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Category Archives: Musings

The late Gene Patterson, who was then editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in 1963 wrote an editorial in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing that was a major catalyst for the Civil Rights Movement. Speaking to his fellow Southerners, he said it was too short-sighted to blame only those who blew up the church; it was the fault of everyone who allowed racism to persist in the culture:

It is too late to blame the sick criminals who handled the dynamite. The FBI and the police can deal with that kind. The charge against them is simple. They killed four children.

Only we can trace the truth, Southerner — you and I. We broke those children’s bodies.

We watched the stage set without staying it. We listened to the prologue unbestirred. We saw the curtain opening with disinterest. We have heard the play.

This column was also read aloud by Walter Cronkite on the “CBS Evening News.” It was a time when news media leaders condemned not only those who directly perpetrated acts of terror but also those in society who let racism persist. I’m saddened by the fact that today not only don’t we see this kind of condemnation from some news media leaders for systemic causes of what happened in Charleston, but instead we see from some overt attempts to find alternative explanations other than racism for this act of terrorism.

As I sit reading weak-ass editorials from some of our nation’s largest newspapers — decrying the shooting in Charleston as “tragic” and “incalculable” while barely if at all acknowledging our collective cultural complicity in allowing such racism to occur — I am relieved that at least we still have someone in the professional media who plays a role as our collective moral compass. Too bad that person is a comedian.

kidreporter-fbI got interested in studying youth journalism because I was involved in it when I was a kid. Even at a very young age, I knew that I wanted to do something in journalism.
 
Well before my high school journalism experience, at age 10, I got an opportunity to volunteer at an NPR station in Columbus, Ohio. When we moved to Indianapolis, my dad helped me get business cards that said “kid reporter” on them, which we thought I could use to find other media volunteer opportunities.
 
So, I submitted an application — with my business card — to Children’s Express, where I learned even more about journalism and got some pretty amazing opportunities. 
 
Children’s Express became Y-Press several years ago. In 2008, I got the opportunity to spend several days as a chaperone/adviser with Y-Press kid reporters covering the Republican National Convention. It really was an amazing experience that reminded me of the value of youth journalism and media programs.
 
Today, I received an envelope from Lynn Sygiel, the director of Y-Press who has been there since CE started and since I joined the group in 1993. In it, she included this photo and business card. 
 
Unfortunately, amid financial challenges, the Y-Press board decided to dissolve the organization. I am so saddened by this news. Y-Press and organizations like it are so vital to teaching civics and promoting a strong youth voice in media. I hope — somehow — that youth media organizations find a way to survive, and that funders see the benefit of these important programs.

That’s right. I’ve got a busy few months ahead of me. I’m deep into dissertation writing – have about half written and should be collecting more survey data within the next month. I will easily be able to finish this summer. At least I’m further than the first paragraph.

Also, I’m still looking for a job for next year. It’s a tough market for the journalism faculty positions now. Maybe I should have studied advertising. 😉 In all seriousness, though, things are looking up for the future, and I hold quite a bit of faith that I will be teaching and/or researching come fall.

Oh, and there is this other thing that I am forgetting. What … is … it? Oh, I’m getting married. Renée and I just sent out the invitations this week, and they look great (thanks to our good friend, Shelby Geidner, who designed them).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I truly can’t wait for the wedding. Having the opportunity to marry the love of my life is truly a blessing. The wedding will be fun, and I can’t wait to see so many wonderful friends and family members. But it is the marriage that I am most excited about. I can’t wait to be married to an amazing women who makes me a better person every day.

That’s about all I’ll write for now. I’m keeping busy with writing the dissertation and working on a couple other research projects, applying for jobs, and planning the wedding. This schedule leaves little time for blogging, but an update was needed.

I hate the adage that “Opinions are like a**holes; everybody has them.” It’s correct, in that opinions are simply judgements that don’t necessary have to be supported by fact or logic. But good opinions are different; not everyone has those. I don’t mean “good” in the sense that they are good because they correspond to my worldview. I mean good in the sense that they are formed through some process of deep and critical thought and that they are supported by something other than a gut-level notion.

How do we know what we know? We all want truthful information, but deciding what is truthful is no simple task. More importantly, information is rarely completely truthful or completely untruthful. In other words, things are rarely black or white; they’re almost always gray.

I’ve read quite a bit about the concept of epistemology, which is the part of philosophy that deals with the questions of what is knowledge and where knowledge comes from. Without getting deep into philosophical babble, I want to share some thoughts on how one type of knowledge — scientific knowledge — is misinterpreted.

Recently, KOMU, the local NBC-affiliate owned by the School of Journalism, posted on its Facebook feed a link to a story about a new study that shows a relationship between being a child of a deployed soldier and being more prone to violent and anti-social outcomes. They included a comment that asked readers, “Does this study exemplify your personal experience with a deployed soldier’s child? Or, is this completely stereotypical and an affront on military families?” To suggest that this study is possibly “stereotypical and an affront to military families” suggests that a reader simply sharing his or her own anecdotal experience suffices as sufficient evidence that the study is wrong.

