Thursday, July 2, 2009

The End is Here...

Tonight was the last night of our six-week Journalism I class. I learned information that will help me become a better writer for The Minaret, help me in my future career and, in the short term, set me up for Journalism II this Fall. Here is a sample of what I learned:

  • First, though I already knew this, NEVER place periods or commas outside quotation marks.
  • "Get the name of the dog." -Sue Carlton
  • Reporters should not, and in some places can't, ever accept bribes, gifts or even a subject paying for a meal.
  • Cite as many sources as possible.
  • Show compassion to those affected by tragedy.
  • With the Internet, it is now a race of seconds between you and rivals, so work quickly.
  • Less relevant information always belongs near the end, in accordance with the inverted pyramid.
  • Never, ever under any circumstances, be FOX biased.
  • Print journalism is either dying or "evolving," mostly the former, depending on the person with whom you speak.
  • That reminds me -- try not to end sentences with prepositions.
  • And finally -- my professor may downgrade me if I don't include this -- NEVER place periods or commas outside quotation marks.
This has been a fun ride. I heard from a variety of guest speakers and worked on a variety of stories, from death to the lighter side of sports. I will see you all again later... I may return here when something else of note in journalism comes up.

Guest Speakers Give Insight and Humor

During the Summer session in our Journalism I class, five people from the St. Petersburg Times spoke on a variety of journalism-related subjects. They gave us prospective journalists insight into the business and some humorous tales from its lighter side. Here's the list:

Brian Landman: Our first speaker has been a sportswriter for over 20 years, and also helps teach this class. As a sportswriter at the college paper, I was able to learn a lot of good tidbits from him. I don't know how he has dealt with egotistical athletes and pompous executives for that long without his hair turning snow white. I'll never forget his story in which he was told off by then-Cincinnati Reds manager Pete Rose, who basically told him to do his homework before interviewing him. Do your homework, kids.

Jack Rowland: This man is the "Jack" of all trades, having done photojournalism and now doing audio, video and web publishing for Having once been a student of web design and interactive media myself, this presentation was like everything rolled into one. He was very interesting to listen to and watch as he engaged us in the new visual side of journalism. It's good to see that not every so-called "old-timer" is falling by the wayside.

Sue Carlton: If we could have held a four-hour discussion entitled "Best Stories by Sue Carlton," I would have taken a front-row seat. This reporter-turned-columnist told us about everything, including covering court cases, the most shocking stories, the moronic comments left on the Internet under her stories and more. Her best tales included the one where a man shot in the head wrote "Dave" in his own blood on the sidewalk... then it turned out the man's name was Scott; and one where a video of a dog marriage turned into a comment war about gay marriage, marriage with large age differences and "interspecies breeding." Carlton has a wealth of good information.

Alexandra Zayas: This lady is only 26 years old, so she immediately related to us. She told us what to expect upon entering the journalism world today and about the day-to-day excitement of general assignment reporting. She also had some very interesting stories of doing long-term research on people to write narrative stories. She has lived in a Christian commune for a month, stayed several days and nights with a wounded soldier, his wife and their newborn baby, and attended meetings of people who believe they're vampires. And not only is she a reporter, she's a drummer in an all-reporter band, Super Secret Best Friends. How is that for an eclectic life? Plus, she was very nice when I e-mailed her after she spoke with us.

Steve Persall: A veteran movie reviewer with some good inside information, Persall had fun telling us about the best and worst movies he has seen and about the people who make them. If you ever hear his story of interviewing Paul Rudd about "bromance," you will repeat it to your friends. This man actually backdoored his way into journalism, just walking in and covering local sporting events. This was back when high school football was the best football in Tampa Bay. But he rose through the ranks and had some tips on doing that, though he did encourage us to study it more than he did.

Overall, all of our guest speakers gave us a combination of great advice and hilarious stories that make us want to step into journalism more every time. Special thanks to these people for taking their time to speak to an evening class. It was worth it. Rigging All-Star Voting

Major League Baseball is hosting its annual All-Star Game on July 14 in St. Louis. Until tonight, July 2, fans could vote on the starting lineups for the game online at There have been several very close races for starting spots. On one of them, writers may have unfairly tipped the scales.

