Interviewing and transparency


In the face of freshly renewed rape allegations against Bill Cosby, several news outlets chose to ignore the information while just as many jumped on the chance to hear the victims stories and unpack the possibility of a beloved comic icon being capable of such brutality.

Most recently Cosby appeared on the NPR show, Weekend Edition Saturday on Nov. 15, where he discussed loaning art to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, before host Scott Simon asked Cosby to discuss the allegations leveled against him by several women including Barbara Bowman and Andrea Constand.

Post interview recording and before the piece aired, Simon took to Twitter to discuss the interview. Questions and backlash poured in at equal measure and Simon took the time to discuss the nature of interviewing and what defines journalism.

Despite the difficult nature of the questions, both in having to ask and having to answer, the principles of journalism demand that reporters bear with and do the difficult thing. By asking tough questions journalists should be able to uncover the difficult truths and at the end of the day it is the tension and novelty present in the answers that make a story newsworthy.

Interviewing is a notoriously difficult skill to learn and practice simply because people are so different from one another, and the soft ball questions that may open one person up may end up forcing another person to retreat into themselves.

When working as a reporter, it’s important to keep both the integrity of the interview and the comfort of the subject in mind, but it seems that if one is more important that the other it is the integrity of the interview and the ensuing news piece that wins out.

Journalism becomes propaganda


Across the world in Pakistan, drone attacks are decimating life left and right, leaving numerous people dead, homeless and/or grievously injured. Curiously, these news stories rarely have airtime running longer than a minute and are often relegated to footnote status in newspapers and on news sites.

On Oct. 29, drone victims from Pakistan visited the U.S. Congress in Washington, D.C., to speak about the collateral damage inflicted by fighting terrorism. Nabila Rehman, 10, her father and her older brother all came to the U.S. to speak on the behalf of their fellow Pakistanis and obtain answers as to why drone strikes were the most effective method to fighting terrorism when they had a very high cost — people’s lives.

Almost shockingly, their experiences and statements fell on deaf ears with only five of 435 representatives even showing up for their hearing. As the story trickled down, almost no news outlets picked up the narrative.

Comparing this experience to that of Malala Yousafzai, who was brutally shot in the head by a Taliban fighter in 2012, shows that the U.S. cares only for the stories that conveniently line up with its current action plan.

After Yousafzai’s attack and subsequent recovery, the U.S. and Western media applauded her and turned her into the face of what the “anti-Taliban” can accomplish. Oddly enough, when Yousafzai asked President Barack Obama to stop drone attacks, she was immediately reduced to cute, little girl status from her initial framing as a brave woman fighting for freedom and justice.

Both Rehman’s and Yosafzai’s stories have similarities but their paths have been almost exactly perpendicular in nature when it comes to their news media portrayal. Rehman’s story, though equally compelling in nature compared to Yousafzai’s, frames the U.S. in a bad light and in that sense is relegated to the back burner to be picked up by independent news sources.

This is unfair in treatment and goes against some of the most basic ethics of journalism, namely to stay unbiased and report all news fairly. Without remaining cognizant of these tenets news outlets easily fall into becoming propaganda machines for the government.

Virality and sourcing online news


After the National Report, a fake news site, published a report about the arrest of Banksy and the reveal of his identity as Paul Horner, the Internet flew into a frenzy.

After the article was read more than five million times and shared approximately three million times, reputable news sites started publishing stories about the National Report’s hoax.

At this point, however, it was a little late for the news sites and blogs who did not take the time to confirm the story and banked on its virality being a sign of its veracity.

The National Report is a satire site from front page to obscure post, but its design unfortunately lends itself more gravitas than it should. It’s not obvious that the site is loaded with fake news and parody and, for the average reader, this can become incredibly confusing.

However, where the average reader ends and the journalist begins is where the excusability also ends in being hoodwinked by a satire website.

After the release of the report and the subsequent swell in attention, the many low and mid-tier news writers that neglected to fact check the story ended up with egg on their faces. The new way news is being disseminated hinges on independent journalists and their ability to break a story quickly and accurately. Often times independent news outlets from blogs to slightly more established networks, lack the hoops and chain of editors to stringently check each story for accuracy.

The reduced structure means that stories get churned out faster, but often at the risk of accuracy.

As journalism evolves, it will become even more crucial to hold ourselves to stringent reporting standards. It’s up to an individual reporter to maintain a high quality of work but without the help of an entire copy editing department it’s essential that the reporter stay cognizant of the basics of reporting and not get lazy, namely beginning a news report with facts not rumors or false information.

