From a Lecture to a Discussion: News as a Conversation

In Chapter 10 of Journalism Next, Briggs focuses on the progression of news from a lecture to a conversation. Gone are the days when a journalist would write a story, print it in a newspaper, and occasionally respond to one or two letters to the editor. Now almost everything published online has a comments section, and almost every comments section is filled with a mix of both positive and negative feedback. This transition of the news from a one-way to a two-way conversation requires serious adaptation on behalf of the journalist, and ethical norms have yet to be set for this new back and forth between the journalist and the audience.

Briggs points out three areas of evolution suggesting a brighter future for comments on news stories;

“the technology is getting better, newsrooms are accepting more responsibility and the commenters are expecting more from each other”

Briggs also writes about Doug Feaver of and his opinion that even through horrible comments and reader feedback journalists benefit.

Feaver discusses that even though comments are “‘…sometimes profane, frequently off point and occasionally racist…'” the transparency they allow journalism is worth it, as comment sections “‘…provide a forum for readers to complain about what they see as unfairness or inaccuracy in an article (and too often they have a point)…'”

Briggs identifies social media as an emerging and integral part of todays news cycle, presenting statistics  proving how in the past few years the number of adults with profiles on social networking sites has skyrocketed, jumping from 8% in 2005 to 66% in 2012. This means that today over 2/3 of all adults are regularly creating content on social networking sites. Also, among adults ages 18 to 29 this number is even greater, being 86%.

I see these statistics as warnings for journalists of the future, that we need to keep up, move forward, embrace new technology, and learn how to produce news for the two-way conversation. Moving into the future, our generation, the 86% creating content, is going to be the older generation, and a younger generation of news consumers is going to emerge. This audience is going to be even more technologically savvy, they are going to be even more involved in social media, and they are going to expect much more from their news makers.

Transparency in the reporting process in one of the main benefits Briggs identifies as stemming from reader involvement through comment sections on news sites and social media outlets. Transparency is something I predict will become a demand rather than a request from the audience of the future.

Briggs also delves into the ethical issues surrounding comment sections on news stories. While he clearly supports reader involvement and the two-way conversation, he does identify the downsides of the comment sections. Comment sections on news outlets allow anyone, anywhere, to say anything they want. This, ironically, is both the main advantage and the main disadvantage of the comments section. While these outlets allow people with legitimate opinions to have their voice heard, they also allow mean-spirited, out of line bullies to have their voice heard. We have all either personally experienced this or seen it time and time again, and sometimes this makes me question why a news site even allows a comments section at all. I often read an article then skim the comments section to find extremely over the top and disgustingly offensive reader feedback, and too often I notice these comments have nothing to do with the article they are commenting on.

Briggs recognizes this, saying, “At their worst, story comments are nothing more than senseless drivel.”

Briggs goes on to explain how “Hot-button topics are obvious triggers, but locally sensitive issues tend to spill over into all areas as well” giving the example of how in 2008 editors of the San Diego Union Tribune noticed that the debate over illegal immigration seemed to pop up in almost every comments section, no matter what the article was on, because that was the hot issue at the time.

You literally see it everywhere, no matter what article or what news site, if it has a comments section there are bound to be some idiotic and insensitive remarks. Just now, I was reading a short article on CNN about the tragic death of 6 teenagers in a car accident, and scrolled through the comments section, wondering what anyone could possibly have to say, to come across some anonymous post about how women should not drive and blond women are “statistically more likely to get into accidents.” Most of the rest of the conversation in this comments section was a heated debate on religion. It is obviously hard for me as a journalist, and ethically as a person, not to get a little angry seeing this.

However, what I remind myself is that no matter how much I may dislike some comments, the commenter has just as much of a right to say what they want to say as anyone else does. The first amendment is just as legitimate for them as it is for a professional journalist, and they are entitled to give their opinion whether it is right or wrong. That is the beauty of America, isn’t it? The question is; as journalists are we obligated to provide people with the forum for voicing these opinions?


Closing of Hampshire Dining Common for Renovations this Semester has Not Only Affected the UMass Community but Sustainability Efforts as Well

Members of the University of Massachusetts Amherst community have noticed an alteration in sustainability with the closing of Hampshire Dining Common, located in the Southwest Residential Area, this semester.

Berkshire Dining Common, the most popular dining hall on campus, also located in Southwest, expected an increase in traffic among students when Hampshire closed. In an effort to reduce crowding at Berkshire, the University introducedHampden Dining Common, located below the Hampden Convenience Store, added hours at Berkshire, and gave students the option to use a Residential Meal Plan swipe at the Baby Berk and new Baby Berk 2 food trucks.

One of UMass’ efforts to lessen traffic at Berkshire was to provide more choices at Grab n’ Go locations. Sustainability has become a focus for the University, however, Hampden Grab n’ Go and the Baby Berk trucks provide students with plastic water bottles and soda cans for a meal swipe, contradicting the UMass Sustainability Mission Statement.

