Drudge Report still ranks No. 1


A recent article from Politico identified the Drudge Report as the “leading source of referral traffic” for many notable news organizations. This means that—other than browser searches and social media, which usually will lead users to news stories through links and shares—the Drudge Report is the No. 1 place where readers go to get routed to news.

First of all, the obvious thing to note is that the Drudge Report is openly conservative. It often crafts its headlines and arranges its content from a conservative perspective. The fact that this conservative news routing site ranks is most used brings up questions about the political demographics of news readers nationwide.

Does this reflect the views of the nation? More likely, it just sheds light on what we guessed already. Those who seek out news the old-fashioned way tend to lean more to the right; those who like their news brought to them (e.g. through apps) tend to lean more to the left.

The Politico article also notes that the Drudge Report has experienced very little change to its Web page over the years, which I found interesting.

When it comes to keeping users engaged, the mentality used by companies usually revolves around updating, upgrading and introducing change to keep things interesting. However, the Drudge Report has been mighty successful in keeping things exactly the way they are.

This might be more of a testament to the audience who most religiously uses the Drudge Report, as previously discussed. But it might also be something for other marketers and newsmakers to keep in mind before making major changes to what they offer. In some situations, consistency may be equated with reliability and could be a more effective strategy in keeping a loyal audience.

Hillary Clinton, star of ‘The Matrix’


When reading online news, I hope to achieve a balance between biases by ingesting left-leaning, right-leaning and politically neutral media (to the best of my ability, of course). One of my primary sources of neutral news is Politico and it usually remains up to snuff.

However, today I ran across this image while reading an article on that site:

Source: politico.com

Source: politico.com

Swimming through a sea of high-tech coding wizardry far above the heads of the measly public, Hillary Clinton scowls toward an unknown opponent, contemplating her sinister past…

That’s what I get from the drama-inducing, Photoshop-doctored photo above. In fact, based on this image, the accompanying story may actually be about Hillary Clinton starring in a new sequel to “The Matrix” rather than about a political scandal concerning her responsibleness as a public official.

I understand that Politico was adding character to its content and being a bit creative here. That’s not a bad thing, although it does invite questions about the appropriateness of this when the following article approaches an issue sensitive enough to potentially harm a public official’s reputation.

I also understand that this photo does not necessarily show a political leaning one way or the other. In fact, my thoughts about the photo shifted from two extremes.

My first impression was that her scowl made her seem mean, or just gave an overall negative vibe, paired with her stark black-and-white contrasted coloring. Plus, she seemed overwhelming by the coding (the scandal) surrounding her. But upon further reflection, this image might convey the exact opposite. Her expression could be a face of tough determination in the face of those opponents attempting to tarnish her name. She is distinctly separate from the coding, after all, appearing boldly in front of it.

The English class-style dissection of this image could continue until we’re as gray as Hillary’s ashy-hued, color-manipulated face.

But all fun aside, including an image like this could possibly cross a line into editorializing (or diminishing) an otherwise serious hard news story, depending on how you look at it—which could be problematic for a famously neutral news source like Politico.

What makes news ‘breaking?’


I was browsing Internet news sites today when a giant banner with bright red letters appeared at the top of the CNN homepage declaring there was breaking news!

“Well,” I thought. “Seems important — better click on it!”

And the link brought me to the following news story about a former nurse’s aide who attempted first-degree murder of another woman by cutting a fetus from her womb.

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 5.13.05 PM“Wow, how absolutely disturbing and horrific!”

Yes, this news is certainly those things. But, is it “breaking?”

As I have previously understood, “breaking” means more than shocking. It means that the public needs to know this information now — or as quickly as possible—trumping the necessity of all other information in this moment.

And what makes this information so important to the public at large? It must have a substantial impact on people’s lives.

Although a ghastly and interesting find, this story is an anomaly and only affects a small circle of people. This story can be big news and very talked about news, sure—but showcasing it in huge font as breaking news feels like an attempt to merely gain clicks.