In the race to become the American League's starting second baseman, the Texas Rangers' Ian Kinsler once enjoyed a sizable lead over Dustin Pedroia of the Boston Red Sox. With many Red Sox fans voting, the lead started to shrink. The website posted several articles about the race, some of which only mentioned Pedroia or the Red Sox in the headline. In fact, has featured a large picture of Pedroia on its home page for three days. Kinsler and the Rangers have been shafted in their coverage, and now he may lose despite being the more deserving player. The more articles posted with pro-Pedroia headlines, the more votes he got. Other races, such as the first base battle between Boston's Kevin Youkilis and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees, and the National League outfield race between the Chicago Cubs' Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets, have been covered more fairly. Maybe that's because they all play in large markets.

The All-Star Game should not be about where someone plays, it should be about how good someone is. If three Kansas City Royals are good enough to start, let them start. I think that the fan vote should be limited to two-thirds of the total vote. Players, managers and coaches should account for the other third. And when it comes to's journalistic integrity, good players should be evenly covered. If not, our All-Star lineups may continue to see more less deserving participants.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Journalism and Sportscasting: Then and Now

Dating back to the days of Red Barber on Brooklyn Dodgers baseball broadcasts, there have been ties between classic journalism and the art of sportscasting. Barber believed that journalistic integrity had to be kept in the broadcast booth. He criticized New York Giants announcer Russ Hodges for his famous "The Giants win the pennant!" call because it went beyond objective analysis. How he would hate today's sports broadcasts.

Sportscasting has deviated from "journalism" more as the decades have passed. The plain descriptions of action have been replaced with catchphrases and screaming in victory. It has progressed right alongside society as a whole. So we should look at some of the sportscasters of the past and present and see just how much they differ.

Vin Scully: Here's a man who has been doing this since the 1950s. He has maintained most of his old-school tendencies behind the microphone. On television, where images tell most of the story by themselves, he says as few words as he needs to. This works well for many fans who only want the game, not those who call it, shoved in their faces. He also very rarely, if ever, sounds partial towards one team or player, even on local broadcasts. Now that's dedication to the ways of times gone by.

Joe Buck: This guy calls the World Series and some Super Bowls. Yet seemingly millions of fans find him annoying and abrasive. He doesn't always have to talk, but he has shown some bias in favor of large-market teams and a tendency to just get lazy with his words. He is like a template out of Broadcasting 101, nothing original. Except for the original catchphrases he stole from his father.

Al Michaels: There are good reasons that this man got promoted to the top of ABC, and later NBC, sports. He knows what is going on at all times and has a good command of vocabulary. He knows when action calls for raised voices and when it calls for nothing, which comes naturally with his passion for sports. Best of all, he made John Madden's ramblings coherent.

Ken Harrelson: The Chicago White Sox play-by-play man shows that there is such a thing as too few words and too much local bias. He barely speaks when describing a play, especially when it goes against his team. He screams his voicebox dry everytime his team -- "the good guys" -- hits a home run. When the opposition does it, he just says "that ball hit hard" in a dry, monotone fashion as the home run flies over the wall. If you have ever heard him, you know about this. White Sox fans like him cheerleading for them, but nobody else can stand him.

Gene Deckerhoff: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Florida State Seminoles longtime radio commentator is a unique figure. He talks much more because he needs to paint the picture for the radio audience. He, too, is a homer for his teams, but at least he keeps the cheerleading in check and calls the action as he sees it, even if he does say it louder and prouder for his team. In local radio, this is perfectly acceptable. There are mixed public opinions on Deckerhoff. Some think he annoys people by talking too much during plays. Others love his enthusiasm. I personally like listening to him, but that may be due to his working for my favorite teams.

That's just a sample size of the sportscasters out there. There are some horrendous local guys (Houston Astros TV, I'm looking at you), while there are also more masters of the microphone such as Bob Costas. It's a mixed bag. You just have to hope the best voices are heard.

