Sunday, February 27, 2011

Strat 7: Big Picture

I think this is a popular story idea for this time of year. With enough support and valid evidence, it could have been done well. In this story on Tampa Bay Online from the Associated Press, the reporter writes that if local businesses have a good Spring Break, then it could be a good indicator of how well the area is recovering from last year’s BP oil spill. The article depends mostly on anecdotal evidence from business owners and one statistic from an Expedia spokesperson. The story also doesn’t measure what a good Spring Break is for the region by providing actual statistics and figures.

In my opinion, the story isn’t well-focused because it isn’t really reporting on anything but rather posing a question that can’t be answered yet. If a reporter gave me this story, I would ask them why they think this story should run now. I think this story would be much stronger if 1) it explained what a financially successful Spring Break would be for the local businesses and 2) the reporter gathered a month’s worth of data to support a later version of the story. I think asking, “What’s the story?” would help strengthen the story by making the reporter think about the timing and factual support.

Strategy 3: Story Ideas

For this assignment, I decided to focus on the state considering block tuition for public universities and colleges.

  1. When will this go into effect, if it’s passed? How much will students have to pay? Will the price of tuition go up? What about part-time students? Will this apply equally to all students at all universities? Could this push students to out-of-state schools? Will it decrease the number of international and out-of-state students? What about graduate students? What will the new money go toward? Are other states considering similar legislation? Do other states already have a similar legislation in place? Why is the state considering this now? How will this affect Bright Futures? Will this apply during the summer semesters?
  2. How will this affect students’ perception of their university and the people who run it? If students begin to feel rushed out, then how could it affect their performance in school? What about participation in non-academic activities? Is this the last time we’ll see changes in students’ tuition and fees?
  3. The University of Florida is known for providing a great and affordable education. Is it possible that implementing block tuition and further tuition hikes could cause an exodus from the school?
  4. Although I’m a few months away from no longer being a student, I still like to read stories about the education system. Education stories that are framed within the context of the economy are also very interesting and relevant because they make the reader think about the long-term impact that current changes may have even after the economy recovers.
  5. If students must pay for 18 credits, then will more students take the maximum amount of credits? How will this affect the amount of time students take to graduate? What about graduation rates? How will different departments and colleges react to this? How will taxpayers- many of whom have children in the state university system- react to paying for ‘invisible’ classes?
  6. An interesting way to consider the people affected by this news would be to talk to the incoming class of freshmen that were recently accepted to UF. The legislation will most likely be decided on in the next four years, and they could end up having to pay block tuition. A reporter could ask them and their parents if they considered block tuition when deciding which colleges to apply to.
  7. WHO- The Florida lawmakers who are backing the legislation, the students who could be affected, the parents who may have to foot the bill.

WHAT-Block tuition that could be implemented at Florida’s public universities and colleges.

WHEN-The next few years or whenever the legislation is voted on.

WHERE-Florida’s public colleges and universities

WHY-Block tuition has been at the center of many on-campus protests and was even voted against by UF’s student body during this past student election.

  1. How will block tuition affect student performance in school? How will the extra money be spent? How do lawmakers plan to weigh the pros and cons in this legislation? How will the price of attending college in Florida compare to the prices in other states? How will this affect the decision of non-in-state students to come to Florida for school?
  2. I think if done correctly, then this story should appeal more to taxpayers and the parents of future possible students. Right now, many of the stories I’ve seen about block tuition focus on current student reaction. This is, of course, an important view to consider, but it is also very short-sighted. This legislation isn’t going to be decided on anytime soon, and to keep it in the minds of the public, newspapers should focus on those who may have to deal with it in the next few years.

Trend Stories

The Slate writers have a point. Are these stories ridiculously overinflated? Yes. Could the reporter have done a better job of gathering facts and data? Yes. But are these stories absolutely useless and irredeemable? No. The reporters (and editors) in these cases are guilty of bad execution, not bad ideas. The reporters were curious about a particular issue, but went about finding support in the wrong ways.

I think there are ways to effectively report on a trend story that informs readers without misleading them. A better way to report the trend would be to choose a single, large event and report on that event individually. National Public Radio did a good job of this in a recent story about Glenn Beck. In “When Beck Attacks, Someone Could Get Hurt,” the reporter talks about Frances Fox Piven and her particular history with Beck. Although it would be very easy, the reporter doesn’t try to generalize what happened to Piven. The focus is on one case, and the story provides evidence that directly backs up what she goes through. She has hundreds of e-mails in which people threaten her life, and these don’t appear until after Beck discusses her on his show. I think this story is a good example of how to provide valid evidence of a trend.

In the case of the library story, I think it’s hard to ignore the Alachua County Library District’s own report. I don’t think the problem is the report itself but the officials who try to attribute the increases to the economic downturn. The reporter probably could have tried to come up with other reasons for the increases, but it was really attractive (and easy) to attribute the upturn to the bad economy.


