Guest blog: The disconnect in modern media

The disconnect in modern media

by Erin Caballero

Upon coming home late last night, I turned on the TV and saw on the little scroll on the bottom that Sopranos actor James Gandolfini passed away on June 19th, 2013.

Naturally, I Googled it the second I got a chance, and every major media outlet (CNN, MSNBC, FOX) reported the same set of facts: Gandolfini died at 51 from a massive heart attack. However, smaller websites reported that his death was a hoax, and that he was indeed alive and well.

A major fuel to the fire of media misinformation is the need to get the story first, and it seems the approach with modern-day reporting is the throw-spaghetti-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks one. I understand every journalist’s desire to be the next Woodward/Bernstein that breaks a scandal powerful enough to end a presidency, but what made these two men great was that they took their time and did it right the first time. They didn’t just publish whatever sounded the most titillating, but rather did the necessary fact-checking and kept their sources confidential.

A second major fuel is the natural human tendency to want “news” that already dovetails neatly into their preconceived notions and beliefs. The whole purpose of news (and journalism) is to challenge a prejudice one may have.

Combating media misinformation is as simple as taking a single deep breath and asking some simple questions. Who wrote this? What is their motivation? Where did they get their sources and other information? What  is their credentials/training/expertise?

Journalism is not dead, importance of storytelling

A recent study conducted by Bankrate.com shows journalism as one of the worst  return of investment for a bachelors degree. According to Bankrate.com, it will take 31.83 years for journalists to repay their student loans.

Ken Layne suggests that sailing would be a better career than journalism.

Journalism, however, is not dead.

Newspapers might be declining but storytelling continues to play an important role in our daily lives.

Nic Coury explains on Sports Shooter, an online resource for photographers and photojournalists, that he was a journalism major and loved it. According to Coury, who works as both a reporter and photographer for the Monterey County Weekly newspaper, even with the decline of newspapers there will still be crime, politics and sports that needs to be covered.

I was also a journalism major and to this day, I believe that it was a valuable investment.

The skills I learned through my journalism courses taught me how to become a better storyteller, a better communicator.

Earlier this week, I stressed that photography and journalism are different forms of storytelling and that we need them both.

There are also other important forms of storytelling, which will be discussed in future blogs.

Storytelling is an important form of media that teaches people how to think critically and to improve their communication skills.

This brings us back to the importance of media literacy.

Media literacy is about teaching people critical thinking skills and helping them understand the complex messages presented by the media. However more importantly, it is about teaching communication skills.

A journalism education teaches students how to become better storytellers, a skill that is useful in every field.

We need to emphasize the importance of journalism and photography as forms of storytelling.

In previous blogs, I stress how students used photography for storytelling, as a means to express themselves and to learn about others. I also explain how photographs can make a difference.

Stories can make a difference.

Importance of professional photographers, Part II

In my previous blog, I stressed the importance of professional photographers.

First it was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, who said “there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”

Then the Chicago Sun-TImes eliminated its entire photo staff.

Really?

According to Sally Kalson, a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Eliminating the entire photo department has to be the dumbest, most wrongheaded move any news organization has made in recent memory.

As both a journalist and photographer, I need to stress that both are different forms of communication and require different skill sets.

Neither is more important than the other. Both are equally important.

So does having a blog make you a journalist? Does having a professional camera make you a photographer?

Anyone is capable of taking a snapshot or writing an article but the answer to both questions is no. They might possess the tools and equipment but that does not mean they have the technical expertise to do the job.

Both jobs require different levels of training and understanding.

As Chicago Tribune photojournalist Alex Garcia said, “Reporters are ill equipped to take over”.

Garcia explains:

That’s because the best reporters use a different hemisphere of the brain to do their jobs than the best photographers. Visual and spatial thinking in three dimensions is very different than verbal and analytical thinking. Even if you don’t believe that bit of science, the reality is that visual reporting and written reporting will take you to different parts of a scene and hold you there longer. I have never been in a newsroom where you could do someone else’s job and also do yours well. Even when I shoot video and stills on an assignment, with the same camera, both tend to suffer. They require different ways of thinking, involving motion and sound.

In Why Media Literacy Matters – Photojournalism and Diversity, I explained:

Photojournalism is a universal language that uses photographs for storytelling and allows people of all races and cultures to find the things they have in common.

Through photography, students in Massachusetts and South Korea were encouraged to express themselves through storytelling.

Previously, I also talked about the importance of photojournalism. I shared my story about why I wanted to become a photojournalist. I explained that I wanted to use photographs to educate people about important events around the world.

I stressed how a photograph can make a difference in someone’s life.

Photography and journalism are different forms of storytelling and we need them both.

Role of media during times of crisis

As Bill Mitchell explained, rather than focusing on the stories to tell, the media needs to focus on “What can we do?”

The first thing that the media needs to do is remind themselves – People need to be informed, not misled.

In my previous blog, Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis, I wrote that during emergency situations, spreading accurate information to the public is crucial.

Since the media plays a major role (usually the primary role) as a source of information for the public, it is crucial for the media to work with emergency management agencies during emergency situations.

Mitchell talks about how social media pages are used to help people connect with others and share information.

In Why Media Literacy Matters – Times of Crisis, I mentioned that the average person also plays an important role in disseminating media messages.

Social media makes it easy to communicate and share information with others.

I wrote in Media Literacy and Social Support:

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are powerful communications tools that can be used to help people in the aftermath of a disaster.

The ability to connect and instantly share information with other people is what makes social media a valuable tool. With social media, people can reach out to those in need and make a difference.

An important lesson that even the average person needs to learn is – Do not mislead.

In order to help others, accurate information needs to be shared.

It is also especially important to work together.

Social media can help you become a better writer

Do not blame social media for bad writing.

