Tag Archives: coverage

Editors Try This: 100 Story Ideas in 100 minutes

  We’re not doing a great job as journalists covering issues of gender and family. I gave a presentation to the Associated Press Managing Editors and Suburban Newspapers of America editors at the Chicago Sun-Times last week and dared the editors to come up with 100 story ideas after my 100-minute talk about stories at the intersection of the economy and gender. 

 Before we broke for lunch, half the room said they did. We’ll see how many of those stories get reported, written and published.

But today The Wall Street Journal defies logic, facts, stats and anecdotal realities from thousands of sources and declared there is no wage gap. Really? On Equal Pay Day? It’s making me crazy. As a journalist, as a woman, as a journalism educator, as a parent of sons, as a thinking human being.

It’s the same old story of viewing the news through a lens of denial. 

I wrote about it in “Everyman News,” in the chapter, “Diversity of Thought Shifts Content.” If we cannot achieve parity of gender and race in newsrooms, and according to ASNE, (The American Society of Newspaper Editors) we can’t, then we can for sure make a point in our coverage of trying to be inclusive in our sourcing and expansive in our brainstorming. OR we can keep saying what is real is not really there.     

     The recent White House Council on Women & Girls’ report, “Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being,” contained the seeds for hundreds of story ideas and in particular broke down the wage gap. Compared to all workers:

•Black women earned 71 percent

•Hispanic women earned 62 percent
•White women earned 82 percent of what all men earned
•Asian women earned 95 percent
•White women to white men: 79 percent
•Black women to Black men: 94 percent
•Hispanic Women to Hispanic men: 90 percent
•Asian women to Asian men: 82 percent

     Read the rest of the report.  Absorb and dissect its contents. Among some of the stats are that women experience the highest poverty rates.It’s just that simple. If realities are denied, then the realities of the gender make-up of sources for the journalism is also denied.

•In 2011, only 27 percent of sources were female: The Gender Project
•In 2010, only 24 percent of the people heard or read about in print, radio and television news are female. In contrast, 76% – more than 3 out of 4 – of the people in the news are male: Global Media Monitoring Project
 
More from “Who Makes the News” on news  subjects:
-24 percent of the people heard or read on traditional platforms like newspapers, television and radio were female in the sample.
-23 percent of the news subjects on the 84 websites monitored were women.
•Story focus:
-13 percent of the news items in traditional media focus specifically on women.
-11 percent of the online news stories were centered around women.
•Authorship:
-41 percent of stories reported on traditional platforms were by female reporters in the same countries as the Internet pilot. Overall, 37 percent of stories in the whole sample were reported by women.
-36 percent of the news stories in the online samples were reported by women.
•Stereotypes:
-46 percent of the stories monitored in traditional media reinforced gender stereotypes, while only 6 percent challenged these stereotypes.
-42 percent of the online news stories were found to reinforce gender stereotypes and only 4 percent challenged them.

      OK, so it is quantified, and we are sick of reading the same old stories from the same bylines (PMS or pale, male and stale as my friends call it). Aren’t we sick of assigning and writing those stories too? 

I challenged the editors to go beyond the usual suspects and the same old thinking.  Come up with 100 story ideas today. Now.

Imagine a practice of journalism that involved consistently discovering news and stories by seeking new types of sources through academic, government, non-profit and grassroots organizations. Seek out stories that are hyperlocal, local, domestic or international with local ramifications. Beat the bushes to find story ideas that are citizen-driven and interactive. Learn from think tanks, centers on specific issues and trends. And for goodness sake, pay attention to what is happening out there in social media. And train every one of your staffers to be keenly observant.

It’s what I tell my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University very quarter, whether in the Reporting & Writing or Multimedia Storytelling classes. I just talked about this yesterday in lab.

Stories looking at gender, family and marriage issues intersect with the economy in a myriad of ways. All you have to do is cast the net for news. Story ideas will swim in. You have to know what you’re looking for, not stop looking at what is there and not throw back a big fish when you can definitely use it in the future in a new way.
  
