What to Guard Against as a Journalist

Just after 1:00 a.m. on July 28th, 1996 a loud boom went off in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanda, Georgia, but it was not the sound of celebration for the Olympics. An inconspicuous pipe bomb exploded in the park, and according to a New York Times article one was killed and 111were injured in the explosion. One other died from a heart attack while racing to the site to catch the incident on camera for television. One man named Richard Jewell was originally hailed as a hero for for being a first responder. However, the security guard was later pegged as the suspect (see the story here) and targeted in newspapers and on television, and it wouldn’t be for a few months until his image was cleared.

Another interesting news story that surrounds a person in question is that of Stella Lieback and her case against McDonald’s. In 1992 Lieback was sitting in the passenger seat of a car when she spilled a scorching cup of McDonald’s coffee onto her lap. She went into shock from the severe pain, and her grandson rushed her to the hospital where her care came with bills. Later, the 79 year-old sued McDonald’s in hopes that the business would lower the temperature of its served coffee. From the court case she was originally awarded 2.9 million dollars, and the judge requested that McDonald’s lower the standard temperature of coffee to 170-180 degress Fahrenheit. The world immediately responded critically to Lieback. She was illustrated as a person greedy for money, when  in reality she only recieved around 500,000 dollars. As well as, critics felt she had no right to sue McDonald’s for a clumsy mistake.

Many lessons can be learned from the coverage of these two incidents. First, facts should be checked over. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics states that journalists should “test the accuracy of information from all sources.” In the Olympic Bombing story the number of people dead and the number injured continually changed. In Lieback’s case, it was claimed that she “won the lottery” by getting 2.9 million dollars when she was only awarded less than 500,000 dollars. Also, the news said she was holding the coffee between her legs while driving which made her seem more at fault. Therefore, her image was distorted.  Secondly, sources should be clearly stated. The Code of Ethics instructs to “identify sources whenever feasible.” Based upon the New York Times article, sources were not identified in Jewell’s case, and journalists used “unidentified law enforcement sources to cast Mr. Jewell in the worst possible light.” This leads into the third lesson of not taking one side of an argument and harming the person or people the article revolves around. Journalists should “be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of  charges.” Before Jewell was convicted the public believed he was guilty because of the press. Headlines in the newspapwer stated him as a suspect before any hard evidence supporting this statement got out. News represented him as “Bubba the Bomber.” Jewell was being wrongfully harmed when in fact he was not the bomber. Lieback was stuck in similar circumstances. As word counts got smaller in articles covering the case, Lieback’s situation and how the jury came to its conclusions were not explained in full detail. Lieback’s character was harmed when comics, cartoons and comedians alike portrayed her as a “Scheming wannabe millionaire.” Based on the news coverage of these two stories, journalists learn to check over facts, to identify sources, and to treat people fairly.


2013 Government Shutdown

On October 1st 2013 the government shutdown in Washington D.C. and wouldn’t start up again until October 17th.

A government shutdown occurs when Congress can’t agree on a spending bill. This specific shutdown was caused by disagreement surrounding Obamacare. According to a USA Today article, the “Republican-controlled House” has passed a spending bill that “does not provide funding to implement Obamacare.” The Democratic-controlled Senate wants the act to be fully funded and to be passed as a “continuing resolution without policy changes.”

Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, is a reform aimed at improving the quality of health care for Americans. It “expands Medicaid to over 15 million uninsured low-income Americans.” It requires that all Americans have health insurance or they will have to pay an additional tax in 2014. The act was signed into law in 2010, and its reforms will continue unless it is fully repealed. Republicans are against Obamacare because of the costs surrounding it. Obamacare will add more than 500 billion dollars to debt of the United States, and the United States is already 17 trillion dollars in debt. They also believe that it will not help keep health care costs down or allow people to keep their current health insurance. Moreover, there may be a shortage of workers as ERs become more crowded and care will slow down.

The 16-day shutdown had profound effects. Furloughs, or leaves of absence, occured across the country as national parks and other federal agencies closed. These furlughed workers prevented tourist visits and decreased income in many parks. For example, Boston’s national historic sites are estimated to have lost about 55,000 visitors. As well as, the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Charlestown, Massachusetts lost about 7,000 dollars per day. Overall, it is estimated that the shutdown cost 24 billion dollars to the economy of the United States, money being lost due to loss of government services, travel services spendings, and shut downs of national parks, according to Standard and Poor’s. The shutdown could have potentially affected citizens’ safety as well. 976 inspectors of the Food and Drug Adminstration were furloughed, and some planned inspections were put off. Secondly, “Federal officials who oversee compliance with discrimination laws and labor practices” weren’t on duty unless in the case of emergency.

On Wednesday, October 16th Congress approved President Obama’s bipartisan deal, therefore re-starting government. The Senate deal doesn’t have major significant changes to Obamacare and suspends the debt limit until February 7th.

Breastfeeding in a Classroom: Newsworthy?

