Media Journal

Media Journal No. 6/ Due: February 27

Journalists must provide information to a wide audience, while continuing to be coherent and interesting. To effectively do this, journalists utilize different writing styles—the inverted-pyramid, the hourglass, the focus, and the narrative—depending on the story. While introductory students are commonly taught to rely on the inverted pyramid, as it allows them to decipher between what is and what is not newsworthy, experts utilize all four styles of writing.

The New York Times staff is credited for its ability to write a successful news story, as the staff can interest readers by presenting information effectively. Three articles, written on Sunday, February 19, 2012, convey The New York Times’ ability to grasp readers’ attention and present information. The three articles also utilize dissimilar bodies to present the information, showing how stories can be presented differently.

Kevin Sack utilizes the focus style in his article, “60 Lives, 80 Kidneys, All Linked.” In the focus style, a reporter “begins with a lead that focuses on a specific individual, situation, or anecdote and uses that to illustrate a larger problem” (Bender et al. 214). That is exactly what Sack does, as he opens his story by examining the actions of Rick Ruzzamenti: “Rick Ruzzamenti admits to being a tad impulsive. He traded his Catholicism for Buddhism in a revelatory flash. He married a Vietnamese woman he had only just met. And then a year ago, he decided in an instant to donate his left kidney to a stranger.”

Then, in the nut graph, where the journalist states the “central point of the story and how the lead illustrates that point,” Sack identifies Ruzzamenti’s role in what became a domino effect of transplants, as kidneys were donated to various people across the country (Bender et all 211). In the body, Stack identifies the central point of the story, which is simply the medical significance of implementing such a large exchange of surgeries and the technological advancement that made it possible. Finally, in the kicker, which is the section that “brings the story to a conclusion,” Stack once again refers to Ruzzamenti, as it points out that Ruzzamenti’s kidney now resides in New Jersey, when originally it resided in California.

Conversely, Michael D. Shear utilizes the inverted-pyramid style of writing in his article, “Rising Gas Prices Give G.O.P. Issue to Attack Obama.” The inverted pyramid allows reporters to “arrange information in descending order of importance or newsworthiness” (Bender et al. 203). In the opening paragraph, also known as the lead, Shear addresses the most important aspect of his story: “Rising gasoline prices, trumpeted in foot-tall numbers on street corners across the country, are causing concern among advisers to President Obama that a budding sense of economic optimism could be undermined just as he heads into the general election.” By the end of his story, however, Shear refers to less news worthy information from years earlier: “In the spring of 2010, debt crises in Europe, slowing stimulus spending and weakness in the housing market brought an abrupt halt to a brief turnaround in the United States economy.”

Shear’s use of he inverted-pyramid has some advantage, as it “allows someone to stop reading a story after only one or two paragraphs yet still learn the newest, most newsworthy and most important facts” (Bender et al. 204). However, there are also many problems with the inverted style, as it can be difficult to follow, redundant, and “discourages [reporters] from trying new styles” (Bender et al. 204).

Steven Erlanger, on the other hand, utilizes the hourglass style in his article “Iran Suspends Shipments of Oil to Britain and France.” The hourglass story combines the best aspects of the inverted pyramid style and the narrative styles, as the hourglass story has three parts: “an inverted pyramid top that summarizes the most newsworthy information, a turn or pivot paragraph and a narrative” (210). Erlanger starts by discussing the impact of suspending shipments of oil to Britain and France, as it is the most relevant and newsworthy information. However, Erlanger then utilizes a pivot paragraph to begin discussing the history of Iran’s relationship with both countries: “Britain, France and Germany are also the European nations negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program in the talks that also include the United States, Russia and China, and are chaired by the European Union policy chief, Catherine Ashton.” The most important aspect of an hourglass story is the effective use of a pivot paragraph, which Erlanger seems to have mastered. Lastly, Eranger presents the story in chronological order, examining the history of the three countries, in the narrative.

