Reporting on the school you love

The most difficult part about being in media and being someone who provides news to many is that your job is not to inform people what you think is what happened, but instead what you know happened.

Every person who is literate and old and mature enough to function is going to have opinions — it’s inevitable. Keeping these opinions out of our reporting is difficult, but even more so when you are writing about an entity you are a part of.

I am a student and fan of UNC and UNC athletics. I was born at UNC hospitals, and while I didn’t grow up a UNC fan (parents are LSU grads; geaux tigers!), I have been as passionate as any student when it comes to his or her school.

But I have also reported on the worst academic scandal in UNC’s history as well as UNC’s battle to right its past wrongs in dealing with sexual assault.

I’ve expressed my disdain for the way the University has handled the scandal, and received criticism for it (thank you trolls, I do see your tweets lol).

After writing these stories and dealing with the University’s PR parade, I have been asked how I can still be a fan of UNC when I have reported on it, and really it is simple — UNC has given me the opportunity to report on these important issues.

Without the DTH and the J-school, I would not have the knowledge, capability or supportive environment to report on such a divisive topic like the UNC academic scandal.

So thank you UNC — for giving me news and the ability to report on it.

Advertisements
Standard

An ethical issue and my call for dual transparency

Sunday morning started like it normally does for me. Wake up, search through my phone, cry/read my email, get ready for work, etc.

In the midst of all of this, Jenny Surane, my paper’s editor-in-chief, sent me a column that popped up in her Google alerts. It was written by John Railey, the editorial editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, and it is a Tar Heel’s take on the UNC academic scandal.

Railey calls for increased transparency and a return to the Bill Friday days, while also remarking on how Chancellor Carol Folt’s battlecry for a more transparent administration has fallen short.

This column has been written in a variety of fashions by a variety of people for a variety of sources; needless to say, it was something else in the column that was of interest to me and Jenny.

What caught Jenny’s eye and then my eye was his mention of a lawsuit against UNC that neither of us had heard about. And this, not to sound overconfident in my knowledge, was very startling, seeing how we have covered UNC’s scandal as closely as anyone.

Railey wrote that “ten media organizations, including BH Media’s newspapers in North Carolina, of which the Journal is part, are suing in state court to require Folt and others on her leadership team to provide the public records of 21 employees mentioned in an investigation of academic improprieties in its African and Afro-American Studies Department.”

While we knew of the prior suit against UNC, neither Jenny nor I had heard of this lawsuit — and were a little annoyed we were not asked to join.

So, I emailed Railey to ask what suit he was talking about. Turns out, our suspicion had unearthed a mistake in his column.

He was referring to the lawsuit that the DTH was a part of. The suit had been eventually settled in mediation in December, resulting in the release of four names of individuals fired due to their role in the scandal.

When I emailed him asking what the suit was, Railey thanked me for finding the error, saying he was fixing it online.

Here is the original column:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 10.32.41 PM

Here is the corrected version:

Screen Shot 2015-02-15 at 11.45.03 PM

Nowhere in Railey’s corrected column mentions any error. For a man calling for enhanced transparency at his alma mater, it seems pretty duplicitous of him to not include some form of notification to readers that, in an earlier version of the story, he incorrectly stated the nature of the lawsuit his company was involved in with UNC.

I understand why he did it; no one wants an error dirtying up their story, especially when it does nothing to change the true meaning of the piece. The issue here is though is Railey is not preaching what he is practicing.

While the DTH, like every other news organization, has its flaws, there is a very strict policy on corrections, especially those online. If Katie Reilly, our managing editor, found out that I had been going online and fixing errors without notifying readers, she would have a conniption and I would most likely be fired.

It’s clear the Journal has a different policy, but if Railey really wants his words to stick next time, he better back them up with transparent actions of his own.

Standard

Decompressing

This was a hard week to be a journalist, especially in Chapel Hill.

There was a death that we were all expecting, but never wanted to believe could happen.

There was a tragedy that none of us expected and will never understand.

Then there was our coverage on these events, and the criticism/commentary on said coverage.

In between vigils and frantic calls to family members and friends, there is an unknown pain that accompanies covering tragedy. You know that there will be tears and hoarse voices and incredible stories about the person or people you are unfortunately covering. But just because you know this is coming doesn’t make it any easier.

This summer, my article on The Daily Tar Heel’s website was the first to report that UNC student Harris Pharr had died. I spent all day that day trying to confirm this poor kid’s death, and when I finally posted my story, it hit me. I sobbed like a child for the entirety of the half hour drive back to Cary.

Once I got home, I probably spent about 3 hours talking to my mom about everything — what I had covered, what the weather was like, why I wanted to grow a mustache so bad, who should have to take out the trash (note: it shouldn’t have to be me, that’s all I’m saying). And as I stood up from the table that night, I had the overused metaphorical ton lifted from not just my shoulders, but my soul.

