Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sorry, But Research Shows Negative Political Ads are Effective

I just read a column today from another person writing about how they hate negative political advertisements. I tend to agree.

Where we part company is when the writer starts attributing low voter turnout to the increase in negative advertisements (at least at the state and national levels). There is no research to support that position.

There is also no research to support the suggestion that a larger voter turnout will result in a "better" or different outcome.

There is a lot of research to support the belief that negative advertisements are effective. Research like this study entitled, "Effectiveness of Negative Political Advertisement" done at the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

"Overall, negative political advertising produced negative evaluations of both the sponsor and the target. Those effects are consistent with the findings of the previous research."

The basic rule of thumb I learned while earning my political science degree was that 40% of voters will fall on either side of an issue or side with one candidate over another no matter what. For example, 40% will vote for the Republican, not matter what.

What that means is that candidates, or groups pushing issues, are really only fighting over the 20% in the middle (normally undecided voters). Not all of that 20% will bother to show up and vote.

The University of Missouri study also notes that young and poor voters seems to be most influenced by negative advertisements. Guess where those two demographics largely reside in the 40%-20%-40% formula? Yep, in the 20% trying to be reached.

Still not convinced? You might want to check out this study too: "Hate Negative Political Ads All You Want, They Work" in US News and World Report.

"According to a new paper, though, "Confirmation and the Effects of Positive and Negative Political Advertising," by a group of marketing professors from Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business and the University of Texas–Dallas, negative political ads are also surprisingly effective at swinging voters toward their sponsor. In a study conducted in the final weeks of the 2004 presidential campaign, researchers found that negative ads caused 14 percent of viewers to change their minds about their favored candidate. 'People who use negative ads have long been convinced they work,' says coauthor Joan Phillips, a professor of marketing at Mendoza. 'Academics have just had a hard time proving it'."

As for decreased voter turnout, there appears to very little research supporting that position. In fact, the opposite exists, like this study.

"Krasno and Green have argued that political advertising has no impact on voter turnout. We remain unconvinced by their evidence ... but differences aside, we strongly agree that political advertising does little to undermine voter participation.

I'm sure more research could be done on this issue, and everyone has their own opinion I'm sure, but saying negative ads are solely responsible for low voter turnout is way too simplistic.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What is Community Journalism, According to One Area Editor

I've read the entries from the high school students I recently had in class (and I'll have more from them in the coming weeks), but how would you define community journalism? How does your newspaper practice it?

Here is what one respected area journalist and editor told one of my students in an e-mailed interview. Details that would give away the editor's identity or newspaper have been removed.

Q: What does your newspaper do to get readers (and citizens in the community) involved in the news and the events in your community?

A: We print a lot of contributed photos that people bring to us. They include pictures of a youth with the turkey or deer he or she killed, organizations donating money to charity or a student graduating from college. Parents especially like to see their kids' names in the newspaper when their kids accomplish great things. People submit announcements when babies are born, people get married and couples celebrate wedding anniversaries. I once heard community journalism referred to as "scrapbook journalism," meaning people cut articles out of the newspaper to put in their scrapbooks. Another aspect of reader involvement that is rather new is our Web site. There we allow readers to post comments to stories and upload photographs to share with other readers. It provides more interactivity than the print edition.

Q: Does community journalism make your paper better? Does it improve your reporting and/or circulation?

Definitely. We have small editorial staff and we cannot be everywhere at once, especially when we also have to do a lot of the production of the newspaper, including adjusting photographs, laying out pages and updating the Web site. Readers often call us with story ideas, usually about a friend or family member who has done something outstanding. I believe it does help our reporting by giving us ideas of what our readers want to read. As far as circulation, yes I would say it helps there, too, because parents want to keep a copy for their scrapbook and extra copies to send to grandma and grandpa.

Q: What is a strength of your community newspaper?

A: This newspaper has a tradition of excellence. But more important than the awards is that (we have lots of) people purchase each issue. That many people trust us to be a reliable information source.

Q: Does your community newspaper have a weakness?

