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.