Press-government relations turning sour


James Risen’s thought-provoking analysis of the United States’ approach to war and the face of American democracy today lends itself nicely to discussion of journalism in today’s political climate.

As the U.S. becomes increasingly committed to fighting a war on terror, despite a lack of consistent and clear motives from a mutable enemy, American reporters must become increasingly aware of the risks associated with reporting against the government.

Despite the noble nature of journalism, the purity of the ideal journalist’s motives leaves them open to corruption. The goals of disseminating truth and educating the public are so easily affected by outside forces that anything from money to fear could affect a reporter and warp the presentation of news. As the U.S. places more importance on public safety and the goal of protecting the nation from a terrorist attack, we lose the already established rights of freedom of speech and press. The inverse relationship between the two is unsettling to say the least.

Risen is a reporter familiar with the U.S. government’s encroachment on press rights. After publishing his book “State of War” in 2006, Risen has been hounded continuously by the U.S. Justice Department to reveal sources and testify against a variety of people who leaked government secrets.

To his credit, Risen has firmly protected his sources and has refused to break the trust afforded to him by his profession. Despite threatened action of varying degrees of severity by the U.S. government, Risen has stayed strong and protected a key aspect of reporting.

By guaranteeing confidentiality to a source, journalists are able to access deeper pools of information, as well as facts and rumors that would not have otherwise seen the light of day. These benefits allow reporters to simply do their job better, and explore and expose various organizations with a greater degree of nuance and success.

The U.S. government’s crackdown on reporters bodes poorly for the future of freedom of speech. By prioritizing round-the-clock safety, the rights the U.S. was founded on suffer, and citizens not only lose essential, inalienable powers, but also a sense of history and identity as Americans.

At the risk of placing journalists on a pedestal, this group of professionals represents the front line of protecting basic rights. It has become crucial for reporters to weigh their professional action against their patriotic instinct and it is job where the line between right and wrong is almost completely blurred.

Media learn to cover marijuana culture


Marijuana, long considered a shameful indulgence reserved for teenagers and overgrown slackers, is going through a profound re-branding process in Colorado. Smokers, rather than being hidden in smoky, black lit basements, are experiencing new life as weed culture becomes the new, trendy frontier in food, fashion and fun.

In the food realm, rumors of secret tasting menus laced with different types of marijuana have set much of the foodie set into a frenzy, with many trying to get invited to back door dinner parties at some of Denver and Boulder’s restaurants, both fine and common.

Similarly, hemp fashion is making its way back in nearly everyone’s wardrobe. Some items are hyper-cool like the woven, Moroccan inspired belts found in the windows of Pearl Street boutiques while others, like t-shirts, are so basic and innocuous, it’s hard to believe they found their origin in a drug.

The easy transition from illegal marijuana to legal recreational marijuana owes a surprising amount of credit to the work of journalists and opinion writers in Colorado and beyond. From High Times in the 1970s to the New York Times editorial board now, the news media have been vocal with their opinions on legalization.

On Oct. 1 the Denver Post closed the application for a weed-based sex and intimacy columnist for The Cannabist, the Denver Post’s marijuana themed site. This push by a mainstream media outlet to incorporate a subculture with a long history is more evidence of journalism’s power. It’s simple to argue that the establishment of The Cannabist will likely inform and educate a demographic previously untouched by the marijuana debate and even soothe those who were staunchly opposed to any and all legalization.

The discussion bears mention simply because of journalism’s power to spin counter and sub cultures into the mainstream. When Rolling Stone’s first issue hit the stands in 1964, its mission was deeply entrenched in the hippie counterculture but every story was written using traditional journalistic principles. Currently, despite its against the tide origins, Rolling Stone has become the most mainstream magazine for both music and political commentary.

It’s the inverse of the relationship between news and social media. Rather than reporters pulling hot topics from the people, the people pull the things they want to talk about from the new. It’s proof that journalism can still propel discussion on its own.

Diction and bias in Ebola news


The tendency for Western reporters to frame news within a Western perspective is completely expected, but presents a problem in terms of bias. When the lens that a person views the world through is so intuitive and as instinctual as breathing, it is difficult to separate facts from perceived truths. Perceived truths, in this instance, are what people fundamentally believe is real and true despite any lack of pure factual evidence.