“We’d love to just have water coolers at Hampden Grab n’ Go but we want to give students an option. We don’t provide the water bottles and soda cans at Berkshire Grab n’ Go because it’s less of a carbon footprint and more sustainable,” said Tim Lane, Operations Manager at UMass Amherst.

Lane said that the installation of portable soda fountains into Hampden would have been an unnecessary renovation since it would only be used for one semester. The only way to provide students with beverage options was to resort to water bottles and soda cans.

“I think the fact that Hampden Grab n’ Go lets students take plastic water bottles and soda cans is a huge issue because with Hampshire closed, so many more people are using Grab n’ Go to avoid the crowd at Berkshire,” said Conner Kelly, a kinesiology major who has been working at Berkshire for almost two months.

“It is costing us more to have the water bottles and soda cans, but it was our best option. And, it is only for one semester,” said Lane.

Lane said that having the Baby Berk trucks outside and Hampden Grab n’ Go have both lowered the number of students in Berkshire, which was the main goal.

“I haven’t seen as much of a crowd at Berkshire because of both Hampden and the trucks, but the amount of waste being used is over the top and I think the plastic bags they use for Grab n’ Go are a big issue too,” said Kelly.

However, according to Lane, the objective is simply to feed as many people as possible. So with the addition of a new Grab n’ Go and the Baby Berk trucks, Lane said that students have more options and more variety when it comes to choosing their meals.

“I just think that the University could be doing more, like offering reusable drawstring bags or reusable water bottles. Having that Permaculture gardendirectly outside Hampden is a huge contradiction because of the damage being done,” said Kelly.

UMass has invested $15 million into the new “green” renovations at Hampshire Dining Common, which is expected to have a one-of-a-kind design with 15 different New England-themed options. The new D.C. will be a sustainable facility with recyclable Grab n’ Go containers and meals that are not only flavorful, but also healthy and environmentally conscious.

Kelly hopes that in the upcoming semester, the Dining Commons will return to their sustainable habits and that the carbon footprint left from Hampden and Baby Berk has only been a phase for the University.

What makes a website credible!?

John R. Henderson, librarian at Ithaca College, presented this tutorial as a tool for deciphering which web sites are reliable and which are not. Henderson offers six suggestions for using the web wisely and efficiently:

1. Make sure you are in the right place 2. when in doubt, doubt 3. consider the source 4. know whats happening 5. look at details 6. Distinguish web pages from pages found on the web

He also provided six suggestions for evaluating sources:

Authority, Accuracy, Objectivity, Currency, Coverage, and Value

I used Henderson’s recommendations to analyze six websites on the topic of “Reliving the Sixties”

When I clicked on this link for “The Sixties Project” and was brought to the home page  I was immediately confused. I saw “.edu” in the url, usually a good sign of legitimacy, yet the homepage layout just screamed early 90’s. Then I read the information under contact information and saw that the last time this site was updated was Thursday, January 28, 1999. When a website hasn’t been updated in over a decade, there is absolutely no point in continuing on the site. For a topic such as the sixties, I feel some people would argue that all the information is history, therefore it is not changing and does not need to be updated, but that is just false especially in the case of this site. Under the “news” tab the site lists all of their “upcoming events” with their most recent event coming up March 5, 1999….

“The psychedelic 60s” website is not quite as bad but pretty similar to “The Sixties Project.” Again, the major issue is that the site is outdated, having been last modified December 16, 2009. Putting that major issue aside, the design of the website is almost incomprehensible. The home page has one extremely outdated graphic drowning in a white background, which is especially weird considering the article is called “The psychedelic 60s.” Then, as soon as you click on a topic from the homepage, a million things pop up and it goes from boring to overwhelming immediately. Looking at this site the rules above of “when in doubt, doubt” and “look at details” came to mind. A homepage is the first thing that any new visitor sees, and although this may be “judging a book by its cover,” it matters when you are trying to sell your website. Personally, if a website’s homepage looks like it was designed by a child, it is going to be hard for me to trust that your content is extensively researched and reliable.

“The Sixties” website is a class website at the University of Miami, which made me think of Henderson’s recommendation to consider the source. Although in some ways the fact that it is for a class could make it more reliable, as you know the author’s objective is to teach. On the other hand one must consider that what is on the website is probably being contextualized in the class, so the site alone might not make very much sense. Also, it does not contain enough information for someone who would be trying to do an extensive research project. The site is not set up in a typical way; there are no links within the stories, but rather a separate bibliography that is far more extensive than the articles themselves are. I am sure this is done intentionally for the class, but for a random person reading the website it may not be the best choice as a source.

