The Crisis Of Modern Journalism (Part I)
Three things happened in Chapel Hill last week: University Mall announced that Silverspot Cinemas would be replacing Dillard’s; UNC named Joel Curran the new vice chancellor for communications and public affairs; and it actually snowed for a little while.
Here’s my thesis: all three are connected to a single development—a rather disturbing one—that’s plaguing modern journalism. Read on…
If you’ve ever been to our on-air studio at WCHL, you know it’s a pretty small room, with no view of the outside world, in a building set far away from any actual street.
How do we report on traffic?
Truth is, when I’m on the air, there’s no earthly way for me to know firsthand what’s happening on I-40—or, heck, Weaver Dairy for that matter. Occasionally we send someone out to drive around and report back in, if there’s a flood or a snowstorm or something serious. But those are special days. Beyond that, we have to rely on reports we get from other people: Triangle Traffic on Twitter, for instance, or listeners like you. (That’s why we’re always so insistent about asking for “Road Warriors.”)
Same goes for weather, to a point. It snowed a little bit last week, right in the middle of our afternoon newscast—but where was it snowing, and when? We’d gotten the general Orange County forecast from the National Weather Service, and we were monitoring radar throughout—but when the system came through and it started alternating between rain and snow, we had to rely on firsthand reports from listeners (“snow warriors,” as Rachel Nash put it) to tell us where, specifically, it was snowing at a given moment. (Especially when the radar kept insisting there was nothing but rain.)
I mention this because it’s a good illustration of how journalism works in general, for better or worse. All the events we cover take place outside the newsroom, and those who report the news are almost never the ones who make the news—journalistic ethics, you know—so there’s always an extent to which we’re relying on other people to tell us what’s going on.
That’s always been true.
But nowadays it’s compounded by several potentially disturbing trends.
Especially now in the Internet age, people feel increasingly entitled to get their news for free—which makes it harder for news outlets to generate revenue, which leads in turn to staff cuts. (The recession certainly didn’t help.) Newspapers have been hardest hit by this—especially since they always relied on charging consumers directly, as TV and radio never did—but it’s affected every medium, and news outlets everywhere now make do with the bare minimum in staff. (Our news department’s been lucky—we haven’t had to deal much with staff cuts—but we’ve always operated with a pretty small staff to begin with.)
Several consequences. First: a newsroom with a bare-bones staff becomes even less able to go out and cover newsworthy events firsthand. (We encounter this sometimes at WCHL—on nights when, say, the Central West steering committee is meeting at the same time as a Rosemary Imagined event.) But second, and even more important: a newsroom that reduces itself to a bare-bones staff loses its ability to engage in investigative journalism. Investigative reporting is an endeavor that requires time and resources and manpower; in the absence of all three, it becomes impossible.
Both of those consequences amount to the same thing: even more than ever before, news departments have to rely on what they’re told—often without digging deeper or probing further.
The existence of Twitter actually compounds this too, because it means that newsworthy events get reported instantaneously—which reduces the amount of time a newsroom has to put together a story. Forget hard-boiled investigation—at that speed, even basic fact-checking goes out the window. Which is how CNN could mistakenly report that the Supreme Court had struck down the Affordable Care Act, when in fact they’d upheld it—or how news outlets across the country could blithely retweet the mistake, since they’d heard it from a ‘credible source’ like CNN. It’s also how a TV station in California could end up falling for a prank and reporting that the pilot in July’s Asiana Airlines crash was named “Sum Ting Wong.” (In that case the station actually did do some fact-checking: they called the National Transportation Safety Board, where the name was confirmed by an intern who wasn’t really paying attention.) It’s true that news outlets get criticized for rushing on-air with “information” that turns out to be false—but at least the critics will keep tuning in. If you don’t rush on the air with something, people will simply stop listening to you.
All of which adds up to the same thing: forced to operate with a bare-bones staff, under increasingly tight time constraints, news departments are less and less capable of doing the deep digging on their own. More and more, they have to depend on what they’re told. (This is partly why CNN, for instance, is relying more on “I-reporters,” regular folks who send in videos of events. It also explains the rise of “churnalism,” news stories that are either partly or entirely cut-and-pasted from some organization’s press release.)