A pressing example of this problem has emerged in the Ebola news circulation. Whatever the medium from newspapers to five-minute YouTube clips, nearly every report frames the Ebola outbreak and the handful of American and European cases as the fault of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, including several news outlets that have also conflated the area into “West Africa.”

This overwhelming pattern is dangerous especially in the case of Africa, a continent that has long been subjected to Western prejudices and is still working towards elevating its status in the world. The average person in the U.S. often lenses Africa as a place of terrible poverty, war and chaos and this perspective is highly toxic. It permeates every facet of life and in particular news. The curious thing about presenting Ebola news in the U.S. is that everything comes back to vaguely racial tones, despite the fact that Ebola affects most humans the same way. Regardless of physical location, importance or appearance pretty much every human will die the same way if he or she contracts Ebola, making every news report that hints at American invincibility almost funny.

There are no reasonable solutions to this problem, at least not ones that wouldn’t take years to see through, and as such this entire issue become food for thought, specifically concerning how subtle word choices can affect the direction of a piece.

Journalism always has a vaguely emotional tone because humans are emotional by nature and all biases, despite striving to keep them covered, show through.

Social media changes what makes news


The news cycle often decides what’s important based on the tenets of “newsworthiness” – a water is wet definition to describe topics and information that easily engage people and that are easily talked about.

Before the dawn of social media, news outlets often dictated what people should know, and, depending on the publication or network, explained how some events were more important than others, communicated by placement in a newspaper or story length in a broadcast.

Now that social media has become second nature to growing parts of the population, the news landscape is saturated with different stories, points of view and information. People have many more options from which to gather their knowledge and stay up to date with current events and this increase in supply has flipped the news narrative.

Now, instead of people picking up a paper to learn something completely new as they did before, news organizations are pulling from the mass of voices and cleaning up viral content.

The democratic nature of news has not completely dominated the pattern of dissemination but the symbiotic relationship between social media and journalism has allowed for a number of topics that previously would not have been newsworthy to blow up to viral status.

The many benefits of social media from simply keeping people informed to passing on a powerful message quickly are affected by what seem to be changing priorities. Thinking back as far as the late 1990s fewer stories of “importance” had to do with small town events and more to do with national issues.

The obvious conclusion is that social media didn’t exist in that decade and so no one could hear the story of a young boy saving his sister from a burning car and, because they never heard, they wouldn’t care.

The above mentioned example is indicative of the rise of more emotional stories; the kind of narratives that tug at heart strings. Since most people can connect easily with these stories they tend to spread like wildfire and news organizations have begun to spend more resources on combing the internet to find stories that have this viral value.

However, it’s rare that a news organization finds a story that web culture hasn’t already latched onto and pushed into the general consciousness. The increasing dependence of journalism on democratic dissemination is almost funny because the news is trying to find, rather than dictate, “the news.”

Does everyone have to play by the rules?


The Information age has given people access to nearly every corner of the globe, high quality cameras that fit into phones about the size of a wallet and the ability to disseminate information in seconds.

Now that everyone has the potential to create and distribute news, everyone can technically be a journalist. The “democratization of journalism” has been covered up and down by various types from bloggers tapping out endless opinions to academics scribbling research papers, but few outlets seem to discuss accountability.

Journalists are held to a high standard and are meant to follow a code of ethics as well as adhere to the minute writing and reporting rules presented in the Associated Press Stylebook, but for the most part it’s only the people who have bothered to learn about these things that follow the rules.

Typically those who have attended a j-school, or trained in a very traditional environment understand the weight and history of what being a reporter means. For example, the idea that news is written from independent perspective with no bias (or as little bias as one can manage).

In contrast, the sheer volume of content that is produced by the Web shows a number of people and outlets branding themselves as news when they deliver about as much actually news as Fox News.

Even larger outlets of non-traditional journalism have failed with respect to the public. Earlier this year after a plagiarism scandal, BuzzFeed pulled almost 4,000 different posts. No retraction was printed and BuzzFeed Founder Jonah Peretti argued that as a tech company, not a media company, BuzzFeed did not need to follow the rules of journalistic integrity.

This kind of action raised plenty of eyebrows and had scores of people arguing that despite any tech origins, BuzzFeed definitely needed to follow the rules of journalism simply because they were acting like journalists. This thought comes to the core of the argument if it looks like a journalist, acts like a journalist and reports like a journalist, it should probably try to work from the high-standards expected of a journalist.