Archive for December, 2011


About a week and a half ago, I sat down with my girlfriend as she watched the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, arguably the most anticipated fashion show of the year.  All she kept saying was how beautiful and skinny each of them were as they strutted down the runway. In my mind, all I could think was how they all needed some skin on their bones and how it is possible that girls of this generation prize this skinny image so much.  It got me thinking on changes the media could make to give out better images…

Model Erin Heatherton poses at the 2011 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show

For decades, the media has played an immense role in shaping society’s images through various methods.  Whether for good or bad, it is constantly producing messages that are being picked up and utilized by the public.  With that being said, the media has so much power in its hands and has the ability to shape society. It has the power to help the public become better citizens, but it also has the ability to harm them.  If I had power over the messages that are portrayed by the media, I would make sure they would only provide a helpful purpose in society, and I would attempt to abolish any unhealthy messages.

The main thing that I would focus on getting rid of is the media’s current image of “beauty”.  Society’s image of outer beauty has changed immensely over time, and is becoming more and more important to young women.  Back in the Victorian Era, portliness was considered a sign of beauty because it portrayed the woman as a healthy, well-fed woman, possibly belonging to a wealthy family.  Paleness of the skin was also considered to be a sign of beauty. Nowadays, the media portrays the most “attractive” women as skinny, tan, large-bosomed figures.  Back in the 1950s, Marilyn Monroe was considered to be America’s iconic sex symbol.  She was by no means fat, and was considered to have the looks of a goddess.  She was 5’5” and her dress size ranged from 12-16.  Today, an ordinary model who appears in magazines and/or TV ads does not fall below 5’9” and the average dress size is 6-8.  These models are acting as role models for young girls, who end up starving themselves to fit the current image of “beautiful”.  At the rate society is going, future models will be as thin as paper in the next generation. The message that the media is sending about the female body image is beyond unhealthy.  It can lead girls to anorexia and other serious health conditions, in their attempt to fit society’s image of beautiful.  A few years ago, Dove made a bold move by creating a commercial with models that do not fit the current image of “beautiful”. It portrayed several young women, concerned about their appearance, but they eventually grow and realize what their “true colors” really are, and how beautiful they are in reality.  This is the type of message that I would want to send if I was in charge of creating media messages.  It shows that everyone can be beautiful and healthy, as long as they are comfortable in their skin and do not give in to the self-consciousness that may be derived by their viewings of current models.

Seeing as I am interested in becoming a journalist, I need to acknowledge the negative aspects of my interests and delve into why they exist.  One thing I know, is that in general, the media is not trusted by the public.  Therefore, I have decided to further research why this is true.  Here is what I have found:

Survey Produced by The Gallup Organization - A research-based performance-management consulting company

A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in Washington D.C., displayed that the media is becoming less trustworthy in the eyes of American citizens.  With the current generation relying on the internet for everything under the sun, newspapers are becoming less commonly used.  The problem with the internet, is that it is difficult to differentiate between the pros and the joes of online journalists.  Anyone can write a story online, and anyone can just as easily read it.  A rumor can be created by an author claiming to be a journalist with straight facts, and it can be proven wrong, thus causing outrage amongst readers.  It is understandable why the public is so critical of the media, but as a whole, they need to realize that not everyone out there is a real journalist let alone a trustworthy one.  One just needs to be able to pick out the good apples from the tree, so they can understand which ones are ripe, and which ones are rotten.

According to the survey, 77% of the participants believe that reporters favor one side of the story they are reporting on.  After years of reading online blogs, I can understand why people would believe this.  A lot of inexperienced journalists who post a story online may be posting it to get their opinion heard.  It is difficult to stand out if someone is reporting the facts that hundreds, if not thousands, of journalists are already reporting.  Now when it comes to television, there is less bias, however, some stations definitely appear to favor one political side of the spectrum.  This connects to the 63% that believe that the media is politically biased, and the 80% that think that it is influenced by powerful people and organizations.  Newspapers tend to be the same way politically, but I do not believe that they are partial to the extreme of online journalism.  Professional journalists writing for a newspaper are expected to remain objective and be neutral in the story that is being written.  Online, there is no protocol as many people are writing their stories without pay and are just wanting their voice to be heard.

