Archive | November 2011

Updates

1. I got a text recently from Reesha saying good job and that she had been fired from the daily cougar. I had mixed feelings about it – knowing that it wasn’t just her fault, but the overall system that puts a lot of pressure on journalists.  Not to mention the overall merging of advertising/marketing/public relations – where this kind of incident would probably help a resume rather than hurt it – and journalism.  PR and journalism students go to the same college and even take some of the same classes together.

Either way – my blog was successful in helping to achieve what I told Dr. Camaj I wanted to do on day one – “get some bad editors and reporters in trouble.” By fighting bad journalism with good journalism, I have not only honed my skills, but had a real impact.  Good job, me.

Sidenote: Besides Reesha, Matt Dulin, Mohammed, and myself – no one has said thanks for helping the newspaper by going beyond my duties as an unpaid reporter.  When I recently caught a burglar  breaking into my neighbor’s apartment, my landlord gave me 100$ and a card signed by his whole family.  The snotty college kids whose laptops, etc. I saved and [I think] went to UH – didn’t even say thanks.  This ties into my obsession regarding our education system being a joke and so called professionals really being no more honest or decent than your average person.  Would you thank someone who informed you of their boss/your employee plagiarizing or doing a bad job – essentially doing your job?  Or would you unofficially fire them like Jack Wehman did with me last semester when I told him he should fire a previous editor (his friend) for poor performance?

2. The election for the daily cougar editor in chief is up. Do you want to keep jack wehman, who has very little substantial journalism to show for his salary, choice of staff, and expensive training trip? Apparently they can’t even pull down a plagiarized story or run a correction. I emailed them about this Nov. 6th and this most obvious example is still up, along with however many I didn’t find (not being a high paid employee who has the will to dedicate himself completely to this task.) I guess I was right in my original post when I said “I doubt they will even run a retraction/correction.”
Oh and their website says it’s Nov 17 right now. They can’t even get the date right! How many students didn’t go to school today because they looked at the date on there?  How many didn’t go pick up their grandparents from the airport, leaving them to be beaten and robbed while traversing to a hotel? Too many if you ask me.

3. I have had zero emails for the contest.  I didn’t think I was asking that much – paying for local media criticism…from journalism students, but oh well!  Contest ends Dec. 1st.  2 more weeks!

