Category: State of Journalism

The Ever Important Role of Facebook

Given that I check my Facebook at least a dozen times a day, I think its safe to say that I’m an addict. The more Facebook changes and expands, the more addictive it seems to become – especially with the evolution of the news feed.

This week my professors and colleagues pointed out several examples of social media, particularly Facebook, playing a role in how hard news stories are reported. I think it is definitely safe to say that Facebook is another tool in a reporter’s arsenal to get the scoop on a story, or even just to get a good feel for a situation.

One article that I found particularly jarring because of the way it used Facebook is Ian Shapira’s article for The Washington Post, A Facebook story: A mother’s joy and a family’s sorrow.

In addition to seriously pulling on the heartstrings, I think Shapira’s article also dances around the issue of what happens to your online presence after you die. The issue of “digital death” was raised by my colleague in the UW pro-track program, Marianne English in the article: Madison startup Entrustet helps people control their digital assets¬†from The Isthmus.

Things to think about.

What Makes A Cat Tongue News?

Ok, so earlier this week I questioned what made the study on cricket testicles news, and now here I am again questioning why a scientific find is in the news, courtesy of the BBC.

Mystery of how cats lap is revealed by Rebecca Morelle is really stretching it in my opinion. I can understand how you might observe a cat lapping up water and be curious about how they do it so well, but I really don’t see why this is breaking news. Perhaps it is a slow day for science?

Cat_tongue_macroWhen did the biggest scientific discoveries become cricket balls and cat tongues? Can’t we do better than that? Aren’t we? We spend millions of dollars on research, how are these the best stories out there (and I assume these must have been best as they led the BBC’s science coverage on the days they each ran)?

I am going to go out on a limb and say that stories like this are caused by the need to publish something (ANYTHING) quickly. With the internet it is shifting from the quality of a story to the number of stories that you can produce. I think its sad that the best the BBC is putting out is high speed video of a cat drinking as their science news. This isn’t going to entice readers to start giving a damn about science.

We can’t just cover every single scientific finding. As journalists it is our job to determine what stories are the most interesting, to track down obscure threads and follow them until you get a story that no one else has, and to inform the public about the scientific findings that they need to know about. I think there are very few people out there that would say they really needed to know about cricket testicles and cat tongues.

Seeing stories like this makes me want to change the journalistic system. I don’t blame the writer, she wrote the story she was assigned. I blame the fact that no one is willing to spend the money on investigative, in depth reporting anymore. Give reporters the resources, and we’ll deliver the goods. Without the support journalists need to get the good stories, you’re gonna get cricket balls.

Scientists Peer Into Their Crystal Ball

One of the stories highlighted on the science pages of the New York Times this week is a multimedia piece called Voices: What’s Next in Science by Carl Zimmer. I think the piece is interesting to note because it uses audio clips, pictures, and short write ups to give an overview of what scientists in a variety of disciplines predict will be hot topics in their field in the coming year.

The scientific areas featured are Space Science, Conservation Ecology, Ocean Science, Game Design, Climate Change, Genomics, Neuroscience, Engineering, Biotechnology, and Mathematics. I found these choices a little puzzling. What about stem cells, or biomedical research as a whole? The piece includes engineering and mathematics but ignores physics and chemistry, why? Also, while I find science gaming interesting and I think its a great new field for encouraging people to become interested in science, I don’t see how it fits in with the other specialities.

I also find it interesting that they use the term conservation ecology, which is specific and scientific, but then they use the term ocean science as a lump term for all the specialities that involve the ocean, and the same for space. It doesn’t really seem cohesive for me to flip flop between specific and general.

The audio clips, and the fact that the write ups are so short make this a very accessible article that I think even people who don’t typically read science news could be interested in. It is a good example of how to use multimedia, without having to go terribly out of your way as a journalist.

Harry Potter: Scourge of the Owls?

New research out of India is drawing a correlation between a spike in the black market trade of owls and the popular Harry Potter books and movies. Apparently the stories, which feature a white owl (named Hedwig,) have led to a surge of people seeking owls as pets, as well as for what the BBC calls “black magic” rituals.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

As a reader, I am interested in the research methods used to draw the correlation between the loss of owls and Harry Potter. I wish the article talked more about how the researcher came to his conclusion, because simply noting the popularity of a series that features an owl as a minor character (I think its minor, I’ve never actually read a single one of the Harry Potter books) is a far cry from actually quantifying its connection to a decrease in owls.

This type of investigation reminds me of the correlations made between video games and violence, or metal music and violence. I think that how studies of this type are conducted is a pretty important component to the story, because simply stating that something is a significant relationship doesn’t make it so, I want to see the numbers.

From the BBC: Harry Potter blamed for fueling India owls’ demise

Trouble in MarieClaire’s Blogosphere

Now, I’m not a fashion or lifestyle writer but I think the controversy over MarieClaire blogger Maura Kelly’s post “Should ‘Fatties’ Get A Room (Even On TV)” is worth mentioning. Kelly is a professional blogger, her career is posting her opinions on the internet. But, by coming out with the opinion that fat people shouldn’t be shown in intimate scenes on TV because it grosses her out, she has caused a firestorm. The controversy has raised a lot of questions about professionalism in the blogging community.

I suggest you read her article, and then review the comments posted below it by readers. As a blogger it is all well and good to share your opinions, but where do you draw the line? Kelly is a representative of MarieClaire – not just of herself. By branding MarieClaire with her opinion she has apparently cost them a tremendous amount of business (if you believe the comment writers, at least). What standards do magazines and other companies use to hire bloggers? Are there any standards?

In the apology that she added to the original article, Kelly brings up that she suffers from anorexia and has had a life-long obsession with being thin. Hmm. That might have something to do with why she finds it unacceptable for overweight people to get romantic. Crazy thought, that MAYBE her personal background should constitute a conflict of interest and she should never have be allowed to blog about weight issues in the first place. As a writer, it was her responsibility to identify that conflict of interest.

Even if you feel you can be objective, you just can’t write about issues with which you have a personal connection without disclosing that information properly. I can’t write about issues involving law enforcement because so many members of my family are involved in that career field — it is the reason I will always get tossed off jury duty. It gives me bias. As a writer you have to know yourself, and be honest with your readers about your personal conflicts of interest when they are applicable to the subject you are writing about.

But is a blogger really a professional writer? I am very interested in Ms. Kelly’s background. Does she have a journalism degree? Does she do any research, or does she just spit out her own opinions? Why should anyone care what she says? Who is Maura Kelly? What makes her qualified to eschew her thoughts on an issue like popular conception of body image in the entertainment industry?

I wish someone would pay me to say whatever thoughts cross my mind. Maybe they’ll be an open position for blogger at MarieClaire sometime soon? I wonder if they need a science writer…