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The UN, Journalism and YOU

UNDP LogoIn 2000, the United Nations established the Millenium Development Goals to address some of the most pressing challenges the world was facing at the beginning of the 21st century. The eight ambitious goals the UN proclaimed included eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, reducing child mortality and combat preventable diseases like HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

According to the 2013 Millenium Development Goals Report, poverty rates have been halfed. Yet, one in six – about 1.2 billion people – still live in extreme poverty. We still have a long way to go to reach all the goals set more than a decade ago.

Yesterday,  almost 200 civil society groups from six continents urged the UN to include government accountability and independent media in their plans. In the statement, the organizations argue that access to information and independent media is essential to development. The United Nations is currently devising a new global post-2015 development agenda that is to replace the Millenium Goals.

Specifically, the coalition recommended the United Nations to

  • “establish a specific goal to “ensure good governance and effective institutions” and
  • “include as components of this goal a clause to “ensure people enjoy freedom of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information” and to “guarantee the public’s right to information and access to government data”.”

This appeal accomodates the importance of a free press for a free society. In the statement, the group says that “systems that allow people to hold governments accountable are fundamental to achieving economic growth, social equality, and environmental sustainability.”

In this day and age, we possess all the tools and technology to eradicate poverty and achieve the seemingly lofty goals the UN devised 13 years ago. However, if the new UN goals are to be (even) more successful than the Millenium goals, then journalism needs to be part of the equation.

All people, everywhere, deserve and need a free press. Without it, free and open debate and discourse, the foundation of a democracy, is impossible. Frequently, journalists are muzzled because they uncover corruption and inconvenient truths. In my home country Germany, prosecuting reporters and forcing the press into line prevented millions of people from learning and potentially opposing an unparalleled atrocity. Dealing with fascist Germany and the Holocaust taught me that a democracy is not history in its final state but merely a temporarily secured form of existence. Journalism must be practiced without restrictions, for when a country’s journalists are silenced, its people are silenced.

Journalism is surpressed in many countries around the world. In Turkey, the parliament is about to vote on a law that would “allow the government to block individual URLs without prior judicial review”, according to an article pubslished by the Committee to Protect Journalists. The “radical censorship measure” would also force internet data retention of up to two years and consolidate Interned Service Providers (ISPs) into a single association. Turkey holds the sad record for most journalists in jail of any country in the world.

A free press is the bedrock of a democracy and the prerequisite of many other civil liberties. Journalism plays a vital role in the balance of power between a government and its people. Organizations like the Committee to Protect Journalists are helping countries and journalists report without reprisal so that they can help establish stable, sustainable societies. Only if journalists can inform people accurately and freely are citizens able to make their voices heard, participate in the political process and instigate change.

So what does this have to do with you?

Well, all too often, the news media’s lopsided reporting neglects topics that seemingly have nothing to do with us. There are many incidents and topics auch as press freedom violations or Freedom of Information issues that ought to be brought to people’s attention but don’t get airtime because they allgedly are not newsworthy. So why not use your passion for media to contribute to making this world safer, more equitable and more sustainable? Are you passionate about media and international human rights? Do you want to further the common good? Then I have good news for you: there are plenty of organizations out there that allow you to pursue a career in journalism AND do something that makes a difference in people’s lives.

Here are a few groups, on top of the organizations who signed the statement that allow you to do work that truly matters:

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LUTV Reporter Log VI

With only three weeks left and twelve news packages and VO-SOTs under my belt, I feel like I accomplished a lot already this semester. At the same time, however, I feel like I still have a long way to go and a million things to learn. That’s alright though, because I know that this is only the beginning of my journalism career. I feel like the SuperSemester has equipped me with a lot of skills and tools that allow me to take the next step, and I am sure all the things I learned will be of tremendous help in the future.

Editing is fun!

Editing is fun!

On November 8th, I produced for the fifth and second to last time. The newscast was probably the best newscast I have produced yet, as there were few things that didn’t go the way I wanted them to. In spite of not having all the writers at my disposal, I managed to distribute all the work to the people who were present. I thought that communication among all of us was good as few people asked me questions, which shows that we have gotten the hang of the intricacies that the SuperSemester by now. The three-shot during the sports talk at the anchor desk worked well and I am a little proud to say that I once again tried something rather unusual as a producer. I wish the director would have told the camera to pan right and zoom out a little sooner on the three-shot.

