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Defending the White House press corps questioning of the fiscal cliff at Obama’s gun press conference

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It’s been a tough week across the country when it comes to guns. Twenty children are dead after a son of one of the teacher’s in the building came inside Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. It’s brought back a large debate in the public arena regarding “gun control,” that is, what regulations should be placed on weapons in a country where the Second Amendment currently allows for residents to bear arms.

I’m not going into that debate here for several reasons: this is a journalism page, not a gun page and frankly, it’s one I’d rather not have after seeing so much of it in the last week. It’s been tough seeing people at church cry, and asking about the gun restrictions with others in the community I cover. It’s hard to watch when you know those 20 kids will not get to grow up like they deserve to.

But I will venture into a topic related to this issue and reaction about the White House Press Corps Wednesday. President Barack Obama spoke regarding a special panel, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, that will examine the gun control issue in the future.

After the president was done speaking, the White House Press Corps then began asking questions. But the questions weren’t related to gun-control; they related to the looming “fiscal cliff,” the expiration of the Bush tax cuts that will trigger increases in taxes for everyone in the nation.

This prompted a backlash among many, seeing the press corps as an agency not worried about gun safety, the topic of the press conference. It even prompted a parody hashtag on Twitter, consisting of people making fun of the press for their lack of questioning on the topic.

[View the story “Reaction from the Press Corps questions” on Storify

I’ll defend the press corps and their reasoning for asking off-topic questions here, because there shouldn’t be any outrage over their decision. One reason of this happens at every press conference; whenever the president is made available to the press, questions regarding topics the president doesn’t address always come up. It’s the nature of the reporter’s job: ask questions of the president regarding policy and other important subject matters. The president knows having a press conference opens him up to questions on any topic.

Gun discussions have become a very public topic. Everyone has an opinion, and the president has expressed his several times, including back in July after the movie theater shooting in Colorado that left several people dead during a midnight showing. It’s a topic that’s getting a lot of talk right now, and the decision was made to move forward with the special commission

Of course, there was no answers when the press asked questions regarding guns after the shooting, being told by the White House “it wasn’t the right time.”

But on the flip side, the fiscal cliff talks, which some people say could spark another recession in the United States economy, is a subject that’s shrouded in secrecy in Washington. Speaker of the House John Boehner held a “press conference” Wednesday which lasted a brief 54 seconds addressing the president’s proposed plan. Many of the talks between legislators and the executive branch have been behind closed doors and no one has come out too much on those secret meetings. So why wouldn’t the press corps ask questions on a topic that’s rarely talked about by leaders that could affect millions of Americans?

Gun violence is horrible in this country, no doubt. Something has to be done. I don’t know what that is, but a panel is going to investigate it. Not much will happen until then, at least at the federal executive level. But with the president being so scarcely available for questions (he’s averaged 1.66 press conferences a month since his term began, and went eight months without having one earlier this year), the press corps jumped at the opportunity. Isn’t that the job of reporters?

Written by David Veselenak

December 20, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Calling the election early made upset some, but it’s better than going back in time

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The Five Thirty Eight blog on the New York Times site captivated a lot of people this election cycle. And for good reason.

You can’t always get what you want. Whether it be in politics, life, work, nothing seems like it will always go our way.

The same goes with voting for president via the electoral college. It’s one of the strangest concoctions our Founding Fathers put into place: State by state, votes are counted, and state votes determine who is the executive of the land.

No matter what your take is on the system to elect the president, it’s not going anywhere right now (although there are movements to institute the popular vote as the deciding factor). Neither is the technology, knowledge and skills of those who cover the race and can predict with great precision how the race will go.

I saw at least one post from someone on Facebook Tuesday night decrying the decision to call the race for Barack Obama before all votes were in, especially in states like Alaska. The argument was that no American should feel like their vote doesn’t count, and by the calling of the election at 11:12 p.m. at night, those Americans feel left out of the democratic process because of the call.

I say: get over it. The press is doing their job.

