Talking points for a visit to Journalism 132

[I’m sitting in on Prof. Greene’s information gathering classes this morning…]

Hi everyone. I’m supposed to be providing some constructive criticism on your blog posts, but the odds are pretty good that I’ll be going off on a tangent or three, so here are links to a few things I figure I’ll be rambling on about:

Blog search:

  • Technorati: This site has been around long enough to get verbed, as in, “Hey Steve, why don’t you Technorati that post on Scoble’s blog to find out how many people linked to it.” Use this to find out who is writing about a given topic, and subscribe to feeds of your searches.
  • Google Blogsearch: Less bells and whistles than Technorati, but it’s quick and clear.

Online reference:

  • Let’s just stop using Dictionary.com right now. Forget about it. Pretend it doesn’t exist. The first place you should be looking for a word is your AP Stylebook, and the second place is Merriam-Webster. This isn’t my opinion, it’s AP Style. Depending on which news organization you work for, the rules might be different, but for now, just get used to typing www.webster.com. If you use the Firefox browser (You’re not still using IE6, are you?), you can just add Merriam Webster to the list of search engines in that little box in the top-right corner of the page.
  • Wikipedia rocks. Yeah, yeah, I know, you’re thinking “How can we trust these random dudes sitting in front of their computers who knows where?” I’m not asking you to use Wikipedia to figure out what’s going on in the West Bank or to find the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, but if you need to find out in a hurry how old Bill Frist is, you’re in luck. In other words, Wikipedia is generally safe to use for facts, but not for opinion or analysis. For that, you’ll want to find someone quotable, and you’ll want to talk to them.

Other things I might have mentioned…

Cheers and jeers: Local media coverage of student protests for immigrant rights

Thousands of California high school students walked out of classes on Monday, adding their voices to the weekend’s protests against proposed legislation, still pending in the U.S. House of Representatives, that would make being an illegal immigrant a felony.

Sounds like a great story, right? Lots of minority teenagers organizing on their own to take civic action and participate in politics. This is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing, according to everyone who always is saying that young people are apathetic and ignorant when it comes to politics.

Unfortunately, some Central Coast media chose to focus on the negatives of the protest: kids not being in school, getting into fights, blocking highways.

Right. It’s a protest. That’s what happens.

Anyway, I hadn’t been paying that much attention to local coverage of what happened this week in Watsonville, where 75 percent of the population is Latino (according to 2000 census via wikipedia), until I noticed this item in the Santa Cruz Sentinel’s Editors’ Notebook.

Sentinel Managing Editor Don Miller wrote:

The sight of students blocking traffic, waving Mexican flags, and fighting and failing to heed police and school officials is probably not going to win many converts.

Right. Okay, now let’s check out the stories the Sentinel wrote about the student protests:

  • Looks like this was posted as “breaking news” online during the day on Monday. A police captain is quoted, but no students. The story starts off explaining why they’re out there, and then says things “turned ugly” in the fourth paragraph with no explanation of why things are happening “as the students threw bottles and fists.”
  • 800 PV students rally for immigrant rights (Tuesday 3/28):
    • The lead mentions traffic jams, but no violence, and does mention why the students were protesting. Mentions of arrests and police action come before the first quote from a student about the protests. In the eighth paragraph, the writer says “the proests seemed to lack leadership” without any attribution or evidence. There are plenty of good student voices, though, and the story doesn’t seem tilted that hard in any direction.
  • Nearly 1,000 Watsonville students rally again (Tuesday 3/28 online only, I think):
    • In the lead, the students “ditched class.” Again, the police captain is the only source quoted. After the lead, there’s no mention of why the students are protesting, and no quotes from students.
  • Day two of protests turn violent at Pajaro Valley High (Wednesday 3/29, the next morning’s story that includes material from Tuesday’s online update):
    • The lead has the students “precariously close to clashing with dozens of officers.” The story mentions the immigration issue in the lead and the first few paragraphs. There are no student quotes about the issue; the rest of the story details the protest march and arrests, mostly from the police’s point of view.
  • Two more stories from Wednesday’s paper, here and here, have only adult perspectives, with no student quotes.
  • Danah Boyd, a Berkeley researcher who studies youth and social networking, wonders aloud about why some of the press took such a condescending attitude toward the protestors. Was it because they weren’t white? Would the reaction have been the same if thousands of students walked out of their classes to protest the war?

    Boyd asked:

    By trivializing the youths’ participation, the press failed to capture the significance of this political act. How long has it been since so many students took a public stance? Has it been since Vietnam? What is gained by belittling the students, punishing their act, and pooh-poohing their engagement with the public sphere?

    As an aside, especially to my classmates in 290 spending a portion of their spring break working on our youth & media lit review, the students used cell phones, text messaging, and their MySpace accounts to plan the protests…

    But back to the local media critique:

    The Salinas Californian took on the protest story with a positive angle, leading off their Wednesday coverage with The student walkouts and rallies for immigrant rights that swept across Salinas and the nation this week mark a level of Latino activism unmatched in decades.”

    Where are the students ditching school? The conflicts with police? The violence? Oh, you mean that wasn’t what the story was about? It was about politics and culture? Oh.

    In another Wednesday story, the Californian has the protests being “marred by minor violence” in the lead, but gives a balanced account, including quotes from students on why they walked out. The bottles being thrown in this story are clearly tagged as water bottles (think plastic) and it’s clear where, when, and at whom they’re being thrown. The story also ties the protests in with others around the region, giving the story context.