Doing a good job producing requires printing and distributing rundowns and scripts on time. I will also keep more of an eye on video IDs, as two teases about the same story had different IDs. Once again, I will try to stick to the producer log even closer to avoid running late. Don’t be afraid to tell somebody to start working in case they are fooling around and to assign them to something even if you know that that person is not keen to do it. While you should always try to be empathetic, at the end of the day you are in charge and if you don’t get other people to do the things you need them to do, the newscast won’t come together.

Wrapping around my package

Wrapping around my package

I shot two VO-SOTs and one package during the last two weeks and learned a lot in the process. One thing that is important, especially when newscasts re-air or are put online is not to use the words yesterday or today or tomorrow – instead, use the day of the week or the date. Also, one ought to avoid using interview shots and too many signs as b-roll. One should focus on the action if possible.

You need to be persistent as a journalist. If you want to get the best story possible, you need to track people down and ask the tough questions. What’s more, you mustn’t give up the first time you hear ‘no’. When I shot my package about the pitching event, I really wanted to get an interview with Daymond John. I was told that I could have one question right after the event was over. Five minutes prior to the interview, however, Paul Huffman told me that Mr. John had to leave immediately and thus did not have time for me. I could have accepted it and would have still been able to complete my package. Yet the interview with Mr. John was an integral part of the way I envisioned my package. I sat down next to Mr. John’s assistant and told him that I acknowledged that Mr. John is a busy person and that I want to respect his time, but also that it would not take more than one minute and that I would greatly appreciate it. Et voilà, he said yes and granted me one question.

I learned that having to pick one question can be very difficult. I had quite a few creative (I thought) questions I wanted to ask him, but I decided to go with something safe since I only had one shot.

Checking your equipment before you go on a shoot includes your tripod. This Wednesday, my three-legged friend (or adversary in this case) suddenly decided to become a twin-pod, much to the agony of my camera. As a video journalist, you inevitably have to leave your equipment unattended or at least standing on its own sooner or later. While you should obviously handle your camera and other pieces of equipment with great care, it is virtually impossible to avoid accidents over time. Yet journalists should always see to it that they don’t leave their belongings unattended and that the risk of it being damaged is as low as possible.

LUTV Reporter Log V

As the semester is entering its final third, I feel as though I developed something that comes close to a routine. Equipped with basic knowledge and skills but also the awareness that I still have a long way to go, it feels like the challenge now is to maintain a certain quality and professionalism. After all, you are only as good as your last newscast.

My fifth package about Semester at Sea was the first one that I shot on more than one day. As a matter of fact, I shot it over the course of ten days, with action on four separate days. Unfortunately, it took more than 25 minutes for my package to transcode, which resulted in it not making it in time but having to do it after the newscast instead. Although it is unusual, I should have allotted more time to be on the safe side. Investing hours and hours of work shooting, and then not being able to finish your package in time and knowing that it is not the best it can be can be frustrating. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to come prepared (i.e. having a substantial part done) in the morning when editing a package for a newscast, especially on a Friday.

On October 23rd, I produced for the fourth time. By and large it was a decent newscast. I thought the “New Deal” approach worked well, because I knew exactly who I had at my disposal. It also made it easier for me to keep track of who is doing what. I think graphics-Ben is a great addition to the team as he makes sound graphics and is able to work independently. I should have kept more of an eye on things like sports and weather and started proofreading stories sooner so that we could have printed the rundown and scripts sooner as well. People who are working on their packages should get in at least an hour before everybody else to have a head start. Its extra stress and uncertainty for the producer and everybody involved if somebody’s running late with a package and nobody knows if it’ll be ready in time.

Next time I produce a newscast I will try to have a list of things I need to do which is not on the producer’s checklist to make sure I don’t forget about those kind of things. Once again, I will look to sticking closer to the checklist and making sure that everybody is on the same page.