Internet Journalism Leaps Forward

The month of June, 2009 has been one of big breaking news, with said news usually being rapidly spread through the Internet. With the usual news cycle being made faster by social networking, even Twitter feeds, the world of Internet journalism has taken a leap forward.

News about the election conflict in Iran has been reported and discussed on Yahoo, Twitter and virtually everywhere else, keeping everyone in the loop. It used to be that only regular news viewers would even know where Iran was. Not anymore. More people have been moved to care and spread the news on this controversy thanks to the Internet.

Then during this last week, celebrity deaths have become a regular occurrence. These included Ed McMahon last Tuesday, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson last Thursday, and Billy Mays on Sunday. News of these deaths, particularly that of Jackson (since it happened at peak hours and was the biggest surprise), moved around the Internet like wildfire. Thanks to legitimate news sources from Yahoo and Google News, entertainment websites such as TMZ, and people reporting the news through social networking, everyone knew about these tragedies within a matter of minutes. It displayed the power of the Internet in the journalism world.

The Internet has been taking in more journalistic responsibility over the years. This month, it took a leap forward into the next generation. Soon everyone with a phone will have access to breaking news as it happens. This will not only make the news cycle work faster, but also force journalists to step their game up and work quickly to beat their rivals to the scoop. With Internet journalism, the world moves much faster than previously imagined.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

When Biased Journalists Sound Off

The title of "journalist" often comes with the disputed labels of "fair" and "objective." The vast majority of professional journalists tend to adhere to fairness standards. They report from all sides and come to reasonable conclusions, even in opinion columns. But there are the so-called bad apples out there, as well as the rotten apples who employ and publish them.

One of these biased journalists is Stephen Clark of the ultimate source of bias, FOX News. On June 17, he published an article to about the comparison of Vice President Joe Biden to former Vice President Dick Cheney. The preconceptions and slants Clark carried into this piece were so obvious the article insulted its viewing audience.

His use of certain phrases and placement of words may give him away by themselves. He makes direct reference to "a hostile Muslim world." Says whom? That's a good way to turn many thousands of people away. "A turbulent Middle East" would work better here. He talks about the "light-fare trips" that Biden has taken since taking office while hoisting Cheney onto a pedestal with stronger, more positive language. He also claims that Biden "has drawn far more attention" for political mishaps than for his work. Again, where may your sources be? He barely backs up this statement with any depth.

The interview subjects Clark quoted even more so told the tale of a political agenda. Every person he quoted -- only about two or three -- were all over Cheney. He apparently interviewed nobody who could stand up for Biden. Other than past quotes from President Obama and Biden, nothing in the article defends them. I would at least get some opinions on both men and why they might be good for the job before I jump to my conclusion. These subjects were very one-sided. I think this article would have been better served to use quotes in smaller quantities from more experts. That way we not only get more diverse coverage of opinion, but we may also learn more facts. Clark couldn't step out of his way long enough to deliver these goods.

Clark does make occasional weak efforts to make Biden look mediocre. He also admits, through one of his experts, that each man was the better fit for his president. But that's about it as far as venturing outside of his narrow prism goes.

Was Cheney better than Biden has been so far at his post? Maybe he was. But this article didn't do enough research or show enough depth to convince me. Perhaps it was a quality draft and the editors chopped it down to fit word quotas. I'm not sure. I'll just do the smart thing for now and research it further on my own.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The News Cycle on Michael Jackson's Tragic Death

Michael Jackson, the "King of Pop" who transformed the music world with his 1983 hit Thriller album, died Thursday of a heart attack at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was just 50 years old.

I followed the news cycle as the reports, and later confirmations, made the rounds. I saw what was mostly a good show of proper journalism and sympathy for Jackson and his family.

Entertainment website, not normally known as a source of outstanding journalism, and the Los Angeles Times were the first outlets to break the story of Jackson being rushed to the hospital. The only outlook on his condition was a grim "he is not doing well" from Joe Jackson, the father of Michael and the Jackson 5.