 

 

Media Journal No. 5/ Due: February 20

Journalists must provide information to a wide audience, while continuing to be coherent and interesting. To effectively do this, journalists utilize different writing styles—the inverted-pyramid, the hourglass, the focus, and the narrative—depending on the story. While introductory students are commonly taught to rely on the inverted pyramid, as it allows them to decipher between what is and what is not newsworthy, experts utilize all four styles of writing.

The New York Times staff is credited for its ability to write a successful news story, as the staff can interest readers by presenting information effectively. Three articles, written on Sunday, February 19, 2012, convey The New York Times’ ability to grasp readers’ attention and present information. The three articles also utilize dissimilar bodies to present the information, showing how stories can be presented differently.

Kevin Sack utilizes the focus style in his article, “60 Lives, 80 Kidneys, All Linked.” In the focus style, a reporter “begins with a lead that focuses on a specific individual, situation, or anecdote and uses that to illustrate a larger problem” (Bender et al. 214). That is exactly what Sack does, as he opens his story by examining the actions of Rick Ruzzamenti: “Rick Ruzzamenti admits to being a tad impulsive. He traded his Catholicism for Buddhism in a revelatory flash. He married a Vietnamese woman he had only just met. And then a year ago, he decided in an instant to donate his left kidney to a stranger.”

Then, in the nut graph, where the journalist states the “central point of the story and how the lead illustrates that point,” Sack identifies Ruzzamenti’s role in what became a domino effect of transplants, as kidneys were donated to various people across the country (Bender et all 211). In the body, Stack identifies the central point of the story, which is simply the medical significance of implementing such a large exchange of surgeries and the technological advancement that made it possible. Finally, in the kicker, which is the section that “brings the story to a conclusion,” Stack once again refers to Ruzzamenti, as it points out that Ruzzamenti’s kidney now resides in New Jersey, when originally it resided in California.

Conversely, Michael D. Shear utilizes the inverted-pyramid style of writing in his article, “Rising Gas Prices Give G.O.P. Issue to Attack Obama.” The inverted pyramid allows reporters to “arrange information in descending order of importance or newsworthiness” (Bender et al. 203). In the opening paragraph, also known as the lead, Shear addresses the most important aspect of his story: “Rising gasoline prices, trumpeted in foot-tall numbers on street corners across the country, are causing concern among advisers to President Obama that a budding sense of economic optimism could be undermined just as he heads into the general election.” By the end of his story, however, Shear refers to less news worthy information from years earlier: “In the spring of 2010, debt crises in Europe, slowing stimulus spending and weakness in the housing market brought an abrupt halt to a brief turnaround in the United States economy.”

Shear’s use of he inverted-pyramid has some advantage, as it “allows someone to stop reading a story after only one or two paragraphs yet still learn the newest, most newsworthy and most important facts” (Bender et al. 204). However, there are also many problems with the inverted style, as it can be difficult to follow, redundant, and “discourages [reporters] from trying new styles” (Bender et al. 204).

Steven Erlanger, on the other hand, utilizes the hourglass style in his article “Iran Suspends Shipments of Oil to Britain and France.” The hourglass story combines the best aspects of the inverted pyramid style and the narrative styles, as the hourglass story has three parts: “an inverted pyramid top that summarizes the most newsworthy information, a turn or pivot paragraph and a narrative” (210). Erlanger starts by discussing the impact of suspending shipments of oil to Britain and France, as it is the most relevant and newsworthy information. However, Erlanger then utilizes a pivot paragraph to begin discussing the history of Iran’s relationship with both countries: “Britain, France and Germany are also the European nations negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program in the talks that also include the United States, Russia and China, and are chaired by the European Union policy chief, Catherine Ashton.” The most important aspect of an hourglass story is the effective use of a pivot paragraph, which Erlanger seems to have mastered. Lastly, Eranger presents the story in chronological order, examining the history of the three countries, in the narrative.