Tension in the newsroom is almost inevitable in a fast-paced working environment that revolves around meeting deadlines. It’s important to understand that occasional frustration and snappy answers are part of working for television. While you should try to remain calm and courteous at all times, sometimes raising your voice is the only way you can express that something is urgent or to get something done. One should never take it personally and in case it bothers you until after the newscast, you should talk to the person once the stress has subsided.

I anchored for the 6th time this Wednesday. Since I only had to write stories that day, I had plenty of time to get ready and read every story at least once. I felt fairly confident and thought I did alright overall. My interaction with fellow anchor Taylor Gorton felt natural and I learned that saying her name during the weather toss goes a long way. However, I wish I wouldn’t have mispronounced two or three words. I feel as though I have yet to have an overall sound newscast that is highlight reel material.

Anchoring with Taylor Gorton

Anchoring with Taylor Gorton

 

Here are a few more things I learned over the last two weeks. When writing the text for VO-SOTs and packages, one mustn’t forget to complete “RUNS:…” and “Outquote”. Another intricacy one shouldn’t overlook is to insert the “MORE VO” command for VO-SOTs. Especially as a producer, is it easy to forget important subtleties, such as tease flags when writing one’s teases and adding the producer’s and director’s name in the closing credits. When doing a stand-up, don’t take voice over during the first 5 seconds, because your lower third might be superimposed over b-roll. (If you do, tell director to take lower third during the second time the reporter is visible.)

I had some issues with audio over the last two weeks, which gave me the opportunity to learn and improve a lot. I found out that audio channel one and three, as well as two and four are connected. Reporters are to use all four audio tracks for natural sound.

Finally, show faces, not spaces, meaning that when interviewing somebody, one should leave out everything that is not relevant to the shot. Moreover, center up on computer shots, and interview everybody left and right. What’s more, write down when the interviewee stands on the left and when he or she stands on the right. Knowing during which interview the person stands on which side allows you to add variety when editing. I found that it is crucial to listen and look at clips on location (framing, audio, video, etc.) so you can spot errors and, for instance, bad audio on the spot and, if necessary, repeat it.

LUTV Reporter Blog IV

The past two weeks, especially the second week, were a great learning experience, for I did two packages, one VO-SOT and anchored in only five days. It was all about coming in early and just getting it done. Needless to say, I learned some valuable lessons in the process; I feel as though writing, editing and wrapping around on three consecutive days really allowed me to develop a certain routine.

During the shoots for both of my packages that week, I once and for all learned that pre-production is absolutely vital. Every reporter has to double-check and triple-check the equipment. You need to have the mindset that something won’t work and really expect the unexpected. I learned the hard way when I realized that although I had the Lavalier microphone with me, I was missing the clip. Naturally, this had a negative effect on my audio, especially because people around the interviewee were talking. When I shot the boxing match, I didn’t have a lavaliere microphone with me at all. During the shoot at the memorial for Rift Fournier, I also struggled with the tripod, as I was given the wrong one, which was a lot different from the one we usually get.

Reporting from a memorial is not an ordinary task, but one that was a valuable experience nevertheless. It was certainly not easy to keep my emotions in check and focus on my job, because after all Rift and I knew each other. When asked to do a package on a funeral or a memorial, reporters should ask themselves if they can cope with those kinds of situations, especially if they knew the deceased person. There are some things every journalist should keep in mind: Don’t claim to understand the pain, be patient, forgo the facts, avoid exploitation, and be sensitive.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to avoid errors, be it audio level being too high or too low or forgetting to white balance the camera, is to have a checklist and go through all the different steps to ensure you get the desired result. Especially when time is scarce and things become hectic, you have to maintain your composure and not lose sight of important things. Even if it takes a while, always white balance and balance the camera and get a critical focus.

My VO-SOT was about comedy magician and hypnotist Josh McVigar. For some reason, my camera wouldn’t white balance during the shoot, although it had worked outside Butler Hall just ten minutes earlier. I tried everything but couldn’t get it to work. Luckily, the shots turned out to be alright. It was definitely the most entertaining and fun shoot yet.

