Monthly Archives: September 2008

Wednesday Wisdom: Privacy in a media age

We got a fascinating debate stirred up this week in our discussion of using the exact address of the woman charged with falsely reporting that an old, toothless, lazy-eyed black man had robbed her.

One issue that arose is whether we have an obligation, as journalists, to report as much as possible about the arrested woman for the sake of accuracy. Another issue was whether the story suffers if we leave out exact address information in order avoid the risk of the woman being targeted for vandalism, intimidation or other public scorn. She has, after all, only been charged, not convicted.

But the more we discussed the issue on the blog, the more issues came up. What about mapping crime? Does it risk identifying victims? Does street-level mapping, in which we can see people’s homes and possibly cars and other personal details, change our level of responsibility as journalists?

What about Facebook and Myspace? In what instances should we use profile information? In what instances is that an invasion of privacy? So much to talk about!

I think the bottom line here is that there are no black-and-white answers to these questions. And having some policy guidelines might take away some of the guesswork and clarify our own stances on these issues.

So, come chat! We’ll be in HMSU 817 from 5-6 tomorrow (Wednesday). See you there!

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Sept. 29 critique

You oughta be in pictures for…

… a generally newsy and strong paper today! We had news on sports, election, family day, Trustees — all on the front! Lots of variety to get readers into the paper. Nice selections, editors!

… triple-threat Trever Fehrenbach! The photographer/reporter/columnist is unstoppable! His front page shot is action-packed. His story lead is dramatic and concise. His verbs are kinetic — players spun and lobbed a floating pass, and the ball sailed. Great writing.

… solid photos from Amanda Mayer! Although new to our photo desk, Amanda has made a strong showing in our last few issues. Her shots have included innovative perspectives, as with today’s Family Day shots, and lovely composition, as with the symphony shots today. Welcome and keep up the good work!

showing leads!!! Brittany Parrett introduces us to Qwion Booker and his ice cream spoon. Very visual and engaging! Great job!

Watch out for…

… hiding good stuff below the fold.  In our newsstands, all that shows is the football story and promos for volleyball and symphony. But we have much broader-interest stories about family day, the election and Trustees taking up enrollment, etc. that are hidden below the fold.  The more general-interest stories draw in a broader range of readers, and we should take advantage of that by getting some mention of them visible in the newsstand.

… packaging and refers. We needed to at least refer the page 7 story on the presidential debate from the front page piece on Penn campaigning for Obama.

… spacing of page elements.  The topical headers such asa “Campus,” “Administration” and “Sports” need to be anchored to the stories and photos they describe. We’ve been floating them sort of halfway between stories, or in some cases, closer to an unrelated story, so that it’s not apparent what they’re attached to. Get these headers within a pica of the story they belong to.

What if…

… we turn more of our attention to issues and follow-ups.  I tallied up the past five issues, since Sept. 17, and found that we had at least 45 event-based stories (including sports)  and just 10 of everything else (not including the Op-Ed page).  I defined “everything else” as being feature stories, issue-based stories and follow-ups. Just 10 – or 18 percent! Let’s step back and get a big-picture view of some of these “events” we’re covering.

What can we do to follow-up on some the story ideas mentioned in meetings, for example?  What are the bigger issues at stake for our students in the election? What are some national events (the Wall Street bailout, for example) that we can localize to our own campus?

Although covering events is a big part of our job, from readers’ perspective, if they didn’t want to attend an event, they probably don’t want to read about it, either. Those who did attend the event already know what happened.  So we tend to get less interest in these types of stories than if we provide some news analysis or break some news that impacts their lives.

Could we shoot for 35 percent of our coverage being issue-related, features or follow-ups?  I know it’s easier and faster just to show up to an event and grab some description and quotes. Issue stories take a bit more time, planning and research. But the good news is, reporters and photogs can work on them at more flexible times. These stories tend to be more fun to report. And the payoff, in terms of reader interest and public service, is much greater than with event stories.

What do you think?

Privacy v. accuracy

I’m loving the conversation in the comments on last Friday’s critique.  We seem to have mixed opinions about whether using an exact address is necessary for accuracy, or whether it may unnecessarily invade privacy or make sources a target.

Here’s a link to a related story on Poynter.org about crime maps.  This is an aspect I hadn’t considered. With Google maps allowing for street-level views of Terre Haute and other cities, does that change journalists’ ethical call to report on stories without putting people at risk of physical harm?

What does it mean for crime victims if we report on domestic violence at an address, or statutory rape or some other sensitive crime?  I think this is just a fascinating ethical issue! I think we’ll take it up at this week’s “Wednesday Wisdom.” Is this a worthwhile topic?

Old people on Facebook

A wonderful — and wonderfully written — piece from Salon.com on the the misfortune of oldsters (that includes all of your advisers, so please tread lightly!) using Facebook.

Such a great trend piece! And, notice the quality of the quotes and the showing of humiliation, anxiety and confusion. Great example of an insightful and fun feature. Enjoy!

(Note: If you get an ad when you click the link, wait a moment for ‘Enter Salon’ to appear and click past the ad.)

Sept. 26 critique

You oughta be in pictures for…

… beautiful and dramatic lead photo! Nathan’s shot of the Lipizzanner stallion and its rider is super-cool. The look in the horse’s eye really conveys drama.  Nice job!  Also, I love the bold refer to the Web.

… good follow-up by Nick and Michelle on the “robbery” case. This story is concise and clear, which is crucial to crime reporting. Nice job to both!

… visual approach to “Hotel Cassiopeia”! Heidi anad Bethany team up to produce a visually engaging and concisely reported piece that adds life to page 3. Again, great planning and execution!

