sarahmichigan: (Default)
There's been a fair amount of press coverage and LJ entries by friends about some of President Obama's early actions, such as his executive order about shutting down Guantanamo Bay and the memorandum about increased fuel efficiency.

Less-noted but incredibly important: Obama has declared that openness in government should be the default. This is beyond "Freedom of Information Act". It doesn't just say you can fight the government to have closed documents opened, but that most documents should be open to public scrutiny in the first place. This is huge for journalists but also for the general public.

There's some good discussion of the issue in general here, and a call to ask state government to be equally open here. On a related note, I recommend Free the News for any bloggers who do on-line journalism or are interested in the topic (and not just because I'm an occasional guest writer for the site).

sarahmichigan: (Default)
I've written about this briefly before on my LJ, but I went into more depth in an opinion piece I recently had published. I talk about how the media handled my father's death, both on TV and in print, and how it affected my approach as a journalist to handling stories of death and tragedy.

Read it here.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
why I should watch TV news?

I won't get into an argument about people who are so elitist that they're "too good" for TV in general. I like TV shows once they're out on DVD and don't have commercials anymore. It's really the commercials that I object to more than the lack of good programming (though I only think about 5 percent of commercial television is actually watchable).

What I really want to know is why people bother with TV news. I get all my news from the internet, NPR, and newspapers/magazines. I think TV news is almost completely worthless. They deal in sound-bites and "news you can use" instead of in-depth analysis. I don't need to see grisly footage of the destruction in the south to know that the hurricane was bad, people are hurting, and our president fucked up royally.

I'm pretty well entrenched in my position that just about any other medium can do news better than the teevee, but I'm willing to hear any arguments to the contrary.

Ed. to add: I don't know if this is pertinent, but I was a reporter at a weekly for 3.5 years and the editor of that weekly for 2 years, and I freelanced before that. I generally consider myself "up" on news and current events.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I was talking to a friend on the phone a few days ago about newsroom politics, and he said something to the effect of, "I don't know that you're the best person to bounce this off of, because our thoughts are so alike."

The more I thought about it, the more profound that was. He's a wise man in that respect. How many times do we talk about getting a different perspective, and yet, how many times do we seek out someone who thinks very much like us for feedback and advice? How many times do journalists talk about making sure all sides of a conflict are represented and about getting "fresh voices" into a publication, and yet, how many times do journalists look up the same numbers in their rolodexes for comments on a story?

That's one reason why I like to look at my friends' friends lists. I especially like looking at the friends lists of those of my lj friends I see as being the most *unlike* me, because I'm the most likely to run across other lj-ers I wouldn't normally read.
sarahmichigan: (Default)
I'm on a mailing list for young journalists, and recently there was a heated debate about covering death and tragedy, about contacting family members for comments when there's a murder or accident, etc. Some were all for "hardening yourself" and asking people for quotes on the spot; others felt that you should leave the family alone.

Here was my two cents, both as a journalist and as a member of a family hounded by the public during a family tragedy:

click here for the full text )
sarahmichigan: (Default)
As part of an effort to keep up with the latest issues associated with journalism, I read several trade publications and network with other journalists. Discussions about “media bias” amuse me a great deal.

“The media” is seen by much of the general public as being “liberal” while many of the companies that own media corporations are seen as extremely “conservative.”
However, the question “Is the media biased toward the liberal or conservative side?” isn’t easily answered in one sentence.

For example, many of the journalists I’ve talked to can tell stories about letters to the editor and phone calls they receive about a perceived bias in their publications. One reporter said that her paper, which has been reporting heavily on the Democratic Presidential nominee race, has been accused of being both “pro-Howard Dean” and “virulently anti-Dean” and the staff has received reader comments that the paper focused “too much” on candidate John Kerry and also that the paper “was too critical” of Kerry’s candidacy.

That’s just one case study, but scientific studies bear out the main message: that people will see media bias even when there isn’t any. In one study, political stories intentionally written to be as balanced as possible were shown to both staunch conservatives and life-long liberals. Conservatives inevitably complained that there was an obvious “liberal bias” while liberals complained of an obvious “conservative bias”— after reading the same story!

Some stories have run in national news outlets recently about what an ethical breach it is for a reporter to give money to a campaign he or she is writing about. I think it’s a pretty sticky subject, and not at all black and white.

Just because we’re journalists doesn’t mean we automatically give up our right to participate in the political process. Instead of telling journalists not to vote or campaign for their preferred candidate, my ideal is “full disclosure.”

If you’re contributing volunteer hours or money to a candidate you’re covering, you should report that possible conflict of interest to your supervisor, and let him or her decide about possibly reassigning you for a while.

Another solution would be for writers to be completely honest with their reading public about any conflict of interest, real or perceived. I see this fairly often in on-line news sites: a writer will include a short disclaimer explaining any connection the author might have to the corporation or organization he or she is writing about.

The best we, as journalists, can do is attempt to present all sides of a debate, and to try to be honest with our readers about any perceived conflicts of interest. The reality is that no one is completely free of bias, but we can— and should— strive to present a balanced view of events and personalities.

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