Sunday, May 3, 2009

FINAL POST (?)

All things considered, this blog ended up being a fairly substantial piece of work. While it's true that most of my posts were only tangentially related to editing, I was able to come up with ideas every week. This doesn't sound like much of an accomplishment, but I recall wondering how I would come up with regular updates at the start of the semester.

Though I may or may not have dismissed this assignment as busy work early on (my apologies), it has been beneficial because it has forced me to post something on a regular basis. You may notice that most of my posts were uploaded just before - or slightly after - our 5 p.m. deadline, but at least I found something to say.* With so many writers out there who are hungry for work, a silent journalist will quickly find himself without a job. I won't let this happen to me.

Maybe you'll even see additional postings at some point during the summer.

*I realize the irony in discussing substantial posts with within a post that's entirely fluff.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

State of Play

Just as newsrooms have been slow to embrace the Internet, up until recently, Hollywood hadn't really depicted the impact of the blogosphere and online media on modern journalism. The only modern journalism movies that come to mind at all are "The Insider" and "Shattered Glass," so a movie about an online newsroom seems long overdue. Granted, the final season of "The Wire" tried to tackle this, but as much as I adore that show, the fictional take on the Baltimore Sun seemed to ignore the impact of the Internet, even as it showed the endless buyouts and foreign bureau closings. However, the American remake of "State of Play" is a big step forward.

That's not the say that the movie is entirely successful. While the acting is uniformly very good - yes, even the unfairly malligned Ben Affleck holds his own - the big plot twist at the end seems anti-climactic and kills much of the momentum. I'm also not a fan of the private military takeover scheme, which was just too expansive and implausible to believe. But the one thing the film gets right is the clash between old and new media.

One of the central (platonic) relationships in "State of Play" is between Russell Crowe's veteran reporter, Cal, and Rachel McAdams' professional blogger. They are assigned to a story about the apparent suicide of a Senator's aide. The assignment eventually expands in scope, and along the way, we see the two reporters bicker with each other and their editor, played by Hellen Mirren.

The editor is quick to put the blogger on the case at its inception, since it's mainly a fluff piece to generate traffic. However, once it's clear that there's more to the story, McAdam's character is nearly taken off the beat so that the old-school journalist can do the heavy-lifting. And along the way, we see the cable news channels and tabloids displayed everywhere, giving the moviegoer the impression of the full, 24/7 news cycle at work.

Without spoiling anything, by the end of the movie, new-school and old-school journalism have compromised, and the two reporters find out how to work together. However, the last minutes of the movie definitely tip in favor of print, as we see Cal put the finishing touches on another front page story. Perhaps a bit too romanticized considering how quickly the profession is shifting, but I think the closing moments will warm any budding journalist's heart, no matter how incredulous he or she is along the way.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Commenting on Commentary

As I was working on my editing research paper last week, I was surprised to see so much praise for reader comments and other user feedback at the end of articles. My initial hypothesis was that that these comments are mostly ignored, but apparently, many reporters actually do pay attention to what we have to say, and in some cases will seek out specific commentators for potential story leads.

I'd like to believe that this is true. As a favor to a fellow teaching assistant, I had to comment on blog postings from some journalism 200 students last week, and I was pleased to find that some of them were actually having a dialogue. However, I notice that most blog postings for our class go unnoticed. (And to clarify, I'm not calling anyone out here - I've probably been pretty lazier than all of you on the commentary front this semester.) I guess after writing that paper, I'm curious to learn a little about everyone's posting habits. Does it bother you if my peers and I don't respond to your weekly thoughts? Do you always respond to your readers? Do you find yourself responding to blogs outside of this class? Let me know.

**I feel like a dork for posting this, but it really is on my mind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Opening the Nerd Floodgates: How Video Game Journalism Trends Apply to the Big Picture

I've been holding back the my "nerdiness" all semester long, hoping to stick to newspapers and more "legitimate" journalistic outlets for the remainder of this course. However, I'm fully entrenched in this research project and running short on ideas, so today I will be discussing video game journalism. Brace yourselves. I'll try to minimize the jargon, but I'm not making any promises.

Then again, with our spirited discussion of social media during Issues this afternoon, perhaps the gaming "enthusiast press" is a bit more relevant than you realize. After all, who is more familiar with the cutting edge of technology than video gamers?

It wasn't so long ago that print publications like the late Electronic Gaming Monthly and Computer Gaming World found success at newsstands, the former cultivating a devoted readership for nearly twenty years. However, the ad revenues have been steadily declining, forcing way too many beloved publications to shut their doors. Sound familiar?

