Part of a writer’s job is to take facts and turn them into a story. The goal is to be objective and just turn what happened into a readable, more interesting sequence of events, but oftentimes the words used can seem to put a little slant to the information.
In a comparison of two stories that reported a newly released poll about life in Afghanistan, two papers, The New York Times and USA Today each had different ways of reporting the study.
The New York Times began with the negative results of the poll, and then went into the different areas that people were unsatisfied with and gave statistics to back those statements. There were no quotes aside from a statement taken from the survey.
USA Today approached the story with a positive lede and gave essential background information about the survey up at the beginning. The statistics were listed, which made it difficult to follow, but the quotes solidified the story. Also, USA Today used quotes that both agreed and disagreed with the survey results.
It seems to be argued that striving for balance in a story can lead to the publication of opinions that just aren’t true. Opinions that are proven to be untrue should be weeded out by the reporter. But if two experts disagree, the two opinions are creating balance in the story and should definitely be sought after and published.
When it comes to balance, the USA Today story did a better job. It may have slanted the story by using a positive lede, but it used quotes that represented both the positive and negative attitudes toward the progress in Afghanistan. Listing the statistics also gives the impression that the writer isn’t trying to lead you anywhere.
But the balanced quotes at the end of the USA Today story are wasted if people skim the first few bulleted statistics and then move on to another story. The New York Times story was much more readable in form, and that should be important too.
Before looking over the stories again to write this, I wanted to say that I both prefered The New York Times article and thought it did a better job telling the story because it seemed more readable and informational. But now I think I only prefer it.
I did get more information from the USA Today article, and it was more balanced information, so after reading the articles again I feel they did a better job.
Compiled from Times wire services.
– Afghans have lost a considerable amount of confidence in the direction of their country over the past two years, according to an extensive nationwide survey of over 6000 Afghans conducted over the summer and released Wednesday.
In the survey, 44 percent of Afghans interviewed said the country was headed in the right direction, compared with 64 percent in 2004 on the eve of the first democratic presidential elections in Afghanistan.
Security was the main source for optimism among those who said the country was headed in the right direction. But among those who expressed pessimism, more than half said the biggest problem was a lack of security, the Taliban threat and warlords.
While violence has increased, Afghanistan has made some progress in the nearly five years since U.S.-led forces overthrew the fundamentalist Islamic Taliban regime.
Afghans finally got a chance to vote in presidential elections in 2004 and in parliamentary elections in 2005. Roads have been paved and schools reopened after three decades of anarchy.
Frederick Starr, Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, said he was not surprised by the survey.
“These findings … in no way contradict the larger conclusion that this is a country still desperately poor and desperately in need of help,” Starr said. “What they affirm is that help produces results, which in turn generates appreciation.”
On a local level, unemployment was cited as the biggest problem. Corruption, which has become one of the main criticisms of the government, was less of a concern for respondents than unemployment and lack of services.
The survey showed strong support for democratic elections, and strong approval of new national institutions, including the Afghan National Army, of which 87 percent approved, and the Afghan National Police, of which 86 percent approved.
However, the police, in particular, have been widely criticized for being corrupt, brutal and beholden to local warlords.
Barnett Rubin, who studies Afghanistan at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation, said in an e-mail, “I have never met one person, including the minister of the Interior, who trusted the Afghan National Police. I think this is not a very reliable survey.”
Starr counters: “For a country that didn’t have a national army and had only local militias, the fact that one exists — no matter its absolute level — is a breakthrough.”
– USA Today contributed to this story
It’s not just Twitter that can be utilized for story telling in the new age of journalism. While Twitter breaks news fast and can bring in a large supply of sources and opinions, other social media sites like Pinterest, blogs and Facebook can also bring the audience to the writer in a fresh, interesting way.
The information isn’t presented as quickly and urgently as it is on Twitter, but the other social media platforms allow for longer posts and more images. By connecting to all the outlets, writers expand their personal brands or publications’ brands.But perhaps the most important reason to use social media is that it allows for audience feedback or, in some instances, for the audience to inform writers. The “open news concept” allows readers to submit questions or suggestions, editors sort through them, and if it seems like a good story, then a reporter is assigned to it. It’s almost like the reporters are commenting on user-generated posts.