Not only are news sites including more and more “clickbait” in their headlines these days, but in this specific instance, they seem to be taking advantage of the horrific nature of this crime to do the clickbaiting.

Although not even remotely comparable, this act is ghastly and horrific in its own right.

Innocent until proven guilty?


Often times in the news, victims of a crime remain unnamed. Ethical practices dictate that journalists must help shield victims from the unfavorable limelight of the media and the unforgiving public eye.

But what about alleged perpetrators? Their names are always included in the news, no questions asked — even when their involvement is not yet confirmed.

Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Having the story of your victimization published in the news will likely be traumatizing, understandably. But less often acknowledged is that having your name plastered on headlines for a crime you didn’t commit will absolutely shatter your world and all of your connections. Your name will be stained forever because of the association now drawn between you and the incident, even after being proven innocent.

Take the story of Jordan Johnson, for example. He was a University of Montana student found not guilty of rape in a 2013 decision. According to the justice system, this young student is innocent. But look when you type “Jordan Johnson” into Google:

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 1.00.38 PMThree of the five pictures loaded first by Google are this student on trial.

Largely due to the media coverage he received, these false allegations will follow him for the rest of his life.

So, omit his name? But how do you avoid including his name when journalists are obligated to provide the public with thorough information? Seemingly, you can’t … yet journalists have collectively decided leaving this informational hole is okay when it comes to the victim.

There is no right answer to what should be done here. Journalism ethics, like any other form of ethics, is a wishy-washy mess of conflicting strong feelings and shaken fists.

But there needs to be some consistency. Either respect the lives of both victim and alleged perpetrator by including neither name, or honor journalism’s obligation to thoroughness and include both.

Don’t miss your deadline!


Since coming to the University of Miami in August last year, I’ve been working on the student newspaper The Miami Hurricane. In that time, one word has been etched into my brain as being most critical to my job as a reporter: Deadlines.

Deadlines. All-day deadline work sessions. Don’t miss your deadline. From the get-go, the word “deadline” has been repeated again and again, with intense focus given to the importance of timeliness.

But timeliness often comes into conflict with accuracy. In fact, this conflict is so pressingly problematic that the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists includes the following statement:

“Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.”

Noting this, it’s interesting to me that there’s been such a sharp focus on timeliness, within an organization that trains future journalists, when well-regarded standards of practice warn against doing so.

Even if not heralded as the most important aspect of journalism, timeliness receives the most attention. News, like anything else, is a business—specifically, the business of being first. And from an ethical standpoint, timeliness is essential to bringing news that is relevant and important to the public it intends to serve.

But ideologically, accuracy clearly reigns as just as — or more — crucial. Even if you are the speediest news writer in the world, it will mean nothing if your work is riddled with errors.

But during my experience as a student reporter, I’ve noticed that accuracy is only brought up in conversation once someone has already made an error.

Because accuracy is so important, people assume that others recognize it as such—like it goes without saying. But when you don’t say, it leaves the forefront of people’s minds to be replaced with what you are talking about: deadlines. And people are talking about those constantly.

If we give accuracy as much—or more—time in the spotlight as deadlines, hopefully we can better train ourselves as future journalists to avoid ethical gaffes before they occur.

Which came first — Chicken or the egg?


Anyone who has recently logged onto the Internet (or spoken to another human being who happens to use the Internet) has likely been bombarded with this question: What color is the dress?

Source: buzzfeed.com

Source: buzzfeed.com

Originally a post on Tumblr, the image of this controversial color-changing dress has circulated around the Internet overnight—and not just on social media. Major news organizations have entire articles discussing this optical illusion, including (but certainly not limited to) Fox News, CNN, Wired, The Independent, Daily Mail and The Guardian.

