BOJAN'S BLOG

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Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Media coverage of your favourite issue

161023-muskratfalls008

This post might upset a whole bunch of you. I am okay with that.

My social media feed on an almost weekly basis fills up with outraged posts about mainstream media not covering issue X. Stop doing that because most of the time it’s not true. It hasn’t been true with the Muskrat Falls development in Labrador, it hasn’t been true with the refugee crisis, and it’s not true with the Dakota Access Pipeline. So please stop saying that kind of stuff because you become the problem every time you say it. There is lots of coverage of any given issue. For the sake of the argument, I am going to post stuff that is in my news feed TODAY on Dakota Access Pipeline and the protests surrounding it (I could do the same with climate change, refugees, you name it):

So please stop it. You are all smarter than that. Please stop saying that mainstream media is not covering your favourite issue of the day. They are. They are also covering a whole bunch of other stuff that is just as important (like deforestation in Borneo, or migrant and refugee crisis, or the latest developments in Kurdistan). If you think the coverage of whatever issue you care about is biased or incomplete, than engage with those stories and journalists. Provide facts in your comments, suggest sources that would make the story better, offer your own expertise if you have it. Vast majority of today’s journalists can be reached through comments or social media. It’s really, really easy to help them correct a mistake or make their stories better.

There are a lot of problems with today’s media industry. They need to figure out a whole bunch of things. You telling them they are not doing their jobs when THEY CLEARLY ARE is not helping. Once independent, professional journalism is gone, you are not going to get it back. Your favourite site that posts unedited and out of context phone videos on social media, or an individual who thinks it’s cool to post a 47 years old photo and claim that the media is not properly covering an event,  are not going to be an adequate replacement for thoughtful coverage of complex issues. Whether you like it or not, thoughtful, in-depth coverage requires significant resources, multitude of skills, structures, and editorial oversight. There are some interesting funding models that make that possible outside of a typical corporate structure – crowdfunding, voluntary subscriptions, paywalls, collaborations with public agencies or not-for profits, co-ops, social enterprise models and so on. Not a single one of these or all of them taken together can, at this point, replace the resources, the reach, the depth, and the skill that the New York Times, the Star, CBC, or the Guardian can bring to covering an issue. So let’s help journalists and reporters do their jobs better while they are trying to do a heck of a lot more with a heck of a lot less then ever before.

Also, if you want independent, long-form journalism in Atlantic Canada you can support The Deep and their crowdfunding campaign right here.

/rant

The photograph is from a recent protest against Muskrat Falls hydro development project in front of the Colonial Building in St. John’s, NL.

Lawlessness at Sea: Journalism done right

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If you read anything today, make it this series of exceptional stories from New York Times on lawlessness on the high seas. Most of it actually occurs in connection with illegal fishery, which is an incredibly lucrative business.

You can access the whole package through the splash page here or individual pieces:

Stowaways and Crimes Aboard a Scofflaw Ship

Murder at Sea: Captured on Video, but Killers Go Free

“Sea Slaves”: The Human Misery that Feeds Pets and Livestock – on slave labour of the world’s fishing industry.

A Renegade Trawler, Hunted for 10,000 Miles by Vigilantes

All of this is followed by a piece on possible solutions, an interview with a photographer covering one of the stories, and an editorial.

This was so good that I wanted to read all of it and have actually paid digital subscription once I hit the monthly limit of free stories. I suspected all along that if you want people to pay for your digital subscriptions you have to provide unparalleled content and New York Times provided an amazing content. There is a lesson here for Canadian newspapers if there are any real ones left out there.

Middle Cove Beach last year. Perfectly legal caplin rolling.

The Battery, storm, Haiti coverage

The Battery, my favourite part of St. John’s, has suffered extensive damage in yesterday’s storm. A couple of houses needed to be evacuated in the middle of the night and some stages and wharfs have been simply washed away including the frame foundations on our friends’ house. This afternoon, when I walked over, the winds were still strong and the waves moderately high washing away the debris and further damaging the properties along the water.

***

I apologize in advance for what is surly going to turn into a rant.