Media Journal No. 4/ Due: February 12

Journalists have the daunting task of capturing readers’ attention, while maintaining credibility. To effectively do this, journalists present the most interesting and newsworthy aspects of the story in the first paragraph or two, which is commonly referred to as “the lead” (Bender et al. 148). A well-written lead presents the central point of the article, but it does “not hide the subject with unnecessary or misleading words and phrases” (Bender et al. 148). There are multiple methods, however, for writing an effective lead. While every story must answer who, how, where, why, when and what in the regards to the story, “the lead should answer only the one or two questions that are most interesting, newsworthy, and unusual” (Bender et al. 148). The journalists, therefore, have the freedom to decide what belongs in the lead, making every lead a little different.
The New York Times staff is renowned for its ability to write an effective lead, as the staff can interest readers, while presenting the most central point of the news story. Three articles, written on Sunday, February 12, 2012, convey The New York Times’ ability to grasp readers and present information. The three articles also illustrate different styles for introducing news stories—as each writer utilizes a different type of lead.
Katharine Q. Seelye utilizes the immediate identification lead in her article, “After Three Losses, Romney Edges Past Paul in Maine.” The immediate-identification lead immediately answers who partook in the story (Bender et al. 149). Seelye employs the immediate-identification lead not only because the subject of her story, Mitt Romney, is important and well known, but also because knowing the name of the main subject is vital in understanding the significance of the story.
Seelye’s lead says, “Mitt Romney averted embarrassment on Saturday when he was declared the winner of a presidential straw poll in Maine’s nonbinding caucuses.” If Seelye had utilized the delayed-identification lead, her introduction would have read something like “A republican frontrunner averted embarrassment.” Journalists use the delayed-identification lead when “the main subjects are not as important as what those people did or what happened to them” (Bender et al. 149). However, in this case, the main subject is a vital aspect of the story, making the immediate-identification lead appropriate.
It is interesting to note, however, that Seelye does not use active voice in her lead when she says, “he was declared the winner.” While Reporting for the Media says journalists should use “strong, active and descriptive verbs rather than passive ones,” Seelye seems to believe passive voice is useful in her lead. Seelye does, however, keep her lead concise. Seelye’s lead is 20 words, while the book suggests that an average lead should be 18 to 20 words (Bender et al. 152).
Liam Stick and Neil MacFarquhar, however, lead their article, “Arab League Requests U.N. Peacekeepers for Syria,” with what is called a “blind lead.” Blind leads “hold back details so that the reporter can get to the central point of the article more quickly” (Bender et al. 150). While Stick and MacFarquhar’s article quickly states that members of the Arab League wanted the United Nations to “send a peacekeeping mission to Syria,” and members of the Arab League want “Arab nations to sever diplomatic relations with the country in an effort to pressure it to end violence there,” the article avoids mentioning who said what. Rather, the Stick and MacFarquhar address that later in the article in the “catchall graf.” A catchall graf “usually follows the blind lead to identify sources and answers questions created by the lead” (Bender et al. 150). The reason Stick and MacFarquhar utilize the blind lead is because the “who” is not as important as the “what” and “where.”
Similarly, utilizing the blind lead in Stick and MacFarquhar’s article helps the writers stay fairly concise, as they can avoid long introductory clauses. This is important because long introductory clauses “clutter leads, burying the news amid a jumble of less significant details” (Bender et al. 151).
Rod Nordland, however, utilizes a completely different lead in his article “Risks of Afghan War Shift From Soldiers to Contractors.” While the previous two articles utilized some variation of a basic or “hard lead,” Nordland utilizes an alternative lead, also referred to as a “soft lead.” His article begins with an anecdote: “Even dying is being outsourced here. This is a war where traditional military jobs, from mess hall cooks to base guards and convoy drivers, have increasingly been shifted to the private sector.” Later in his article, he goes on to discuss his central point—the deaths of contractors who work as diplomats body guards. This type of introduction, commonly referred to as a “buried” or “delayed” lead, allows Nordland to “surprise [his] readers with an unusual twist” (Bender et al. 186).
While alternative leads, like the one Nordland uses, are very interesting, they are also very controversial. Proponents believe “whether the lead works is what matters, not whether it is hard or soft” (Bender et al. 185). Critics, on the other hand, believe that “soft leads are too long and fail to emphasize the news” (185).

