Improper handling of domestic abuse hurts NFL brand

October 9, 2014 Leave a comment

It took the NFL seven months to decide to suspend Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after he knocked out his then girlfriend, Janay Palmer.

Ray Rice is not the only player to be involved in domestic abuse problems and not be punished in a timely manner by the NFL. Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer have each received light punishments for domestic abuse.

Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse, and authorities say Greg Hardy choked his girlfriend.

Rice’s initial punishment was only a two-game suspension, and both Peterson and Hardy continued to be paid while they went through the legal process.

Now that Rice has received an indefinite suspension and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has announced new personal conduct policies, many feel it is too little, too late.

blog post pic

Many have taken to Twitter with hashtags like, #BoycottNFL and #FireGoodell. The women’s rights group Ultraviolet even flew a banner reading, ‘Ultraviolet #GoodellMustGo,’ over the New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals game.

Goodell’s negligence on taking swift, appropriate action has hurt the NFL brand.

The NFL was already having public perception issues with the recent data on concussions. Rather than trying to hide these events, they should have immediately suspended these players without pay. They also should have been open and truthful with the public.

Had the NFL immediately suspended these players, informed the public and launched a campaign to stop and aid with domestic abuse things like #BoycottNFL and #FireGoodell may never have trended on Twitter.

_ Michaela Odens

Categories: guest posts Tags: ,

Choosing the right story, writing the best narrative

October 8, 2014 2 comments

Todd Cooper, courts reporter for the Omaha World-Herald

Todd Cooper stumbled upon what would turn out to be a major scandal and news story while routinely covering court cases for the Omaha World-Herald.

But Cooper was originally going to tell a different story.

If it weren’t for a well-timed question, a burning curiosity and his editor,  Cooper wouldn’t have told the story that sparked investigations and discussion of Nebraska’s prison system.

Readers would’ve read a different story entirely.

Five months ago, Cooper wrote about Quentin Jackson, a man convicted of shooting a bouncer at an Omaha nightclub. Jackson was attending a hearing on whether his conviction should be overturned in street clothes instead of prison garb.  He had been let out of prison on a “day pass” – a pass inmates qualify for when they have less than three years left in their sentences.

The news peg for the story: Jackson had been sentenced to 14 to 15 years in prison but was to be released after only six years, Cooper said. He wrote the first story on deadline and said it questioned whether Jackson was going to be released earlier than he deserved.

After doing some digging and finding out that there was data to prove that Jackson would be doing less time than he was supposed to, Cooper was prepared to follow up with another story to prove the accuracy of his first story and expose the miscalculation of Jackson’s release date. But an itch to find out more and a conversation with his editor caused Cooper to wait.

His editor allowed him to do more research about other inmates and their release dates.

Cooper said he took “one month to crunch parole and release dates,” which led to the conclusion that 873 prisoners were given miscalculated sentences. The result? Cooper had a better story.

And the followup stories just kept coming.

Cooper wrote about something with an impact. He used reporting to expose inconsistencies and injustice – provoking discussion and forcing change.

“Always look for the better story,” Cooper said. Also important, he said, is to write the story in the best way. And according to Cooper, the only way to do that is to paint a picture with the details.

Cooper tells sources, “Take me back.” He asks, “What do you see? What do you smell?”

A journalist’s job is to get as close to the truth as possible, Cooper said. His goal is always to explain and to translate information for the public.

The process it took for Cooper to write a story of substance with tremendous impact provides the steps it takes to write the best story. It requires more than a bit of curiosity, the calculated skills of a good interviewer, and a willingness to follow the story wherever it leads.

And of course, the best story also requires a good editor.

– By Michaela Noble

Social media complicates ethics guidelines for journalists

October 6, 2014 1 comment
Social media can be a dangerous thing.

Social media can be a dangerous thing.

Five years ago, I had to beg my parents to get the paper delivered or I had to wake up at the crack of dawn to watch the news with my mother. Neither of those things worked well for me.

