An Alaskan journalist's perspective on local and national issues

Posts tagged ‘The Northern Light’

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

America needs to seriously examine our military spending, and soon

This is an article I wrote for last week’s issue of the The Northern Light, but it got axed due to repeats of topics and space-crunches.

It is not a very popular message right now – that America may just have to scale back on our military efforts around the world.  It is part of a growing reality that Americans have to face – that our economy is in trouble and it needs work.

At a general assembly meeting of the United Nations, held on the September 21st, President Obama spoke.  He had a simple thought about how peace among nations is done.

“Ultimately, peace depends on compromise, among people who must live together long after our speeches are over, long after our votes have been tallied.”

Unlike his economic policies, here he makes a very valid point.  Peace between nations, and inside of nations is something that people have to come together to figure out.  It is poetic that he brings up this notion, because right now, America needs to scale back what we are doing.

Following the events of September 11, 2001, the people all clamored for what we called “justice” to be brought to the leaders of Al Qaeda.  It has always been a point of interest how some Americans seem to believe that killing another person is justice.  This country went to war, led by a President who was very open to the concept.  This was a mistake.

Obama came into office with two wars we were involved in.  Now, this country is involved in five.  For a nation that was in a severe recession, and is heading in the direction of a double-dip recession, this is not a good thing.

It cannot be argued that America’s economy is in a really bad place.  The August reports showed no job growth at all.  America’s credit rating has gone down.  The Stock Market is going down.  The big question becomes, how do we fix this?  How do we make it so that this nation doesn’t suffer an economic collapse?  The answer may not make people happy.

Military spending in this country is one of the biggest holes that money keeps getting thrown into.  According to the National Priorities Project, over $1.2 trillion have been spent in total in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Alaska has paid over $2 billion in this war effort, and the numbers are growing every day.

America has the largest military force on Earth.  It is larger than the top ten nations that come behind us combined.  What makes this problematic is that not only does our nation have the largest military on Earth, but it is over-burdened and over-extended.

“We have tens of thousands of troops in Korea and Japan.  We have over 50,000 troops in Germany.  Hitler, ladies and gentlemen, I think we got him,” said Bill Maher on his stand-up special But I’m Not Wrong.

That’s a good perspective to have.  Not even examining the major wars that we are involved in, how much money is being spent in places that we serve no purpose?  What’s more, how we use the military is a waste of time.

To go after those who destroyed the World Trade Center, we should have done so with a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.  Richard Dreyfuss was asked if 9/11 was a civics lesson, and if we learned the right lessons from it during an interview on CNN.

“We’ve learned the wrong lessons from it.  We are learning the wrong lessons from it, because we’re lying about it.”

The fact is that Bush made the decision to call it the war on terror, instead of calling it the war on extremist Islam, of even just the war on Al Qaeda.  That would have opened the door for the other groups to distance themselves, and even aid America.  Instead, that door has been closed, and when the moderate Muslim community has tried to play nice with American efforts, a lot of the time, our country ignores it.

Take the instance of the “Underwear Bomber.”  The father of that man had met with a member of the CIA and told them that his son was going to bomb us, and they ignored him.  So our efforts are misplaced on all fronts.

The cold reality is that this country can literally not afford these wars anymore.  America is heading into another recession, and it is time to scale back, and slash the military budget into ribbons.  That is a part of the answer to what is plaguing this country.

And what’s more, the people need to get on board.  For a long time, the mentality of this country has been, if you are not for the wars, you are a bad person.  Dissent and discussion needs to come back to this country, and more than anything else, that is what should also be considered when discussing our social and economic future.

Peace out,

Lefty

Partisanship has Always Been Around

So, I got the most recent edition of the paper when I returned to UAA to resign my contract for the next year.  Annoying, but whatever.  I got to read an article written by a very articulate and very passionate writer at The Northern Light named Brett Frazer.  He wrote a very good article, but I will admit that I do disagee with parts of what he says.

His article talks about partisanship in this country, and how it is a very big problem that people are not devoting enough time to thinking about and not realizing what a dangerous issue it actually is.  I don’t disagree with his conclusion, just some main points.  And since I’m always looking for a new concept for my professional blog, I thought I would address that.  Here is giving a shout out to Brett Frazer, for giving me today’s blog idea.

