Thursday, September 30, 2010

Watch Your Mouth, Literally: The Insider on Bad Journalism

          Like the popular English-novelist, Graham Greene, once stated, "Media is a word that has come to mean bad journalism." Journalists, whether they are broadcasters, reporters, or editors, can end up being convenient prey of culpability when the stories they publish rouse public controversy. Since archaic times, dating back to the first airing of BBC News and Newsreel, it is a known fact, "the bigger the issue, the bigger the blame." However, not only do journalists fall to the woes of this ever-so-truthful statement, innocent victims such as everday people become liable the moment they open their immaculate mouths. It appears that any presence of critical thought and reasoning has been replaced by mediocrity and journalists have convinced themselves of the lie that the audience is really as feeble-minded as they are. This falls under the perception of very bad journalism, considered today simply by the term: journalism.

          Recently, I was able to recognize and establish the deviations of journalism between "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." By gaining an understanding that these seemingly good, yet likewise, bad journalists, are merely doing their job, pushing you to your limits, it is purely a matter of being understood. There is a great journalistic value in what they create; the question lies in what will be remembered.

          However, more people tend to remember the bad rather than the good.

          Like a ghastly scab festering on your skin that will not go away until it receives proper treatment, bad journalists generally maintain this same mentality. Their vileness can come at any given moment since they are always alert for the formation of possible new stories. Because of this, they can lure you into becoming quite comfortable in their presence without you even thinking twice. At this point, it is especially important to watch your mouth...literally.

          By the twist and turn of words, manipulation from these bad journalists can come darting towards one like a speeding bullet. Feeling as if that ten-foot target now lies center on your forehead, it soon becomes a matter of how quick one can think on their feet. In sticky situations, "One must try to be positive, not negative." Bad journalists want you to get caught up in your words so they can twist them around even more and make you out as the culprit. But this does not always have to be the result. Responses such as, "Well I can't possibly agree with that, we have achieved (list of accomplishments to rub in their face)" or "This is a really interesting question, I am so glad you asked me that" generally leave these journalists baffled and at a loss for words. These comebacks come darting back towards them just like they did to you just moments before. Furthermore, this works exceptionally well when delivered with a gracious smile upon one's tranquil face. By remaining calm, you soon can become in control of the situation.

          Alongside remaining calm and in control, preparation is the absolute key. Using the "Three-Things" concept, preparing three good examples and three good messages for what you would like others to get out of your interview, this will limit controversy that bad journalists are hoping to stir up. As long as one can stay steps ahead of these spiteful journalists, nothing can deter you from giving an incredible interview.

          Bad journalists will continue to crawl under your skin if you let them, just like that bothersome scab. But with help from these useful tips, one can stop them before they begin to spread too far. By giving them a taste of their own medicine, this seems to do the trick.

Ask the Prof. Goin’ Crazy? ….then get going with these comms tips.

I get a letter from a desperate woman…or is it a man? Goin’ Crazy is embracing life in Strasbourg with the full force of his or her Syracuse might. Classes, navigating Strasbourg, struggling with French “le baguette….la baguette?”, not to mention friends and sport and nights out.

So, Goin’ Crazy, here are Prof B’s quick and dirty survival tips.

1. Get out the post-its.

The key to survival is to prioritise. Find a pack of post-its and a big piece of wall. On each post- it write one word for each of your activities. Carry on until you are really sure that you have covered everything – studies, calls home, walks to the centre, shopping. When you have finished, stick them randomly on the wall. Step back and take a good ten minutes reviewing them all.

Next step, prioritise. Create three categories…Must Do…Want to Do…Optional. Batch your activities under each heading. Now your priorities should be clear (and by the way, don’t forget that you must wash, you must breathe and you must get some exercise to stay healthy, otherwise you won’t manage anything, me dear!) Dump the stuff you know you won’t do. You can’t do everything!

2. Make a plan

You now have your priorities, so you should be able to start blocking off the time. Use any system you like, online, gadget, pencil and paper. Plan on a week by week basis, it is will make it easer to scan the plan. Use colours if you want…..but remember not to pack the schedule too full. Put buffer zones around appointments and don’t forget travelling time. Give yourself space to breath.