That’s trend number one.
But trend number two makes it even worse…
Part II to follow tomorrow. Stay tuned.
Taking My Medicine
TAKING MY MEDICINE is a humbling experience!!
Last night I had the opportunity to be in the midst of all the wonderful BLOGGERS on chapelboro.com last evening at R&R Grill at a reception hosted by Chapelboro and the wonderful staff there. I met their newest staff member, Brian Russell, as well as put a face with the BLOGGERS on the site and connect the dots.
During the reception I had to make a confession and TAKE MY MEDICINE as I have been negligent in blogging each week. The medicine went down pretty good but it made me realize that the topics we as BLOGGERS are putting on chapelboro.com is relevant and important to someone in our community. It’s our duty as BLOGGERS to keep the blog going on a weekly basis, minimum, and so I proceeded to TAKE MY MEDICINE…..
A huge thank you to Barry and his team for giving us all a platform!!
God Save us from the Biblical Marriage Ideal
Gay marriage a deviation from the biblical ideal? Really? Read the Bible. The biblical ideal of marriage is one man, lots of wives, concubines, bride prices and arranged marriages. Is this what we are defending?
If our society’s ideas of marriage have changed, why are some so intent on returning to the past? The past is not what I want to return to.
If our legislature wants to do something to defend marriage, can we not do something about the 50 % divorce rate? My concern is less the parents than the kids who now have to live with a lower standard of living, less well supervised, in two separate household, often with confusing and conflict-filled relationships. That’s a problem I’d like to see tackled. That is what I think of when I think of the benefits of defending marriage.
In reading this suggestion, do you think: How can we dissuade people from digging in and making a marriage work when they have decided it won’t? The heart is a mysterious thing. From the earliest history parents and other authority figures have tried to control who people love and marry. Great literature is written about the failure to control who people fall in love with and how they fall out of love.
We should remember this when considering marriage between adults. Let us accept this mystery and support its success.
How to Avoid Office Donations (Without being a Grinch)
Look out! Here they come! Oh, no. You see them heading your way with smiles on their faces, paper work in hand, with pencils or pens poised. They’re the dreaded co-workers who want to separate you from your hard-earned money. You’ve given in the past and these requests are beginning to negatively affect your finances, especially in the current economy. You don’t want to give anymore and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings for asking.
“Don’t we all want to drive a new minivan? All you have to do is purchase a few raffle tickets (the more you buy, the better your odds of winning). Plus, you don’t have to be present to win. This will help buy backpacks for needy students. How many would you like to buy?”
“Haven’t you been waiting all year to support the Girl Scouts by buying at least five boxes of yummy Girl Scout cookies?”
“For only $1.00 per bar, you can help some boys win a trip to Disneyland? How many would you like to buy today?”
“Ssssshhh. We’re going to surprise Becky with a baby shower gift. How much would you like to donate?”
If you find yourself quietly mumbling unpleasant words under your breath as you open your wallet or purse to part with your money, consider the fact that you do have options. You are not obligated to partake in this donation ritual of “if you don’t buy something, you’re a Grinch.”
First of all, you are not a Grinch if you choose not donate. The secret is how you avoid donating. The easiest way to avoid office donations is to:
- Look your co-worker directly in the eyes.
- Congratulate your co-worker on being involved with such a worthy cause.
- Say, “I’ll pass on donating, but I wish you luck in raising a ton of money for ______” (fill in the blank).
- Continue smiling. You do not have to give a reason as to why you’re passing on this “golden opportunity to donate.”
- Change the subject by asking a question that is not related to the fundraising, such as, “I love your blouse. Is it new?” or “Did you see the game last night?”
Be firm. You might be asked, “Well, would you consider giving at a later time?” Your answer is, “No, I won’t.” (Remember, keep smiling). If your co-worker is persistent, he or she might say, “But it’s only a dollar for a raffle ticket. That’s nothing.” Your response could be, “All the same, I’ll pass.”