Jackson's condition was regularly checked on for a few hours as millions of fans awaited word on his life. Hundreds of reporters gathered around the hospital, as is customary when someone of Jackson's magnitude may no longer be alive. The reports were moderated and kept factual, to the credit of the outlets involved. First it was reported only as a heart attack and a coma. I saw nobody spreading questionable rumors, which speaks well to our profession.

Then as the prognosis worsened, reports started filtering out that Jackson had been pronounced dead. Again, as protocol dictates, numerous sources started issuing unconfirmed reports, labeling them as such, of his death. Sources were cited and occasionally anonymously quoted. This was done to keep people aware of rumors, but not jumping to "confirmed" conclusions just yet.

Finally, after about 20-30 more minutes of rumors, the official confirmation was made public: Michael Jackson, the icon whose music and antics were known the world over, had suddenly died at age 50. It had probably been 40-45 minutes from the time Jackson was pronounced dead to the time of the official word from the media.

This situation reminded me of the reporting done on the John F. Kennedy assassination in 1963. Walter Cronkite first issued bulletins stating that Kennedy had been shot and seriously wounded. Then the rumors of his death slowly started to reach the newsroom. The people were reassured, despite repeated rumors, that Kennedy had not been confirmed dead. Then at 2:38 p.m., the official flash came across the wire, 38 minutes after death had been pronounced. This slow buildup is necessary to prevent people from jumping to conclusions, and to prevent false reporting which could be catastrophic. The Cronkite-Kennedy coverage is available on YouTube, captured from a kinescope.

Post-death, tributes to Jackson were sprinkled across the Internet and played on every major news program. Farrah Fawcett, who had died that morning, was remembered in many outlets as well, to their credit. CBS News, among others, dedicated full tributes to Fawcett between the Jackson reports. Their deaths and that of Ed McMahon made for the latest trio to die in close proximity to one another.

This incident was handled about as well as it could have been in the news world. In other words, it was done by the book. Make sure reports are confirmed, cite every possible source, then show some compassion in the aftermath. Good job all around.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tampa Bay Local News

Here is a summary what I think of every TV news station in Tampa Bay:

WFTS (ABC Action News): I don't watch it. Neither does anyone else -- it has always been a distant last place in the ratings. I know that Brendan McLaughlin does a fine job, but that's it. Next.

WTSP (10 Connects): Late last year, this station rebranded to become 10 Connects. Its news is now more hard-edged and has several "connections" to its audience. For instance, they will read viewer comments from their website about top stories. They also accept story ideas and on-scene cell phone pictures from viewers (or as they call them, "street journalists"). I like the concept of involving the citizens in their own news.

The anchors are generally good. I like Reginald Roundtree and Heather Van Nest as the main team. They work well together and are good people by most accounts. Ginger Gadsden is good in the morning, and I like the addition of Keith Jones to work with her. They play off each other and mesh well. The sports team is nearly non-existant. I like the reporters, especially veteran Mike Deeson. Overall this is a solid news team.

WFLA (8 On Your Side): The staff is well experienced and the news is delivered in droves. The lead team of Gayle Sierens and Keith Cate bring over 50 years combined experience, yet are still youthful enough to relate to viewers. They are talented and multi-faceted people. It's not an overly exciting newscast, but it delivers information. I could do without Gayle Guyardo in the morning, but long-tenured Bill Ratliff brings a solid dose of fair journalism.

The reporters do a good enough job, though they don't really carve out clear identities. The sports team led by Dave Reynolds is nothing special. The weather from Steve Jerve and Jennifer Hill is good, but not spectacular. I still like watching WFLA on occasion, as it is a credible source.

WTVT (FOX 13): This might be the most interesting news in Tampa Bay. The negatives are that it is by far the last station to convert to high definition, not having done it yet (What's up with that?) and that, being FOX owned-and-operated, it is the "softest" news in the market. The lead team of John Wilson, Kelly Ring, sports guy Chip Carter and meteorologist Paul Dellegatto are all veterans who know how to communicate with the audience. Their reporters are a sharp, young team that does a fine job on live breaking stories. They also employ long-time broadcasters Kathy Fountain, Frank Robertson, Denise White, Andy Johnson and Howard Shapiro, loading its team with credibility.