The result is that a certain readership is invested and the community is more informed about issues that really pertain to the area. It really seems like a good model for local papers. And having two-way communication between readers and writers seems to almost be expected now, especially at the local level.
But opening up channels for communication seems to be easier to do when the entire publication is online. For organizations that use print and the web, establishing how to give the audience the story and allow for feedback while also maintaining a strong print presence can be much more difficult.
It seems that organizations are figuring out what works best for them, though, and while online news definitely doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, it really doesn’t seem like print is either. Sometimes online is used just for short, easy-to-read pieces and print is reserved for longer articles, and other times the model is more that online breaks the news and print gives the full story.
This notion that online should come first is just logic if you think about it. More people are constantly connected to the Internet than they are to a newspaper, and of course web news can be updated as it comes in where print has to wait to go to press. Breaking news online doesn’t ruin the print version if the print version uses the extra time to write a fleshed-out story from a new, maybe more personal, angle.
While it’s hard to work out the kinks in an environment that’s always changing, journalism itself sort of fits the always-changing profile. News is different everyday, and journalists have always had to work to be on top of what’s going on and figure out the best way to tell the story.
Now we’ve added the use of social media and various story-telling platforms, but I think we can handle it.
In a comparison of a breaking news story written by BBC v. the same story covered by RTE News, it’s clear that BBC relied on Twitter information much more heavily than did RTE News. The result is two stories with different information.
RTE News mainly used the police as a source, and while BBC had multiple sources, none of them seemed to be experts. The information came in from “reports” and witnesses. It is important to have points of view from people who saw an incident, but reporting on a crisis soley through those accounts rather than police reports is an issue.
BBC’s method of creating a story relates back to an earlier post I wrote about an eagle that snatched a dog. The dog snatching story had only one source, and he was a witness, not someone directly invovled.
So while it does seem important to use Twitter to learn about a breaking news story and even to find witness accounts to add to the story, I think the BBC story puts itself into a little trouble by not relying on police reports or named sources.
Another option is to perhaps tell the audience that the story is based off witness accounts, and may or may not be true, but this is the information that’s breaking. And also say that once verifyable information is found, it will be published to correct any errors made in the initial reportings.
By doing that, the organization is getting news out, and it’s somewhat factual if it’s coming from witnesses, but it’s clear that the information isn’t coming from police reports or other expert or offical sources.
Also, even though the information in the two stories does differ, I don’t think it’s fair to compare one of the stories to a fabricated story like “Jimmy’s World.” Both stories did use real sources, the information gathered just conflicts.
Twitter can be an important tool for journalists looking for news or sources, but the old tried-and-true methods can’t be discarded. Police reports, press releases and named civilians still add necessary verification to a story.
Sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have opened up new ways for everyday people to mass distribute what they hear and see, but let’s not forget that people have been widely distributing information using TV, phones and even the mail for a while now.
It seems the difference is that social media sites combine the abilities of all forms of communication into one package.
You can relay information to a wide audience, the way TV does. It gives everyday citizens the ability to spread their own opinions, the way mail does. And it makes that information spread instantaneously, the way calling and texting does.
Twitter, specifically, is embraced by journalists and nonjournalists alike as a method of spreading news. But where is the line drawn over what should ethically be reported?
In “A Masterclass in Twitter Storytelling: Man Live-Tweets Story of Emotional Breakup,” an interesting account of a couple having a marriage fight in a public Burger King is documented, step-by-step, through tweets on Twitter. It includes funny comments, pictures and even video.
It can be argued that people’s “private” conversations shouldn’t be tweeted for all to read, and that it’s creepy and unethical to pass around that information. But really, is it private if you’re in a public place and you’re talking loud enough for everyone to hear? And is it creepy and unethical to eavesdrop in a public place or is it just human nature to be aware of your surroundings and listen to interesting conversations that are loud enough for you to hear?
