An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Posts tagged ‘Journalism and Public Communication’

Discussions with a Brilliant Journalist (Part 1)

In my Writing and Producing for my Electronic Media, there was a guest speaker.  He will be coming back on Thursday, but today’s discussion was something that got me thinking.  I have said a lot of smack about journalism.  But he really put into perspective what is wrong with modern journalism – it doesn’t care anymore.

The guest speaker, Professor Richard Murphy, is the Atwood Chair of the department of Journalism and Public Communications (JPC).  He came to the class to talk about photo-journalism.  The example that he was using to show the power of photo-journalism was a story that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988.  It brought some incredibly difficult realities to the fore-front, while not taking the liberties with itself to believe that they had the answer.  It was journalism at its best.

This story was a series of reports, that took up about 10 issues of the paper.  The entirety of it is called “People in Peril.”  I encourage you to look it up.  It brought to the Anchorage community the tragedy of what was, and still is, happening in the native villages.  There was rampant suicide, and accidents which had the statement – “alcohol was involved” in the police report.  They sent several reporters all over Alaska, and they got a story that nobody could have imagined.

They showed the ugly realities surrounding the native villages problems with suicide and alcoholism.  It was rather impressive that they just gave the facts, as they believed people needed to know.  But really, as interesting as the written reports were, it was the visual story that carried so much weight.

Some of these pictures were heart-breaking.  There was one of a native man, drinking at a building where a ceremony had been held not that same night.  That was one of the most powerful pictures ever put in a newspaper, and it came from the Anchorage Daily News.  That’s pretty impressive.

But there was one photo, and a response that followed a statement, that symbolizes my respect for journalism.  The picture was of a village resident, using a  pick-ax to dig into the ground, so they could bury their child.  It was hard to look at, because if you knew how small these villages populations were then you’d know just how terrible the loss of one person can be.  Not to mention having to dig the grave of your own child.

There was a comment after he showed the picture.  A student remarked that he would have found it hard not to help the person dig.  That to just stand there, and take a picture, it sounds very hard.  However, Murphy had one of the best quotes that has ever come from a journalist in response.  I had to write it on my arm, because I didn’t have paper.

Your job is to tell this guy’s story, not to dig his grave.

That kind of journalistic integrity, it goes beyond words.  There was a time when journalists were able to do that.  They would go to a place, and learn the truth about what is happening.  Not to report on what they see, but to report on what they feel, and how it looks.  To get the truth of a story, not just the facts.

And that is what is truly missing from journalism now.  When was the last time that MSNBC did that kind of journalism?  What about CNN, or Fox?  The truth is that none of them do it.  It is becoming an increasingly rare thing, and that is the most heart-breaking part.  So few respect this field because honestly, it has become a first-come, first-serve, all-you-can-eat buffet of information.  No feeling, just mindless facts.  The images are totally bereft of visual poetry, and great stories in one image.

It is a sad day for journalism.  Yet so few mourn its passing.

Peace out,

Lefty

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The Northern Light fails not only UAA, but also the field of journalism

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.”

Peace out,

Lefty

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