Monday, April 27, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

My second reporting shift at KOMU went terribly wrong.  To start off, my story would not take off the ground.  Earlier in the day it was heard that General Motors was planning on closing some of its factories seven weeks longer than usual.  I had the idea to localize the story and focus on the ripple effect it would have on local GM dealerships.  Boy was I wrong when I realized no one really wanted to talk with me.  I called over 15 dealerships in the area and the managers were either gone for the day or did not want to talk with me.  I was very shocked because in my mind, I wasn't doing any type of controversial story.  Here was a platform for them to give their opinion about the larger company and what effect they believed it would have on their local dealership.
One man did talk to me off the record and commented that he wouldn't talk to me because he didn't like all the bad press that the American auto industry was receiving.  "I have customers that come in happy to buy a new car, and then come in the next day depressed about it because of all the bad things they hear in the media," he commented.  While this was only one person's opinion I had never even considered that was the reason why no one would talk to me about the plant shut-downs.  As a young reporter, I think it's so easy to focus on the smallest picture of your single story.  Sure you think about being balanced and making sure everything is technically done, but I often forget the impact I will actually have on people with my stories.  I forget that so much of this world is culturally shaped by what people see on the television.  As a reader, I too get angry at the continuous negative coverage I see of the auto industry in the Detroit Free Press, but as a journalist, I was just focused on getting my story.  I'm not writing this to say I wouldn't do the story because I would have if it had become available, but I also think it's important to think about the impact stories have on the community.  I have to balance my roles as journalist and citizen to get the best stories around!
My focus this week is to watch some great storytellers and see what they do that I can apply to my own writing.  We read Wayne Freedman's book almost every week, but I forget that he's an actual working journalist, not just some guy that writes textbooks.  This week I decided to seek some of his stories out to see what he does to make them so captivating and to the point.  One of my favorites was about Stanley the cat.  Coming from a city like Detroit where if it bleeds it leads, I was reluctant to watch a story about a cat stuck on a telephone point because it basically sounds boring.  However I remembered that it was a Freedman story so I knew he would make it great.  To start, I was surprised by his use of a live shot.  In my mind, live shots are for taking viewers to news as it unfolds.  But here we were with a live shot of a cat stuck up a telephone pole.  His use of natural sound was also amazing.  I don't think he spoke for more than two lines without some sort of natural sound of the cat or neighbors comments.  Finally it was the way he built the story around Stanley.  Think about it, he could have summed it up in a couple of sentences: "Stanley the cat belongs to Judy, and she says he gets stuck up a pole at least once a week.  He's stuck there again today."  Instead, he gives you a look into his personality, some history, and of course, remarks by people who can actually speak to make the viewer feel like Stanley is their own neighbor's cat.  I really like this humanized aspect of his stories and I think they make for more excitement and enjoyability.  
I also liked his story about the Fuller brush salesman.  This story seemed to use every wonderful journalism tool that we have been taught: natural sounds, an inquisitive stand up, a golden nugget (surprise) in the middle of the story, and a clear and focused story line.  Norman is a door to door salesman with a career that is obviously about a decade outdated.  Although this is his day job, he also enjoys acting on the side.  This story flows so naturally, I would forget that I was watching the news and not a program about ordinary people living their lives.  I think this type of journalism is amazing because you get great stories out there but you're still using your journalism fundamentals.  I didn't see the newsworthiness aspect in this story as much, but I definitely saw the goal of telling ordinary people's stories come to life in this example.  I know that even Freedman didn't wake up telling the types of stories he tells today, but he is certainly an inspiration to all storytellers out there, regardless of medium. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tea Tax Parties

I completed my first reporting shift at KOMU last week and for the most part, it was a success! Even from only having been there one day, I learned so many lessons on what works and what does not. From the beginning, I was assigned a story that was 1.5 hours away. A three hour commute will really cut into your editing and writing time. I arrived back at the station around 8 pm and had my script approved by 9 pm. But my computer had to be restarted and it took a very long time for my video to load in. Unfortunately, I didn't make the ten o'clock newscast. Although I was disappointed, it really taught me to expect the unexpected and to be able to work tightly under pressure and on deadline. I hope that my next story is not as far away because that crunch was not fun, but I understand it is a part of the news business.
The story I covered last week was about a Tax Tea Party that took place in Camden, MO, but was one of hundreds that took place all over the country. I was unfamiliar with the tea parties, and luckily, the one I covered was small in comparison to the 5,000 that came out in cities like Washington D.C. I enjoy watching stories on and one of them was actually about the media coverage of the national tax tea parties on April 15th. I was shocked at the controversy that surrounded JUST the coverage!!! Watching this report ( reaffirmed that I have to be extra careful when covering protests, social issues, and anything controversial and that my tone is extremely important in the way my stories will be received. A guest speaker a couple of weeks ago made the comment that there is no such thing as completely objective reporting because we all come into this business with our individual backgrounds and preconceived notions. The most important thing is to acknowledge these factors and to make sure people double check your work. There will be some stories I cannot cover because of my culture and ideals, but there will be more that I will have to step outside of myself and be as objective as possible. One CNN reporter clearly was upset with the tax tea parties, and on the same page, the protesters were clearly very upset with her presence as well (they considered her the liberal media). She lost control and she lost her cool. The most important thing I can do is remember my surroundings and to remain in control of my situation. I can't control what people around me say, but I can control the way I act in a situation and the way I choose to cover it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Need to Become More International

