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The thoughts of a young journalist in southeastern Michigan

Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama

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

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

The “breaking news” tag: is it broken for the web?

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Even with this “digital transformation” in news delivery, it’s still a very common occurrence: a big story is first reported on, say, for instance, a prominent cabinet announces his resignation. The first group to report it, we’ll say its the Washington Post, publishes a tweet at 1:45 p.m. saying “BREAKING: Secretary of Energy to announce resignation” and posts a link shortly afterward.

Twenty minutes later, another tweet regarding the news will go out, this time from perhaps a college publication or smaller local news org, that says “BREAKING: Cabinet member to resign.”

The question is, when does a story still warrant that “breaking news” label? Is it when the first story is published no matter who does the publishing? Is it “breaking” when its the first notification goes out from that news org? Is it “Breaking” at all? Even Breakingnews.com isn’t always first when it comes to the big stories on Twitter.

Dictionary.com defines the term as “news that is happening and being reported on or revealed at this moment.” So by that terminology, only the first news organization that announces the news has broken it; the rest are just following suit. So why is the term “breaking news” still being used so loosely?

Some inspiration for this question came from Journal Register Company Director of Community Engagement and Social Media Steve Buttry’s post on the news alert sent out by the Post in the very early morning hours, stating the U.S. electorate “was frustrated” a year out from the 2012 presidential election. Buttry writes:

Really? A poll that reveals nothing new and just confirms what everyone knows about the country’s mood deserves a news alert? At 12:18 a.m.?

Buttry calls the timing of the message – being pushed at 12:18 a.m. – “print thinking,” something that definitely won’t help a the digital delivery of news. This led me to the thinking behind this post. The question still plagues many journalists still adapting to a digital delivery: how do we handle big stories that have recently unfolded? Some of us still classify news that is big as “breaking:” to some, this can feel natural; people are checking our site first, so its big news to them, right? But for those we are going to go to places such as Twitter first, by the time they check your site, they already know the news; it isn’t breaking anymore.

I had a conversation with a colleague mine on Twitter several weeks back on this very subject, and came to this conclusion:

In the Web age, the term “breaking” should cease to be used. Nothing is breaking 5 minutes after it happened; its become old.

It doesn’t just apply to big stories, either. Repeatedly, I’ve seen tweets, especially from the Associated Press Twitter account, with the breaking label that doesn’t just seem like “breaking” news. Take this tweet, for example, sent Friday night:

BREAKING: Obama calls Penn State sex-abuse case “heartbreaking” -CC

I don’t disagree that this is important information: The Penn State scandal has dominated news sites all last week, and it was the first comment from the president on the matter. But wouldn’t most people familiar with the Penn State news expect the president to think nothing less? Does this deserve a “breaking” tag, especially when it was sent out on a Friday night, and is nothing but a presidential statement? This type of tweet would be still appropriate to send out, perhaps just dropping the “BREAKING:” altogether.

Is there a better way to convey bigger stories than just labeling them “breaking”? Or is there a better way to use that phrase in a more web-friendly manner?

Written by David Veselenak

November 13, 2011 at 7:41 pm

My time at the Grand Rapids Press: Covering the president, Michigan politics and meeting some incredible people

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This week, I wrapped up my first full-time internship at the Grand Rapids Press. The last 14 weeks have proved to be nothing but a rollercoaster.

The Grand Rapids Press building, located at Michigan and Monroe Streets NW in Grand Rapids.to be nothing but a rollercoaster.

Working on the politics desk during an off-year election season allowed me to explore deeper into the world of politics and political reporting. On my first day of work, I met now-Michigan GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder during a town hall meeting in May. I’ve been able to cover a congressional debate, report on site from the county clerk’s office on Election Night, as well as the campaign strategy of right-to-work. And of course, there’s been the opportunity to cover this guy.

With a more focused section of the newsroom dedicated to politics, it allowed me to receive stories that required more detail. Using what knowledge I acquired from studying politics in college, including legal jargon and campaign strategies, the ability to learn firsthand about politics, another area I’m passionate about, was an added bonus.

Overall, though, internships are supposed to be a learning experience (at least that’s what every professor I ever had told me). So what did I learn?

Besides working on the political desk, the biggest benefit has been the last two weeks, where I replaced another intern on the night cops shift. Working from 3-11 p.m. covering police activity was not a strong suit of mine four months ago, especially coming from such a sleepy town like Mount Pleasant (at least it was before I graduated). Preferring administrative reporting over police reporting left me vulnerable to a skill set that the professional world craves and yearns for. It’s safe to say police reporting is one of the biggest forces at the Press; I see plenty of space dedicated to the local police and fire happenings in the city, and seems to be one of the biggest forces in readership.

With working nights and covering the happenings of the police scanner, I’ve been able to pick up on accidents and other mischief police are reporting in to their dispatchers, and can sometimes write a short story of 2-4 inches just based off the jabber on the scanner.

The size of Grand Rapids was a huge wakeup call for me. Reporting in town of 25,000 like Mount Pleasant was nothing compared to reporting on a metropolitan area consisting of almost 1 million. So much more activity is taking place here, and early on, I got lost in the shuffle. I’ve now gotten to the point where I can maneuver this city’s streets pretty effectively.

