What’s wrong with CNN? Ask these women

cnn-logoThe two women sat at the end of a long hallway complaining about sitting at the end of a long hallway.

“I can’t hear them when they call us,” the one in a cable-knit sweater said to the other. “I don’t know why the waiting room has to be so long, anyway.”

“And, good lord, do they ever keep the AC turned up way too high!” said the woman with a slate-colored shawl draped over her bare shoulders. “You want to sit there in the draft under the vents, fine by me. I’m staying here.”

“No,” the first woman muttered. “This is better, I agree.”

To their left stretched rows of sling chairs, arm to arm like soldiers awaiting inspection. Down the white, sun-drenched hall, five other people waited with their faces tilted toward their smartphones. Six or seven chairs between each silent visitor assured privacy. The guests stirred only when a nurse in periwinkle medical scrubs and carrying a clipboard emerged from the far end of the hall to announce a name three times. Two people looked up. She left before anyone responded.

The second woman kept adjusting her shawl. While doing this, she discovered a second complaint.

“But whoever heard of a waiting room without a TV?” she said toward a point on the wall where she presumed one should be. “This one could have two or three.”

“Mmm,” her friend replied. “CNN or something.”

“Uh, gawd, no.” The woman in the shawl crimped her nose as if she had tasted sour milk. “I’ve tried, but I can’t watch CNN anymore.”

“Why? What is it?”

“Oh, you know, I’ll watch for like five, ten minutes, but it’s just so darn depressing.”

“… Mmm, yes, I know what you mean.”

The sweater woman picked at her sweater. The shawl woman removed and replaced her shawl.

“Price Is Right!” the sweater woman announced.

“Or Today. Or Kelly. Or whatever, yes. Just something not so, oh you know, not so depressing …”

“… But with Bob Barker instead, you know, ‘cause he was much better, much better. ‘Price’ was better then, I think.”

“Yes, it was. Or Ellen. I really like Ellen.”

“Yes, yes …”

“… But if CNN’s on somewhere, you know, I’ll watch that. I’ll watch the crawl, anyway. For a little while …”

“… If it’s on, it’s on.”

“Yes.”

The clipboard woman re-emerged and announced another name, half of which disappeared beneath a whoosh of air as the cooling system restarted. She left without looking up from the board.

“Did you hear that?” the sweater woman asked.

“Nope. Wasn’t us. They’ll come down here and get us if they really want us.”

More picking at the sweater. More sliding and adjusting of the shawl.

“Now, if I’m at the airport, I’ll watch the CNN they have on the TVs there.”

“Yes, me too. But that’s all they have on there.”

“That or The Weather Channel …”

“… Uh huh …”

“… But it’s all travel stories on CNN, places you should go or see. I saw one on France and the places you should go for good wine. Now, that was a good story.”

“Yes. I like those.”

“The rest is all so depressing. Bad news after bad news.”

“It’s all bad news.”

“I’m telling you.”

A second nurse in identical scrubs came around a corner by the women. She whispered to them, they acknowledged the same way in the affirmative, then they resumed staring at the spot where they believed a TV should be on the wall.

“But, you know, news is news. It’s all bad anyway. They wouldn’t say anything if it wasn’t.”

“News is news. Maybe. I’m not sure if it’s all news …”

“… Mmm …”

“… I mean, how can all those things be going on at the same time, all those awful things? I just get sick and tired of it.”

“Well, it’s CNN. They’ve been around forever. It’s what they do, they find the news. You remember the way CNN was? Everybody watched it. You just kind of had it on at home.”

“Yeah, I remember.”

“Remember John Lennon? That’s where I heard about John Lennon. And Princess Di?”

“Yeah, Princess Di. I do remember that. So sad, so sad. But now you hear stuff like that everywhere all the time – Marnie telling me things she sees on Facebook before you ever see them on TV, on CNN …”

“… Yes, yes. Everywhere. Everywhere …”

“… And I can’t keep up, you know. It’s just too much.”

“Uh huh. Un huh.”

“But, you know, if it’s on I’ll watch. If there’s, like, nothing else.”