In any case, partisan warfare has always been around, in my opinion.  The only real difference between then and now is that back in the day, they didn’t have the platform that we have in this country today.  A YouTuber by the name of Pat Condell made an assertion that the “9/11 Mosque” (the worst moniker that I have heard in a long time) divided America like nothing ever has.  But he missed it too.

The fact is that partisan battles have been going on in this country since we have had a country.  We call it partisanship, but truly it’s just different ways of thinking.  Even back when America had only one partly, the liberal and conservative way of thinking often clashed.  They clash because it is in their nature.

Frazer quoted Jon Stewart in his article, and rightly so, but there is another quote by Stewart that I think works much better to describe the modern atmosphere of politics in this country.

The embarassment is that I’m given credibility in this world because of the disappointment the public has in what the news media does.”

Stewart argued on Chris Wallace’s show on Fox Sunday that the “liberal media” that Fox so unabashedly attacks is not some huge liberal counterweight to their massively overwhelming conservative and Republican bias.  They are more sensationalistic and somewhat lazy.  He also pointed out when Wallace said that Fox viewers are happy to be getting “the other side of the story” that studies consistently show that Fox viewers are consistently misinformed.

But he is right, none of the 24-hour news networks are innocent in it all.  Personally, I get my straight news from PBS and BBC.  But I like the political commentary of Rachell Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell, and Keith Olbermann.  I don’t like Ed Schultz all that much.  His mannerisms are way too much like a liberal Rush Limbaugh.

However, partisanship in this country is definitely not a new thing.  Back in the days before the Civil War the partisan lines were pretty clear.  Frazer quotes George W. Bush from 1992 for bringing about the huge partisan movement in this country on the premise of a kind of holy war.  While he did start something pretty major, the fact is that part of what we are seeing today is brilliant political manuevering by the conservative elements in this country.

My good friend, John Aronno, had a thought about modern politics.  It used to be in the 90’s that the Democrats and liberal and progressive elements of this country could talk about the real issues, like legalizing pot, gay marriage, getting rid of DADT (we finally got to that, but there was a gap), all sorts of things, and it was accepted.  There was real debate.  However, the modern political landscape has been for at least the last nine or ten years that the conservatives go further and further to the right and get increasingly more crazy with their ideas, keeping the liberal and progressive and even the moderate elements from not even bringing anything to the debate table.  They are kept too busy trying to stop the insanity that they can’t do anything for the issues that actually matter.

I don’t think some of what has happened with modern politics is all partisanship in the way Frazer does.  I think that partisanship has evolved into a game of chess.  I am absolutely with Frazer when I say that it shouldn’t be a chess board with pieces on one side and the other, but the fact is that this is what it has become.

But more than that, the entire system is crooked, from top to bottom.  One of the key things that Obama said during the campaign was how the problems that sunk our economy couldn’t be fixed by keeping things the same.  And now he has two of the guys who got us into this mess in the first place as his chief economic advisors.  Economic Reform was a joke.  Elizabeth Warren was put (sort of) in charge of yet another toothless government agency.

The partisanship in this country is a problem, but it is a problem that has always been around, and will continue to be around.  The biggest problem, in my opinion, is that the entire system is built around this government really working for the lobby groups, and the American people not choosing to stand up and get involved because they are so apathetic because of seeing how unpleasant modern politics is.

Another good quote from John –

The reason voting doesn’t work is because nobody does it.”

Peace out,

Eli

The Smart Are Doomed

This is a simple message.  It’s simple because it needs to be simple.  The bulk of people in this country are, well, dumb.  Really really dumb.  They are proud of their own stupidity.  This isn’t meant to be insulting, or at least, not just insulting.  This is meant to be something more.  This is meant to show that smart in this country, and perhaps all over the world, is doomed.  It is hardcore doomed because ignorance and stupidity are rampant in our society.  These things are massively outnumbering the intelligent, they are massively outnumbering the decent.  The youth of today are wondering if there is hope.  Probably not.