In fact, social media can make people better writers. There are several ways that social media can have a positive effect on writing.

It is difficult to write an effective sentence with less than 140 characters.

Less is often better. Write less, say more.

The Power of Leads

Journalists do it all time. Every news story begins with a lead, the most important part of the story.

A good lead needs to catch the reader’s interest and make them want to read the rest of the story.

Brevity is a good thing. It helps you get your point across quickly.

Here are some tips for writing a good lead (or a good tweet):

  • Remember the Five W’s and H – who, what when, where, why and how.
  • It is important to be specific and brief.
  • Use active sentences and avoid flowery language.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Quality journalism and ethics, part 2

Journalists must not mislead.

Whether through words or images, they must always tell the truth.

In my previous post, I talked about ethics and why journalists must not manipulate their images.

People see the world, through the images and the stories presented by the media. The public has given journalists their trust and therefore they cannot mislead them.

The Washington Post photograph as it appeared on the Post web site (above) and as it was entered in the WHNPA contest (below).

The Washington Post photograph as it appeared on the Post web site (above) and as it was entered in the WHNPA contest (below).

Earlier this week, the White House News Photographers Association released a statement saying that they would disqualify a Washington Post photograph that recently won an award in the WHNPA annual contest.

The photographer entered a photograph that was digitally altered.

Editors at the Post discovered that the altered image was different from the one originally published.

The Post has a code of ethics that prohibits photo manipulation.

As I have previously stressed, even journalists need an understanding of media literacy.

They need to know how their work influence the public.

There is a need for professional ethics education.

Education programs are important because they serve to provide guidelines to help people make ethical decisions.

People who have a desire to work in the field of journalism need to be taught how to correctly use the tools.

However, guidelines and codes of ethics are not enough. Even Enron had a set of values and rules that was supposed to emphasize integrity and respect. Yet, the company lost its way and allowed unethical behavior to destroy the company.

An organization needs to have a code of ethics and conduct but they also need leaders who promote ethical behavior by setting an example.

Kudos to the Post for taking action.

Why Media Literacy Matters – Quality journalism and ethics

In a previous post I talked about the importance of quality journalism and why journalists also need media literacy education.

Photojournalists need to remind themselves about the ethics of journalism. This applies to both contests and published work.

Allen Murabayashi wrote an article titled, “Why Do Photo Contest Winners Look Like Movie Posters?”

In another article, Murabayashi explains that the next two photos are the World Press Photo of the Year 2012. The top image is the submitted image that won, and the lower image is how it was first published.

According to Murabayashi,

“The range of emotions expressed (anger, grief, despair), the position of the people and bodies, and proximity of the photographer to the subject make it an incredible moment in time. And because of these elements, this photo was deservedly named the World Press Photo of the Year. It also looks like an illustration.”

Like Murabayashi, I also prefer the “original” image better.

This is not the first time an entry has been manipulated.

Brian Patrick, an award-winning photojournalist, manipulated an image he took of a wildfire in 2009 that he submitted to the San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association’s annual photo contest. For more information, visit http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/161983/sacramento-bee-fires-bryan-patrick-for-photo-manipulation/

This is also not the first instance of photojournalists manipulating their images.

Patrick was fired from the Sacramento Bee on February 4, 2012 for the violation of ethics by digitally altering photographs. Patrick had digitally altered photographs on more than one occasion.

In April 2003, the Los Angeles Times fired Brian Walski, a photographer who covered the war in Iraq for the newspaper. According to Kenneth Irby of the Poynter Institute, Walski was fired on April 1, 2003 for submitting a photograph that was a composite of two different photographs he had taken.

Patrick Schneider is another photojournalist that was fired for digitally manipulating photographs. Schneider altered images on more than one occasion. According to Sherry Ricchiardi, on August 15, 2003, the North Carolina Press Photographers Association revoked three awards that were given to him, ruling he had improperly manipulated images in the editing process.

To ensure that photojournalists do not alter photographs or report stories that deceive the public, news organizations and the NPPA have established codes of ethics that they must abide by. Credibility is the greatest asset of journalists. It is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way (electronically or in the darkroom) that deceives the public. The preamble of the NPPA Code of Ethics states that photographs can cause great harm if they are manipulated.

Falsified images are unethical because they deceive the viewer.

Even journalists need an understanding of media literacy. They need to be careful and ensure that accurate information is shared. They need to know how their work influence the public.

As I said in a previous post, most professional journalists are trained to report truthfully and have a strong grasp on media literacy. However, they are human and can make mistakes.

It does not hurt to reevaluate the importance of media literacy training.

It is the responsibility of journalists to inform and educate the public on important issues that affect their lives and the world. But in order for journalists to accomplish this task, they must have the trust of the people.

People see the world, through the images and the stories presented by the media. The public has given journalists their trust and therefore they cannot mislead them.

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References

Irby, K. (2003, April 2). L.A. Times Photographer Fired Over Altered Image. Poynter Institute. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/how-tos/newsgathering-storytelling/9289/l-a-times-photographer-fired-over-altered-image/

Ricchiardi, S. (2007). Distorted Picture. American Journalism Review, August/September. Retrieved from http://www.ajr.org/article.asp?id=4383

Murabayashi, A. (2013). Why Do Photo Contest Winners Look Like Movie Posters?. Retrieved from http://blog.photoshelter.com/2013/02/why-do-photo-contest-winners-look-like-movie-posters/

Murabayashi, A. (2013). Darkrooms are Irrelevant and The Truth Matters. Retrieved from http://blog.photoshelter.com/2013/02/darkrooms-are-irrelevant-and-the-truth-matters/

National Press Photographers Association. (n.d). NPPA Code of Ethics. Retrieved from             https://nppa.org/code_of_ethics