Don’t get caught up with weak statements such as:
- I’ll think about it
- Try me later
- I don’t have cash or my checkbook on me
- I’d love to donate, but can’t right now
Those statements will eventually cause you even more angst because you’ve just dug yourself into a hole from which you’ll never get out. Those co-workers will hunt you down or make a special effort to be wherever you are until you succumb.
Keep repeating, “I’ll pass.” Remember to smile.
Congratulations. You’re not a Grinch. You’re an honest person who is in control of your finances and will not be intimidated. Plus, you’re showing respect by being polite.
Remember, it’s always okay to say NO.
Fantasy Football Tips: Week 2 of the NFL Regular Season
Many postulated Week 1 of the NFL would be an interesting one with multiple records tied and even shattered – it certainly did not disappoint. Now that Fanagers have the first match up of the year under their belts, it is time to prepare for Week 2. Whether Week 1 left you with woes or wins (I locked down 3 of the latter; that’s right 3-0 to start off the year!), there are several lessons that should be taken away from last week, and more than a few that should not as you set forth in your line up determinations this weekend.
Veterans still deserve the benefit of the doubt. Sure, some players did disappoint, including some of the most historically productive and reliable players (I’m talking to you Chris Johnson), but this is a new week and Week 1 performances should be taken with a grain of salt. There are a variety of reasons that may have kept your studs from delivering their typical noteworthy peformances last week that are not likely to have the same effect this week, e.g. reprimand for contract hold-outs (still talking to you Chris Johnson) or an apparent unawareness that the season has started (Pittsburgh Steelers). Big Ben (Roethlisberger) started the season off with an abysmal performance against the Ravens last week, but I think it is fair to say that the odds of the Seahawks coming into the Steelers’ house and shutting them down in the same fashion are unlikely. So, just because one of your normally high-scoring players may have “dropped the ball” last week (pun totally intended), doesn’t mean that they should ride the bench this week.
By the same token, a solid performance in Week 1 does not guarantee equal or greater success in Week 2. I am not just talking about Cam Newton’s record-breaking rookie debut against a questionable Arizona secondary. Injuries, previous performances, opponents, and game strategy will factor into whether or not repeat performances will be seen. Arian Foster looks to be back for the Texans this week (although how big a role he will play will depend on how thoroughly he has recovered from his hamstring issue), which will likely reduce the productivity of Ben Tate as well as Derrick Ward. Moreover, I think we can all agree that we would be shocked to see Chad Henne come through with the second-best Fantasy performance again this week, no offense to Dolphins fans.
Also, if you are going to start using statistics this week to plan your line up, be sure that you incorporate last year’s numbers or rankings into the equation as a single game will not be an accurate predictor for most teams’ success thoroughout the season. Houston was ranked 30th in overall defense last year, but after their Week 1 match against a Peyton Manning-less Colts team, they now are ranked 5th for the 2011 season. Whether their jump from the worst ranked passing defense in 2010 to the 9th ranked PD last week was due to Manning’s absence or substantial improvements made by the Texans in the off-season will be left for Houston to decide this week (although I think we know this answer).
Be conservative on the waiver wire, especially if waiver order is determined based on the number of player additions. Don’t forfeit a great waiver position unless the player you want to add is really worth it. You never know how an unknown player will consistently compete; plus, someone new may emerge this weekend who you want even more, but if you give up the early waiver preference then you may have to wait in line.
Finally, keep watching. The first 4 weeks are critical to select supplemental players that will help you make it through the upcoming Bye weeks (starting in Week 5), or possibly sooner in the unfortunate case that your team is riddled with injury or unproductive players. Just as the sun will rise, so will new talent in the NFL, and just as certain, old talents will fall.
As you head into this weekend, don’t be discouraged no matter where you stand after Week 1. As Malcolm Forbes said, “Failure is success if we learn from it”; perhaps someone should have passed that along to the Vikings.