If you still wonder why is journalism held in such low esteem these days, look no further than the local CBC website and the insensitive, self-promoting and badly written blog published under the heading Haiti Impressions by ‘journalist’ and anthropology student Justin Brake. “Two and a half days in Port-au-Prince and I still have not felt any aftershocks,” laments Brake. Well, sorry that it’s not so entertaining as you hoped it would be. He offers nothing: no insight, no compassion, no understanding of the place, the people and their history or the current events, and no ability or empathy to actually come away from this tragedy a better person- never mind actually do some good. And he is not alone. According to this lightstalkers thread, the vulture mentality has hit an all-time low. You can tell what frauds various Justin Brakes are when you read a personal account of an actual journalist like Peter Power. When a place like CBC gives platform to somebody like Brake it robs us all of a meaningful public discussion on things that truly matter. Journalism is not about self-aggrandizement, but about giving a voice to those who need it. At one point, CBC had journalists who understood that. It’s time to hire them back.

Croatian word of the day: oluja storm [o loo ya]

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[Old Blog] Arguing and storytelling

Miss F. was about three and a half the day she outmaneuvered me for the first time. Before that day, I would give in to her demands knowing that I was in control, but on that day I gave in because I had no argument to offer to the contrary. Luckily, it wasn’t a big deal.

It happened in Saint John, New Brunswick. We were out for a walk and we stopped at the corner store on Princess and Charlotte to pick up some popsicles. On the card rack next to the counter there were some cheesy birthday cards and one of them caught Miss F’s eye. “Can we get this card,” she asked holding it in her hand. “No,” I said. “But we can come back and get it when one of your friends has a birthday.” She very reasonably agreed. We continued our walk, Miss F. happily clutching a melting popsicle in one hand and Tuka, her polar bear, in the other.

It was sometime later, we were somewhere along the bottom of the King Street, when she turned to me and said “Tuka is my friend.” “Oh, that’s nice,” I replied puzzled at the face Ms. M was making at me. Miss. F, on the other hand, was not to be deterred. “You know,” she said, “it’s Tuka’s birthday today.” “Really, and how old is she,” I asked naively. “She is three. And we have to get her a birthday card.” And we did.

I remembered that while reading Jay Heinrich’s piece on How to Teach a Child to Argue [h/t kottke]. Good arguing skills, he claims, are essential if we want a society whose members can disagree on important and less important issues and come to resolution through a constructive and well argued debate. Right now, Heinrich argues we

seem to avoid argument. But this has produced passive aggression and groupthink in the office, red and blue states, and families unable to discuss things as simple as what to watch on television. Rhetoric doesn’t turn kids into back-sassers; it makes them think about other points of view.

During our last trip to Croatia, Miss. F relished every chance she got to ‘fight’ with deda, her grandfather. Their loud and boisterous arguments would raise eyebrows on our quiet and polite North Atlantic island, but what deda was teaching her was to hold her own. And she liked it.

The passivity we today so often mistake for either politeness or objectivity and fairness is nowhere more obvious than in a university classroom and on the pages of a daily newspaper. A seminar class I took last semester was more often than not an exercise in painful silence with nary an opinion voiced on some of the most provocative readings I ever had a privilege to study.

The blandness of what today passes for journalism is increasingly painful to read and listen to. So it comes as a shock when a newspaper like Israel’s Hareetz sends its reporters home for a day and instead invites the country’s poets and writers to cover the news. The stories ranged from amusing to exquisitely crafted features, but what is truly remarkable about it, in the words of the Haaretz editor Don Alfon, is that “[t]hirty-one writers decided what are the real events of the day… what is really important in their eyes… They wrote about it, and our priorities as journalists were suddenly shaken by this.”

Journalism doesn’t need to be the boring dish currently served on the pages of newspapers and magazines the world over. Journalism was and is about stories that in some way touch the reader. That art of storytelling is older than any J-school formula for a perfect news story. And that brings me to the photograph above.

Last night, I think for the first time in two years, Ms. M and I went out on a date alone. The Crow’s Nest, an officers’ club on St. John’s waterfront, is once a month, on the second Thursday of every month, transformed into a magical place where storytellers share yarns about Jack, P’tit Jean, Sour Toe Cocktail and the old times in Newfoundland. It was a fabulous evening and it reminded me why stories matter so much. They bind us together and let us be a part of something greater than ourselves. Full of playful arguments, compelling characters, and biting irony, each story was a perfect miniature masterpiece of oral tradition.

