Blog Archives

The End of a Semester


If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Well.  Here it is.  The end of the spring semester at Stony Brook University.  I can’t say it went as well as I had hoped.  Health and other obstacles got in the way of achieving my goal of Dean’s List again for the Spring.  Still, as disappointed as I am about the semester and my grades, I must reflect on all that I have learned.  And believe me, it’s a lot.  At this point I am staying positive and looking forward to my Wedding in October, and a successful fall semester at SBU.

Onward, as they say.

Initially, this blog was set up to meet the requirements of a course I took this spring.  Journalism 24/7.  This course taught me that journalism isn’t just about the story.  It’s not just the reporting or producing.  In fact, it’s not at all just about the news.  It’s a business.  Understanding the business side of journalism is just as important as the industry itself.  Learning the behind-the-scene activity that keeps newspapers in business, television programming alive, and radio broadcasting is crucial to a successful career in journalism.  As is learning the ins-and-outs of the webolution in the news industry.  Yes, I said webolution.  I like it, and it’s fun to say.  Learning the business aspects of journalism has helped me understand why certain decisions are made.

The business of journalism keeps the ball rolling, the information disseminated and the people informed.  It must be successful for journalism to continue in the future.  Make no mistake, journalism is not and should never be about the bottom line, the dollar.  But, that dollar can not be completely ignored either.  There is a fine relationship between business and journalism, and going forward, let’s hope that it continues to favor the story, not the dollar.

I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging about the news industry.  Analyzing what people are writing and saying about the industry has been incredibly informative for me.  I suspect that a lot of my classmates will discontinue their blog, although I would encourage the opposite.

Since my blog started at the end of January, I have had over 500 views.  That may not seem like much, but it’s enough to inspire me to continue the blog.  Obviously, someone out there reads my ramblings and well, even if it’s one person, it’s worth noting, I have an audience.

As long as you keep reading, I will keep writing.  I may expand the topics of the blog a bit in the future.  I might get a few guest bloggers to post and I’m thinking about including some original journalism of my own, local stories from my area, maybe a human interest story here or there.

Journalism in every form, is important.  Whether it’s blogging, broadcast, magazine writing, or main stream news.  As I have said in earlier posts, it’s an important tool in protecting our democracy and freedoms.  Watching the Watchdog is just that.  Making sure others in the industry are doing their job fairly, honestly and accurately.  If they’re not?  We will call them out.

Thank you for the support you have shown by reading my blog.  It is my greatest and most sincere hope that I continue to interest you and inform you.  Please, keep coming back.

Kendra Mercer

Pulitzer Prize Winners Give Back


The Six Ws of Journalism and Police Investigations

The Six Ws of Journalism and Police Investigations (Photo credit: Image Editor)

Mark Horvit, for the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization, published a blog post on Monday about two Pulitzer Prize winners doing something rare and positive for the journalism industry.

Besides writing an award-winning piece that gained national recognition and awards, Michael Berens and Ken Armstrong decided to give back.  They took their $10,000 prize money and paid for IRE training for their colleagues at The Seattle Times.

Horvit quotes Manny Garcia, the IRE Board President, “Mike and Ken have always been unselfish with their time and talent,” Garcia said. “They both exemplify what IRE is all about: equipping and training journalists world-wide to produce important investigative work. It speaks to their character and the quality news organization that is The Seattle Times.”

According to Horvit’s article, these two men are the second major award winners to do this sort of philanthropic work in the last few years.

This is important news to include these days. Why?  The news about the news doesn’t always have to be critical, or negative or controversial.  Gestures like this will keep journalism moving forward, steadily toward improvement.  Reporting, writing and investigating are skills that can always be improved upon.  I’ve re-discovered that just by keeping this blog.   These two men, decided to invest in the important work that investigative journalists do every day.  Honing their skills, and now making that practice available to others in the business through this training, is invaluable to the industry.

Journalism is not only learning about what we report, but how and why we report.

There is a quote by Thomas Griffith, a former editor for Time, Inc., “Journalism is in fact history on the run.”   That would be something difficult to chase without the necessary skills.  Berens and Armstrong are setting a good example in this industry and they are providing those skills to their fellow staffers.  Kudos to them.

Different Standards for Broadcast News?


NBC News

NBC News (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Sunday, David Carr, of the New York Times published an article called, “TV News Corrects Itself, Just Not on the Air.”

The “Today” show for NBC decided last month to air an edited clip of the 911 call made by George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman as you know is currently facing a second-degree murder charge in the death of Trayvon Martin.  According to Carr’s article, the show edited the clip, which ended up making Zimmerman sound as though he was making racist comments.  Carr called the edited clip, “…misleading, incendiary and dead-bang wrong…”

Carr goes on to say that while NBC took swift action after realizing the terrible editing, albeit a week after it originally aired and re-aired, which included an investigation, the firing of the producer in charge and an apology.

