The beginning

The school year persists as the oddest method of measuring time. Students begin three-quarters of the way through a traditional calendar, take a break during the winter holidays and return for a few months before concluding in the middle of the (normal) year.

From a telephoto view, the blocks of time — high school, college, grad school — exist in concrete chunks. Graduation forms the cap to these blocked experiences, and thus, the mark of May as a sentimental time comes not from the end of school itself but from the reflection catalyzed by that end.

In other words, as my adviser at SAU wisely informed me, school provides a requisite period of contemplation about the time spent there. This, like many facets of school life, does not occur in the outside world.

As if another reason were needed to bolster the argument in favor of this amazing period of my life, the reflection syndrome only adds to the special significance of school vs. the world.

And as my adviser pointed out, this idea of reflection quickly loses value for many in their post-graduation years. Time speeds onward. No wedges of time are packaged neatly for meditation. A casting back of memories never surfaces.

My roommate, Kurt, and I discussed May’s feel, a time of closing. I never opened the thin book on my nightstand because starting a new project grates against the push to conclude, finalize, coordinate and end.

So it is with this blog. Like the failing strength of a witch’s broom, I noticed the decline a few weeks ago and have slowly prepared myself to let go. In this final post, I’ll briefly discuss the most important job we have as journalists.

We work as storytellers.

Our methods will surely evolve in the near future, and our roles are changing as this text goes live — not published in print, but accessible on your smartphone and tablet anywhere in the world.

We share stories to make readers care, but they must first understand why they need to care. This, too, comes with our job description because our readers’ choices multiply by the month.

To spin C. S. Lewis’ advice, three areas of coverage suffice:

1) Stories we ought to tell
2) Stories we’ve got to tell
3) Stories we like to tell

Beautiful words, evocative pictures, compelling video and informative graphics will always have a place in the world; bad form will not.

Thank you for reading and sharing in my time at Mizzou. Good night, good luck, God speed, and carry on.

Posted in Journalism Industry, Reporting Experiences | 3 Comments

Difference of opinion

“Others” could be the title of a new sci-fi flick. Or a horror film. M. Night Shyamalan, anyone?

In academic research, the word refers to a different viewpoint. Media outlets often receive criticism for reporting with liberal or conservative biases. That’s another topic, but related to the concept of others.

To be good journalists, we have to not only acknowledge worldviews that don’t conform with ours, but we must also read, watch and listen to these “others.”

I probably don’t do enough of this. Falling into a pattern of comfortable conformity becomes an efficient and unhealthy media diet. Giving some time — maybe not equal time, but more than a passing glance — to opinions we might disagree with makes us better writers.

Most significantly, as we read differing views, we are less hasty to say which part of an issue holds importance and more likely to gather a better breadth of information for any given story.

Parts of the following links speak to attitudes and ideas I don’t agree with, but all of them make a point and start a conversation:

• Social media won’t replace journalism.

Solitary brilliance can happen.

• Graduates have more intelligence than some would give them credit for.

• Yes, your parents still count.

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Scream of a good time

Edvard Munch’s iconic painting sold for a record $119.9 million on Wednesday. Here’s a great reaction to the sale:

Its essentials are readable from across a room. And with its skull head trapped under a shutting-down sky, it’s the pictorial equivalent of double exclamation points.

 

#goodwriting

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Inferiority complex: newspapers and your voice

Money might make the world go round, but for journalism, money clouds the future. I’ve followed the research of Iris Chyi for my thesis. She proposed that online news could be viewed as an “inferior good.”

Objectively, she’s right. Online content has less fact checking and less editing. Her theory stumbles when approached subjectively, from the eyes of a reader/viewer.

Two conflicting ideas bump against each other here, in what’s also been called the “ramen noodle theory.”

“Consumers don’t always use what they prefer, and they’re not always willing to spend money on what they use.” People prefer steak (print), but ramen’s (online) cheaper. Online wins, despite the objective reality that print is better.

The good news: J-School grads still have jobs, despite the negative advice from some of the industry’s thought-leaders — newspapers suck and so does your voice.

Leaders? Maybe not.

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Journalism! Now with 10 percent less quality

Another top reporter has left The Washington Post, completing the exodus hat trick. The paper retains none of the three reporters who won numerous awards, including a 2006 Pulitzer, for their investigation of Jack Abramoff. Then a powerful D.C. lobbyist, the reporters unraveled Abramoff’s string of tax evasion and fraud.

Meanwhile, the Denver Post will consolidate copy-editing positions.

These moves intimate subtle changes that can have profound, if not always manifest, results for readers. There are plenty of journal articles I’ve read for my thesis that indicate people do respond to better copy editing, fact checking and overall quality of content.

In a study sponsored by ACES, researchers again found that editing matters. Good content feeds into trust, as more of my thesis research suggests. Unfortunately, reader trust in journalism ranks in declining supply these days.

The takeaway here is simple: media organizations should not sacrifice speed for accuracy because money sprouts from content, not Twitter live feeds.

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