    According to the White House report, 18 percent of women 40-44 never had a child; 46 percent of women 25-29 never had a child. For me this is the reason Eat Pray Love sold a gazillion copies.   More older women are divorced or widowed. For me this is the reason Betty White and Helen Mirren are hot and hundreds of thousands of women nationwide are into Roller Derby, the latest fitness craze for “women  old enough to know better.”
       
This country has more single mothers and the highest poverty rates are women as heads of households. There is no end to the stories that can come from that sentence. Tell the single and married working mothers paying for childcare there is no wage gap and it is not impacting women and their children across the country.
 
Still, in all of this, I urged the editors in the conference room last weeek also not to just look for stereotypical woe-is-me, half-empty stories bemoaning the economy. I urged them to find inspirational,  multidimensional stories, and to write about the individuals and communities making a solid difference.  And tell the truth. See and report what is really there.
 
We’ll see what happens.
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Profs Gone Wild! Sex Toys! Stolen Idols! Fake Names!

 

Mostly college professors seem as exciting and controversial as toll booth collectors or museum curators. Save the occasional outrageous act of Holocaust denial or live sex acts in the classroom, my colleagues at Northwestern University (where I am an assistant professor in journalism at the Medill School) are not people anyone would call a ribald or morally repulsive bunch.

They are on the whole intelligent, creative, respectful, mature professionals who behave with integrity. We write books and research archives for giggles. Discuss documentaries for a good time.  

But this week we are all lumped together as deviants, at least you would think so by reading the press. All because a full tenured professor in the psychology department, John Michael Bailey, decided that after his Human Sexuality class ended last week, the extra credit hour would be filled with the bonus of two women and one man performing a battery-enhanced act of sexual pleasure. I am not making this up.  

He defended his choice pretty much as academic freedom. It is, after all, his area of expertise. So I took a few minutes from my three-hour journalism class in Multimedia Storytelling yesterday– one that I prepared several hours for– to discuss it with my students, who were talking about the campus media stories and the fact that this is how and when our university is in the news.  

This is what I said: I believe this degrades all of the faculty. Never mind it degraded the woman who opted to be held down by another woman and to have an appliance inserted inside her unclothed body by a man, all on a stage in front of strangers.

I don’t know, but isn’t this performing a sex act in public? When is that not public indecency?  If you can get arrested for urinating in public, isn’t this just a tad more obscene? I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, I do after all, get grossed out by people who pick their noses in cars.

Still, I think the academic freedom defense is thin.  I feel this was disrespectful to students, faculty, Northwestern community, and also to the parents who are spending and/or borrowing significant money for their children to attend this great institution, my alma mater. 

 As a parent paying tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and also Ohio State University for two sons, I would be mad as hell if this happened in Madison or Columbus. 

Thank goodness during the NU demo we didn’t have any campus tours of high school juniors and seniors stopping in hoping to catch a glimpse of a college class.

Today NU President Morton Schapiro went on the record to pretty much agree it was a dumb thing to do: 

I  have recently learned of the after-class activity associated with Prof. Michael Bailey’s Human Sexuality class, and I am troubled and disappointed by what occurred.

Although the incident took place in an after-class session that students were not required to attend and students were advised in advance, several times, of the explicit nature of the activity, I feel it represented extremely poor judgment on the part of our faculty member. I simply do not believe this was appropriate, necessary or in keeping with Northwestern University’s academic mission.

Northwestern faculty members engage in teaching and research on a wide variety of topics, some of them controversial. That is the nature of a university. However, in this instance, I have directed that we investigate fully the specifics of this incident, and also clarify what constitutes appropriate pedagogy, both in this instance and in the future.

Many members of the Northwestern community are disturbed by what took place on our campus. So am I.

