Sunday, April 30, 2006

Another look at blogging and bloggers

This time it's Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post weighing in on the power of bloggers.

One theme has become apparent to me over the past few months about the analysis offered by many mainstream journalists about blogging: They either appear very uncomfortable with the phenomenon of blogging...or they are becoming more and more aware of the staying power of blogs and the important role they can play in journalism.

One of the points Kurtz makes in this article is that bloggers are NEVER going to replace mainstream media and journalists. However, they do have a critical role to play...especially in the areas of analysis and fact-checking, two domains in which the media have had spotty (at best) records of late.

More analysis coming...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

More BEA

Earlier today I also took part in a panel that looked at how we as educators can do a more effective job of grading broadcast news stories. Last year, I moderated an excellent panel that examined how broadcast journalism educators could take the subjectivity out of their grading.

Today's session looked at how educators grade on-air work. Four panelists -- Grace Provenzano (San Jose State), Bill Silcock (Arizona State), Laura Smith (South Carolina) and Marty Gonzalez (San Francisco State) -- explored various ways in which they cut through the difficulties in grading on-air work.

Among the themes that resonated through the presentations -- quality of writing, annunciation, how comfortable someone looks in front of the camera, and the clothing that is worn when the students appears in front of the camera.

The bottom line is that while there is certainly more than one way to grade the on-air work done by our students there certainly are distinct criteria educators can use.

A great conversation

I promised an update on the blog panel taking place at the BEA convention. John Dailey from Ball State University and Dennis Denleavy from Southern Oregon University joined me as panelists.

We examined multiple ways in which teachers can use blogs in their classrooms -- to demonstrate how to create a blog, to teach about writing, to help students grasp ethics, and to ensure that news standards are upheld were among the topics.

I was most impressed with the idea that there are numerous people using blogs.

One of the central arguments about using a blog is that it is the kind of technology students are using these days. Why not use it to reach them? Perhaps it helps them write more effectively. Or maybe it makes them better able to discern quality news and information from simple opinion and conjecture. Or maybe it makes them more comfortable reaching out to the larger audience. Whatever the case, the audience and I came away impressed that there are a variety of ways to excite our students about blogs.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Do bloggers want to do the dirty work?

Jonathan Last, in this Philly Inquirer piece, argues that while blogs are good for instantaneous feedback and commentary, the heavy-lifting so critical to journalism is not often enough demonstrated by bloggers.


Serious bloggers might take offense to some of what Lash argues in here, but I ask this question -- do those what I'll call newsbloggers (people who analyze what is taking place in the news world) spend much time digging for their own stories? This is not meant to be a criticism, by the way. It merely asks if perhaps Lash is touching a neve that irritates both so-called Old Media and New Media types.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Blogs in education

The annual Broadcast Education Association national convention begins in a few days, and as usual the three-day session offers plenty of interesting and informative topics, research papers, and ideas for journalism educators to share.

This year I am very interested in learning how some of my colleagues are using blogs as teaching devices and inside their classrooms. The panelists, this author included, are made up of academics from across the country.

If you have ideas that you think I ought to add to my presentation...or if there is a question you would like asked, pass that information to me. I'll happily try to insert it into either my presentation or the overall panel discussion.

CIA agent dismissed for leaks to the press

The latest indication that the Bush administration is again vigilant in going after those who assist the media in revelaing U.S. secrets. This story from the New York Times is among many that are discussing this topic today.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The political season and the Web

Kudos to a local television station -- WTAE, an ABC affiliate, for its planned aggressive coverage on both television and the Web of the 2006 elections season.

Editorial comment -- the young woman leading the Web coverage, Ashley DiParlo, is about to graduate from Point Park University, where I am an assistant professor. I think she's a dynamite young talent.

Hu's on first?

In China, Hu (that's China's president, Hu Jintao) might not even be on. So explains CBS News reporter Barry Petersen.

The pontificating is about to go into high gear

We are only a little more than a week away from the event that is the most important, most dramatic, most entertaining, most super-dee-duper of all-time! (Insert your loudest, most obnoxious laugh track here.)

Yes, I'm referring to the annual verbage spewing that is the NFL Draft. When either of our two boys are mad at my wife and me (or just refuse to listen to us), they mumble "Blah, blah." Well, when it comes to the most stupendous day of the year...yes, my two boys describe it perfectly.

Over the next few days, we will be subjected to what can basically be described as a waste of time. And allow me to confess that I used to be a sports reporter...and I covered a couple of drafts. Allow me to also admit that while I do like college football more than professional football, I do spend plenty of time in the fall in front of the tube watching the NFL. In other words, I'm not some curmudgeon who is angry at the entire world.

Sometime soon, we will hear some breathless sports announcer report that so-and-so has seen his "stock" fall dramatically. A hangnail or some other major calamity will be the cause of this life-altering, psychologically scarring moment. The player will go from a "certain first-rounder" to...well...a certain first-rounder. Then the same breathless announcer will pontificate about how team so-and-so was either "brilliant" for overlooking the hangnail or "absolutely moronic" for taking a player who is so obviously deformed.

Anyone who takes the time to seriously study the draft will tell you that a sizable number of 1st round picks turn out to be useless. Take quarterbacks, for example. I don't recall the exact numbers at this moment, but there have been something like 47 quarterbacks taken in the 1st round of the last 20 NFL drafts. Something like 75% of them NEVER started a playoff game. In fact, only three of those quarterbacks have won a Super Bowl. Three of 47.

Oh, you pontificators, there anything relevant you can say about this?

