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Posts Tagged ‘news’

Journalism is in the midst of a slow-motion crisis.

When I was in journalism school, students learned how to write using the “inverted pyramid” approach. The inverted pyramid is a style of writing that dates back to the days when paper real estate — in a print newspaper — was limited. Editors who wished to make room for breaking stories needed the option to lop the bottom of the story off with minimal risk of omitting critical details. The inverted pyramid calls for the most vital aspects of a story to appear at the top. This allows editors more flexibility while recognizing the fact that not all readers make the page jump to continue reading an article that concludes elsewhere. As a result, it was important then — as it is now — to lead with the most relevant details. A properly crafted story lede (introduction) encapsulates the basics: Who?, What?, When?, Where? and Why?.

In the Digital Era print real estate isn’t the limiting factor it once was. But there are indications the digital medium has shortened readers’ attention spans. It is of vital importance, as a result, to impart key facts “up top” — if only because web viewers are likely to skim content and move on.

Something, however, has changed in the way a lot of news organizations craft and promote stories. Call it sloppiness — lax editing — or journalistic “spin”. Some of the most controversial stories to appear in mainstream media are prefaced by misleading headlines on social media — titles that don’t square with a complete read of the content. Misleading headlines on social media posts are far from the only problem, however. Take, as an example, two contradictory narratives: Person/institution “X” and person/institution “Y” disagree over who did what or why. What should a responsible journalist do with this unwieldy story line? The answer is to disclose the ambiguity very early on  — to make clear to readers that a situation is in flux and/or that key aspects of the story are in dispute.

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I remember it well: standing in the Sharper Image store debating between a three-day Bushnell wireless weather forecaster featuring AccuWeather forecasts and an Oregon Scientific model alongside it that offered more detailed information from a competing service provider, MSN Direct. Both weather stations did something unique: They didn’t require owners to hook up outdoor sensors that generate fickle forecast icons based purely on barometric pressure as opposed to a bona fide regional weather forecast. These weather forecast alternatives, unlike the vast majority of weather gadgets on the market, receive a radio signal that automatically displays forecast data from a genuine weather service.

For a weather junkie or just about anyone who doesn’t want to watch several minutes of TV, boot up a computer or drain a battery on a smartphone merely to check the weather, having weather alerts, pollen counts, humidity and UV Index information at a single glance at no cost beyond that of the device itself seems almost too good to be true. And, in hindsight, it was too good to be true. For those of us who chose wrong, the convenience was not to last. MSN Direct, the service provider for Oregon Scientific-branded weather units, powered down its US and Canadian network of FM radio transmitters on January 1, 2012. And yet, weather watchers were not the only ones to lose. MSN Direct broadcast a variety of data including traffic information, gasoline prices, Doppler weather maps, news, stocks, local events, movie listings to a variety of devices, all of which began with the debut of Microsoft’s novel “Spot” wristwatch in 2004.

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Going Broke: Veterans of a Post-American Economy

Last week: A late-model Qantas A380 jet engine disintegrates mid-air, with passengers lucky to have survived the ensuing in-flight trauma. This week: A two-year-old Carnival cruise ship is towed into a San Diego, California port after an engine crankcase spontaneously splits open, erupting in fire. Passengers in this case, too, were lucky that the worst they suffered was cold food, limited electrical power and non-operable toilets. And in what would have been shocking 10 years ago, news of contaminated meat, recalled produce and unsafe drugs are now so routine that most of us shrug it off.

In such situations, the finger-pointing tends to be brand, manufacturer or supplier-specific. Indeed, it is tempting to chalk up such news to a series of unfortunate flukes. But is that the best and brightest lesson we can draw — or does our mainstream news media tend to downplay or disregard the Big Picture?

 

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