The outbreak of this controversy occurred only yesterday. No discussion is needed to know that an optical illusion is not normally headline news, particularly when a “murder spree” across multiple homes in Missouri leaving nine dead occurred on the same day. I repeat, there is no discussion. Yet news coverage of the story has already become pervasive.

So what makes this situation special?

Is it an indication of how deeply entrenched social media has become in our society, and so news organizations have an obligation to report this story because it now matters deeply to the public? Do news organizations need to reevaluate what is important to include “events” on social media?

Or was this specific event on social media so insanely widespread that it called for news coverage, based purely on its abnormal scope?

But would the event have become this widespread if news media chose not to cover it in the first place? Which came first — The chicken or the egg?

These are the inane questions that keep me up at night, ladies and gentlemen.

…Just for the record, the dress is blue.

Yahoo! News has a problem


If I’m feeling crotchety and in the mood to get myself all disgruntled about journalism, I know the first place I need to visit: the Yahoo! News homepage.

On the screenshot below, I invite you to marvel at the juxtaposition of headlines:

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 6.46.34 AM

A story about what could possibly be the largest-ever human exodus — I repeat, the largest-ever human exodus, a staggering story with widespread societal and environmental implications for more than 13 million people—is sandwiched between stories about a celebrity and an infamous dictator marketed like a celebrity. Without discussing the merits of entertainment journalism as a whole, I think it’s safe to say that those headlines should not be grouped together in the same category, at the bare minimum.

What’s more, we need to keep in mind the way that a company like Yahoo! structures its homepage. Headlines are placed in a purposeful order of importance, based on which articles the company thinks its readers should see most. According to the above order, Iggy Azalea’s absence from social media deserves more exposure than human-inhabited islands’ absence from the face of the planet.

Call me remarkably crotchety for my 19 years of age … but by golly, what the devil is going on here?

NBC reveals much in Williams’ case


If I was reporting even a low-profile story in my town and fabricated a piece of information, I would be fired. For that matter, if I’m on the job under any circumstances and I fabricate information, I better start packing up my things. It’s a gross violation of the journalistic code, no questions asked.

But for some reason, when NBC anchor Brian Williams does it — with multiple instances of the crime, and in high-profile situations to boot — the network doesn’t know what to do with him.

He hasn’t been fired, yet. Instead, he’s been suspended for six months without pay, and that suspension was only announced once the popular anchor’s television ratings dropped following the outbreak of scandal.

The decisions made regarding Williams’ job, as well as the timeline of those decisions, are revealing. What separates me and Brian Williams (other than his wry smile, iconic silvery slicked-back hair and practically everything else) comes down to clout, and thus, money. Being the anchor of the number one evening news program, this even separates him from other big name anchors. And that appears to be why he’s receiving special, or lenient, treatment.

But there should be no room for special treatment regarding matters of journalistic integrity.

In this same vein, the coverage of the Williams scandal is also disproportionate. With article after article speculating the fate of his job, it is easy to forget that while in that helicopter in Iraq and while reporting on Hurricane Katrina, Williams was not alone. He was with a news team. People witnessed the truth, and their silence contributed to the cover-up for years until the scandal only recently broke.

Their crimes were just as severe as those of Williams, yet I’ve heard next to nothing about the state of those jobs. Since they aren’t the big name money-makers for NBC, it seems the media don’t regard their company-wide breach in integrity as too important, judging from the amount of media coverage they’ve received since the scandal.

As a journalist-hopeful, it’s troubling that our priorities are so out of line.

If you have bias, at least admit it


One of the primary tenets of journalism is impartiality. In an ideal world, all news sources would be perfectly objective and never speak a word out of turn. But this is the real world, with news sources run by real people, so remaining completely impartial is easier said than done.

Some news sources seemed to have abandoned this notion of impartiality. From what I’ve heard from most people, the first examples of this that come to mind are MSNBC and Fox News. These news organizations have been known to report news containing obvious biases.

But I don’t have a problem with them.

