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


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.