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Archive for April, 2011

I am fundamentally a curious person.  I want to understand the world around me.  I fail miserably at it, but I try nonetheless.  In the tougher moments of being involved in journalism I occasionally am inclined to give the whole thing up, but when it’s good I get to learn some really cool stuff.

For me there is a joy in learning, new ideas are to me, almost comparable to a drug.  Yesterday, I got a crazy information high.

The chain of events was kicked off by me watching the RSAnimate video I linked to yesterday.  After finishing my post, I watched a few more RSAnimate videos.  Then I watched some TedTalks on hulu.com.  Then I watched got caught up watching Nova on PBS Video.   From there I fell down what Urban Dictionary calls a Wikipedia hole.  This is when you go from one article to the next, following link after link to sources and subtopics and articles on related subjects.

Before I even knew what was happening, 3 hours had passed.  I’d moved from Geothermal energy all the way to the Eugene Saturday Market and then I strangely transitioned back to the environment in the form of Carbon Offsetting, by way of the article on Nike.  After this my path fragmented hoplessly into a dozen different directions.  (Complete Path from environment and back: Geothermal Power>Kola Super deep borehole> Well to Hell Hoax >Weekly World News History > Elvis Presley Phenomenon > 24 Hour Church of Elvis > Portland Saturday Market > Eugene Saturday Market > Nike Corporation > Carbon Offsetting)

The moral of the story was that this was an extremely enjoyable Sunday afternoon.  I learned some useful stuff and a lot of less useful stuff, but it was extremely fun.  I encourage everyone to get lost in learning new stuff today!

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As a journalist I tend to value things that reveal the truth.  I like investigative reporting and news on important issues.  As I’ve reembarked on studying statistics this term I’ve begun to remember their value in generating reliable answers to difficult questions.  Likewise, I’ve always admired science for it’s ability to illuminate the world.  However, there is one subject that people in the harder fields of study tend to disregard: English.   However, in my opinion, fiction, while not explicitly true, can reveal important truths about the human condition.  I’ve been thinking a bit about fiction and the arts in general because I think it can often explain things in a way that is truer than the cold facts.  While in high school I learned more about racism from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mickingbird than from any textbook I ever read.  Later in college, I began to better understand mortality through reading William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying.

While I’m a sucker for fiction novels, I think it joins in the larger category of what art can do to help engage people.  In the following video, Sir Ken Robinson, an educational expert, discusses  how arts in school can help kids to engage and learn to be better critical thinkers.

A lot of what I love about journalism is that at it’s core it gives people information that hopefully allows them to make educated decisions and think critically.  I think that there is something that journalists can learn from art: the ability to engage people in meaningful ways and say things that people identify with as the truth on a emotional level.  I don’t mean to suggest that journalists should always go for emotion and drama.  Indeed, it seems like the only news organizations only use one emotion: fear.  Despite this I still think some of the best stories have a strong emotional core to them, and journalists, with all our concerns for hard facts and statistics should be aware of the essentially human nature of our profession.  This profile of a cigarette vendor published by the New York Times is a great example of this.  While it contains many hard facts describing the current situation of cigarette taxes in New York, at its core it tells the story of at a very real and human level.

Art is intrinsically aware of the human aesthetic and emotion.  Journalists can learn something from that.

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The long interview

I’m guessing most people with experience in journalism have experienced an interview or two that lasted longer than they would have liked.  Those situations are part of the job and when you get more experienced with reporting you (hopefully) learn to control the interview a bit more, so that you can save yourself some time.  In the last few months I think I’ve been getting better as an interviewer, and I get better information faster than I did when I had less experience.  However, it occasionally happens that I lose control of an interview and it lasts way longer than I want it to.