Carr points out that what the network didn’t do, was make an on-air correction.  Not during any of the four hours of the show was there one second dedicated to a correction that would set the audience straight.

Carr states, “What is it with television news and corrections? When the rest of the journalism world gets something wrong, they generally correct themselves. But network news acts as if an on-air admission of error might cause a meteor to land on the noggin of one of its precious talking heads. NBC used all of the powers at its disposal to amend the mistake, except the high-visibility airtime where the bad clip ran in the first place.”

Carr reached out to Steve Capus, president of NBC News, and much to his disappointment, Capus agreed with Carr.

Capus stated in Carr’s article, “We did an awful lot of work after it happened. We did an exhaustive investigation, I did interviews with a lot of publications to get the message out, but we probably should have done it on our own air.”

Carr wraps up his article saying, “Give NBC credit for dealing with a big error that threatened to sow further mayhem on a very delicate story. It’s just too bad it failed to remember that the fix for bad journalism generally includes more journalism. The kind that goes on the air.”

I agree with Carr.  The network absolutely should have aired a correction, especially given the very nature in the evolution of this case and its national attention.

When Carr mentions that television news never corrects itself unless it is to make a lawsuit go away, I cringe at the comment.  Why is this the case?  Does broadcast journalism hold itself to a different journalistic standard than papers and other forms of the news media?  Shouldn’t this type of behavior, airing corrections on the same broadcast show that made the mistake, be included in a “best practices” standard?  I certainly think it should.  Considering the amount of people out there that still get their news from television broadcasts, I would think that keeping the public correctly informed would be a major characteristic and goal of any network.

I think it’s time that broadcast news, as it pertains to corrections, be held to the very same standards that the print media and online media follow.  Journalism is journalism, and accuracy should be equally required across the board.

Carr speaks with Aaron Brown, a professor of journalism and former anchor.  Brown states, “But given how high-profile that this screw-up was and the fact that it became a news story itself, I’m shocked that they didn’t correct it on the ‘Today’ show.”

Exactly Mr. Brown.  In my view, you and David Carr hit the nail on the head.

Reporter Asks What Fellow Journalists Think of the Job


New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York T...

New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper. Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting to be sent out. Rewrite man in background gets the story on the phone from reporter outside. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an article for the New York Times, David Carr makes an attempt to defend journalism.  His article is titled, “Fill in the Blank:  Being a Reporter Is the _____Job in the World.”

Carr basically sums up the past couple of weeks in the world of journalism, and how there seems to be a lot of talk of dissatisfaction with the job.  In his article he quotes a fellow writer Malcolm Gladwell from a speech he gave at Yale, “Newspapers are kind of dreary, depressed places. I would go the penniless Web route to get practice.”

Carr mentions the Fox Mole indirectly, and we all know how dissatisfied he was with his job.  He also mentions a young journalist who was hired and decided to write-up a press release about his new position and posted it to Tumblr, he was fired within twenty-four hours of being hired.

And then of course, Carr mentioned this, “CareerCast included hundreds of jobs in its annual ranking and decided that being a newspaper reporter was the fifth-worst job in the land. Being a dishwasher and a taxi driver rated as better occupations.”

Okay.  So it wasn’t a great month in the land of journalism, and I agree, albeit with very little experience, that newsrooms and newspapers are not what they used to be.

But.  There is still glory to be found in this old institution.  There are still aspiring young journalists like myself that are figuring out what our niche’s are.  There is a whole generation of journalists up and coming that want to restore the industry to the standards we are taught, and all, I promise is not lost.

Who does CareerCast think they are anyway?  The future of journalism is a bright one.  Thanks to Carr, journalists from all walks of life have commented on the state of the job, and in reading many of the responses to his article, I am convinced that CareerCast is completely off base.

To answer his question:  Being a reporter is the most amazing job in the world.

Beat Reporting on the Internet


Social Media Outposts

Social Media Outposts (Photo credit: the tartanpodcast)

Ben LaMothe recently wrote an article for Media Bistro focusing on the idea of reporters creating an online community for the specific beat they cover, or something they report on and have great interest and knowledge in.  In LaMothe’s article, “Should Reporters Create Online Communities for Their Beats?” he states:

“When I think about subject-matter expertise in a newsroom, I think of a beat writer/reporter. In the newsroom, they are the subject-matter experts for the beat that they are assigned to cover.  They have a first-hand knowledge of the topic and the issues at hand and they have relationships with the people who are impacted or make decisions about the topic.  In the world of social media and online communities, they would be ideal community managers.”

LaMothe continues on and explains that setting up such a community online can be relatively inexpensive for a reporter who has the desire to do so.