“Yes, mmm. Yes. Me, too.”

The second nurse returned to bend and whisper to the women who rose and reached to collect their handbags. The shawl slipped off the second woman’s shoulders and into the open mouth of her bag, then the women followed the nurse around the corner.

As the sweater woman went out of view, I heard her ask:

“Excuse me, but is there a reason you don’t have a TV in this place?”

John Oliver: Journalist of the year

John Oliver (Photo courtesy HBO)

John Oliver (Photo courtesy HBO)

The best journalist in America in 2014 isn’t American and isn’t a journalist.

He intends to change only one of those things.

“I would like to get into a situation where I’m not suffering taxation without representation, which I’m suffering right now,” British comedian John Oliver told ABC’s “This Week.”

As for the journalist part, Oliver insisted on PBS’s “News Hour” that the title is misapplied.

“I have no moral authority. I’m a comedian.”

Given his latest performances on television though, one is left to wonder otherwise.

The British expatriate and Cambridge University graduate settled in this country upon joining the staff of Comedy Central’s popular “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in 2006. Between assignments, Oliver continued to do stand-up routines and podcasts on both sides of the Atlantic, each refining a style of wit reminiscent of Monty Python. He obtained a Green Card in 2009 and considers himself a permanent U.S. resident.

Then in the summer of 2013, Oliver sat in the “Daily Show” host’s chair for eight weeks while Stewart was off directing the movie “Rosewater” and in that time Oliver displayed a formidable enough stage command to establish himself as Stewart’s likely successor. But before the notion could percolate longer, HBO plucked him out of Stewart’s stable to host the premium channel’s brand new Daily Show-esque enterprise.

What followed was a masterful mix of humor and social commentary that major news media should watch carefully — and learn from.

“Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” does indeed borrow from the “Daily Show” style of squeezing satire out of social and political events and blowing them up to absurd, sometimes mocku-mental proportions. But where the 30-minute “Last Week Tonight” truly distinguishes itself is in the show’s feature pieces, which can last half the program. Among the notable long-form bits in the show’s first 25-episode season were an analysis of Miss America scholarship claims, a look at chronic corruption by World Cup organizer FIFA, and a breakdown of the hypocrisy endemic in the American lottery system.

Oliver does not just parse words. His staff includes former magazine researchers as well as comedy writers who sift for truth as much for laughs. Oliver and his crew understand that a little bit of bizarre behavior floats on the surface of authority and that by shining a light on it we can peer down into, and be less intimidated by, the darkness beneath.

“Last Week Tonight” even displays key information over Oliver’s right shoulder on the screen, noting also the source and publication date. Not even network newscasts do that.

“It is reporting in no sense. But there is a lot of research,” Oliver says. “If a joke is built on sand, it just doesn’t work. … It’s very, very important to us that we are solid.”

This commitment has enabled Oliver to navigate stridently dense, solemn topics such as America’s wealth gap, civil forfeiture, and student debt — topics journalists have reported on many times but with a predilection for the somber seriousness of suffering by which most events are judged newsworthy.

“There is something about playing with toys that are that difficult which become more satisfying to break by the end of our week’s process,” Oliver says.

Not just break — shatter, really. “Last Week Tonight” garnered 1.1 million viewers on Sunday nights. Across all platforms including DVR and on-demand showings, overall weekly viewership topped 4 million. But on YouTube, where “Last Week Tonight” continues to show its vigor months after signing off until February, a feature broadcast in July on the wealth gap has been viewed since then nearly 6 million times. The piece on civil forfeiture has more than 4 million views. The piece on student debt has 3.6 million.

A feature on the typically arcane subject of national elections in India has garnered 2.5 million YouTube views. (HBO releases each segment separately onto YouTube after their initial broadcast).

“It didn’t make any sense to me that the largest exercise in democracy in the history of humanity was not interesting enough for (the major news media) to cover,” Oliver says of the India feature. India has 1.2 billion people; the United States, 320 million.