Now, I have unlimited access to some of the top newspapers in the country through their social media networks All I have to do is log into Twitter or Facebook. Everything I need to know about the day or week’s events is right there on my phone’s screen in 140 characters or less.

Many people in media believe social media has changed the journalism industry for good, and virtually every journalism student has been beaten over the head with this information. We know that printed newspapers are becoming less relevant.  By the time the daily paper is delivered in printed form, the news is old. We know that tweeting can be the easiest way to gain sources and information. But what about another key part of journalism? How have the ethical codes of journalism changed?

What happens when someone tweets something personal to his or her handful of followers that could make a good news story? Are we still required, as ethical journalists, to ask permission to retweet or do we just do it because the tweet was public?

Earlier this year, that same question provoked controversy. Christine Fox, inspired by another Twitter user saying women who dress provocatively invite rape, started a Twitter conversation with other sexual assault victims asking what they were wearing when they got attacked. The conversation was quickly picked up by Buzzfeed. The Buzzfeed writer asked the permission of the tweeters responding to Fox, but did not ask Fox for permission to publish her Twitter handle and picture – even after Fox identified herself as a sexual assault victim.

News outlets exploded with opinions about whether  the writer was violating a common journalistic ethical code of not releasing sexual assault victims’ names without consent. Some said the story was exploitive and others argued that Buzzfeed was in the right. writer Amanda Hess told her readers “our rights [as journalists] are expanding radically, while our responsibilities to our sources are becoming more and more optional.”

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states that journalists should “recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.”  One could argue that Twitter users are seeking “attention” by posting publicly, but then where does the line dividing public and private lie now that 271 million Twitter users are sharing everything from what they ate for breakfast to what time they go to bed?

Because social media has become a legitimate news source, shouldn’t the code of ethics carry over? NPR’s rules for social media agree and urge reporters to be respectful of cultures, whether online or offline, and to remember that “our ethics don’t change in different circumstances, but our decisions might.”

The Online News Association posted five key ethical challenges of social media. The Center for Journalism Ethics has a section on digital media ethics. NPR has its set of rules for social media. The Society of Professional Journalists updated its ethics code in September. Many other news sources have put out suggestions or thoughts provoking industry-wide discussion, but is there a solid answer?

One thing that I think all journalists can agree on is the stepping stone toward a perfect answer: Use your best judgment and respect others.

_By Erika Kime

The best photojournalists ‘look at things from a fresh perspective’

October 2, 2014 2 comments

You’ve heard the saying probably more than you realize: “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

It’s true – especially in a news story.

When people remember a story for words, it’s often because the words are wrong. Take the infamous headline, “Dewey Defeats Truman” for example.  Those words aren’t remembered because of a remarkable defeat being written down in history; they’re remembered for being inaccurate.

When pictures are remembered, it’s because of the impact they have on readers. When readers saw pictures from the Boston Marathon bombings, they were affected because the images said more than any story could have. When big things happen, the impact is shown by pictures.

Matt Miller and/or Omaha World-Herald

Matt Miller, Omaha World-Herald

 Matt Miller, a photographer for the Omaha World-Herald, said that in photography, you have to “take the reader where they can’t go.” In 2007, Miller was covering Husker football at the Kansas Jayhawk’s Memorial Stadium. Because the Huskers were losing badly, Miller decided he wanted to look for something else to photograph instead of another Jayhawk touchdown. What he found ( the picture at left) was by far more interesting than what most photographers were capturing on the field.  And it showed the essence of what had happened at the game.

“Don’t stand with everyone else,” Miller said. “Look at things from a fresh perspective.”

Miller said it’s especially important to abide by those rules when you’re in charge of a beat. Whether you cover Husker football or are a courts reporter, you should always put yourself in a position of the reader.

