter is credible or not. Kovach and Rosenstiel in The Elements of Journalism say, “The notion that those who report the news are not obstructed from digging up and telling the truth—even at the expense of the owners’ other financial interests—is a prerequisite of telling the news not only accurately but persuasively.”

I understand the need for news companies to base salaries on how popular their network or paper is, news is a business, after all. But I see how difficult it can be on journalists and citizens. Journalists can’t have divided loyalties when they seek to tell the truth as best they can all the time. Divided loyalties could, potentially, hurt business. After all, who wants to watch or read news that might not be credible? In class we talked about five ways of keeping news credible and news companies loyal to the citizen, all from The Elements of Journalism. They are:

· Owner/corporation must be committed to citizens first

· Hire Business Managers who also put citizens first

· Set and communicate clear standards to the public

· Journalists have FINAL SAY over news

· Communicate clear standards to the public

The most important thing I see here is that everyone is loyal to the citizen. That way there will be no conflict of interest. Simple, huh?

According to an article on a Pew study done, 80% of people surveyed said they believe the media is influenced by powerful people. This shows how citizens recognize it when journalists have divided loyalties and will paint other journalists with the same brush.

The Pew article also says some interesting things about how people get their news. Most people watch TV, but newspapers, Web sites, and other forms of news are preferred for deeper knowledge into stories. The most interesting thing the Pew study found, at least to me, was how though right now many people read newspapers and watch news on TV, young adults prefer to get their news from the Internet and are not concerned about their local paper going out of business. There's such a profusion of news that to my generation it seems like we can quickly find it anywhere if we go online. That is something I think journalists should consider when studying now; online media are going to become very important in the next few years, more than they already are.