Monday, April 14, 2008

Dick Cheney's Sunglasses

The latest controversy to come out of the White House has nothing to do with the war in Iraq, the economy or even George Bush.

Last week the White House Web site posted a number of pictures of Vice President Dick Cheney as a photo essay from his fishing trip on the Snake River in Idaho. One picture in particular sparked controversy as millions of Internet users with their minds in the gutter claimed to see a naked woman reflected in Cheney's sunglasses in a tight shot of his face where is he smiling uncharacteristically.

When the picture is analyzed closely, it seems apparent that it is a hand casting a fishing rod being reflected in the lenses, but some poorer quality photos, even when zoomed in on, are more difficult to decipher.

The topic has turned into an Internet sensation, and not just among bloggers, as nearly 300 articles on it are turned up by a Google News query. There have even been YouTube videos dedicated the the topic posted in recent days.

White House spokespeople have vehemently denied the accusations and the photo remains on the Web site.

Particularly after the much-publicized Eliot Spitzer scandal, the idea of Cheney in any similar circumstance grabbed the public interest, but would a White House photographer really be there, taking official photos if Cheney were with a naked woman? And moreover would it be posted on the White House Website?

If as many Americans can get this interested in the actual politics of the country, beyond the scandals involving naked women, the state of the democracy would be in much better shape.

Photo source: LA Times

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hope for journalism on the Web

As journalism students deal with the anxiety of entering a field that is in the process of transforming, there are some signs of hope.

Despite facing interesting issues as the world becomes more Web-oriented and millions more would-be journalists log on, there are success stories of innovative journalists finding their way in Web journalism. Mac Slocum is one of them.

“I think there is a lot of fear-mongering in journalism,” said Slocum, 33, who has built a steady career in Web journalism. “I’ve been around a while and I recognize the pros and cons of the industry, but I believe in it. The role of journalists is important and always will be.”

After getting his bachelor's and master’s degrees in Journalism from Richmond University and Emerson College, respectively, Slocum worked as an editor and producer, mostly online, for publications in the Boston area. In addition to teaching Web journalism at Emerson, Slocum owns the Fodder Network, a collection of blogs, and runs a few independent Web sites.

“He is an incredibly innovative online entrepreneur,” said Ned Brown, a former student of Slocum’s, who also recently got his master’s in journalism from Emerson. “He seems to be a journalist first, who picked up online skills to go with that. He’s a pioneer of true online journalism.”

As Slocum can attest, the Web is becoming a large part of the everyday media. As the journalism industry tries to find the appropriate balance between print and new media, it’s important for all journalists to get acclimated with the Web.

“Journalism is trying to find the ideal way to tell stories online and transition from creating print stories that go straight to the Web to designing for the Web,” said Brown, whose work as a multimedia Web producer can be found on BU Today’s Web site. “In the next few years stories will be produced for Web, not for print, so the order will reverse.”

Slocum’s main site is The Independent Publisher, which he started as his master’s project at Emerson. The purpose of the site was for Slocum to share his knowledge in Web publishing with anyone who was interested.

“The target audience is anyone who is interested in Web journalism, Web business and Web technology,” said Slocum. “I originally developed it as an online textbook geared toward a creative person interested in starting their own site. It was basically steps to get them on their feet.”

Two years ago, Slocum revitalized the site and added to it a blog, which he uses to get helpful information to his readers and report on Web-related news. Apart from the original site, which is full of resources and advice to start your own site, the blog now also offers original video tutorials that he creates and posts to help users perform specific tasks for their own pages.

“I try to post stuff that is applicable to students looking to get into the Web journalism world,” said Slocum. “I try to provide things that benefit you if you go the independent route.”

Blogs have become a new aspect of journalism that allows news to be reported and updated more quickly than print outlets could ever match. This advantage is what causes some to speculate that newspapers and journalists could soon be replaced by Web sites, blogs and bloggers, but those in the industry aren’t so sure.

“I’d say blogs are great for getting ideas out, but I don’t believe in blogs as official news sources,” said Brown. “If I had one Web source for news, it wouldn’t be a blog.”