Even Oliver’s exposition on events in Ferguson, Mo., in a piece mixed with equal parts humor and outrage just one week after Michael Brown’s shooting now has more than 5.5 million views. That number has grown by about 10,000 weekly. Meanwhile, Oliver’s most talked-about feature, the one about net neutrality that was blamed for crashing the Federal Communications Commission’s website, is cruising toward 9 million viewers.

All these numbers constitute a larger audience share per feature than the major news networks can muster per night.

What Oliver and “Last Week Tonight” have managed to do is find a way to engage viewers and keep them engaged on complex, contemporary issues long after the initial broadcast while managing to be informative, a puzzle that network news and newspapers still struggle to accomplish two decades into the digital era.

Journalism in its most basic form is the gathering, processing, and dissemination of information related to a particular audience. By that simplistic definition, Oliver qualifies as a journalist.

“I think that becomes more of a sad commentary on news than it does on us” as comedians, Oliver says. “The only responsibility as a comedian is that I have to make people laugh. If I don’t do that — and I am sure that I often don’t — I have failed.”

But in making people laugh, Oliver goes to journalistically admirable lengths to do it. In the feature on Miss America scholarship funding, which the nonprofit Miss America Foundation claimed was $45 million annually, the “Last Week Tonight” staff spent days sifting through 990 tax forms on nonprofit spending from 33 states right up until broadcast to try verifying that number. The amount turned out to be unjustifiable, but “Last Week Tonight” nevertheless discovered that the Miss America Foundation is indeed the largest provider of scholarships that are just for women — which news media then reported.

“I just want it to be funny,” Oliver says, describing the course he and “Last Week Tonight” have charted. “That is the key responsibility that you have to hold yourself to as a comedian. If you’re not making people laugh, what exactly are you doing?”

This is not to say America’s daily news needs a thick layer of humor to help it glide along, or that professional journalists are less capable of engaging audiences than Oliver & Co. But if an expat Brit can reach more people on tough topics than the major news media and incorporate impressive feats of news gathering and accountability while doing it, then the “journalist” label will stick to Oliver no matter how hard he tries to shake it off, and major news media will be compelled to watch him try.

So, Oliver’s success and that of “Last Week Tonight” raises the question: If the major news media have a responsibility of informing and enlightening the public and still struggle at it, what exactly are they doing?

Region 7 represents at Mark of Excellence Awards

SPJ's Mark of Excellence AwardsMissouri had three honorees and the states of Iowa and Nebraska had one each to represent Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri) in the Society of Professional Journalists’ 2013 national Mark of Excellence Awards, announced Tuesday.

Allison Pohle of the University of Missouri-Columbia, writing for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was a finalist in the feature-writing category among large schools for her work, “Kirkwood Father Tries to Find Meaning in Daughter’s Death;” the staff of VoxMagazine.com at the Missouri School of Journalism was a finalist in the online feature reporting category for “Matters of Faith;” and Vox Magazine’s iPad app was chosen best digital-only student publication.

Suhaib Tawil of the Iowa State Daily at Iowa State University was a finalist in the general news photography category among large schools for “ROTC Training During Spring 2013.”

Jenna Jaynes of the Time-Warner Educational Access Channel and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln was a finalist in television feature reporting for “Nebraska’s First Male Color Guard Member Lives His Dream.”

The national awards recognize exceptional collegiate journalism in all 12 of SPJ’s regions over the previous calendar year and are chosen from the first-place winners at the regional level. This time, instead of first-, second-, and third-place awards, SPJ named a winner and two finalists for each category.

Not all categories were mentioned, however. If the judges determined that no entries were excellent by SPJ’s standards, the category was left blank. All judges have at least three years’ worth of professional experience in their respective fields. They are not permitted to review entries from their own regions.

(Complete disclosure: I have been an MOE judge the past three years, first as president of SPJ’s St. Louis Pro Chapter and now as Region 7 director.)

School divisions were based on cumulative undergraduate and graduate enrollment, with large schools having a minimum of 10,000 registered students. For some categories, school size was not a factor.

Winners in each category will be recognized during the Student Union event at the Excellence in Journalism 2014 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 4-6. A full list of MOE Award recipients is available on SPJ’s website.