You gotta give credit to Ron Paul for one thing – as stupid as his positions are, at least he is honest.  He is brutally honest.  He isn’t like the other candidates like Michele Bachmann or Tim Pawlenty or almost all of the others for just getting on stage and rattling off what their constituents want to hear.  He is honest about what he wants to do.  He wants to roll back Roe v. Wade (and he wants small government, right?).  He wants to massively cut taxes, even though that has been historically proven to do nothing for the middle class.  He wants to get rid of regulation, which has been proven to be a disaster for the economy.  He is honest, or at least, I am pretty sure he is honest when he says he wants these things.  That is a really good thing about a really foolish candidate who wants really dumb stuff to happen.

But the bulk of Republicans, and really Democrats as well, are just posers who will say whatever they think will get them voted.  This is not what a smart person should do.  The fact is that intelligence and thought in this country are hopelessly attacked.  People are being told what to think, how to feel, about everything.  What’s more, true intellectuals are banished to the wastelands of American introjection.  People are forced to be on PBS (the only true intellectual network, which is more than anything the corporations have given us) and say their message to the very few that regularly watch.  The dreamers and the thinkers are not given a chance to get ahead, because they are forced to play that game of society, and society’s game is really dumb.

There was a guy yesterday who asked, “do you like giving money to other people?”  That says something about the modern Libertarian and Republican parties.  It says that the only reason that they don’t like taxes is because they are little and often much poorer versions of Scrooge, and don’t want to give up their cash to help anybody else.  The common counter to that is, “we don’t want to help lazy people?”  Well, guess what, if you help the decent people, you also end up sometimes helping some hardcore lazy people.  But Fox News doesn’t paint that picture.  The picture that is painted is that the government is your enemy, and you need to get your guns and protest and keep them away from your ill-gotten gains.  Such a worthless narrative.

Then there is this little nugget to your right.  This is a debate that is actually happening at my newspaper.  I write for this paper.  I love the job (which I am currently not getting paid to do, by the way, due to some problems) that I do there.  I am trying to reach out and make a difference.  I am hoping that I can reach out and help somebody become more informed, or at least get a giggle or two about something, because I do try and throw in a joke or two.  But this is the debate – whether Islamaphobia is justified or not.  Hey, can I answer this question?  NO!  No, you morons, it is never justified!  It is not a debate, it’s a moral question with a direct answer – NO!  It is never justified to hate a group of people.  You can hate what a group of people believes in, but you cannot hate all members of a group because they are in that group.  But the fact that this is happening at my newpaper says something – that people want to hear this kind of stuff, that people are so hopelessly dense that this is what interests them the most.  This isn’t a debate that should be happening, because there shouldn’t be people who honestly believe that bigotry is a good thing.

There are so many things worth debating about, like how to fix our economy that is going the wrong direction again.  Or we could debate how to get off oil dependence, since the conservatives seem to not understand that oil is a finite resource.  Another great topic would be debating if keeping drugs illegal is a smart thing to do (prohibition has never worked, but that is beside the point).  These are good things to debate, but what does my newspaper debate about?  They debate if bigotry is good or not.  And the answer to that is no.  It is never good.  Why McDonald believes that it is may be an interesting conversation, but honestly, it just looks like trolling, like he is saying something because he knows it will get a rise out of people.   Hate what an organization does.  Have intellectual discourse over a system of beliefs.  Don’t just hate a group of people.  That is the epitomy of stupid.

But the biggest example of how the dumb are going to win – reality television.  People actually enjoy it.  Really there isn’t much more to say than that.  If you enjoy watching Simon brutalize some hopeful, if misguided, kid who can’t really sing all that well, you are already part of that world.  A world of people who don’t think about the bigger issues, but just want to watch people, who in most shows, aren’t like typical people, be heartless, ruthless, back-stabbing, and overall unpleasant (I reference to anything that is on the E! network) are doomed.

The smart are doomed to fade away, because the people of this country don’t demand better.  You want something more to happen with humanity?  Make more of an effort to make being smart more popular than being dumb (I want to say I don’t think McDonald or Frazer is dumb, I think what they are talking about is dumb.  I have a real problem with their topics, which was the point I was trying to make).

