Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

We Carry On: A Tribute to Alison and Adam

It was a disorienting Wednesday morning on Twitter.

My eyes and thumbs perused the normal banter of old high school friends, article links tossed out by the slew of environmental journalists I follow for Earth updates.

And then something stopped me momentarily in my scrolling.

I read that wrong, I assume.

But no.

I see the same headline a few tweets above.  Another shocking jolt.  Another gasp of disbelief.

Ex-Broadcaster Kills 2 on Air in Virginia Shooting” –– The New York Times confirms my doubts, my suspicions that what I read earlier was, in fact, true.

The next morning in one of my lectures, we do what every journalism program in the country should have done, and that is talk about the on-camera shooting of two Virginia journalists, practicing the very craft we are destined to replicate.

“Does this tragedy affect your desire to become journalists?” my professor asks us.  We’re all a little shell-shocked, to be sure –– but even more-so after viewing the contested Thursday morning front page of the New York Daily News.

I have to admit, as I sat there gaping at the horrific images splashed across the Daily News’ front page in tabloid-like fashion, I didn’t know what to think.  I knew becoming a journalist wasn’t exactly the relaxing desk-job bankers and secretaries enjoy.  

But I always assumed journalists got themselves in trouble by entering a war-torn area unadvised, or putting themselves in the midst of a dangerous mob.  What happens now, when there is absolutely no way to prepare for this outcome?  How do you ever rationalize this kind of situation until you’re okay to keep pressing on?  Are journalists ever truly safe from harm?

To tap into a philosophical vein: no, we as journalists, as fragile human beings, will never be okay.  We will never be able to assure our safety, even in our own hometowns.  There are accidents, there are wrong-places-at-wrong-times.  There are tragedies.

But we carry on.

We carry on for Alison Parker and Adam Ward, and for all of those who have lost their lives practicing their passion.

Because, ultimately, we journalists are serving the public –– and the public will never stop needing the assistance, the intelligence, and the know-how of journalists.  

There are days, like today, when it may seem impossible to continue feeding the beast that is our news-engaged society.  But there are days when the thrill of journalism will triumph over all other human suffering and strife.

Let us continue to keep fighting, to keep digging, to keep exploring the world, for Alison and Adam.  Let us remember those who have fallen, but let us also remember those who have finished admirable careers as the storytellers we one day hope to become.

Today, take a moment of silence for Alison and Adam, for the struggles our profession has faced and the struggles we will inevitably face in the future.

And then, with heavy hearts, let us carry on.

Bethany N. Bella is studying Journalism, Environmental Studies and Cultural Anthropology at Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Connect with her on Twitter @bethanynbella or browse her work at

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

Cuba opens its door to U.S. journalists, but be careful

Flag of CubaA landmark diplomatic agreement between the United States and Cuba also opens a door to American journalists who encountered obstacles in glimpsing inside the closeted island nation over the past 50 years.

The agreement, which President Barack Obama outlined in a televised statement Wednesday, among other things eases travel restrictions for 12 economic, legal and social purposes and includes freer journalistic activities. Stringent entrance restrictions for journalists have been in place since the United States ended diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and embargoed trade in 1962.

The United Nations has condemned the embargo annually as inhumane since 1992. Cuba says the embargo has cost it more than $1 trillion in essential trade.

“We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests,” Obama said in the broadcast. “… These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Journalists generally needed expressed permission from both the U.S. and Cuban governments and were advised to carry an approved or stamped media pass from their employer and a few copies of previous bylined work to demonstrate employment. Freelance journalists, meanwhile, were required to carry a signed letter from their hiring editor saying they were on assignment for a specific purpose.

It’s not known yet to what extent restrictions will change.

But even with the door opening from the U.S. side, American journalists likely will find attitudes slow to adjust in Cuba. The nonprofit Reporters Without Borders says journalists from other nations are still detained in that country. Others have been accused of terrorism or beaten.

Cuba is No. 171 out of 179 nations on RWB’s 2013 Press Freedom Index.

“Anyone trying to disseminate opinions critical of the regime continues to be exposed to harassment, threats and arbitrary arrest,” RWB says. Internet use is also still strictly controlled through the purchase of expensive permits, though that is supposed to change under the new agreement.

Central to the agreement announced Wednesday was the release of Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor arrested by the Cuban government in 2009 and sentenced in 2011 for traveling with telecommunications equipment and using a mobile phone in violation of that government’s regulations.

Twitter tips for Black Friday reporting

Black Friday sale logoFew holiday traditions embolden us and irritate us at once like Black Friday.

Once a hallmark of dread in this country — in the 1960s, it referred to the day President John F. Kennedy was shot — Black Friday turned a profitable shade of green around 2005 when brick-and-mortar stores unilaterally realized its potential as a deal-making gimmick to stem losses from online-only Christmas retailers.

(That was back when the two were still rather distinct. Now, online retailers have their own arbitrary holiday observance, Cyber Monday.)

It’s arguable whether Black Friday has turned from gimmick to myth. Even though 141 million Americans elbowed and shoved each other on the way toward spending an estimated $57 billion on that day in 2013, a study by The Wall Street Journal found that over the previous six Black Fridays, shoppers actually found better deals on other days before Christmas.

Nevertheless, the madness in the aisles returns this week followed by an army of journalists employing social media — Twitter and Instagram in particular — to chronicle the ersatz tradition.

For shoppers brave enough wade through the crowds, perhaps the best advice is to wear pads and a helmet. But for journalists bobbing in Black Friday’s wake, these tweeting tips are paramount:

Always include hashtags, but not too many — Attaching a “#” to the front of a word or conjoined phrase turns it into metadata that search engines sift for and then regurgitate as trend topics. Using them enables Twitter users to find relevant conversations and terms quickly, whether that term is a store name, a popular gift, or a sales event. But limit the number of hashtags to three per tweet; it’s good Twitter protocol.

Be wary of “wow” promotions — Retailers recast themselves as newsmakers when they have big in-store promotions and make liberal use of “first” and “biggest” and “best” and similar unqualified terms to push their products. Before heading to the stores, research retailers’ Twitter accounts — distinguished with an “@” in front of their names instead of a hashtag — as well as brand accounts and compare feeds. Also, it helps to research a store’s or brand’s social media history to see whether supposed Black Friday discounts are better than or comparable to deals at other times of the year.

Track user engagement — Those hashtags come in handy when watching shopper and retailer behavior, but journalists have to pay attention to others’ feeds and not tweet blindly. Monitoring feeds enables reporters to see what people around them are doing and reduces the mistake of tweeting or retweeting contradictory or incorrect information.

Keep an eye on time stamps — And speaking of mistakes, Twitter’s habit of bumping popular tweets to the top of everyone’s feeds also creates confusion about when and where events actually happen. Consequently, in the rush to report, journalists may mistake old feeds for current ones. Take a second to look carefully at the time and date in gray to the right of the tweeter’s account name. Sure, it’s hard for old eyes to see, but a squint beats a gaffe every time.


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