Monthly Archives: October 2009

Light a fire under…

match-for-smoking-pageDuring Wednesday Wisdom yesterday, we discussed a few things that can be improved upon in the paper. Here they are:

  • I still would like to see more stories in our stories. I would like our news ledes to show me someone doing something interesting. We still use too many weasel words in our ledes: many students, most, some, etc. When you find yourself using a weasel word, force yourself to be specific. Introduce me to a particular person in a particular moment.
  • We need to put ourselves in places where news is visible. Instead of stories that talk about an issue, a program or a building or an event in the abstract, let’s go there and observe. Let’s meet people and describe a scene, a moment. Unemployment? Go to the unemployment office or a coffee shop where the unemployed read or surf online for jobs. Swine flu? Let’s go to the ER of a local hospital or hang out at a drug store. Student loan debt? Let’s go to students’ off-campus jobs where they earn money to make ends meet; or to a recent grad’s workplace to talk about paying the bills. You get the idea. Instead of working from the seat of our chairs, let’s get out into the community.
  • I’m also concerned that none of our upper-level editors took charge and made sure our Web site got updated with the winning football score on Saturday afternoon. We can’t expect to drive traffic to our site if there’s no breaking news on it. The failure to have the score up right away reflects a failure to plan and delegate among the editors. I expect better. Let’s be sure we’re getting the most important news online ASAP.

Homecoming Awesomeness!

Heidi shotThis note is to pass along praise for all your outstanding work on the Homecoming week issues! Some of the highlights, for me, were:

  • Vignettes! Robin and Nick did a great job capturing moments in time around Tent City and The Walk! Vignettes allow us to be in many places and tell little snippets of tales to our audience. You both did a fantastic job with this aspect of our coverage. Pass along your wisdom to the newbies, please!
  • Photography! We had lots of strong images from the week. I loved the sports shots, the tailgating and parade and fun shots of our students. Bethany, Anna, Heidi and Ben did an outstanding job (without a lot of sleep).  Bethany’s leaf design on the Saturday tab was wonderfully constructed and vibrant. Wonderful effort, photogs!
  • News coverage! We wrote about a wide array of Homecoming events and issues. Nick’s piece on the Designated Walkers was great — and merits a follow-up, in my opinion. I also loved the context of the few arrests over the weekend and Trever’s wonderfully narrative and detailed game story.
  • Newbies! We had a great showing from our newer staff members: Eboni, Michelle, Tammy, and A&E’s Michael & Michael. We so appreciate your efforts, especially during such a busy week! Editors, we need to keep these talented and reliable journalists busy and supported. We’re lucky to have them!
  • Online extras! Ben and Brad did a great job on the slide shows and video on the Web — a great addition to the coverage. We need more online content. I know it’s well-read and appreciated by our audience.

It goes without saying that much effort was put in by our under-appreciated copy eds, editing staff and page designers. You all deserve to reflect on a job well done. We turned out lots of material over the past week, and you should be proud of the results. Bravo to the entire staff for pulling together and supporting one another’s efforts!

BTW, click on the image above to get to all our images on Photo Bucket!

Fair(ey) Use Laws The now legendary artist Shepard Fairey (the guy who designed the Obama “Hope” image and was sued by AP for it) is a good case study in fair use laws. Journalists have a big stake in fair use laws, which apply when we use song lyrics, art or other words and images from a copyrighted source. has a great article explaining the AP v. Fairey case, and the basics of fair use law.

Stimulus story idea

Stimulus funded construction project; File photoThe $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law in February is being doled out slowly for projects across the nation — including some in Vigo County and at ISU.

Here is a fabulous link to an investigative piece by ProPublica and Patchwork Nation, which compiled the list of stimulus-funded projects nationwide. The link is to the Vigo County page, but be sure to look at the main project page, as well.

This would be a wonderful in-depth piece for the Statesman to dig into. Find out specifically how this money is being spent at and near ISU. This is a link to the very good PBS Newshour coverage of this project.

Story ideas!

Some good story ideas that would be easy to localize:

Increase in college students asking for mental health services

Half of college students set iPod volume too loud for safety,2933,567641,00.html

Colleges try to address weight gain through food choices

Swine flu cases on campuses nationwide

Scams that target college students

Lenders: Stop gouging students

Anonymity, etc.

psstWho knew dealing with sorority members would be such a thankless and frustrating assignment!?!

Just ask our news staff, who had the misfortune of dealing with some petulant sorority members, who didn’t wish to reveal the name of the sorority where H1N1 flu has claimed a couple of victims.