SPJ salutes its best student journalists with MOE awards

Society of Professional Journalists logoFor the third consecutive year, I served as a judge for the Society of Professional Journalists‘ annual Mark of Excellence awards — honors that recognize the best print, broadcast, and digital journalism at large and small colleges and universities around the country.

The honors are handed out regionally each spring. This past weekend, the awards for my region, Region 7, were handed out during the annual regional conference, hosted this year by Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Region 7 comprises Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska.

Little else inspires me as much as the students who win these awards and the faculty who nurture the students’ interests and endeavors. The collective display of drive and determination, and the quality of the work, assure me more than anything that journalism is far from dead, and in fact has a bright future.

This year, Kansas University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Baker University had the most MOE recipients. Kansas came away with a total of 14 awards and Nebraska-Lincoln received 11 among large schools submitting entries. Baker University, a private, Methodist-affiliated institution in northeast Kansas, led the small-school category with 14 awards. Certificates were given to the winners and finalists during a banquet at the conference.

The first-place finisher in each category qualifies for a national MOE competition that includes all 12 of SPJ regions. The national winners will be notified later this spring and receive recognition at SPJ’s 2014 Excellence in Journalism convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Sept. 4-6.

The awards for each region are determined by a team of SPJ judges who each have at least three years’ worth of professional journalism experience. Directors are discouraged from judging their own regions.

Not all categories receive awards. If judges determine that none of the entries rose to the level of excellence, no award is given.

Large- and small-school divisions are based on total graduate and undergraduate enrollment. Each of the large schools has more than 10,000 students; each of the small schools has fewer. Some awards incorporated both divisions. Listed below are the Region 7 winners and finalists in each category. The spellings and titles reflect those that were submitted in the award-entry process.

 

NEWSPAPERS

Breaking News Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Explosions Shake Students” by Katelynn McCollough, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Police Arrest Suspect in U.S. Bank Robbery” by Emily Donovan, University Daily Kansan, The Daily Collegian, University of Kansas

Finalist: “University Distances Itself from Journalism Professor’s Controversial Tweet” by Emily Donovan, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

 

General News Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Mental Health Issues on the Rise Among College Students” by Jakki Thompson, The Collegian, Kansas State University

Finalist: “Health Insurance on Campus” by Leah Wankum, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: “UNO Makes History as First U.S. University to Trend on Twitter in India” by Sean Robinson, The Gateway, University of Nebraska at Omaha

 

General News Reporting (Small)

Winner: “Domino Effect” by Kavahn Mansouri and Spencer Gleason, The Montage, St. Louis Community College-Meramec

Finalist: “CU CARES for Students” by Amanda Brandt, Creightonian, Creighton University

Finalist: “BU Enrollment” by Jenna Stanbrough, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

In-Depth Reporting (Large)

Winner: “Human Trafficking Series” by Danielle Ferguson, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “$1,163,237: Bookstore Director Admits to Stealing for 10 Years” by Megan Gates, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Where Does the Student Activity Fee Go?” by Kristin Gallagher, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

 

Feature Writing (Large)

Winner: “Kirkwood Father Tries To Find Meaning in Daughter’s Death” by Allison Pohle, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Can My Boyfriend Rape Me?” by Bailey McGrath, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “We’re the Working Poor” by Jourdyn Kaarre, Lincoln Journal Star, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

Feature Writing (Small)

Winner: “Living the Life He’s Always Wanted” by Steffi Lee, The Simpsonian, Simpson College

Finalist: “Carrying the Weight” by Lauren Bechard, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Sarah Harris at the Boston Marathon” by Jenna Stanbrough, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

Sports Writing (Large)

Winner: “Welcome to Woody’s World” by Alex Halsted, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Jeff Withey Finds New Friend in @FakeJeffWithey” by Blake Schuster, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Ukulele-Strumming Faifili Plays Different Tune as KU LB” by Mike Vernon, Topeka Capital-Journal, University of Kansas

 

Sports Writing (Small)

Winner: “Former BU Punter Puts Best Foot Forward” by Lauren Bechard, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Purdum Reflects on Extension with Jets” by Chris Duderstadt, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

