Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Know Thineself

Photo source: China Digital Times

In a meta sense, one important way to look online editorial decisions is the coverage of itself. In the Google/China conflict, this specifically applies to the coverage of electronic media. While condemnation of China is near unanimous amongst online American news sources, the editorial tone each publication takes on the issue symbolizes the editor's and publication's journalistic ethics and style.

Using bottom-up analysis of the the dispute coverage, the "bottom" of the coverage lies within the issue's technicalities, as seen in PCWorld's May 30 article "Google Now Says Technical Glitch Not to Blame in China" by Nancy Gohring.

The article is very technical, with Gohring writing "gs_rfai started appearing in the URLs of Google searches globally as part of a search parameter, a string of characters that sends information about the query to Google so we can return the best result."

Her article lays out a full array of computer facts, leaving the audience to discern China's intent.

The Associated Press took a very different approach in Anita Chang's March 30 article, "Journalists in China say Yahoo accounts hacked." Rather than emphasize the coding issues surrounding the debacle, Chang followed the human angle.

"It was not clear where problems with the Yahoo e-mail accounts originated. All four people affected are professionally focused on China and related issues," Change wrote. "They said they had heard of other colleagues having similar problems, including one journalist who lost his Yahoo account entirely in January."

Chang continues by interviewing six people involved in the Chinese filter, digging deep in the human angle.

Surprisingly, The New York Times exhibited the least comprehensive and most egocentric coverage of the issue in David Barboza's "Access to Google Is Interrupted in China."

The article opens up condemning China, and does little reporting beyond speculation from there.

"The exact cause of the disruption was not fully clear, but it led to speculation that the site was being blocked by the country’s Internet censors," Barboza wrote, the relying on rumors to open the article.

What is more, the article cites no human or code source, as seen with The Associated Press and PCWorld, respectively. Rather, it recycles old coverage, press statements and assumptions. These editorial decisions detract from the article's integrity and a reader's willingness to look to The New York Times for quality international reporting.

Editors may make lazy decisions, assuming that the public is tired of the story. Yet this is a case of never leaving the newsroom. As seen with The Associated Pressand PCWorld, interesting and enlightening angles can be found in the most tired of stories.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Who Made Who?

Disclosure quickly defuses bias. Be it political affiliations, family connections, or social allegiances, a mere note at the beginning or end of an article can save a reporter's reputation. The Street's Jim Cramer, CNN's Susan Roesgen, and The New York Times' Francisco Toro each experienced public criticism for failing to disclose financial, political, and activist organization connections, respectively.

On a grander scale, publications take careful steps to avoid hiding allegiances. With few independent newspapers left publishing, many publications are subsets of massive corporate conglomerations with many side businesses. This inevitably leads to newspaper stories that cover actions of a business within the same corporation as the covering newspaper itself. The way in which the newspaper acknowledges this is an important editorial decision that varies.

Over self-exposure seems to be the status quo, as seen in Alex William's April 2, 2007, The New York Times article "Gay by Design, or a Lifestyle Choice?" Despite only a fleeting reference to source Ramone Johnson, Williams is very direct in his disclosure.

"Johnson is a gay journalist...for About.com, which is owned by The New York Times Company," Williams wrote.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board takes a subtler approach, displayed in Ethan Smith's March 10 article "Ice Age $3000: Fox to Release First 3-D Blu-Ray Title." Congruent with other The Wall Street Journal articles, Smith seamlessly integrates the possible conflict of interest into the story.

"Fox, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp.," Smith wrote, using a phraseology exactly like that of other The Wall Street Journal reporters covering Fox.

A final and common disclosure technique occurs in Kate Snow's July 23, 2009, ABC News article "Did Erin Andrews' Sex Appeal Encourage Nude Peephole Video?" Snow waits until the very end of the story to make any reference to business allegiances, writing as a disclaimer, "ESPN is owned by Disney which also owns ABC News."

Concerning pure disclosure, The New York Times communicates the conflict of interest best. In terms of writing finesse, The Wall Street Journal shows that a well-integrated statement maintains flow, though the phrase's smooth delivery can lead to its being overlooked.

Editors would be well advised to weigh the continuum between The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and find a style that best fits their reporting techniques.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Many Shades of Green

Coverage of a single story can vary greatly depending on an organization's editorial guidance. As seen with Coca-Cola's release of environmentally friendly bottles, two newspapers can approach the same topic with different questions, biases and focuses. In the coverage of Coca-Cola's green bottles, The Wall Street Journal and Recycling Today reported using two principles: the bottom line and the environment, respectively.

Surprisingly, the dissimilar publications make similar mistakes. One main editorial issue arose consistently: an overuse of Coca-Cola representatives.

This editorial missteps appears in Chris Herring's
The Wall Street Journal article, "Coke's New Bottle Is Part Plant." Herring's reporting is lazy and unfounded, using Coca-Cola's spokeswoman comments to fill a majority of the article. The entire first half of the article references the spokeswoman, who only acknowledges positive aspects of new bottle. Coca-Cola naysayers do not appear until the second half of the article.

Recycling Today, a publication driven by environmental ideals, makes a similar error to The Wall Street Journal. Recycling Today writer Dan Sandoval's article "The Real Thing" states that "in steps large and small...the company is helping boost recycling." That phrase parrots a recent Coca-Cola spokeswoman. This is a very interesting stance as environmental experts have criticized the move as a public relations stunt.

While it would be easy to accuse The Wall Street Journal of being a corporate trumpet, Recycling Today shows that the overuse of representative comments without verification is not a biased approached. Rather, it is lazy reporting.