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, 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. 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.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Journal Report #12

Happy holidays! Thanksgiving week was a useful, restful, break and now I'm ready to get back to work. For another 2 weeks. The nice thing about studying English is that by the time my friends have to take finals, all my papers will be in and I'll be watching "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" with a mug of hot cocoa. But for now, I'm writing up a storm.

Or rather, I'm writing up the first few chapters of a novel. It's a middle grade novel, an extension of the Jeremy Wilderson, twelve-year-old retrieval specialist, story. Therefore, the chapters are a little shorter than what I would write for a YA novel. It's also more about the story arc and less about what Jeremy thinks of it, although he does think a little of it. This story has Becca calling in her favor. She asks Jeremy to go undercover for her on a boy's football team that has a high number of middle school criminals on it. It's fun because I can show more of Jeremy and Becca's relationship, how his classmates see him, and more of Jeremy's home life. AKA, what makes Jeremy who he is. This scene with Rick, Jeremy's brother, shows a little of that.

Mom picked me up like she said she would, and the first thing I did when I got home was take a shower. After that, I wanted to watch some TV, but instead I had to field my brother’s snarky remarks.

“Uh-oh, here comes the track star. But wait! New bruises on the arms, a little mud that survived the shower dripping down your hair. These are not the signs of the sprinter, oh no. If I didn’t know better, I’d say we had a badly groomed football player entering the room.” Rick sauntered past me into the living room, a plate of reheated pizza in his hand.

“Maybe I tried out for the First-Tackle Football League,” I grumbled, flopping down onto the couch. I reached for the TV remote, but Rick was closer.

Rick held the remote in the air. “The FTFL? I thought you hated football.” He was running back for the high school varsity team, which was apparently a big deal since he was fifteen.

“I figure I have so many brain cells I need to get rid of a few before my head explodes.”

Rick smirked. “Yeah, I’ve heard faulty wiring can lead to overheating. Keep it cool, little brother; I don’t want you to end up in prison.”

“I’m not going to end up in prison.” I jumped for the remote but Rick, curse his name, is six feet tall and his arms reach another two feet.

“Yes, you are. You’re a regular little Dr. Evil.” The remote scraped the ceiling.

I groaned and shook my head. “If I were, you would never know it.”

“Does Mom know you’re a criminal mastermind?”

“I’m not a criminal mastermind!” The phone rang, and I stood. “I’ll see who that is.”

“See?” Rick said. “Aren’t you glad that phone call didn’t interrupt your regular scheduled programming?” With a short burst of static some teen angst show’s poorly written dialogue filled the living room.

It's still the rough draft. I'm hoping to add hijinks galore to this story. I already know what the football team is planning and how Jeremy and Becca will stop it and dole out justice. It's going to be one fun ride writing this.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Ethics in Journalism

This week I learned about ethics in both my communications classes, which is interesting to me because I go to BYU. It’s really important to my professors (and probably to the school) that we communications students go into the world to practice ethical business. It would seem like ethics are an in-born part of people, but if that were so I would not be learning about them in classes. And it’s important to have good ethics in the workplace – here’s an example of what constitutes good workplace ethics.

Ethical cases are a good way to learn ethics, like these from the Indiana University School of Journalism. But basically journalistic ethics come down to four things as decided on by the Society of Professional Journalists:

1. Seek Truth and Report It

2. Minimize Harm

3. Be Accountable

4. Act Independently

Personally, I think ethics is about putting yourself in the place of the people your actions will affect. Would you want people to treat you as you are about to treat them? Is the story so important to the nation that harming people in reporting it is appropriate? Each case is different, and so it’s hard to straight-up set certain rules and follow them in every case like Kant’s Categorical Imperative commands. For example, by Kant’s C.I. if it is wrong to lie in one case than it must be wrong in all cases. But, to give a popular example, what if you are hiding Jews in the attic and the Nazis come and ask if you are hiding anyone? Do you lie to protect lives or do you tell the truth because lying is wrong? Ethics can be sticky, but I think if you have the best interest of people other than you at heart you’ll make it out okay.

Last note: journalism is flooding into online publications, and the rules of ethics for online reporting is different. Here are some pointers I found on having ethics online.