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.

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.