It sucks to cover stuff like this. Don’t get me wrong — I love the rush of reporting on a crime scene and being the first to put out a story. That part is why journalists deal with the uncomfortable parts. Like calling the family. Like asking for pictures. Like realizing that this person or these people you’re writing about were kind, caring, loving, fun, ambitious, energetic, intelligent people who are going to be missed by more people than you can count, and they all had families who loved and cared for them more than you want to imagine. And you will put yourself in their shoes subconsciously, and you will feel a millionth of the pain and sadness they are feeling. And this will momentarily overcome you with grief.

But you move on with what you do. And you decompress.

This is so key to surviving. For me, it was my mom. It was her sympathizing with what I was going through while also gently pulling me away from a subject that had dominated my mind for eight straight hours. For others, it might be spending a day away from the office, doing whatever clears their heads.

The important thing is to just do it though. Because, like ripping off a Band-aid or sitting down in an ice bath, it will be miserable at first. All the suppressed emotion will rise to the surface and boil over — that’s good, that’s healthy.

We shouldn’t run from emotion, because it is faster than we are. It sneaks up when we least expect it and puts us on our ass.

But when you face it head on, it can only fight for so long before it relents and that’s what you strive for. To overcoming the relenting emotion, and move on.

Standard

A news channel did a story about a newspaper, so yeah there’s too much damn news

So, I’m going to start out this post by congratulating all other media corporations for tying for second place in their Dean Smith coverage. Looking across headlines and front pages from across the state, I had to say I was impressed with the creative designs and touching stories.

But unfortunately for them, The Daily Tar Heel put out the best front page, stories, special section, design, photos, etc. on Dean Smith. Am I biased?

Prolly.

But this issue was too damn good for me not to brag.

The paper was so popular that we were forced to print an extra 7,000 copies. Our phone lines were busy all-day as out-of-state Smith fans inquired on how they could get their hands on an issue. I had people come up to me as I set up in the Pit to hand out the extra printed copies and tell me they drove from Greensboro, from Wilmington, from High Point, to pick up a DTH.

All in all, it was one of the gratifying days in my short journalism career.

But then something a little odd happened.

We started becoming a story ourselves. First, it was just UNC’s vine (which I tweeted out with my own commentary….and was RTed by the J-school’s career services. It was certainly a different day.)

Then it was ABC11. And News 14. These news agencies wanted to hear about our special issue, how we had printed extra copies, how are boxes were completely empty at 10 this morning. And that’s fine — but is it news?

Where is the line for what news is?

As someone who reports on and writes about news, I never want to be the centerpiece of the news. 99 times out of 100 it means you’ve messed up to the point of public humiliation/shame/embarrassment.

Hell, just ask Brian Williams.

Yet, this story was positive; people were eating up our amazing special section. Should we be appreciative that other news organizations wanted to report on our success?

As odd as it sounds, this happening demonstrated everything that is wrong with the way people digest news today. ABC11 has to always have news to give its readers and watchers, or else they simply change the channel or site to 11’s competitor. So, naturally, 11 resorts to over saturating my newsfeed.

While what happened to us was interesting, it should never be news that your competitor did well; we would never report that the N&O won a Pulitzer or that WRAL broke a ratings record.

Media consumers are used to new information every second so media companies feel obligated to do this. While it is a noble ideal to want to constantly update your consumers, it simply isn’t practical in a value sense. You’re not going to digest quality news substance through this method of news creation.

I am not insulting 11 for what they did, because I understand it is the market we live. I just wish it wasn’t — especially with the already demanding pressure that comes with being a reporter.

Standard

SNL’s 40th birthday and the iconic show’s future

Mo’ Cowbell. King Tut, Funky Tut. Sean Connery and Celebrity Jeopardy.

Chevy Chase. Steve Martin. Will Ferrell. Tina Fey. Martin Short.

Saturday Night Live has created the biggest stars and most important inside jokes for almost 40 years now. The show’s evolution is absolutely incredible as the actors, actresses and writers continue to make the show relevant, must-see TV.

But the show has a ratings problem, laid bare in this October New Yorker piece. In the article, it says Bill Hader’s return to host the show in October registered the lowest ratings the show had ever seen, narrowly edging (does that still work when its something worse?) out a show from last May.

The main reason? The all-important 18-49 demographic is not interested in SNL anymore for some reason that can’t be explained entirely.

The New Yorker article argues that SNL has been condemned to death since its inception; there will always be people who watched it when they were growing up and bemoan the lack of funniness the current iteration of the show has. It’s amazing, the article says, how Chevy Chase himself thought the show was dead — after the first season.

So does SNL actually have an expiration date, an immenient extinction coming, or is it just the normal moaning and groaning that the New Yorker says comes with every new cast?

I think it is a little bit of both.

First off, there will always be people saying the original was the best, whatever the original may be for that specific individual. When I was a reasonably loyal watcher, it was Tina Fey and Andy Samberg and Bill Hader, and watching now, I catch myself thinking to myself how I missed the old cast. It’s a natural human reaction, to miss something you enjoyed.