10 Tips in Making it Through the College Application Process
College application season is upon us and finally all that hard work is going to pay off. Students are busy writing their essays, moms and dads are busy trying not to nag, and college admission’s counselors are traveling at neck breaking speed around the nation trying to encourage applicants to apply. Here are a few tips that can help this process go smoothly for everyone involved.
- Get Organized. Your young adult is going to handle the college application process the same way they have handled all academic assignments in the past. If they habitually procrastinate and wait until the last minute to do things, they will do the same during this time. You can help them by providing organizational tools such as a wall calendar with deadlines so they know when to do things like: request transcripts, take the SAT, request recommendations, attend meetings, etc…
- Have an angle and a plan. It’s no secret colleges are competitive. Each college is looking for a well rounded student body not necessary a well rounded student. Decide ahead of time which aspect of your student you want to highlight for example, academics, trumpet playing, sports, passion for classical languages, etc… and develop a plan to showcase that talent.
- Set restrictions up front. If your have certain financial and geographical restrictions let your child know so they don’t waste their time researching schools that are off-limits. However, be aware that financial aid is available for most schools and scholarships are often given to students who exceed a school’s admission requirements.
- Partner. The college application process should be spearheaded by your young adult and supported by you. In an ideal world, your young adult will be the one arranging college visits, tours, and interviews. In an ideal world, he should also be the one in contact with the colleges. There are many reasons for having your young adult spearhead this process but among the most important are the fact that admission’s officers prefer hearing from students and not parents. Hearing from students gives them a chance to establish a relationship, and second, the more work a student does to realize his dream the more invested in the process he becomes. Encourage your child to seek your help and see you as a resource. (i.e. – “Mom, I would like to go visit these schools can you take me?” “Sure, let’s sit down with a calendar, what dates do you have in mind?”) Or, as one local mom shared. “I asked my daughter if I could ask her about college applications one day a week.”
- Cheerlead. Establish how you want the process to go mentally ahead of time and talk about it often. Parent: “I’m very proud of the way you have handled this process. You have made it easy for both of us.” Let your students know when they are doing something right. Not only will it change how they view themselves in this process but it will change how you view them as well. If your child has the resources necessary, knows what expected and how to do it, yet doesn’t lift a finger, consider the possibility that they are not ready for college yet and a gap year might be a good idea. Having taught college freshman, I can say with certainty that students who are not ready for college will waste the opportunity.
- Search for the best fit. Chapel Hill is an academically goal oriented town with intense pressure and pride built around academic success and college acceptances. However just because a school has a good reputation, like UNC for example, does not mean it is a good environment for your child. Some kids will do well in large classes and extensive use of teaching assistants and others will flounder. In my experience, success at larger schools requires a very motivated self-learner who will not let the professor stand between themselves and their learning. Take the time to necessary to make sure the school aligns with your child’s learning style and temperament so that success is probable. Explore things like living learning communities, class size, etc…
- Talk about the future. College is one of many important stepping stones in life. Since day one, we talk to our kids about how they need to do well in school so they can get into a good college and get a good job. BYW- they can recite this verbatim. However, few of them can articulate what the future looks after college. Now it’s time to create new goals and intentions. Start talking about what the college experience will look like, ask question like: what have you considered as a possible major? What about travel abroad programs or internships? Mention how fun it will be to meet new people of differing political opinions, backgrounds and experiences. By doing this you are helping your young adult look forward to leaving high school and thus generating more energy around getting that application out the door. This type of transformation will also help both of you move more confidently into the future.
- Listen. Reflective listening is a technique taught in every mental health facility, mediation program, and sales training. When you listen reflectively you seek to understand another by repeating back what that person has said minus any judgment or personal input. In other words, listen to your children vent but do not let them off the hook for what needs to be done. Venting allows for a student to dump their emotions, regroup mentally and move on. For example,
student: “applications sucks”
parent: “it must be a pain to have yet another thing on your plate”
student: “it is, I don’t feel like I have the time to do them’”
parent: “so it feels like you are under a lot of pressure, huh?”