In September of 2012 a controversial topic arose when Adrienne Pine, professor of anthropology at American University, breastfed her baby while teaching her class. Pine had brought her sick baby to class so she would not have to leave her in a daycare nor stay at home and let down her students in the first week of school. Near the end of her “feminist anthropology” class her baby became hungry, and Pine felt she had no choice but to breastfeed her daughter, leaving the students to sit there in shock. Heather Mongilio, writer of the university’s newspaper The Eagle, began reporting on the event while Editor-in-chief Zach Cohen oversaw her progress. Pine claimed that the “sexist” and “anti-woman” newspaper was trying to report on something completely unnecessary and un-newsworthy. When Heather interviewed her the next day, Pine says Mongilio “hounded” her, and that her voice “became increasingly hoarse and pained” while answering Mongilio. Pine writes in an email to a faculty member: “I really don’t care what the slant of the article is. It’s just the fact of the article itself that I find offensive. I don’t think I should be singled out for permanent internet discussion of my breasts, simply because of a difficult labor choice I had to make.” Furthermore, as stated in her essay, she believes what the newspaper is classifying as newsworthy is “little more than tabloid fodder.” In her view, The Eagle’s intent was to make a hostile work environment for professors.


I believe that Pine breastfeeding in her classroom was newsworthy and that The Eagle had the right to report on this occurrence. Despite Pine’s support of the newspaper being sexist because of its date rape article, The Eagle is not anti-woman because the date rape article, which exclaimed that women didn’t have the right to say they were raped after being drunk, came out two years prior with a different Editor-in-chief. Secondly, Mongilio did not have hostile intentions. Mongilio said to Pine in her first email: “I was hoping to be able to talk to you in order to discuss what happened in class and allow you to speak about the matter in your own words.” Mongilio, along with the editors, was in no way choosing sides on the topic or calling out on Pine for anything. Rumors were circulating around campus so The Eagle took this as incentive to report on the overall idea of breastfeeding in the classroom. It was an unusual story that affected students and their ideals, and The Eagle had the right to report about it. It was never said that professors were forbidden to breastfeed in class or that women could not breastfeed in public. The whole event was spun out of control and brought on a national scale because of Pine’s reaction and essay.

Read the story and what the student journalists learned here.


The Decline of Journalism in America

news2American journalism has changed greatly in this past century and perhaps not changing for the better. John Nichols and Robert McChesney, authors of The Death and Life of American Journalism, foresee newspaper businesses diminishing in the near future. News is now largely reported online and on television, and these two question democracy and free press in America with digital media. They believe digital media will not save
journalism. McChesney says that television news networks do not offer original journalism. These networks take what already exists and just question it. As well as, thousands of news reporter layoffs take place every month. Without individual journalists, government and other large corporations will take control of the news. As the amount of reporters decline, so do the originality of sources and news stories. Alisa Miller, CEO of Public Radio International, delves into these problems of the news on a TED Talk. News in America focuses on events or celebrities in America, or events outside of the country that have a direct effect on America. As well as, what is reported on has to be affordable. Reporting on a celebrity in America is much cheaper than reporting on an event in another country due to limited network news bureaus. McChesney’s and Nichols’ solution to saving journalism and the news is having a major government subsidy that will support a certain organization or press of the people’s choice. American journalism is “dying” because of the loss of independent journalists/reporters, the popularity of digital media, and the limitations on the news.

Twitter: Valuable Journalist Tool?

Ttwitterwitter plays a major role in the social and informational media of the 21st century. Twitter has more than a grand total of 500 million users registered. Among these users are journalists. Although Twitter has some set-backs, it can be a valuable tool for journalists if used correctly. According to Steve Buttry in his post, there are ten key components of Twitter that make it valuable: breaking news, crowdsourcing, ability to search for sources, follow newsworthy people, gather community quotes, get story ideas, save time, distribute content, continue conversation, and respond to criticism/questions. One of the most important positive aspects of Twitter that makes it useful, as highlighted by Buttry, is its timeliness. Journalists can post information right away or receive news that happened only seconds ago. Accessibility is another important key factor. Journalists can see what is trending. However, as Belinda Alzner points out, Twitter is a valuable tool only if it is used correctly. Specifically, she does not think it is right that people classify tweets as published sources of journalism when they are only short 140 character posts. Secondly, Twitter is open to the public, so people can take whatever posts they want and use it somewhere else regardless of any additional information the journalists may have. Moreover, Journalism has become lazy with the conveniences of Twitter. Paul Farhi, contributing writer for the Washington Post, takes an undecided position on the topic in his article. Twitter provides easy-access to newsmakers if they cannot physically be reached. He also points out that Twitter provides journalists with up-coming trends. However, he also reminds readers of all the unimportant tweets there are to sift through to get access to the ones of value. Overall, Twitter is a good tool for staying updated on news and trends, but it is not a good choice of media to publish work and therefore journalists should find other modes of publishing their work.