David Amelotti and I getting ready

David Amelotti and I getting ready

One thing I need to improve is my interviewing skills. Especially when you are still an inexperienced reporter, it’s important to write down some questions and do some research prior to the interview, as it will make you feel more comfortable and confident. Interviewing is an art in itself and needs countless hours to be mastered. One certainly needs to be empathetic and a good listener.

I produced for the fourth time this week. By and large it was a decent newscast. I thought our new system worked well, because I knew exactly who I had at my disposal. It also made it easier for me to keep track of who is doing what. I think graphics-Ben is a great addition to the team, as he makes sound graphics and is able to work independently. I should have kept more of an eye on things like sports and weather and started proofreading stories sooner so that we could have printed the rundown and scripts sooner as well. People who are working on their packages should get in at least an hour before everybody else to have a head start. Running late with a package means extra stress and uncertainty for the producer and everybody involved. Plus, nobody knows if it’ll be ready in time.

Producing the LUTV newscast

Producing the LUTV newscast

Next time I produce a newscast I will try to have a list of things I need to do which is not on the producer’s checklist to make sure I don’t forget about those kinds of things. Once again, I will look to sticking closer to the checklist and making sure that everybody is on the same page.

Tension in the newsroom is almost inevitable in a fast-paced working environment that revolves around meeting deadlines. It’s important to understand that occasional frustration and snappy answers are part of working for television. While you should try to remain calm and courteous at all times, sometimes raising your voice is the only way you can express that something is urgent or to get something done. One should never take it personally and in case it bothers you until after the newscast, you should talk to the person once the stress has subsided.

Watching my own package run during the newscast

Watching my own package run during the newscast

My fourth time anchoring went well. I thought I had good presence and spoke with authority. The interaction with David Schlaeger felt natural and reading each story out loud at least once proved to be of great help once again. The teleprompter seems to be getting better as the semester progresses, which makes the anchors’ life a lot easier.

LUTV Reporter Blog III

Over the past two weeks I was able to refine my reporter, anchor, writer, and producer skills and learn a great deal more about how newsrooms work in general. Now that we have entered the grading period, I have a higher sense of urgency and also take things more seriously. Getting a grade for a package or a VO-SOT feels like getting feedback from your producer or director after a newscast.

My second VO-SOT, which aired on September 27th, was fun shooting and editing because it was easier to do now that I have done it once already. I nevertheless still have to learn a lot, which I saw when I started editing. Not only was my interviewee slightly out of focus, but the white balance appeared to not have worked correctly as some of my shots had a blue tint. I learned that it is important to leave one to two seconds at the beginning of the sound bite so that the audio person has enough time to raise the volume and the viewer doesn’t miss the beginning of the interview. Apart from that I realized how important sequences are and that shooting b-roll takes its time.

Ready for the live shot at LUTV

Ready for the live shot at LUTV

My third VO-SOT was about the C-SPAN bus visiting Lindenwood. Although I arrived at the bus ten minutes before it opened its doors, I should have made it there even earlier to get shots of the bus before anyone got there, which would have allowed me to focus on interviews and b-roll of students inside and outside the bus afterwards. An hour and a half looked like sufficient time to me, but in the end I was hectically trying to conduct my second interview and get some additional shots of the bus. When my VO-SOT aired on the next day, I got in early to make sure that I’d be able to finish it before I had to leave at 11 O’clock. In spite of having over two hours, it was a close deal. I wish I had had more time to look at my text and the b-roll. I wrapped around my VO-SOT like I did for my first package and enjoyed that a lot, because speaking while standing enables you to use more gestures and it also feels more natural. Whenever you use at least two different interviews, I need to make sure to place the two interviewees in the opposite side of the shot so it doesn’t look repetitive. The challenge with that, however, is that you cannot look at the monitor of your camera when the person is standing on the left. (Since you need her to look to the right, you must stand on the right side of the camera.)

Reporting on Governor Jay Nixon

Reporting on Governor Jay Nixon

My third time anchoring was definitely the best one yet. Not only did I take the time to read every story out loud at least once, but I was also better prepared in terms of taking care of the small things, such as having a water bottle at your feet and making sure that my jacket looks undulated. I felt like I was talking with more vigor and that my interaction with Taylor was relatively genuine. We were both happy that the teleprompter did a good job keeping the lines we were reading close to the top of the monitor.

