A Response to Koppel on Olbermann, O’Reilly

November 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Reading Ted Koppel’s piece about the death of real news on television gave me no surprise. Since taking a class on media and politics last year at UVM, I’ve questioned the ability of TV to provide a societally healthy version of news. In that class, we read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book about the danger of TV in American political discourse.

Television, as a medium, is not fit for news. It is too easy to be overly animated and entertaining and forget altogether – if you were trying in the first place – to give the news. Glenn Beck, with his chalkboard and on-air weeping sessions, knows this all too well. TV is a sensational experience, and in news, sensationalism is frowned upon. So there is, of course, an inherent conflict of interests in any TV news. While Koppel is nostalgic for the days when anchors were able to give an unbiased account of events (and maybe they did), I don’t think it was ever possible to give an accurate or full description of events on television.

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War Reporting Q & A: James Gordon Meek

November 16, 2010 § Leave a comment

James Gordon Meek in Bagram, Afghanistan

James Gordon Meek in Bagram, Afghanistan in August, 2010

James Gordon Meek covers terrorism, justice, intel, and war for the New York Daily News. I emailed him with the hopes of learning more about the life of a war reporter, as it’s a field that has always interested me but been hard to learn about. I asked him some questions that came to mind about war reporting and his answers proved interesting.

Mr. Meek’s articles can be found here, and you can follow him on twitter here. He blogs for the NY Daily News’ Washington Bureau here.

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Why I Want to be a Journalist (NY Times Week in Review story)

November 14, 2010 § 1 Comment

This post was inspired by this story in The New York Times, which covers the story behind Sgt. Salvatore Guinta (photo center) being the first person to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor while still living since Vietnam.

Image from NYTimes story. Lynsey Addario/VII

There are plenty of reasons to become a journalist. We love to romanticize our profession — if we may even call it that — with dreams of exposing corruption or telling the story of the underdog. I won’t lie, I would love to break the next Watergate, and I’d love to write a great feature (as of now, I hate writing features, but I know I’ll get over that and want this someday) on how so-and-so overcame such-and-such to achieve such-and-such. But really, what I hope to get out of it is even more abstract. I don’t live to expose corruption, I don’t look into every success for a triumph over adversity. I just live and just look.

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New Story: LimeWire Shutdown

November 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published in The Huntington News, Nov. 11, 2010:


LimeWire Down, Facing Legal Repercussions

Anyone looking to LimeWire for the new Taylor Swift album will be sorely disappointed when they open the software, which has been disabled.

The shutdown is the result of an injunction issued last month by a Manhattan district court judge to Lime Group, parent company of LimeWire, forcing it to turn off the program’s functionality immediately.

“The truth of the matter is – and I know this is a great disappointment to most college students – when you’re taking music that is copyrighted and you’re downloading it in its entirety, not just sampling … it’s pretty much a copyright violation,” said professor Laurel Leff, who teaches media law at Northeastern.

The Oct. 26 ruling adds LimeWire to a growing list of services brought down by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and other entertainment industry organizations.

The services, such as Napster and Grokster, use peer-to-peer technology, a system that allows users to share files by connecting almost directly with other users’ computers.

Because of the ongoing crackdown on music piracy, many students have shied away from illegal services such as LimeWire.

Punishment for illegal downloading can be thousands of dollars in fines per song, and in the most severe cases, prison time.

“I’m not going to jail for downloading music,” said Anthony Grimaldi, a senior computer science major. “That’s the stupidest thing to go to jail for.”

Praful Mathur, also a senior computer science major, said he had already moved from LimeWire to services like YouTube, Pandora, and Bittorrent for his music.

Former Northeastern student Shawn Fanning created Napster in a campus dorm room in 1999. Fanning later dropped out to run the service full-time.

While many students regularly use services like Fanning’s, the services tend to be legally questionable.

Leff contrasted these downloading habits with fair use, a legal provision that allows use of various types of media if they are taken in part and put into a new context, usually academic. Fair use is a common defense in cases against services like LimeWire and Napster.

The RIAA doesn’t see anything fair about users downloading music for free for personal use, its chairman said in a statement.

“Unlike other [peer-to-peer] services that negotiated licenses, imposed filters, or otherwise chose to discontinue their illegal conduct … LimeWire instead thumbed its nose at the law and creators,” said Mitch Bainwol, chairman of the RIAA, in a May 12, 2010 statement.

Journalism professor Dan Kennedy, who writes the blog Media Nation about the state of the media, said he saw LimeWire as the next step for an industry trying to throttle piracy.

“Targeting LimeWire follows logically from a 2005 Supreme Court ruling that authorities may shut down file-sharing services if their main purpose is to encourage copyright infringement,” Kennedy said in an e-mail.

