Thursday, July 26, 2012

Opportunity Through Tragedy

Just as the Colorado shooting prompted discussion about gun control, the incident also provides an opportunity to examine one of the major problems facing the nation:  healthcare.

In Denver, NBC is reporting that victims at three hospitals will not have to worry about their medical bills.   Many of the victims are young; they lack health insurance.

What would it have cost?   And how does that cost to compare to what the victim would have had to pay in England or Germany or France or Norway or Belgium or any other industrialized country? 
Why is the United States the only industrialized nation where families go bankrupt from medical bills?

The television networks should be asking the questions and examining the issue.  But of course considering what a serious and expensive problem healthcare poses, the networks should have been doing in-depth stories on comparative healthcare systems around the world for years.  They haven't.  Maybe this tragedy might help them examine the tragedy of healthcare greed.   They ignored banking greed until the system collapsed.   Let's hope the networks don't make the same mistake on healthcare,  a topic essential to every American family outside the 1% who cannot afford to get sick in America.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Asking the Wrong Question

It's impossible to get a worthwhile answer when you ask the wrong question.   The question is not "is Mitt Romney going to release his back tax statements?"   The question is "does a  Presidential candidate have a responsibility to be transparent with American voters on the candidate's financial history?"   If yes, how come.   If no, why not?

Why aren't reporters asking the obvious question?

Better questions lead to better reporting.  

Mitt Romney did a superb job running Bain Capital.   The goal of Bain Capital was to make money for its investors, not to create jobs.   So why would Mitt Romney during his presidential campaign position his incredibly successful company as something it never was, a jobs creator?   Why is he doing that?   And why does he run away from speaking honestly and openly about a phenomenally successful business?

Why aren't reporters asking him that?   Those questions would help reveal his thinking and his character; but those questions are not being asked.

Better questions lead to better reporting regardless of the topic.

Why don't local TV news operations cover the state legislature?  Is your local newspaper asking the local TV general manager?
Why do universities support a sport (football) that causes brain damage?  Are your local news reporters asking the college president? 

Why do Ohio MAC universities give more full scholarships to athletes than academic students? 

Why is the United States the only industrialized country where families go bankrupt from medical bills?   Have your local reporters asked every member of your Congressional delegation?

What threat does Afghanistan, a country where most homes outside Kabul don't have running water or electricity, pose to the United States that warrants the spending of billions of U.S. tax dollars?

What are the consequences of teaching a sanitized version of American history?

News organizations do a superb job covering something live; we can cover the start of a war live.   Where news organizations fail is asking questions that need to be asked.  Had we done that, we wouldn't have had to cover the start of the war live.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Job Ad Points to More Problems for NOLA

The NOLA Media Group is advertising for a reporter.   It describes the job saying, "In this role, you'll leverage your digital journalism skills in a dynamic work environment on an assigned news beat."

Today's multimedia journalist needs a far greater variety of skills.   At Kent State we train our students to think video, to think social media, to think Web first.   Despite all the changes in New Orleans, what NOLA says is needed for the job seems like a job ad written 20 years ago.   Take a look.
To be a good fit for this role you will have:

  • A degree in Journalism, Communications or a related field, or equivalent experience
  • 3+ years of journalism experience with a proven ability in reporting and writing.
  • Proven experience building, maintaining and engaging an active audience.
  • The ability to work independently under deadline pressure and prioritize tasks appropriately.
  • Demonstrated reporting, writing and organizational skills.
  • A solid understanding of news writing, journalistic ethics and story structure.
  • Experience with search engine optimization practices.
  • Demonstrated capability in capitalizing on high-value topics by engaging audiences frequently and with urgency.
  • Click the "Apply" button for further details... 
Apparently shooting and editing video isn't needed.   Apparently, there's not much concern about the person's ability to find sources via Twitter and Facebook or to leverage NOLA stories on social media.   Perhaps that's what NOLA means when it says it wants this 3-year veteran to have proven experience engaging an active audience.     The ability to do effective videoSkype interviews doesn't seem to matter.    Given the shake up there's been in New Orleans, it might be difficult to attract the multimedia journalists required to produce a first-rate product when the ad looks like one that could have run 20 years ago.