As stated, the biases are obvious. Although the company motto of Fox may be “fair and balanced”—granted—no one there is hiding anything when they publish and broadcast stories about the Benghazi panel when others have moved on. Similarly, no one at the Drudge Report is keeping any secrets when “IRS PAYS ILLEGALS FOR BABIES” is a teaser headline on their homepage.


Source: drudgereport.com

When you come to news sources like these, you should know what you’re getting. No one is trying to fool you; the bias is too open for that.

What I personally find more conniving is when bias is existent, but less apparent. This kind of bias is more sly, attempting to subconsciously sway readers without tipping them off about those intentions. This is underhanded, in my opinion, and thus more reprehensible.

Take CNN, for example. An informal survey of my friends will tell you that many people my age consider CNN to be a reliable source of unbiased information. At face value, I might agree with them — but a closer inspection of headlines reveals something different.

IMG_5406Consider this screenshot at the left from the CNN iPhone application.

That headline regarding vaccines technically says nothing wrong. No journalistic principles were violated.

But the request posed by CNN is worded in a way that psychologists would compare to a leading question. It draws readers’ attention to parents who do not vaccinate their children, pointing the finger at a group that has recently received a lot of flack and inviting messages from their opposition, because opponents of an issue are more likely to respond voluntarily to requests like these than sympathizers, who expect attack, and much more than those who are simply ambivalent.

To gauge an honest reflection of the public’s views, the website could impartially ask readers to state their opinion about the issue of vaccinations in general, very easily. But it did not.

I understand that the sly nature of the bias is strategic from a business standpoint; no currently respected news source wants to become the household name of bias like Fox News or MSNBC. But in that case, you might as well honor the journalistic code and remove your biases altogether.

What she wrote here might surprise you


For modern-day Internet surfers, the above headline structure probably looks very familiar. And as a fellow Internet surfer … I’m so sorry that is the case. These days, we all seem to be inundated with what the Internet wizards have dubbed “clickbait” — and from sources that might surprise you.

Oops, I did it again.

Clickbait is exactly what it sounds like: material that baits people to click it. Because every click gives a website ad revenue, the sole goal of clickbait is money. Perhaps I’m giving it a hard time, and maybe the issue is not so plain and simple. But when websites begin sacrificing content for an abundance of catchy headlines—as websites like BuzzFeed have been increasingly known to do — that’s when these websites have fewer defenses.

Publishing material with a focus on making money is not deplorable in itself. Everything is a business; even the most respectable publication needs to make money. And whether for money or not, every publication desires to increase its readership.

Historically, publications have tried doing so through jaw-dropping headlines and rumor circulation, for just two examples of many, and so clickbait is just a modern version of what has been going on for years. But clickbait is tailored toward the Internet, an expanding market, which actually makes clickbaiters pretty smart. Looking at it from this angle, the intentions and strategies of clickbaiting should not necessarily be condemned.

However, the issue arises when the business side of publishing completely eclipses content value. When money and clickbaiting and page views are the ultimate goal of a publication and other goals become secondary or even nonexistent, we have a problem.

When these things are the sole objective of a publication instead of a side strategy to help bring content to readers, then publications are losing sight of their mission. The very Constitution of the United States protects the existence of these publications because they have a purpose and duty. If they were merely another form of business, then they would not receive special protections under the law, above what normal businesses receive.

Not convinced that things are getting a bit out of hand? Well, when Gawker writes an article called “The ISIS Babies Are Freaking Adorable,” in my humble opinion, someone is violating something.

As for what can be done about this epidemic of catchy headliners and lacking content, I wouldn’t claim to have the wisdom to say. But I can hypothesize that business should dictate the future of clickbait naturally, and it seems the tide is already turning. As people get more annoyed by clickbait’s empty promises, companies like Facebook are already responding for the sake of business. So the force that gave birth to clickbait in the first place—business—will hopefully be the same force that finally puts it to rest.