Peace out,

Eli

The Newspaper’s Job

There was a recent discussion that I had had with a young man here at the college.  Normally, speaking about one’s self in a professional way with a newspaper or media outlet is not generally acceptable, but in this case, there really was no other way to do this.  This young man had the belief that the college newspaper here at UAA was nothing more than junk.  His contention was that it was a joke, not worthy of even the slightest consideration other than the articles that are written by me.  This man didn’t seem to realize what he had said, and how horrible a thing that it is to say until it was said.

There is a contention among the politically motivated in this country on both the left and the right that the media’s job is to do something other than what it is doing.  People seem to believe that the media’s job is to report dark secrets, expose corruption, keep everybody accountable, and never let anything that they care about go unreported.  The media’s job, the new’s job, is not that.  The job of people in the news is to report on things of consequence.  That is really all it is.  It is to report on things that matter in the real world. 

“You know, when was the last time you turned on the news and you saw a story about how there were no massive fires in your town that day?  Or how there weren’t any horrific car accidents, or rapes, or murders, or how- that nobody was killed in Iraq today?  I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume, never really happened,” said Glenn Beck on his syndicated (and ending at the end of the year) talk show on the hopelessly biased network Fox News.  This line of thought was absolutely foolish in every single regard.  And the sad fact is that Fox News has brought up and issue that the aforementioned young man put into perspective- the fact that there is no real respect for the media these days.

It isn’t exactly a mystery that most people believe that the media is biased these day.  Even the great zions of straight reporting, like the BBC, NPR, PBS, etc. are considered biased.  Of course, since they are in favor of an open discussion and exchange of ideas and examining both sides, people generally tend to believe that they have a liberal bias.  Another false assumption in this country is the idea that there is a liberal media in the same way that there is a conservative media.  There isn’t.  But people believe that it is.  People believe that there is a hardcore effort to either sway people one direction or the other.  But that isn’t the case. 

The fact is is that most reporters and most news organizations that aren’t on the major networks (CNN, MSNBC, Fox) are not biased.  In fact, there are codes of ethics that are pretty clear about what a news organization is supposed to be.  Of course, say that to a typical American, and they won’t believe you.  That’s how it goes in this country.  It is people like the student mentioned at the top who are responsible for this belief that there is bias.  People like him are what is wrong with this country.

Left or right, the problem in this country is that everybody is trying to be a pariah for a cause.  And we have networks who cater to this image.  There are certain liberal pundits who are just as bad at tarnishing the image of fair and balanced (the real kind) news.  Every time that Ed Schultz is on television, I have a deep feeling of revulsion go through me when I listen to his clearly biased form of talking about political news. 

But then there are people like Rachel Maddow, who is dedicated to seeking the truth.  She has an obsession with facts that shows in her reporting.  She doesn’t miss details, and doesn’t let the fact that she has a bias influence how she looks into something.  She is one of those reporters that is in line with how Bill Moyer, my favorite journalist, said a reporter should be- having a bias, but is open about it, and still seeks the truth. 

The great reporters throughout history have all had bias.  True objective reporting is a myth.  Personal bias will influence what you do in one form or another if you get into the job of reporting for a news organization.  However, it is when you are able to work with your own bias, and are able to create something of substance, that you are making your job worthwhile.

And that is where it comes back to what was said at the top.  The job of the news isn’t to expose dark secrets, or corruption.  The job of the news is to talk about events.  Things of consequence that happen in our world.  And people who believe that the job of the news is to report on the dark going-ons, and to act as a hammer of justice, don’t realize that there is more to this world than politics.  There are a lot of things that happen, and it is the job of the media to look at all aspects of this world. 

And to this young man- I take great offense to what you said.  The young man mentioned that the only reason that he read the paper The Northern Light is simply because I write for it.  I mean this in the most sincere way when I ask him to stop reading the newspaper if that is all he reads it for.  Those who work for this paper work very hard.  We are all volunteers who are donating our time to this job.  We don’t have the biggest newspaper in the world, and our readership is very small.  However, that is not what matters.  What matters is the fact that we are trying.  We are doing our best.  And when we hear that somebody thinks that our paper is a joke, I honestly don’t want people who think that way to read my articles and to tell me that that is all they think the paper is worth.  I don’t want that kind of burden on my shoulders.

This paper means something to those who write for it.  We work hard.  If people think it is a joke, I would appreciate it if you kept that to yourself.

Peace out,

Eli

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