In the 2005 case MGM v. Grokster, the Supreme Court officially stated that “one who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright … is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.”

The ruling against LimeWire, issued by United States District Judge Kimba Wood, followed the same lines as the Grokster ruling. The injunction stated that LimeWire was “liable for inducement of copyright infringement.”

“There is some sense that you can’t really have law in the cyber-environment, that the technology can always keep ahead of the law,” Leff said. “There’s obviously some truth to that, but almost all regulation – and obviously you see this with finance too – is not 100 percent perfect.”

Lime Group isn’t closing the door on LimeWire even though the current version of the software has been disabled.

“While this is not our ideal path, we hope to work with the music industry in moving forward,” the parent company said in the official press statement posted on their website, adding that it hopes to embrace the changes it needs to make and work with the music industry in the future.

Lime Group’s website already mentions a new product.

“Our team of technologists and music enthusiasts is creating a completely new music service that puts [users] at the center of your digital music experience,” said a statement posted on Lime Group’s website, adding that the company will be “sharing more details about our new service … in the future.”

NU Athletic Field Aggravating Local Neighbors

November 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

Published in The Huntington News, October 14, 2010:

Parsons Field Construction Angers Neighbors

Parsons Field is rough around the edges, neighbors said.

The home field of Northeastern soccer, baseball and formerly football, located in a residential neighborhood in Brookline, was resurfaced earlier this year, displacing about 160 tons of dirt from the field. The dirt was moved to a berm, a large dirt barrier, along the Harrison Street edge with a retaining wall along the sidewalk. Harrison Street residents say they weren’t properly notified or consulted about the work.

“The university is not living up to its core values of urban engagement here,” said Erik Noyes, 39, a Harrison Street resident and assistant professor of entrepreneurship at Babson College.

Noyes and three other Harrison Street residents wrote a formal complaint to Northeastern President Joseph Aoun Aug. 11 addressing both the new retaining wall and the university’s engagement with the community. In the complaint, they claimed the neighborhood “has very reactively, tokenly and without any satisfying result been engaged by Northeastern representatives.”

The complaint also references a 1983 agreement between Northeastern and the town of Brookline which governs the use of Parsons Field, university property that is used by both Brookline High School and Northeastern sports teams.

The agreement does not explicitly mention parameters for construction on the field, but does grant the university the right to use the field provided it doesn’t break laws or “unduly interfere with the rights of the neighbors.”

“A permit for the wall was sought after the fact,” said Marla Engel, a resident of Harrison Street and senior project manager at Vanasse Hangen Breustlin Inc., an engineering firm based in Watertown.

While it’s unclear if the university has breached the agreement, Engel blames a “systematic failure at Northeastern” for the lack of community engagement regarding the construction, and university officials said communication was an issue.

“It was a classic case of people not talking to each other,” said John Tobin, vice president for city and community affairs.

Tobin, who came to Northeastern from Boston City Council in August, attributed the communication breakdown to recent administrative changes.

Tobin’s position was vacant for nearly six months before he took the post.

Brookline’s former town administrator, Richard Kelliher, retired from his post in July, leaving a deputy administrator in charge until Mel Kleckner was appointed Sept. 15.

All of these changes, Tobin said, caused many people who are vital in the communication between the town of Brookline and the university to be out of touch.

Tobin said communications have improved since the neighborhood outcry.

“We spent a lot of time ringing doorbells and sitting in people’s living rooms talking,” he said. “I think everyone on Harrison Street has my cell phone number now.”

The university met with Brookline officials and Harrison Street residents in August to address the issue. Tom Brady, the town’s conservation administrator, helped residents and university officials plan a landscaping arrangement Engel said “will go a long way towards making [the wall] less offensive.”

Residents said they did not see the meeting as a total success. Engel, who attended the meeting, said that it took place only after construction began on the wall.

“The NU representatives were very dismissive and unprofessional,” she said in an e-mail to The News.

Noyes said Harrison Street residents want Northeastern representatives to reaffirm the university’s commitment to the neighborhood, an idea Tobin said he shares. Tobin said he hopes to get together with Brookline officials when things calm down and redraft the 1983 agreement.

Multimedia in the Newsroom

November 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Any newspaper that’s fought it is now dead, it’s safe to say.

Multimedia (videos, photo slideshows, interactive maps and graphics) are here to stay. At The Huntington News, part of the reason I was brought on as web editor was to improve our multimedia presence online and to supplement our stories with more visuals.

I’ve taken classes or practiced as hobby almost all forms of multimedia a news organization would want on the web, so the issue isn’t with technical know-how (though in many large newsrooms across the country, that has been exactly the problem). The issue instead is getting reporters to add cameras (video and/or still) and web-consciousness to their reporting.