3. Discipline yourself to follow.

Discipline isn’t hard. You know what they say. Just do it.

4. Give yourself a break

Enjoy the planning and enjoy the doing. Plan in something you love every day. Give yourself downtime. And don’t beat yourself up for the slips. Aim for 80/20. (This by the way is the famous Pareto principle. Look it up)

And some tips for the French skills? Here goes

1. Two sessions of quarter of an hour a day is better than trying to cram it all in at once.
2. Forget vocabulary lists. Instead find something you love and use it to expand your vocabulary. Always link the words to give your brain a better chance. Learn silly and interesting things.

3. Listen to trashy pop songs in French and sing along, it is great for getting a good accent.

4. Remember all those 1930s sultry French stars? Nothing better to cultivate an accent than imitating them by sticking a cigarette (or as a non smoker I prefer a pen) between the lips, and trying to speak.

5. Learn those little words and sounds that fill in between words “vous savez…” “euhhhhhhhhh”. No teacher will ever encourage you to use them, but they give the brain that precious nano second to search for the right phrase.

6. Talk talk talk as much as you can. If people try to come back at you in English, learn a nice polite phrase to let them know you are learning and actually want to speak French.

7. Most of all, relax and enjoy it. It will come. All it needs is perseverance.

Best of luck, goin’ crazy. Let me know how it goes.

How To Sell Your Story

Hello Blog, its me average American consumer.  The trick with me is that I like feeling informed; however, I am not easily captivated. Therefore, not just any news story will intrigue me. This of course means that journalists are left with the difficult task of getting the news out, but in such a way that people will actually read it. Not so easy.  So today Strasblog is here to aid in this stressful endeavor and outline a few tips concerning what makes a good story.
To begin, the story must be topical. People are interested in the here and now. They want to know what is happening today and even in the future, so leave the past for the historians. The story must also include a scandal or conflict because on a whole people enjoy drama. How else could you explain reality televisions’ booming success? The next criterion is having a human angle. Readers need to be able to relate to the events happening around them, in order to process them and remain interested. Another key element is including facts and quotes. Superficial notions in tabloids can be entertaining, but people want to know that what they are being told is the truth, or at least one version of it. Lastly, is the element of exclusivity. No one enjoys hearing the same story twice. So give the audience what they want. Tell them something no one else has.
Keep your eyes locked here for future communication tips.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Professor Burton: A True Tweet

In a world of grouchy college professors berating the influence of technology on today’s youth, Cathie Burton provides a refreshing alternative to truly ‘old-school’ hostilities. Professor Burton shows she is clearly in tune with and ready for the technological evolution of the media industry, even daring to compare the succinct nature of the telegraph to the 140-character-limited ‘Tweets’ of today. Just as the original producers of BBC News were hesitant to use the full potential of television (such as moving pictures and a live anchorman), many professors (in all fields) are hesitant to accept and utilize today’s technological innovations. Walking into the classroom toting a Mac laptop and equipped with a DVD documentary (no VCR necessary here!), she instantly embodies the character of a truly 21st century professional and professor. While some academics preach the idea that technology (in particular, the internet) creates a generation of introverted and socially inept youth, Cathie Burton does not seem to agree. Social Media platforms used by today’s younger generations are also being used by businesses, media outlets, and even nongovernmental organizations. Working with the media at the Council of Europe, she is aware that today’s technological developments can be a powerful tool for spreading one’s message. These developments may be changing parts of the media industry, as she speaks of how Twitter can now break the news just as fast as formal news agencies such as the Associated Press. However, her tone when discussing these changes is not one of disdain or bitterness; Cathie Burton, Mac-in-hand, is ready to go wherever the technology of tomorrow will take her. While most of the baby-boomers cling to their card-catalogs, casting disapproving glances at their Tweeting-descendents, Cathie Burton will be adeptly riding the technological wave through a successful career in the media industry.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Innovative Solution or Sacrifice of Quality?

