Katie Couric Comes Out …

About her feelings for Hillary Clinton.

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Let the backlash begin. Surprisingly (to me, at least), Keith Olbermann is the lead-off lambaster. She’s his “Worst Person in the World,” ranking right up there with Rupert Mudoch. Take that tongue lashing, you Feminazi Couric!

In other news, “Katie Tarts It Up” — “it” is the news, or so goes the debate. Can Couric redeem CBS where Dan Rather presumably failed? Of course, note the gender card the dudes are pulling, especially by characterizing Couric’s news stories as “soft” …

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And a quick excerpt below from this month’s Curve Magazine — “Why Do They Hate Us?  How the media treats Hillary is indicative of how the world sees women:  as second-class citizens” by Victoria A. Brownworth (wish I could re-type the whole thing! Here’s a note about the article though, if you don’t buy the magazine):

After covering Obama’s speech about race in Philadelphia, I wrote a newspaper column discussing why we still can’t talk about gender in the United States. The reasons are manifold and scary to contemplate. In the United States the statistics speak for themselves: One in six women will be raped in her lifetime. One in four has survived child sexual abuse or an incestuous relationship with a male relative. One in three has been the victim of domestic violence. Over 1.2 million women are forcibly raped by an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend each year. The leading cause of death among pregnant women is murder by a spouse or boyfriend. Four out of every five female murder victims in the United States were killed by men they knew: a spouse, a boyfriend, a male relative, a co-worker.

This means millions of American men — men we know, men we may love or have loved — hate us enough to rape, maim or kill us. Millions. It’s a difficult reality to face: Women and girls are so hated that our lives and bodies mean nothing to these men.

Perhaps that reality and the inchoate knowledge of it is why it was easy for people to refer to Clinton with the vilest of hate speech and feel no remorse and receive no recrimination from either the general populace or the media. GOP organizer and conservative pundit Roger Stone even started an ant-Clinton 527: Citizens United Not Timid, or C.U.N.T. He appeared on talk shows, including Tucker on MSNBC, talking about his group. Stone said he’d thought a long time about a name that would be uniquely suited to Clinton and said his group is “dedicated to educating the public about what Hillary really is.”

Note the pronoun: “what,” not “who.” In Stone’s description, Hillary is a cunt. Not a presidential candidate, a senator or even just a woman. A cunt.

–From Curve (July/August 2008)

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Just the Facts, Ma’am?

Your hard news story lead answers the five W’s, yes, but without answering the “So what?” aspect, your story will read just like an item from the police blotter. What makes a news item go beyond just reporting the facts to become an actual news story?

You must find and focus on the angle that makes your crime, accident, or fire relevant to your readers. Otherwise, we could just read the police blotter to find out about the latest accidents at our local gas station or the fires that took place in the next town over.

Ask your news item to meet several of the following criteria to determine its newsworthiness:

a) Impact—How many people does the event affect? How seriously does it affect them?

b) Proximity—An event will be more important if is closer to the readers. An earthquake in a far-off land is not as interesting as one that is close to home.

c) Timeliness—Is the event fresh? Is it new? The news must be timely to be of use to readers.

d) Prominence—Names make news, and big names make big news. Ordinary people are intrigued by the doings of the rich and famous.

e) Novelty—This is the new in news, the unusual. The “firsts,” “lasts” and “onlys” have been the staples of the news business for many years.

f) Conflict—Conflict has been the currency of great literature, drama and movies for all time. From the stories of Shakespeare to those of Disney, conflict has played a crucial role. Newspapers are no different.

g) Audience—Who is the audience? The answer to that question helps determine whether an event is news at all, and if it is, where it will be played in the paper.

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And a little more to think about from Cerritos:

Timeliness — Something that just happened tends to be more newsworthy than something that happened some time ago. In today’s fast-paced communications environment you want to give the reader a sense that this is news NOW. In fact, when you write a news story you want to make sure it has a news peg. Think of a peg on the wall that you might hang a hat on. The news peg is the element that you hang your story on. It is the element that makes the story news NOW, as opposed to last week or next week. Timeliness is often the news peg.

Impact — How many people are impacted by the story. The more the merrier. This might also be called the “Who Cares?” element I talked about earlier. The greater the impact, even if it is an old story, the more likely that it is newsworthy.

Prominence — Like it or not, prominent people make more news. When spousal abuse leads to one partner injuring or killing the other, it is sad. When one of those partners is O.J. Simpson, you have an international news story. When a married man has an extra-marital sexual relationship with a woman half his age, it is bad for a marriage. But if the man is Bill Clinton, president of the United States, it can affect the world’s economy. If the who of a story is someone well known, you might have a story in the most common place of events.