To make an article run as smoothly online as it does in print doesn’t require more of the same elements. This is something we could easily cover by having reporters spend a little more time on their stories. No; this is an issue of taking every story and putting some sort of visual with it (not to mention getting it out ASAP, not just by an arbitrary deadline). The folks at Wired magazine do an amazing job with visuals in print and on the web. They have a world-class design team working closely with their editors to put together visuals that perfectly supplement the content of their stories.

The Huntington News, as a student paper, simply doesn’t have the resources for this. Working with our current staff, we are trying to add multimedia to our online content. Slowly, graphic designers and possibly some video folks will trickle in, but it’s not as easy to get a full-time college student to take on more work for no money as it is to lure a graphic designer into the offices of Wired (which I hear are pretty flippin’ cool).

Tonight, as we plugged away on a project in the newsroom, our copy editor, who was helping out with the project, stopped and said “Multimedia is hard.” We all laughed, but the fact is it really is hard. Newsrooms around the country have been figuring out how to do more (multimedia) with less (staff and money). I didn’t realize until tonight what a feat it is just to be a newspaper right now, profitable or not.

Whatever the case, we’re going to work on improving the quality and quantity of our visual supplements, but journalism students have to sleep too. Sometimes.

Student Expands T-shirt Franchise

November 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

Published in The Huntington News, October 7, 2010:

Student expands ‘Sucks to BU’ slogan online

Northeastern’s rivalry with Boston University is embedded in both schools’ sport culture, even if it doesn’t have an outlet, save for a Facebook fan page.

But one student wants to reinvigorate the tradition of the competition by selling shirts and starting a website, ensuring its legacy.

Senior political science major Rocky Slaughter said he sees “an established, year-after-year demand” for the shirts as a business opportunity.

Slaughter, who registered the web domain SucksToBU.com in August, said he plans to set up the site as an e-commerce platform that sells the college rivalry shirts at affordable prices.

Beyond a business opportunity, Slaughter said he also sees the site as a chance to stimulate the Northeastern community with competitive spirit.

“When you have an established college rivalry – friendly college rivalry – schools tend to perform better,” Slaughter said.

As a senior, Slaughter will not be able to head the project beyond its infancy. He said he hopes to help build the site on a basic level, then “turn it over to someone who will take the spirit of the college rivalry and accelerate it in a tasteful way.”

But the site isn’t seen as a good community-building tool by all Huskies fans.

Andy Towne, a junior communication studies major and a basketball analyst for Northeastern’s WRBB radio station, said he would prefer a website about why it’s good to be a Northeastern student.

“[It] does nothing to make me feel like Northeastern is a better place,” Towne said. “We should be more focused on the fact that Northeastern is great, not that BU sucks.”

Towne is not opposed to the idea of school spirit, and said he is all for “a website about why it’s so great to be a Northeastern student.”

Athletics Director Peter Roby said he shares this sentiment.

“Obviously I want our fans to be excited about supporting our teams, but my hope is that it can be done in a way that supports us without denigrating our opponents,” he said in an e-mail to The News. “The BU shirts denigrate BU, so despite our rivalry with them, I don’t condone the use of [the shirts].”

Tim Fouche, leader of The DogHouse, Northeastern men’s hockey’s student cheering section, said he has no problem with the site.

“I’m kind of disappointed I didn’t think of it myself,” Fouche said. The sixth-year pharmacy major said he has one of his own “Sucks to BU” T-shirts and his only issue with the slogan is that it’s become a fallback retort.

“The only problem I have with it is that it’s pretty much become the default chant when we play BU,” he said. “I don’t mind the chant when we’ve nailed down the win, but when it’s started five times a game, it loses its luster.”

The chant aside, Fouche said he is “interested in seeing what the site will be about,” and hopes it’s “done right.”

“If it turns out to be a lame site,” Fouche said, “it will reflect poorly on The DogHouse as a whole.”

This pressure doesn’t seem to phase Slaughter, who said once people see the good that can come from a rivalry, they’ll come around.

“The whole point of [the site] is that it’s supposed to be positive. It’s supposed to be constructive for both schools,” he said.

But in order to be lucrative, Slaughter said he has to be careful with his business venture.

“The freshman mistake is that people go to American Apparel, which is great unless you’re trying to make a profit,” Slaughter said. He hopes the rebooted “Sucks to BU” enterprise, with his oversight, will be able to avoid these “freshman mistakes” and go on to thrive as a center for school spirit as well as a learning experience for budding entrepreneurs.

“Ideally, it’d be up by the end of the semester,” he said, then laughed. “You know, like if all the sudden I had no more homework.”

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