Thursday, April 8, 2010

Plastics, other common chemicals could be ruining health

Timeliness, importance and locality are crucial factors for many news stories. Together they encourage audiences to stop and read the story. I was impressed by Time's “Perils of Plastics” because it contained all three factors. The environmental story was timely because it’s printed one month before the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, and it warns readers about harmful chemicals that affect bodies and babies. The chemicals may be linked to commons conditions like autism, cancers and male reproductive disorders, further driving locality.

The story is packed with information and different chemical names, but the reader can easily read and comprehend the story because the author explains chemicals, where they are found and possible side effects. For instance, Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in an array of plastics like baby bottles and plastic containers. Once broken down, through washing or microwaving, the chemical leaches into food and then bodies.

The story is from a magazine so it's lengthy. Time hyperlinks different topics like the top 2008 scientific findings, the most polluted places and information on common household chemicals. This is thoughtful because it allows the reader to seek more information which helps reduce text. However, hyperlinks were not needed after every paragraph, and some did not fit the topic. I would have preferred only relevant information. Also, I would place hyperlinks at the end of pages, not paragraphs. Finally, a picture or other media would complement the story and divert attention from text.

Textually, the story was informative and easy to comprehend. It also covers different angles like a brief history of chemical environmentalism and DDT. I also like that numbers were put in perspective. For instance the author says, “But as biomonitoring improved — we can now detect human exposure levels as small as one part per trillion, or about one-twentieth of a drop of water in an Olympic-size swimming pool — scientists realized that people were carrying far more chemicals than we'd thought.” This sentence helps the reader comprehend that extremely small amounts of chemicals are in as well as harmful to the body.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Going to war with unsanitary water

Go to your faucet; run water into your cup, or buy a bottled water; untwist the cap. Gulp, gulp, and gulp.

Nothing quenches thirst like fresh, cold water. While first world dwellers are able to share this common experience, one billion people are living with contaminated drinking water which kills more inhabitants than war.

March 22, 2010 marked “World Water Day,” an initiative started by United Nations in 1994 “to celebrate freshwater” and to raise awareness for poor and third world dwellers who are forced to use and drink bacteria infested water. Group Launch is working three initiatives to deliver drinkable water. The article appeared in Fast Company, an online magazine.

I glanced at several water day articles, and I decided on “World Water Day 2010: Three Projects That Are Changing the Future” because of “packaging." Naturally, stark realities about contaminated drinking water capture audience’s attention. Also the subject is not commonly reported, and since the day appears once a year, many news outlets will observe it. As an editor, I would especially focus on packaging so readers would stop and read my medium over others.

In addition to reporting compelling statistics and innovative water quality programs, Fast Company features a picture of a child using contaminated water and pictures of clean water programs. I especially liked the two You Tube videos that demonstrate a filtration system and one that features the impact of clean drinking water at an orphanage. The videos are short, something that provides an extra incentive to stop, read the article and watch the media.

Overall, this article provides a good example of capturing readers' attention through visuals or cross media. The written angle is one aspect, but readers will probably look at visuals first when deciding to read an article. Different sources are reporting this important subject, so visuals' worth cannot be underestimated.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Finding a balance between the citizen and the journalist

Initially I planned to write about a story featured in Washington Times' “Citizen Journalism” section, which is a compilation of articles written by residents. But I forgot about the beauty of the web: It’s constantly changing. I went searching for the story and found nothing.

The article was about a D.C. program that helps newly released felons transition back into the community by assisting with job, housing, transportation and even the clemency process. The subject is interesting and raises questions, like what else is being done to curb repeat offending?

The author covered a newly released felon and how the program helped him with job applications and housing. The author decided to focus on clemency and the felon, instead of the program and other related issues. I was mostly surprised that he would focus on clemency applications since the amount of felons that receive expunged cases is insignificant.

I was going to write about the article-mostly critique it-but it was composed by a citizen, not a journalist, and I have to take this into consideration. Surprisingly, my critiques lessened the more I glanced over the "citizen journalism" (CJ). I liked that many articles focused on issues that newspapers would gloss over or simply not feature. CJ also allows readers to be involved with news, something that could help diminishing newsprint.