I recently read an essay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez where he argues that the journalism needs to go back to basics when it comes to teaching and learning the craft. Probably true. But, we also need to teach a whole new generation of kids to argue, use their imaginations and tell stories. It might cost us a birthday card or two, but I think the benefits would far outweigh the costs.

Croatian word of the day:rasprava discussion

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[Old Blog] On developing new journalism narratives on line

This is bound to get long, so bear with me.

I am sitting at Halifax airport and digesting two days of information presented at the Magazines East conference organized by Atlantic Magazines Association. It was a short, but good conference. The speakers included people like D.B. Scott and Melanie McBride. There was a lot of information on magazine industry in general and the ways magazines could and should expand their reach and build communities on line. There was some talk about difficult economic times, but, overall, the tone was positive and optimistic. One thing that was not discussed and is almost never discussed by print media types was storytelling on the web.

I do not for a second want to suggest that discussing new business models for solid journalism is a futile exercise. It is most definitely not and it is extremely important that we pay close attention to several experiments currently going on and ranging from micro-payments to paid content to not-for-profit models to charity structures for serious journalism. A lot of people who are much, much smarter than me are currently thinking and talking about those kinds of things – people like Jay RosenMark HamiltonMatthew Ingram and the crew at Neiman Lab, folks at the Canadian Journalism ProjectCJRNYTRyan SholinMark DeuzeScott RosenbergDan Kennedy, and many, many others. These are very important conversations.

The sense of urgency over developing sustainable business model(s) in the age of Web 2.0 and beyond probably has a lot to do with the fact that the craft of story telling has fallen somewhat by the wayside.

It is possible to argue that blogs have created a new writing form, but I think that they are not that different from the previously existing forms. They still demand that the reader follows the text in a sequential manner albeit with the ability to expand the content and the context by following embedded hyperlinks. The reader’s ability to immediately and impulsively respond to the text is seemingly new, but as somebody who once had a pleasure to man the night desk of a large daily, I can tell you that impulsive responses at 3:00 a.m. are not that much of a novelty.

Photojournalists, more so than writers, have proved themselves willing to experiment with different content presentations. They embraced video and audio and many (like John Lehman and Brent Foster) consider themselves visual journalists rather than just photographers. This new wave produced what we today commonly call multimedia. What we mean by it is an on-line presentation that combines photography, video, audio and sometimes text and is accessible through some sort of a flash-based player. The best such efforts (Globe and Mail’s short docsMagnum in Motion essaysMediastorm productions and Bombay Flying Club gorgeous packages) can be very good, informative and esthetically pleasing. However, I believe they all fail in two important ways and one is more serious than the other.

At this point, all of it is in the experimental stage and using video seems to be seducing many a photo editor, but, to be honest, I yet have to see a multimedia package where the video component is truly indispensable (a couple of Magnum in Motion productions come close). I suspect that this preoccupation with video is driven by technology as much as by management jumping on the video bandwagon because they are afraid that if their websites do not include video, they will somehow be left behind. This will all sort itself out eventually. What will not sort itself out so easily is the fact that even the best multimedia, in my opinion, misunderstands and misuses the on-line medium.

It’s really hard for me to say this because I like multimedia. I love the ability to see stunning photography coupled with good audio and tight editing. I have watched some of it over and over again. The problem is that vast majority of readers lasts about 60 seconds into a piece. Yep. That beautiful eight-minute multimedia package you produced sure impressed your colleagues, but the non-journalism world simply tuned out after 60 seconds. I believe what we are doing wrong is that we treat what is an interactive medium as a passive one. All you can do with a web video is press play and watch.

Now compare those 60 seconds to the time an average World of Warcraft gamer spends playing on-line every week – 22 hours. That works out to almost 4 hours a day, often in one sitting.

I am not suggesting that journalism has to be packaged like a role playing game, but I do believe that more interactive content compelling the readers to physically engage with a story would go a long way in extending the time they spend watching what journalists produce.