Amen. Finally, some common sense. Someone defending a code of conduct that most all of us adhere to. We are not all deviants and idiots. We internalize the notion of responsibility to the students and are hardworking role models. I feel when I stand up to lecture, the students in my class are not just looking to me for the content that will be on the quiz or the assignment. They are looking to me to see how I behave.

Which brings me to the other news of a local Bad Boy Prof; this one at Loyola University Chicago. It seems Daniel Amick pleaded guilty last week to stealing archaleogical artifacts. Gee whiz.

And then in the news is another Columbia College journalism prof, Dan Sinker, who is all over the place for his fake Rahm Emanuel profanity-laced Twitter account.

OK, what did I miss? When is it OK for  a journalism professor to fabricate content pretending to be a prminent news source, hiding his identity and promoting a scam? I followed the fake Emanuel twitter feed for about two days, then stopped. I knew it was junk. I just had no idea it was a journalism prof.  

The really amazing thing is this Profs Gone Wild trend is not limited to Chicago area male colleagues. Huffington Post a month ago posted a slideshow of everything from incest to phone sex in 11 recent professor scandals. Now they need an update.

One thing is certain Bailey will not be asked to fill any vacant faculty slots at Brigham Young University, where news hit today that student and star basketball player Brandon Davies was suspended for admitting to having premarital sex, a violation of the BYU honor code.

Back to campus, where the news trucks are circling.

I spent the rest of my day creating a lecture I will deliver next week in a lecture hall on campus, thankfully not the same stage as the sex demo. Like hundreds of my colleagues, the most exciting apparatus we offer our students is  original insight, fresh useful information and concrete instruction.

And if we are really daring? Perhaps a short video clip inserted in the Power Point.

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The Storification Of America

 

Jim Houser with Obama

Robert and Gary Allen. Mrs. Waters of Bruce Randolph School. Kathy Proctor. James Howard. Jim Houser. Brandon Fisher. Not household names. Not celebrities. Not diplomats. All of these ordinary Americans were mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union speech 2011. These citizens shared prominence with Gabby Giffords, the late Robert Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, the Secretary of Defense, al Qaeda, the Taliban and Sputnik.

    The score is 7-7. Unofficial sources to offficial sources. Two presidents, a Congresswoman, a cabinet secretary, two terrorist movements and a Russian space capsule. All had the same number of mentions as four business owners, a school principal, a mom going back to school and a cancer patient.

    What does it mean? So what? What may have become overused in the 2008 presidential race with Joe the Plumber is more widely evident today in all media. Our culture embraces the anecdotal power of the humanistic stories of individuals. And nowhere was it more noticable than in Obama’s speech Tuesday night.

     As I stress to my journalism students at the Medill School at Northwestern University, the rise of unofficial sources needed to flesh out every news and feature story is undeniable. The age of “official source stenography” is dead. The president knows this better than anyone and capitalizes on it. When the president of the United States mentions real people as often as he names diplomats in his annual address, something big has happened.

   I call it the Storification of America.

    

 Thanks to crowdsourcing,  social media, blogging and all forms of participatory journalism, there is a demand for communication to be inclusive. Away from top-down to bottom up, all in. It’s not such a rosy we’re-all-in-this-together appraoch, rather, it is a basic shift in the way that we understand information and how we look at the world. It is in thanks to a media relying on more unofficial sourcing in its reporting to articulate the truths of events, trends and issues, than in taking the word at face value of the official sources with the titles.

      We not only as citizens want to testify, we want to storify. And I did not make up the name.

       Storify.com is a new aggregating tool for social media users and anyone and everyone wanting to connect to current mainstream media and to add reliable sources to their blogs. As I see it, it is an attempt to upgrade the blogosphere from the “my dog is sleeping right now and I am brushing my teeth” to a more professional, polished arena for links to real stories, real posts, real video,real  audio, real photos and commentary vetted and published elsewhere. I hope it punctures a hole in the balloon of hearsay.