Another point that the survey brought up, is that much of the public do not trust the articles that they read.  The survey showed that 66% of the participants think that that the stories of the media are inaccurate, while only 25% believe they get the facts straight.  This makes sense as well, since a lot of online bloggers may not necessarily make it their highest priority to have all aspects of their writing be truthful.  Once again, the competition of online writing can be a factor in this because if everyone just stated the straight facts, there would be no spice to the stories and nothing to make one stand out from another.  Maybe a controversial piece could help get an aspiring online journalist noticed, even if it is not completely true.  When it comes to newspapers, the articles are a lot more accurate.  There is no possible way that an editor of a newspaper would allow inaccuracies to flow through his/her paper, because why have someone writing for him/her who is spewing out false information, when there are plenty of other willing writers who would spit out the straight facts that he/she wants.  From experience in working for the Daily Collegian, I know how vital the facts of the stories are, since at least two or three people check them before the paper is formed for the next day.  With online journalism, there is not always a protocol to follow, but with the competitiveness of working for a newspaper, objectivity is something that can be relied upon.

Almost every negative aspect of the survey put created by the Pew Research Center has reached a new high, meaning that the public is trusting the media less and less as time goes on.  With journalism becoming a casual online activity for some to get attention, it is destroying the perception of other journalists who remain objective and attempt to get out their hard work filled with truthful and proven facts.  At this point, with technology increasing at a higher rate than ever, there is little hope in changing this negative opinion of the public, as online journalism continues to take over print.


Screenshot from Wicked Local - Sudbury

Since  online print is becoming increasingly popular, I have been paying more attention to my local online news website, www.wickedlocal.com/sudbury.

I found the site to be very user friendly, with a wonderful, but not overwhelming presentation.  On the home page there are the sections listed at the top, as well as the option to scroll down to the most recent stories from each section.  I also enjoy the polls that show up daily on the home page.

Advertising is a major part of news websites, seeing as it is a large source of income.  The advertising on the Wicked Local site is not overwhelming and I noticed that it primarily advertises for local companies, which can be helpful because it can be an aid for the reader, the companies being advertised, and the website – which is receiving revenues from the companies.

I can appreciate the quality of the website because I am involved in the web production for the Massachusetts Daily Collegian.  It is not easy to keep up a major website, because there are constant updates and it requires many people and many hours.

Perhaps I can seek out an internship with Wicked Local in the future, to help further increase my knowledge on web production.

 

Over the past 160 years, The New York Times has evolved into the largest metropolitan printed newspaper, as well as the most popular online newspaper website in the United States.  Millions travel daily to the website in order to stay updated on news and current events.  However, in recent years, The Times has bulked up into a small amount of news, and a large amount of fillers and useless information.  The newspaper is a thick slab of wasted trees, while the online site has an endless sidebar of sections to choose from.  Because there is so much to choose from, I would not add any sections, and if I had the opportunity, I would examine all of the sections and pick and choose which ones are not necessary.  If sections are eliminated, the public will be able to get useful information without plodding through so many useless pages.