Watch out for…

… specificity.  The Web refer for the stallions show sends readers online for “full coverage.”  But we need to be specific that they will find a story and a photo slideshow.  Similarly, we have online video of the Ramadan feast and Hotel Cassiopeia, but don’t tell our print readers about it. Make sure we’re adequately promoting Web-only material in the print edition.

… redundancy. We run a shot of the United Way fundraiser on the front that is OK, but then we essentially repeat the shot on page 5.  Readers don’t want to look at a shot from the exact same perspective, of the exact same people, twice. We could have filled space on page 5 by enlarging the breakout box and adding some design mojo.

… sourcing.  Our bite-sized news briefs are a wonderful touch on the front page, but we don’t source either of them. Be sure to tell readers where we got our info.

What if…

… we develop a consistent address policy for crime stories? The front-page story on the false report of a robbery lists the woman’s exact street address in the small town of Marshall, Ill.  But the police blotter on page 3 does not list the street address of a man arrested on an outstanding warrant.

I think if we reported on a student arrested who lived in a residence hall, we would not list his or her exact room number.  But do we have a policy on this? It isn’t libelous for us to list address information. It is, in fact, always listed on police reports. Furthermore, if a person was arrested for a crime related to their address — say, a battery or arson that occurred in a dorm room or an assault that occurred at a residential city address — then I can imagine that the exact address is very relevant and necessary. So we have every right to use exact addresses.

But what are the privacy concerns that come with listing a person’s exact address — especially if the crime with which they are charged is not connected to their residence?  Are there risks to the person’s safety if the crime with which they are charged has racial or sexual overtones — as appears to be the case with this (white?) woman reporting that an older black man “missing a tooth and with a lazy eye” robbed her? Could listing her street address make her a target in some way? And does the story suffer without address information?

What do you all think?

Sept. 24 critique

You oughta be in pictures for…

… visual risk-taking!  I mentioned this at Wed. Wisdom, but it’s worth saying again: You all took some smart and successful risks with the design of this issue!  Bravo! The front page photo by Nathan works with the skewed alignment and triangular text boxes. The unconventional data breakout on Nick’s front page story is a great touch! The page 6 photos and long cutlines of Connections Lounge is so innovative! You also made some good color choices for the front and for the lively photo spread on page 3. Also, I’m loving the shoe in the promos — very creative! In all, this issue is the most visually dynamic of the semester.  Excellent job, everyone! Keep it up…

… some lovely leads by our sports team!  Trever, Chris and Jonathan manage some creative ways into their stories and find some jazzy verbs, as well.  Witness:

  • Can ghosts travel? According to Derek Jeter, the answer is yes. (Trever)
  • The Sycamores snapped a six-match losing streak Tuesday night… (Jonathan)
  • A clean slate. A fresh start. A new beginning. Each of these describes the new season for the Indiana State soccer team… (Chris)

Good work, guys!

… Election Day countdown!  I meant to mention this before, but I love that we’re running the election countdown and voter registration deadlines.  It’s really helpful to our campus and adds a nice design element, as well.

Watch out for…

… reverse-type. The cutline on our lead photo is reverse type that gets lost because of imprecise registration in our printing process. We have to anticipate that our newspaper is not going to be perfectly printed, and therefore we must guard against blurry text by making sure any reverse type is bold, heavy and large enough to withstand flaws in the printing.

… burying impact.  Our story on financial aid complications is timely and well-reported. However, the headline promises impact on everyday students, but the story itself buries any real impact on a student until the jump, near the end.  Also, we attribute concern about affording college due to the poor economy to The New York Times — as if our own students couldn’t have told us that. We should cite other news sources for information that’s pretty self-explanatory and easily verified on our own.  The students we quote in the story should have been moved to the top of the piece.  Also, we needed to ask better questions of students, to get comments on what they think will happen in the future. They’re probably not seeing the impact yet, but do they fear an impact later?  Lastly, most of our students are taxpayers, so how do they feel about their money going to the bailout?

… wordiness.  Our story on Pizza and Politics has a long lead where a short one would do.  The point is that students are leading the sessions instead of ISU faculty.  So just say that. ISU junior Michael Cook took the podium Tuesday to lead a student discussion of politics, where until now a faculty member has stood.  It avoids the repetition of “took the podium” and juxtaposes the before-and-after quickly, instead of in two longer sentences.  The other problem with this lead is that we don’t follow up on it with student reaction. If the intent of a student moderator was to make the dicussion less intimidating, was it, in fact, less intimidating?  We’ve been at the previous meetings, so can we compare?

What if…

… we send our reporters and editors — either as a large group or a few small groups or individually — down to the campaign offices already!  These offices are the most happening places in our city right now.  They’re drawing lots of volunteers and interest from the community — AND they are sending many people out onto our campus to register voters.  We need to get tied into those offices, familiarize ourselves with the staffs, give them a list of our staff and publication deadlines, and pick their brains for cool stories. There is no time to waste here!

The bulk of our election coverage so far has announced “events” at which people gather and one side gives its spiel and the other side responds. It’s no wonder you guys are getting tired of election coverage. It’s a tired approach to the election.

Instead, let’s tell cool stories. People are literally giving up their livelihoods, hours of sleep and regular meals to get their candidate elected.  Our own students are donating hard-earned and increasingly scarce dollars to support their candidate. People are sporting all kinds of campaign gear and using their Facebook profiles to lobby for their candidate.  Friends and family members are debating politics. Relationships are on the line over this election. That’s drama. That’s history. That’s interesting. Let’s tell those stories, already!

Thinking Visually

Handouts on visual journalism:

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Choosing Type

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Ten Tips

For more examples of award-winning designs, check out the Society of News Design’s Web site.