Proximity — The closer to home a story takes place, the more newsworthy it is. The local politics of a small town in New York probably would not affect or interest our readers, but certainly the local politics of our hometown would. Even if you have a major story break half way around the world look for a local angle. For instance, if a plane crashes and kills 200 people, it certainly is news. But if one of the passengers was local, or used to be local, or has local relatives, you have a new story angle. Even if you don’t have that kind of connection to the story, you can ask, “How safe are planes that fly out of the local airport? Could what happened there happen here?” It will bring the story home for the reader, who is more likely to read it and say “Gee Whiz!”

Conflict — Sad to say, but bad news is often more newsworthy than good news. When war breaks out, it is more newsworthy than when neighbors get along. Even stories about peace are more stories about war, or a lack of it. A car driving down the street is not news until it comes into conflict with a telephone pole or a pedestrian.

The Unusual — Pulitzer, Dana and others had the right idea about news, too. Something that is out of the ordinary is news. A pumpkin is not news, unless it is as big as a small car. We are obsessed with records, too, that indicate, the biggest, longest, shortest, smallest, tallest, shortest, etc. something. There are thousands of news stories in the Guinness Book of World Records because of our obsession. A major league baseball player hitting a lot of homeruns is interesting, but is international news when a mark McGwire closes in on and surpasses a 37-year-old record for the most homeruns in a season.

Currency — News can create itself, too. Currency is similar to timeliness. But currency grows from other news elements. Something maintains newsworthiness over time because it first was deemed newsworthy for some other reason. While the fall of the stock market and its impact on world economy may have been newsworthy for several of the reasons listed above, its effects remain newsworthy over time because now they are current events.

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So What? SO WHAT!


The main idea of a news story and lead is called the “angle.”

It is also referred to in newsrooms as the “hook” because the angle is used to grab, or hook, the reader’s attention to make them want to read the rest of the student’s story.

Simply, it is the main point a student learned from their reporting and that the rest of their story will try to support.

Finding the angle of a news story forces a newswriter to be critical of a story idea and the reporting. A news writer will discover if there’s no angle in an idea or the facts that have been gathered before an editor, teacher or reader will.

Writing the lead and angle involves making some difficult decisions. A news writer must sort through the facts that were gathered from the reporting and decide what the theme is. There may be several different themes, but the writer must decide what the central theme of the story will be in the lead.

Then students must consider what form their story will take.

In sorting through a mass of material, Carman Cumming and Catherine McKercher of Carleton University tell reporters to think about “S-I-N” — which stands for Significant, Interesting and New. Students should look for either of those three things from their research and interviews and they will be able to find a compelling angle for their lead.

“Whammy”

The late Walter Steigleman, a journalism teacher in Iowa, told his students to look for the WHAMMY. He explained that the whammy is the single fact that makes your story unique.

Consider the following example, based on a radio interview with Vern Walters of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia with CBC’s As It Happens in early March 1996:

Vern Walters, a third-generation blacksmith from Lunenburg, has decided to retire and has put his shop up for sale, closing a 120-year-old family-owned business.

That lead has all the required elements. But a “whammy” is provided when it is learned that Mr. Walters is probably Canada’s only working maritime blacksmith — a blacksmith trained to do special blacksmithing to build and repair boats:

Vern Walters, one of Canada’s last remaining maritime blacksmiths, has put his shop in Lunenburg up for sale, closing a family- owned business begun 120 years ago by his grandfather.

That story also illustrates the human interest story, which focuses on an interesting or unique person.

The only way to really understand leads and angles is to try writing one. News writing is like learning to play a musical instrument — the more you practice, the easier it gets and the better you become.

“Angle” and “Whammy” taken from Journalism Toolbox.

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The Nine Princples of Journalism

Rich Media, Poor Democracy — How Puff Pieces Fill Our Lives

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A Statement of Purpose

After extended examination by journalists themselves of the character of journalism at the end of the twentieth century, we offer this common understanding of what defines our work. The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.

This encompasses myriad roles–helping define community, creating common language and common knowledge, identifying a community’s goals, heros and villains, and pushing people beyond complacency. This purpose also involves other requirements, such as being entertaining, serving as watchdog and offering voice to the voiceless.

Over time journalists have developed nine core principles to meet the task. They comprise what might be described as the theory of journalism:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth

Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context. Journalism does not pursue truth in an absolute or philosophical sense, but it can–and must–pursue it in a practical sense. This “journalistic truth” is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Then journalists try to convey a fair and reliable account of their meaning, valid for now, subject to further investigation. Journalists should be as transparent as possible about sources and methods so audiences can make their own assessment of the information. Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built–context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. The truth, over time, emerges from this forum. As citizens encounter an ever greater flow of data, they have more need–not less–for identifiable sources dedicated to verifying that information and putting it in context.