Near the top of the online sidebar of the New York Times, there was one section that I felt should not have been there: Weddings/Celebrations.  Sure, a wedding can be a feel-good story for some readers, as well as a way for elders to recall their past younger years; however, it is not a needed section in the paper.  If one clicks on the Weddings/Celebrations tab, there is a lengthy list of recent weddings throughout the country, accompanied with background stories of all of the newlyweds.  I particularly did not like the fact that the weddings were above the Obituaries section.  Remembering lost loved ones and telling their life story is much more important than a wedding event that has a 50% chance of failing in the long-run.  Compared to the Obituaries section, there were far more weddings and celebrations listed because they are more likely to bring a smile to the public.  “The press often covers some types of events while excluding others for reasons that turn on evaluative judgements of relative social importance”(Iggers,100).  The only drawback of eliminating the Weddings/Celebrations section, would be that popular wedding locations would get less recognition.  If a wedding is advertised, then the location is advertised as well.  It is a way of drawing in soon-to-be-weds.  The Weddings/Celebrations section is a nice upbringing section, but it is something that can appear somewhere else; such as a magazine or online websites.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Another major section that does not need recognition in the paper is Home and Garden.  The Home and Garden section informs the public of popular trends involving the decoration of houses and landscaping. This truly belongs in a magazine, as there is no need for lessons on how to decorate your home in a newspaper. One article talks about how billionaire Mayor Bloomberg embellishes his luxurious home.  The public does not need to know how he lavishes himself with home goods, even if they could afford the products he owns.  If it was removed, several home and garden companies may be affected, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc., because they are commonly mentioned in the numerous articles.  They rely heavily on these articles because, “economics shape the newspaper in a variety of ways.  As newspapers become more market-driven, market research plays an increasingly important role in determining content”(Iggers,101).  If the newspaper was not so market driven as it is today, the public would easily be able to get the important daily news that it needs to stay informed, without going through page after page of useless information.

Screenshot from Home and Garden section of the New York Times

At UMass Amherst, I have a Journalism professor, Razvan Sibii, who is also a major Romanian journalist.  Not too long ago, I checked out one of his articles that he wrote for his home country.  In his lectures, he is very adamant on the concept of objectivity, so I checked to make sure he is true to his own philosophy.

Sibii’s article pertaining to the America’s militiamen contains interesting perspectives from the paramilitary movement. When it comes to objectivity of the article, Sibii does a respectable job of using truth, balance, neutrality, and relevance. The paramilitary is not something that I personally have a lot of knowledge about, perhaps because the media in the United States focuses primarily on the government-run armed forces. The facts in the story are well organized and appear to be well researched and truthful. In terms of balance, there definitely could have been views from the other side of the table. The only people quoted were historians and people involved in the paramilitary in some way or another.

The article seems to favor the views of the paramilitary and does not allow the opposition a word in the story. If there are alternate points of view, there is less that is hidden from the public eye, as it is vital to include the perspectives of different parties. Although there is not enough balance, the author still exhibits neutrality.

Opinions of journalists in their own story is looked down upon, and Sibii is able to convey a message without intervening with his own thoughts on the subject. The article strictly cuts to the facts and opinions of civilians, which is the correct way of producing a story. Although I did not at first realize it, the article is very relevant for Americans. This militia movement is something that is occurring right at this moment and it involves ordinary, everyday people. Roy McCarty, an affiliate of the Northern California State Militia stated how the militia is dealing with current events, such as the immense amount of immigrants that are coming across the U.S./Mexican border. “ ‘The Border patrol was just overwhelmed, so the people who lived down there started a militia to assist them. What we would do is patrol the border, detain illegals and hold them until the authorities came to arrest them.’ ”

American paramilitary on US/Mexico Border

Since it is a Romanian article, designed for Romanian readers, it is also relevant for them. Mike Vanderboegh, who was a former leader of an Alabama militia says how he believes the American government is slowly becoming a tyranny. He compared the government to the Romanian government back in the 1980s, when tyrant Nicolae Ceausescu, was overthrown and executed. Aside from the lack of balance in the article, Sibii produced a well organized and objective article.

Journalists striking over low pay in Belgium

Recently in my Media Criticism class, we have been talking about the quality of present-day journalists and whether or not they deserve a decent salary.  In class, we critiqued a presentation that American writer and scholar, Robert Picard, made at Oxford University in 2009.

In the presentation, Picard expresses his personal views regarding why journalists should not have high salaries. He explains why he thinks the increasing technology is altering the  professionalism of the journalistic field.  Although Picard does have some good points regarding the necessary skills to be a journalist, he does not stress the importance of the power writers have over society, and why they should be rewarded for their responsibilities.