     My 2008 book, Everyman News, dealt with the overwhelming prepronderance of unofficial sources in news stories in domestic newspapers, and the growth of that trend. And why. There are many reasons driving the cultural shift to honor the individual and to consider the sanctity of story as peculiar to our time and place. 

      The use of “story” as a brand is nearly ubiquitious. It’s even on my drive to work where a billboard for a local college begs viewers to log on to read “mystory.”    

     Obama ended his speech with a reminder of the depth of reliance we have on story in America. He said:

From the earliest days of our founding, American has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

   We need to understand the growing storification of our lives as we move ahead as journalists, observers and contributors if any of this is going to make sense.

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Everything Matters as A Journalist and Why

I gave my last lecture of the quarter to nearly 70 freshmen at the Medill School of Journalism this week, in the basic fundamentals class, Reporting & Writing. I have been teaching this course in some iteration since 2001. It is never dull.

 “Everything Matters,” is a bookend to the first lecture, “Assume Nothing.” I like symmetry. The  Five W’s and one H apply to a journalist’s career. And here is the gist of the lecture. Minus the tuition.

  • Who. The strongest piece of this puzzle is who you are as a journalist. As you choose your platforms for success, consider that an agile journalist is a marketable journalist. The future is about diversification of skills. Also, remember to carefully select who you choose to be your mentor, whether it is an instructor, author, columnist, reporter or peer. This is one of a few professions I know where your success is about not based on who you know, but how you do. And who you are. Stop thinking you will inherit the opportunity to win the Pulitzer. My family is in the starter drive business. Not a lot of journalism cross-over.

            “You don’t write because you want to say something,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote.    “You write because you have something to say.” That is a reminder to remember the audience, an important “who” in your work. What they want and what they need from you will help you decide how you will reach them, what is best for your content and what is best for the reaction you intend.

       Your sources are another key “who.” Remember to be inclusive and expansive. Consider diversity of voice in every story you write, regardless of whether that diversity is transparent. Strive for a chorus of different voices. And fact-check to save the integrity of the people you quote and to preserve the dignity of your own byline. 

  • What.   The value of your content is determined by the text, visuals, sounds. Is your content fair, balanced and accurate? Is it orginal and creative? Is it ethical? Is this your best work. This is a tough question. You strive for every article, post, book or project to be a reflection of your best effort. Sometimes we fall short. But the goal is to aim for excellence every time.

          That means moving your content beyond formula to excellence, by showing enterprise in your reporting. Consider the writing as music with cadence, beats and melody. Even storytelling across platforms must be based on a solid idea. Consider what author Ansen Dibell does: “What you need to ask yourself about any story idea is whether it’s something too personal, something that’s very important to you, but would justifiably bore a stranger sitting next to you on a cross-country bus.”

    But here is where your precision as a writer, your mastery of eloquent prose comes in to play. Know that the craft matters. Author and narrative journalist Tracy Kidder said, “You can write about anything and if you write well enough, even the reader with no intrinsic interest in the subject will become involved. ” 

  •  Where. Do you get your information passively?  Wait for the press release, sit in the back at the press conference, answer the phone? No, you report with your feet. You gather sources and background from a multitude of online sources and social media, but you go out and observe. You talk to people face to face. You learn by being there. Remember that as a journalist, you are a witness. Roman Milisic wrote: “We are not all celebrities, we are not all supertalented, but in one way or another, we are all witnesses. Reality defines our vision of the world. And what we have seen, we must tell others. “

       Remember that where your content arrives matters. The where — ink on paper, sound, video, text on mobile or screen– influences how the user takes your story and ingests the information, interacts with it and passes it on. When creating the journalism, remember where it arrives affects the impact.

  • When. Perhaps the most difficult first lesson in this course is meeting the deadline. Timing matters. When you meet the deadline. When your story arrives. The newsworthiness is determined by the timeliness. Is your story fresh? Is your story first? And does your audience need it now? But first is not best if it is not the whole story. If it is wrong. Or if it could be better if you spent more time, did more digging, polishing, or all of the above.

