Thursday, April 23, 2009

Watching the Watchdog

I think the first time I ever read a copy of The Onion was during a family trip to Chicago when I was about 14 years old. I immediately loved it for what it was. The concept of a fake newspaper, written in the exact same format as a real newspaper-with headlines, photos, captions and all-seemed genius to me. These people clearly read newspapers, and some perhaps have even written for newspapers, which makes them really good-I have to admit-at making fun of newspapers.
The fake news organization has also transitioned quite well into the web-era with a fantastic website. The video content is particularly hilarious, like this one about the Franz Kafka Airport in Prague (definitely check this out if you've ever had to read The Trial.
It's likely that the A.V. club and The Onion were the first to publish fake-news (according to Wikipedia, The Onion was founded in 1988). Since then it seems that the business has only grown. While being really hilarious, I think sometimes fake-news serves a higher purpose as well. At times I think it keeps real journalists in check, by making them realize when they get to carried away. Steven Colbert has his own show that, many would argue, parodies far leaning right wing figures like Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh. Jon Stewart of The Daily Show recently reamed Mad Money host Jim Cramer for irresponsible reporting on he and his network's part (check out video here). The Onion itself, by parodying the standard form of newspaper journalism, allows journailists to see where certain pitfalls exist and become aware of them.
Overall I think at its best moments, fake news watches "the watchdog".

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Piracy Q and A

While doing research for my paper I came across this article on and think it's an excellent example of when ASF's work well. The story is laid out with a quick brief about the Somali Pirate issue at the top followed by a series of Q and A grafs. For an issue like this one, I think a Q and A is the perfect way to inform the reader.
When I personally heard about the surge in piracy off the Horn of Africa I was quite confused. Prior to this, I associated the word "piracy" with two things: illegal music downloads and men with peg legs. Somali pirates are obviously neither of these things. They are sophisticated, fast-moving hi-jackers capable of taking over sea-faring vessels exponentially larger than the boats they travel on. They use small boats with high-powered outboard motors and heavy weaponry, namely AK-47's, to get the job done.
But I wouldn't have known this if not for a simple Q and A article like the one I linked to above. Q and A articles are excellent for reporting on issues like this that are foreign to the average person. Questions like "Why can't they be stopped?" and "How do they hi-jack ships?" are very simple but I'm sure a surprising number of people don't know the answere. A straight news article wouldn't be able to answere these questions so directly, and so in this case an ASF works quite well.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bono in NY Times

As some of you have probably heard, U2 front man Bono has slipped his influential voice into our news media, as an occasional columnist for the New York Times. His first column appeared in the times on Jan. 9th, and is filled with as much flowery language and fragmented structure as you'd expect from the lead singer of a world-class emotionally-charged rock group.

An excerpt reads: "Interesting mood. The new Irish money has been gambled and lost; the Celtic Tiger’s tail is between its legs as builders and bankers laugh uneasy and hard at the last year, and swallow uneasy and hard at the new. There’s a voice on the speakers that wakes everyone out of the moment: it’s Frank Sinatra singing “My Way.” His ode to defiance is four decades old this year and everyone sings along for a lifetime of reasons. I am struck by the one quality his voice lacks: Sentimentality."

What I don't like about this: One of the most prestigious papers in the world has become a platform for Bono to spout out stream-of-consciousness wish-wash for apparently no other reason than the fact that the man has won 22 grammys (yes, 22).

What I kind of like about this: It's a pretty great idea on the Times's part. People are without a doubt going to read a column by Bono, or at least they'll get a few sentences in before they are lost in a convolution of over-the-top language. Either way, they're going to look at it. It's smart and a means of perhaps reaching out to more readers.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Immokalee, FL

Stray chickens wandered up and down the hot streets as a CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) employee named Romeo toured us through Immokalee's neighborhoods on Monday afternoon. A typical laborer neighborhood is not much of a "neighborhood" at all. As many trailer homes as possible, most of which are quite rundown, are fit onto the lots. Laborers are stuffed 12 to a home, and yet somehow still are charged up to $400 a week for rent. Right now the lots are empty-all the workers are at the fields. The owners of the lots, or "slumlords" as they were referred to by some, are able to gouge rent prices, seemingly unacountable to no one. The laborers are pinched by their work bosses and by their landlords. It seems everyone wants to get a piece of the lucrative business that is exploiting these men and their families. "This is not America," said Romeo.
What surprised me a great deal about the people of Immokalee was their friendliness toward us. Here are six college students, raised in upper-middle-class midwestern families, who know nothing of poverty and oppression. Our lives have been filled with so much more opportunity and prosperity than theirs, and yet they never seemed to resent us for it in the least. They knew what we were there for-they knew we wanted to learn how to help.
Most of the men we met still had their pride. Yes, some of them had spent their entire lives working the fields with nothing to show for it, but they were still able to smile and joke with us. Many refused to let us do their chores for them at the homeless shelter, wishing to maintain a sense of dignity.
It was encouraging to see that there was indeed help available for these men. The homeless shelter (pictured above) in particular didn't seem to turn away anyone, and was a place for burnt out laborers to get back on their feet. The CIW as well has done a great deal for the people of Immokalee. They organized a succesful boycot of Taco Bell in 2005, which led to future purchasing of fair priced tomatoes by the fast-food chain. Similar boycotts were organized in the following years for Burger Kind and McDonald's, and were also succesful. Each was a major victory for human rights.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Immokalee, FL