This 2006 graph produced by Technorati lists the top 50 blogs and mainstream media sites by how much they were being linked to other sites. At the end of 2006, not much more than a year ago, mainstream media were still in control, but blogs were having an impact.

Although there are blogs out there produced by professional journalists and serious bloggers, Slocum believes the role of the journalist is something that will simply adapt to the Web, not be replaced by it.

“If you take a careful look at the way content is developed, journalists are as important as ever,” said Slocum. “The ability to find and nurture information to create original material provides the primary information that is the jumping off point for bloggers.”

He contends that, like any news source, it’s what blogs produce and how they reach and affect their readers that will determine their reliability.

“I think blogs, just like many news sources, have to forge a relationship with readers, built on trust,” said Slocum. “A blog is just a thing, but it’s what you do with it that matters. There are plenty dedicated to building that trust just like print has to.”

“There’s a difference between regular blogs and repectable blogs and it’s up to the people reading them to decide,” said Mark McLaughlin, a junior Journalism major at Northeastern University.

Some think the idea of journalism will prevail in creating reliable news on the Web and that blogs in fact help journalists.

“If they’re enough into real journalism, they’ll write respectable blogs,” said McLaughlin.

“They’re a great source for reporters, who can learn things they didn’t know from blogs,” said Steve Outing, who wrote an article called “The Blog-Only News Diet” for Poynter Online, which follows an experiment in how much one can learn about current events relying solely on blogs.

“Blogs are a great research tool, but are another source to corroborate because any idiot with a library card can put something on the Web,” said Stephen McCaskill, who writes the Crime Scene Blog, which covers national crime stories. “Some are reliable and some are full of innuendo and there aren’t sources you can follow up with.”

The trend even works in reverse, as trained journalists, like Slocum, now have the chance to use their skills in writing their own blogs, {no comma} on topics they may not have the chance to cover in their journalism careers.

"I have an advice Web site for news publishers called Growing Your News Web Site,” said Outing, who also blogs on and has had a successful career in print and online. “I’ve been doing all sorts of writing, researching, consulting and entrepreneurial things involving the intersection of the internet and mixed media for a long time.”

An entrepreneur himself, Slocum also started Filmfodder and TV Fodder, as creative outlets that serve more as entertainment journalism blogs for those who want to stay current on TV and movies.

“It’s a place fans of pop culture can converse on what they’re really interested in and love,” said Slocum. “It’s been the most gratifying. It’s not lucrative, but it pays for itself.”

Those bloggers who aren’t trained journalists, but get online to report news on whatever they see fit, practice citizen journalism.

“I tend to be critical of citizen journalism in its native state because it hasn’t been conceptualized how to integrate it into the industry,” said Slocum.

Slocum has blogged on the subject of citizen journalism, which seems most prevalent during breaking news where the public wants as much information as possible.

“I felt that after the Virginia Tech shooting, attention was paid to citizen journalism as a buzz word, but there was little analysis,” said Slocum.

Outing sees citizen journalism as more helpful than threatening.

“A classic example was the London subway bombing where the eyewitnesses posted photos taken with their phones, so citizen journalism was in the mix with the professional coverage,” said Outing. “It allows for deeper coverage than professional journalists in the old days could produce. I’ve always viewed it as complementary."

With the industry in transition, young journalists are left questioning what skills they need to develop to adapt to the world of Web journalism.

As citizen journalism continues to impact the industry, professional journalists sees interaction as an important skill for young journalists.

“You need core journalism skills the same as always,” said Outing, “but today you need to learn to interact with your community much more because the audience has a voice.”

Young journalists themselves see a new environment to adapt to, but with an understanding that the old rules still apply.

“I think a big thing is that journalism is around the clock now because you always have to be ready to publish right away, rather than wait for a deadline,” said McLaughlin. “It’s face-paced, but young journalists have to realize that standards and ethics still apply despite the quick schedule.”

As someone who has adapted very well, Slocum believes it is understanding the Web for what it is that is most important.

“Young journalists have to understand the Web as a distinct medium, and its strengths and limitations,” said Slocum. “They need to understand the technology used to create Web stories and be able to collaborate with people to make them.”

