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Archive for April, 2010

I recently read an article in the New York Times about animals taking over television. They appear to have steadily rising ratings. The article goes into talking about why animal television is so intriguing. The conclusion? Animals are adorable, weird, just like us, and want to kill and often eat us.

So better question, why do we like watching adorable, weird, human-like, man eating organisms? Can we apply this to our journalism stories? We can. People love little feature, kicker stories about the water-skiing squirrel, or  vicious shark attacks. What we can also take from this as journalists is the videography. Often Discovery Channel or series like “Life” have photographers who are nothing short of amazing. They shoot up close, personal shots of animals to tell the story in the most detailed and beautiful, colorful way possible. These photographers also have patience, and lots of it.

Unfortunately on a day-turn, we cannot sit and wait for the perfect shot of person committing fraud or sit around and wait for an earthquake aftershock to happen. We just don’t have the time, nor the resources, but we can of course put forward the most effort possible to get amazing shots that seem to bring in great rating (at least for the animal world).

What else can we take? Well, obviously there is an interest for longer stories, even for niche market material. “60 Minutes” has been a very popular show with long-term journalism stories. People do still watch it. I wish we had the monetary means to send people out to do more stories like this. Could it up ratings? Maybe. It can’t hurt.

The station I work for currently, KOMU-TV, does a regular, weekly, (I believe) long-term story called “Sarah’s Stories”.  I think this fills a niche market similar to animal stories would. She finds weird, adorable stories, often with people with some sort of issue, sometimes man-eating blindness or cancer for example, who are just like us, but not. We send our best photographer with her to really capture the story well. Sound familiar? Mmmhmm. Are her stories popular in the community? Yep, you bet.

Of course my station may only be able to afford this because we have unpaid students working all the daily reporting shifts for class credit. However, the point remains. We need more of these stories and maybe, our rating could go up too, but ah… where’s the resources to do it more often?

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Haiti shook.

Chile shook.

China shook (more than once).

Iceland exploded (Hello, Ash).

Somewhere else has a drought and another has a flood.

Point is, we’ve been hearing LOTS of natural disaster news lately, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets sick of hearing the same stories over and over again. Unfortunately for news directors, these disasters are getting redundant, but we have to show the straight up facts, and we can’t ignore one horrible disaster and tell another. However, we as reporters, can try to find a better story than the same old.

I find the other stories, such as Africa’s flower economics getting screwed over by the ash cloud, much more intriguing. Weirdly enough though, I tend to be a person who like to know the who, what, where, when, why right up front, and I still do, but with these stories, we need to go further to find something that others haven’t to make our stories unique. It’s hard to do. It’s also monetarily impossible for many. Not many stations can afford to send people out to get unique perspectives on a global story. Most video comes straight from mother stations or AP and Rueters, who should be trying harder and not just send out the surface soil. Dig deeper guys!

I have a colleague (and fellow northern Minnesotan) who recently won a Youtube contest for journalism. (Congrats to him!) When I asked him where he wanted to go with his $10 -thousand, he said possibly reporting from Haiti. My first thought was, this has been covered a lot. Who wants to hear about Haiti anymore? I know they are still suffering and there are probably plenty of stories still, but as a news director, do you want more Haiti coverage in your show? Or would you rather have something newer, fresher? I’m struggling with this. How should we cover “old news” and convince directors that a new look at it is worth the effort?

I have to commend my colleague for looking for a deeper story in an “old news” environment and yes, I will watch it. His idea, which I won’t reveal, will indeed tell a great story of a group of people who don’t cross my mind often. Good luck to him and good riddens he has the monetary ability and will to put together what should be a great story.

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I recently read a disturbing article in the New York Times about how much information and news does NOT get written because journalists who cover the beat, or used to do so, are self-censoring after threats and doings of the Mexican drug cartels. It is obvious the threats are very real. Bribes are often paid and shots have been fired to journalists. No drug cartel wants names printed, it seems. ‘

The people living in the hot spot areas must feel cheated. How can they hear so many shots fired at night and see nothing of it in the paper the next day. It’s sad that reporters have taken the step to accept bribes or censor themselves, however it just may be a matter of life and death for them. How much censoring is done? I’m guessing enough to not get the full extent of the horror out. 

This situation reminds me a lot about how news organizations work in Bulgaria. I spent two weeks there last year and met the only foreign correspondent that existed in the capital city of Sofia. He was only there because of a relationship with a Bulgarian, who could not come to live in the Netherlands, his home country. 

He told me the news is as slanted as it gets. Fear of the mafia and political figures hover over reporters that dare to challenge their views. Most practice self-censorship to avoid being dropped off at the base of the hospital by a black car, bleeding and beaten, or worse, killed.  Journalists have died working there and have very little access to information compared to what we would be used to in the US.

As a foreign journalist, I was told I had to register with the government. For real, I thought? No.  The Netherlands foreign correspondent had never done so. I never thought journalists from the US in Mexico would have to practice under as much fear as the press in Bulgaria, the least free press in the European Union. I had chosen to brave going into the Roma ghettos in Sofia, to collect photos and video, a place that only ever receives “bad” press from Bulgarian journalists and therefore hates journalists altogether. I must admit, I was scared and so was my driver, a local Bulgarian, who said his friends wouldn’t like that he brought me there in the first place. I had to see the place, the conditions in which people were living, the garbage, the mud, the destruction. I didn’t skimp on telling the story, but I was only there for two weeks, and telling a less challenging story. 

One of my fellow journalists along the Black Sea in Bulgaria had actually been told she’d be “taken care of” if she didn’t stop taking pictures and looking into why hotels built by the mafia are popping up on nature reserve land. She backed off and didn’t tell the story as well as she could have. However, a journalism school project isn’t what I would want to die or be beaten up over either. 

I wish I could go back sometimes and pursue more Bulgarian politicians and other authorities, question them more, etc. but I would be scared to see what the outcome would be if they had more of a whiff of what we trying to get at, exploring their corruption. Is it worth consistently risking our lives to tell a story?

Well, somebody has to, but I don’t know if it would be me.

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