I produced for the second time the very next newscast after I produced for the first time. Similarly to the first time, by and large I was happy with the outcome of the newscast. Downloading and sending the FBI footage to airspeed worked well. Everybody communicated well and kept me updated about the status of their stories. Looking at producer’s checklist more regularly would have helped me knowing what I still need to do amid all the other things that were going on. Luckily I realized in time that we were missing Alex for sports so that I was able to call him and tell him that we needed him. I once again learned that the earlier you get to the station the better. My second VO-SOT aired on that day, so I got there at 8 O’clock sharp to make sure I could finish it before everybody else needed me. Besides that, with all the little things that required my attention, I tried to make sure to sit back regularly and think of the big picture and what I need to do to make the newscast a success as a whole.

This Week in Twerking

When Miley Cyrus feeble attempt at twerking went viral after the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards in late August, the news media was all over it and contributed massively to it spreading so quickly. Cyrus’ presumably planned provocation permeated the airwaves to an extent that is shocking, because even qualitative, mainstream media picked up on this piece of entertainment like it was news. At the same time, other news that certainly had a larger impact on people’s everyday lives didn’t get the attention it deserved. With the news market rapidly changing, it seems that news media nowadays jump on the bandwagon much quicker in order not to lose viewers and, in turn, money.

Miley Cirus at the

Miley Cirus at the 2013 MTV Music Awards

Two recent articles illustrate how this problem leads to news assume the shape of entertainment more and more. Picking up directly on the show business sector, the first article, found on poynter.org, illustrates how first something “crazy” happens such Miley’s performance at the Video Music Awards. Next, the Internet, or more accurately, people on the Internet react and propels the event into everybody conscience through Twitter, Facebook and other platforms. The third (and worrisome) step is when the media, or better journalists who work for the media, believe this is newsworthy and tell us what people on the Internet are doing. The more newsrooms report on the story, the more people react to it, which leads to even more television stations including it in their newscasts.

When an Indian-American woman won the Miss America pageant, for example, BuzzFeed posted a list of a couple dozen tweets under the headline that “A Lot Of People Are Very Upset That An Indian-American Woman Won The Miss America Pageant.” People started re-tweeting it, services such as Upworthy sent out Buzzfeed’s article in an e-mail, and very soon the media picked up on it. The first part is not the bad one. While the majority of the comments were definitely racist and reprehensible, everybody should be media literate enough to know that there are always people who think this way and, more importantly, that they tend to be in the minority and that of course there are also people out there who posted positive things. It becomes bad when media decided that this is news, when in reality it is entertainment. They are doing their audience a disservice.

ninadavuluri01

Nina Davuluri, Miss America 2014

This sheds light on another issue of the media: Why didn’t Buzzfeed write about all the positive reactions about the outcome of the pageant? Although the answer is most definitely more complex, bad news and sensationalism seem to attract more viewers. 

Both examples exemplify how media corporations are trying to combine traditional news with delivery to new media and are attempting to increase revenue in the age of media convergence.

The second article, found on medialit.org, provides good background information on the transformation of how news are conveyed on television from the 1960s till today, and shows how the barrier between news and entertainment has gradually eroded. It cautions against sensational tabloid programs, which can intensify the economic pressure on news producers when mainstream newscasts are compelled to compete with them.

Broadcasters have learned that by heightening the drama of real life events, news stories such as the twerking incident, which were previously looked over, can become multimedia spectacles. The media coverage wasn’t quite the same when Britney Spears had a similar performance at the MVAs in 2000. Unfortunately, the enormous pressure to excite the audience due to limited budgets and highly competitive markets seem to leave newsrooms with little choice.

What’s more, since people – especially members of generation Y – are increasingly looking for information online, television companies are desperately trying to pursue young people, which typically leads to less informative and more entertaining newscasts because traditional news organizations are placing their messages on many different media channels.

Another trend that’s reason for concern is that in spite of a dramatic increase in available political information through cable television and the Internet, political knowledge and turnout have not changed noticeably. It has been argued that this seeming paradox is brought about because greater media choice makes it easier for people to find their preferred content. As a result, viewers who are interested in news take advantage of the plethora of information that’s available, while the part of the audience that prefers entertainment is likely to consume less news, thus increasing the discrepancy in knowledge between those who prefer news and those who prefer entertainment.

