Monthly Archives: February 2011

The Boston Globe’s Emily Sweeney

Emily Sweeney speaks to the class.Last Friday, Boston Globe reporter Emily Sweeney presented in class on her experience with video at The Boston Globe. When Sweeney came to the Globe, multimedia wasn’t part of the picture.

Sweeney explained that her interest in new forms of media led her to buy a handheld video camera that she brought with her when reporting stories. She would edit together the video she shot and post it with her written story. This model became common practice at the Globe.

Showing us some of her work, Sweeney noted that her earlier videos were a bit rough around the edges. But while higher quality is always better, something is better than nothing. I agree.

Unlike Sweeney, the news dinosaurs still lumbering about in the speed-of-light news world of today are perfectionists. If it doesn’t cost a million dollars (which they no longer – if ever – have) and look like Spielberg himself put it together, they don’t want it. This attitude is the one that’s allowing bloggers, tweeters, facebookers, and other peons like myself to take over the news world. CNN has the right idea with its iReport program, exploring the new frontier unsure of what the final product will look like.

Sweeney’s attitude with new media was similar to Sir Edmund Hillary’s attitude for climbing everest; “because it’s there.” She wasn’t sure what it would turn into or how good it would be, but she did it because the technology was available and it would be silly not to use it.

Hopefully, my generation of reporters takes on a similar attitude and we can create tomorrow’s media environment without having to know beforehand what it will look like.


Visual Journalism

Last Friday, Mary Knox Merrill presented to our class about visual journalism. Merrill, a former Christian Science Monitor photographer, presented a few projects she did involving visual journalism.

After viewing all three of the projects, I was struck by the power of two of them, but felt that a third would have been just as easily told in a text-based story with photos.

The first, a video story about rape in the Congo and different efforts to prevent the act, had a much greater effect on me than a normal written story would have; it showed real people with very real problems. This eliminated the feeling of distance. It is much easier to ignore an issue if you’re just reading names off of a page, but when there are real people speaking on screen, it’s much harder to ignore. It carves itself into memory, and becomes an issue I’m much less likely to forget.

A second story seemed as though its visual aspect wasn’t as necessary or helpful. In a visual story about water shortage in a village in the Himalayas, Knox used mostly pictures. This, along with the issue being very hard to visualize, made it seem like a weaker story to me. It seemed as though it could have been a text story with a photo slideshow and had the same effect. There is, however, the added convenience in video because video is consumed passively and is therefore more convenient for many news consumers.

The final video story was Knox’s story about a Cyclocross competition in Marblehead, Mass. While it didn’t provoke the same emotional response as the story about rape, it did a great job of showing what this little-known sport was about and how it was performed. This is something that surely would not have been accomplished by a normal newspaper story.

These visual stories taught not only the value of this type of journalism, but also the value of story judgement. As the story about Himalayan water shortage showed, some stories are better accomplished by traditional means, but as the other two stories illustrate, there are some things better covered in this form. Knowing when to use these alternative methods is just as important as knowing how to use them well.

WikiLeaks on the Nobel Peace Prize list

Images / WikiMedia Commons

A day after nomination submissions closed for the Nobel Peace Prize, Snorre Valen, a Norwegian parliamentarian announced his nomination of WikiLeaks for the prize.

When U.S. President Barack Obama won the prize after just a few months in office, there was fierce debate about whether or not it was deserved. While Obama’s intentions of creating peaceful dialogue seemed clear, there was very little evidence that he had made great progress on this front yet.

With WikiLeaks’ nomination, the same questions come again to the surface.

In its ideology, WikiLeaks is not aimed at peace or justice, nor at war or corruption.

“Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public,” the organization’s website states.

As Julian Assange’s brainchild, though, WikiLeaks has a strong anti-establishment bias. This isn’t to say that the site supports or encourages anarchy. Assange hates secrets (unless they’re his own), and even more, he hates conspiracies.

When you and I read “conspiracy” we instantly think MK Ultra, the CIA assassinating JFK, or some other unlikely but hard to disprove scenario. In Assange’s mind, the word takes a different meaning: its literal one. In his essay, “State and Terrorist Conspiracies,” Assange defines the word.

Conspiracy, Conspire: make secret plans jointly to commit a harmful act; working together to bring about a particular result, typically to someone’s detriment. ORIGIN late Middle English : from OldFrench conspirer, from Latin conspirare agree, plot, from con- together with spirare breathe.

The best party is but a kind of conspiracy against the rest of the nation. (Lord Halifax)

The “harmful act” doesn’t have to be a presidential assassination or mind control on a massive scale. It could be anything from taking a kickback on a government contract to genocide.

Assange’s (and as a result, WikiLeaks’) goal is to bring down conspiracies. (For a great explanation of how they do it, check out Aaron Bady’s post on the subject.)

While it’s hard to dispute the societal value of eliminating conspiracies, Alfred Nobel didn’t necessarily have this in mind when he wrote his will to include what would become the Nobel prizes.

The whole of my remaining realizable estate shall be dealt with in the following way: the capital, invested in safe securities by my executors, shall constitute a fund, the interest on which shall be annually distributed in the form of prizes to those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind… The said interest shall be divided into five equal parts, which shall be apportioned as follows: /- – -/ one part to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

After outlining physics, chemistry, physiology, and literature prizes, Nobel gave a very specific description of the peace prize.

WikiLeaks hasn’t reduced standing armies or promoted a peace congress, so the criterion in mind for WikiLeaks, one might deduce, is doing work for “fraternity between nations.”

Ripping the pants off of the U.S. diplomatic machine hardly helped fraternity between nations. Putin surely wasn’t pleased to discover American diplomats were comparing him to Batman (Personally, I’d be thrilled.). The Yemeni people weren’t too pleased to hear that, no, those bombs weren’t actually launched by their own government’s military, but by Obama’s.

WikiLeaks hasn’t done exactly what Alfred Nobel outlined in order to affect peace, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t pushed the world in the direction of peace. As of now, the wounds are fresh and the diplomatic world still has the cable leaks near the front of its mind. Moving forward, though, it is possible that WikiLeaks has led diplomacy towards more open and transparent operations. More likely, however, the government will improve its classification protocol, keeping out people like Bradley Manning and improving the government’s ability to work behind closed doors.