Picard argues that the value of the creation of journalism has decreased steadily over this past century.  In the past, a journalist would have to produce an article the hard way, which included physically going out to the streets, questioning, reporting, taking pictures, shooting video, etc.  Presently, a writer can create a story right from his home, due to the intelligence of the internet and other means of technology.  When a writer is working on an article, there are bound to be multiple stories and sources related to what he/she is writing about.  “The Internet and various social networking applications are providing means for individuals to create and convey information on their own”(4).  Therefore, a journalist does not always have to go out and physically produce the information him/herself.  Picard also stated that, “Software is incorporating essential linguistic skills (spelling, grammar, and translation), audio and video production skills, and photography and graphics skills”(4).  In other words,  it is harder to find a writer’s writing weaknesses with the various spelling and grammar checking devices on a computer.  Also, as for pictures and videos, there are so many available forms of multimedia on the web, that someone may use another’s work, as long as there are no copyrights.  Since there is not nearly as much hard work that goes into journalism these days, Picard has a point as to why journalists do not deserve high pay.

One thing that Picard mentions, is the power that journalists have over society.  He said, “Functional benefits include providing information that helps individuals and society understand their place in the world, conveying ideas that help or create ease in life, and supplying diversion and entertainment”(2).  Despite mentioning this, he does not believe this is a reason that journalists should receive higher pay.  He says that their power is decreasing over society compared to the past, therefore they do not deserve high pay.  I beg to differ with this rational because media is still the leading role of influence in this country.  I think the news is still just as powerful, and people pay attention to the advice journalists give.  For example, if a popular journalist proclaims that a study has shown that apples increase the likelihood of developing colon cancer, I guarentee people would pay attention and be more cautious in regards to eating apples.  That being said, power is a very important role in society, and generally deserves high pay.  Sure, journalists may not be creating something original, but they have the job of relaying information to the public.

As said in “Spiderman”, with great power comes great responsibility, and since journalists have such a great responsibility, they should be rewarded for it.

Picard had several good points in his presentation, especially regarding the amount of work journalists have to put into their stories compared to the past.  However, in a society where power pays, I believe that journalists should receive a higher salary.  Although they may not have the skills and knowledge that other high-paying jobs require (such as doctors, lawyers, etc), journalists still hold one of the highest responsibilities in society, and they should be recognized with that and should therefore be paid a higher wage.

Out with the old...

During the past several years, journalism has been facing a spiraling downfall.  Journalists are frantically trying to save their field from a slow death by expressing their ideas of how to prevent extinction.  After reading numerous articles, I have found many excellent ideas and propositions on how to save journalism, that would be worthy of appearing in an enterprise.

On the Chronicle website, there is an article called “University-Based Reporting Could Keep Journalism Alive”, by Michael Schudson and Leonard Downie Jr.  The authors say, “the daily newspapers are producing less original news reporting than they did a decade ago.”  They go on to explain how the future of journalism appears to lie in the hands of America’s college students.  It would be inspiring to explain in the enterprise about how college students are taking the time and effort to write for school papers without pay.  It is their passion and they have faith in their future, so they want to prepare for it.  Not to mention, unlike professional paid journalists, these students have to balance working for the paper along with being a student and going to classes.  It would be good to also explain how journalism professors are teaching their young inspired writers.  Mark Shapiro of Colombia University puts his students right out into the city to come up with stories of their own.  He has designed a program called, “City Newsroom”, where he sends students to three of the different boroughs of New York City and asks them to come up with stories.  These stories are placed on a web site that may be viewed by thousands per day.  He wants to give his students the opportunity to write publicly, and feels writing about the boroughs is perfectly since he says they are, “woefully undercovered”, and sees it as “a void [that] we are going to rush to fill.”  Giving hopeful students an opportunity to show off their journalism skills to the public certainly is a way to prepare them for a future in journalism, and thus possibly preventing it from a slow death.