Monday, March 31, 2008

claims to be "your guide to good journalism," but according to whom?

The site is free to join and allows members to read, review and submit news stories they'd like to share with the community. The stories are rated on what are deemed to be important standards, such as fairness, evidence, sourcing and context.

You can choose to limit your review categories to the most important factors, or expanded it to dozens of questions. Apart from rating the article itself, reviewers rate their trust in the publication, which I find to be a particularly useful feature that can help expose users to news sites and organizations.

I like the idea of a community of readers gathering interesting news stories and trying to rate them on their journalistic quality, but everyone's opinion of good journalism is different. Readers have different standards and interests, and I'd be more likely to read something that was rated favorably by someone who I believe has standards similar to mine.

The site is set up to also rate members, so that any biases in their reviews would make their reviews valued less.

There are other features of the site that separate it from many other news aggregators. NewsTrust allows you to sort through stories on different subjects, based on their reviews, or how recently they've been reviewed or added. There is also a featured topic prominently displayed on the site with related stories compiled by NewsTrust.

Without knowing your community it's tough to say you would trust their judgment of what is important and well done, but I think the idea of a site where news is ranked based on journalism rather than popularity is a positive step in legitimizing news content on the Web.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Political Fashion?

The April cover of Vogue features Lebron James and Gisele Bundchen allegedly to illustrate body shape and the "secrets of the best bodies," but some who've seen the cover think photographer Annie Leibovitz had another idea in mind.

The cover bears a striking resemblance to a World War I Army recruiting poster depicting a King Kong-esque beast carrying a damsel in distress in his left arm and a weapon held low in his right hand, with an angry clenched face and mouth open wide to yell.

When I first saw the cover, I thought James and Bundchen were in an odd position, with James yelling and dribbling a ball low to his right, with his left arm around an off-balanced Bundchen's waist. It didn't seem to me that their poses depicted what they were meant to represent.

The idea that Leibovitz was imitating the poster could be indicative of her style of recreating old movie posters in her shoots, or some believe it is a social commentary about "the ancestral American fear of black men." Also linked to this theory is the fact that James is the first black man to appear on Vogue's cover.

Although the photographer hasn't pointed to any inspiration, it seems too likely that she was reinventing the King Kong picture. There are too many details present to think otherwise. James is dressed all in black, while Bundchen is in a greenish dress very similar in length and style to the woman in the poster, with her hair even styled in a similar way.

If the cover was designed in the poster's image, the question becomes who was aware of this plan? If it is indeed a social commentary, it seems likely that at least the subjects should have been clued in, but judging by the text accompanying the cover, it seems unlikely the publication had this intent in mind. A Vogue spokesman has defended the magazine's original intent, and that the subjects just looked good together.

The idea isn't necessarily as controversial as the photographer's ability to engender debate on a topic the publication is unprepared to address. Perhaps Leibovitz has succeeded further in bringing to light the backwardness of society, where a fashion magazine cover graced by celebrities is likely to receive more attention and so cause more political and social debate, than if the statement was intentionally made in a news or political magazine.

Photo Source:

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dr. Death '08

Dr. Jack Kevorkian, nicknamed Dr. Death, claimed to assist over 100 people commit suicide in the 1990s. He has been out on parole for 10 months after serving eight years of a 10-to-25-year sentence for second-degree homicide for participating in the assisted suicide of a Thomas Youk, a Michigan man with ALS, in 1998. As a condition of his parole, Kevorkian is not allowed to aid in anyone else's death or care for anyone over 62 or disabled.

To occupy his time and keep from going back to jail, the 79-year-old Kevorkian has decided to run for Congress in Michigan's 9th district (Oakland County). If he is able to collect the required 3,000 signatures on his petition he will be on the November 2008 ballot as an independent.

After his release, Kevorkian said that he would not assist in any suicides, but focus on trying to gain support for legislative change.

While some media outlets seem to be taking the news less seriously, like in the LA Times headline "Dr. Death, Jack Kevorkian, seeks a House seat or else," the idea is apparently not so far-fetched to everyone.