_Julia Jackson

Small-town weekly embraces its niche

September 28, 2014 Leave a comment
The Voice Newspaper is a weekly publication that covers five counties in southeastern Nebraska.

The Voice Newspaper is a weekly publication that covers five counties in southeastern Nebraska.

On Tuesdays in the small town of Hickman, Nebraska, the inhabitants of a two-story office on Locust Street go crazy.  It’s the VOICE Newspaper office and Tuesday is the paper’s deadline.  The weekly paper covers five counties in southern Nebraska.

­Finding a niche for a publication in the ever-changing world of journalism is crucial to its survival.  The VOICE’s niche is small-town Nebraska.  The paper covers events that the two larger, nearby papers (the Lincoln Journal Star and the Beatrice Daily Sun) might not.  Photos from soup feeds and church dinners and articles featuring local homeowners are published.  The weekly deadlines allow the paper to take on a more personal feel compared with a daily newspaper.  Reporters have more time to write their stories and interview sources.

“In a weekly publication, I feel the reporters make a better connection with the subjects they write about,” April Refior said in an email.  Refior has been a reporter and photographer at the VOICE for two years.  “Since we have a little extra time to work on stories, we can visit a little more.”

Aside from the extra time to work on stories, the coziness and small size of the readership area and paper is what differentiates a weekly paper from a daily paper.

“In a weekly newspaper, one person does everything for the story (usually), including writing the article, taking photos for the article and putting it all together on a page,” Refior said.  “It’s sort of like being a jack-of-all-trades, whereas in a daily, there are special people who do specific things.”

Refior has to write government stories, even though she’d rather not.  She also edits stories and photos, takes phone calls, assists with circulation and the paper layout in addition to the reporting and photography duties she was hired for.

The staff of the paper is busy all the time, Refior said.  On Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, reporters set up interviews and start their stories.  On Mondays and Tuesdays, the staff begins to layout the paper before they send it to print on Tuesday.  On Wednesdays they fill out postal reports, deliver them to the post office and then start the weekly cycle over again for the next week’s edition.  The weekly cycle works for the publication’s readers, Refior said.

“Talking with our readers at events, they always say how much they love reading the VOICE and how our reporters and columnists do such a wonderful job​ sharing what’s going on around the area,” she said.  “Some have said they prefer to read the VOICE over daily papers because we do such a wonderful job covering the news.”

The style of paper also works for the VOICE’s readers.   It’s more of a social publication that attempts to cover as many people as it can.  It mimics the classic small-town generalization that “everybody knows everybody.”

In an L.A. Times article published in 2011, author Judy Muller wrote about the success of small-town newspapers amid a general decline of newspapers.  She pegged such a success on a weekly’s niche.

“It’s the steady stream of news that readers can only get from that publication — the births, deaths, crimes, sports and local shenanigans that only matter to the 5,000 or so souls in their circulation area,” Muller said.

Or as Refior said about the popularity of the VOICE paper: “One lady, who doesn’t know anyone in the area, subscribed to the VOICE because she said it ‘is such a happy little paper.’”

_By Sara Hinds

Comment sections must go

September 22, 2014 2 comments

Ideally, a comment section on an online article should be an open environment where the general public can discuss the events in the news.

That is probably what most news organizations had in mind when they gave readers the ability to comment on stories, back when news websites first started appearing. One at a time, news outlets such as ESPN, USA Today and Time have started disabling anonymous comments. Anyone who has scrolled through a YouTube video comment section knows why.

It goes back to a 2010 article from the American Journalism Review, which called for an end to anonymous comments. According to the review, comment sections were filled with anger and often hate speech. Some organizations followed the recommendation, but the problem of out-of-control online comments is still very real, as shown by the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri.

It has been handled in many ways, either by shutting off comments entirely or making them invisible until approved. Shutting down comments poses some problems. It is the easiest solution because it eliminates the issue entirely. It also alienates readers, who were once invited to discuss their opinions, but now must do so elsewhere.