Editorial Writing

Winner: Editorial Board, The Campus Ledger, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: Sarah Hayes and Devese Ursery, The Florissant Valley Forum, St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley

Finalist: Evan Holland, Creightonian, Creighton University

 

General Column Writing (Small)

Winner: Taylor Shuck, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

Sports Column Writing

Winner: Mike Vernon, The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: Josh Sellmeyer, The Journal, Webster University

 

Best All-Around Daily Student Newspaper

Winner: Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: The University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

 

Best All-Around Non Daily Student Newspaper

Winner: Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: The Montage, St. Louis Community College-Meramec

 

MAGAZINES

Non-Fiction Magazine Article

Winner: “Field Notes From Missouri” by the staff of Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Dennis Dailey: A Decade Later” by Laken Rapier, Jayhawker Magazine, University of Kansas

Finalist: “When Liberty Goes Sour” by Abigail Eisenberg, Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

 

Best Student Magazine

Winner: DUH Magazine, Drake University

Finalist: Drake Magazine, Drake University

Finalist: OneWorld Magazine, St. Louis University

 

ART/GRAPHICS

Breaking News Photography (Large)

Winner: “Coach Rhoads’ Reaction to Referee’s Call” by Kelby Wingert, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “President Obama” by George Mullinix, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Take Back the Night” by Suhaib Tawil, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

 

General News Photography (Large)

Winner: “ROTC Training During Spring 2013” by Suhaib Tawil, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

Finalist: “Bacon Fest” by Kelby Wingert, Iowa State Daily, Iowa State University

 

General News Photography (Small)

Winner: “Intoxicated Olympics” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

Feature Photography (Large)

Winner: “Harrisburg Football Photo Essay” by Kevin Cook and Elizabeth Pierson, Vox Magazine, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Step Show Draws a Big Crowd” by Andrew Mather, Muleskinner, University of Central Missouri

Finalist: “Not Quite Ready” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

 

Feature Photography (Small)

Winner: “Jazz Concert” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Man With One Leg Rides Bicycle 150 Miles in Two Days” by Liz Spencer, The Chart, Missouri Southern State University

Finalist: “Downtown Farmers’ Market” by Liz Spencer, The Chart, Missouri Southern State University

 

Sports Photography (Large)

Winner: “My Ball!” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “One Last Lap” by Steph Anderson Chambers, The Standard, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Pick Party” by Romain Polge, The Legacy, Lindenwood University

 

Sports Photography (Small)

Winner: “Women’s Soccer Playoff” by Tera Lyons, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Women’s Soccer” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Winning a Point” by Chad Phillips, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

RADIO

Feature Reporting

Winner: “‘War of the Worlds’ in Context” by Kalen Stockton, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Max Brooks: Zombies, Vampires and Cultural Anxieties” by Chrissie Noriega, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “A Little Help From My Friends” by Kassi Nelson, KRNU FM, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Backpacks: Tools, Fashion Accessories, Personal Statements” by Justin Wilson, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

Finalist: “Vinyl Revival” by Scott Ross, KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

 

TELEVISION

General News Reporting

Winner: “Unknown Circumstances Surround Lincoln Homeless Man’s Death” by Haley Herzog, NewsNetNebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Charter Bus Problems for JCCC” by Heather Dace and Andrew Tady, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “Sex Trafficking in Nebraska” by Madalyn Gotschall, Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

Feature Reporting

Winner: “Nebraska’s First Male Color Guard Member Lives His Dream” by Jenna Jaynes, Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Profile of Andreas Brandenberger” by Heather Dace and Nichole Schafer, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “Exotic Vet” by Aimee Durham, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

 

In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Medical Marijuana in the Ozarks” by Riley Bean, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Nebraska Law Enforcement Hit By Colorado’s Legalization of Marijuana” by Haley Herzog, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “A Closer Look at the Affordable Care Act” by Brittany Velasco, LUTV, Lindenwood University

 

Sports Reporting

Winner: “Henry Josey: Road to Recovery” by Mihir Bhagat, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Helias Players Get Second Chance at State and Life” by Jack Wascher, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