For many of my fellow nerds and I, the near-implosion of Ziff Davis - publisher of the aforementioned EGM and Games for Windows Magazine - dealt a significant blow to our beloved industry. Plenty of doom and gloom ensued for a month or so. However, in the wake of these print giants, a number of independent bloggers have stepped up to fill their shoes.

The result: a more comprehensive look at the video game industry and the culture surrounding it than we've ever had before. Whereas the enthusiast press' main perogative was originally to offer product assessments, we're starting to true criticism emerge from personal blogs. Sure, some of it is a wee bit pretentious, but I'd still rather read about "Resident Evil 5's" "historically and socially charged imagery" than I would about its realistic graphics and online performance.

And those former magazine editors? Now that they're no longer shackled to game publisher PR demands, veteran game journalists are producing some really insightful stuff. The enthusiast press has been much faster at latching onto online media, particularly with podcasts and online video.

There are several great shows available on iTunes and other podcast aggregators, but my personal favorite would be Robert Ashley's "A Life Well Wasted." The show is essentially the gaming equivalent of "This American Life," with the former GFW editor serving as a nasally Ira Glass equivalent. He has only produced two episodes thus far - one focusing on EGM memories and another on vintage game preservation - but both turn their attention towards collectors, academics, writers and fans. Virtually unexplored territory.

We also have Retronauts, a podcast and blog devoted to old-school gaming. While bigshots Jeremy Parish and Ray Barnholdt are very opinionated, they're also some of the very few cataloguing the stories behind gaming milestones. They're certainly the only team seeking out guys like Hidenori Maezawa, Konami's famed composer, or Takahashi Meijin, famed button masher. Sure, you may not care about it now, but if and when* video games become accepted as art, you'll be glad that this crew was taking notes.

*In this humble blogger's opinion, this is really more of a "when."

Of course, newspapers and video game magazines are very different beasts. The former tries to maintain a barrier between advertisors and the newsroom, while game journalism has often been intrinsically linked to the very publishers on which it is supposed to cover. It's no coincidence that one of the few surviving game magazines, Game Informer, happens to have an exclusive deal with GameStop, the country's largest game-specific retailer. Even so, I think that the transformation of our nerdy corner of the press shows that there's no need for despair.** Even if our best journalists face momentary setbacks in the online transition, there will still be an audience that continues to follow them on the web later on.

**In an article that Professor Liebovich referenced this afternoon, it is suggested that we pay more attention to the state of journalism than to the state of newspapers. Function over form. I think this situation described above shows how well this philosophy can pan out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Worst Day of the Year

Attention all news websites: your April Fools' stories are almost never funny. 99% of your readers see them coming miles away, and the 1% not in on the jokes won't appreciate being hoodwinked once someone clues them in. And if you don't think this is a widespread problem, think again.

Just take a look at this gem. Smile Politely's audience may know what's up, but is there any actual value to this article? Sure, it may be good for a chuckle, but as a friend pointed out to me this morning, Boardman's has been struggling financially. Does it not seem in poor taste to post a fictional story about a beloved theater closing when that's not too far from the truth? In the time it took to produce this obnoxious article, the writer could have easily informed the reader of how Boardman's is actually faring.

(I also don't appreciate how every legitimate article needs to let us know that the writer is telling the truth. Perhaps this insidious pseudo-holiday is actually damaging the public trust.)

Luckily, we only have to deal with this problem for a day, but I'm sick of dreading April 1 every year. When I want my fake news, I consult The Onion or The Colbert Report. Actual journalists, leave the comedy to the professionals and get back to work.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Finding Mistakes Where There are None

For better or for worse, the midterm is officially behind us. Though I went into the classroom brimming with as much confidence as I was capable of mustering, I found myself second-guessing all of my editing choices. Specifically identifying verbals or clauses is tricky enough, but turning us loose on that error-riddled last page was another matter entirely. Suddenly, I started seeing mistakes everywhere, even when there were none. I'm not going to dwell on this too much over the break - I can't change my answers now - but I don't know how professional editors cross these grammatical minefields on a daily basis. Though to be fair, even the sloppiest of the Journalism 200 papers I've graded have never been that bad.

Other random thoughts:
  • David Simon's new television project, "Treme," is "skedded" to start shooting this month, according to Variety. This new HBO show will focus on Jazz musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans. Why am I bringing this to your attention? Simon is also responsible for "The Wire" and "Generation Kill." If you've seen either series, you know that he's very skilled at taking isolated groups - Baltimore cops and Iraq War marines, respectively - to make larger points about societal ills. Basically, follow the money and you'll find all kinds of corruption. Simon is a former Baltimore Sun journalist and has surrounded himself with equally talented writers, so this will likely be stuff journalists like.


