Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

The almost instantaneous shift in coverage away from Iran to Michael Jackson’s death raises two concerns for me: one is about the merits of the two stories, and the other is about the ease of covering the two stories.

Concerning the merits of what gets covered, did you notice how quickly the media stopped covering Farrah Fawcett’s death from cancer when Michael Jackson died suddenly and mysteriously? I guess you can attribute that to relative star power. Michael Jackson is viewed as the bigger celebrity. Subsequently, Farrah got bumped.

It was not only entertainment reporters who covered Michael Jackson’s death, but serious news reporters and anchors did so as well. Coverage was 24/7 for days in most every news outlet, including business cable channels. And it continues today, but to a lesser degree. Farrah Fawcett barely received a mention after Jackson’s death.

Compared to events in Iran, does the death of a troubled pop star merit the wall-to-wall coverge it is receiving?

Second, I wonder if the difficulty in covering events in Iran has anything to do with it. For example, the Iranian government exiles or arrests journalists and TV reporters when they try to cover the post-election demonstrations. Admittedly, it is almost impossible to cover an event when the country’s government works so hard to prevent it.

But social media stepped in to fill the void. Citizen journalists continue to provide a steady flow of information and images to the outside world, often at great personal risk.  I tweeted earlier that I had watched in amazement as a major TV news organization “covered” the unfolding events in Iran by showing TweetDeck, Facebook pages, YouTube, and blog postings on air. Like others, the news organization has no reporters on the ground in Iran. It merely reports what the citizen journalists provide.

While it remains extremely difficult to cover events in Iran, it is relatively easy to cover Michael Jackson’s death. Is the media merely picking the low-hanging fruit? Or, does the media view the death of the pop star as more compelling than the grassroots battle for freedom and justice in Iran?

I report; you decide.


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A simple sightseeing trip June 10 in Washington, D.C., turned into a media storm for friend Susie Towater.

Susie came to Washington to attend a Volunteers for America event, then to stay with us at our home in Vienna, Virginia. Susie and my wife Marilyn, Chi Omega sisters from undergraduate school, planned a simple visit, mostly working in our flowerbeds, a shared passion.  Susie was excited that Marilyn bought her a new pair of garden gloves for her use here.

But on Wednesday, June 10, 2009, Susie and husband Charlie, wanted to see the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Susie was five minutes late meeting Charlie at the Museum. That five-minute delay meant that they were across the street when gunman James W. von Brunn, 88, of Annapolis, Maryland, began firing a .22 caliber rifle at the chest of security guard Stephen Tyrone Johns, 39, before other guards shot him.

“We heard the gunshots as we walked toward the museum,” Susie said. “It was a pop, pop, pop, and Charlie said it was gun fire, but I thought it was cars backfiring.”

As Susie and Charlie approached the Museum, they saw a security guard run out of the building, then they saw the body of the gunman lying on the sidewalk. “The police did not seem to be concerned about him,” Susie said, “for they knew he was not going anywhere.”

Moments later, a media storm changed Susie’s quiet visit with old friends into her 15 minutes of fame. She was interviewed by the police, and then the media descended on her. She was a guest on Fox New Channel’s America’s Newsroom program, CBS, and MSNBC’s Hardball.

She was interviewed via her cell phone by Fox News Channel’s Neil Cavuto while being driven home in a CBS limo after her appearance on that channel.

Print media interviews included cover photos of Susie in the Washington Post, Washington Times, and USA Today, plus interviews with Associated Press and in newspapers from Canada, El Salvador, Venezuela, and Tampa, her home town.

It was interesting for me to see how the media treats eye witnesses whose stories they wish to get. Susie was staying at our house, and the media kept after her. MSNBC sent a limo to pick her up for an appearance on Chris Matthew’s Hardball show Thursday at 5 p.m. Susie had met Matthews at the Volunteers for America function June 5. Susie, a true Southern lady who tends to be conservative, has a wonderful sense of humor. When introduced to Matthews, Susie said, “I am so pleased to meet you, for you are my favorite conservative!” Ultra-liberal Matthews proved to be a good sport, seeing the humor in it.

When being prepped for her appearance on Hardball, Susie asked the intern helping her for any tips. “Don’t worry about it, because Chris will interrupt you and talk over you anyway,” the intern said.

At CBS’ studio, a nervous Susie was counseled by another intern who said, “Don’t worry. All this will be over tomorrow.” Such is the fleeting nature of being a media darling. Sure enough, as I write this, Marilyn and Susie are browsing local flower nurseries unimpeded. Like an afternoon thunderstorm down South, Susie’s media storm has blown over.

But it was fun for a while, Susie said. “The most fun was my husband Charlie telling Matt Lauer that we would not come to New York to be on the Today show with him. I wanted to work in the yard with Marilyn.”

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In entered two of my classes Thursday to find most of the class reading our student newspaper, The Towerlight. That’s odd. Only one or two students are usually reading the new edition before class. And they don’t read the textbook assignments, so why the sudden interest in the printed word?

“It’s the article on flavored condoms,” a student explained.

All the attention was to the article, “Taste test informs about oral health” with the subhead, “Health Center and LGBT promote safe sex through flavored condoms.”  The above-mentioned groups recently sponsored the second annual Condom Taste Test on campus as part of  National Condom & Sexual Health Week.

How enlightening. But wait, there’s more.

The Towerlight also devoted its regular column, “Word on the Street,” to the subject. The column is a collection of six student photos and their answer to topical question. The question was, “what would be your favorite flavor of condom?”

My favorite response was from the psychology freshman who answered, “crab.”

An Asian international relations student said, “egg roll with duck sauce.”

But the winner of Towson’s  second annual Condom Taste Test was strawberry, beating out cola, banana, chocolate, and mint, among others. I am not sure if crab and egg roll with duck sauce were actually contestants.

Our education dollars at work. But seriously, anything that promotes safe sex is a good thing. Well, as long as it’s tasteful.

The article does accomplish some other worthy goals, along with treating that most pressing of national concerns, safe oral sex. Chief among them is getting students to read.

Given the sad state of journalism these days (dead by suicide), it appears student journalism is alive and well. As the New York Times slides toward professional and financial bankruptcy (its stock price, at about$3.75, is less than a Sunday edition), it is refreshing to see students reading a newspaper.

Perhaps the secret is to add flavor to the reading.

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