Finalist: “Don’t Blame Andrew Baggett” by Mihir Bhagat, KOMU-TV, University of Missouri-Columbia

 

News and Feature Photography

Winner: “Owen/Cox Dance Group Project” by Zoe Allen, Bernie Verhaeghe and Nichole Schafer, JCAV TV, Johnson County Community College

Finalist: “100 Missouri Miles” by Erica Semsch, Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “KC Trends” by Stephen Cook, JC3 Student Video, Johnson County Community College

 

Best All-Around Newscast

Winner: “LCTV News” by the staff of Loras College Television, Loras College

Finalist: “Ozarks News Journal No. 801” by the staff of the Ozarks News Journal and Mediacom Cable-22, Missouri State University

Finalist: “Star City News” by the staff of the Time-Warner Educational Access Channel, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

ONLINE

News Reporting

Winner: “Breaking the Cycle: Meth Addiction in Council Bluffs” by Katie Kuntz, IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “Lincoln’s Homeless Population Struggles with Cold Temperatures” by Casey Sill, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

 

Feature Reporting

Winner: “Matters of Faith” by the staff of VoxMagazine.com, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: “Graffiti: The Art of Expressive Vandalism” by the staff of IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “A Baker’s Dozen” by Katie Thurbon and Taylor Shuck, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “Matter of Seconds: Tougher Farm Safety Regulation Hard To Come By In Iowa” by Sarah Hadley, IowaWatch.org, University of Iowa

Finalist: “Former Student Attends Class with Pending Default on Student Debt” by Daniel Bauman, The Journal, Webster University

 

Sports Reporting

Winner: “For Amateur Mixed Martial Artist, a Long Road to Fight” by Maricia Guzman, NewsNetNebraska.org, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: “Freshman Softball Star Rachel Franck Dedicates Season to Younger Brother” by Sam Masterson and Josh Sellmeyer, The Journal, Webster University

Finalist: “Six Former Wildcats Chase NFL Dreams” by Chris Duderstadt and Brad Barnes, The Baker Orange, Baker University

 

Best Use of Multimedia

Winner: “Little Known Secrets” by the staff of VoxMagazine.com, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: The Road to the 29th Presidency” by Sara Bell, The Baker Orange, Baker University

Finalist: “Marquis Addison MSSU Basketball Feature” by Samantha Zoltanski and Sydney Marsellis, The Chart Online, Missouri Southern State University

 

Best Affiliated Website

Winner: NewsNetNebraska.org by the staff of NewsNetNebraska, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Finalist: Kansan.com by the staff of the, University Daily Kansan, University of Kansas

Finalist: KJHK.org by Marc Schroeder, Sarah Brennan, Taylor Umbrell and the staff of KJHK 90.7 FM, University of Kansas

 

Best Digital-Only Student Publication

Winner: Vox iPad app by Breanna Dumbacher, Vox iPad, University of Missouri School of Journalism

Finalist: Urbanplainsmag.com by the staff of the Urban Plains, Drake University

Finalist: Think-mag.com by the staff of Think, Drake University

 

SPJ is an 8,000-member professional organization that promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of the press.

Register now for Excellence in Journalism

EIJ 2013 logoYour time is running out.

In four days, early registration ends for Excellence in Journalism 2013, the mother of all journalism conferences.

This year’s gathering is a co-production of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Radio Television Digital News Association, and the Society of Professional Journalists — the first time all three groups have teamed up this way.

Just signing up before Thursday, July 25, warrants half-price registration at the door, which is at the Anaheim Marriott, a short transit ride from Disneyland and the Disney California Adventure. To sweeten the deal, Disney Parks is offering attendees big discounts on both attractions.

But if you think Mickey Mouse is simply goofy, then consider this: EIJ 2013 features special guests such as Kai Ryssdal of American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” Chris Wallace of Fox News, and Belva Davis, a legend in San Francisco media and one of the nation’s first African American TV news anchors. There will be special sessions on audio storytelling, personal branding, editing, leadership and media entrepreneurship. There will be book signings, job-hunting advice, and recognition of student journalism achievement.