The late-night show "News Edge" is a FOX idea that is using Tampa as a test market. Hosted by John's son Mark Wilson, it features a string of interesting news reports and roundtable commentary. Throwing convention out the window, it is like the Tampa Bay Times of TV news. Especially for younger viewers, this could be the best news show in the area.

The morning show "Good Day Tampa Bay" is also a hit. The 4:30-7:00 portion is hosted by Tom Curran and former WFLA anchor Nerissa Prest, and it mostly contains straight news and a few feature reports. The 7:00-9:00 portion, hosted by the seasoned Anne Dwyer and Russell Rhodes, looks more like NBC's "Today." Guests and features are sprinkled everywhere. Though I must say roving reporter Charley Belcher is annoying and unfunny, the whole team is enthusiastic and the lighter side of news is satisfying after the mostly depressing tales told early in the morning.


There are my takes on the local news of my hometown. I didn't include Bay News 9 because it's a cable station. Stay tuned for next time as I try to find somebody to lay the hammer on.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tabloids Are a Waste of Time

Tabloid magazines have become an immensely popular trend, especially here in the United States. I am not referring to alternative newspapers such as the Tampa Bay Times, which actually publishes respectable articles. I speak here of the so-called "gutter press," the sensationalist wastes of space. This trend disturbs me on many levels. I don't even know where to start.

Such gossip publications as The National Enquirer, Star and The Globe are a collective insult to journalism. Writers who have apparently been educated enough to get legitimate work have resorted to penning false rumors of Olsen twin pregnancies and Bob Barker death hoaxes. If they wanted to write news, I'm sure they could find places where actual news is reported regularly. If they wanted to write comedy, they could just submit 100 scripts to CBS and hope they at least get a table read. And if they wanted to gossip, they could just text their friends. People who may have a talent for this field are simply throwing it all away.

These magazines, whose paper would have been better served in the forest where it was called "trees," are front and center at nearly every checkout counter at grocery and department stores. In line, I care about how much my Gatorade costs and telling the cashier that plastic is fine, not the latest "breaking news" on Michelle Obama's college sorority life. I might pick up a package of Starburst, but never a tabloid. It's quite embarrassing to see them en masse in every line, getting more exposure than the actual newspapers. USA Today is hidden past the counters in the front of the store in case you want something of substance.

In addition, tabloids are quite irresponsible in their reporting. The National Enquirer gets sued seemingly on a weekly basis. Reporting false allegations of alcohol abuse, infidelity or suicide about anyone, celebrity or not, is just never right. The publishers probably churn out half their profits in legal fees and settlements, which they should. Nobody would want to be slandered on what looks like a real news magazine, where others may believe what is written. If it were serious enough, I know I would sue.

The problem -- which may soon be termed an epidemic -- stems from the people who pay money to read this crap. When faced with competing headlines "Obama Nominates Judge" and "Britney Gains Weight," millions sadly choose the latter. I don't get how so many people can be tooled into taking this seriously. There are much bigger things going on in the world than what is told in tabloids. Things that are real and may actually change the world. Yet people keep flushing their money into this pit and debating about rumors some attention-seeking editor made up. The obsession with tabloids and their phony headlines is just dumbfounding.

I don't see why tabloid magazines should exist. The entertainment world is entertaining us enough as it is. These people just drag it down.

But do you know what are even worse? Tabloid websites and TV shows. But that could be a future rant.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

ESPN vs. Deadspin

Sports fans have little choice as to where their news comes from. Whether it's television, radio or websites, ESPN has dominated for three decades. The Internet has smaller independent sources, few of which generate even a sizable fraction of the hits garners daily. There is one fierce competitor, however, that is threatening to take over the sports blogging universe.

Say hello to Deadspin.

Launched in 2005 by columnist Will Leitch, Deadspin has gone from being an alternative blog to a legitimate news source. This site broke such stories as the controversial photographs of NFL quarterback Matt Leinart partying in New York, former MLB outfielder Matt Lawton's suspension for a positive drug test, and Mark McGwire's brother claiming to have injected him with steroids. ESPN actually cited Deadspin as its source for the McGwire scoop.