But I think the ratings decline the show is struggling with is more than just viewers missing their old favorites. SNL is no longer the epitome of humor like it was when it was in its golden age. Shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver and the always-impressive Daily Show take away some of the political punch that SNL used to have on its show. And while the show’s talent remains at a consistent levels talent-wise, the way people are making consuming media has drastically changed.

Ratings are down because people do not like being told when to watch something now that they have had the power to watch what they want, when they want. Apart from live sports, there are a select number of shows that capture a huge audience’s attention every time it runs and I do not believe SNL is one of the shows.

The ability to watch any funny skit within minutes of it airing takes away from the need to watch the show as it’s happening. Like every other form of media, SNL is going to have to learn to survive in the new world of media, where everything is second to online.

And it will adapt, like it has for nearly 40 years. I don’t know what the changes will be, but I do know I won’t be counting SNL out. For a show that has gone on since my parents were kids, it just wouldn’t be smart to bet against SNL.

Standard

Yik Yak and Renaming of Saunders Hall

UNC is in flux.

The oldest public school in America has never faced adversity like it is now and moving in a positive direction (read: FORWARD) will be the toughest challenge Chancellor Folt will face in her academic career.

There has been the worst case of academic fraud since … well, ever, a federal complaint filed against the school due its mishandling of students’ sexual assault complaints and now a challenge from passionate students who want to see their ancestry respected and voices heard.

The Saunders Hall debate is not new this year, but the veracity of the protests and the increase in popularity on Yik Yak has made this particular round of protests more extreme than movements of years past.

The anonymity that accompanies Yik Yak and internet message boards has made hate speech so prominent that one college president even banned it on his campus. When you scroll through the location-based social media app following a Saunders Hall rally, the amount of insensitive and racially-charged comments is overwhelming.

The veil of anonymity is the draw of the app; the ability to say whatever whenever is something that will always draw a certain crowd of people. Personally, I believe the idea of the app is fundamentally flawed because despite its promised anonymity, one’s post on the app can be tracked if, for example, you make a bomb threat on a campus with 20,000 people on it.

But this is not the point of this post. The point I am trying to convey is that I am honestly embarrassed to be a Tar Heel when I read the amount of insensitive and absurd racial commentary on Yik Yak everyday. Serious conversations are trying to be had on this campus about race, and this mindless app that was intended to be used for a good laugh is interfering with these talks.

Because of this, I think Chancellor Folt should follow the lead of the Norwich University president. Ban Yik Yak and promote an environment where people are held accountable for what they say. It is not my place to say whether Saunders should be renamed or not; it is my place however to hold people accountable for what they say, and by hiding behind a keyboard, students posting the hate speech are interferrng with this job. And I won’t support that.

Standard

Budweiser is not a family company, but it is advertising itself as such — and it’s brillant

My classmate, Emma Massey, wrote recently about the advertising at the Superbowl and the new techniques companies are using to reach the maximum amount of consumers possible.

Her post was interesting in its own right, but what fascinated me was a link to Budweiser’s leaked Superbowl commercial — a minute-long ad that I had not yet seen — and it’s complete lack of product promotion.

As a disclaimer, I do not work, study or participate in advertising development; I do however watch a fair amount of TV and Youtube. I also am pretty freaking susceptible to advertising. I’m not saying I always call Papa John’s when I see Peyton Manning on TV, but I also don’t not call. Take it for what it is.

Returning to the original point, Budweiser is a beer company. It has been for more than a century, and while I understand the symbolism with the Clydesdales and Dalmatians, Budweiser amazingly has never dabbled in the PetsMart business model.

So why is the company spending millions of dollars on a minute of content that never mentions its beer? Because the company already has its base consumers.

If the marketing team in St. Louis decided to talk about flavor/calorie/price of the beer, then no new audiences are reached; the customers who have always bought Miller Lite are not going to start buying Bud Light because a commercial talked about the extra hops.

But Budweiser is not losing any of these typical beer drinkers (read: middle-aged men). With these heartstring-pulling commercials, the company is hoping to get a firm grip on a new demographic that beer companies have not traditionally capitalized on: women.

Puppies! Horses! A tear-inducing reunion!

Amazingly, Budweiser did not make this commercial in attempt to keep lifelong beer drinkers. This was to 1. bring in more women consumers and 2. set the subconscious seed in the underage demographic.

Think of your Facebook feed; out of everyone who shared the Budweiser Superbowl ad, how many of them were actually of age to drink? For me, the legal drinkers were the convincing minority.

This is another one of the company’s intentions. Out of the 1.5 million shares this videos has accumulated, odds are underaged watchers do not realize that they are subconsciously associating Budweiser — and most importantly, its beer — with family, puppies, horses and of course, America.

Is this ethical? That’s not really my place to say, but I will say that this practice is intelligent. Companies, or at least smart ones, can never be content with what they are doing. There always has to be innovation, there always has to be an effort to reach out to a segment of the population that is not yet enamored with your product.

Budweiser is doing just that, and you can’t fault them for that.

Standard