     Your worth as a journalist hinges upon your understanding of timing. Are you able to stay ahead of trends? React quickly? Assess the news value of any event or interview? True, every kind of story has been written before. But not by you. “Be yourself. The world worships the original,” Jean Cocteau wrote.

  • How.  Yes, it matters how you behave to sources, editors, peers and the audience. Be humble. Ask for clarification. How you report, how you write and how you deliver the content determine your value as a journalist. All great journalists internalize a solid code of ethics. Understand that the how is as critial as the who, what, where, when and why. Because your reputation outlives your content.

     How you improve your content is by asking for clarification when you don’t understand. Re-report. Add more layers. Rewrite. Work in layers. Write in layers. Revise. Let the content breathe, take stuff out. Put more stuff in. Janet Bukovinsky wrote: “Ask anyone who makes a living with words: Writing is hard work. To be a writer is not nearly as significant an achievement as is the act of having written something fine and eloquently.”

     How you are received matters. How well you do your job and how you are noticed are significant factors. How much passion you have for your work  matters. Is this more than a profession for you? It is for me. Try to find the magic in the work. Toni Morrison wrote,  “If writing is thinking and discovery and selection and order and meaning, it is also awe and reverence and mystery and magic.”

  •      Why.  Ask yourself why you are doing this story. Understand why your sources want to be included–or not. Know why your audience wants the story. Find the answer if you don’t have one immediately. But never forget to ask yourself, “Why are you here?” Dare to be good at what you do. Believe that your work matters and that everything you do as a journalist matters. There are no secrets you can keep as a journalist. Your professional life is transparent and avaliable for anyone to discover.

       Resist compacenecy. Erica Jong wrote, “The trouble is if you don’t risk anything you risk even more.” Take a risk writing a new kind of story. Take a risk by finding new sources and trying new avenues of storytelling. Experiment with audio, video, photo and graphics. Improve who you are and how you work as a journalist. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote,” Once you express yourself, you can tell the world what you want from it. Then you can change the world.” Your journalism matters. Your journalism can change the world. A small piece of it, or the whole darn thing.

     I will say it again, everything matters.  

   But most importantly, remember that journalism and this course are each like a long road trip. You can spend your time looking at the lint in the car seat and worrying about how much gas will cost at the next station 100 miles away. You can also spend your energy complaining about AP Style and grammar quizzes, current events or the speech story assignment. You can keep yourself panicked about points and grades.

      Or you can look out the window. Realize how far you have come. And enjoy the view.  

    

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All the news you can spin

We played a  game of 52-Card Pick-Up when I was a kid. You probably did too. That was when you didn’t feel up to the complexities of Fish or Crazy Eights. So you threw a deck of cards in the air and whoever picked up the most cards won.

Now ABC News is doing the same thing.

With its new app for the Ipad, ABC News is allowing you to spin, shake, touch, filter, share and engage all the information it has on its news website. Sounds more like Spin the Bottle than a discovery of the day’s world events.

Which leads me to reiterate my belief as a journalist that there is no longer an editor or  gatekeeper, no longer a framework for history as it unfolds.  Just shake your laptop like a snow globe and see what falls.

It’s a presumption that all news has equal value, that all information from the Angelina Jolie interview to maggots on a plane and Chelsea’s wedding cannot be prioritized, organized, grouped together into some ladder of interest.

They say it is about your choice. But really it is not. You have no choice at all what arrives. It is absolutely random.

Shake, shake, shake, shake your news feed. Shake your news feed. 

The presumption is also that you just don’t care what you learn first as a news consumer. That whatever information arrives whenever is just fine by all of us. All of it has the same level of importance.

It is a new take on Everyman News. It is EveryWhichWay News. And it gives me the creeps.

