Monday, April 2, 2012

the king james book.

So there's this book called the King James Bible. Maybe you've heard of it?

On the first floor of the BYU library there's currently an exhibit entitled The Life and Legacy of the King James Bible, celebrating 400 years (check it out here).

As a journalist, I really found the section of the exhibit Transforming the Word: The Impact of the King James Bible to be very interesting. I appreciated the way it described that the Bible, and the reading of the Bible, greatly influenced writers such as Herman Melville, William Butler Yeats, John Steinbeck or even Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln claimed to have learned to read and write from a "log schoolhouse in Indiana where... all our reading was done from the Bible." The exhibit suggests that "Lincoln's speeches, including the Gettysburg Address, contain echoes of the King James Bible, and many critics believe that Lincoln's appropriation of biblical language is why his oratory is so stirring and vivid to audiences both today and in his own time."

It's interesting to see just how much the Bible still permeates our society today, and the exhibit brought up a good point of how it influenced (and continues to influence) the literature and writings of our society as well.

Monday, March 26, 2012

servants catering to their every whim.

More and more in modern journalism, networks and journalists are marketing their content to fit their audience. This means that in an effort to get more viewers, journalism is letting the audience, for the most part, control the content. I thought it's essentially in a journalists' job description to decide what is news. Marketing the content, catering to their wants, has both advantages and disadvantages associated with it.

First of all, there's the chance that the journalist will get more viewers, more readers, etc. which is obviously a serious advantage. But what about the minority in that particular society that isn't interested in that topic? Or what if the viewers didn't know they were interested in a particular topic so then the media ignores something that is potentially both important as well as interesting?

To describe the latter, I liked the example in the book The Elements of Journalism: "Only 29 percent said they would be interested in that kind of reporting [politics]. Yet when people were asked whether they'd be interested in 'news reports about what governments can do to improve the performance of local schools,' the percentage of 'very interested' jumped to 59 percent" (Kovach 221). The same was true for other, more specified, politics issues.

In my opinion, this means that people don't necessarily know what they want, they simply know that they want news. It is a journalist's job to do this, not to cater to everyone's personal taste.

I think that as the practice of marketing content becomes even more freequent and popular, people will lose trust in the practice of journalism. Additionally, I believe that the slope will be even more steep, even more slippery, and lead journalists to a place full of hype and sensationalism, an oh-so-terrifying place where reporters don't even check to see if their mother loves them and that has a cat in every story.

( -- talks about the loving mother....)

( -- tells the story about the cat, 5-6 paragraphs down.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

got journalism?

With all of the different tv shows and movies there are to watch, news channels struggle to find its place among viewers. With all of the books, many of which are good, intellectual books, who wants to read the newspaper? Who even has time to participate in journalism, or wants to participate in journalism? One of the problems facing journalists today is that viewers, readers, etc. are more interested in different entertainment services provided than they are in journalism. To combat this, stations and newspapers are turning more toward being more entertaining, not serving the public as well as they should; this, in turn, makes people lose trust in journalism.

With journalism turning into more of a business, journalists themselves also lose trust in their career.
Many journalists feel that it is a noble profession and want to do good in the world with their careers. As they get into their careers, fresh out of college with their dreams and aspirations to do good and to inspire change, they get into a world where journalism is actually a business; they need to do what sells, what gets viewers.

What helps with this is when the journalist makes his/her work both engaging and relevant; this is the solution I propose. While this will not solve everything, I sincerely believe that this would help to get more viewers, and help to restore trust in the profession. Maybe even manage to make it a more noble an honest profession.

Monday, March 12, 2012

the fourth branch of government.

I remember all those years in elementary school that drilled in the concept of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches. Three branches, working together so that none have more power than another. And then along trotted college where I received the sad lesson that I didn't know everything, not even about concepts I had known  practically forever (such as the three branches of government).

One of my first communications classes told me that there was a fourth branch of the government: journalism. Its role? To be a watchdog. And that's when the career of journalism got even more appealing for me.

So what role, then, does journalism have in relation to democracy?

Ummm. Everything? 

So many facets of journalism are such an essential aspect of democracy and government. Perhaps the most important, in my opinion, is that journalism is there to serve the people. It provides information and often, if not always, interprets and analyzes this information for the audience. Democracy is a government based off of the peoples' wants and desires and decisions. Journalism makes it possible for citizens to be informed and to take action. It facilitates communication, just as it always has and always will, no matter the medium.

Monday, March 5, 2012

religiously unreligious.

Journalists are expected to be professional and to leave outside influences or ideas checked at the door when producing a story... but religion? Is that just too ingrained into what a person is, how a person defines him/herself? I believe it is entirely possible to reconcile one's personal religious beliefs with the rigorous objectivity demands of the career.