Political number geeks found their savior this year in Nate Silver, who has attracted more attention than any other reporter at the New York Times than perhaps Judith Miller or Jayson Blair. Unlike those two, the attention was positive: Silver and his Five Thirty Eight blog used numbers and polling data to accurately predict the outcome in every single state for the presidential election. He became an election rock star, doing media tours and becoming the target of attacks from conservative pollsters who decried his prediction of a second Obama term. Silver details the results in the TimesCast below:

 

And it’s popular. Nate Silver’s blog accounted for 20 percent of all traffic to Monday, an enormous indicator that those looking at national websites for pre-election news believed his data and invested their time in reading it. That’s pretty powerful stuff. And with an indicator like that, doesn’t that show that the reader and several others want to know what the best scenario is for the presidential race?

The abilities of many media companies to accurately predict election results in the presidential race is amazing. States were being called left and right shortly after the polls closed. My home state, Michigan, was called as the final precincts in the Upper Peninsula were closed at 9 p.m. Eastern time. Barely any results had trickled in before the decision was made by predictors to award our 16 electoral votes to Barack Obama. And it stuck, with the president winning the state with almost 54 percent of the vote.

Which brings me back to my original statement: why would we want to go back in time when election results weren’t determined until the early morning the next day? The technology and knowledge is available, why shouldn’t we use it? We live in an age where people want to know what’s going on faster and delivered as quickly and accurately as possible. Why shouldn’t we exercise our First Amendment rights to gauge the election as it’s happening?

Of course issues such as Florida in 2000 do come up. There’s no doubt about it. But issues have come up again in Florida this election cycle, and it hasn’t affected the election. That’s how the Electoral College works.

Yes,  it usually means states like Alaska and Hawaii won’t play as large of a role in the election during the night, but they could if the race is tight enough further into the night. They have a combined 7 electoral votes, which could decide an election later into the night. But more than likely, the decision has been made by then. That’s how the system works. Alaska has only voted Democratic once in its state history, and Hawaii has only voted Republican twice since 1960. All three times were in landslide elections where the winner won by a large margin.

I equate it similar to a baseball game: if the home team is leading after 8.5 innings, do you play the bottom of the 9th? No, the game is over. The same concept applies to our current presidential electoral system, except the votes are officially counted when the election is said and done.

I understand the concept of making sure everyone’s vote counts. It’s an important part of our republic. But it’s also important to allow the press in all its forms do its job. Nobody wants another repeat of this to happen.

Written by David Veselenak

November 8, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Thinking about trying to go paperless for 30 days

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UPDATE: So I did not follow up with this post, namely because I saw I used very little paper. In attempting it, I found I’m a fairly light paper user, save my reporter notebooks. At the very least, this project showed me that. Thus the lack of follow-up.

I’ve been using Evernote, the note-taking productivity tool, since early last year. Since starting to use my Android phone, I’ve definitely began using it more and more.

Every once in a while, I see talks of “going paperless,” something that would be very difficult to do for a reporter using documents and such. But I’ve decided to give it shot with Evernote’s most recent blog post, advertising its 30-day paperless challenge.

While it’s not the best way to store all personal data (see: passwords), it’s a great tool for keeping things together that aren’t as critical, such as news clippings, grocery lists and miscellaneous information. It’s come in handy with my fiance and I as we plan our wedding: we can use the program to save items for our registry, and carry them with us to do some price comparisons at other stores.

Of course, not all paper can go away with being a reporter. Just ask this stack of notebooks sitting behind my desk at home.

It’s a great tool for journalism as well. I use it to type out my story notes, police briefs and save important web pages for later. I use a label system and can find what notes go with the school district I cover, my story list for the week or reference what police case numbers I’m requesting more info on from the local department for crime briefs.

So I’m taking Evernote’s advice and trying to reduce paper clutter starting tomorrow. I’ll post here at least once or twice to gauge how well I’m doing; I’m more likely to succeed if I make it public.