To find examples of some innovative on-line story telling we need to step outside of journalism world into that of fiction. I have recently discovered Penguin’s outstanding site We Tell Stories. This is not the best fiction you’ll ever read. But, it is the most interactive fiction you’ve ever read. The six stories all use different story telling techniques ranging from simple choose-your-own-adventure type of story in Fairy Tale to an interesting use of Google Maps in The 21 Steps. Go through them and think how we could use some of those approaches to digital narratives in our own reporting. For example, my new favourite place on the web is the New York Times remarkable and interactive feature One in 8 Million. On the continuum of interactivity it’s much closer to what I imagine we could eventually accomplish, but you could conceivably build this feature into an even more interactive piece along the line of The 21 Steps. That’s the kind of interactivity I would like to see in journalistic story telling. I would bet that you could take a chunk of those casual gamers who take a break from work and play a game of tetris or scrabble or trivia for 10 to 15 minutes and turn them into multimedia audience if you make their experience interesting and truly interactive.

So what would that kind of journalism look like? Well, think about how you as a journalist collect information. It’s very much like a World of Warcraft string of quests. You are assigned a story, while researching it, you uncover more material that requires more research and a follow up story and so on. Let your readers do the same. If you are the Globe and Mail or CBC or Toronto Star and have the resources to play and experiment, build that kind of an interactive content around complex issues that unfold over long periods of time. This can be the current financial crisis, climate change, conflict in Afghanistan or hockey playoffs. Use interactive maps, interactive timelines, short multimedia/audio/video/photography, animated infographics, well written text, interactive photographs (something along the lines of Jonas Bendiksen’s work on slums – but let readers click on objects and people in the photographs for additional information). Make each piece of information a piece of a puzzle that helps the readers understand the complexity of the whole story. Let them enter and exit where they want. Let them wonder through the story. Let them find their own way in what is for them still an uncharted territory. Let them explore it and draw their own map of the place you are taking them into.

What I find astounding is that newspapers haven’t done this already. Nobody is better equipped than newspapers and magazines to understand that readers need multiple entry points into a story. Open any newspaper or magazine and you’ll see that this has always been done on a printed page. There are headlines, decks, photos, sidebars, graphics, pullout quotes, subheads, captions, timelines… As a reader you can start at any of those places and proceed as you please. Why do we expect those same engaged and intelligent readers to be satisfied with staring at the screen is beyond me.

Melanie McBraid hit on one of the biggest barriers to this kind of content in her presentation at the Magazines East. Fear. Not just fear of technology, but fear of losing control of the story. That is foolishness. Editors, journalists and publishers never had the control over the story so there is nothing to lose. What a great time this is to unleash the creativity of people who have time and again created amazingly compelling content packaged in interactive and effective design and give them a free reign over a new medium that they instinctively will understand better than anybody if we only give them a chance.

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This is Henry House in Halifax. A place I would much rather be discussing this in than here on this blog.

Croatian word of the day:novinarstvo journalism

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[Old Blog] GEOG-4010 – Entry 3 – On ethnographies

Entry 3 – January 19, 2009
Ethnographies – I’ll give you ethnographies

At the time when newspapers are folding and good magazine writing is getting hard to find, the popularity of ethnographies among social scientists is highly amusing (and sad).

If you know where to look for decent journalism, you can still find the good stuff: Muzamil Jaleel’s piece A Kashmiri in America: the lucky shade of brown in dispatches magazine is brilliant (think of dispatches as National Geographic for grown-ups).

If you really want to know what it’s like to do fieldwork in a hostile environment, read John Kifner’s Of turbans and neckties: why past defines present in that same issue. That link will take you to the full text. It’s a crash course on international relations and probably more useful than most books on the subject.

If Jaleel and Kifner were to read Crang and Cook’s text on writing ethnographies, they would probably be nodding at passages like this:

“In reality, research is an embodied activity that draws in our whole physical person, along with all its inescapable identities. What we bring to the research affects what we get, so as Steve Herbert has put it, ‘ethnographies are as much about the culture of the student as they are of the studied’”

or

”…it is not sheer number, ‘typicality’ or ‘representativeness’ of people approached which matters, but the quality and positionality of information that they can offer.”

That is precisely why hiring a local stringer is not good enough. A good reporter is an interpreter between cultures – his own and the one he observes.

I would feel quite comfortable arguing that a journalist, unburdened by theories and paradigms is a more apt ‘ethnographer’ than an anthropologist. The difference between them might be that today is much easier to obtain funding for your project as an anthropologist than a journalist. And journalists try not to invent new words like ‘positionality’.

Am I bitter? You bet.

To leave you with something useful at the end of this rant here is a link to the writing tips for 21st century [h/t to Mark Hamilton].

Croatian word of the day: novinarstvo journalism

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