The "It" Blog

Middling

Edward Snowden–his name evokes many emotions and tends to align folks on one side of national security or the other.   It has been more than six months since he released information regarding NSA wiretaps to the world media and in that time, there has been no conclusion on his actions.  

In a recent Salon article, Patrick L. Smith accused the New York Times of kowtowing to the government by withholding information, using national security as an excuse rather than release all information.   Smith accuses the Times as being a middling paper and all but asks for Times executive director Jill Abramson to replaced.  

Smith is a well respected correspondent, commentator, editor and critic who’s been published in The New Yorker and International Herald Tribune has a reputation for high criticism of governments, especially the U.S.  His attack on the Times is not surprising, his lack of respect for the institution is. 

The Times is not in anyone’s pocket and their discretion on what to print is their business.  As journalist’s they have the duty but also to right to decide “All The News That’s Fit to Print.”  Just as Smith has the right to criticism them.  If he is unhappy with their choice, he can criticize them, as he did, or if he really believes that the public has a right to know, he should obtain the information himself. 

Honestly, I think his rant like attack on the paper, invalidates journalism as a whole. 

It should be noted, that while I know that Snowden broke the law, I have mixed feelings about what he did and what the U.S. government did.  So, I guess I have no solution to if the Times is doing the right thing. 

 

Advertisements

Any chance I could see the piece before it’s published? No.

Last spring when I was interning for an alternative weekly, I was given a video assignment–chefs reading their Yelp reviews on camera.   I had successfully shot and edited two when a chef who was “stoked” about the project contacted me to participate. 

I spent an entire day filming him and his staff, when on my way out he asked if I could send over the video before it went live.  I politely explained that it was not policy but that I would mention it to my editor.   After editing down several hours of footage into a two-minute clip, I wrote my blog intro and sent the piece off to my editor for approval. 

On the way out the door that night, I mentioned to my editor that the chef had asked to see it.  She told me “Go ahead, it’s great.  He will love it.”  

He did not. 

The next business day brought a myriad of emails between my editor, the chef and his PR person.  The concern; their customers might find the video condescending and it could generate a great deal of backlash for the restaurant.  Ultimately my editor decided to pull the piece because publishing it and alienating the restaurant wasn’t worth damaging the relationship the paper had with it. 

Had I never mentioned it to my editor, I would have never sent the clip to my source purely on principle and it is fair to say that I was frustrated it was pulled. 

My journalistic side, believes that since he knew what type of piece it was going to be, approached me and was aware that I was recording everything, it should have ran and he should have never seen the piece before it aired.  In addition the seasoned chef should have known to pass any press items past his PR team. 

My public relations side believes that all press is good, even bad and that any backlash would have ultimately benefited the restaurant. 

The next day, I was shooting another chef.  He too asked at the end of the shoot to see the video before it went live.  I again politely explained the policy but mentioned it to my editor before I began editing. 

She said she would call the chef.  The piece was pulled again. 

Frustrated again, I asked my editor what the plan of action was.  She said she didn’t want to waste any more of my time and the series was killed. 

 While this may not be an issue of national security that the source wanted to preview it still went against my journalistic beliefs.  To I feel the outcome of the series would have been the same?  Yes.  Do I think the relationship with the chefs would have remained in tacked?  Yes.   

Private

I am often shocked how much people will tell me about their lives.  Intimate details that some would question sharing with a best friend, but here they are telling me, a journalist. 

I sometimes want to remind them of that and say, “you know I may publish what you just said,” but I restrain myself.  My job is to get the juicy and interesting details to add to the facts of the story.  

Because I have properly identified myself as a journalist, I tell myself that, it is okay to invade their privacy in fact they let me in.  However, sometimes it just feels wrong.   But legally, I haven’t done anything wrong. 

That is what most journalist go back to–invasion of privacy law.  Am I using a telephoto lens to snap a photo of someone in their fenced off backyard?  No.  Am I taking their personal telephone?  No.  But were do the issues of ethics come into play? 

Unfortunately, that is subjective.  There is no guide or compass that every journalist can follow.  Most organizations focus on libel, and what you can and can’t get away, like the Dozen Tips to Avoid Being Burned by a Hot Story, published by the Student Press Law Center

While avoiding criminal charges, is important, each of us has to decide what we are and are not okay with.  

To code or not to code?

ImageAs a second year graduate student, I have begun stalking journalism job board postings.  May will be here before I know it and while graduation should instill a sense of accomplishment, the anxiety of student loan repayment and lack of a full-time position far outweigh any possible celebration.  Nestled between experience in fact checking, meeting deadlines and a degree in journalism, are the words HTML and CSS in most postings.  

Yes, I can updated a WordPress-based site and understand basic HTML like page breaks and adjusting widgets, but can I code?  No.   But should I learn, so that I stand out from the crowd?  It is unclear. 

I know that journalism, no matter the form, is about telling the story and like many things it life, it is practice, practice, practice.  I write as much as I can, work with constructive editors, and embrace new story telling tools.   I have interned at two publications, both on the web team, with no exposure to code–it hasn’t been needed.   Their templates are set and building content is a bit like plug-n-play; copy text here, upload photo there, align content left or right, and save. 

What I have learned, is that my ability to cover a multitude of topics and my willingness to produce content in video, audio or print, seems to be getting me a small edge up–I am not specialized.  I haven’t niched my way into something, for better or for worse.  So in theory, adding some coding skills would only benefit me, however, unless I go back to 2000 and chose computer science as a major, the little coding practice I will glean through graduate school will never compete with the code ninjas who launch gaming sites in their sleep or built apps in preschool. 

Do I think every journalism student should have a basic understanding, yes.  Should they be able to build infographics and edit video, yes–and those skills should be melded into curriculum like AP style.  

Earlier this month, Olga Khazan wrote an entertaining diatribe in The Atlantic on the faulty logic of learning code in journalism school, and she did have some valid points but her main message was that it is a waste of time.   While funny, it seemed a shortsighted rant from an overly confident youngster.  

Steve Buttry, a seasoned journalist with Digital First Media, responded with a list of six reasons students should learn it, including the value of coding capability to employers and planning for the future. 

**The irony, I can’t not mention–both of their websites lack serious polish.  

So should I learn?  Just in case, even though it is not at all what I want to do?  The reality of the situation is that, if I want to be a reporter, I need to focus on reporting, writing and editing–the skills my editors to date have wanted and my ideas. Will that be enough for me as I embark on a new career?  My Magic 8 Ball is not answering.