I don’t have a major gameplan yet, so I’ll probably try and follow Evernote blogger Jamie Todd Rubin’s advice for now. I’ll probably shift this as I go on, but it’s a good start.

If you want to, give it a shot as well. Follow the event on Facebook for updates. Some ideas are popping onto the wall as well, so be sure to use some of those.

Written by David Veselenak

August 20, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Journalism, Technology

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The best apps and uses for my smartphone after one year

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I’ve now been at the Redford Observer almost two months, and have not gotten around to an update. Before I do that, however, I’ve wanted to write a post around the beginning of July all about my cellphone.

I heard for years how helpful a smartphone is to journalists. I watched as fellow students and co-workers use their phones for their reporting. Being able to look up information in a pinch, taking photos on the fly and publishing on the web from a small device appealed to me greatly. In July 2011, right before Verizon killed off the unlimited data plan, I snuck in and purchased an Android-powered Droid Incredible 2.

Save for a few weeks when I was using a Samsung Stratosphere, I’ve used the Incredible 2, running Gingerbread, for an entire year. It’s come in handy several times, and some apps have meant more to me than others.

Here are the most useful apps I’ve found while using my phone:

Twitter: The app I find myself opening the most on my device. The official app from Twitter, it’s been updated from the design I originally got used to. I’ve made it a point to follow many different accounts, from Michigan news accounts such as the Detroit Free Press and MLive to other journalists and journalism-related publications, such as the Nieman Lab and Society of Professional Journalists.

It’s a useful tool when in the field, such when the tornadoes hit Dexter earlier this year. I was able to follow area agencies and news outlets to stay on top of things we may have missed in our reporting. It’s also a way to push out news, sharing photos from accident scenes and tweeting out information as it comes in when I’m not near a computer. It’s a must-have for me.

Facebook: Another big one, although not as big as Twitter for me. I used it more at my old job, posting updates to our weekly newspaper pages, and responding to readers’ comments. Photo-sharing from events was simple too, a quick photo of an event such as Manchester’s Easter Egg hunt, and it was pushed to our readers.

While Facebook has returned to a more personal use for me at the Observer and Eccentric, it still comes in handy. A lot of organizations in Redford use Facebook, and I’m able to stay up-to-date on everything the organizations in Redford are posting.

Evernote: A great note-taking tool I use exclusively for my current job. The ability to sync between my computer and phone is a plus, so everywhere I go, I have my notes with me. I type out my notes on a computer when I do interviews, and I’m able to clip articles if I find something that’s relevant to Redford.

I take personal notes in it too, such as directions or instructions. Each note can be placed in a specific folder, or notebook, and I can easily retrieve it with a quick search on my phone.

It captures other forms of media as well, including photos, audio and documents. I use the quick snapshot feature if I see something that’s story-worthy, such as a flyer on a billboard. I’ll use it to take images for reference, if I have to remember how something looked while writing.

There is a premium version of Evernote, but I’ve found that the free version does the best for me. I’ve thought about upgrading, but haven’t had the reason too. With 60 MB of storage per month, Evernote is a great tool for keeping organized at work.

Disqus: This is one I didn’t expect to be so helpful, but it’s great for those online moderators out there on the go.

We launched Disqus as our commenting platform at my previous job at Heritage Media near Ann Arbor in April. Looking, I stumbled across this app which, for some strange reason, could only be found on Android. For the month or so I was still moderating comments for Heritage.com, I would use this app to preview, screen, approve and delete comments that needed moderation for the website.

It came especially handy on weekends, when I was away from my computer. A notification would appear in my notification center, I’d open it, read the comment and approve or delete. Piece of cake.

Tape-a-Talk: There are plenty of recording apps out there, but I’ve taken a liking to this one. The quality is good, and you can record in two settings: wave/pcm or 3gp.

The recording is crisp on the Incredible 2, which has a microphone on the top of the device. I use it frequently enough that it’s replaced my $50 recording device from 2008.

It saves files in a separate folder on your device, and you can access it when you mount the phone as a hard drive. Simple and easy to use.