I happen to think this is a very good idea for journalists in general.  Especially freelance journalists looking to gain attention and buzz to boost their careers.  According to the article it can cost as little as $19 for someone to use software to set such a site up.

This could prove to be a valuable tool for journalists and online reporting.  If professional journalists set up such communities online, link them to social media websites and blogs, this could just be the answer some are looking for to combat the problem of reliable, verified information obtained through the web and social media sites.  In previous posts I have discussed some of the issues associated with citizen journalism and how people are inundated with information.  Much of this information is difficult to sift through, and equally difficult to determine whether it is rumor, fact-based or opinion.  The opinion problem isn’t limited to the web, we see major networks all the time passing off pundits or talking heads as hard news people.

Educating news consumers, and helping the consumer find alternative sites online, offering trustworthy news, is something the web sorely needs, specifically social media.

In my previous post I discuss the notion that social media is taking over traditional journalism, something that I don’t think is necessarily the case yet.  Journalists equipped with a tool such as the one Lamothe mentions in his blog post for Media Bistro, could be the catalyst that allows social media to become not just a major player in the news industry, but launch it directly to the top.  Therefore giving social media a real chance as a serious journalistic platform and becoming widely used and accepted within the industry, more so than the role it has now.

This, I believe is something to be watched, and agreeing with LaMothe, something journalists should seriously consider.

So You’re a Journalist. Prove It.


Meranda Watling wrote a post on MediaBistro‘s blog, 10,000 wordswhich addressed an interesting topic.  How do you prove you are a journalist?

Watling writes, “Alan Greenblatt explains in his story today that increasingly, government officials are asking him to prove his official journalist status before granting him interviews. Tides have turned and now it’s not just the reporter doing background research, but the sources are backgrounding the reporters.”

Greenblatt is a correspondent for NPR.org, and wrote about his recent experience of being asked to prove he is a journalist.

In her blog post, Watling brings up some very interesting points, she writes:

  • What type of proof is enough?
  • What if you’re not working for an agency that hands out press badges?
  • What’s stopping you from printing up your own press badge and business cards?
  • It’s not like you apply for a license to be a journalist and can hand out your license number to verify with the state, as electricians or plumbers do. (I hope nobody gets any bright ideas.)
  • And it’s not like medical professions where you need a certain degree and set of training to perform the job; you simply do not need a degree in journalism to prove you know how to ask who, what, when, where, why and how, and then write it up accurately.
  • Plenty of good reporters didn’t learn those skills in the classroom.
  • And plenty of bad reporters have a degree but still didn’t learn to apply those skills well.

I happen to agree with her.  Watling also mentions the recent court case involving a blogger, the judge ruled the blogger was not a journalist.  So how is it determined that someone is a journalist?  According to the judge mentioned in Watling’s article, it would be someone who followed these guidelines:

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.””

You can read the opinion of the court here.

Currently, the only things I have to show someone who questions my validity as a journalist is, my diploma, my business card and my Society of Professional Journalists card.    (Needless to say I don’t carry my diploma with me.)   So what if I fall into one or more of the categories she lists above?

I also shiver at the idea that an institution for licensing journalists could be created.  Since when do we need a license to practice our basic freedoms, like speech and the press?

Watling also states, “Fortunately for me, as a working journalist and blogger, I can check off each of these seven in some way and when appropriate (i.e. I’m not going on background on most stories, and sometimes my blog posts are just an aggregation of pieces I think people should read). Whew. But what if you didn’t attend journalism school (No. 1)? What if you’re an opinion columnist/blogger whose job it is to be one-sided (No. 7)? What if your job includes curating a mass of content into a product that helps pull together a story from disparate sources (No. 6)? What if you’ve never been affiliated with a MSM news agency but instead set up your own news outlet (No. 2)?”

I’m not sure there is a simple answer here.  Of course following the ethics of journalism and knowing the laws associated with the press are two very important things among many others, but there are loopholes.  I agree with Watling, that it’s a kind of “New Media vs. News Media“, and all of this New Media is blurring the lines.  There are a lot of great aspects of citizen journalism, but also some negative ones.  Fact-checking and verification of sources etc, are both very important in journalism.  I’m afraid much of that is lost on many “citizen journalists”.  Yet still, there are a lot of “citizen journalists” out there that bring to light information and news that might otherwise be lost on the larger media groups.

This is a fascinating area for discussion.  While many legacy news organizations struggle to find their footing in this digital age, there are other, newer organizations bursting onto the scene.  How this plays out in the future, and what develops as the definition of a journalist or journalism will be something to watch.

This isn’t a winner-takes-all situation.   I think there is plenty of playing room on the field.