Although our trip to San Juan was canceled because of the increasing violence along the U.S./Mexico border, some last minute planning and a little luck has allowed a large chunk of the original group to go on a new trip. We'll be heading to Immokalee, FL, a town located in a region of Florida where, according to one of my group members, 90% of America's tomatoes are grown. The cause is the same-that of immigrant farmers and their rights as laborers and property owners.
Something that initially struck me was the demographics of Immokalee: 71% Hispanic, 18% Black, and 6% White/Non-Hispanic. Time in my life I've stayed in a community that wasn't predominately White: zero. Enough said.
Unfortunately, the laborers of this region need a lot more than what a handful of college students can offer. We'll be able to help by learning about the issue, seeing the poverty and oppression first hand, and sharing our experiences with others. Politically, the issue seems without any reasonalbe solution. These laborers are immigrants from Haiti, Guatemala and Cuba. They are not citizens of the United States. They are paid miniscule wages or nothing at all. Charges have recently been brought against farm bosses, accusing them of chaining laborers to truck beds, beating laborers and forcing laborers to work from pre-dawn until dusk. If the immigrants were given citizenship or the rights of citizens, the economy would stumble dramatically. A gigantic population of migrant workers, who were previously paid nothing, would suddenly recquire an hourly rate of minimum wage or higher. Overtime would have to be taken into account. It simply would'nt be possible. A decent piece on immigration laws can be found here.
Anyway, I'm excited to get there and learn more abou the issue firsthand.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

This spring break I was planning on going on a humanitarian trip with fellow students to San Juan, Texas. For one week, we'd work for an organization called L.U.P.E. passing out fliers, spreading awareness for immigrant's rights, and marching in a rally. Unfortunately, recent surges of violence near the U.S./Mexico border have caused the trip to be canceled.
For the past few years, gang fighting related to the drug trade has riddled many Mexican cities with violence and instability. When the issue was brought up at a meeting last week, many of us (myself included) had previously been completely unaware. Feeling like a little guilty for being uninformed (especially since I'm a journalism student!), I immediately did some research. In Ciudad Juarez, a city that borders El Paso in the U.S., the number of murders rose from 300 in 2007 to 1500 in 2008. The number of murders related to organized crime in Mexico as a whole reached some 6,000 last year. Fighting occurs in the streets, in the bars and in peoples homes. Businesses are failing due to customer's fear of leaving their homes. A good online article about the violence can be found here.
I expect most journalists and informed individuals already know about this issue, but I think a surprising amount of others don't. Reportage of the violence seems rare. When doing my own research online, good articles were hard to come by. One factor at work here may be that reportage of issues like this is often eclipsed by stories from Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza. The idea is interesting to me, and I might look into this topic futher for my research paper. Perhaps a comparison of the reportage from each area, looking at how many articles come out and also how the articles are written, would be worth researching.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Photo Ethics

Several photos, all of which are graphic in nature and emotionally disturbing, can be viewed here.
The question at hand is; are any of these photos appropriate for publication?

The first set is a series of photos of a man before and after committing suicide-a certain R. Budd Dwyer who the following day was to be sentenced for receiving $300,000 in kickbacks. I wouldn't publish any of these if I worked for a Newspaper. Sure, the man was corrupt to the core, but he still has a family, and most importantly, he's a human being. A paper could report the incident and let readers draw their own conclusions. This is the job of the media-to inform. Photographing a man during his pathetic end and publishing it for all to see is simply unethical in my opinion.

The next photo shows a child agonizing over the death of his dog, which was killed by a car. The photo is entirely personal. Publishing the photo would serve no purpose.

For similar reasons, I wouldn't publish the next photo. A family in despair over their son's death is as personal as you can get. Publishing this would only cause further damage.

The next photo is a little more debatable. A disgruntled employee going haywire and murdering 7 individuals with a AK-47 is extremely newsworthy. Questions of what the motive was and whether or not there were signs leading up to the event could be reported on extensively. I think that with the family's consent, publication of this photo would be warrented. It gives readers a detailed and graphic view of what occured that words simply can't describe.

The picture of the boy, who was likely in an incredible amount of pain, should not be published. It's innapropriate for publication in my opinion not because of the injury (he survived), but because it would sicken readers.

I wrestled with the last photo more than any of the others. Although the photo is highly personal, it gets at a large issue. To learn about the societal consequences of debaucherous and binge-oriented celebrations, a person does not need to read a study or an article, he needs only to look at this picture. This is an instance where a picture does indeed speak louder than words, and with the consent of the victimized woman I would publish it. The rights of the men involved wouldn't concern me, and I imagine they would be too ashamed to protest.