    My favorite part about the Californian’s coverage is the “Special Report” on illegal immigrants, dated December of 2005, but apparently reposted on the newspaper’s website to add even more context to this week’s events.

    Watsonville’s own newspaper, the Register-Pajaronian, took a balanced tack on the protests, with a detailed story full of quotes. The writer manages to work in the chronology of events without depending on the police captain for much, with lots of quotes from students about the issue and the march, not to mention quotes from an actual farm worker who participated in the protests.

    Even in the Register-Pajaronian’s stories that take adult angles on the protest, dealing with traffic here and consequences here, I feel like I’m getting much more of the story than I did in the Sentinel.

    What’s the moral of the story?

    As one familiar voice at our student newspaper would say, “You need some more student voices in there.”

    Protests happen all the time. Tell us what’s different about this one, and tell us what it’s about. The fact that there is a protest is not news; the fact that thousands of students all over the state walked out IS news. The fact that protesters and police clashed — is completely normal. Tell us if there are any arrests or injuries, and move on. Focus on the issue – why are they there?

    Cheers to the Watsonville and Salinas papers, an honorable mention to the Monterey County Herald, and jeers to the Sentinel.

    This year’s big “duh”

    Last year, the big “duh” was the raging irrational debate over whether blogs were journalism.

    Answer? If you write journalism, it’s journalism. If you record journalism, it’s journalism. Doesn’t matter what medium you choose to display it in, doesn’t matter if you’re the San Jose Mercury News or Grade the News or Rocketboom — it’s journalism if you play by the rules.

    This year, the big “duh” is the idea that young J-School students should learn how to work as an online journalist.

    Duh.

    This isn’t some science fiction prognostication where “Someday, we’ll get our news from computers that fit in our pocket.” That time has come, and it’s been here awhile already.

    Should J-Schools be teaching students how to write for the Web, post to the Web, design news for the Web, produce content for the Web, and get jobs on the Web?

    Yes.

    Duh.

    More easy questions:

    Should news organizations blog? Yes.

    Should they blog about how the proverbial sausage is made? Yes.

    Should they use interactive graphics? Yes.

    Should they use photo slideshows and video to tell stories? Yes.

    Should they provide space for readers to add feedback to the loop? Yes.

    Is it a J-School’s job to train students to do all of the above? Yes.

    Duh.

    Blue Plate Special: Editor Blogs

    Over at the Blue Plate Special, which still has that “new blog” smell, Jay Rosen and some of his students are breaking down the details on newspapers that blog.

    Here’s a great post on John Robinson, editor of the blog-happy Greensboro News & Record in North Carolina.

    Briana Mowrey, a grad student in NYU’s j-school, writes:

    He says he created The Editor’s Log primarily to talk to the public. But Robinson is the first to admit that sometimes they—the public—are the very reason that more editors aren’t blogging. There are a lot of people out there “eager to bring you down,” he says. Of course in any town with a monopoly newspaper the newspaper editor is not just a public figure, but a person with power, an authority figure. And so when the person with power starts a weblog, there’s a chance to topple an icon, or at least chip away.

    The boss also gets extra scrutiny from readers. “There is an assumption that what you’re saying is ‘corporate speak’,” he says. “People really do dissect everything I say and then apply it to the newspaper.”

    That’s really what I’m looking for in an “editor blog,” and that’s why I found what the Santa Cruz Sentinel is doing to be so odd.

    Sentinel Editor and blogger Tom Honig responded in the comments to my post:

    Since I’m the main opinion writer of the newspaper, I figure it wouldn’t be honest to refrain from opinion. I’m actually hoping that I get enough responses to try to get opposing views in the actual paper. I also hope to get stuff in that doesn’t make it into the paper — behind the scenes stuff like who gets mad at me and who says something funny. Unfortunately, much of what I do has to do with personnel here at the paper, and believe me, there’s nothing interesting about that.

    Tom, you’re right, you should be voicing your opinion on your blog, and you’re free to treat it like a column, but what’s the value of that for your readers? I think trying to push blog readers to stories in the print and online editions by teasing them is good, too, but your best stuff comes out in posts like this and this, where you write about issues that you are most familiar with as the editor of the paper.

    I really don’t need to read what you think of the population of Santa Cruz (in number or politics), for that, I’ll check out your column. And if I want to read about what the San Francisco city council is doing… wait a minute, I live in Santa Cruz. If I want to know what SF is up to, I’ll pick up the Chronicle.
    Here’s Blue Plate Special’s list of a few other editor blogs. (Note to Prof. Rosen: How about a longer list?)

    The editors are blogging – and they have opinions. Should they?

    The Santa Cruz Sentinel is running a pair of blogs.

    (Full disclosure: I live in Santa Cruz, and rarely purchase a print edition of any of the three papers I can easily find at the corner store.)

    One of the blogs is an “Editors’ Notebook” written by Editor Tom Honig and Managing Editor Don Miller. It’s not about what goes on inside the paper, unless they’re teasing something coming up in the print edition (hint: if we’re reading the blog, we’re probably not buying the print edition).

    The editors comment on news stories from just about anywhere, with their politics clearly coming through at moments. As they should, I suppose, but after reading editor blogs that are a bit more about getting inside the newspaper (like the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Daily Briefing), I was expecting something more.

    Is there any problem with editors voicing their opinions about the community in blog posts? Would the answer be different if it were the Sports editor or the A & E editor?