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The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

Archive for February 2010

Lights out: How to cover a breaking news story

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There’s just something about CMU’s Charles V. Park Library, late production nights and breaking news that just can’t seem to avoid me.

On Feb.21, 2010, while driving to Moore Hall to do my work as Central Michigan Life’s online editor, I noticed a lack of lighting around the Park Library. I continued driving and noticed all of the lights in and around the library were out. I called the newsroom to inform them and they had already realized what had happened. After I arrived in the office, it was decided that someone(s) needed to go to the library and start figuring out what happened.After myself and University Editor Eric Dresden walked out of the building, our reporting challenge began.This is where my main point of this post is going.

Covering breaking news is an experience all in itself. It’s all about fast thinking, fact-checking and quick reporting. Here, I break down the five skills I’ve found useful in doing breaking news reporting, including my “adventure” in the Park Library:

1. Get excited.

Most important aspect of covering breaking news is loving it. Great journalists live for going out and covering a fire, a murder, or other emergencies. While the end result of most breaking news is negative, it is the best time for journalists to show what type of reporter they are. When your editor says, “Go!” there’s no reason to hold back. That’s why (I assume) you went into journalism.

2. Talk to as many people as possible at the scene.

This can be difficult if there aren’t that many people there, but it will definitely give you the best viewpoint of what happened, especially if you did not witness the breaking news yourself. But talking to more people can piece together a vivid setting of what happened, and can give you different sides of the story. Talking to officials at the scene will give you the official voice your story will need, which leads me to my next point…

3. If it’s not confirmed, don’t print it.

If the scene is chaos, then that means you can get several different stories about what happened. Everyone thinks they are an expert in what happened, but never trust their word as the golden truth.Only go with information you see yourself and officials there as factual information.Unless your quoting someone with something, don’t assume what they say is the truth. The human psyche can skew facts at a time of crisis.

4. Pay attention to detail.

If there aren’t many officials there to tell you what happened, using your own senses can help tell the story of what happened. For example, in the Park Library, I took note of when everyone said the power went off and when everyone was evacuated. I continued to monitor the clock and noted the time when a police officer arrived, when the emergency lights came on, and when the elevator mechanic came to try and get two graduate students out of the elevator (that also allowed us to keep track as to how long they were in there, which was about an hour). Details like that can add depth to your story.

5. Be prepared to write a follow up.

Just because the action of the news event is over doesn’t mean stop reporting about it. Chances are, there are plenty of questions about the event that need to be answered. For example, in the Park Library power outage, it wasn’t just the power that went out. Some of the Internet and some of the security cameras were also out from the back-up generators not firing up, a detail that gets explained in my follow up in the Feb. 24 edition of CM Life. Not only do you get to learn more about what happened, but you get the opportunity to impress potential future employers with your reporting skills. It’s one thing to report breaking news, but it’s another thing if you can dig to get more info on it after the fact.

Written by David Veselenak

February 27, 2010 at 3:41 am

Fast typing: My first liveblogging experience

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I’m always up to learn something new.

That’s why as soon as I realized last week was the CMU Board of Trustees meeting, I jumped at the opportunity to do something I had never done before: liveblog.

Liveblogging is the act of covering an event or some other procedure with the reporter typing out what is happening as it’s happening. It can be used for covering government meetings, sporting events, even court cases. It’s a great way to tell people what is happening as it happens, and, if using a program such as Cover It Live,  it also allows for readers and followers to ask questions and start discussion.

For this meeting, there were not that many people jumping into the liveblog (although University Communications did to answer a question I didn’t know the answer to). There was one journalism professor that jumped in, and what seemed to be like a few students, mostly asking what was up with the university’s proposed budget cuts. They were curious as to if the university administration had discussed anything with the university’s governing body, the Board of Trustees, would discuss any of Interim University President Kathy Wilbur’s plans for proposed budget cuts to combat the decrease in state appropriations.

For me, the challenge in liveblogging was keeping up on writing a post, even if it was one sentence. Especially if the board recognized someone, because I did not have the agenda readily available to get their name correct. Dealing with questions was not as difficult, because there were not that many to field.

But keeping up is something that takes practice, and can lead to becoming a better journalist. If a liveblogger is able to identify quickly the important points of a presentation or meeting, they are better suited to write their story afterward focusing on more detail rather than going back and reviewing the basics.

Written by David Veselenak

February 22, 2010 at 1:24 am

A side step: Judging the ethics of the Olympics

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Because of myself being a major Winter Olympics junkie (if you haven’t noticed by my tweeting the last few days), I have been trying to figure out how to incorporate the Games into this blog. And instead of advice or personal viewpoints, I’ve decided to pose an ethics question to those who visit.

By now, everyone’s heard about the Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, and the untimely death he faced Friday as he lost control of his sled and flew off the track in Whistler, British Columbia. Tons of news reports are out there, reporting on the aftermath.

Now, herein lies the question: Youtube has seemingly pulled the video of Kumaritashvili crashing, citing that it is copyrighted by the International Olympic Committee (although the Associated Press video is still there). But a lot of people are crying out that the video is insensitive and not appropriate for viewership. I’m providing the clip because I want people to judge for themselves, but please be warned, it IS graphic:

And it isn’t just Youtube that’s pulling the clip. NBC has reportedly ordered that the clip no longer be played because of its nature. Only executive Steve Capus has the authority to allow the clip to be played, and it doesn’t sound like he’ll do that anytime soon.

The question is: Should this video be pulled from the Internet because of its nature? And is it journalistically ethical to play and post the video?