“The 1960s” piece by is the most reliable source I have examined of the bunch thus far, passing all of Henderson’s tests to be considered a reliable website. Like I mentioned before, the homepage, design, and lay out provide the first impression for a reader, and if a site is not eye-catching there is another site that is just a click away. The integration of multimedia in this piece is done very effectively, and in a way that will pull someone in and separate the piece from others on the topic.

Analysis of New York Times piece “For More Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump”

I personally love when a news outlet incorporates a video into their story. I often read a long article, then watch the accompanying video and find I took more away from the visual than I possibly could have from the words, even if the author did a phenomenal job with the writing.

Watch and read this piece by the New York Times, “For more Pianos, Last Note is Thud in the Dump” which begins with a short video, “A requiem for pianos” that leads into an article.

There are a lot of things I loved about this piece the first time I watched the video and read the article, but upon further examination I found many issues and began to question if the piece as a whole was as effective as it could have been.

There is one very big, fundamental issue with the video in this piece, and that is that it includes the point of view of exactly one person: Bryan O’Mara, the vice president of O’Mara Meehan Piano Movers. One must take into account that this man, whom the whole video focuses on and who narrates the video, is more than likely to be biased and hold a strong opinion on the subject considering his background and line of work.

Looking at the video as a part of the piece, like an introduction leading into the article, I think the video works really well. However, it is likely that many people will watch only the video and not go on to read the entire article, and taking that into account I do not feel that the video is effective. On its own, the video is emotionally powerful, and extremely well shot, and I think that is what made me think it was so great at first. However, it does not tell a story independently.

The journalist who wrote the piece, Daniel J Wakin, personified the pianos repetitively, to the extent that in my opinion it became more of a well-written story than a news article at many points. As a feature or artistic work, I feel the video that accompanies the article is appropriate. It is very well filmed, includes some great shots, and conveys a level of emotion that can really only be conveyed with visuals. But I’m sorry; we are talking about pianos here. Not people or pets; pianos. In my opinion there isn’t a necessity for the video because it really doesn’t add anything to the piece that the words do not already covey.

I like the idea of the story because I feel this story could be used to make a broader statement, but unfortunately I do not feel that the article accomplished this. The article focuses a lot on the history of the piano, the change in pricing, and people’s changing value of the instrument. Yet there is a bigger picture, the economic factor of our country buying foreign rather than domestic, that I feel could have been a more effective for the article to focus on.

After detailing the process of disposing an unwanted piano, the article provides a quick quote of Larry Fine, the editor and publisher of Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, saying, “Instead of spending hundreds or thousands to repair an old piano, you can buy a new one made in China that’s just as good, or you can buy a digital one that doesn’t need tuning and has all kinds of bells and whistles.” This is the first point in the article that I really got interested. I feel the journalist, Daniel J Wakin, could have tied the story of the pianos to a broader, and more relatable to people who aren’t piano lovers, story of the effects on industries of buying foreign products; and this quote would have been a great way to transition into that discussion. However, following this quote Wakin wrote about how pianos are “dying of old age” and began to chronicle the life of the piano dating back to the 1800s. Here is an example of an article covering the same topic that I feel did a phenomenal job accomplishing this task. This article goes into details about the piano and provides a history of the instrument, but also provides reasons for the decline of the American piano’s popularity by discussing how many we import from Japan and drawing similarities to the situation of the American Auto Industry

By failing to put the story of the pianos in a broader context, I feel Wakin loses a large audience, appealing mainly to piano fanatics who are emotionally affected by the story.


In todays ever-changing multimedia world, journalists must embrace any new technology that comes their way if they want to stay current; and like it or not, social media is the main new form of technology that journalists must either learn to embrace and use to their advantage, or ignore and risk falling into obscurity.

As Mark Briggs writes in Journalism Next, “The ease of publishing, combined with the ease of consuming, has contributed to microblogging’s rapid growth.” Briggs goes on to explain, “Twitter is the most popular microblogging service. In fact, the platform is so popular that probably more people have heard of Twitter than have heard the term ‘microblogging’” (Briggs 90-91). As a journalist, ignoring a service that is now utilized by more than half of a billion people is senseless, as that half-billion and growing is an audience your competition will likely be getting their voice out to.

As Steve Buttry points out, Twitter is a silly name, and many people will use the site just for fun, chatting with friends, and posting silly tweets. I personally believe this could be one of the reasons some respected journalists have failed to utilize it yet. However, if used correctly Twitter can be an extremely valuable tool for a journalist, and a silly name and the fact that many people will only use the site for personal uses does not validate journalists or news organizations such as the New York Times, who has many writers on staff that are popular on Twitter yet fails to recognize “tweet” as standard English, failing to recognize the legitimacy it can have.

How is it valuable?

