Religious issues are worth reporting


Recently, CNN reported on a topic that will shake religious debates for, undoubtedly, a while.

Did Jesus have a wife?

A piece of papyrus, dated between 659-859 CE, contained the words, “Jesus said to them, my wife … and she will be able to be my disciple.” Until the discovery of this document, it was well believed that Jesus did not have a wife. Such implications suggest extremely controversial issues such as whether Jesus had children and the role of women in the church.

When it comes to religious figures like Jesus, there will always be debate. We generally have the religious or moral teachings of these figures, but not enough solid evidence to put together a comprehensive history — now that there is any sort of hard evidence, the beliefs of millions are at stake.

When I came across this news, I was a bit surprised. You don’t hear much about religion on the news unless it is a religion-based insurgency group or a conflict between two religious parties or countries. Most of what you hear about the Catholic Church is about current scandal.

This finding, however, has drawn to large parties around the world: while Harvard University is releasing the confident opinion that the parchment isn’t faked and Brown University experts are confidently calling the parchment “at first sight so patently fake,” the Vatican has also released a statement on the topic. They claim it is a “clumsy counterfeit.”

This article is a reminder that, although it may not be all over the news, ideologies can be worth reporting. In this case, because a church and a lifestyle is based off of this ideal religious figure, its effect extends both physically (with the church system) and spiritually, to millions.

Taking advantage of the news


When you read an article about something happening on the other side of the world, you don’t always know what references the author is making. This comes into play, especially today, when talking about extremist groups, past conflicts and past tensions between countries or states or cities.

While most people I know would scroll past the links describing “What the Brotherhood is,” I think those links are one of the most important things about web journalism. It’s an example of how our technology has given us such easy access to such important information — to really understanding the core and depth of articles about groups, people and places that we don’t normally learn about. Instead of skimming over important facts and definitions, we can now reach it with a click, as long as we’re not too lazy to do even that.

As an avid reader and writer growing up, I wanted to know what every word meant if I had never heard of it before. As a college student studying journalism and international studies, I wanted to know how international crises came about; what happened in the past, who did what and what that meant for international relations.

Sadly, I find that most people solely want to know what is happening right now, because they find that more important, more pressing to know, than things that have happened in the past—especially if they feel what has happened in the past is resolved. As a student I’ve learned that any conflict has a history, that historical events have created relationships between countries and people that affect what is happening today.

Is it just enough to read that one article, and pass over extra links between the paragraphs? I say no, I say that you should always read more into just the number of deaths, more than just the name of the opposing parties. Just knowing there is a conflict does not mean understanding what is happening.

Do others find that extra reading to be boring? Do I sound like that history teacher in high school that is always trying to make you understand ‘why history is so important’?

I say this because I’ve learned how you can think you know something confidently but that there are so many lives behind it, there are so many relationships that are always growing and changing and that they change what is happening every day.

There is a reason more than one journalist covers every event; they can’t say everything about it in one article. There is so much in every article about international happenings that there is always something you haven’t learned yet. Most people pass that by — and even if you think looking something up in another screen is too much to ask, journalists have linked you to plenty of information somewhere that your mouse will pass over anyways.

Those little blue links are designed to help you overcome the laziness that keeps you from taking that extra step for more information. They are there because that information is important and it gives, or comes from, a different view.

That’s what journalism is about. It’s was news is about; it’s the reason why people read the news in the first place—to get out of their bubble. They do it to know what is happening that they can’t see, that they haven’t encountered during their day. If you apply that way of thinking to learning about the world, you learn that one article is only what one other person has seen or taken an interest in. You read the news because what you can’t see is important. Do it full-heartedly.

Websites push us to ‘pay attention’


With the Olympic Games, world news has attracted a new sort of spotlight. Controversy over South Africa’s gold medal winner Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial has brought  Africa’s trial system into this spotlight and, subsequently, post-apartheid matters and conflict.

This is, by far, minor news compared to stories of dangerous protests and political meltdowns in Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria and Thailand. World news websites explicitly display videos and pictures of beaten protestors and tortured prisoners in an attempt to show, rather than tell, the horrors that are happening in parts of the world most people don’t ever really think about.