Our guest speaker from Al Jazeera International pulled my curiosity to the complete other side of the world to see their perspectives on current events of the world. The first thing that caught my eye on the homepage was the amount of international news that was available to users. I understand that this is an international station by definition, but I feel even our international stations (like CNN for example) fail to give a real perspective of what goes on beyond the U.S. and Europe. The site features more coverage of outside news than it does for news in its own area (Middle East). The current coverage is really focusing on the protests in Thailand. In comparison to the front news on CNN's international home site, it focuses on the pirates that captured a U.S. captain, a boating accident in Florida, Farah Fawcett's battle with cancer, and a side blog about Thai's government. While I understand that a news organization must cater to its audience, I also believe that it's important to give an audience what it needs. Too many U.S. citizens have little to no knowledge of international current events, and after taking a glance at these two sites I understand why.
I completed my second VO Patrol this past week and it was closer than the last one, but unfortunately not my idea. I covered Congressman Blaine Luektemeyer's visit to Columbia, in particular his trip to the food bank. The nice thing about VO Patrols is that you don't have to think about what you say in your stand up or getting an enourmous amount of shots because you only have about 45 seconds to fill and you are completely the photographer with the exception of when you conduct interviews. The food bank was great with letting me film what I wanted and having enough variety inside to get some great shots. The one major limiting factor was the light inside of the board room and the lack of light from my camera because the light went out.
From this shift, I know that I still have to do a better job of focusing my pictures and interviews. When I look in the small screen the picture looks clear but when it actually appears on television, a lot of times it is very soft. Over the weekend I took the time to go into KOMU and just play with the camera. I found the peaking button and practiced getting various shots into focus. I'm excited and nervous about my first reporting shift this week. It will be great to see my work on air but I'm nervous that I won't be able to think of a creative stand up or that something crazy will happen to my footage. Being at KOMU thus far has shown me that we are all dependent on each other, but at the end of the day, you have to cover your own actions. We have the liberty to shoot what we feel we need, but it's important to be able to explain every shot you take. Next week should be very interesting.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Networking Sites and the Media

Facebook, Twitter, and even the less popular MySpace are not only social networks, but tools that media outlets are using to reach larger audiences and expand demographics. The American Journalism Review featured an article entitled Networking News by Arielle Emmett in the Dec 2008/Jan 2009 issue. Media companies are not only using the sites to spread stories and gain audiences, but also to get users to join their "fan communities" (such as groups and the use of fan pages). This allows more interaction between users and the companies, and friends of the users to see their activity and possibly start following that media company as well. Traditional media such as the newspaper or broadcast news only allow one way communication from the paper or station to the audience. With the exception of letters to the editor or calls to the news desk, there usually isn't a way for the audience to have a say in the disseminated news. But the influx of online interaction is causing a boom for traditional news. The New York Times online traffic grew from 14.6 million visitors in September 2007 to 20 million one year later according to Nielson Online. In what other medium with the current state of news would you see such growth?
One concern brought up in the article was the possibility of fragmenting the news industry even further with these networking/social sites. Although traditional news outlets can reach more people with the sites, how much loyalty is built with them? Brady of the suggests that columnists start their own social pages and fan communities to build loyalty and readership in the online communities. If users become attached to the writer or reporter as a person, then he/she might be more likely to follow their work and expand with more work with the entire company. I use Facebook for social purposes, but this article brought to my attention a completely different side of the networking sites. It seems that everyday a different aspect of the Internet changes the way we get our news. Channeling these sites to work for traditional outlets and maximizing advertising will be the next step in changing the news process as a whole.
In my own newsgathering process, I completed my first VO Patrol shift at KOMU last week. I came in with ideas for reporters but didn't have anything I thought would be good for myself. That was a mistake I hope to never make again. Having your own idea that interests you will make your writing and newsgathering process better. I drove to the capitol to cover a house bill that would take away the power of the governor to appoint certain positions, but would give the voting power to the people. At first I was very dubious of going to cover what seemed to me like a pretty complex topic for a very small time slot. I was also nervous about using the new cameras and making it back in time. I surprised myself by both adapting well to the new camera and being organized with my both my gathering and production processes. The thing I learned most from this experience is the importance of having your own story idea, regardless of how small your story is.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Detroit Free Press Goes Digital