The best part has been getting to know and understand life in west Michigan. I never spent a lot of time in Grand Rapids, so this was a first. I did have to explain to a lot of people that I was new to town and didn’t understand a lot about most of the happenings, and people were more than happy to explain things out. Meeting some of the people I wrote about was incredible, as I got to see a (nearly) 100-year old Puerto Rican lady celebrate her birthday, I got the rundown on how the Gilda’s Club and Ronald McDonald houses work and saw a global family reunion 10 years in the making. To experience some of those types of human interest is unexplainable and worth sharing with the world. Even speaking to former Lt. Governor Dick Posthumus shortly after his wife died in order to tell her story was rewarding and one of the most difficult interviews I’ve ever done. Telling regular people’s stories gets back to journalism’s roots, and shouldn’t be forgotten. This summer was a good reminder of that point.

Personally, I’ve enjoyed my time in Grand Rapids and the western Michigan area. It’s an area I haven’t had a lot of experience with in recent years, and it’s been great being able to visit some interesting places, including

The Grand River, as seen from the Bridge Street bridge. I drove over it every day to get to the Press.

Muskegon, Grand Haven, Newaygo and Holland. Being nearby to Lake Michigan has been a plus, and immersing myself in the west Michigan culture as a self-proclaimed “Detroiter” has shown me what this side of the state can offer.

Up next: I begin as a reporting intern at the Bay City Times on Aug. 31, three days after finishing at the Press. It’s going to be a radically different experience, as the Times is as  much smaller paper, only printing three days a week with a joint edition with the Saginaw News, and is located in a much smaller town than Grand Rapids (To compare, Grand Rapids has just under 198,000; Bay City has just under 37,000).  I’m looking forward to change, and will document my opening comparisons shortly after starting.

Written by David Veselenak

August 30, 2010 at 12:34 am

One month-plus post-graduation: Update in the “real world” of Grand Rapids

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Just more than one month ago, I sat in Kelly/Shorts Stadium wearing my black cap and gown and graduated from Central Michigan University.

It doesn’t feel like it. It actually feels longer than that.

In the time since I left Mount Pleasant, I’ve gone back to move out, officiated some soccer and began working full-time at The Grand Rapids Press. The last point, obviously, is where most of my time has been spent. I started three weeks ago, and the Press is my first full-time internship. It has taken some getting used to, having a set schedule, but I’m adjusting as well as possible.

I began working on the politics desk, and for the most part, have stuff with items in that area. My first assignment was a coverage of Michigan gubernatorial candidate Rick Snyder’s town hall meeting at Rosa Parks Circle. Quite the first assignment, and daunting to someone who hasn’t worked for a publication with more than a 13,000 circulation (the Press is more than 100,000 circulation). But I used it as a launching pad and have written some interesting pieces.

One thing I’ve definitely noticed is different than the college newsroom: everyone is older. I realize I’m stating the obvious, but when you’re used to working with 20-year-olds, working with full-fledged adults was still a culture shock for me. The priorities for adults are significantly different than what I was used to as a college student, but the benefit you get is you see how they do their jobs and how they handle news and writing, and it’s that experience I can (and have) watched to gather my own way of reporting.

But the best way of evaluating my new is to go through it, bit-by-bit. So here it is:

The toughest adjustment: It has to be clocking 40 hours a week on a regular time schedule. While there were weeks at CM Life I spend more than 40 hours a week in the office, that was on a be-there-as-you-need-to-be basis. Even as editor, the only requirement I had was to be in at 11 a.m. Now, it’s usually an 11 a.m.-7 p.m. shift, five days a week. I know it doesn’t seem like it should be a big deal to me, but it has been.

The biggest similarity: It’s got to be the hunger for information. I see no difference in the drive to gather and disseminate information to the public from newsroom to newsroom. Earlier this week, one reporter exposed a plan one legislator’s aide had to open a film production studio just to make a profit off of Michigan’s 42 percent film tax incentive program. The drive to expose wrongdoing is still there, a plus when there’s a lot of talk of doom-and-gloom in college of the journalism industry.

The press pass I was issued when I arrived at the airport to cover President Barack Obama's landing.

The most exciting story I’ve written: Without a doubt it has to be my feature on the Comstock Park couple that got to tour Air Force One when it flew into Grand Rapids for President Barack Obama’s speech at Kalamazoo Central High School. While the story I wrote was just a discovery, the whole experience of going to the airport to see the president was exciting to me. Even getting screened by the Secret Service was fascinating, because I got to see the process of protecting the president first hand. As a politics junkie, I found the entire process incredible. Even watching the Kent County Sheriff’s deputies climb the roof at Gerald R. Ford International Airport provided a glimpse at the measures taken to secure the president.

The story I’m most proud of: Without a doubt it’s my piece on a Kenyan refugee flying into Grand Rapids after waiting for his visa for 10 years. Joseph Sewe, who was stuck in a refugee camp in Tanzania, was left behind in Africa when the rest of his family was granted visas to the U.S. He and his brother, Alvin, were left behind. Alvin died in 2006, and Joseph was granted his visa in May. I spoke to his aunt, Dorothy, who has quite the story herself. She was more than happy to share her story of trying to get Joseph reunited with her and her family, and her comfort in sharing her story made it so much better. After going to the airport twice (he had missed a connecting flight and Dorothy didn’t know), last Thursday, I watched as his family walked out of the gate and was rushed by Dorothy and her children. I have never seen hugs so tight at an airport before, it was incredible to share in such a huge family moment with them and tell the world about it. Stories like that remind me that I picked a good industry to go into.

Overall, so far it’s been a good experience. I’m seeing a lot and just learning how this whole thing works. In other words, three weeks down, the rest of my life to go.

Written by David Veselenak

June 18, 2010 at 10:00 pm