Houston Chroncile – Local-section analysis

This post will focus on the most prominent content from the online City and State section of the Houston Chronicle’s website. The timing of the analysis is completely random. All analysis stems from a saved webpage from Nov. 13th at around 5:15 pm.
The Chronicle is the monopoly daily newspaper for Houston and, combined with chron.com, reaches 2.3 million people per week.
As the sole daily newspaper for Houston, it has a great responsibility to keep Houstonians informed about local issues that affect their lives, as well as a responsibility to provide in depth analysis that newspapers are known for.
Form:
The local section design consists primarily of 3 columns – the left and middle being news content – and the right being a mix of ads, slideshows and links to sports and entertainment stories.
The ad column seems to be mostly ads. I imagine the Chronicle wishes it was all ads – it seems to be using sports and entertainment slideshows and links as filler – or maybe it’s best to keep a little Chron content mixed in so that people will still look at this column?
The left news column has featured stories and the middle column is a compilation of various blogs and comments from those blogs. Kudos to chron.com for letting readers be heard.
Substance:
At the top of the left column is the Feature story “Perry jokes about his forgetfulness at GOP debate” with a picture on top of the Republican candidates smiling and Perry smiling awkwardly and in the middle of opening his hand for a wave (suggesting the Chronicle isn’t going out of its way to make him look normal or intelligent.)
This story, which is the feature for the local section, is about a national political debate. This has relatively little to do with Houston, or even Texas politics, but is the feature story because Perry is from Texas, prominent and full of political entertainment.
Next to this feature is the Perry Presidential blog, which focuses on the presidential race – not just Perry specifically. The Texas governor is a position of infamously small power, yet his unlikely election to the presidency, and all of the other tidbits from the campaign trail, are apparently major local news. How much did George W. Bush being kind-of-elected president change things for Texas or Houston?
By focusing on national politics, even putting it in the City and State section, the Chronicle does a disservice to the many local issues that Houstonians are facing. They probably do this to save money – it’s cheaper to homogenize content by having a reporter working for Hearst do stories for many of the Hearst papers and to put similar content in various sections. If you look at Hearst employee Richard Dunham’s Linkedin, you will see that he was Washington Bureau Chief for Houston Chronicle starting in 2007, but in 2009 he also became chief for Hearst Newspapers. This is the kind of consolidation that is killing journalism by delocalizing content and overburdening journalists for higher profits, or, for many papers, to just stay afloat.
Besides consolidation of responsibilities, it is also cheaper to follow the political circus – which, to be fair, is probably more popular with many readers (who probably feel powerless to change anything in politics and so just entertain themselves with the news instead) – than investigate local issues that no one else is reporting on in depth.
As unimportant as these stories might be to Houston, they can’t compare to what is the prominent topic of the Newswatch blog, which is at the top of the middle column. Instead of watching a horror movie or driving around many places in the city, readers can get their thrills by reading about the worst the city has to offer in this blog.
The 3 stories featured on Newswatch at the time of this random sampling are:
Fort Bend woman stabbed to death
Three men stabbed outside a south Houston bar
Man shot through window of his pickup truck
It is understandable if you think WW3 has come or we are in the midst of the apocalypse, but this is actually just the Chron’s horror section.  I’m not sure how to make any use of this section, except to respond by grabbing a gun and locking the doors.
A keyword search of the Newswatch blog gives further evidence of this trend.
“Kill” gives 33 pages of results. “Help” = 23 pages.
“Charity” = 1 Page, “Murder” = 8 pages
“Rape” = 5 pages, “Marriage” = 2 pages
“If it bleeds, it leads” indeed.
Houston Chronicle has a long way to go if it ever hopes to live up to its mission statement to – never mind, it doesn’t have one. Neither does Hearst Corp.
I guess it’s hard to be a hypocrite if you don’t stand for anything but making money.

To leave on a positive note, here’s a mission statement from a site that cared enough to make one.
FAIR.org:
FAIR, the national media watch group, has been offering well-documented criticism of media bias and censorship since 1986. We work to invigorate the First Amendment by advocating for greater diversity in the press and by scrutinizing media practices that marginalize public interest, minority and dissenting viewpoints. As an anti-censorship organization, we expose neglected news stories and defend working journalists when they are muzzled. As a progressive group, FAIR believes that structural reform is ultimately needed to break up the dominant media conglomerates, establish independent public broadcasting and promote strong non-profit sources of information.

Houston-Media Watchdog Contest

Media Watchdog Contest
I said in my Intro post that part of the mission of this blog is to create a community of media critics who will help improve our local media. I want to incentivize this by offering a prize of 20$ the first 2 people who provide an analysis of a serious problem in the local media – whether it be plagiarism, poor analysis, incorrect facts, or anything else you feel is indicative of a big problem. If it’s a minor problem – such as bad spelling and grammar, I still encourage you to post for the sake of helping these deficiencies come to light.
Sunshine is the best disinfectant, but I can only look at so many things. That’s why I encourage everyone who feels they have found a significant problem in the media to come here and share about it. Anyone who thinks they have a good story for the 20$ Journalism Watchdog contest prize should email me to negotiate the prize value – which is adjustable based on how much effort you put into analysis and how well written it is.
There is a 5$ bonus prize if you and/or your piece has a demonstrable, positive impact on the problem it addresses.

The Daily Cougar and other school publications should be the easiest place to find big problems, so they won’t receive as much prize money. The larger the audience of the publication(s) that is/are analyzed, the higher the reward will be.
Also remember this is just for Houston media.
So that’s 50$ up for grabs out of my broke-college-student-wallet!
I look forward to your emails.

