Disclaimer: In a previous post, I have written defending this publication. I want to be forward, because it is the right thing to do. It was a bias that I didn’t realize that I have, and looking at this issue now, I realize just how blind I actually was
There is a problem that is systemic in a publication that the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) puts out. It wasn’t until the most recent issue came out that the true level of how substandard this publication is came to light. In fact, substandard does not seem fit the description, because what has been done recently is outright failure to the obligation that journalists have to report the news.
There are two articles that are going to be referenced. The first is “Personal crisis led to Cheseto’s disappearance,” by Matt Caprioli. The second is “A Joyful HanuKwanzaaMass to You!” by Alden Lee.
For those who don’t know, Marko Cheseto was a student from Kenya. He was attending UAA as a cross-country runner, and was a rising star here. He was hospitalized recently and lost both of his feet. This event has made international headlines. In the latest issue if the paper (December 6, 2011), it made headlines here as well.
The article opens stating that Cheseto was unhappy. They have the power to read people’s minds now, and to open a front-page article with a subjective tone as well. The article then goes through the psychological states of his mind, getting quotes from other students. Students, and a report that was redacted. Some of these quotes were quite interesting.
“Prior to leaving, he was looking around the apartment for his hat, but found an old (blank). He took it and put it in his pocket. Cheseto later told me that it was at this time that he decided to (blank). At UAA, he retrieved his own (blank), and put them all in his pocket,” Jaksha wrote.
Not only did that quote inform the readers of nothing, but it gives a very big clue as to what this article is truly about – nothing. This entire article is filled with quotes just like it, with lots of “(blank)” statements. It is nothing more than exploitative writing. There is a reason that the administration made no official statement, and parts of the police report were redacted – because it is illegal for them to comment on personal matters, which was entirely what this article was about. The article mentions that they approached the director of Residence Life for a comment, not mentioning that any comment about Cheseto’s personal life would have been a breach of confidentiality. Perhaps it was another (blank) statement.
This entire article was nothing but throwing the personal life of a runner who has suffered a traumatic event and been scarred for the rest of his life into the public eye, which is not only none of the public’s business, but a mark of shame against this newspaper.
The worst part is that covering tragedy is not something The Northern Light always gets wrong. If one looks at the February 22, 2011 issue of the paper, Megan Edge wrote a very informative piece about a tragedy that happened at the university, when William Ritekwiang committed suicide. The story was short, just wrote the facts, and made absolutely no speculation. It just told the public what the public should know.
Writing bias reports is nothing new for Caprioli. There are several articles that were written that no only show bias, but it is obscene. The use of anonymous sources is not uncommon. In an article from the October 18, 2011 issue of the paper, one anonymous source was quoted saying –
“I don’t want to comment on the politics of it, but there’s definitely something going on.”
Speculative, offering no information about the topic, or any topic, and leading the readers. This is not good writing. One of the ironies is that in several of these articles, he is featured as an editor. An editor of a newspaper is using anonymous sources? There is a long-standing rule in journalism never to use an anonymous source unless no other option exists, and if you do, they had better offer some very important pieces of information.
After examining Caprioli’s writing in the most recent issue of the paper, let’s turn our attention to another writer, Alden Lee. There is one article that really needs to be looked it – “A Joyful HanuKwanzaaMas to You!” In it, he attacks the PC culture that has grown up around this country. This is a very interesting topic to be examined, and there are several good writers who have examined it, but in what is supposed to be a humor column, there was this quote –
Because he is the greatest symbol for the materialistic consumption that drives holiday merchandise sales, there’ll still be Santa Claus. Just now he’ll be black-skinned and lead his reindeer on with a lit menorah in hand craying, “On Dasher, on Dancer, on Donner and Blitzen, on Abraham, on Issur, on Dontrell and Shaundra!…”
Not only is that quote not funny, it is racist. Flat-out racist. Attacking the PC culture and how insane it gets sometimes is one thing, but to deliberately single-out black people is just wrong. This went through not only his filter, but the editor, the managing editor, the layout editor, and several others. Anybody along the way should have said that publishing something like this is wrong. But nobody did. It went out into an issue of a public newspaper.
Like Caprioli, writing biased articles is nothing new for Lee. His history is a lot more vivid than his coworker, who is better at sounding professional than he does.
Welcome to college. It’s a scramble to situate yourself, figure out what you’re supposed to be doing, find where you belong…for military veterans, it’s even worse.
That was the opening to an article from March 1, 2011, entitled “Student Veterans attempt to unite.” That could be a very interesting topic, but the opening sentence clearly shows a bias on the part of the reporter. Through the rest of the article, there is a confirmation bias about how the administration is hard on veterans. This isn’t the only article that has taken this position.
Standing before a crowd of people and facing public humiliation, Staff Sergeant Tover was being interrogated.
That was the opening sentence from the April 5, 2011 article “Military students claim mistreatment by professors.” It was the feature article on the front page of the paper. This is another thing that is common for The Northern Light – having features of human interest stories instead of hard news.
Seeing titles like “Devout Food Dilemma” or “Parking services denies Nazi affiliation” is something that is very common on the front page of The Northern Light. These are not news. There is no way that one can argue for them being news.
Take a look at some titles that are featured in The Anchorage Daily News. “Assembly votes to limit New Year’s fireworks,” “Alaskan among 4 killed in Washington helicopter crash,” ” Assembly overrides mayor’s veto of full-time parks jobs.” Not only are those all actual news stories, take a look at some of the opening sentences in the article.
The Anchorage Assembly voted late Tuesday to prevent city residents from using fireworks within 200 feet of a neighbor’s house this New Year’s Eve.
That is from the first article cited above.
The Anchorage Assembly Tuesday night overrode Mayor Dan Sullivan’s veto of some Parks Department money in next year’s budget.
That is a quote from the last article. It was professional, concise, clear and to the point. See the opening statements from The Nothern Light above them? See how they are not doing the same thing? How they are deliberately spinning the information from their beginning to fit the narrative that they want to tell?
This is a shame. It is a shame upon the entire Journalism and Public Communication department. The worst part is that it is a shame upon UAA. Copies of The Northern Light are being sent all over town. A student who walks into Golden Donut can pick up a copy and see a “humor” writer insulting African-Americans, along with telling them the ugly details of a student’s life after he has suffered a horrific incident.
The fact that one can go around town and pick up copies of this paper means that The Northern Light not only represents itself to the college students, but also to the people of Anchorage. The people outside of the college look to this paper to know what is happening at the college, and instead of finding out what events of consequence are happening, are finding out what Cheseto was thinking while he was the victim of a tragic disaster.
Maybe this is a symbol for what the news is becoming, but somebody needs to be held accountable. Somebody needs to be taken to task. This needs to be addressed, because The Northern Light seems to be being held to very little standard. Journalism publications at UAA need to be held to a higher standard.
And in a lot of places, they are. Take a look at a publication on KRUA, the school’s radio station. It talked about the battle against the plan to massively cut back on bandwidth here at the college. Their story was concise, to the point, and as objective as possible, just giving the facts. It was an excellent testimony to two-sided reporting.
The Northern Light has failed its mandate to report on what is happening here at the college, and it makes the entire JPC department look bad. It makes UAA look bad. Something needs to be done. As to what that is, who can say?
Nobody else seems to care, as apparently, The Northern Light is winning awards for it’s “excellence.”