(note the parent did not offered to make the problem go away, they only listened)
- Call in outside help if necessary. Your relationship with your young adult is one of the most important possessions you have in life. While it is completely possible to breeze through this process, and many families do, it is also not unusual for both student and parent to experience stress during this time. If the stress turns to anger and hostility than it is time to seek outside help.
- Enjoy it. In the end, this is a year to be celebrated by both of you so schedule sometime to just enjoy each other.
'Chicken Skin' Condition
Despite a concerted effort to maintain good dermatological habits, many patients continue to complain of “chicken skin,” medically known as keratosis pilaris. Characterized by rough patches of raised bumps that vary in severity, the condition is extremely common and, although harmless, bothers and embarrasses many patients. The keratosis pilaris’ distinguishing bumps can sometimes be confused with acne, particularly in cases where the affected areas are red or inflamed.
Sufferers most commonly exhibit symptoms on the upper arms and legs, although other parts of the body may also be affected. Genetic destiny determines whether an individual will ultimately suffer from keratosis pilaris, while external factors such as weather, humidity, and the onset of pregnancy can aggravate the KP’S symptoms. Although you cannot “cure” KP, patients frustrated by the condition of their skin don’t have to fully resign themselves to these tribulations.
Keratosis pilaris sufferers interested in treating their condition should consider products containing glycolic acid, plus there are cleansers and lotions available ideally suited for combating the symptoms of KP. Glycolic exfoliating body wash and body lotions can help soothe rough patches and inflamed skin, improving overall skin texture. In addition, while no one can entirely cure or prevent KP, an experienced dermatologist can recommend medicated products and topical creams, such as retinoids and exfoliants, to control KP symptoms.
Furthermore, KP sufferers would be well-advised to avoid overly-drying skincare products and protect their skin against drying elements through a regular moisturizing routine and potentially the use of a humidifier. With the right lifestyle changes and treatment options, “chicken skin” doesn’t have to limit your quality of life or your self-confidence.
Dealing with Sarcastic People
“Sure, you are qualified for that promotion…about as qualified as my pet rabbit. Congratulations.”
“Oh, I just love your new dress. How many cotton fields had to be picked to get enough material?”
Such statements may sound as if the speaker is trying to be funny, when in actuality; the hurtful words are pure sarcasm. According to Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, the word sarcasm comes from the Greek word meaning to tear flesh like gods, to bite the lips in rage, to speak bitterly, a cutting jest.
Sadly, sarcasm runs rampant throughout our modern culture and is a poor substitute for humor. There are some people who try to make a punch line out of every interaction you have with them. Everything’s a joke and they’ll make you a target of that joke whenever possible. Try to speak to sarcastic people in a serious tone about a sensitive subject and they usually tear it to bits with sharp comments they think are funny.
As a civilized professional and student of etiquette, how are you to respond to this brutish behavior? There are two effective ways to deal with sarcastic people. First ignore their sarcasm and don’t rise to the bait. After all, they use sarcasm to avoid intimacy and keep people away. If you get caught in the net with sarcastic people, do your best to give them what they want, which is to be left alone.
Second, once a person crosses the line and becomes abusive with their sarcasm, be calm, look at them directly and say, “I don’t appreciate your sarcasm and I would like you to not be sarcastic when you’re speaking to me.” After your comment, walk away.
To ensure observers always have a positive impression of you, don’t fall victim to the temptation to use sarcasm. Remember, you are always being watched.
Hard to find dirt on this politician
Every politician is the object of critical, unfriendly, and just plain bad comments. That is the rule.
But retired journalist and biographer Ned Cline may have found an exception. He had to look long and hard to find any dirt on the subject of his latest book, “The Man from Mount Gilead: Bob Jordan Helped Give Public Service a Good Name.”
The closest thing to dirt about Jordan was during his campaign against incumbent governor Jim Martin in 1988. His consultants prepared a television ad that showed a bunch of real monkeys dressed in tuxedos but acting wildly. They were, the ad implied, as ineffective as Governor Martin’s staff. It was funny and made an important point. But in the minds of some people, it was tasteless and unfair. So, Jordan quickly pulled the ad.