I had one of those experiences recently and it was really hard to keep my subject on topic.  In the end I spent a few hours interviewing my subject but only 45 minutes of the conversation was on topic.  The situation was particularly frustrating because I used every tip and trick I’ve ever heard about to try to keep the conversation on track, but my subject kept straying to material that was unrelated to what I needed for my story.  The conversation was not unpleasant, but I ended up taking 3 times as long to do something, and as journalists know time is incredibly valuable when you are on deadline.  This source is the subject of a profile, so they are essential to the piece and I know that small talk is really important in building trust with a subject, but the situation was still difficult.

Although I’m moderately convinced that there are some sources who are always going to take longer to interview than you would like there were a few things I tried which seemed more productive than others:

1) The Segue – When you get into an unrelated discussion that lasts for a while try to find ways to steer the conversation back to the subject at hand.  The advantage of this technique is that it can be very natural and it won’t disrupt the flow of the conversation.  Simple phrases like “That reminds me that I wanted to ask about…” can be a simple and smooth way to move back to productive topics.

2) Just interrupt them – this is the opposite of the segue.  Sometimes, as rude as it seems, you just need to stop the conversation and go back to your questions.  If you are a polite person you may dislike this one at first – but after you’ve spent a bit too much time hearing about your subject’s last vacation you’ll get over that dislike pretty quick.

3) Talk about your deadline – Student journalists often have more time to work on stories than professionals; however, this does not mean that we  don’t have deadlines,  and you shouldn’t let your subjects forget either.  Not having open-ended conversations can help everyone involved be more focused.

Good luck interviewing!

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I’m a geek for a lot of things.  I get really into discussions of statistics.  I can go on for hours about ethics in journalism.  You don’t want to get into a conversation with me about Canon lenses.  As much of a nerd for journalism as I am, I also am a nerd for fiction.  I follow a number of blogs by science fiction and fantasy authors and I really like a lot of them, but I think that Patrick Rothfuss, New York Times Best Selling author of The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fears, keeps a blog that is worth reading even if you aren’t a fan of his books or even this genre.

In addition to talking about the process for publishing and promoting a book, Rothfuss also discusses the craft of writing.  I’ve always enjoyed writing and I often think about writing my own book.  However, as a student and journalist I’m not really used to writing anything very long.  The process is quite daunting.  I really enjoy reading Rothfuss because he talks about the process of writing in a way that I can really understand.  This post on revisions thoroughly documents an entire days worth of work on his book.  I enjoy reading his blog because it encourages me to write and helps me to get over the daunting idea of writing something as long as a book.  Even if you write something besides fiction, I still think he is worth reading.  Rothfuss’ emphasis on detail and rewriting thoroughly is something that journalists can benefit from too.

Plus, Rothfuss is pretty darn funny.  In this post he discusses how his book passed Donald Rumsfeld’s Known and Unknown on Amazon’s sales list and he concludes with “Suck it, Rumsfeld!”

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Noted scholar of linguistics and prominent media critic Noam Chomsky is scheduled to present in 150 Columbia on the UO campus on April 20th.  For more information about the speech visit the UO English Department’s events page.

To call Noam Chomsky a controversial figure is something of  a gross understatement.  He is undoubtedly one of the most prominent scholars of linguistics, yet he is often villified as an extreme radical for his criticism of the media and US foreign policy.

I’m personally not sure what my opinion of Chomsky is.  I don’t know anything about linguistics,  so I can offer no opinion of  him there and I have mixed feelings about his political activism as well.  I’ve watched his film Manufacturing Consent and I find myself sympathetic to many of his criticisms of the media, yet I do think he takes his suspicion of the government and corporate interests to a level that seems improbable. At points his discussion he ascribes such a deliberate maliciousness to people with power that seems to be poorly supported.

That being said, there is no way I’m not going to be there to watch him speak.

I may not agree with his every point, but Chomsky is without a doubt worth listening to.  The University of Oregon Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is screening Manufacturing Consent on Tuesday April 12th 2011 at 6:00 PM in Allen HoA.  The event will include pauses for discussion, so you have a chance to revisit the film in context, prior to the event.

While I have

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