In a way, it can be considered upsetting that you can’t have a personal or private conversation without the risk of it being mass distributed, but is eliminating those sites, or puting heavier restrictions and regulations on them, a better alternative? A better alternative seems to be to simply talk in private if you need privacy.
People have always been able to eavesdrop and pass on information. Twitter just opens up the conversation to an instant and widely distributed communication that’s more casual and doesn’t need as much verification as does publishing a story in a legitimate news publication.
The Twitter story also raises questions about the definition of journalism. It’s not a new concept that journalism is changing and it’s not just those who work for a news organization who have the ability to widely distribute news, but Twitter’s popularity and fit into the news sharing realm seems to make it especially controversial.
Issues over all the false information that gets tweeted and retweeted as legitimate news raise a lot of concern, as does the way that it enforces the new direction that journalism is moving in, which is a stronger movement toward personal opinion and not thinking of objectivity as “perfect neutrality or the elimination of interpretation,” but rather as “a person’s willingness to use objective methods to test interpretations for bias or inaccuracies.”
The Twitter story is amusing and tells the story of a local event that happened publicly. All the people in the Burger King were allowed to listen to the conversation, so why can’t the people reading it on Twitter also listen in? In that way, there is nothing distasteful or unethical about the story.
The story is also placed in the ethical category because the story is meant for entertainment and not a means of helping people make decisions (aside from the decision not to have personal conversations in private places).
When you look at how Twitter was used to detail a personal conversation from a public offical talking about her campaign, the need to perhaps verify the information becomes more important. It’s always unethical to knowingly publish false information, but even unknowingly publishing false information of public importance because not a single attempt at verification was made is also considered unethical.
In the end, I think it’s safe to say the majority of Americans know everyone can have Internet on their phone, and therefore everyone around could possibly have a constant connection to sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. If there’s something you don’t want passed along, don’t provide people with that information!
The relationship between journalism and Twitter is full of pros and cons. Some journalists embrace the instant connection and new news gathering process it offers, but others seem to be more intimidated by its speed and the possiblity of using it to spread false information.
It seems that on the plus side, Twitter and other social networking sites allow people to relay news that wouldn’t otherwise get out, as seen in cases like the revolutions in Egypt and Lybia. Even in the U.S., where the media experiences full First Amendment protection, Twitter is used to break news that the media hasn’t even learned about yet as people themselves experience an event and tweet it.
For small news organizations or individuals who blog and spread news to their communities, Twitter provides a convenient platform for them to get their names and news out there. By using Twitter to start a conversation, to include the audience in the reporting process, or to find sources, reporters are able to open a form of interaction into their journalism.
While the openness of Twitter can in fact be used to spread false information, that openness and interaction also works as fact checking.
But some organizations, like BBC, have decided the cons of Tweeting journalists outweigh the pros. The policy is journalists for the BBC can’t tweet breaking news before they’ve filed a story because it would “slow down the process of getting newsworthy stories into the BBC’s newsroom.”
The issue I see with that policy is because it’s not only journalists tweeting about news, shouldn’t the BBC journalists who know some news tweet it as soon as possible so that they can get the news out to their followers before, or at lease at the same time, as the random people who are also aware of the news?
On a list of tips for making the most of Twitter, “who you follow is so important” and “it’s OK to get a little obsessed.” Following those guidelines, it seems that it would be important for news organizations to jump on the Twitter bandwagon. They need to tweet to build followers, and they need to update as quickly and often as possible to get a little obsessed with tweeting.
But I suppose they do run a greater risk when they tweet false information than do everyday citizens.
Twitter also allows a lot of personal expression, and some news organizations may just wish to keep communication regular and simple rather than immediate and never ending. Twitter is of course changing things, even the laws regarding speech, but people might just have to be OK with people accepting the changes at different rates.
Because tweets are so frequent, Twitter, more so than Facebook, allows people to open up their ideas and opinions to everyone. From an organization’s point of view, maybe allowing employees to tweet is intimidating because it sort of causes the organization to take on the identity of its employees rather than, at least while working, the employees taking on the identity of their workplace.