ANALYSIS OF A NEWS PACKAGE

The Las Vegas Sun multimedia package concerning the 12 construction workers who died in 18 months from late 2006 until early 2008 was a perfect candidate for examining the effectiveness of incorporating various multimedia tools in a package. The multimedia report is troubling on its own, so I’m not going to focus so much on my emotional takeaway from the story itself, but rather on which tools the Sun used to present the report and how effective those tools are. The one point I will make that the Sun was unable to — probably out of fear that they would be charged with a bias of some sort — is that, when it comes to profit versus a potential loss of life, don’t be surprised when large corporations choose to focus on their bottom line and not the human cost, especially when the penalties from OSHA are so small compared to the cost of a slower, safer work environment.

“The Internet’s first advantage is that it affords the audience greater control over information,” James C. Foust wrote is his book, Online Journalism: Principles and Practices of News for the Web. This notion is particularly true in the case of the Sun story, where visitors to the page are able to choose from a slideshow, a video, an interactive map and a wealth of written material. My criticisms of the report are few, but I must admit that the onslaught of blog entries and companion articles is a bit overwhelming. It may also be overly sensitive and I know the newspaper business needs revenue anywhere it can find it these days, but the pop-ups for how to lower my mortgage payment became a distraction when pulling up various articles regarding this very serious subject.

Seeing the faces involved in this tragic story is certainly the most powerful way to convey the weight of it all, so I applaud the Sun for incorporating still photos of the dead construction workers and their surviving family members in their multimedia. The interactive map that tracked all the deaths on the strip was the most powerful element of the presentation, because it told the story of how the construction workers died and illustrated just how much tragedy such a small part of Las Vegas had experienced in such a short amount of time. Because of that accomplishment, the interactive map was the most jarring element. The video and the slideshow were powerful in a different way, because they simply pulled on my heartstrings and effectively reminded me of the human toll of the story, but looking at the overall package through a journalistic lens, the interactive map was by far the most impressive piece. It was emotional and factual, telling the entire story from the deaths to the pathetic fines OSHA eventually settled on. I’m sure the family of Angel Hernandez, who died February 7, 2007 at the the Vdara Condo Hotel alongside fellow carpenter Bobby Lee Tohannie, can sleep well at night knowing his life was only worth $7,000 in OSHA’s eyes.

It’s very easy to navigate the Sun’s page dedicated to the tragedy. It is curious to me how there are no links to anything outside of the Sun and its contributors to the package. I’m not sure how large this story was back in 2008, but I find it hard to believe that no other media outlets had anything to say on the topic of construction deaths at such a fast clip. In fact, if no one else was paying attention to the tragedy, wouldn’t that be a story in and of itself. Maybe I’m reaching, but it baffles me that something so tragic wouldn’t have more coverage — even national coverage! Something had to be out there, but the only links I found were of reports by Sun reporters. That being said, a person could spend the better part of a day diving into all of the articles and blog posts connected to the story. That is not an overstatement.

Social media has grown exponentially over the past few years, and I can’t help but wonder how much more attention a story like this would have garnered if it were reported on today, with Facebook and Twitter ruling the online world. Back in 2008, when the package was published, neither site was anywhere near the juggernaut they are today. There hasn’t been any reporting on the story in nearly 2 years, and I’m sure that a heavy majority of people who are not residents of the greater Las Vegas area, like myself, have never heard of this story before. What scares me most about that is the old adage about history repeating itself, especially in a time where corporate interests increasingly usurp that of human beings. As soon as we start buying into the idea that “corporations are people”, which is the position of Mitt Romney, likely Republican nominee for president, then there will never be an excuse to look out for the worker’s health over the corporate entity’s health, because they are equals. It will simply become a case of survival of the fittest.

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LANGUAGE OF THE IMAGE

I just completed an online course from Poynter’s New University titled The Language of the Image. What I found to be most fascinating about the course was the way it dissected the different elements of what makes for a good photograph.

I’m sure most people believe that they know a good picture when they see one, but how many of us are able to describe, in detail, what is so great about the image itself? How do we classify photographs?

Among the many things I learned while taking the fascinating course, the most important pieces of information I will take with me are:

  • The polar difference between an active and a passive photograph. Passive photographs are more thought out or planned and rely heavily on a photographer’s creativity, whereas active photographs are more “of the moment” or “as it is happening”, telling a story with the action in the image.
  • How powerful elements like juxtaposition (using opposing elements to create irony) or mood (feelings evoked by a photograph) can enhance what would appear like an ordinary photograph.
  • How visual techniques, like the rule of thirds or point of entry, can help to ease a viewer into an image.
  • Using multiple elements can create combinations that give a photograph even more power and relevance.
  • There are multiple ways to approach a shot, and it is up to the photographer to determine the best course to tell the story they want conveyed.

I’ve always been skeptical of the phrase “A picture is worth 1,000 words” because, more often than not, a picture is worth far less than that.  The main point I’ve taken from this course is that a picture has the possibility to be worth far more words than that, depending on the choices a photographer makes.

Here are a couple of examples I chose to analyze, taken from the Huffington Post:


This image, taken by John Minchillo of the Associated Press, is of a police and protester confrontation at an Occupy Wall Street rally in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. It is an active shot, because it involves real people in real time, as the officer pushes the protester back. The is an element of impact with the physical altercation. There is also emotion in the eyes of the protester, who looks ready to push back.


