Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Dean's Wife is Run Down and Killed on Turk St. A Student "Blogs" the Accident. Reporting?

Here's the link.

What do you think?


Lia said...

I hate answering questions I know will get me into more trouble. But I really feel that in the current state of journalism bloggers are not reporters—a distinction that may not remain in the future as technology evolves and continues erasing the line between the two. So here I go digging my hole deeper.

No. A student that blogs the accident about the dean's wife being run down and killed on Turk St. isn't a reporter.

To be a reporter the student needs to: call the dean for comment, try to get an interview with the grieving family, track down and interview close friends of the wife, talk to other eye witnesses and get comments from the police, detectives, and coroner.

After writing the story, the student has to follow up with sources, report on the funeral and basically cover the story until it goes cold or there is some sort of conclusion. Any student reporter at the Foghorn or city newspaper would be expected to do these things so if the blogger wants to be reporter then s/he has to also make the calls, ask the questions and write the stories through the entire saga.

Let's assume this student blogger follows this process, which would be slightly unusual since most blogs I read (even those written by reporters) are more commentary, analysis or eye-witness accounts. But for the sake of argument we'll assume the student does these things.

I still say the student is a blogger not a reporter. Does the student do these things every day? Probably not. S/he probably just went through the reporting process this one time because they witnessed the dean's wife being killed and had a personal connection to the story. One time does not make the student a reporter.

Because Dr. Robertson loves to poke and probe, let's assume the event inspires the student to neglect classes and begin dedicating time to reporting events at USF. And for some reason the student wants to publish online and separate from the Foghorn. So the student dedicates his/her time to reporting events and publishing online.

Fantastic. The student is a reporter and is publishing an online newspaper. But by reporting events they have crossed the blogger-reporter line and are no longer a blogger. Their previous blog is not more akin to an online news Web site or magazine so they would be a reporter or writer.

Most blogs I read are reporters or writers (or semi-retired journalists) writing first-person accounts of what happened at an event. A reporter might be sent to DEMO or MacWorld Conference and Expo to report events instantly as they occur. I might do the same when I go to the E-Tech conference at the end of the month. But I’m not reporting. I’m blogging. My stories will be quick flashes of information about what speakers are saying or what’s occurring on stage not a full news story with context.

And what’s the shame in being a blogger? At the risk of getting myself in even more trouble, I consider tech veteran Om Malik to be a blogger now since, after years of being a senior writer for Business 2.0 magazine, he now pretty much only writes for his blog GigaOm. Just because he edits a blog (that P.S. has an actual paid staff) doesn’t make him any less influential in the tech industry.

Another example is TechCrunch, a group edited blog lead by Michael Arrington. Michael Arrington doesn’t claim to be a reporter or writer. His background is in law and tech startups. In fact, I don’t think (I haven’t checked the entire site) that anyone at TechCrunch says they are a reporter or writer. Other contributors just state where they blog if it’s on more than one Web site. But trust me. Everyone, including reporters and writers, in the tech industry pays attention to TechCrunch.

So I suggest bloggers following in Om Malik and Michael Arrington’s footsteps and work on creating a blog that carries weight in the publishing world or whatever industry they write about. I’ve never heard Malik or Arrington worry about if they are a blogger or a reporter. I suspect they are too busy with their very successful, profitable blog operations to fret over job title definitions. I also doubt they are denied access to sources or events just because they write for a blog.

david silver said...

lia - thanks for the excellent comment. this is the kind of comment i can bring to class, assign to students, and then say, "let's discuss." thanks for taking the time with such well-thought out ideas.

for the record, i do not believe that hunter would self-define himself as a reporter. i think that is important to note from the outset. that said, after an experience like this, he may think about becoming a reporter ...

at the expense of critiquing our generous host, michael robertson, i'd like to note that this might not be the most interesting question here. is blogging journalism? is a blogger a journalist? is online life different from offline life? are virtual communities real? these are some of the questions we in new media often ask but they are problematic because they suggest a black and white answer, a simple dichotomy.

personally, i would not call hunter's blog post about the terrible accident reporting per se. but i will say this: upon reading it, i learned some substantial facts and perspectives.

so, public reporting? not quite. public enlightening? totally.

thanks for the great comment lia.