  • Crain Communications cut 150 jobs and slashed salaries across all of its publications yesterday. This includes Advertising Age, one of the magazines we recently visited in New York City. Also, my almost-hometown, Cleveland, may be losing its major newspaper soon. Time Magazine ran an article about newspapers in jeopardy last week, and the historic Plain Dealer made the cut. I covered this may paper for my Journalism 425 critique last semester and it has indeed seen better days, but losing the print edition entirely would still be an epic blow to a city that's already having difficulties.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Don't Let Twitter Make You Bitter!

From the outsider's perspective, Twitter may seem like little more than a glorified message board for narcissists and text-message devotees. There seems to be much confusion about what "tweeting" actually accomplishes. When several of us made the magazine rounds last week in New York, most of the editors actually recommended Twitter as a promotional tool. I've seen news outlets post tweets for every online story, while many of my friends simply use Twitter to announce that they're performing mundane tasks like eating pancakes or staring at the wall.* All of these people are twittering incorrectly.

We spent a portion of our issues class this afternoon dismissing these social networks as a waste of time, suitable only for those with the shortest of attention spans. However, whereas message boards and bottom-of-the-page comments often fail to spark dialogue, I have seen a few rare examples of Twitter community building that give me hope for its future. Most notably would be "The Media is Dying" (TMiD).

Just as the name implies, this feed covers the shrinking job market for journalists; magazine and newspaper layoffs; and other depressing developments. Rather than filtering through all of the various print and broadcast productions, TMiD relies on its subscribers to send in links, which moderators then post to its front page.

This approach is successful for a few reasons. First, tips are vetted to ensure accuracy, so TMiD has a bit more authority than the average blog. Subscribers' voices are heard, rather than getting lost in the vast blogosphere. And though the 140-character limit may frustrate casual readers, those that stick around will see that the multiple posts a day eventually add up to something more complete than you might see in a local paper. The links are there for readers who have the time to look at stories individually.

Of course, TMiD is the exception, and much of the Twitter chatter is pure hype. But at the same time, I hope that my peers at least try to imagine possibilities beyond the typical "I'm sitting in traffic LOL" posts. I'd be surprised if we don't see more niche news aggregators and similar projects down the road.

*These are legitimate examples.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A quick post before my NYC trip

As I was rereading my post from last week, I thought to myself how I could have very easily written a completely different response at this moment. I found that assessment to be quite difficult because I really don't have a firm stance on journalistic sensitivity in general. While I certainly respect the right to privacy, at the same time, I think one could make a very strong case for the publication of any of those photos. Yes, even the post-suicide Dwyer shot. Sure, some of them are extremely unsettling, but so are the stories that accompany them.

I think I need to do some soul searching throughout the next few months and come up with my own personal code. If I am to argue in favor of some images and not of others, I need to be consistent in my standards. Otherwise, I'll end up making snap judgments like I did last week and end up second guessing myself later on.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Photojournalism Commentary (with "deliberate"/awkward sentence structure)

When it comes to editorial sensitivity, I'd imagine the greatest challenge is figuring out which photographs to run. Whereas the newspaper reader has to sit down and read text to understand a story, a photo instantly conveys meaning. If a parent is reading a paper at the kitchen table, anyone can glance over and see what images are accompanying a story. A sudden explosion. An ensuing riot. A charred body. These images can make lasting impressions on any audience, regardless of age.

For instance, we discussed* R. Budd Dwyer, the Pennsylvania treasurer who, during a press conference to discuss a kickback, committed suicide. Our class was shown four images - two with him simply holding a gun and two with the gun barrel in his mouth. The last photo is particularly graphic.

First of all, one of the four pictures needed to run. The story was too monumental to use a mugshot. I would personally run the photo on the left. While a newspaper editor doesn't want to mislead or sugarcoat the truth, I think any adult reader would instantly realize what Dwyer's next action would be. It's still a chilling image, but it isn't gory.

I'm less confident with the next batch of images. Again, we need to establish a balance between presenting the truth to the public and minimizing harm to the public. It's the latter with which I'm wrestling. I can only definitively say that I would not run the picture of the grieving family members standing over their dead boy, for it's both an invasion of privacy and inappropriate.