This image of Mario Manningham making “The Catch” of Super Bowl XLVI was taken by David Duprey of the Associated Press. Again, it is a very active shot, capturing the most intense moment of the game. There is a layered element, with the action in the foreground and the guys watching on the sidelines, waiting to see what happens. There is certainly emotion involved as well, not to mention the impending impact from the New England defensive backs.

HOW TO MAXIMIZE TWITTER SEARCHES

How does Twitter, in this day and age, change the way a person is able to get up to speed on a topic they don’t understand or yearn to learn more about? What tools are available out there for people who want to gain knowledge on a current controversy, like the Planned Parenthood and Susan G. Komen kerfuffle that broke out a couple weeks ago and exploded all over social media? I’m going to take some time here to answer those very questions, giving links to sites that will help others streamline their information quests on Twitter.

The first and most obvious tool is the basic Twitter Search, where you can type in a keyword, say “Planned Parenthood”, and the engine will pull up all posts that use that keyword. This is kind of scattershot, because so many people have weighed in on the controversy, and most don’t have any new or unique information to add. If you want to know how Keith Olbermann or Joe Scarborough feel about the entirety of the situation, this is a good tool. If you want to track the progress of the controversy, from start to finish, you might find yourself wasting a lot of time sifting through opinions by people you never heard of. Plus, all the matches on my search seemed to be of celebrities and news media personalities. Apparently, Twitter values there tweets more than yours or mine.

Tweetscan is a simple, easy to use tool that gives us a word cloud, which is beneficial if what you’re researching is a current, hot topic. Even though the news cycle has cooled off on the controversy, “Planned Parenthood” is still relatively large in the cloud, being beat out by only “skiing” and “Topeka”, which I find a bit odd for trending topics. Nevertheless, Tweetscan seems to have the opposite problem of Twitter Search in that it doesn’t discriminate, and thus you are reading tweets from folks all over the globe projecting their opinion, sometimes educated and most times very emotional. Again, there is no real way to track the controversy, from start to finish.

Then there is Twendz, where a person can watch the enormity of a controversy play out in real time, as posts matching a topic of your choosing pop up, one by one, as they are being tweeted. While I’m not sure if there is a filtering device, the tweets I saw pop up when I entered “Planned Parenthood” seemed to be more substantive than those on Tweetscan, even though they were also from regular folks. What’s more, the hashtags that popped up, like #defundPPNNE, #Komen or #PP, where ultimately the best way to track a story from its inception. By clicking on them, I was presented with a wealth of information that I could follow back to nearly a month ago, when the whole thing began.

In the end, it comes down to the hashtag. All of these sites can be very useful in finding the tags most relevant to the topic you are seeking out, but it is important to research more than one tag, because many are used by folks who share an ideology, meaning the whole story is not presented and opinions are often misconstrued as facts.

THE NEW YORK TIMES IN 2012

I recently saw the film Page One: Inside the New York Times, and it felt appropriate for me to comment on it because I’m taking classes at Minnesota State University, Mankato to earn a degree in journalism. It got me thinking about the battle between old media and new media, the newspapers vs. online publications. I’m not sure whether I should be embarrassed to admit that I’ve never bought or read an edition of the New York Times, although I’ve certainly read articles that originated there, often linked through sites like the Huffington Post. I do respect their contribution to the history of journalism, but I’d be lying if I said I’d suffer if their place in modern media was lost. Like most aging entities in the birth of the information age, adaptation is necessary for survival. That it took the Times so long to realize that their business model (which I cringe to refer to it as because of the corporate overtones) was dying.

The documentary is wonkish in how it asks us to sympathize with characters that seem somewhat disillusioned by the direction of modern journalism. Hearing David Carr’s story of his internal struggle to embrace Twitter is humorous and sort of pathetic all at once. There is a sausage-making feel to the film, which doesn’t necessarily beg sympathy for the characters and their paper, but it doesn’t endear them to us either. To be honest, I wasn’t sure what the documentary was trying to say. I personally find the film versions of real journalistic endeavors, from the good (All the President’s Men) to the bad (Shattered Glass), to be more inspirational in their execution of showing the value of journalistic integrity. Unless your a Times subscriber or find yourself devoted to the paper in some way, Page One is a bit anemic. To assume that anyone who respects solid journalism feels automatically loyal to the Times is pretentious, and if the point of this film was to garner sympathy for the suffering institution it fell well short.

All this being said, I do hope the Times finds a way to navigate the current landscape of reporting, and I consider them to be a relevant voice in journalism as long as they continue to seek out stories that matter to the fabric of humanity. Being unimpressed by this documentary doesn’t mean I can’t wish the best for a paper and those that work hard to maintain its standard of quality. In the end, the New York Times is just a title. It’s the reporters that work there now and over the years that make the paper great, and they will surely find another outlet for their ability if the Times ever does meet its end. For a paper that has prided itself on helping to shape the American conversation, the New York Times should’ve been able to forecast the revolution of online media and blogs. For their sake and the sake of the people who really do hold the paper dear, I hope they haven’t waited too long to adapt.