It would be important for the enterprise to provide tips for the success of aspiring journalists.  Renowned media critic Jay Rosen, wrote an article for PBS called, “Ready? Here’s My Formula for Online News Success.”  There are a few good points in the article that are worthy of appearing in my enterprise, all alluding to Rosen’s opinion that online journalism is the way to go.  One thought that he had, was that a journalist should have, “Absolute commitment to breaking news in coverage area by any means necessary”.  By blogging breaking news, a journalist will get more hits on his/her site, since a vast amount of people will be searching for the news.  What he means by absolute commitment is that one must be one hundred percent committed to getting the correct facts, as well as keeping his/her readers up to date as the breaking news story progresses.  With these steps, a journalist can gain trust by new readers and gain respect.  Another good idea that Rosen had, was to have, “Geo-tagged information: organized so that people can access it by location or via a map”.  It is good for an online news site or for freelance journalists to do this, so that people within the vicinity of the location of the story can easily find it.  With geo-tagged info, it is easier to gain readers who can relate to the story, therefore they have better criticism and appreciation for it.  If online journalism is the future, then Rosen’s advice is key to the success for current and aspiring journalists.

With the horrible current state of the media, it is vital that professional writers and professors at universities educate hopeful writers about how to save the future of journalism.  A collection of information and ideas would create a great enterprise that would properly inform journalists about how to prevent the demise of journalism.

...in with the new.

Recently, one of my professors, David Perkins, took my class to see a film called “Page One”, and it was an eye-opener for me and the rest of my classmates…

Courtesy of mvtimes.com

Andrew Rossi’s behind-the-scenes documentary takes the viewer on a unique journey through the hardship and turmoil that The New York Times is currently facing. “Page One: Inside The New York Times” follows the lives of four completely different journalists, all working on the media desk, as they consistently deal with the threat of a newspaper Armageddon.

Focusing prominently on David Carr, a former cocaine addict and current media and culture columnist for the Times, the film follows him as he admirably stands behind the long-standing newspaper, frequently persisting that that it will not go out of business anytime soon.

With the increasing popularity of the internet – which provides a user with all the information under the sun, available with a mere click of a mouse – the film addresses that many are not optimistic about the future of The New York Times as a newspaper. When asked if he fears the demise of the paper, Carr responds, “The only things I fear are guns and bats. I’ve been a cocaine addict and a single parent on welfare, and you’re asking me if I fear the fall of The Times?”

Viewers are brought back in time throughout the film, to recent vital events that the Times has been involved in, such as its relationship with WikiLeaks, the impact Twitter has had on newspapers and the unavoidable layoffs that have occurred in order to stay within budget restrictions.

In one scene, journalist and digital media theorist, Jeff Jarvis, gives his thoughts on what he thinks will eventually become a crash-and-burn situation for The Times.

“Newspapers are dead now,” said Jarvis. “However, the news is still very much alive.”

Jarvis’ claim is supported sporadically in the film as it displays how new technological ideas continue to expand, making it easier for news readers to drop the tangible paper and open up their portable Web-browser to explore whatever news they desire.

Despite the negativity that the Times faces inside and out, Rossi clearly takes the initiative to demonstrate that good journalism is not a given talent and that the lucky few who work for The Times are the best in the business. They achieved success due to their dedication and hard work. This is evident, especially with one of the featured journalists, Tim Arango. Initially, Arango is a rookie Times journalist who is just getting his feet wet. He later travels to Iraq with the intention of producing truthful, hard news that the public can rely on. There are many online bloggers that criticize a war that they have not experienced. In response, the Times sent over the ambitious Arango to be a primary source with factual input towards the war overseas.

“Page One” provides viewers with insight into the competitive and strong-hearted approach that The New York Times is taking during harsh times for printed news. For aspiring journalists, it is a critical film to see, as it can make or break their desire for a career in journalism.