Our biggest weakness is not having the editorial resources to cover all of our circulation area. We cover the city government and school board where we are headquartered, as well as the county government, thoroughly but but that leaves other city governments and school districts in our circulation area that we do not have the resources to cover as thoroughly. Sports is another area where we are lacking in coverage simply because we do not have the staff to cover all the county schools' sports programs as well as we should.

Q: Is it more important for me as a student to learn how to research and write objective news stories or editorials?

A: News stories. A lot of small-town newspaper editors don't even write editorials. Solid, objective reporting is what will gain the community's trust. Without that, they won't even bother reading your editorials, so it is important to learn reporting first. Editorial writing can come after that.

Friday, July 11, 2008

What Students Say They Learned About Community Journalism

Students in my Upward/TRiO "Community Journalism class" had a final in-class speed essay to write entitled, "What I have Learned about Community Journalism."

Here are some selected statements from their essays:

* "I learned that community journalism takes time, patience and a certain knowledge of your community. You can't just start writing things in your local newspaper. You need to learn what to write about, where to get the information, how to get it, why you write about and who to write about. You also have to learn the Code of Ethics, which many practicing journalists don't even know exists." -- Grant Mroz

* "I love to write but news and gossip has never really interested me. But this class has opened my eyes to other things -- like fighting back and getting involved. Don't like things they way they are? Stop complaining and do something about it. Voice your opinion, because it is our constitutional right. Tired of corruption in politics? Dig up the dirt, reveal the evidence and expose them." - Laken Herd

* "As a member of this class the one thing I will take away is the importance of knowing who, what, when, where, why and how." - Jessica Light

* "Doing community journalism right means being honest because the work is very important to the community." - Darla Vance

* "Community journalism is a standard of journalism that provides important news events going on within that community ... and it is hard work." - Sam Cunningham

* "My knowledge of community journalism has greatly expanded. It is the art of journalism that requires the journalist to be ethical and honest." - Brooke Iler

* "I learned that community journalism is a lot harder than I thought. I also now realize that journalism is not for me." - Tyler Bueno

* "I have learned that here is much more to journalism than just getting the stories and publishing them." - Dianna Ruedlinger

It was a good group of students and they learned alot in five short weeks. Next week I'll post some of the feedback these students received when they asked area editors about community journalism. And no, I won't be posting the names of the editors that were nice enough to respond.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Journalism Movies Worth Your Time to Watch

I've been teaching a community journalism workshop this summer. Since class members are in high school they have requested a movie or two as part of the class. Well, we didn't have time for that but I did provide a list of great journalism-themed movies they can watch on their own time. Here is that list:

1. Shattered Glass - This is probably one of the best journalism movies ever made. It focuses on ethics and how easy it is to ignore the faults in the popular kid in the newsroom. PG-13

2. Good Night and Good Luck - This is of course the story of Edward R. Murrow and his fight against McCarthyism. Great journalism movie even if it doesn't get all of the history exactly right, or without bias. PG

3. The Pelican Brief - Denzel Washington plays a great newspaper reporter. There is a great scene in this movie where Denzel interviews her and reviews his notes. It is a great way to show great note taking. PG-13

4. The Killing Fields - Great true story of a photographer and a reporter during the fall of Laos and the aftermath. R

5. All The President’s Men - You just can’t escape this movie. for many, it is the benchmark for journalism movies. It is not my favorite but it is a must see for journalists. If you don't know much about Watergate you might want to check out a history book first. PG

6. Absence of Malice - Another good story about ethics and when you should print information that might be damaging. PG

7. The Truman Show - Not really about journalism, but about our television culture and how much we are invading into people’s personal space. PG-13

8. Broadcast News - Pretty good movie on what is fake in the news. Some good scenes you could actually use to show kids how a news interview is really done. R

9. The Paper - Micheal Keeton plays a great foul mouthed, deadline oriented, sensationalist editor. An often too realistic look at many daily newspapers. R

10. Deadline USA -- Bob Greene of the Chicago Tribune has called this the best journalism movie ever made. "If you are interested in art movies, see Citizen Kane. If you are interested in screwball comedy, check out His Girl Friday. If it's history you're after, watch All the Presidents Men. If you want to see a classic journalism movie, rent The Front Page. But if you want to see a movie that actually shows you what life is like inside a newsroom, how reporters work together to get a story, and how the story is not always about the big expose but sometimes just about getting the little details right, this is your movie," writes Greene.

