Archive for August, 2017


An intimate inspiration

Radio is the intimate of all mediums, and public radio has a role to play in civic and cultural life. (Photo: Pixabay)

Spring, 2009. A medical trifecta led to me completing the last half of my junior year and my entire senior year of high school as a homebound student. The days saw my mom and I commute to a plethora of doctors appointments, while the nights saw insomnia – a side effect of all the medications I was on.

One night, in my room at my home in suburban Chicago, I wondered what I could do so I wouldn’t wake my mom and sister on the other end of the house. I switched on the radio, volume down. Away I went, fiddling the tuning button, past the commercial talk on AM, the pedantic top 40 and genre specific stations on FM, and then, I stumbled upon WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR station, doing their top of the hour ID.

What followed were the final sounds of the Greenwich Time Signal from London, and then these words: “It’s 7:00 GMT. This is The World Today from the BBC World Service.”

The most intimate of mediums became a friend and a companion, in the hours where one felt isolated, scared and alone. On that night, and nights during my recovery, those sounds provided reassurance to me that all was right in the world, and that I wasn’t alone. I became curious about the world, and the role that stories can have in helping us understand each other, be it written or spoken.

Public radio saved my life, and inspired me to go into journalism.

This past Sunday marked National Radio Day in the United States, an occasion to mark the importance of the medium in this country, and what it means to the civic and cultural life of America. This year’s marking of National Radio Day was special too for public radio, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the signing by President Lyndon Johnson of the Public Broadcasting Act, which established the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Public radio continued to be a companion through my college days, and even in times of uncertainty provided a couple of ideas about the work that I want to do in the future, from the search for stories by one of NPR’s most renowned correspondents to the desire by a DJ at 89.3 The Current at Minnesota Public Radio to unearth something you’ve never heard before – and to be the quintessential champion of authenticity.

Radio was designed to be something that connects the world together – to help us understand ourselves, and to do the best we can for the common good. Public media expanded it, and it could be seen especially with the events today involving the solar eclipse – as people gathered to watch in awe the week’s scientific highlight.

Journalism, irrespective of medium, finds itself in a quandary, as it tries to adjust in the digital age. As it does, those who aspire to make it their life’s work wonder if they will be able to make an impact. Many students will be returning to university campuses over the next few weeks with that question still etched in their minds.

It’s a question still etched in my mind, too. While I don’t have the definitive answer to it, I know this – there are people out there who are doing their best possible work, not to achieve fame or fortune, but to inform, educate and engage.

To paraphrase a quote from a funding announcement from WGBH, the PBS station in Boston, their desire is to help people cope better with the world and their own lives. Public media does that and then some, and showcases that when all is said and done, in spite of uncertainty, the work does make a difference. I hope I can do just that.

I have them to thank and them to credit for inspiring me to pursue journalism. Quite frankly, I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

What’s your idea?

The author and long time public radio broadcaster Garrison Keillor has a saying which accompanies the end of his Writer’s Almanac programs on Minnesota Public Radio: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

We live in an age where journalism is evolving every second, and as it evolves, so does how we think about it – whether it comes to our own crafts, how we can support our newsroom and industry colleagues, or how we can improve our relationship with the public.

We enter this profession because we want to ensure our audiences are at their best. Along the way, we need to be at our best. The best way to do that is by working together, and embracing a collaborative spirit to help make the industry we love even stronger.

At its root is education – something that I am hoping to expand on as my SPJ colleagues gather in Southern California for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, an opportunity to reflect and to look ahead as to what we can do to help enhance journalism.

But this education, I find, has more meaning when we work together. So I want to hear from you. What do you want to see from this blog in the next year? What would help you make a difference to your audience?

Another thing I wondered is what you want to see – would you like more reporting or guest essays? Is there a topic that isn’t touched on very much that you feel would help you?

I’d love to know what you think. You can tweet me @alex_veeneman or email me through my web site.

We can strengthen journalism, but we can’t do it alone. We must do it together and echo Keillor’s philosophy, because when we’re at our best, the people who matter most – your audience, will be too.

I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

An ethical education

President Trump will not change his behavior towards the media. It is down to us to educate the public about the importance of journalism. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

“I don’t know what to make of the news. But I promise we will cover it with fairness and without fear. We work for America.”

That is how Scott Simon, the longtime NPR correspondent and host of Weekend Edition Saturday, put it on Twitter at the end of a day where the relationship between the media and President Donald Trump was a lead story, coming off of a press conference that had been considered to be combative.

The press conference took place days after the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, amidst criticism of conflicting statements on the attacks from The White House.

Hours before that press conference, Trump had retweeted a tweet depicting a CNN journalist being run over by a train. The tweet has since been deleted.