Investigation at The Daily Cougar

When trying to understand a newspaper, it is important to focus on the investigative role and what factors effect it.  The watchdog/investigative role of a newspaper may be the most important aspect of a newspaper.  They are one of the few institutions that have the budget and technical resources to do thorough independent examinations of important subjects

When I came to Reporting (for print media) Professor McHam with 2 pages of story ideas before the semester began, he was dismissive of some, but told me I would be the class investigative reporter.  He oddly suggested I do a project a previous student had done.  This idea strangely stemmed from his simply remembering someone who I reminded him of who had followed a UH Recycling vehicle around and discovered they weren’t really recycling.

Then, in the first week of class I found out I was actually assigned to the environmental beat, the least popular of beats according to McHam – likely to keep me away from upper level administrators. The Daily Cougar Editor in Chief Jack Wehman smugly told me this during a heated discussion earlier that day, before Professor McHam mentioned it. When McHam had us fill out what we wanted to cover in class later that day, I asked if we hadn’t already been assigned beats. He assured me that we hadn’t, and then came up to me after class to tell me that I had been assigned to this least popular of beats.

On top of dealing with such deceptive and frustrating behavior, there were other obstacles to overcome.

When emailed recently, Professor McHam refused to allow a lower quantity of stories for higher quality, although he allows two very easy/quick press-release rewrites called “Newslines” to count as one news story. In depth reporting is not valued in McHam’s class if it cannot be done quickly.

Also, the school controls the paper’s funding, which it is more and more in need of. Advertising sales are declining rapidly and they need as much sympathy as they can get. The more UH News propaganda they can rewrite, the better chance they have of getting another 100,000$ bail out. Investigating the school would likely have the opposite effect.

For those who think this isn’t the case, there are currently 362 articles with “Khator” in them on The Daily Cougar website.

I challenge anyone to find how many articles they must dig through before they find one that portrays Khator in a critical light, such as a real newspaper would look at a politician (who controls his constituency much like a school president governs her students.)  That is – mentioning the bad with the good.  I can think of at least one, and there are probably others, but not many.

In the news section, there likely are none.  Not only because many to most of the stories come from press releases, as previously mentioned, but because students are inundated with propaganda to have “Cougar Pride” and love the school administration, and opinion is better for burying negative facts in due to much lower readership and the facts have the title “opinion” casting a shadow over them.

Students also aren’t trained to be critical. Academically Adrift recently substantiated this with its findings of no significant critical thinking for most Bachelor’s degree holders.
Many students also don’t have enough time to do in depth investigating.  They must pay bills and the (for some reason?) increasingly high university costs, which means part time jobs for many students on top of their class work and everything else that life throws at them.

Public relations is merging with journalism. Not just in the newspaper, but in the classrooms. The Nation’s Michael Tracey said in a great 2008 article “you really can’t teach journalism. Therefore, you shouldn’t be surprised when extraneous bunk like marketing becomes a prominent feature of journalism education.”

Students interested in investigating must also contend with the ego of those involved in the status quo. In a meeting with journalism professor Dr. Schiff, in which I came in with pages of notes typed up on various topics to discuss – including an investigative story I was working on that he ignored – almost the entire time was dedicated to talking about what classes I had taken.

Dr. Schiff, despite being critical of mainstream journalism, corporations, the government and every other large institution – seemed to have a strong faith in the UH system. Even after I mentioned that editors who are running plagiarized press releases have taken the classes he felt were important, he only shrugged and suggested that the program was important  and I couldn’t just learn these things from a book and he didn’t have time to teach me the many things I would learn in these classes that seemed to have taught others little to nothing.

When I mentioned my Khator investigation his response was that “many professors like her.”  To his credit, he also said the amount of debt Khator’s last university (where she was in control of finances via her Provost position) is in seemed high. USF is about $450-$500 million in debt. “USF has seen a tremendous growth in new construction during Carlucci’s tenure. He managed the financing of nine new buildings” according to USF.

