Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Is international reporting dead?

"People don't need international news to survive."

It was a comment made in passing during a discussion in our journalism issues class this afternoon. Our guest speaker, Tracy Schmidt, was explaining why international news was not a topic for any of the blogs in her new hyper-local blog website, which is sponsored by the Chicago Tribune. She was taking a pragmatic business approach, making the point that, from a business standpoint, it didn't make sense to include content that people wouldn't end up reading.

But our class, which includes students from Costa Rica, Iraq, China and Jamaica, had a very negative response to the statement. Roy, the student from Costa Rica, got up and attempted to walk out of the class after making a passionate speech about our journalistic responsibility to create an informed society. I think the main issue here is that many of us realize that blogs are replacing traditional news for many in our nation's younger generation. But blogs allow their readers to be selfish and withdrawn, in the way that readers can search out specific blogs about only the issues that they care about and never pay any credence to other subjects.

The concept of hyper local media is to build community, yet most blog conglomerates fail to integrate essential information like local, national, and international news. Ironically, I think that the continued migration of our society to the internet is serving to diminish community. I'm interested in Asian politics, baseball, music and movies. Maybe my neighbor is interested in Nascar, hunting and football. Fortunately, we don't ever have to speak. I can get all of my information and social interaction from my computer, and so can he. There is no need for a face-to-face exchanging of ideas with anyone who doesn't see things the way I see them. Wait, is this a good thing?

We know from my previous posts that I am a supporter of blogs. I believe in them. But ff blogs are indeed replacing journalism, editors of these new projects need to make it a goal of theirs to provide quality, informative content. Despite critic's complaints about the top-down method of information dissemination in traditional media, there ARE still things that are important to everyone, and there ARE still people who have the tools to provide that information. Tracy Schmidt's project hasn't even launched, but she indicated that the local blogs would hopefully get people interested in real news through their references to it. I think that the "hopefully" needs to be taken out of the equation. Localized blogs need to actively seek to engage their citizens in important topics that are relevant to us all. International news is certainly one of those topics. Blogs actually present a unique opportunity to reestablish common ground among our fragmented society. But only if editors realize that there are ways for sports blogs, music blogs and entertainment blogs to each get people interested in things like global news. Maybe we need to trick people into learning formal news through these informal sources...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April fools' conflicker pistachio space shuttle Michael J. Fox

Going by what the hot searches are over at, the above title should get this blog post 500,000 hits. In editing class today we discussed the art of writing headlines for the web. The primary purpose of web headlines, we learned, is to get results on search engines by loading your headlines with keywords. This is certainly a very useful exercise for up and coming bloggers or web site hosts, but I worry about the implications that it may have for reputable news sources.

We broke down into news teams this morning and selected hot stories off of the AP wire service to apply effective web headlines to. It was a fairly entertaining exercise, but it is also where I began to have some concerns. News outlets are already oft-criticized for being sensationalistic, and it seems to me that writing headlines with online keywords in mind may lead to a compounding of that problem.

For example, one of the stories that my news group elected to cover was about North Korea's statement regarding U.S. spy planes. As we brainstormed to find a good web headline, we decided that the it should contain one of these words: threaten, violence or military strike. We ultimately settled on this headline: "North Korea threatens U.S., Japan over rocket." The headline isn't exactly false, but it also isn't completely accurate. North Korea was taking exception with spy planes in particular. It was also taking a defensive, not offensive tone (though it was aggressive).

But we figured that searchers would either include the phrase in their search or would pick our story over the rest of their search results because it connected with their preconceptions. Is that a good practice for editors? Does anticipating people's stereotypes and attitudes towards something rather than capturing the essence of the story seem ethical?

What are your thoughts?