Multimedia Journalism (J2150) has been one of the BEST classes I have taken at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Part of that is thanks to my instructor, Matt Veto. Part of that is thanks to my wonderful class mates. Most of it is thanks to what the class actually teaches.

Before this class, I had never taken a quality photo with a quality camera. I had never used audio equipment of any kind. Photoshop or Audacity were intimidating, alien programs. I knew nothing about composition, lighting, nat bumps or ambient sound. I had some experience with Final Cut Pro and video filming/editing, but my sense of sequence and diversity of shots was weak.

I have learned how to take a strong photo. I have learned how to produce an NPR-style audio story (though I need to continue improving my audio editing skills). I have learned to create an engaging audio slideshow. I have learned to produce both online and TV-style video content. In four months, I have become a multimedia journalist.

The skill set I’ve gained and will continue to hone is invaluable. But the critical eye and ear I’ve developed is even more important to my becoming a journalist. I have learned that I can teach myself a lot if I take the time to research questions and practice applications. I have sharpened my journalistic ethics and standards of practice. I have learned what I like and don’t like in journalism, and now know the kind and quality of content I aspire to produce. I have learned that I enjoy and appreciate storytelling in all its forms, and that I want to be a talented storyteller no matter the medium, though my primary focus will be video.

So thank you, Multimedia. Thank you for equipping me to begin my sequence. I feel ready to focus on radio-TV journalism. I feel ready to begin my internship at KTVI Fox 2 in St. Louis. I feel ready to take that next step towards becoming a journalist.

Three women who went missing separately were found Monday night in a Cleveland home after a decade of captivity.

I first learned about this story reading a tweet from Piers Morgan:

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He continued following the story on his late night talk show, CNN’s Piers Morgan Live. Between last night and now (Tuesday, May 7, 4:00pm central time), this story has attracted national attention, encouraging media outlets at every level to take their shot at telling the tale. Below, I compare and contrast local and national news coverage, evaluating who does what better or worse online.

 

Local Newspaper: The Plain Dealer

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The Plain Dealer, a print and digital news source based in Northeast Ohio, sent reporters Leila Atassi, Rachel Dissell, Peter Krouse, and staff photographers to the scene of the crime. I found their story on cleveland.com, the online home of The Plain Dealer and Sun News, which covers 50+ Northeast Ohio communities in 11 newspapers. The text and photos paint a clear, organized, well-articulated and comprehensive picture. My one critique is the video: if you’re going to include video, use a tripod or set the camera somewhere stable. Shaky video distracts me from the person speaking, and detracts from the quality text and photos. 

 

National Newspaper: Wall Street Journal

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The Wall Street Journal‘s online coverage includes an article, video, photo slideshow and graphics. The article, slideshow and graphics were well-composed, including details and information not found in other news stories. WSJ provides in-depth context to the story, givings its consumers a better idea of what lead to this event. In my opinion, WSJ Live’s “Lunch Break”, their online video show, didn’t add much to the story. It seems WSJ is trying to provide a TV-style news experience, but it doesn’t translate as unique or engaging online. If a text-first news source is producing multimedia content, I expect to get something different than what I would get from a video-first news source.

 

Local TV News: ABC WEWS-TV

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The WEWS News Channel 5 Team in Cleveland did something original: they were streaming their TV broadcast live on their website. The screenshot above is from their website, and from my laptop, I watched reporters introduce packages that gave me a better sense of who these women were and what’s happening now on the ground. As I clicked on different web stories, graphics and photo galleries on the site, I could continue listening to the live stream, which never glitched in my time watching and listening. Web editors are updating the site as new information comes in, and everything I’ve seen, heard and read has been clear, quality journalism. Nicely done, Channel 5.

 

National TV News: CBS This Morning

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CBS This Morning sent national correspondent Dean Reynolds to Cleveland tackle this story. The package he produced included visuals and interviews unique to CBS, focusing on the events of the escape and the family and friends awaiting reunion. The text story dove more into the history of the missing women and what happened when each went missing. My critique, again, is with video: the high-quality package was ruined when it buffered, then stopped completely. I had to reload the page multiple times before I could view the video in its entirety without technical difficulties. I did not experience these issues when viewing video on the other news sites.

Overall, I think the local news organizations did a better job covering this story. Physical proximity allowed them to gather more information more quickly, but they also found and shared more angles to the story. The advantage national news organizations have is their name and established reputation, which more people know and trust. The average internet surfer Google-searching this story might click an WSJ link before they clicked a link to a Cleveland news website they didn’t recognize.