Google Drive: This is becoming my standard cloud storage unit since I have a folder on my desktop. I use it to write stories in, and label my folders according to month so I know right where a story is.

Recently, with the switch from Docs to Drive, I’ve been using it for photos for work. I take a few photos for work using my phone, and I use Drive to transfer them to the cloud.

Other cloud services are important, too. I find myself uploading large folders of photos to Box, where I have 50 GB of storage. I’ve tried using Dropbox, but I find I’m filling it up too fast. I may go back and use Dropbox, but for now, I’m going to with Google.

Flipboard: A new addition to my phone, it came to Android last month. And I love it.

Reading stories on Flipboard is a clean experience, much cleaner than on the web browser that comes on the Incredible 2. I can pull my Twitter and Facebook feed into it, and get a clean, crisp reading surface that “flips” as I read.

It also gives me top recommendations for subjects such as news, technology and sports. It’s great for lunchtime when I want to catch up on news that I haven’t had a chance to look at yet.

I’ve tried using different readers, such as Google Currents, the Flipboard copy, but nothing compares to the easy reading on Flipboard. It makes reading on my phone easy and enjoyable.

Is there an app I should add to this list? I’m always looking for a new addition to my phone.

Written by David Veselenak

July 8, 2012 at 7:06 pm

Moving east: I’m headed to Detroit to begin covering Redford for the Observer and Eccentric

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I’ve waited a while before making this official on the Internet, but its finally time.

I am making a job change, moving from Heritage Media in Washtenaw County to the Observer and Eccentric newspapers in Wayne and Oakland counties, later this month.

I’ll be covering Redford Township, which lies directly west of Detroit and east of Livonia.

I’m excited about the opportunity, and to return to the area I grew up, which is to the northeast in Royal Oak. I’ve truly enjoyed working in Washtenaw County, spending a lot of my time in Manchester and Saline, but I’m excited for new opportunities.

I’ve learned a lot about covering local news at Heritage, and it’s been a great experience working the online desk and managing web efforts. I’ve enjoyed becoming a face of the paper in Manchester, and hope to replicate that in Redford.

Thank you to my boss, Michelle Rogers, for the opportunity to hire me into my first job. Washtenaw County is a great place to cover, with a wide range of diversity and events. I had the opportunity to cover higher education, local government and even chase some police news. Working at Heritage was the right move for me back in 2010, and I’m happy I made the move.

I’ll be back living in Metro Detroit (Southfield, to be exact), and I’ll be spending a lot of my time in Redford, as well as at the Detroit Free Press/Detroit News building in downtown Detroit. I’m looking forward to it.

Written by David Veselenak

May 4, 2012 at 6:20 pm

Posted in Journalism

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Why newsrooms should leave the fooling to someone else on April Fools’ Day

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When does an April Fools joke go too far?

For most news outlets, it comes when anyone is starting to take them too seriously. And that includes non-humans, including the spiders over at Google.

Even in college, April Fools editions or joke stories had no place in our newsroom at Central Michigan Life. We’d create a mock front page and post it in the newsroom, play tricks on each other (I came into the office to find an envelope with an “internship offer” from the Detroit Free Press my sophomore year. Unfortunately for me, that proved false), but we never published April Fools stories or editions.

I’ve carried that same thought into the professional realm. I’m happy we at Heritage Media didn’t go along that path, although we did have reporters dress in goofy outfits last year for our daily newscast video for April 1.

But news organizations did, and the results can be terrifying. Take for instance the small publication The Ontario County

The letter written by the Boston University's Daily Free Press editor, apologizing for the April Fools edition of the paper that described graphic rape scenes of fictional Disney characters.

Line, located in Wisconsin. The paper ran a piece on March 29 about how Disney was buying a state park in the area from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The newspaper received such a backlash, it forced the Wisconsin DNR to issue a statement because the news had gone viral across the state via radio and other media.

And that’s not the only Disney-related prank a publication ran with this week. The Daily Free Press at Boston University ran a front page Monday renaming their paper “The Disney Free Press” and lacing the front page with stories of rape of classical Disney characters.