Or perhaps the NOLA Media Group's idea of online journalism is just putting up a bunch of text stories with a few still pix, in other words, continuing to do what it does now.     Good luck with that.
The ad says it empowers people to think outside the box.   There's no evidence of that either in this ad or on the web site.    So to help recruit multimedia journalists, start using multimedia reporting tools.

To build some traffic do an interview that can have some impact.   We watched Meet the Press fail to make Govenor Jindal answer a simple question, should Romney explain his offshore bank accounts?   When Jindal refused to answer, Meet the Press just let it go.   So this is simple.   A NOLA reporter needs to call the Governor for a videoSkype interview.  Ask the question again.  But this time, do what a journalist is supposed to do.  Get an answer.   If the Governor won't answer, ask the Governor why he won't answer a simple question about whether a presidential candidate should provide full transparency in his offshore investments.   Then put the videoskype interview above the fold on the home page.    And back at the NOLA  office for the reporter's camera, remember to light the reporter.   It will look a lot better.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Thank You Note For Your Newspaper

On today's 4th of July in a country where our national elected officials spend a huge percentage  of their time not on important issues facing our citizens but on raising money for their reelection campaigns, where the Supreme Court has ruled that control of the political system by the rich is just fine and dandy, where we can say with certainty we live in the only industrialized nation where families go bankrupt because of medical bills, it's time to write the CEO (most likely a member of the 1%) of the parent company of your metro newspaper and TV station a thank you note for letting the country's problems go so thoroughly unanalyzed.

Go to your newspaper's web site.  Try to find the most in-depth interview with your local Congressmen where the elected officials are actually pushed to provide specific answers to specific questions.   I live in Ohio, home of Speaker of the House John Boehner.   I can't find Boehner being pushed for specifics in an interview at the Plain Dealer or the Enquirer or the Dispatch or the Blade or the Daily News.

Go to your major metro newspaper's web site and try to find any examination of healthcare systems around the world.

If you're more of a history buff, go to the newspaper archives and check for the hard-hitting interviews the reporters did as Congress dismantled one fiscal control after another that had been put in place following the Great Depression (Yes, back then politicians had the political will and common sense to correct a dangerously out-of-control financial system).

In this day where we see one scandal after another in college athletics, where protecting a football program is more important than protecting children, go to the cheerleading (sports) section and see the hard-hitting interviews the sports reporters have done with college presidents about the runaway costs of college athletics.    Pay particular attention to how university presidents explain why it's good public policy for the highest paid public employee in state after state to be either a football or basketball coach.
See if there's any reporting about how athletic departments did their part in saving the auto industry since nearly every head coach gets a free car.   In Ohio and Wisconsin where governors have so vociferously complained about the costs of public employee salary and benefits, see what they say in the news articles examining the cost of college sports programs, most of which are multimillion dollar budget holes universities plug by charging fees to academic students.

In your letter, thank your CEO for his corporation's lack of serious reporting that's so desperately needed for an informed electorate in a democracy.   On this 4th of July when it's impossible to turn on the TV without seeing a political ad paid for by a billionaire, just say "thanks for the mess."

When journalism fails, bad things happen.

P.S.   And we can all be thankful to be in a country that has a public records law and free speech.   We can be thankful for news organizations like ProPublica and Frontline and Morning Edition and reporters and editors who actually do what journalists are supposed to do.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


On today's CNN's Reliable Sources, Margaret Carlson made the point that there's been lots of coverage on the healthcare law (Obamacare).  Where?
 Sure, there's been lots of name calling.   Sure, there has been one generalization after another.  But where oh where has there been thoughtful reporting about the challenges facing American healthcare?   How can ours be the only industrialized nation where citizens go bankrupt from medical bills?   Why is that and how has it been examined on CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox? 

Why was single payer so quickly abandoned?  What can we learn from other countries? 

Frontline has done some excellent work.   But where on network television has this issue been thoughtfully reported?   If you have any URL's of first-rate examples, please send them.   Thank you.