So, while a large number of sports enthusiasts will park themselves in front of the TV at the end of this month, salivating at the prospect of their team moving up 1,500 places in order to pick someone the remainder of the world knows nothing about (nor cares to learn about), I will do something constructive...maybe read a book, maybe engage a colleague in an important conversation, maybe even take a nap.

And if I want a really deep sleep, I'll turn on the draft.

College newspaper woes?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Is the Duke rape case national news?

That question was posed by one of my students in a class this morning, and it led to a rather interesting debate.

For some, the answer was clearly yes. Their reasons included: Duke is a nationally-recognized university that enjoys a well-deserved reputation for excellence in athletics and academics, therefore almost anything that happens at such a place will generate national attention; the charge by an African-American woman that she was raped by multiple white men is a microcosm for the racial divide that exists throughout the country; and that because of the saturation of sports (meaning ESPN) this story had a guaranteed daily presence on news and sports.

I found it interesting that no one suggested the story had real value (i.e. no local, state or national policy was being debated) or that the information generated by the event was important to the public at-large. In fact, I asked my students which was more important -- the debate about illegal immigration or the rape accusation. They said illegal immigration. Then I asked them which was more important -- a discussion about when U.S. troops ought to return home from Iraq or the rape accusation. The troops, they said. Finally, I asked them which was more important -- rising gas prices or the rape accusation. Gas prices, without question, they said. So, then why are we talking about the rape accusation in this classroom? I asked. And why are news organizations setting up camp in Durham? Plenty of eyes went from looking at me to looking at the floor, the computer screen, the person in the next seat over, etc.

The argument against this story ever going national can be summarized this way: Rape (sadly and unfortunately) happens every day. Why does this event deserve to be treated any differently? I asked my students if the story would have gone national if the accusations instead had involved men attending a smaller school with little or no national exposure because of athletics. My students laughed and said no.

The triggers for a local story instantly becoming national appeared in this case-- accusation of a crime, well-off (either financially, educationally, or athletically) men taking advantage of a defenseless woman, and an event that either immediately divides a community or highlights a previously divided community, among them. And yet as I have read many of the editorials that have sprung up in recent days no one has suggested that what is taking place in Durham has any real value to the American public. Which, I guess, begs another question -- how can media coverage of the rape accusation be defined, to this point? And what do we expect to see in the upcoming weeks?

Does PR belong in the journalism department?

Is it fair to describe Katie Couric as "perky"?

Investigative journalism still matters

Schieffer as commentator...will other nets follow?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Katie Couric, in my opinion

I don't often offer my opinions on this blog (yes, I know, that seems counter to what a blog is supposed to be). However, because of some conversations I've had in my classrooms and among friends, I thought I'd engage in a little opining on the subject of Katie Couric leaving NBC (and the Today program) and joining CBS (and the Evening News).

Her challenges, as I see them, are these:

1. Will the public accept the transformation of bubbly Katie into serious Katie? In no way am I attempting to claim that she lacks journalism skills; instead my point is that the kind of personality that was needed on the morning program is not the kind that can be extended to the evening. Yes, she had to be serious in the mornings, but rarely to the degree and never consistently as she will be on the anchor desk.

2. Can she restore the luster that once was (and to some extent still is) CBS Evening News? Of course, there are still the dinosaurs out there who will say that unless Walter Cronkite is anchoring that newscast that it lacks credibility, depth, experience and other reputable qualities. Those are also the same people who failed to ever accept Dan Rather as the anchor of that program. My comments are not being directed to this small group. Instead, I'm referring again to the general audience -- an audience that is fickle about news to begin with (one need to only consider the data outlining the decline in evening news viewership to understand that). Does she possess the skills needed to manage that newscast, direct the news operation, and leave an imprint on CBS -- as Cronkite did there, as Rather also did, as Tom Brokaw did on NBC, and as Peter Jennings did on ABC? This also is not a sexist argument -- Couric's ability to restore CBS News has nothing to do with her gender; it will in part be determined by her management and leadership skills.

3. What is it in Katie Couric that will lead people to tune in to the program and her on a nightly basis? Certainly she is a personality (something that can cut both ways, in my opinion), and her courage in dealing with her husband's death was perhaps her defining moment. However, Couric needs to bring eyeballs to the Evening News five nights a week. Once the "wow" factor of seeing Couric in the anchor desk wanes, what happens then?

Do I think she can do it? I do not know the woman, and so I believe it is inappropriate for me to answer that question. But I will also be honest -- I thought Bob Schieffer was better suited for that job, although I recognize he didn't want it.

Couric certainly will have an easier time replacing Rather than Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas did filling Jennings' shoes. (I'm omitting Brian Williams here, because of the grooming that was done to prepare him to be Brokaw's replacement.) Woodruff and Vargas took over for a man who, although he had passed away, was still considered the face of ABC News and the World News Tonight program. Moreover, anytime someone replaces a legend who has died, the expectations are enormous.

I don't believe Couric has the same pressures as she replaces Rather. However, she does have an enormous contract to uphold. Neither Woodruff nor Vargas did. The critics will be waiting for the first signs of discord.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Tiger Woods and 60 Minutes, part 2

Tiger Woods and 60 Minutes, part 1

Should a TV anchor hold a second job?

Citizen journalism...a good thing?

More reaction to Lou Dobbs...

...and his immigration policy comments.

News professionals criticize President Bush...

...and are suspended for their comments.

Jill Carroll's return home...

...and questions about her comments in various videotapes.

I join with those who say that any comments critical of the U.S. made by Carroll while she was hostage need to be discredited. I ask the following to those who are questioning what she said: What would you have done in that situation? With the threat of death hanging over you, would you have been able to withstand the pressure she faced to say what she did?

Katie C(BS)ouric?

Seems like only a matter of time before Couric joins CBS...