However, I do think I would run the Mardi Gras photo. It exposes a horrific side to the Fat Tuesday festivities to which no other images could do justice. Of course, there is the question of the woman's identity. Blurred face or not, is it fair to subject her to that kind of humiliation again? Is it fair to expose her body to a potential audience of millions? Perhaps not. I don't have the answers to those questions. However, as a journalist, I would argue that it's absolutely unfair to let this crime go unreported, to bury it in text where I don't think it would elicit the same kind of disgust.

*You can find all of the photographs discussed in this post right here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Internet Reporting Etiquette

After our editing exercise this morning, I began thinking a bit about online reporting etiquette. As thorough as our AP Guidebook and The Elements of Style are, there doesn't seem to be much in our texts about how to handle online content. For instance, it was suggested that some of the more detailed information from the parking meter story would be better suited for the internet. However, do journalists have an obligation to let online readers know what made it into the paper and what did not?

I also wonder about some of the internet journalism trademarks, particularly hyperlinks. Occasionally, I'll see links - like this one - to articles without written attribution. It's just assumed that readers will follow that information if they want to learn more. However, the moment you distribute that information offline, that additional layer is completely lost on the audience. I'm also curious about comment moderation. We read about a few examples of readers being stifled in some of our readings last semester, but what about clearly offensive posts or spam? For the sake of transparency, moderators should include reasons for why posts were deleted, but I remain unsure of how much detail should go into these explanations.

Perhaps we don't need an accepted journalistic style for online writing. The nature of the internet is a bit prohibitive to these kinds of controls. However, I think that journalists should be open about their internet editing policies.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Trillion Dollar Tangle

I've been keeping up with the news, I've been listening to commentators and I've been reading the charts. Still, I cannot make sense of the almost trillion dollar stimulus bill.

Economy journalists certainly have their work cut out for them. I don't envy anyone who has to sort through the 700 pages of proposals. However, as we touched upon in class this morning, I do find it frustrating that journalists haven't figured out how to chart this information effectively.

One of the goals of a journalist is to contextualize the news. Maybe I just need to dig deeper, but I'm not seeing it in the newspapers or even on their websites. Meanwhile, one side defends the proposed spending as stimulative, while the other claims it's just more "pork." Based on what I've read, it's very hard for me to come to any conclusions.

For instance, at one point, the bill included tax breaks for Hollywood studios. Now, I can understand how some would be weary of giving millions of dollars to arts and entertainment when other industries are on the verge of collapse, but American movie exports remain very lucrative in foreign markets. I wish we would hear more about the reasoning behind these measures and how they would or would not be effective.

Perhaps this is too much to ask. An exhaustive, line-by-line analysis of the bill is admittedly unrealistic. Still, we can certainly come up with something more decipherable than this:



On a completely unrelated note, a 1981 glimpse at the online journalism fad:



Quick Update: The Chicago Tribune apparently just cut at least a dozen newsroom staff members. Not surprising given the Tribune Company's financial problems, but still quite the bummer.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Howdy!

My name is Justin Hemenway, and this is my fourth attempt at blogging. Past efforts have always started off strong, but I've just found it difficult to stay focused during the busy semesters. I always assumed that my words would get lost in the sea of Blogspot, LiveJournal and WordPress pages. However, this editing exercise will be different; if I want to pass my required editing course, I will need to blog at least 12 times within the next four months. Plus, my peers and I are required to comment on each other's posts, so I'm guaranteed to attract at least a few readers.

Because this blog is for my editing class, I do hope that my readers will call me out on even the tiniest of errors. My posts will be rigorously edited to follow AP Style - no internet shorthand here! I plan to scrutinize every single sentence to ensure clarity and brevity. I'm currently a Journalism 200 teaching assistant, so it's especially important to me that I am able to talk about English grammar intricacies with authority.

I know that I've made this project sound like a bit of a chore, but I genuinely enjoy writing and discussing issues in journalism. I'm not the big fan of my own writing (to say the least), but the only way that will change is if I engage class material and outside readings on a regular basis. Hopefully, you'll check back in the weeks to come to see my progress.

A couple links you might enjoy (watch out for brief R-rated language):
  • "Flat N All That" - Matt Taibbi is probably a bit too snarky for his own good, but I do think he makes some valid points in this scathing attack on Tom Friedman and his bizarre analogies. Self-indulgent, complicated comparisons will only hurt your argument if your readers cannot follow along.
  • "Criticwatch 2008" - This roundup of last year's biggest *ahem* "quote whores" has also been on my mind for the past couple weeks. As someone interested in professional criticism, I'm astounded that so many writers could get away with such lazy writing. It's a shame that some are willing to abandon their integrity for a spot on a film poster. I will do my utmost to make sure you don't see these cliches on this page.