Democratic Party Executive Director Ken Eudy had pushed for more attack ads and told Cline later, “Bob just didn’t have the stomach for that kind of campaigning. He would have been a great governor, but he was not a great campaigner on things like that. I don’t think he wanted to win that badly.”
Cline found one other time during the 1988 campaign when Jordan drew a few critical remarks. Explaining to black newspaper editors why he was not more forthcoming on some issues that were important to their readers, Jordan said, “I can’t publicly say some of the things you are asking because I need all the votes I can get, including the redneck votes in Eastern North Carolina.”
White conservatives, racial minorities, and Republicans jumped on Jordan for a few days.
But for Jordan, “redneck” was not necessarily a negative term. He identified with the farmers and working people like many of his friends in Montgomery County. In this respect Cline compares Jordan to Jim Hunt. “Both are products of a rural upbringing.”
Both thought their rural and small town upbringings were assets, not liabilities. They understood and appreciated the conservative attitudes, as well as the aspirations and challenges, of the people who were their friends, schoolmates, and co-workers when they were growing up. Those kinds of connections can be important advantages for political leaders who otherwise might be too liberal for the North Carolina conservative rural and small town voters.
Cline points out that Jordan and former governor Jim Hunt have much else in common. In addition to their rural upbringing, “….Both are top graduates of N.C. State University, where their devotion and loyalty are legendary. Both have served the state in multiple capacities of public service….Both were raised by highly respected, fiscally conservative, yet socially conscious parents… who focused on the goodness of people and taught their children to focus on the doable rather than negatively on the difficult.”
The differences, Cline says, are in approach, with Hunt “more like a hard changing fullback crashing through the line just to prove he can score while Jordan, more like a nimble quarterback, is more methodical in scoring by avoiding tacklers rather than knocking them down.”
Jordan and Hunt were political allies, but Cline’s book leaves its readers speculating whether or not they might have found themselves running against each other for governor in 1992 if Jordan passed by the 1988 campaign and waited until 1992 to make his run for governor.
Hunt told Cline, “I really don’t know what I would have done if (Jordan) had waited until then and run…But it would have been hard for me to be a candidate if Bob Jordan were a candidate.”
We may be left to wonder about that possible 1992 contest, but Cline’s cataloguing of Jordan’s contributions to political and public life leaves no doubt that his service and example have been a great blessing to North Carolina.
It's Not Obdurate Stupidity (Response to "Common Science")
This T.W.O. Cents Column is in response to“It’s a Theory That’s Out There” – from Common Science, by Jeff Danner.
You ask what people, and especially politicians, mean when they say “no” to science, and particularly evolution. I believe it is because people compartmentalize their understanding.
Science is perceived to be the first step toward engineering, toward control. That’s great for cell phones and rockets. Evolution is about sex and death. The perception of science’s connection to engineering means that evolution is the first step to controlling who has sex and who dies, and that it’s not going to be the way our parents did it. This perception is not wholly without foundation: eugenics was a “scientific” idea – and now we’re trying to figure out reparations. Birth control and abortion have shaped behavior in a way that horrifies traditional communities. You’re probably not familiar with the details of nuclear weapon detonation. For similar reasons, many think that teaching human evolution is a questionable idea.
Human evolution is on the wrong time scale for the 24 hour news cycle.
A six thousand year time scale fits better with most people’s imagination than a 13.7 billion year history. It is disturbing to many that human beings (the ones that matter, anyway) might be importantly different from the ones described in sacred texts.
Philosophy and religion are not studied in our schools, and therefore when most people seek capital T Truth, they look to sacred traditions that have often become quite parochial, and many of those traditions have no trouble believing creation to have been so polluted by Satan that false evidence (e.g., fossils) permeates the world the way evil desires permeate the soul.
If you, as I, think that capital T Truth includes evolution, then we must first talk about Truth, and then we have to connect evolution to what people value – even if they think they value something more than Truth, which may sometimes be safety, sometimes compassion, and in a few sad cases, simple comfort or fleeting power.
It might be quite a departure for a “science” column.