If nothing else, I’ll be there. And I invite you to join me for coffee or lunch in discussing the future of journalism and how you can play a big role in it.

The conference will be Aug. 24-26, and the Anaheim Marriott still has rooms available. Sign up now to take advantage of the discounts, and I’ll see you there.

Larry ignored me, and look what happened

Poor Larry. If only he had taken me up on my offer.

Larry Conners, courtesy of  the Post-DispatchThe Larry in question is Larry Conners, the once-ubiquitous, now erstwhile KMOV-TV news anchor. My offer was an invitation that he join the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

I can’t help but think that if he had accepted the invitation, maybe, just maybe, Conners wouldn’t be in such a fix today.

Instead, he’s learning a lesson about the vagaries of celebrity and social media, and those lessons can to be harsh.

Al Roker knows this. So does Anthony Weiner, Ashton Kutcher, Kenneth Cole, and the former Chad Ochocinco: Posting or tweeting with indifference, ignorance or insensitivity can tarnish reputations, perhaps beyond polish.

The Web bristles with examples of questionable social networking behavior, to the extent that a top tip for job hunters is sweeping out offensive material from their networking sites before sending out résumés.

Yet the harsh lessons persist, with no learning evident or behaviors changed. Conners, 66, a 37-year veteran of St. Louis television, sets the latest example.

Conners took a face plant on Facebook last week when he hinted at personal intimidation from the Internal Revenue Service resulting from his televised interview of President Barack Obama in April 2012. During the interview, he issued criticism allegedly passed along from KMOV viewers about the president racking up frequent flyer vacation miles at taxpayer expense.

Conners spoke out only now because he says he was inspired by a recent IRS admission that the agency allowed tougher-than-usual scrutiny of records coming from conservative interest groups seeking tax-exempt status.

On Facebook, Conners, while not revealing his politics, suggested the interview with Obama alone might have brought down scrutiny on himself. He didn’t mention though that his own tax issues predate the Obama interview.

On air a day later, Conners backtracked a bit from his insinuations, but that clarification apparently wasn’t enough. His employer first suspended him, then cut him loose, saying the Facebook post undercut his journalistic credibility and that of the station.

Since then, Conners has defended his intentions on a rival station. His next defense may come in court; Conners has hired an attorney.

I shake my head in dismay.

Three years ago, I was the newly minted president of SPJ’s St. Louis chapter, and as a courtesy to all major media members in the area sent out invitations to either join or rejoin the 114-year-old national society, which among other ideals espouses a Code of Ethics considered to be the standard for behavior among journalists.

The society not only posts this Code online, it has printed copies that the St. Louis chapter offers at most of its monthly meetings. High up in the Code’s wording, it exhorts journalists to “exercise care to avoid inadvertent error,” and to “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.”

Given Conners’ lengthy tenure in television news, one might think he wouldn’t need a reminder. But that’s why SPJ posts the Code and prints the cards; we all need reminding.

Today, journalists toe a thin line between objectivity and subjectivity. The former underpins their credibility; the latter seeps through because media companies urge their talent to blog, post and tweet for the sake of higher readership and ratings.

Undeniably, social media has become a tool for news gathering, but it’s also a window into a person’s thinking.

And there’s another problem. Social media lets users believe they’re staring at a screen instead of a potential audience numbering in the millions. The impersonal nature of digital networking masks a deeper truth: We’re actually staring at each other, face to face.

That’s why Conners might be forgiven for his statements against the IRS, and his transgression dismissed, on a claim of social media ignorance. But he went a step further by concluding his Facebook accusation with the line, “Can I prove it? At this time, no.”

Those perhaps were the worst words he could have written. Proof forms the foundation of journalistic credibility and integrity. Absent proof, Conners’ words amounted to a rant. SPJ’s Code of Ethics is clear on this.

So, I wish Larry had taken me up on my offer to join SPJ awhile back. Then he might have had the Code on a card somewhere within view while he was Facebooking.

I’ll probably send him one anyway. He can still learn something from it.