Media Journal No. 3/ Due: February 6

Thomas Jefferson, a founding father, believed newspapers were a vital aspect of democracy—he even considered them potentially more important than democracy itself. He did specify, however, that every man “must be capable of reading them”. With that being said, journalists have the very difficult job of making complex news stories comprehendible for a wide audience, while simultaneously avoiding offensive stereotypes. Reporting for the Media describes this task as telling a story “providing facts in a clear and concise manner using simple language” (65). Although this may seem easy, it is actually an art form, mastered by successful journalists.

The New York Times staff is famous for their ability to convey a wide array of information in an effective, and relatively simple manner. It is important to note, however, that The New York Times’ articles are not as simplistic as other news sources’ articles, as The New York Times appeals to a “more specialized and better educated audience” (68). Still, the complex information in The New York Times is simplified for the benefit of a large audience.

Three articles, written on Sunday, February 5, 2012, display The New York Times’ ability to create efficient and simple stories. Nate Silver’s article, One Test Left for Mitt Romney: The Midwest, shows how vital the Midwest is in Mitt Romney’s campaign, without including complicated election laws. Rather, the article presents the main point by saying, “Imagine that Mr. Romney were to lose both states. That would make him zero for three in the nation’s most important swing region”. Similarly, the story conveys the potential impact the Midwest could have on the Republican primary by addressing the influence it could have on Rick Santorum’s campaign: “Imagine, moreover, that Mr. Santorum wins both Minnesota and Missouri. That could revive his campaign, especially given that he also took Iowa”. Although the mathematical calculations and possible repercussions of the primary are quite difficult to explain, Silver represents the most important aspects of the story. The longest sentence of the article is 23 words, and most of the sentences are actually much shorter.

Not only is the article simple, it is also relatively unbiased. Rather than arguing who should win, Silver argues the potential outcomes of every situation. He also presents the information from a very intellectual standpoint, based on polls and statistical odds. As we have learned in class, however, every article has some bias. This article is no exception. The article conveys the odds and impact of Mitt Romney losing before it shows what will happen if Mitt Romney wins. Considering not every reader will make it to the end of the article, the idea of Mitt Romney losing will resonate with more readers than the idea of Romney winning.

Similarly, David Kirkpatrick presents a complex international issue between the United States and Egypt in his article, 19 Americans in Egypt Face Trial in Inquiry Over Funding. In his opening paragraph, Kirkpatrick gives a brief background on the information he will talk about throughout his article. Very quickly, however, Kirkpatrick begins to explore his main idea, as “Reporters who fail to identify a central point for a story or who lose sight of that central point risk writing stories that are incoherent and incomplete” (67). Kirkpatrick presents the main point through the words of Hillary Clinton: ““We are very clear that there are problems that arise from this situation that can impact all the rest of our relationship with Egypt”. By using this quote, Kirkpatrick is able to present the impact in a simplistic way so that a majority of his audience can understand the events’ implications. Similarly, by presenting Clinton’s quote, Kirkpatrick runs little risk of showing bias.

Similarly, Alan Feuer’s article, Homeless Families, Cloaked in Normality, conveys how the life of the poor is not as obvious as it was in the 1980s. His main point is articulated in one sentence: “Unlike in the 1980s, when the crisis was defined by AIDS patients or men who slept on church steps, these days it has become more likely that a seemingly ordinary family, rushing about on public transportation with Elmo bags and video games, could be without a home.” Although it is a rather long sentence, which conflicts with an aspect of simplicity mentioned in the Reporting for the Media, it has very simple language, making it easy to follow—and much of the story is written with shorter sentences. Feuer is not one of those writers that “overwrite when seeking drama or impact” (69). Rather, he uses simple language to display the changing economic situation in America.

Most importantly, however, Feuer does a good job of avoiding stereotypical “-isms”. It is evident in the picture that the family he is describing is black, however, he never mentions it in his story—most likely because it would not add anything to the context of his article. Similarly, he does not convey poor people are lazy, as the families he is following all have jobs or are in school.

