Perils in aggregation journalism: public or ‘public’

Twitter is inherently a social networking site for making short but unquestionably public statements about everything and anything.  As you likely see in my Twitter feed to the left of this post, my Tweets are mostly about journalism, media, or international relations–my dominant fields of interest and study.  My comments are ones that I would defend in person, because they are made in the public sphere.  There is no expectation of privacy in Tweeting, unless done through the moderately helpful “Direct Message” system.  Twitter might be compared to a bullhorn letting its users send brief thoughts into a noisy and confusing web space.

There is an increasing trend in journalism to aggregate Tweets by topic or user into “news stories.”  Chief among the tools for this Twitter journalism is Storify, which organizes selected Tweets to form a narrative.  This example from Canadian CTV news shows how it works…you list the Tweets to tell a story, and the journalist doesn’t necessarily need to talk to anyone directly.  The Tweets are taking the place of interviews, in some cases.  This is annoying, and a result of a race for posting “news” quicker in the digital age.  Why talk to someone when you can just post their Tweets? Continue reading “Perils in aggregation journalism: public or ‘public’”

WRS wins 5 Edward R. Murrow Awards!

Murrows (from rtdna.org)

I am proud to report my current employer, World Radio Switzerland, was awarded five regional Edward R. Murrow awards from the Radio Television Digital News Association in the U.S.!  The awards are some of the most prized in broadcast journalism.

World Radio Switzerland won in the international category, Region 14, for a small market station.  “Small market” is defined (under one description I found) as one serving an audience of fewer than 1.4 million people.  WRS’s main market is Geneva, served by FM, and has about 190,000 residents.  It has listeners elsewhere in the country through web streaming, and digital radio (which is supposed to replace FM at some point.)

Most of the awards were for my feature work, including a series from Cairo and special reporting on Swiss banks and transparency.  I am proud and honored to have brought these awards to the station, and am excited by even being considered for national Murrow awards (to be decided out of the pool of regional winners.)

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‘Journalistic Outsourcing:’ Not the journalism I grew up with..

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It’s now almost cliche to talk about the death (or metamorphosis) of newspapers, and the evolution of journalism as a craft and profession.  Ink-stained reporters and editors used to be the true gatekeepers of information, able to amplify or suppress stories, scandals, and secrets simply by printing information or not.  This is obviously no longer the case, as Twitter, Facebook, CNN iReporters, bloggers, hobbyists–you name it–have all become some form of news agent. I am reluctant to use the term “journalist” to describe some of these actors, or “journalism” to describe what they do, because these terms are something special to me…a journalist.  I have proudly called myself a journalist after mixing in different media, paying my dues, to learn what responsibility and influence a microphone or notepad can have.  It is true many types of people can report events, but are they all journalists?  The Poynter Institute’s Kelly McBride said news organizations (and their journalists) can provide needed context to information, when the role of gatekeeper has been changed or abolished.  She was specifically commenting on the ‘manifesto’ of a still-at-large LAPD “renegade cop,” but I think the observation of a market-driven change in what journalists do and are is important.

Just as journalism has been facing epic transformations, my views of the industry have soured.  It is not breaking news to say a journalist is disappointed in journalism–it is almost a honed skill to complain about the decline of quality in between the rare journalistic triumphs.  But I am ever more bruised by the realization that what I learned about journalism, and have come to identify as the ideals supposedly supported by my noble profession, may no longer hold true most of the time.  And the tasks, duties, and truly ‘noble’ parts of journalism, are often outsourced to other professions or industries, only to be reported on after-the-fact by journalists. And if journalists are not the ones doing the true journalistic work any more, then is there any reason to defend journalism as a profession?  Or just journalism as a craft practiced by anyone?

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Debriefing Davos

Inside the Congress Center

Inside the Congress Center
Inside the main conference center, where WEF delegates network, charm, and influence the world.

The residents of the Swiss resort town of Davos understand the situation brought upon them by the World Economic Forum, and its annual meeting.  Some delegates to the annual meeting seem oblivious to the Swiss everyday life which continues outside the security checkpoints, and between the carefully-planned events at various hotels, restaurants, and private venues which dominate this week in January.  The WEF delegates are arguably some of the most powerful people in business, politics, and non-profit activism.  On the snow-covered sidewalks of Davos it is not uncommon to see well-dressed men and women window shopping, or carefully trekking to a high-end restaurant.  Many take up the whole sidewalk–the locals, and I, tended to walk for a time in the street to avoid a clash of civilizations.