However, placing myself in an editor’s position, I wonder to what extent should editors change the article to make it sound "journalistic", cohesive and clear? Or do editors let the story stand to make it sound “citizen” written? The editor has many other tasks, so how much time should be dedicated to coaching and ensuring questions are answered and certain points are covered? If the editor doesn’t do this, should someone be assigned? Objectivity will most likely be challenged; should this be expected?

If I were an editor and wanted citizen journalists, I would try and keep the story’s integrity as much as possible. I would also find a way to minimally coach the citizen writer to ensure the story is complete yet “citizen written.” I would expect independence to be sacrificed because many citizens write about impassioned interests, which are usually the same interests that daily news flow trumps.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Addtional $900 million proposed for failing schools

The class of 2018, or 2010 4th grade students, will be the first to receive initiatives under a $900 million package designed to retain school dropouts if passed. President Obama said the money would become available through grants and specifically for the nation’s worst schools.

Schools must also pull their fair share; meaning they must fulfill one the four outlined models upon receiving money:

Turnaround Model
The school district must replace the principal and at least half of its staff, adopt a new governance structure and implement a new curriculum.

Transformational Model
The school district must train teachers and administrators, implement reform strategies, extend learning time for students and planning time for teachers and provide flexibility in its schools’ operating procedures.

Restart Model
A school district must close and reopen under the management of a charter school or similar organization.

School Closure Model
A district must close a failing school and move its students to other schools in the district.

Anytime a government bill is proposed or passed, news mediums must state the significance and applicability. In this case, much of news coverage focused on Obama’s announcement and the significance of the bill, leaving many residents clueless on how the money or bill would apply to their areas.

The article, “Maine’s worst schools could get $11M boost,” from Bangor Daily News informs readers that Maine’s schools could receive $11 million, the state has 10 failing schools and the transformational model is the most feasible for the district (according to Maine Department of Education spokesman David Connerty-Martin). Stylistically, the paragraphs are short, and the models were blocked, which makes it easier to read and comprehend.

Less explicit is the origin of the money. The author says, “Obama, in remarks on Monday, pledged $3.5 billion for changes in the country’s lowest-performing schools, plus another $900 million to support what he called School Turnaround Grants.” It would have been clear and more accurate to say, “The money is an addition to the $3.5 billion that was part of the stimulus package.” Finally, I also look for government stories to avoid jargon and bureaucratic language and to define terms when used. Here the author explains “Title 1” and “School Improvement” grants but forgets “collective bargaining agreements.”

Overall, the article provides a good example of localizing and stating the impact of proposed and current legislation. It’s always easier to tell what happened but definitely more beneficial to “bring it home.” Secondly, editors can never underestimate the importance of translating jargon. This not only keeps the audience informed but makes it want to follow the often boring but important governmental processes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

One bustling and one struggling; two cities on opposite ends of the employment gap

The recession has not been an "equal opportunist." Some states and cities are experiencing a booming or unchanged economy while destitute, unfinished houses and long food lines mark the day-to-day struggle to survive amidst financial instability in other areas.

The nation's unemployment rate is as low as 4 percent in Grand Forks N.D and as high as 27.7 percent in El Centro, Calf. Instead of covering the two cities with the lowest and highest unemployment rate, USA Today covered cites who had been the least and most affected by real estate development-Lincoln, Neb. and Merced, Calif. Failed real estate development is the leading contributor to high unemployment rates.

Overall, the article is informative, well written and editorially solid. The authors immediately say the nation's employment divide is unequal, and the main cause is real estate development. From there they cover Lincoln and Merced. Because the story is so long, some readers may not want to read the full story. It would have been preferable to give a synopsis of each city and then cover specifics.

The sidebar graphics are complimentary because they map the cities' demographics and home values. The only critique is each should have appeared on the page of its city. Instead Merced Calif.'s graphic appears on the profile of Lincoln, Neb. and vice versa. The front-page photo could have been better as well. It features a grandmother and grandson eating breakfast at a Salvation Army. Because the story is about the divide, I would have preferred a split picture.