We allowed at least one of the members to remain anonymous, citing her wish “to protect her sorority’s image.” Let me repeat:  We ALLOWED her to do that.  In other words, it isn’t our obligation to protect her identity, especially when the information we got from her is available through others and isn’t in ANY WAY derogatory. Simply implying that members of Sigma Kappa have normal immune systems that succumb to viruses that are spread through everyday contact is in no way damaging to the reputation of the sorority.

We should not have allowed this member to remain anonymous. If she refused to speak on the record, we should have thanked her and moved on to another source. I have two primary concerns about allowing her to remain anonymous in this situation:

#1 It creates the perception that we will grant anonymity, risking our own credibility, if we are so much as asked nicely. The bar for granting anonymity should be very high — in cases in which a source risks his/her personal safety, freedom, well being, job/livelihood, or when the source is a victim of a taboo crime or condition where anonymity protects one’s dignity (i.e. — sexual assault, certain mental illnesses, ongoing drug addiction, etc.).

Such instances are rare. Some examples would include: sources who use drugs, who provide an inside look at drug culture or related issues, as their safety and freedom is at stake if we reveal their identities; sources who have been sexually abused and wish to publicize the issue while also protecting their privacy; a source who blows the whistle on unsafe or illegal practices at a company or organization; a person who suffers with paranoid schizophrenia who shares his story of a new drug used to treat the illness, but who fears losing his job if his condition is revealed.

In any case, these choices should be made in consultation with one’s editor, who should know the source’s identity and the reasons for a source’s anonymity request before deciding whether to grant it.

#2 It can suggest lazy reporting. In other words, it can lead a reader to believe that instead of putting in the time and effort to find a source who would go on the record — or a document to substantiate a claim — we simply relied on the first person we spoke to, even though that person wouldn’t go on the record.

Some other troubling aspects of this story are that the president of this sorority complained that a reporter contacted her parents to get her contact information, and that we knocked on the door of the sorority house and talked to “her girls” without the president’s permission.

Oh, where to begin… *sigh*

  • Anyone whose number or e-mail address is listed in a public directory, such as a printed phone book or online, is fair game to receive a phone call or e-mail. They do not have to answer, but we are entitled to call.
  • With almost no exceptions, any person has the right to knock on anyone’s door for the purpose of asking them a question, especially when the person is a reporter seeking information in the public interest. The person who lives there has a right not to comment, and not to answer the door. Exceptions to this rule are when property is posted “no trespassing” or “no soliciting.” (Or if there’s a big mean dog guarding the property.) And even then, it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Obviously, a court can order specific people to stay a certain distance away from another specific person, but hopefully no one on our staff will be impacted by such an order.
  • Sorority members on this campus are grown WOMEN, not girls, and they do not BELONG to anyone. They have the same First Amendment rights to speak as any American. They may have agreed to abide by certain sorority rules regarding speaking to the press, but that is 100 percent NOT our concern. We have the right to ask them questions. If they choose, they may answer them. But we are not obligated to avoid talking to them (or athletes or members of other organizations, for that matter).

So, as you can see, this is a sticky wicket of multiple issues that we need to keep in mind. But, in general, remember that you have the RIGHT to contact any source you wish. You have the RIGHT, once you contact a source, to ask any question you like. The source has the right NOT to answer the phone or the door or your questions.

If we grant anonymity to a source who answers our questions, we have an obligation to defend that choice to our skeptical readers because we are agreeing to substitute our own credibility for our source’s.  We are saying, “Trust us, this is legit.” That’s a very risky choice that should not be made lightly.

Finally, if we agree to go off the record to get information without attribution, we need to establish with the source the EXACT moment that the interview goes off the record, and the exact moment that it goes back on the record. An interview is presumed to be ON the record, unless otherwise agreed. In other words, a source can’t give you information and then say, “Oh, that wasn’t meant to be on the record,” or “Oh, I didn’t know you were attributing this to me!”

These are critical issues for the staff to understand. Please let me know if you are unclear on a situation.

Newsroom Duty big, big THANK YOU to all who have been dutifully minding the newsroom from 9 to 5! The fine women who keep the 7th floor buzzing appreciate being able to transfer phone calls, pass along messages and send people down to the newsroom during business hours.

It really makes an impact on our professional image, and adds to our credibility. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in a desolate newsroom with metaphorical tumbleweeds blowing through while phones ring unanswered. But those of you on the schedule, who have taken a wee bit of time out of your day to hold down the fort, are little rays of sunshine. (WHEW! My wrists are sore from mixing all those metaphors!)