"The answer to journalistic problems is almost always journalist solutions," journalist Terry Mattingly says. "Journalists get into trouble in covering religion news by applying non-jounalistic solutions. Just do more religion coverage and use a wide array of sources."

I think religion has become such a taboo subject, with so much opportunity to offend people, that journalists actively try to steer clear of such subjects so as not to harm their reputations, their newspapers' reputations, etc.

And, while journalism and religion are very similar in that they are both seeking truth, "journalism is usually about the here and now while religion is often about the spiritual realm and the hereafter" and the "end" is not so quickly found out or discovered. These distinct differences in religion and journalism make them difficult to comprehend together. Religion is based off of faith, whereas journalism is based off of facts and proofs.

So if they are so incredibly different, why bother to combine them? Well that's obvious: religious news is still news, perhaps more so now than ever before with 9/11, a Mormon presidential candidate, etc. While religion may not be a part of every day life for everyone, and although not everyone worships the same God or god in the same way or at the same time, everyone is affected by religion--which makes it news.

It's sad really that so many journalists try not to get involved in religious stories for fear of backlash from audiences. As long as journalists are covering the story in a respectful, unbiased fashion, there should really be no issue. Journalists need to be professional and approach the story in an appropriate way. Never should a story's integrity be jeopardized because a journalist, who is supposed to be honest and fair, wasn't able to be just that.

Monday, February 13, 2012

these five truths I hold to be self-evident.

This week's blogging finds me pondering what I consider to be my five most important beliefs about journalism ethics, so here goes:

(By the way, these are in no particular order. Ordering them would be like... ordering my children in order of most favorite to least favorite; it's just not possible)

1. tell the truth.
Seriously? Could I be a little more obvious with this one? Well, probably not. Everyone knows that a journalist's job is to seek and portray the truth. However, I feel that this pillar of journalism is so often ignored, or at least convoluted, by today's journalists. My story should never be influenced by my personal opinion in such a way that the credibility of the story is either damaged or lost. This segues nicely into my next belief....
2. be objective.
Bill Kovach's and Tom Rosenstiel's book The Elements of Journalism I felt did an exceptional job in defining objectivity. They recognized that everyone will have personal backgrounds and biases that influence their stories, but they said journalists should use a sort of scientific method to study evidence and verification. According to them, "...the journalist is not objective, but his method can be" (83). The section on objectivity really struck a chord with me with just how to be as objective as I possibly can.
3. don't invent.
I felt that The Elements of Journalism tackled this subject very well also. I've never struggled with fictionalizing different aspects of my story, but I can see how it could be a problem for others. But really? Just write a novel in your spare time, leave it out of journalism. If a journalist is inventing different aspects of his story, then he is lying. Oops, that's in violation of rule #1.
4. minimize harm.
Everyone is a fellow human being and should be treated accordingly. I think it's common for journalists to objectify their subjects when writing so as to avoid becoming too personally involved or attached, but that doesn't mean they should be treated as objects. A corollary to this would be to not print a person's name if the story will damage his reputation, etc.
5. be professional.
I'm all about looking professional in a pencil skirt paired with a suit jacket and balanced atop sky-high heels. However, that's not the only aspect of being professional. Being professional means identifying yourself as a journalist, it means not taking bribes or cracking under pressure, it means using integrity, it means using sensitivity when necessary. It means being professional.

Check out these links for some more information on journalism ethics:
What do you think? What would your five truths be?

Monday, January 30, 2012

without a name, without a trace?

Anonymous sources are dangerous.

If they are unidentifiable, who's to say they're telling the truth? And what about when your source makes a claim, that you decide to report, and then you get sued for libel or defamation? What happens then? But, at the same time, what about Deep Throat--the anonymous source who provided information to The Washington Post in 1972 about the Watergate scandal? That was news.

I think, in context of today, that journalists need to use intuition as to whether or not to report the leaked information. Is the source telling the truth? What are his/her motives for telling the information? Is it worth the risk and the potential outcomes?

But I also think it's important to keep one's word. If you say the source will remain anonymous, make sure that he/she does. Our book The Mind of a Journalist told the story of a Republican Party activist, Dan Cohen, who sued the Minneapolis Star Tribune and St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch for not keeping his identity concealed. The two reporters attempted to keep his identity confidential, but their editors felt naming him would make the story more credible. Cohen was awarded $700,000 in damages (Willis 22).

However, the anonymous source Deep Throat was highly useful. Where does one draw the line with anonymous sources?

Well, it's a thin, squiggly line that no one can really see. How's that for an answer?

I think a reporter must ask himself/herself the questions asked earlier: telling the truth? motives? worth the risk? So much depends on these answers, and, ultimately, on the reporter's and editor's gut feelings. Society is often told what is news by journalists--will this story be news, or just potential to be sued?