Some voters voiced possible support for the candidate in news interviews, while hosts of the View, Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg, came to the ex-pathologist's defense on this morning's edition of their show. After calling herself a big fan of his, Goldberg said "he believed that he could help people who were in, in a place where no one was helping them." Behar added, "The thing about Kevorkian is that I don’t consider him a bad guy."

The question is whether he will be a bad representative. In his official announcement yesterday he said "this country is going in the wrong direction." He also spoke out against the war in Iraq, claiming the conflict shouldn't even be called a war, which he defined as "when two adversaries have about the equal resources to fight."

Kevorkian is running against eight-term incumbent Republican Joe Knollenberg, and there has been doubt that the convicted felon will earn enough votes to effect the race. Though his opponents told the Washington Times that "voters are more concerned about the economy and jobs than euthanasia," he will certainly make the race more interesting and already has.

AP Photo

Monday, March 24, 2008

Red Sox season starts far from home

On the eve of the Red Sox opening day, I could not possibly talk about anything else. Even though the Sox open the regular season 6735.40 miles from home in Tokyo, Japan, Red Sox fans are literally counting the seconds until the defense of the title 2007 World Champions begins.

As the home team doesn't return to Fenway Park until April 8, some fans decided to go to them. It was reported by local news stations last night that some fans paid $5,000 to fly to Tokyo and see the season opener.

Tomorrow morning's game will air live on ESPN2 at 6:05am, and former Japanese baseball star Daisuke Matsuzaka will be starting for Boston. The Red Sox will be facing the Oakland Athletics, continuing the brand new tradition of American professional sports teams playing regular season games abroad.

Last October, the Miami Dolphins and New York Giants traveled to London to play a regular season game at Wembley Stadium. The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres also played baseball in Asia this spring, with a two-game exhibition series in Beijing, China.

Despite the criticism of the long trips being hard on the players, I think bringing America's games abroad is a good idea and I would be in favor of hosting more foreign games in the United States. Some European soccer matches have been played here in recent history and I think expanding that to more sports would be a good way to share world cultures.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

For the love of Bear Grylls

Bear Grylls is the main character of the Discovery Channel show Man vs. Wild. He is described on his show's site as a seasoned adventurer drawing experience from his time in a special forces unit in the British army.

Although the show seems to be fairly popular, most of the attention on him has come from allegations that he fabricated some of his survival adventures.

On the show Grylls often parachutes or jumps from some kind of aircraft into a dangerous and isolated area of the world, then tries to survive and find his way to civilization. He hunts and eats all kinds of animals and plants, and helps teach the viewer what to do in survival situations.

Many people seemed to be outraged when it was reported that Grylls was assisted and not really surviving on his own in the elements. However, he is quite obviously not alone, as there has to be someone operating the camera, and never claims to be trying to accomplish a survival mission unaided. In every episode he mentions stories of people getting lost in the wilderness and struggling to survive. I always felt the point of the show was to teach survival tips, not pull of amazing feats of survival.

After he was accused of staying at a hotel in Hawaii while filming a show, Grylls had to apologized to anyone who was mislead and now his show comes with a disclaimer and he is forced to engage with the cameraman so nobody is too confused.

Grylls will put himself in dangerous situations like jumping into freezing water just to demonstrate the best way to get yourself out. If he were doing it as a survival mission, he wouldn't put himself in additional danger and if he wanted you to believe he was on a solo adventure he would film himself like the Survivorman does. I think by having the camera crew we ensure that we don't miss anything Grylls does.

I personally am not as entertained by Survivorman Les Stroud's adventures, maybe because he is not as attractive or interesting as Grylls, but also because I like learning Grylls' survival techniques and hearing about real stories of survival.

It's not that I'm not a fan of the crazy reality survival material because I thought Grizzly Man was a thoroughly entertaining and compelling documentary, but Grylls makes no claims of being that crazy. The point of Man vs. Wild is to teach you how to survive in the wilderness, so if you'd rather look at Stroud or see a guy live with Grizzly Bears, go for it, just let Bear do his thing.

Man vs. Wild picture from