Sure, I don’t have an Ipad and I could just be jealous.   I don’t want to spin, shake, touch, filter, share and engage. I want to read, watch, listen, comment. On what I want and need to when I want to. Not just because the snippet shows up randomly or is the most popular or lands on me like a meteor falling from the sky.

 Because I don’t care about a lot of stuff that is out there. And I do care deeply about information and news that may not appear just because I was shaking like crazy. Enduring a haphazard arrival of events is not something I embrace.

Life is already like that. My news doesn’t have to be.

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From Dollies to PMS and More of the Same

Not even two weeks after International Women’s Day, when the website for the March 8 event urged women to click and tell their stories, I am left wondering why we don’t understand that half the world needs more than a day in our honor. And why then,  if by default, the other 364 days are automatically International Men’s Days.  And what in the world we are still doing with mostly gender-avoidant media.

The media coverage of the day about the day seemed gratuitious, especially since most of the online and broadcast stories were splashed with Sandra Bullock’s Oscar win that night.       As we all know now, that wasn’t even the real story. Never mind.

In the superbly reported and written Newsweek  story this week,  “Sexism at Work: Young Women, Newsweek and Gender,” the “dollies”  write:

“Female bylines at major magazines are still outnumbered by seven to one; women are just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and less than a quarter of law partners and politicians. That imbalance even applies to the Web, where the founder of a popular copywriting Web site, Men With Pens, revealed late last year that ‘he’ was actually a she. ‘I assumed if I chose a male name [I’d] be viewed as somebody who runs a company, not a mom sitting at home with a child hanging off her leg,’ the woman says. It worked: her business doubled once she joined the boys’ club.”

All of this points to what my finely feminist writer friends label the “pale, male, stale” (or what I call PMS) status quo.  And then CNN attacked Politico for doing more of the same:.

Politico’s John F. Harris is on the defensive over the diversity of his staff after CNN’s Reliable Sources showed an editorial meeting that featured an all-white crowd and few women.

The publication’s editor-in-chief told Journal-isms columnist Richard Prince that the camera shots didn’t reflect the diversity of Politico’s staff, especially when it came to the number of women who work at the organization. Harris, however, refused to discuss actual numbers with Prince, saying “our corporate policies don’t allow me to release numerical data.”

The Reliable Sources segment was designed to show Politico’s preparation for covering the vote over the health care bill.

Blogging about the PMS for editorsweblog.org, Alexandra Jaffe wrote:

“(The editorial meeting) was pathetic.  All white folks at the table deciding the stories to cover.  Not one African American or any other minority,” says a journalist in an e-mail to the National Association of Black Journalists e-mail list.
Another laments: “How can they consider themselves ‘new media’ when they look just like the old media?”

The lack of diversity at this meeting was striking because of the visual uniformity of the scene, but it reflects a developing trend in the newsroom.  Although minorities compose over 33 percent of the population in the U.S., in 2008, as reported by the American Society of News Editors in their annual census, only 13.4 percent of journalists were people of color.  

Women fare only marginally better, with seven male bylines printed at major magazines for every one female byline.  Newsweek, which has a 39 percent female editorial board, reports that the four most common jobs for women today are stereotypically “pink-collar” jobs, with 43 percent of women working as secretaries, nurses, teachers and cashiers.  Of Newsweek‘s 49 cover stories last year, men wrote all but six.  And only two women currently work as editors of top circulation dailies in the U.S.

I teach my students at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University about the necessity of inclusiveness, about diversity of thought and how it shifts content and how every source for every story must be considered for race, age, gender, ideaology, geography, disability, education, income and orientation. You can’t get a broad diversity of sources on all stories, but you have to try. Why? Because it improves the journalism. Stories cease to be flat and become fully dimensional.

And then I came home to see my son, Brendan’s, new issue of Men’s Health. On the cover? “Cars! Beers! Breasts! And 9 Other Things Worth Living and Dying For.”

What more can I say.

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