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens

While news organizations answer to many constituencies, including advertisers and shareholders, the journalists in those organizations must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favor. This commitment to citizens first is the basis of a news organization’s credibility, the implied covenant that tells the audience the coverage is not slanted for friends or advertisers. Commitment to citizens also means journalism should present a representative picture of all constituent groups in society. Ignoring certain citizens has the effect of disenfranchising them. The theory underlying the modern news industry has been the belief that credibility builds a broad and loyal audience, and that economic success follows in turn. In that regard, the business people in a news organization also must nurture–not exploit–their allegiance to the audience ahead of other considerations.

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification

Journalists rely on a professional discipline for verifying information. When the concept of objectivity originally evolved, it did not imply that journalists are free of bias. It called, rather, for a consistent method of testing information–a transparent approach to evidence–precisely so that personal and cultural biases would not undermine the accuracy of their work. The method is objective, not the journalist. Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment, all signal such standards. This discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment. But the need for professional method is not always fully recognized or refined. While journalism has developed various techniques for determining facts, for instance, it has done less to develop a system for testing the reliability of journalistic interpretation.

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover

Independence is an underlying requirement of journalism, a cornerstone of its reliability. Independence of spirit and mind, rather than neutrality, is the principle journalists must keep in focus. While editorialists and commentators are not neutral, the source of their credibility is still their accuracy, intellectual fairness and ability to inform–not their devotion to a certain group or outcome. In our independence, however, we must avoid any tendency to stray into arrogance, elitism, isolation or nihilism.

5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power

Journalism has an unusual capacity to serve as watchdog over those whose power and position most affect citizens. The Founders recognized this to be a rampart against despotism when they ensured an independent press; courts have affirmed it; citizens rely on it. As journalists, we have an obligation to protect this watchdog freedom by not demeaning it in frivolous use or exploiting it for commercial gain.

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise

The news media are the common carriers of public discussion, and this responsibility forms a basis for our special privileges. This discussion serves society best when it is informed by facts rather than prejudice and supposition. It also should strive to fairly represent the varied viewpoints and interests in society, and to place them in context rather than highlight only the conflicting fringes of debate. Accuracy and truthfulness require that as framers of the public discussion we not neglect the points of common ground where problem solving occurs.

7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant

Journalism is storytelling with a purpose. It should do more than gather an audience or catalogue the important. For its own survival, it must balance what readers know they want with what they cannot anticipate but need. In short, it must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant. The effectiveness of a piece of journalism is measured both by how much a work engages its audience and enlightens it. This means journalists must continually ask what information has most value to citizens and in what form. While journalism should reach beyond such topics as government and public safety, a journalism overwhelmed by trivia and false significance ultimately engenders a trivial society.

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional

Keeping news in proportion and not leaving important things out are also cornerstones of truthfulness. Journalism is a form of cartography: it creates a map for citizens to navigate society. Inflating events for sensation, neglecting others, stereotyping or being disproportionately negative all make a less reliable map. The map also should include news of all our communities, not just those with attractive demographics. This is best achieved by newsrooms with a diversity of backgrounds and perspectives. The map is only an analogy; proportion and comprehensiveness are subjective, yet their elusiveness does not lessen their significance.

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

Every journalist must have a personal sense of ethics and responsibility–a moral compass. Each of us must be willing, if fairness and accuracy require, to voice differences with our colleagues, whether in the newsroom or the executive suite. News organizations do well to nurture this independence by encouraging individuals to speak their minds. This stimulates the intellectual diversity necessary to understand and accurately cover an increasingly diverse society. It is this diversity of minds and voices, not just numbers, that matters.

–From Journalism.org The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a research organization that specializes in using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press. It is non partisan, non ideological and non political.

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Hard News Vs. Soft News

Taken from Media Awareness Network:

Hard News Vs. Soft News

News stories are basically divided into two types: hard news and soft news. Hard new generally refers to up-to-the-minute news and events that are reported immediately, while soft news is background information or human-interest stories.

Politics, war, economics and crime used to be considered hard news, while arts, entertainment and lifestyles were considered soft news.

But increasingly, the lines are beginning to blur. Is a story about the private life of a politician “politics” or “entertainment”? Is an article about the importance of investing early for retirement a “business” story or a “lifestyle” story? Judging solely on subject matter, it can be difficult to tell.

One difference between hard and soft news is the tone of presentation. A hard news story takes a factual approach: What happened? Who was involved? Where and when did it happen? Why?

A soft news story tries instead to entertain or advise the reader. You may have come across newspaper or TV stories that promise “news you can use.” Examples might be tips on how to stretch properly before exercising, or what to look for when buying a new computer.

Knowing the difference between hard and soft news helps you develop a sense of how news is covered, and what sorts of stories different news media tend to publish or broadcast. This can be important when you want to write articles or influence the media yourself.

© 2008 Media Awareness Network