“”We’re already losing top faculty and it’s going to get worse” said one USF official in this article, which also mentions that “pension cuts pose additional problems in light of the University’s reduced budget for the 2011-12 academic year.”
So USF’s financial administrators (Khator and Carlucci – who currently control much of UH) had several buildings built, and now USF won’t have any good faculty to teach in these buildings, and few students to go to the courses, unless the economy makes a strong recovery – which isn’t likely for students, whose student loan debt is surpassing credit card debt and expected to be the next big bubble.

This is the same story I mentioned to McHam before the semester started, and probably the reason I’m on the environmental beat. Rather than disagree with any of my points or guide my investigating them, McHam dismissed this as “the kinds of things people talk about in bars.”
In conclusion, it’s not easy being an investigator at UH.

Every day I am reminded of Mark Twain’s quote “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Readers are encouraged to comment on how school interferes with their education, as well as how they feel it has benefited them, but especially the former.

The mind of an editor

What goes on in the mind of an editor? Is it deep? Is it interesting? Is it deserving of the great power afforded to it?

The duty to enhance democracy – through mass education on important issues, providing a platform for debate and conducting watchdog investigations –  is very important and should be afforded the utmost respect and scrutiny.
How can we ever know what’s on these powerful gatekeepers’ minds, and if they deserve the respect given to them?

Social media is a place where people may feel safe to come out and express their true selves. Some of the material they say there may be misinterpreted without understanding who the person is…
That being said – I leave it to readers to determine the level of depth and intelligence of the following comments, which were found on Editor in Chief – Jack Wehman’s Twitter account last semester.
This wasn’t due to an intense interest in Jack, but rather to my finding his Twitter due to him linking The Daily Cougar on his Twitter’s description next to “Something Witty, Something Clever, My Name’s Jack, and I’m An Editor.”

Feel free to comment on how witty and clever these Tweets are. Keep in mind these were posted on a Twitter account that represented The Daily Cougar and implied he was an editor there.  He was representing the school paper when he said all of these things. Here’s a screenshot.

Jack Wehman – Editor in Chief of The Daily Cougar:

Fuck the Kemah boardwalk. I just sat in traffic for thirty minutes so you can dress your dog in costume? Kill yourself.
Texas weather making sense. Seriously, rain all day? Fuck you, God.

I wouldn’t be so pissed about the Heat losing if it wasn’t for every asshole in Dallas celebrating right now. Fuck you, and fuck Dallas too.
Osama is dead? Then who has been working at the Mini-Mart all these years? #confused

These retarded seat belt commercials make me want to be on safe just so this stupid woman will be wrong. #fuckoff
When did Alabama get good at like every sport? Fuck that. I hope the tide rolls over their campus Katrina-style. #stillbitteroverColtsdemise

Good beer, a gun range and friends make for a legitimately good way to forget about everything else in life.

Acting like an asshole in a suit and getting away with it is about the only perk a white person still has.
  #chrisbrownneedsto see that he’s a worldwide TT, realize we all hate him and put the shotgun in his mouth.

Outraged? Indifferent? Somewhere in between? Comments are appreciated.
Keep in mind this person is in charge of content at a student newspaper that expends the better part of the Student Publication’s $800,000+ a year and had zero competition in his “election.”

Could the problem be stifling bureaucracy keeping truly gifted people from reaching positions of power where they might threaten the status quo and actually investigate things?

A journalist armed with the Investigative Reporter’s Handbook, and who cares more about truth than tradition, might investigate the school and point out flaws-  even without getting  paid vacations to go learn about investigating at fancy seminars, like our friend Mr. Wehman did this summer.

Despite this expensive, student-funded educational voyage, there remains to be seen any substantial investigation at the school paper.  Perhaps Mr. Wehman is too busy tweeting his clever observations or drinking alcohol while he fires guns.