It didn’t go over well at the school, and the paper has had to issue major apologies and has had many comments on its site calling for its editor to resign.

Reading horror stories like the ones above (especially about the Boston University paper) give me the chills. How can any joke be made in a news product when  your credibility is all you have? Especially at a time when trust in the news media is low, budgets are being cut for a lack of advertisers and events like this are happening.

It’s all best summed up in a tweet sent by NYU professor Jay Rosen earlier this week:

Some organizations can get away with April Fools jokes. Google, for instance, is well-known for its puns on April 1. Last year, the fine folks at Google introduced Gmail Motion, a funny idea that allowed users to make motions to send email. Lo and behold, one group decided to create the system and it worked.

Others have jumped into the spirit, too. My local NFL team, the Detroit Lions, went so far as to announce an all-male cheerleading squad for the playoff team, which has no cheerleaders at all (Apparently, though, the move ruffled the feathers of  at least one Metro Detroit cheerleading group, however).

But Google makes its money on its search service, not its news-reporting service. It’s in the technology business, not the news business. Same thing with the Lions: they’re in the professional sports business; the entire reason the organization exists is for entertainment.

But for many news organizations, especially smaller ones, the reporting is all they have to keep themselves afloat in the shark-infested waters that exist today.

Why would anyone want to jeopardize that?

Written by David Veselenak

April 3, 2012 at 8:26 pm

Posted in Journalism

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How to cover the president’s visit: take three, this time in Ann Arbor

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The line for tickets to see the president speak last week in Ann Arbor.

It’s incredible: in less than two years, I’ve been involved in coverage of three presidential visits. I don’t know how it happens, but it does.

President Barack Obama came to Ann Arbor last week to give a speak on college affordability. He ended up announcing he would launch a federal Race to the Top program for the country’s colleges and universities, to encourage keeping the tuition bill low for students (something I admire, but won’t muse about here).

The challenge of his visit to Ann Arbor, however, was to do so at a smaller publication than the previous times. At The Grand Rapids Press, the staff was much larger and more could be done with other interns, photographers and writers. The challenge of covering a presidential visit with effectively two people at the speech and one back at the office assembling, posting and curating content.

Here’s how we did it for Heritage Media:

First, coverage of the lines to receive tickets to see Obama was needed. The line at the University of Michigan was massive with thousands of students waiting for their ticket. Content from the line contained several photos, a printed story and a video, which was shot by me.

Once the big day came, two reporters went to the field house where the speech was taking place, while I stayed back, monitoring the web. After going through Secret Service security, our reporters got into the field house and started sending tweets out on Twitter as often as they could, considering the poor Internet service. We set up a Cover It Live tweetstream in a story post and placed it on our home page, allowing readers without Twitter the ability to follow the coverage live throughout Michigan.

Tweets, photos came in from the pre-speech activities, an a text alert regarding road closures in Ann Arbor around the field house was sent to our subscribers. A pre-speech story, talking to people about what they wanted to hear from the president, was posted to our site before the president even got on stage, as well as a photo slideshow from before the speech.

Finally, the president came out and began speaking. Tweets continued to pour in, and since our live coverage was not coming through because of Internet issues, I was back at our office monitoring the online chatter, retweeting interesting quips that we might not have.

After the speech, a coverage story was posted, along with some photos taken by our sister publication. After a speech story was posted and shared across the other company news organizations in Michigan, another reaction piece was posted, as well as a more in-depth video of reaction from speech attendees.

Follow up the speech the next day consisted of a roundup post of all of our coverage, as well as photos, significant tweets from us and other from the event using Storify and posting it on the site. Not bad for essentially three people covering the leader of the free world.

It’s been great to be able to work days when the president is in town. It seems strange the opportunity has presented itself so many times in my young career. It might be time to set an over/under on how many times this will present itself. I’m thinking about setting it at 6.5. I’ll take the over.

Written by David Veselenak

February 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm

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