Media Journal No. 2/Due: January 29

Mainstream media is a complex institution comprised of delicate rules to preserve quality, credibility, and relevance. Utilizing six fundamental requirements for every news story—timeliness, impact, prominence, proximity, unusualness, and conflict or controversy—journalists hope to compile informative, interesting, and—most importantly—objective stories. The New York Times, a prominent source of information for affluent Americans, seems to have successfully adapted these six tools, which is evident in their ability to set the agenda—commonly referred to as The New York Times effect. As shown in Page One: Inside the New York Times other news sources seem to mimic the information selected to be in The New York Times.

Three articles, published on January 28, 2012, convey the New York Times’ ability to successfully decipher what is—and conversely, what is not—news worthy, as well as their ability to objectively present potentially partisan issues. Jim Rutenburg and Jeff Zeleny’s article, The Calculations That Led Romney to the Warpath, is a prime example, as the article fulfills all six prerequisites to being newsworthy and portrays a potentially partisan subject without bias. Timeliness, the first requirement of a creditable news article, is strongly evident, as the story was published in the midst of the Republican primary, and contained minimal information on the South Carolina primary—the reason behind Romney’s decision. Similarly, impact and prominence are both extremely evident, as the story affects—either directly or indirectly—all American readers, and is based on a well-known politician. Proximity is also apparent, as the story “hits home” with a multitude of readers concerned about the 2012 elections. Simultaneously, it is an appealing story because of its unusualness and controversy—it is rare to understand the thought process during a controversy from such a prominent politician.

More importantly, however, the article is able to present the heated topic of negative advertising from a purely factual standpoint, limiting any bias in the article. Rather than examining the context or quality of Romney’s attacks on Gingrich, the article examines the tactical decisions behind the argument. Therefore, the article is able to effectively convey the fact that Romney released attacks, without engraining an opinion in the reader.

The New York Times’ ability to present, in a nonbiased manner, issues that fulfill all six prerequisites to being newsworthy does not only apply to American news. Ken Maguire’s article, In Cradle of Games, a New Olympic Trial: Debt, demonstrates this, as it effectively reports information from Greece. While clearly fulfilling timeliness, as it was published at the heart of the financial crisis in Greece, the article more subtly fulfills impact and prominence, as the future of the Greek economy will have a strong impact on the world. The journalist is perhaps most cunning, however, in his ability to make the article “hit home.” By portraying the financial struggles through Olympic athletes, everyday Americans are able to relate to the subject. As mentioned in Reporting for the Media, “Proximity may be psychological. Two individuals separated by thousands of miles but sharing a characteristic or an interest may want to know about each other.” Lastly, the article is unusual and controversial, as an economic scandal like the one is Greece is almost unprecedented—the only Greek financial crisis that rivals the current crisis was during the Great Depression.

Similarly, the article remains impartial, as it does not make judgments on how either the athletes or the government should react. Instead, the article presents both sides of the story: while the article shows that the government simply does not have the monetary funds to allocate more resources to athletics, it also shows the athletes disappointment.

Lastly, political and economic news are not the only things considered newsworthy, which is exemplified by Matt Flegenheimer’s article, For Some Vassar Applicants, Joy Then Misery as College Corrects Mistake. Printed less than 24 hours after the event, the subject clearly fulfills timeliness. The article more also fulfills impact and prominence, as the release of inaccurate acceptance letters clearly took a toll on the 72 students who received them. When it comes to proximity, anyone who has been through the college process can relate to the potential heartbreak of an inaccurate acceptance, although most cannot say they have experienced one—fulfilling the requirement that the article be unusual and a controversy. However, the article does represent both sides to the story, as it conveys the mechanical error and the students’ disappointment.

After analyzing the three articles, it is not hard to understand why The New York Times is one of the most prominent news sources. It can effectively appeal to readers, while simultaneously keeping credibility. After years of practice, the editors The New York Times can answer one of the hardest questions: what is news? It has mastered the difficult—albeit rewarding—art.