Then there’s comment moderation, which some websites have embraced. However, approving comments to be visible online takes extra time and effort, which today’s shrinking newsrooms are running short on.

Another route is to hide the comments behind a button, like the New York Times has, or put it farther down the page than the average reader is likely to scroll. Very little has helped; even requiring a Facebook account to comment doesn’t seem to stop people from posting toxic, often racist messages.

A visual metaphor highlighting the relationship between news organizations and anonymous comments.

A visual metaphor highlighting the relationship between news organizations and anonymous comments.

Ultimately, it’s a newspaper’s reputation that keeps it in business. It is unfortunate, but an anonymous racist comment really does reflect negatively on the paper and its readers. Maybe not directly, but what is the general public supposed to think when racist comments start showing up on their hometown newspaper’s website? Is the paper racist? At the very least, the reader who made the comment probably is.

I think there is a fine line between giving readers a space to express their reactions to current events and a platform from which they can attack each other. Racially charged crime stories aren’t the only articles that attract hostile comments. Even comments on special interest websites can get especially ugly.

Comment sections are not the democratizing, social engagement engines news organizations were hoping for. Plenty of news sites have already disabled comments; those that haven’t should.

Turn comment sections off before any more death threats are made, and before any more bigotry can give itself a platform. Media organizations should quit allowing immature, reactionary readers to damage their reputations any further.

_By Samuel Egan

Categories: editing Tags:

Brands should consider tone when tweeting on 9/11

In 2013 it was AT&T.

This year, we saw it from Build-a-Bear Workshop, yoga studios, adult toy shops and toilet paper companies.

AT&T's 9/11 tweet from 2013

AT&T’s 9/11 tweet from 2013

These brands tweeted on Sept. 11, and it caused quite the collective eye roll on Twitter. Twitter users didn’t want to hear about 9/11 from companies. And they especially didn’t want a business to use Patriot Day to promote itself or its product.

Last year, AT&T received backlash for its 9/11 tweet. People responded with anger about a company using such a sad day to sell them something.

As @ryanpbroderick said, “.@ATT your cool Photoshop makes the memories of watching my parents cry in front of the television a lot easier to deal with today.”

Cooper Tires wasn't the only brand to put its logo on the photo.

Cooper Tires wasn’t the only brand to put its logo on the photo.

Other users called for a boycott of a company that used a national tragedy as a marketing ploy. And this year, brands still hadn’t learned from AT&T’s mistake.

Companies posted memorial photos with their logos on them. They offered “Patriot Day” sales. They tried to sell you their product by “showing respect” for those who had died or lost loved ones on this day 13 years ago.

Some brands just tweeted a photo with “Never forget” or “We remember.” But even these simple tweets failed to impress the public.

“Perception means everything,” said Scott Kleinberg, social media editor at The Chicago Tribune. “Even if there’s technically nothing wrong with it, it’s how the public views it. I really think the public has spoken. And I really like to make sure that I honor that.”

Verizon's tweet on September 10, 2014.

Verizon’s tweet on September 10, 2014.

Verizon was one of the few brands that may have heard the public. This year, they didn’t tweet on 9/11, out of respect. And the public’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. The majority of users appreciated the silence.

As John Oliver pointed out on his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” silence from companies isn’t controversial.

Many said Build-a-Bear was promoting its own product with this tweet.

Many said Build-a-Bear was promoting its own product with this tweet.

“No one will ever go, ‘I can’t believe it. Skittles didn’t tweet about 9-11 yesterday, they must support terrorism. I’m never eating them again,’” Oliver said. According to him, brands should pass on the opportunity to “join the conversation.”

And from responses on Twitter and the rest of the Internet, most people agree with Oliver.

So, to all the brands out there considering a tweet on 9/11 or any day of national tragedy, consider the tone of your message. If you have any hesitation, just don’t tweet it. Silence is probably better anyway.

_Whitney Carlson