As a young news consumer, I have one recommendation for local and national news organizations: WORK ON YOUR ONLINE VIDEO. More people are getting their news online, and when I open a link to a story with text and video, I watch the video first. If the video is good, I’m more likely to read the text and look at photos and graphics.

Digital presence is everything now: make it count.

When tragedy strikes, I turn to the news. I find a TV and I’m glued, flipping between channels until I feel like I’m up-to-date. After a peer said she heard about an explosion at the Boston marathon, I did just that.

But what I found confused, frustrated and disappointed me. Instead of getting information, I got conjecture. Instead of hearing what reporters actually knew, I heard what reporters and pundits suspected and guessed. If journalists did claim something as fact, it turned out to be untrue

I recognize the challenges of filling air time during a 24-hour news cycle. I appreciate the chaos and confusion that comes with covering breaking news. Journalists want to get the word out there as quickly as possible so that the public knows what’s going on as soon as possible.

But being first and acting fast means nothing if your information is inaccurate. Without credibility, journalists have nothing. Nobody will trust your storytelling if you get it wrong. Frankly, as a news consumer, I personally don’t care who gets it first – I care who gets it right.

 

 

Employees of The Poynter Institute have and are writing articles examining how the explosion is and was being covered, and how to do better. This is an opportunity to review how we cover breaking news, and how to actually serve the public best in the future. I recommend all journalists take the time to reflect and to read up – I know I am.

MU’s LGBTQ Center hosted a discussion on bisexuality today as part of Pride Month.

Three dozen students attended the “B Heard” talk and discussed bisexual stereotypes, issues within and outside the LGBTQ community, and how to understand people’s identities.

Struby Struble, the LGBTQ Center coordinator, presented a powerpoint to give some background on the subject and initiate conversation. “There is a range of sexuality,” Struble said. “Regardless of where someone falls in that range, all people deserve common respect of who we are and how we live our lives.” 

Suzy Day, an MU Women’s Center employee, said she hopes events like the “B Heard” discussion break down barriers and stereotypes. “Having open dialogue is the best way for students to learn about themselves and their peers, and the best way to promote tolerance and acceptance.”ImageImage

Last Monday and Tuesday, Mizzou Students for Life reserved Lowry Mall to display The Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), a graphic photo exhibit aimed at discouraging abortions. The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) sponsors the demonstration, which places posters of aborted fetuses beside posters of genocides, lynchings and animal and child abuse. According to the CBR’s website, the exhibit “compares the contemporary genocide of abortion to historically recognized forms of genocide. It visits university campuses around the country to show as many students as possible what abortion actually does to unborn children and get them to think about abortion in a broader historical context.”

I saw the display Monday, found the images disturbing, and chose to reroute my walk to class. As I walked away from Lowry Mall, I noticed students with reporting pads and cameras taking notes and photographs of the display, its volunteers and counter-protesters. I suspected those students were Maneater employees, and confirmed that suspicion Tuesday when I saw student-run newspaper’s front-page article and photos.

The GAP demonstration caused a stir on campus. The Maneater recognized the relevance of the event to its readers with an article and an editorial. In my opinion, these takes on the display and its impact captured the spirit of the event and the majority campus reaction. Below is my review of each story, and why I think they work:

1) The article. I believe that Cassa Niedringhaus‘s article presented a controversial situation within its context without sensationalizing it. She didn’t just share all sides; the people she quoted and the number of perspectives she included accurately represented the perspectives at play. Niedringhaus answered the who, what, where, when, why and how, and she did so without revealing her personal opinion on the subject. Her comprehensive article provided enough information for readers to understand what took place and decide for themselves what they think about the event.

2) The editorial. Sometimes I cringe at the thought of student editorials and columns. I have found that many teenagers and young adults are stilling refining their skills of producing intelligent, quality arguments (I am one such young adult). But in my view, The Maneater’s editorial on the anti-abortion display is well-thought-out and well-written. The Maneater editorial board explains their majority stance, and outlines why they view things the way they do. The opinion is well-presented, well-supported, addressing all the issues at hand. 

Controversial issues like abortion can be tricky for professionals to tackle, much less student journalists. I believe The Maneater provided accurate, effective, thorough coverage on this story. It gives me hope that student media outlets can help develop critical thinking skills and thoughtfulness  in their employees/volunteers, our future journalists.