One area has missing information. It’s within the five reasons for Lincoln, Neb.'s low unemployment rate. The author writes, "Manufacturing has been helped by lowering electricity rates 25% below the national average," and "Nebraska is the only state that generates all its power from government-owned utilities." Two or three explanatory sentences would easily clarify how each benefits the economy.

Otherwise, I like use of subtitles, sensory details and that the author tells each city's story from a resident perspective. The author ends on an optimistic, forward-looking note, featuring one successful business and saying Lincoln, Neb. and its residents will recover.

The Cities

Lincoln, Neb. is marked by stability and mainly because the city bypassed major land development. Because of this, it missed the harsh effects of the recession. The economy has been "good for so long that it's hard for many to remember bad times , according to residents"; so good that the unemployment rate has never been above 5% since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking the number 20 years ago. Contributing factors include residents that hold multiple jobs and a diversified economy.

Merced Calif. is experiencing "economic misery." The city overindulged in development. One subdivision, Bellevue Ranch, resembles an "eerie ghost town" and wooden frames mark unfinished homes. The main explanation for the city's downfall is its 25,000-student university. The city built the school with the anticipation of completely filling it and accommodating faculty and new grads with surrounding housing. No faculty, no new grads and no influx of students occurred. In fact fewer than 3,500 students attend the school. In addition the economy is not diverse, as it's dependent on agriculture. Many residents are homeless and dependent on places like the Salvation Army, which feeds 200 people per day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Double digit unemployment rate for minorities in NY

Minorities in America are experiencing a double digit unemployment rate, topping the national average. The latest headline is that President Obama met with black leaders to discuss the staggering statistic. Meanwhile, two sources covered a different angle: New York's rate. There Blacks and Hispanics lead all unemployed groups.

I decided to look for several components when comparing the sources. Included is the national unemployment statistic, why New York's unemployment numbers are special and what the city and unemployed are doing to improve residents' plight.

The two stories are taken from Reuters and Business First. Business First places NY's statistic first and directly quotes Comptroller DiNapoli saying, "This has not been an equal opportunity recession,” an interesting quote. Along with Blacks and Hispanics, those without education rank higher too. The writer names unemployment rates for women and Asians, but it would seem more beneficial to say how NY compares to other states and what officials are doing to curb the numbers. This is a brief article, and to keep focus the writer should have limited information to minorities with the highest unemployment rates. He also misses an opportunity to end optimistically.

Reuters' piece is longer, and it includes all groups with high unemployment numbers. However, like Business First, it does not give the importance of New York's high unemployment rate. The writer also cites lacking education and jobs as sources of unemployment and includes numbers for industries suffering job loses. This story is cluttered with important numbers. A visual would have definitely helped. Overall, Reuters delivers a more informational piece that would be stronger with a few editorial adjustments.

Both articles deliver important information, but both leave the reader wanting to know, "what is being done to ease the high rate?"

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Leaving facebook to begin a social fife

Facebook said it has 399, 999, 999. What's more compelling is people are abandoning the social website for a social life. Yes a social life. Average users dedicate 55 minutes a day on Facebook and have 130 friends, according to the site. However, the constant connection does not suffice for face-to-face human contact. Many are leaving to begin the life (and privacy) they had before Facebook and other social sites.

USA Today published this feature article. It included the image above, something I found unique and complimentary to the story. The user is leaving the surrogate internet social life like other users who named time, privacy and addiction as determining factors.

Overall, the lengthy feature was informative, but it did not begin with information pertinent to the story. Rather, it began with Lora LeNoir, whoever that is, and a statistic irrelevant to the story. This article is deeper than LeNoir and the statistic; people are reclaiming their lives that they lost to social sites. The picture is more attention grabbing than the lede and other introductory sentences. Finally, because it was long, different angles like erasing information, internet consumption in general, and the disadvantages of meeting on networks were adequately covered.