News as entertainment is definitely a troubling trend. Reporters need to remember that there is a distinction between television and journalism. Amid economic hardship and a greater dependency on advertisers, however, maintaining a perspective on the importance of real news and information and  presenting it in a way that appeals to viewers becomes a challenge at best and flat-out impossible at the worst. Nevertheless, journalists must use resources wisely so that they can inform the public to the best of their ability; It is their duty to give citizens the information they need.

LUTV Reporter Blog II

Now that almost five weeks of the SuperSemester are in the books, I can say that I have a much better idea of what producing newscasts specifically, and working for television in general entails and demands. I have done every task and assumed every role at least once by now, which enabled me to gain a good understanding of the workflow and what it takes to work in a television newsroom.

I was pretty happy with the outcome of my first package last week. My report was about civil rights advocate Nadine Strossen, who came to Lindenwood to speak about mass surveillance and its implications on our civil liberties. To start things off, I made sure that Mrs. Strossen was available for an interview. It turned out that she had very little time after the presentation and asked if we could instead conduct the interview during a short time slot before the speech. Being flexible and starting early are certainly two key attributes every journalist needs to have. Although I had enough time to pick up my camera, shave, dress up, write down a few questions and a stand-up, get ready and go to the Anheuser-Busch Leadership Room, I underestimated how long all of these things were going to take. In spite of getting to there in time, I was a bit stressed and promised myself to arrive even earlier next time.

I took one of the lines from the interview for my stand-up, which worked nicely. Coming up with a good stand-up is certainly an art in itself, for it requires quick thinking, considering how it will sound when the package goes on the air later, awareness of your body language, and clear, understandable sentences. Plus you have to get a sense of what information is important. Having somebody assist you with the camera certainly makes things easier.

Despite white balancing my camera in the beginning, I did not think about how the LED light could affect the internal circuit of the camera, which resulted in shots that had a blue touch when the LED was on. I also learned that bringing an extra P2-card is a sage thing to do, as you never know how much footage you need to record. With limited time during a shoot, the last thing you want is having to delete clips because your card is almost full. The next time I interview somebody in a closed room or at night, I will make sure that there is sufficient room between the wall and the person to avoid having shadows in the shot.

The shooting part was followed by the long post-production phase which took longer than I had anticipated. Overall I spent about roughly ten hours on my package, but I was entirely worth it. I think the most important lesson I learned is that like in video production, pre-production is the most important part of shooting a package.

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Anchoring the newscast with Jessica Thomas.

This Monday, I anchored for the second time. I realized that it is paramount to have read every single story out loud at least once. In order to so that, anchors need to start going through their scripts at least 35 minutes before airtime. Although I was lucky that I was able to tell the stories I had not read without any errors, it felt unprofessional and could have easily backfired. Another valuable lesson I learned was that it is essential to keep looking into the camera until the floor director indicates that the technical director has switched to a different camera.

Sometimes small things are important, such as making sure to keep a bottle of water under the anchor desk if you have trouble speaking when your lips become dry (like me), or ask somebody if you are presentable, although I would argue that the producer and the maybe the floor director should also keep an eye on that.

On Friday September 13th, my first VO-SOT aired. I was happy with the result, considering that it was my first one. It took me a while to learn the structure of a VO-SOT and how to enter the different commands in iNews, but now that I have one under my belt, my second VO-SOT was rather easy to do.

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VO-SOT about Marie Heart freelancing for CNN.

My first time producing was challenging yet rewarding. When I heard that the 49ers were coming to practice at Lindenwood, I thought it would be cool to do a live shot from Hunter Stadium, where the football team would practice later that day. Although we weren’t allowed to break the news on the three O’clock newscast, we recorded two different sports teases and two different live shots, one without the big news for the live newscast and one for the evening edition that included it. I was thrilled about everybody being very supportive, that my idea was acknowledged, and that we pursued it regardless of the strict policy. Seeing my plan become a reality actually encourages me to try more sophisticated things next time I produce.