A simple glance at any newsstand, and it is immediately apparent that print journalism has taken quite a few blows in its ongoing duel with digital media. The magazines are smaller, the newspapers are thinner, and several publications have been killed off entirely. The transition to online journalism has been a rough one, and magazines and newspapers alike have had to find new ways to bring in money despite a major decline in print readership. Some have decided to produce limited online material, hoping that posting a few quality pieces will keep large audiences coming back. Others have opted to focus on quantity, putting out hundreds of articles each day to draw as many readers as possible.

The newest approach is much more cutting edge, but makes the conventional journalist shake his head in disgust. Recognizing the undeniable power of search engines like Google, news sites have begun to generate content based solely on what can be found at the top of search results. By choosing story topics from a list of some 200,000 frequently searched items, it’s almost guaranteed that the stories will draw numerous page-views, bringing the news site a large return from advertising revenues.

Choosing topics that are relevant to readers’ interests is a key component of good journalism, and it stands to reason that the topics that we most frequently search on the Internet are a perfect reflection of those interests. The larger question lies in the quality of this search-based journalism. An article from The New York Times asks, “How far can a news organization go without undercutting its editorial judgment concerning the presentation, tone and content of news?” Although featuring Justin Bieber’s name in an article could, on one hand, be seen as a marketing device to attract readers to the page, the chance of finding a profound and moving story within the same lines is less than likely.

Using search engine algorithms may be a foolproof way to make money, but the decision that journalists today have to make is whether they’re willing to sacrifice some potentially wonderful stories in favor of those that will receive more mouse clicks.

From the Classroom to the Newsroom: An Insider’s Scoop from a Student’s Perspective

Let me paint you a picture of a typical day at “News 12 Connecticut.” It’s nine o’clock in the morning. The reporters rush into the newsroom, pour themselves each a cup of coffee, and file into the conference room for the morning staff meeting, followed by us – the interns. After everyone settles, the assignment editor walks in with a large stack of press releases and begins handing them out for us to read through. Some of the press releases describe very local stories; “Three new kittens need homes at the Milford animal shelter!” Some of them describe national tragedies; “One man was allegedly thrown overboard by his wife on their honeymoon cruise!” One thing I did notice is that the reporters look at each press release the same way—there is a story to be told.
I sit in the corner eagerly awaiting my assignment while secretly hoping I would be asked to cover the big crime as opposed to taking a trip down the road to see the kittens. “Adrienne,” said Bill, the producer, one morning, “why don’t you head out with Dave first. They’re going to talk to the attorney for the Smith family…it’s the story about the honeymoon murder.” Yes! I screamed in my head. A national story! Of course, I wasn’t always assigned to the national stories. Afterwards I did have to go out with the photographers and take pictures of the poor kittens. When Dave and I sat down with the attorney, I listened carefully to the questions Dave asked him. “What is the story with Jennifer (George Smith’s widow)? Why was the press so interested in her drug use and how does it tie into the crime?” The attorney responded with an extensive explanation using law terms that I had never heard of. Was I stupid? Was I missing something here? I wanted to know what the drugs had to do with the crime just as badly as the public did!
When we left the firm, Dave asked me if I understood what the attorney was saying. “I have to say, I really couldn’t follow it,” I replied. Dave told me that that’s why reporters sound like they’re being aggressive at times. They’re trying to get the people they are questioning to respond in a way that the public can understand. I had never quite understood the real challenge of news reporting until this very moment. Reporters are not merely bystanders of a note-worthy event who just happen to have the privilege of recording what they see. Reporters are, in fact, looking at each story with a very specific lens. They are searching for something others are not, and they are responsible for telling each story in a way that will engage people from all walks of life. After all, not everyone is an attorney. I had begun that morning eager for the juicy stuff. I was excited to see fingerprint samples, blood stains, and horrific accounts of the event. I thought that these assignments were what the best reporters got to tackle. I was wrong. A good reporter is one who can cover a story about kittens at a local shelter and tell the public everything they need to know so that they understand what’s going on and care about it, too.

A welcome from Prof B

Welcome to Strasblog, a place for experiments in communication and musings on Euro-media.

Feel free to browse and explore at will.

Incoming......thoughts on journalism from Syracuse students, and ...all new... Ask the Prof...where you put me in the communications hot seat!