Sue Ellen said...

Two comments from an Iowan who knew the woman who was killed.

1. Paula, and everyone who knows her, would LAUGH at being described as "elderly." Fact: She was age 59 when she died. Fact: She was energetic, involved, a constant world traveler, mentor to many, compassionate; she was ALIVE. Elderly just isn't Paula.

2. I take issue with the sensationalized words "run down" in the headline. These words imply intent, and as far as I know, you have nothing to base this on.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Sue Ellen has a point. "Run down" can be read as suggesting intentionality, though that was not what I had in mind. One writes blog heds quickly, and I think I instinctively jumped for something that suggested the possible heededlessness of the driver and the "victim-ness" of the person struck. "Run down" suggests (to me) a situation from which there is no possibility of escape, an "inexorability" in the moment. Good comment. Any writer of headlines needs to take a deep breath and rethink.

david silver said...

sue ellen - thank you for your comment about paula. one thing that has happened over the last 48 hours here on campus is a flood of stories about how good and gracious a person paula was. she will surely be missed. thank you for sharing your insights about this much-loved individual.

Jacob Marx said...

Facts are facts and should be reported that way—up front and without limitations. However, the press is a “public good” and must be treated as a device in which serves the community, not the pocketbooks of shareholders and owners or the ego of the writer. Reporting in a sensational way tramples the nature of “good” reporting. In this specific case, the student blogger did use language that attracted a surplus of attention in which probably wouldn’t have accumulated had he used softer words. But doesn’t a journalist have to, in some ways, sensationalize facts in order to gain the eye and ear of the public? In a story like this, one involving death, most words describing the unfortunate events of the situation are loaded already and additional sensationalizing is unnecessary, but in mundane cases where the story still serves the public good and the community needs to know the information at hand, some luring is needed. I don’t think this reporter meant, with malicious intent, to tread against the journalistic values that mean to serve the public good, but rather he just wanted to attract attention to his work. I believe he is simply a young and unexperienced reporter (age 21) who did not realize the story itself would attract readers and he did not have to ensnare them with loaded words. That being said, I feel so bad for all involved in this accident and my heart absolutely drops for the victim and her family—I wish them my deepest condolences.

Jacob Marx said...

I seem to have misunderstood the situation entirely. I thought young hunter had posted this headline in an attempt to attract attention when really it was Robertson's headline for the link. It seems inexperience is not to blame for the loaded headline, but rather this is a simple case of haste (Robertson was trying to get word out to the grads quickly.) I would say ignore my post entirely, but it does have some relevancy.

gabriela salermo said...

I would not call the blog "reporting." I feel there is a necessary distinction between the two, although I have read blogs that are written much like opinion pieces, which are a valid form of reporting. However, those blogs and articles are written with the method and criteria that define reporting such as interviews, quotes, research, indesputable facts, etc.

I was kind of bothered by the fact that the blogger defended his own intentions and actions as a reporter, when nothing that he did or wrote set him apart from a nosey witness. I am not saying that students cannot be real reporters, but I feel like in a case like this, where USF community members are involved in such tragedy, a USF student has to be extra careful about how they approach the story. If it was someone like a Chronicle reporter for instance, I can imagine them being more aggressive because they are getting paid to get the story in the paper because it is definately newsworthy. However, I also imagine they would be used to acting in a professional manner, taking notes, talking to cops and witnesses, getting quotes and staying on top of the story for facts.

Benice's Ethical Blog said...

When the accident happened, I was in the Foghorn office when Hunter came to grab the camera. He told me that there had been an accident over near Lone Mountain and that he was going to take some pictures. I agreed that he should. At that time, neither of us knew the seriousness of what happened.

As to whether or not Hunter's blog should be considered reporting, in some way it is. He told me that he spoke to other reporters at the scene in order to get the information that he did and his blog included a lot of facts about what happened and about the people involved, some of which I didn't know until I read it. However, I don't think that Hunter considers himself, at that time when he was blogging, to be a reporter. And no one else on the Foghorn staff did either. That's why the news editor wrote an actual news story where she spoke to a variety of sources and plans to do a follow up story once the police report is finished.