 

Media Journal Entry No. 1/ Due Jan. 26, 2012

In America, news media is an institution, priding itself on the ability to objectively convey information to a wide audience. In recent years, however, the news media has begun a rapid transformation, as it has been forced to incorporate the ever-expanding Internet. According to Reporting for the Media, “about 330 million people worldwide actively use the Internet, and more than 1 billion use it occasionally” (3).

To reach this growing consumer base, traditional media has been forced to adjust in an attempt  “to avoid becoming irrelevant” (2). A prominent form of adjustment has been convergence, which is “a partnership between owners of different media, such as newspapers and television stations or the Internet” (2). The efficiency of convergence, however, is still in debate. While proponents argue that convergence increases the quality of reporting, as it allows news sources to effectively “cover stories in greater depth,” opponents argue that convergence limits “diversity” in journalism (3).

Despite the utilization of the convergence theory, traditional media still has the obstacle of competing with the speed and availability of the Internet. The Internet has given anyone the ability to declare him or herself an amateur journalist and create a citizen media site, where he/she can post information he/she deems important (4). People’s use of citizen media sites generates an atmosphere where the public is part of the agenda setting process within the local news: “In many cases, citizen media have pushed local news organizations to do a better job of covering more local news” (4).

Citizen media sites have also had an impact on traditional national news organizations. The different ways in which the Pentagon Papers and Afghan War Logs were released—which was portrayed in the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times—for example, exemplifies the changing culture of the news media. While Daniel Ellsberg had to wait months before he could successfully release the Pentagon Papers into the public—because he was dependent on The New York Times—Julian Assange was able to release his famous Afgan War Logs within minutes—because he had the Internet, more specifically, Wiki leaks at his disposal. In the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times Ellsberg admits that if he had the Internet and a scanner available, during his attempt at publicizing the Pentagon Papers, he would have uploaded his information promptly, rather than waiting months.

While the promptness of the Internet has made an abundance of information available, Bruce Headlam, of the New York Times, distinguishes, in the documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times, that Wiki leaks represents a new, careless world of journalism, while the New York Times represents an old world of journalism, which emphasizes the importance of privacy and objectivism. In many respects, Headlam is right, as Wiki leaks presented their information with an obvious anti-war bias. Although Assange considers himself to be a journalist, he stated that, by releasing the video his ultimate “goal was justice.” With this goal of justice, Wiki leaks released an edited version of the video, which was skewed to convey the war negatively, which is by no means old-fashioned non-biased journalism.

Similarly, sensationalism has had a recent impact on traditional news media. While citizen media sites and social networking sites have been able to utilize intriguing articles to create a fan base, other prominent news media, such as the New York Times, have lost readers by producing duller, but more credible, news articles. David Carr, a columnist for the New York Times, exemplifies this by examining the partnership that has been created, to attract a new and younger audience, between CNN and Vice. Rather than report on the meaningful aspects of the struggle in Libya—like the New York Times did—CNN partnered with Vice and reported on cannibalism and feces throughout Libya. While much more interesting than the reasons and justifications for conflict and involvement in Libya, reports of feces and cannibalism do not belong in credible news stories.

The problem that the New York Times and other traditional news sources have if they are unwilling to adopt sensationalist reporting however, could very possibly be extinction. Although, as mentioned in Reporting for the Media, “newspapers are still read by more than 124 million people,” it is also true that “circulation declined”(2).  At the beginning of Page One: Inside the New York Times, Brian Williams suggests that something that has lasted for 146 years could potentially become a thing of the past, as newspapers are continuously going out of business or losing money. What Brian Williams fails to mention, however, is that news is changing, not dying. People are still very interested in obtaining news; they just want their news to be faster and more obtainable than newspapers and television reports.  The answer, therefore, is in the way we teach old-fashioned journalism to the next generation, not pronouncing old-fashioned journalism dead. As suggested in Reporting for the Media, students should be “educated and practiced in the basics of print journalism” (5). They should then, “adapt their knowledge and expertise to all types of reporting for the media” (5).  If new generations of journalists are taught properly, old-fashioned journalism can adapt and thrive for future.