Social Networks Bring Tragic Story to National Media


By now, most of you have heard of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin.  The New York Times published an article by Brian Stelter on March 25, that discusses some of the story, but also why the story took weeks to gain national attention.  According to his article, Stelter maps out the progression of the growth of attention from the date the tragedy occurred, Feb. 26, to the time it finally achieved a national audience around March 16 and thereafter.

Stelter states, “It was not until mid-March, after word spread on Facebook and Twitter, that the shooting of Trayvon by George Zimmerman, 26, was widely reported by the national news media, highlighting the complex ways that news does and does not travel in the Internet age.”

The article suggests that race may have played a role in how slowly the story spread, but also that social media, as quoted above, played an intricate role.  Stelter interviewed colleagues who recalled having followers on Twitter ask them what they were going to say about this story.  While it was picked up locally and state-wide within a week, it wasn’t until users of social media got a hold of it and spread the word, did the story gain the momentum needed to hit the national arena.

Folks, we live in an age where information is literally at our fingertips, available twenty-four-seven.  And yet, even during these times, stories like this, somehow fall through the media cracks.

It’s interesting that the power of social media and the internet is proving itself repeatedly, and in so many ways.  Wikileaks, the Arab Spring and now, the tragic end of a teenager’s life, which otherwise may have gone untold.

As journalists we are right to be mindful and skeptical of social media “news” and user-generated content.  It’s proper that we don’t take this information at face value without verification.  But there is one more aspect of this new media that we should never ignore:  that it is powered largely by the people.  The same people we want to inform.  The same people we have chosen to become sentinels for.  The same people who make up the democracy we try desperately to protect through our freedoms of speech.

In a sense, national media failed in these past few weeks, and it took action by average citizens to open the eyes of the watchdog.

To Pay or Not To Pay…


In an article written by Steven Greenhouse, for the New York Times, an interesting and no doubt controversial topic is addressed.   Xuedan Wang, a former intern for Harper’s Bazaar, is suing the Hearst Corporation for violations of Labor Department rules with respect to hours worked and wages.  Wang says that she worked there for four months and usually put in 40 hour work weeks, sometimes up to 55 hours a week, and never received any payment for her services.  The premise for the lawsuit, according to the article is as such:

The following six criteria must be applied when making this determination:

1. The internship, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to
training which would be given in an educational environment;

2. The internship experience is for the benefit of the intern;

3. The intern does not displace regular employees, but works under close supervision of existing staff;

4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern; and on occasion its operations may actually be impeded;

5. The intern is not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the internship; and

6. The employer and the intern understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for the time spent in the internship.

Wang says that by treating her as an intern and not a regular employee, the Hearst Corporation denied her wages, social security contributions, as well as unemployment insurance and workers compensation benefits.

Interesting.  First, let us take a look at her position at the magazine.  She admits through the article, as well as in the lawsuit that she was an intern.  Call me crazy, but intern does not mean the same thing as employee.  At least the last time I checked.

As a student, I look forward to internships to help bolster my experience and advance my academic career.  I see it as a way to get my foot in the door in a highly competitive field.  I don’t expect to get paid for my work.  I do expect to work hard.  I do expect to be challenged.  I do expect to receive credit for my time to put toward my degree from whatever institution I am interning with!  I do expect to learn.

There are internships out there that pay for services provided by interns.  Maybe Ms. Wang should have applied to one of those instead of an unpaid internship with Harper’s.

Secondly, let us look at this from a business perspective.  How many times have people chosen a career path, gone to school, and when the time comes to participate in an internship, after a week, they quit, drop out, or change their major and move on to something else.  Oh yes, it happens.  There are medical students out their that have gone through all of their training, applied and get accepted to a residency program, only to find less than a year into it, that they can’t hack it.  This is a business.  Should companies be forced to pay their interns?  Chances are, especially if this is the students first internship, they have had little to no hands on experience.  It’s my guess that these interns will have to be taught the ways of the media world, and by teaching them, it takes away from the productivity of the regular employees who now have to juggle an intern on top of their other duties expected by the employer.

Why should an employer have to pay for a decrease in productivity, albeit temporary, when they are offering an invaluable experience to the student at the companies expense.  I’m also thinking that the intern would represent a level of liability for the company as well.  Accuracy issues, missed deadlines, production mistakes and it could go on and on.  I’m not saying the companies out there should abuse their interns, but hey, the job should be tough, it needs to be in order to weed out those who have no business in the media business.

It sounds to me, Ms. Wang was not satisfied with the internship she chose.  I would guess that she knew full well, the details of her internship.  She knew going in, that it was a demanding position, and most importantly, unpaid!  

I truly hope this lawsuit gets thrown out of court.  If it isn’t, I worry about what implications may come from this and what impact it will have on the rest of us journalism students looking for the same opportunities.

What do you think?