Here is the link to my Oscars tag on Delicious.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Case Study 7

The “Jimmy’s World” case shows how important it is for an editor to be critical of any and everything that comes before him or her. The story of Vivian Aplin-Brownlee, who doubted the story from its very beginning, stands out to me. She had the characteristics a good editor needs. She knew her reporters and the type of work they were capable of and she was vocal about her concerns. Had she not gone on vacation before the story was published, then history might have turned out very differently and we might not know Janet Cooke.

I think it’s important for journalists to learn from incidents like “Jimmy’s World” because knowing how to avoid and spot these occurrences helps preserve the integrity of our work. If a publication as large and credible as The Washington Post can fall prey to a scheme like this, then any news organization can.

One thing I always worry about is the task of maintaining accuracy in an increasingly digital world. In the rush to scoop a story or get on the web, I think we as journalists may end up chipping away at our accuracy and the integrity that being accurate brings. And this is why good editors are more important than ever. Every news organization need individuals who will scrutinize a story in order to make sure it’s suitable to be published because once it’s out there, it can never be taken back.

Some red flags I noticed in the “Jimmy’s World” story include:

  • How had Jimmy’s habit gone unnoticed by teachers?
  • Why would addicts be so open with a reporter and even go so far as to shoot up the boy in front of Cooke?
  • How did she even find Jimmy? What led her to him?
  • How did she get the family to agree to talk?
  • Jimmy seems very articulate for an 8-year-old heroin addict who never attends school.
  • In such a shocking front page story, why did her editor not ask to meet the boy or his family?

Strat 14

Bo Diddley’s estate in limbo

The story starts off by discussing what Diddley’s attorneys plan to do with the song’s publishing rights, but we don’t hear from this from the attorneys. Why are doing this? Why is this better or worse than other options? How does the family feel about this? There’s no attribution for the statement: “Diddley's attorney and two agents/managers are seeking to sell the publishing rights to his entire music catalog for $4.3 million to pay off possible tax debts for his estate, estimated to be worth about $6 million.”

In a story that deals with figures and money sums, there’s no crediting of these figures. “The sale of publishing rights would mean Diddley's heirs — six children and 16 grandchildren — would be out about $400,000 a year in record royalties for the next four decades.” Where does this figure come from? How did the reporter come up with it?

The story mentions court proceedings, and the accompanying photo shows Diddley’s son and granddaughter leaving a courtroom. It’s possible the reporter got much of this information from setting in the courtroom, but this is unclear.

The story does have creditable sources. One of them is Diddley’s attorney and the trustee of his estate, Ron Stevens. Although, he provides some insight into the proceeding, it is through e-mails, which aren’t a preferred method of interviewing. Another source is the judge in the case, Robert Roundtree, Jr. But, like with other sources in the story, it is unclear whether the quotes are taken from what was said in the courtroom or if the reporter personally interviewed the sources.

One thing I liked about this story was the reporter obtained a copy of the will from the family. Instead of relying on what either side said about the will, the reporter used independent information to verify the facts. Including the will gives the story credibility and support.

I think this story’s strength lies in its closeness to the case and proceedings. The reporter went to the courtroom, listened to the facts of the case and the version of events from both the family and the estate trustees. The reporter didn’t rely on getting the information secondhand from a wire service story or a phone interview the next day.

However, one thing this story could have done better was to better identify where the information was coming from. It’s unclear if the information and the quotes are coming from the court proceeding or from independent, separate interviews. I think the reporter could have done a better job of attributing the various bits of information to its sources.

To improve the story, I would include a quoted source near the beginning of the story. The story is divided into six pages on the web, and it’s not until the middle of the second page that the reader finds quotes. Including a quote higher up signals to the reader that the story isn’t a brief about the court case but a longer, more in-depth piece about the family’s battle. I would also try to clarify just where the quotes are coming from? Are they from the proceeding or were they obtained afterward? Overall, this story has good information, but without proper attribution it’s hard to know who said what.

Google Docs

This is the link for a document in Google Docs.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Blog 3

Reading the Think Like an Editor reading on quotes resonated a lot with me. Much of what we do at WUFT-FM involves getting sound interviews to give our stories life, depth and credibility. Yes, we could say in our own words what a source tells us and save a lot of time and effort in the process, but having a source’s perspective makes the cast easier for listeners to digest and understand. Sound quotes mark a story as unique and significant. When listeners hear the voice of the mayor, a state senator or the sheriff, they perk up because they know it must be an important story.

I’ve come across the experience of trying to decide how to handle a story that could become questionable. We have a rule at the station that political stories about public policies or laws need to show both sides of the issue. That usually means getting the Republican and Democrat sides of the story. But, especially recently, we’ve run into the issue of whether the Tea Party side of the story should be included. For example, we covered Gov. Rick Scott’s unveiling of his new budget this week. Of course, we knew we had to call the Republican and Democratic chairmen of Alachua County, but there was an issue of whether it would be beneficial to interview the local Tea Party about their viewpoint. The issue was especially significant given that Scott announced his budget at a large Tea Party rally in Eustis. In the end, we interviewed all three sides and wrote two separate stories rather than try to cram all the information into one.