Papers all over the country are scrambling to find ways to cut costs and remain in business during these difficult economic times. The Detroit Free Press has been a pioneer in the newspaper industry for a long time, so it was no surprise to me when it took an innovative approach to continuing the dissemination of daily Detroit news. Starting today, the Free Press will only deliver actual papers on Thursday, Friday, and Sunday ( On the other days, there is a website that subscribers can get their news from. Readers can also get the paper through regular mail and at newstands and stores.
When my grandparents first heard the news, they were furious! For as long as I have known them, neither one starts their day without a cup of coffee and reading the paper cover to cover. The elderly population was one of the most vocal about the dislike in the transition. Even as a person from a much younger generation, I must admit there is something about picking up a paper in the morning and having something I can read in between classes or during meals. The issue of online journalism has been a consistent concern in many of my blog posts, but this is one of the few examples of an entire media outlet going online in a major way. I took a look at the paper today, and I admit, it looks exactly like the actual Free Press and is very easy to navigate, but it doesn't have the same feelings as holding an actual paper. I also wonder what will make readers subscribe to this new site when they can still get the news for free? For those who are loyal to the paper and care about it being in business, I think some of that population will pay the money. But for the remaining people who are forced to go online anyway for the news, will they actually be willing to pay more for the same news in a different layout? My mind tends to think this won't be the case.
Detroit is one of the few cities to have two daily newspapers still in existence. I am curious to see what changes the Detroit News will make, if any. It will be THE daily paper on days when only the online edition is available for the Free Press. I am excited that this paper has found a way to remain afloat while still providing news content to interested readers, but the question in the back of my mind is whether this will just stall time until the inevitable. How long will our city remain a two paper town, and will the online edition even reach the dwindling audience that continues to get news from their local papers? I definitely think this is innovative, but I'm unsure on how local Detroiters will receive this new paper, and if the online edition will create any much needed revenue for our local newspaper.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How Far is Too Far?

As the Kwame Kilpatrick saga comes to an end with the final consequences for Christine Beatty, it forced me to think as a journalist about the vast coverage that surrounded the affair. As both a student journalist and a citizen of Detroit, I had mixed feelings about the entire situation. I watched the stories, text messages, and continuous police investigation take place over the beginning of 2008 and come to end with Kilpatrick ending up in jail. I read the reports of how his family couldn't go anywhere without the press following them around and asking questions about their affairs. I felt saddened that one family would have to endure so much, especially the children, but also remembered the role of journalists during any kind of affair with a public figure.
One of the last major players in the case to be tried was Christine Beatty, one of the former mayor's top aides as well as the woman he was involved with outside of his marriage. The coverage of her was not as expansive as the mayor's, but even her hearing for a possible release early from jail was covered live on the Detroit Free Press' site. A legal hearing is open to the public but, there were stories of news crews outside of their homes for 22-24 hours a day. At what point do journalists invade someone's privacy beyond a professional measure? I know this is a dicey situation and I would never want to take a side on the matter, but I think many citizens had the same idea throughout the saga. Can a public official's child go to school without running the risk of being followed by the press? And is it really the goal of journalism to document a spouse in the grocery store while he/she shops? This scandal brought a lot of those questions to my mind, and reading an article about one of the final prosecuting steps for Beatty rushed back memories of the stories and coverage over the summer. At what point do we overstep the line between journalism and the invasion of true privacy?

Friday, March 6, 2009

Papercuts...Is TV Next?

It's scary to watch the number of employees (it's not just writers, also drivers, editors, delivery people, etc.) being laid off by newspaper companies. I was intrigued by a recent article in the American Journalism Review about the astonishing number of jobs that disappeared in 2008. There were more than 15,000 jobs cut, with an estimation of half of them being journalists. It makes me wonder who will be the watchdogs of the government, the storytellers of the average person, and the people who report the emergencies of the world. I understand that newspapers are archaic in that they report yesterday's news. But I believe there's something in reading material that has been fleshed out and includes accurate details.

The article had a link to a map that showed a breakdown of the number of lost jobs in 2008 ( I was surprised that so many jobs have been lost in the midwest. So when will television jobs see the cut as well? As more people go online to get their news, even the 10 o'clock shows are becoming outdated.  It was sad to read about people like Joe Grimm (from my hometown of Detroit) who was a recruiter for 18 years and left his paper after a buyout was offered.  It's true these past columnists have great writing skills that can transfer to different areas, but if reporting is your passion, won't your skills best serve the public in that capacity?  I don't think the American public truly understands what it does when it doesn't read the daily newspaper.  It's hard to separate the line between the job loses due to a struggling economy and actual changes in the news-gathering process.  

I think that in the next decade there will be a switch to online broadcasts and a cut in the number of news shows.  The days of tuning in at 5, 6, and 11 are quickly ending.  I think it's more likely that there will still be the night newscasts, but more of an always updating newscast on the Internet for viewers.  I also think smaller markets are going to do better than larger markets because there's less competition for it.  In areas like New York, Chicago, and LA, their news is basically national news.  However, for smaller markets like Saginaw, Michigan or Sioux Falls, South Dakota, local residents will not get their news unless local people report it.  The changes are scary to watch but I believe honest, accurate journalism will come out on top as it always has.  The form may just be different than we're used to.