Monday, February 25, 2008

NY Times: Making news on McCain?

Did the NY Times go too far with its article on John McCain?
I know this for sure, the news about the article has been bigger than the news about the content of the article. Media making the news is not a good trend for media credibility.
We discussed this story in one of my classes. Students seemed mostly uncertain about how this thing will play out. They seemed somewhat concerned about the NY Times doing an article based on anonymous sources.
My bigger concern: Has McCain, who claims to be outside the dirty politics of Washington, just like all the rest? Does he take lobby money, allow lobbyists to influence him and basically act the norm in D.C.?
If he's better than the rest, that's also potentially a bad sign!
Maybe this is the reason we haven't had a senator win the presidency in some time now. When we learn the details of how they operate, it's difficult to stomach. Will the same happen with Hillary and Obama at some?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Give Me Personal Responsibility

I see a trend in many of my classes that is moving away from taking personal responsibility.

I have students who want me to figure everything out for them; who would love it if class was canceled every time it snowed; who routinely do the minimum amount of work; who ask things like, "If I can't make it tonight, will I miss anything important?"; and who simply are not challenging themselves to be the best learners they can be.

There have always been slackers in college. But I am seeing very few in my classes who simply want to do more - to figure things out on their own, who want to do extra, who want to learn outside the requirements.

The ones who are able to think critically, solve problems and have motivation to learn independently are the ones who I want to become the next generation of journalists. They can learn to write later.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is the media biased?

If you ask the average American if the media is biased, and I'm talking about newspapers, it's likely you'll get a high percentage of affirmative answers. It's the general concensus.

If you follow that up with a request for specific examples, I believe most would struggle to give concrete answers. They might give an example of a story when they were personally involved - often those who become sources for stories feel this way. It's understandable.

In general, it is a phenomenon we in the business simply must deal with. Most readers are skeptics.

Should readers trust the media more? That's debatable.

Should readers respect the media - and view it as one source of information? I firmly believe they should.

And all consumers of information, from the media and all other sources, should forever remain skeptics.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

A proud profession

I am proud to be part of a profession that has stood the test of time. Tocqueville praised the role journalism plays in a free democracy when our country was a fledgling group of states trying to organize into greatness.

Few professions face the level of public scrutiny that journalists do. Every day, people pick up newspapers and critically read the stories and headlines. Yet, the vast majority of those countless stories every day stand up to those millions of critical eyes.

I have become increasingly proud of my role as a journalism teacher. It's something I do in a classroom setting now. However, my role as a teacher did not begin when I first took my place near the front of the room three years ago. I have been teaching much longer than that. I was lucky enough to have young (and some not so young) journalists working under and along side me during my professional career. Some have really taken off:
- Matthew LaPlante was a young sports reporter under me who is now covering the military for the Salt Lake Tribune (Utah).
- Joey Sprinkle was in a career change when he became a journalist and worked under me. He went on to become a sports editor in Kansas.
- Morgan Ryan was unsure of his future in journalism when we hired him to work under me. He is now living in New Jersey and working for a national daily horse racing newspaper located in Manhattan.
- Jim Tankersley was a high school student when he wrote some stories for me in McMinnville, Ore. He was a talented young man who has excelled, winning a prestigious Livingston Award and now working a political reporter for the Chicago Tribune.

I don't take direct credit for any of those four. They deserve credit for the time and effort they have dedicated to becoming top-notch journalists. I am proud to have crossed paths with them early in their careers and hopefully to have provided some encouragement along the way.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Damage Control

One mistake can haunt a news organization for months, years and even longer.

Perfection is the goal of every editor and every newspaper. Error-free, thorough, complete coverage of the news is the ideal.

However, I'd be hard-pressed to ever agree there has been a completely error-free edition of a newspaper. It's just the nature of the business - producing a paper involves so many people and so much information that errors (to lesser and greater degrees) are inevitable.

Unfortunately, one error can sometimes define a news organization far more than all the accurate, well-organized, well-informed information that is distributed. One simple mitsake can tear down all the positives in the stroke of a key.

I'm not complaining about this phenomenon or even trying to change it. Only pointing out the nature of news consumers. Of which I am one.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Reading the Competition

As a practicing journalist and a journalism professor, I can't stress enough the importance of reading other newspapers. All newspapers - big and small. The competing paper is a must, but any and all papers you can get your hands on to read (or read online) will be beneficial.

I am sitting in a ballroom at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel in Grand Rapids, Mich., right now. Around the room are the winning newspapers from the Michigan Press Association contests -for professional and college levels. It is inspiring to see the best in the state. For me, it's also a fantastic opportunity to glean ideas: layouts, stories, color use, photos, etc,... If you're looking to improve your own publication, why not look for ideas from the best?

Read, read, read. It's one of the best ways to become immersed in the field and to improve.