In the TV world, ESPN's competition includes the regionalized Fox Sports Net and league owned-and-operated networks. On the radio, local shows and syndicated programming compete with ESPN. Not only are these shows often more opinion-based than news-based, but they are too fragmented to measure on a national scale. The Internet battle between ESPN and Deadspin, however, can be more accurately tabulated.

Popularity: is ranked by traffic detailer Alexa as the 82nd-most visited site on the Internet. Out of billions of webpages, this is a very high rank. It is easily the most frequented sports website.

Deadspin is ranked at number 8,486. While not the most popular sports site, it is the number one sports blog. But it is nowhere near the status of its rival.

Winner: ESPN


ESPN loads its site with the top news of the day from its own reporters. These are the same headlines discussed on their TV shows, namely "SportsCenter." It also features polls, statistics, scores and its blog section, "Page 2." The stats and scores can be found elsewhere, such as league websites, but make for useful pages nonetheless.

Deadspin talks about the news, both front-page and obscure, in a blog format. The editors may attach some sarcastic remarks, or even a full opinion piece. Its news is usually pulled from other print sources, which are credited and linked. The site earns many bonus points for its wide-open comment forums on every post. The commenters offer humor and insight into what the fans think.

Winner: I choose Deadspin, but it is subjective


This is a subject of contention between fans of both sites. In fact, supposed ESPN bias was a primary basis on which Deadspin was founded.

In all of its divisions, ESPN tends to favor large markets. New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles teams often receive more coverage. West Coast readers have chastised them for favoring East Coast cities. "Superstar" athlete coverage is disproportionate. Zack Greinke of the Kansas City Royals started this season 8-1 with an 0.82 ERA, the best start in nearly 100 years. His starts are tracked well enough for fans to keep up with them. But if he pitched for the Yankees, they would all be televised and closely monitored, and there would be a new feature on him every week.

Meanwhile, Deadspin's tagline is "Sports News Without Access, Favor or Discretion." All people in all places are covered fairly. They pride themselves on being unbiased and reporting items otherwise uncovered. How else would I have known that fans are not allowed autographs at the new Yankee Stadium? Or that a high school pitcher threw over 200 pitches in a playoff victory?

Winner: Deadspin


ESPN establishes itself front and center at every major sporting event. Their live coverage, in time and numbers, is unparalleled. Its staff can upload breaking stories from a World Series or Super Bowl in a matter of minutes, then post video featuring highlights and analysis. Its access and legitimacy are top notch.

Deadspin admits to having no access, though at times its editors will blog live from big events. We can just call its access limited and leave it at that.

Winner: ESPN

Tiebreaker: Site Design/Navigation:

I recently left the web design field to pursue a journalism career. So I would like to think I know something about this. We'll see. is flooded with headlines, images and advertisements. Its home page is following the trend of using Flash-based slideshows to display top stories. The ads can be unnecessarily massive, such as one for the iPod that covered more than half of my screen. It uses different colors and dividers to fragment the site into sections, meeting the unwritten limit of three colors to a page. The site leads visitors to what they want, but there is still a bit too much going on. It's like the rest of ESPN: too flashy.

Navigation-wise, there are basic links horizontally placed at the top. They drop down into lists of more specific links, which condenses numerous links into a small space. Headline links are emphasized and take readers right where they want to go. Though crowded, has good structure.

Deadspin is not nearly as crowded with links and gimmicks. Top stories are fittingly at the top, followed by recent posts. It only uses white and gray for backgrounds and mostly black type. While white screens strain the eyes, black backgrounds are unfavorable on professional websites, so white works. Plus the plain look is a big deviation from ESPN. Deadspin visitors go to read, not stare. Thus, the type is bigger and easier to read. The look does its job.

Navigation is fairly simple. Just click on a headline and you have your story. There is no complication to it. Commenting just requires logging in and typing in the text box at the bottom of the page. This is a big winner.

Winner: Deadspin

Deadspin defeats the ESPN goliath, 3-2. I would like to see others' opinions on this matter as well, to gauge the public's views.