Criticism of the media by Trump is not new, as he has utilized Twitter to criticize the media on multiple occasions. Indeed, as CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote in last night’s Reliable Sources newsletter, Trump was reported to be furious about media coverage of events Monday evening.

It has been clear for sometime that Trump’s behavior towards the media will not change, as my SPJ colleague, Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman wrote last month (for the record, I also serve on the Committee). As a result, the focus within the industry must shift towards educating the American people on the importance of journalism and its role in civic life, instead of responding to Trump’s criticism.

This education is necessary, but it is also quintessential in an age where Americans increasingly get their news online and on social media. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that roughly 9 out of 10 Americans get their news online, and social media is at the core of online news consumption.

Changes on attitudes towards the media will not change overnight, and it will take some time as well as many conversations, both internally and externally, to have an impact on the relationship with journalists and their audiences as the digital age.

Yet, SPJ’s Code of Ethics provides some ideas on how journalists can start this education with their audiences now. That said, here are some tips on how to best go about it.

  • Be honest with your audience. Whether it is uncertainty about a piece of information, or making a correction, tell them about it and explain why you did what you did.
  • It’s better to be right than first. Twitter and the web is seen as a race to be the first person with the story, but it isn’t. Take the time to get everything right before you hit publish.
  • Tell them about it. When you’re making a correction or decide to delay running with a story, have a conversation with your audience as to why this is so. An honest journalist is a credible journalist.
  • Cite early and often. Cite any reports from any organizations as you report a story. Corroborate any reports.
  • Verify everything. It’s so nice it’s worth saying twice! As the Code says, neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, so take the time to ensure everything is correct in your story. Remember – it is better to be right than first.

We are truth seekers – and in the digital age, the truth is more important than ever. We owe it to ourselves to remember the importance of ethics, to talk about ethics and to not be afraid to do the most important tasks of all as journalists – informing, educating and engaging our audience.

As Simon said, we work for America – and it is for them, and no one else, that we get up each day, sit down, and do what journalists set out to do – seek truth and report it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

What’s your story?

Take time to develop your craft, for when a journalist is at their best, their audience is too. (Photo: Pixabay)

It’s Tuesday, the 8th, at just after 10 in the morning. At my desk, I prepare to make some phone calls to Britain for research for a story I’m working on. As I began that period of reading and conversations which spanned the next couple of hours, what I thought was a concrete story idea ended up having the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written all over it.

What was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” became “It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas.”

Yet, this wasn’t the only story that I had struggled with. I had been generally struggling to find the best story possible, in an age where content is king, and the desire to be first outranks the desire to be right and authentic.

We enter this industry not for the fame or the fortune, but with the goal that the stories that we tell will inform, educate and engage. We are fascinated by the role that journalism can have in our society, through the words that accompany it, irrespective of platform. We desire contribute in the hope that the work we do can be for the common good.

The drive and instinctive skills of a storyteller are things that never leave you. They are replicated in that idea you have for that piece you want to publish or that segment you want to broadcast. The world has its stories, and you want to tell them. As Dhruti Shah, the BBC journalist (who is a journalist that inspires me), put it over on the International Community blog: “You just never know when a story is going to unfold in front of you.”

There is potential in this age of the internet and social media for this storytelling to make a difference, but with that potential comes the other side – the increased competition not just for the story, but also the ability to tell stories that can have an impact.

Those feelings are summed up in the nagging questions at the back of your mind: “Are the stories I’m telling the best ones that I can tell? Is my work truly my best?”

Earlier this year, I wrote a column for SPJ’s Quill magazine on how the internet can help journalists get perspective on their careers, whether you’re an up and coming reporter or a professional trying to figure out your next steps. The same rule applies for storytelling, and the internet provides potential for you to gain that quintessential insight.

Here are some tips on how to best seek that advice to be the best storyteller you can be.

  • Engage with journalists who inspire you. You may work at different organizations or focus on different platforms, but the goals you have as journalists when all is said and done remain the same.
  • Ask for a conversation. If an email address or other contact details are listed, use those to arrange a conversation. If you’re on Twitter, send a simple tweet asking if they could follow you so you could direct message them about a conversation? Then, take it offline.
  • Tap into your own network. Whether its a friend or colleague, have a cup of coffee and a chat. Insights from within your own newsroom or outlet can even help get your creative juices flowing.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question. Sometimes the simplest questions can be the most helpful.
  • Stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the future, and as a reminder – there is no such thing as a stupid question.

You may feel uneasy at first, but the time you take will without question be worthwhile in helping you be a better journalist and storyteller.

After all, when you are at your best, your audience will be at their best, too.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

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