This is the kind of thing that pundits do — present something in the news and then try to stir up the pot by getting people to argue about the story. Asking people about their experiences with military children localizes and perhaps adds some context to the story. But the latter part, asking if the study is “stereotypical and an affront,” forgets that this study was conducted under some presumed scientific rigor.

This is why the public is distrustful of science. Because the implication from pundits (and I guess now, one local TV station) is that scientists might have some bias because the findings are what we don’t want to hear.

Don’t get me wrong. Scientists do have biases that unfortunately shape their studies. And even scientists who go to great lengths to control the influence of that bias have other sources of error creep into research. Lots of research is quite error-prone. Journalists should question scientific findings. But it must be done in the context of understanding the scientific process.

But, to frame the story as a dichotomy, that the study is valid because readers’ experiences add credence to it OR that experiences do not exemplify findings AND THEREFORE the study must be simply a stereotypical representation is wrong. And it’s certainly not good journalism.

Science has its problems. And it should be questioned. But it needs to be questioned on the basis of its methods and not on anecdotal gut feelings.

I’ll end this rant with a nod to the Daily Show for a recent piece on this very issue:

 

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Weathering Fights – Science: What’s It Up To?
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook
Newseum

Newseum. Photo by David Monack. Used under Creative Commons license. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Newseum.jpg)

Last weekend, I visited one of my favorite places in Washington, D.C. — the Newseum. I like visiting the Newseum not because of its focus on journalism, but rather because I think it does a pretty good job at being a modern (mostly American) history museum. I think the idea of a museum of news is a great one, especially for journalism geeks like me.

I’ve been to the Newseum five or six times since it re-opened in D.C. in 2008 (from its original location across the Potomac in Rosslyn). Each time, I still enjoy myself, especially the new exhibits. In fact, this time we barely made it through half of the museum in the three hours we had to visit (Luckily, thanks to a Groupon deal, I am now a member of the museum for the next year, so I’ll go back).

A new feature – and disappointment
The News History Gallery — usually one of my favorite spots, with its collections of printed material going back centuries and well-produced educational videos — had a new section about “Newspapers Fight for Survival.” In fact, I was initially excited about seeing this feature, as I think that this important topic isn’t well-presented to the public most of the time, so a discussion about the structure of the NEWS BUSINESS could really help provide a fuller picture of the history and status of journalism, beyond the idealistic picture found in the rest of the museum.

The text of this section says, “Revenue and Circulation Decline, but It’s Not Over Yet.” It goes on to say, among other things:

What went wrong? For years, newspapers generated most of their income from classified ads and other advertising. The Internet changed everything by giving advertisers and readers more options, and more Americans now get their news online.

What this section suggests is that there are two main causes to the newspaper industry’s decline:

  1. Decline in advertising dollars, due both to lack of classified advertising and the current economic recession, and
  2. Decline in print circulation, due mostly to the Internet and readers’ changing habits of news consumption.

Don’t be mistaken. These two issues are major ones, but they are only part of the story. Moreover, I think by focusing on these two issues — and nothing else — the Newseum suggests to visitors that newspapers’ only saving grace would be either an increase in advertising or a society where people pay for online information. Those are the only options.

Some unanswered questions: What about the fact that newspapers are still very profitable, just not at the level that corporate owners and Wall Street expect? What about the fact that newspaper profits are still higher than most other Fortune 500 companies, but just not at the 20-percent margins of yesteryear? What about the fact that newspaper print circulations are actually steady or increasing in much of the rest of the world? What about the fact that the big metro papers in the most trouble were bought by big conglomerates using credit before the recession, and now those big corporations can’t pay their debt obligations?

 

One of the principles of journalism, say Bill Kovach, Tom Rosenstiel and the Committee of Concerned Journalists, is to be “comprehensive and proportional.” They use the metaphor of a map, that at the heart of truthfulness is that notion that the map shows me how things really are, without misconstruing certain features over others. If this is a map of the newspaper crisis, then I might think I’ll soon be falling off the edge of the world.

Of course, the Newseum isn’t a news organization, per se, but considering that it is run by many former journalists, I think I can expect that same level of commitment to the truth. That being said, I was looking at this exhibit in the News Corporation News History Gallery, which is upstairs from the Bloomberg Internet, TV and Radio Gallery, which is down the hall from the Time Warner World News Galley. And of course the Newseum is run by the Freedom Forum, formerly the Gannett Foundation.

My point is this: Part of the story of the news crisis is the role of corporate owners. Can that story be told in a museum heavily funded by some of these same organizations that might be complicit in exacerbating the crisis? I’m not suggesting that anyone is intentionally trying to suppress some bit of information. But if part of the story of the newspaper crisis is based on structural components of the news business, we need to recognize that it might be hard to tell that story when surrounded by the very structure to be discussed.

This post is about a museum, but clearly these controls apply to the news business as well.