My two cents: I don’t think there’s anything illegal about the clip, as it is what happened. Nowadays, with 24-hour news channels, there is more of a tendency to replay clips of disasters over and over again (see: 9/11), something many viewers feel is gratuitous and unnecessary. Personally, it probably does not need to be played as often now, as the timeliness of the story is fading. As it was, I had a hard time watching the luge events this weekend knowing that that incident had happened. As the his father said, the track shouldn’t cause the death of an athlete.

If, however, the IOC investigates and something is determined, it may become ok to air it again to allow the public to scrutinize the ruling (as long as it isn’t played over and over again, see example above). But because it is news and was in a public place, there’s nothing illegal (at least in the United States) about posting and airing this clip. It’s just become tasteless.

Written by David Veselenak

February 16, 2010 at 4:13 am

A major difference

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When I began at Central Michigan University in 2006, all I knew was that I wanted to be a sports journalist. I loved writing, I loved sports, what’s better than combining the two?

But I soon found out that narrow goal wouldn’t allow me to become a multi-faceted journalist as the job field is currently demanding. I began on the news desk (sports was already all filled) and starting writing immediately. The first three stories I wrote were about politics, Mount Pleasant’s downtown business district and wireless Internet. It was quite the wake up call that I would need to learn as much as possible to stay ahead.

Over the last few years, the skill set a young journalist needs continues to grow to just more than writing and shooting photos. While I am still learning all the different skills needed, here is a sample of some of the things I’ve found that are helpful in today’s journalistic world:

1. Don’t limit your reporting to one area

While beat reporting is crucial and a great skill to show a potential employer, if you only know how to cover city commission meetings, how are you supposed to find that great feature story, or analyze a university’s operating budget? Limiting yourself to one category of reporting can be a real dagger, because in the real world, you will cover a wide range of topics.

And that doesn’t just include on the news desk. Go over to the sports desk and see if the sports editor has any general assignment stories that could be covered; hit up the entertainment editor for any assignments. A wide range of clips will only better your shot of getting employed after graduation.

2. Don’t stick to only writing

If you have the equipment (and the skill), try your hand at shooting some photos. Even if they don’t get published in a publication, they may be a great addition to a Web site or blog of yours that you can list on your resume. If you can write and shoot, chances are you can be trusted to cover something on the writing and visual side.

Create and design documents using design software as well. This may be tougher, as most design software is quite expensive. But if your college’s computer lab offers the programs, utilize them as much as possible. Several people I know use Adobe InDesign to create a more dynamic resume, one that will make theirs pop out from others.

One area I have gotten heavily involved with is video. This is a great way to combine broadcast and traditional journalism to create a news video. Cameras are not that expensive, and is a great way to learn video editing (The only downside is the best video editing software can be pricey. See if your newspaper has a computer with sophisticated video editing software).

3. Learn how to utilize the Internet

This is the major change I didn’t expect when I arrived at college. Even though print products are still around, it has become more important for journalists to use the Internet. And it’s not just posting stories online as quick as possible (which has given way to the phrase, “there’s a deadline every minute”), it’s using the Internet to get the news out in other ways. Blogs have skyrocketed in popularity, and definitely have their place in the information busines. But Flash animations, Soundslides presentations and  Web site construction have surged in the means of conveying information.

As the online editor at Central Michigan Life, I have had to learn the basics when it comes to HTML coding. I’ve been able to toy around and create landing pages for CM Life, and more companies are making it easier to use and embed coding into sites. You don’t have to know a lot about coding to begin using it efficiently.

4. Keep an open mind and learn whenever you can.

This is the most important thing a young journalist can do. It was the thing I learned when I began working at CM Life, and it has helped me learn much more than what I expected in the four years I’ve been here. An open mind helps a journalist clear through the bias of a story, and it can help with making you stand out among other student journalists looking for employment after graduation.

Written by David Veselenak

February 14, 2010 at 1:50 am

Googling up

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If there is one thing I have learned the last few months, it’s been to utilize the power of Google.

As a journalist, Google is my best friend. Need to find a phone number? Want to know what others are reporting on? What’s out there with my name on it? Google knows it all.

But it’s not just a search engine. Google has become a much bigger and better tool for journalists to use in recent years. Using Google effectively can increase the way you report and tell stories. These are several points I’ve noticed since exploring myself.

1. Replace your e-mail with it.

About two years ago, I had my Central Michigan University student mail account forwarded to a Gmail account, and it’s been a move I’ve never looked back on. I never have to delete messages-a plus for journalists in case they have to doublecheck something- and I can search them using Google’s search engine. Plus, it adds a chat function, so you can stay connected with others on their Gmail accounts. Sign up for Google Alerts for news and blogs that contain a certain word or phrase.

2. Have all your news in one place.

While Twitter is being considered by some a modern RSS feed, Google Reader is a simple way to have all your headlines delivered to one place. Subscribe to a site’s RSS feed, and it’s updated as often as you need it. It’s a great way to keep what other news organizations are doing sorted, and it also allows you to see what other colleges are doing. It can be a great way to keep informed, and a great story idea generator.

3. Use it to surf the Web.

Ever since Google launched Chrome, I haven’t used any other Web browser. Its simple design and easy tab system makes browsing faster and cleaner. The only downfall I’ve found is that some video players don’t play on it, and you have to go to Firefox instead. This makes it easy when doing research, it’s easy to search for the info you’re looking for.

4. And a whole bunch of other stuff.

There’s a whole lot more to use Google with. There’s all of their mobile apps, which run on the Android system for Verizon. There’s Google Earth, the software that has images of most places on Earth. There’s the Google Labs, when Google tested some of their new technology. There are plenty of uses for Google, and a journalist pokes around and tries something new every day.

Written by David Veselenak

February 9, 2010 at 4:29 am

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