This takeover of news websites by world news gives me hope that the world today — all the people, consumed by day-to-day problems like bad drivers, test grades, piles of paperwork or long lines — will, in the midst of all the current international chaos, take a step back and at least acknowledge what is happening around the world.

Living in the United States, we have advantages that other countries don’t have: geographically, most countries have to cross the sea to get to us militarily; and the U.S. holds more than half of the entire world’s military power, keeping us safe and comfortable. Because of our strength and location, most of the younger generation in the United States do not even glance at the conflicts in European, Middle Eastern and Asian countries. The generation of our parents had to face the Cold War, but, as their children, we have not faced the immediate danger of an impending war and have no idea what the terrors of war could be like.

All of the sudden, though, front pages preview all kinds of internationally based stories: death, violence, and dangerous government reform protests in Ukraine, Venezuela, and Syria, Russia’s ‘declaration of war’ on Ukraine, North Korea’s missile launches, terrorist attacks in China, and radical groups dropping bombs in Nigeria. While not all of these attract the same amount of attention, the complete political meltdowns in Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria have attracted the gaze of those distracted American eyes.

Now, several writers on the Internet are calling on us to pay attention and help, saying that now there are so many conflicts that we cannot ignore them — saying that we have to take a stance on what’s happening. I believe that this is a growing trend and it has incredible potential. The younger generation is picking up on these articles and posting them on Facebook for their friends to notice. These articles call for my generation not only to take a stance but also to be passionate about it — to be passionate about it enough to at least educate others about the problem.

One article mentioned how my generation likes to liken itself to the generation of the 1960s, of Woodstock, peace and “flower power.” While we have our own form of Woodstock, while we carry the same “one love” attitude to these festivals, we are not them by any means. ‘They protested the Vietnam war, led a sexual revolution, fought for women’s rights and civil rights and changed the landscape of America for good.

We watch Netflix a lot and claim to be hipsters, but are okay with our alternative culture to be entirely superficial, free of substance or meaning. But we could be true hipsters, if we tried. There’s a lot that should be upsetting enough for us to integrate actual ideals and principles to our way of life beyond wearing boots in 80-degree weather and listening to music that sounds nothing like music.

I have one thing to say to these writers: preach on. Good luck, because in the midst of chaos, someone should be preaching about the problems that the world is facing. Maybe these articles on the Internet have more power than the writers think they do because they push for peaceful action, for standing up for what we say we do and for, at least, knowledge.

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News coverage of dangerous trends


In the last year, CNN has covered two dangerous trends: a game called “Knockout” and another called “Neknominate.”

Knockout is a dangerous game that CNN started covering in November 2013. It entails one individual (generally in a group of teenagers) going up to a stranger and punching them with the intention of knocking them out instantaneously.

CNN has also reported that Knockout has caused more than one death in the Northeastern states of the US. Videos of teenagers doing this generally come from security cameras on streets, and news coverage showed these videos with the intention of exposing the game and impressing upon people really how lethal and irrational the game can be.

Neknominate, on the other hand, is a drinking game that has become trendy through social media. Videos are easily accessible and abundant on the internet.  Here, an individual generally downs a hefty amount of alcohol mixed with something else, takes a video of it and, upon finishing the drink, the individual nominates a friend to out-do them within the next 24 hours.

Videos show teenagers not only downing usual mixed drinks but, in an effort to out-do their friends, players have mixed in their drink with a dead mouse, goldfish, insects, engine oil and dog food. Five people have died from playing this game, all being men under the age of 30. News coverage battles social media and the spread of this openly videoed social trend.

While players of one game generally avoid social media (for the risk involved of going to jail or juvy), players of another game use social media as a form of pressure to encourage others to play. Either way, the news reporters step in not only to report what is happening but to prevent others from participating in social trends that appeal to one’s (generally teenager’s) dangerous need to prove themselves to their friends or to the public.

In my last blog post, I wrote about the dangers of news pieces including certain social topics. In this post, however, I’d like to acknowledge how using social topics in the news can put a much needed negative spin on social trends. Of course, these social trends are newsworthy partially because the harm coming from them are not temporary but rather fatal, and most players don’t realize that.