The Associated Press announced Tuesday it has changed its stylebook entry on the term “illegal immigrant”. The new entry reads as follows:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alienan illegalillegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

The AP’s revision is timely, with Senators finishing a bi-partisan plan for immigration reform as we speak. Journalists will be challenged to use new language when writing about the issue, and that change in language will set the tone for the conversation. 

Tom Warhover, the executive editor of the Missourian, points out that “every word choice is a reflection of the values of the writer or organization.” In my view, the AP cannot deny the political implications this change holds. The new phrasing aligns with immigration reform advocates’ language. Such advocates often say, “No human being is illegal.” The Associated Press now agrees.

On the other hand, the AP is a wire service. Its job is to produce clear, accurate, plain-facts journalism. Warhover says he agrees with “the aspiration to avoid simple labels that contribute to stereotypes and the intent to make such descriptions attributable.” If the AP can discourage over-simplification and promote precision, then the change meets the goals of the Associated Press.

I believe that is the goal of this change, in fact, to rid journalistic vocabulary of laziness. In an age of 24/7 demand, it’s easy for journalists to use easy, catch-all language that’s efficient and recognizable. But the media’s influence on the public cannot be ignored, and with power comes responsibility. If a journalist’s job is to educate the public so that they can make well-informed decisions, then using accurate, appropriate language is key.

As the Senate gets closer to completing a plan for immigration reform, journalists will need to think about the words they choose. I challenge all those writing about this issue to consider why the change was made and to review whether or not they’re producing comprehensive, factual journalism. Turns out, there’s a lot in a name: remember that.

The following is one of many lessons the Missouri School of Journalism drills into its students heads: DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. But what exactly falls under that umbrella?

Roy Peter Clark, an employee at the Poynter Institute, published an essay recently addressing this topic. He believes that “(i)t is time to decriminalize certain practices now described under the rubric of plagiarism.” He borrows from four books to create a list of ten actions that do not qualify as plagiarism. Below is his list, quoted exactly as he writes it in the essay (notice my clear and direct citation?):

  1. The so-called act of “self-plagiarism” is not plagiarism.
  2. So called “patch writing” – as long as it credit sources – is not plagiarism.
  3. Inadequate paraphrasing of a credited source is not plagiarism.
  4. Use of a clever or apt phrase – up to the level of the sentence – is not plagiarism as long as you thought of it independently, even if you find that others have used it before.
  5. Literary allusions – even a mosaic of esoteric ones – are NOT plagiarism.
  6. Boilerplate descriptions of news, history, or background are not plagiarism
  7. Ghost writing is not plagiarism.
  8. Writing for genres – such as the legal brief or the sermon – in which there is a long traditional of borrowing without attribution is not plagiarism.
  9. Copying from other writers in what are considered collaborative ventures – newsrooms, wire services, press releases, textbook authorship – is not plagiarism.
  10. Copying from or borrowing the general ideas and issues that are emerging as part of the zeitgeist is not plagiarism.

I tend to agree with these “ten commandments” – except for #9.

Clark explains it as such: “You are writing about drought conditions in Florida. You consult what we used to call the clips. You find that a colleague, Joe Blow, reported on the issue five years ago. A paragraph in that story describes the situation back then perfectly. With approval of your editor, you drop that graph into your story as background No problem.”

When I put myself in Joe Blow’s shoes, I would want credit for that work if it’s being taken verbatim and dropped into someone else’s story as though it is their own original content. I don’t think citing background information is superfluous if the writer of the new piece is using something someone else wrote word-for-word, without any changes.

Overall, I agree with Clark’s sentiment that distinctions must be made between “serious acts of literary theft…and trivial ones. Carelessness has been mislabeled as corruption. Clear norms of personal morality and professional ethics have been confused with standards and practices.” We can police plagiarism with random, routine filtering through plagiarism and detection software. Requiring writers to be able to provide editors with contact information for sources at any time, so that editors might verify information for themselves, also discourages plagiarism.

Without clear-cut guidelines, journalism students may unknowingly mis-step into career-ending theft.  I challenge J-School professors at Mizzou to specify and clarify what qualifies as plagiarism. If they outline exactly what is and isn’t stealing, students will learn how to work with integrity. That strong knowledge of journalistic principles will equip us to enter the workforce and make ethical decisions in our everyday practice of journalism.