One thing I gathered from the last weeks’ readings is the importance of accessibility in journalism. Whether it’s writing headlines, coming up with a good nut graph or using effective quotes, reporters and editors must remember that they write stories with the intent that they will be read. If readers can’t connect with a story, then it’s not very likely that they’ll get beyond the first paragraph. Every aspect of a story is equally important because each one plays a part in moving the reader to the end of a story. The headline grabs the reader’s attention, the nut graph gets them beyond the first paragraph and the quotes guide them from graph to graph through to the end.


Scott's budget spares area state parks

Original- Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $5 billion in spending cuts would spare 53 state parks, including local landmarks such as Devil's Millhopper and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House, that the Department of Environmental Protection had proposed for temporary closure to reduce its budget, state staff members say.

Web summary- Fifty three state parks, including Devil’s Milhopper and the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House are facing temporary closures to tame the Department of Environmental Protection’s budget. But if Gov. Rick Scott gets his way, these local landmarks might just be spared.

10 years later, still no closure for Scott Baird family

Original- GPD will commemorate the anniversary today with a candlelight vigil at 7 p.m. at the site of the accident on Northwest 16th Terrace, since named Scott Baird Boulevard.

Web summary- It’s been 10 years since the death of Gainesville Police Department rookie officer Scott Baird, who was killed in a prank gone wrong. This year’s anniversary, commemorated by a candlelight vigil held at the scene of the accident, brings fresh calls for the people responsible for the prank to come forward and finally take responsibility for their actions.

Haridopolos: Public employees must take benefit cut

Original- Speaking before some of the UF faculty and staff who make up that workforce, he said the state can no longer afford the health care and retirement benefits now provided to public employees. The benefits are "out of whack" with those received in the private sector, he said.

"The public servant is doing better than the taxpayers who paid the bill," he said.

Haridopolos, a Merritt Island Republican who is a lecturer at UF, spoke at the UF's Bob Graham Center for Public Service. His speech comes as Gov. Rick Scott has just released a proposed budget that includes significant cuts to spending as well as taxes in response to the state's projected $3.6 billion deficit.

Web summary- Just days after Gov.Rick Scott unveiled his new budget proposal, state Republican senator Mike Haridopolos is echoing the governor’s call for spending cuts for public employee benefits. The Senate president and University of Florida lecturer spoke before some UF faculty and staff to explain what may happen to public employees if the governor’s budget proposal is accepted.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Case Study 6

I really like this story. It’s well-written, interesting and fresh. I think it was smart of this reporter to use Google Web Alerts to find story ideas. It’s another tool that can bring little-known ideas to the forefront. However, like any tools, there are things journalists should be aware of when using Google Web Alerts.

Google Alerts can be a very helpful tool for journalists looking for fresh story ideas and scoops, but one must evaluate of the truthfulness of certain sources. In the Jim Morrison story, the writer added credibility to this rumor (and thus his story) by interviewing then-Governor Charlie Crist, Jim Morrison’s father and the fan who wrote the petition. If this had just been a one-source story, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as it is with the multiple sources.

I think this story is a good example of a well-written story that stemmed from a web alert. However, I think it was smart of the reporter to not take the website on face value. Rather than making a story out of the rumor, the reporter went to the man who wrote the petition, the Parole Commission and the governor himself. This story shows how useful these alerts can be but also how much work it takes to turn a mere idea into a story. By itself, a Web Alert isn’t a story. Journalists must navigate a certain amount of falsities and rumors to get to the really valuable stuff that good stories are made of. Google Web Alerts could only increase the occurrence of falsities and rumors that one must rifle through. and I’m not sure it’s worth the time and effort.

When considering the “Think Like an Editor” readings on structure quotes, the Google Alerts story is particularly interesting. The author uses quotes that add flavor to the factual information in the article. And like I stated earlier, the variety of sources brings depth to the story. Without it, the story would be little more than a rumor. By bringing in government agency sources like the governor and the Parole Commission, the reporter moves the story from just being about Jim Morrison to being a story that is more accessible and relatable to more readers


Assignment 1

"Horses and dolphins and unicorns — these are all borderland creatures; gateway animals to other worlds," she says. "They help us imagine wonderful other ways of being in the world. They let us be cowgirls and oceanographers and mermaids and princesses."

This is from a story about a new book by Peggy Orenstein that tries to explain why girls seem to love horses, unicorns and dolphins. This quote is a good example of a crystallizing quote placed high in a story. It’s colorful and interesting and almost mimics the mystical subject matter of the story, while still explaining the core importance of the story.

"When he walked at 17 months without any braces — without anything — it just took my breath away," Brett's mom says.

In this story about breakthroughs in pre-natal spinal surgeries, the crystallizing quote is placed too low. I think this story would be much improved if it focused more on the effects of these breakthroughs on living, healthy patients affect by the surgeries. The story does do this, but it also clouds the reader’s perspective with technical science jargon. This quote makes the point that these new developments in surgery are new and have large impacts on the future health of these patients. The story would benefit from a narrative lead that focused on one specific patient and then moved on to discuss the larger practices and surgeries. In my opinion, the quote is a powerful one and would benefit from being placed higher in the story.