In a blog post titled “10 ways Twitter is valuable to journalists” Steve Buttry lists the 10 ways he feels Twitter benefits journalists as:

1. Breaking News 2. Follow newsworthy people and orgs 3. Crowdsourcing 4. Search for sources 5. Gather community quotes 6. Story ideas 7. Save time 8. Distribute content 9. Continue the conversation 10. Respond to criticism and questions

Breaking news is obviously number one on this list for a reason. With Twitter, ordinary people or journalists can post breaking news from their phones allowing the public to get the story seconds after it happens. Obviously with the good there comes the bad, which can be seen in the reporting of the Newtown shooting where Twitter contributed to a lot of incorrect reporting.

Briggs urges journalists and aspiring journalists to “ Follow smart people on social media who have nothing to do with news,” a benefit of twitter which directly correlates to many of Buttry’s 10 ways Twitter is valuable to journalists, (especially #2) and one I feel is very important to journalists and average people alike. It is always good to talk to smart people; either engaging in conversation with them or reading their work. It pushes you mentally and usually, in my experience at least, makes you think outside of your comfort zone. Social media outlets like Twitter provide probably the most accessible outlet available today for doing this. A journalist can follow another journalist they admire, or someone completely irrelevant to the field that they find interesting, and reading their daily thoughts will help the journalist (or like I said, everyday person) learn and become a better writer and thinker.

The Journalist and the Audience Coming Together

In Journalism Next Briggs writes a “Twitter Best practices” list that includes, “Be relevant and timely…Be informative…Be instructive…include links… reflect your personality… build relationships…” These seem to me to be some generally sound basic rules for tweeting professionally as a journalist.

Briggs quotes Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb saying, “‘We’ve also found lately that Twitter itself is very useful for performing public interviews” (Briggs 101). This is one technique I have observed journalists use on twitter that seems to be very beneficial for developing a retour with the audience. On almost any Television news program, entertainment show or talk show, a journalist will pose a question and tell the viewers to respond on twitter with a certain hashtag. This is not only beneficial to the journalist and program for gathering information, but for developing a two-way conversation with the viewer or reader as well.

The Personal/Professional Divide for a Journalist using Social Media

Buttry also delves into some of the ethical issues that a journalist must address weather writing for a respected newspaper or composing a tweet, saying, “The principles of journalism ethics – seek the truth and report it; minimize harm; act independently; be accountable – don’t change, but social networks present unfamiliar circumstances for making ethical decisions.”

Some people will act as though there is a long list of what you should or should not say or do on social media as a journalist, and many people have even created multiple Facebook or Twitter accounts, using one for personal use and another for their professional use. Although you could argue about the ethics of what to do or not to do as a journalist using social media, in my mind this is overthinking the situation way too much. I think Fox puts it in the simplest term when he says, “Don’t be a dumbass. Seriously, Use your head.”

In my opinion, everyone, weather a journalist or not, should follow the general rule of thumb that when it comes to any sort of social media do not post anything that you would not want someone out there to see. This includes your future children, your grandparents, or your crazy ultra-conservative boss. I know everyone says this, but everyone says this because it is true; anything you post on the internet is there forever, and when someone Googles you anything that comes up with your name attached to it is the first impression they will get of you.

Local Fire Claims a Young Life and Leaves Over 30 Homeless

As UMass students and the community at large mourn the loss of 21-year-old UMass student James Hoffman, Stoughton, Mass., questions still linger as to where and how the fire that claimed his young life originated.

The fire, which was reported at 4:43 a.m. Monday January 21, spread quickly through 10 units, leaving five completely destroyed internally.

UMass Amherst campus spokesman Ed Blaguszewski released a statement shortly after the fire, before the victim was identified, saying, “We understand, based on information provided by the Amherst Fire Department, that a man died today in a fire at an off-campus condominium building, and that he has been identified as a UMass Amherst student. Official identity of the victim will be made by state officials. This is a terrible tragedy, and we deeply mourn this loss of life. The university is providing support to all UMass students and there families affected by the fire.”

I happen to live in the Rolling Green Apartment complex. Luckily, my building was not at all affected by the fire, but it is obvious that the whole community of residents has been shaken in one way or another.

No official letters or emails were released to residents from the apartment staff directly discussing the fire January 31st, 10 days after the fire, when they sent out an email to residents saying, “Many thanks go to all the residents who have helped during this very difficult time, along with the many members of the Amherst Fire Department, neighboring Fire Departments, Amherst Police and the American Red Cross. We are happy to report that we have secured new homes for every resident who has needed one, and some residents have moved to other communities” and providing information on where to send donations or cards for the deceased.

Although there has been no official statement on whether or not all of the fire alarms in the buildings were properly functioning, their has been some speculation within the community of residents that this may have been a contributing factor, as in the immediate days following the fire the staff of the apartment complex changed all of the fire alarms in the buildings and has repeatedly tested them.