People who watch these videos of Neknominate on Facebook might see it as an exciting challenge or other, uninvolved viewers might find it fascinating that someone would drink liquor out of a toilet or successfully drink something with a dead rat in it.

The news’ video compilation presents the same content but instead of a bunch of kids sitting around a computer oohing and aahing at a friend doing something nasty, the video shows a wider audience how Neknominating is fickle and dangerous.


Olympics: World news or gossip?


The Olympics are at the forefront of today’s world news. However, there are moments when I question the priority of news reporters.

The other day, I went on CNN and the first thing I saw was U.S. ice skater Ashley Wagner’s face of disappointment at her score.

There are many things about the Olympics to report on that hold a lot of significance — the condition of Sochi as a city to host such a big event, human rights problems in Russia, countries’ relative numbers of medals — but, in my view, an athlete’s lack of composition in such an intense moment is not worthy of the front page of such a major world news website.

In my opinion, to place a picture of the face of disappointment as one of the ‘five favorite moments from the first weekend of the Olympics’ is a cruel joke. The article drew just as much attention to a few seconds of infuriated disappointment as it did to Russia winning its first gold medal in the games and total medals won after the first weekend.

To be fair, the article featured Jamie Anderson’s (American gold medalist) tweet about her gratitude to friends and family after her great performance. Although this is another example of social media appearing in the world news, at least it’s fitting under the category of “favorite moments.” Amy Wagner’s face was not on this list because it was endearing, it was because it was scandalous.

Do we really find scandals so important that they should be put in newspapers? Are we looking for ways to interest the public in the 2014 Olympics? Are we just fixated on having a list of five that the reporters felt inclined to place this example in with the rest?

The second question can be answered with a simple “no,” as the first sub-headline of the report, the first example, was “That face.” This was the first topic presented to the audience.

I urge reporters to at least think about the first two questions before they choose topics. When presented side-by-side, news transfer a sense of importance. An important event may elevate another’s importance, even if the latter doesn’t attract that much on its own. On the other hand, something like gossip in world news could end up downplaying an event that makes a difference.

Writing with a national perspective


I recently read a CNN article on the preliminary session of the Syrian peace talks, in which a peculiar event took place — Iran was invited to the conference and then dis-invited by UN chief Ban Ki-moon.

The reporters went on to say that ‘Western leaders believe Iran has provided military and intelligence support to Syrian government forces,’ and that fighters from Iran-backed militia have fought on the side of the Syrian government. When I first read this, who actually dis-invited Iran was unclear to me, as was the reason that the event occurred. The succession of the reporters’ choices implies that the reason Iran did not attend/was dis-invited was for military reasons.

The reality of the situation was that the UN gave Iran an ultimatum: that Iran could attend the peace conferences on the side of the UN (against the Syrian government) or they could not attend. Iran chose not to stand against Syria, and did not attend. This was information available to my International Studies teacher but not to the reporters at the time, and they used Western leaders’ opinions as their next step in explaining the information.

Does this represent a nationalistic explanation of international events?

I think so. This nationalism, I believe, comes out naturally and is almost inescapable. The only way one could report this in an absolutely unbiased way would be to provide the audience with a transcript of the talks and let them come to their own conclusions. People generally want a summary — and all summaries are written from the view of the reporter. Most people with an interest in world news still do not want an intensive reading representing a complex and dizzying array of international relations.

That being said, the fact that our tendency towards nationalism is expressed with militaristic assumptions can be dangerous in the world of reporting—and in our own lives. To assume militaristic reasons behind anything because of a lack of information might be rationally considering all possibilities—or it might be demonization of other countries or other parts of the world that we don’t understand.

I believe that the fault lies not particularly in presenting this one personal conclusion (of many possible conclusions) but in leaving out that they could not find a definite reason to present to the audience or that it was only one conclusion of many. Had the reporters mentioned the lack of information, I (and other readers) would be less inclined to confidently believe that militaristic support was the key to figuring out what was happening.

After reading the article, that piece of information stood out most to me — and then, the next day I learned what I confidently took away from the article was wrong. Iran was not particularly hiding something military and that was not why they were dis-invited. The slightest difference in presentation of information makes a big difference.

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