Davos is not a helpless village overrun by the world’s wealthiest, defenseless against the “bling” flashed unnecessarily.  It is a resort town.  It thrives off wealthy skiers and vacationers.  It is expanding its already respectable five-star hotel offerings because the people keep coming.  But the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum takes this show of class-status to another level.  As with many topics my role as journalist lets me, very literally, walk between the worlds of überwealthy delegates and regular folks on the street.  I might be dressed in a nice (for a journalist) suit, but I still hand my grocery store membership card to the surprised cashier, and I say hello to the locals beginning to step toward the street as I navigate the sidewalks.  And then I go through security, and peer into an exclusive networking event, where decisions which affect the world could be made over orange juice and free magazines.

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In Defense of Journalism Education

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I have a degree in Journalism.  I am proud of that education, and the places it’s taken me.  I am also a rarity in journalism, I feel, as employers increasingly seem to value graduates with qualifications in political science, economics, perhaps history, and then maybe a graduate degree in Journalism. (or forgo it all together) Students are, sometimes jokingly, warned away from an undergraduate education in journalism or media studies because the craft of journalism is one honed, or not, through a career, and the basics can be picked up on the job.  No journalism degree is necessary, and in fact other specialties would be cherished more.

The debate over attending journalism school (J-School) is not new, and I feel the proponents for the degree are being outnumbered.  Journalism training Mecca, the Poynter Institute, recently aggregated four recent arguments against a journalism degree. I understand the profession is changing, and I understand technology is evolving at a pace faster than many media outlets can handle effectively, but there are certain basics picked up in the journalistic test-kitchen of a university which are disappearing by the lack of emphasis on a journalism education.  And the profession, public, and society are suffering because of it.

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The “American” Problem

US Shoreline

One thing an American journalist, in theory, can be without fear is an American; a civic-minded, well-informed citizen.  Again in theory, journalists need not fear having patriotic tendencies, or overall pride in one’s community.  That pride or patriotism doesn’t prevent cynicism, skepticism, or displeasure with that same community, of course.  In my opinion that mixture of pride and skepticism is what helps fill a journalist-sized hole in society—we are the ones who see the darkest souls and brightest angels our communities nurture or neglect, and we are the ones who can shine a brighter light on the virtue and vice.

Young journalists are warned to be careful of their associations before they’ve sharpened their first pencils for their first scoops.  “Be careful of clubs you join” or “If you are covering a political rally, don’t leave pamphlets on your dashboard” are not uncommon pearls thrown to the rookie reporter.  The reason is straight-forward enough: a journalist shouldn’t associate in a way which might question the integrity of his or her journalism.  Even the perception of bias could corrupt the public view of all subsequent coverage by that reporter, with justification or without. Being an American, though, well that’s just okay.

So what happens when an American reporter can’t be “American” without hesitation?  What happens when a journalist has to tread lightly with one’s patriotism?

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Analysis: The state of journalism and multiculturalism in German public radio

Journalism's changing

Editor’s Note:  This is a personal narrative and commentary about German public radio, and multiculturalism therein, based on my experience in the last years.  I offer my observations, suggestions, and hopes, perhaps to prompt further thought or consideration from journalists and newsreaders alike.  Warning..this is a long one!

“You have no idea what you are talking about, Luka*.“  The small Greek colleague pushed a harshly dismissive comment toward Luka, incensing something primal in the latter.  I had not yet met this colleague, after all I was just considered a Praktikant, an intern, a visitor, a stranger and kept more or less to myself unless prompted.  I sat at the back corner of the meeting table in a German editorial meeting.

“How do you know what I have an idea about?” Luka shot back in his thick accent—Bosnian or Hungarian, I wasn’t quite sure.  The other members of this multi-cultural editorial staff shifted their eyes nervously, some chuckled, not sure what to do.  I stopped moving all-together, frozen in a pose for observation: my posture slouched, my chin buried in my hands, my eyes fixed.  A discussion about refugees from Eastern Europe quickly turned heated.

“You don’t know what the refugees need.  You don’t know who they are, or what they are doing.”  The Greek colleague looked sure of himself, almost taunting the situation to escalate.  A soft winter light shone in through the windows behind me, and story ideas pinned to a tack board fluttered slightly.

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