11. -30- (also known as Deadline Midnight) -- "In just nine hours they put the world on your doorstep." This 1959 movie is a classic if you can find it.

12. The Front Page -- nominated for 3 Oscars this 1930 film was remade in 1970.

13. His Girl Friday -- A newspaper editor uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife from remarrying. 1940

14. Switching Channels -- A television news chief courts his anchorwoman ex-wife with an eleventh-hour story. 1988

15. Blessed Event -- Here it is! The scandalous comedy of a scandal columnist who rose "from a keyhole to a national institution." 1932

16. The Big Clock -- A career oriented magazine editor finds himself on the run when he discovers his boss is framing him for murder. 1948

17. I Love Trouble -- Peter Brackett and Sabrina Peterson are two competing Chicago newspaper reporters who join forces to unravel the mystery behind a train derailment. 1994

18. Up Close and Personal -- An ambitious young woman, determined to build a career in TV journalism, gets good advice from her first boss, and they fall in love. 1996

19. The Insider -- A research chemist comes under personal and professional attack when he decides to appear in a "60 Minutes" expose on Big Tobacco. I like this movie. I understand some if it plays fast and loose with the facts, but it is still good drama. 1996

20. S1M0NE -- A producer's film is endangered when his star walks off, so he decides to digitally create an actress to substitute for the star, becoming an overnight sensation that everyone thinks is a real person. 2002

21. Ace In The Hole -- A frustrated former big-city journalist now stuck working for an Albuquerque newspaper exploits a story about a man trapped in a cave to re-jump start his career, but the situation quickly escalates into an out-of-control circus. 1951

22. Sweet Smell of Success -- They know him - and they shiver - the big names of Broadway, Hollywood and Capitol Hill. They know J.J.- the world-famed columnist whose gossip is gospel to sixty million readers! They know the venom that flickers in those eyes behind the glasses - and they fawn - like Sid Falco, the kid who wanted "in" so much, he'd sell out his own girl to stand up there with J.J., sucking in the sweet smell of success! This is J.J.'s story - but not the way he would have liked it told! 1957

23. Citizen Kane -- One of my personal favorites and often listed at the top of many "best movie" lists, this movie is more about the person than about the profession. 1941

24. Live from Baghdad -- A group of CNN reporters wrestle with journalistic ethics and the life-and-death perils of reporting during the Gulf War. 2004

25. "Under Fire" is a war movie staring Nick Nolte. I haven't seen it yet but another journalist recommended (see comments on this blog). "Three journalists in a romantic triangle are involved in political intrigue during the last days of the corrupt Somozoa regime in Nicaragua before it falls to a popular revolution in 1979." Released in 1983. It did get a couple of Oscar nominations.

26. "The Year of Living Dangerously" was also released in 1983. The IMDB website describes this movie in this way: "Guy Hamilton is a journalist on his first job as a foreign correspondent. His apparently humdrum assignment to Indonesia soon turns hot as President Sukarno electrifies the populace and frightens foreign powers. Guy soon is the hottest reporter on the story with the help of his photographer, half- Chinese dwarf Billy Kwan, who has gone native. Guy's affair with diplomat Jill Bryant also helps. Eventually Guy must face some major moral choices and the relationship between Billy and him reaches a crisis at the same time the politics of Indonesia does." This movie won an oscar.

27. Bonus -- Superman or Spiderman - Who doesn’t see journalists as superheros (especially journalism teachers)? Go rent almost any one of the movies featuring Peter Parker or Clark Kent.

Watching all of those movies may take you an entire year but it will be worth it!