Column: Unethical jouralism practices ruin lives

By:  Liam McGurl @Liiiammm1996

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Journalism: it’s about delivering the facts.  Well, the facts the public ought to know, that is.

Unfortunately for Lilly Wachowski, formerly Andy Wachowski, her all-too-real facts’ public release were prompted by a concoction of unethical journalism and a disregard for the face behind a potential headline.

According to Wachowski—one half of the sibling-director-duo behind the Matrix films—said her coming out process was unnaturally expedited by Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. Wachowski alleged that the newspaper threatened to release a story exposing her transgenderism.  In an effort to share her authentic narrative, as each human deserves, Wachowski wrote an open letter for her hometown LBGTQ news source Windy City Times—somewhat unwillingly coming out as transgender.

With recent, public celebrity transitions—such as that of Caitlyn Jenner—everyone seems to have an opinion on transgenderism.  While some opinions are religiously motivated and others grounded in pure ignorance, Wachowski’s words likely hit a compassionate nerve in most readers.

“You know, when you’re living as an out transgender person, it’s kind of difficult to hide,” she said in the online publication. “I just wanted—needed—some time to get my head right, to feel comfortable. But apparently, I don’t get to decide this.”

Wachowski’s emotional admittance is nothing short of heartbreaking, mainly because of the dual issue that impelled her to come out.

First, from a journalistic standpoint, Daily Mail breached what could be called one of journalism’s golden rules: respect the privacy of innocent persons.

Wachowski—a professional woman, dedicated to her craft—deserved to tell this story on her own terms, when she was ready to face potential criticism head-on and with a sense of self-assurance.  Unfortunately, Wachowski became the victim of media bullying instead.

It’s hard enough for many LGBTQ community members to come out to those they adore: family, friends and, even, coworkers.  For Wachowski, poor journalistic ethics, mixed with her “celebrity” status, forced her to come out on a global scale.  Within the first few hours of the letter’s publishing, Wachowski went from being a notoriously private filmmaker to a public spectacle.

Outside Daily Mail’s breach of a long-held journalistic principle, those who pressured Wachowski breached a moral principle: compassion for the experiences of others.  It might not be a legal responsibility, but it’s one the public generally aims to uphold.  Sure, we’re all humans, and we’re not always as respectful as we ought to be; however, there’s a heightened moral expectation from journalists.

There’s power in words—especially those that tell the stories of others.  Daily Mail wasn’t dealing with some fluff story on the best local diners—they were toying with someone’s reality.  It’s worth noting that, as many LGBTQ community members will attest to, it’s a reality often unaccepted by the majority of faces they greet with each day’s passing.

Daily Mail threatened Wachowski with her own narrative, likely attempting to use a shock-value story to increase publication “views.”  In the end though, Daily Mail established themselves as an unscrupulous, unfair publication with no regard for the human condition.

On the other hand, Wachowski showed immense strength—taking control of her own narrative and refusing to be made suppressed by faulty ethics and morals.

“Spotlight” victory: J-School professors talk career milestones

By Bryce Spadafora

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The 88th Academy Awards last week honored Spotlight with Best Picture, and it was a victory for journalists everywhere.

The movie, based on actual events, tells the story of a team of Boston Globe journalists who uncover a sexual abuse scandal involving Roman Catholic priests. The journalists who covered these stories went on to win the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Professors in the Russell J. Jandoli School of Journalism and Mass Communication at St. Bonaventure University have spent years working in the journalism industry. During this time, they covered and witnessed stories that impacted and influenced their careers.

For professor Patrick Vecchio, the stories he covered helped reform a statewide system, as well as had historical significance.

Vecchio started his career at the Salamanca Press in 1979. The Salamanca Press was the second smallest daily newspaper at the time. Vecchio worked there until 1982 before moving to the Olean Times Herald, his hometown paper, where he worked his way up to editor.

In his first month at the Salamanca Press, Vecchio and a colleague received a tip about a sheriff’s son shooting a suspect. The sheriff’s son, along with a corrections officer, saw a car that had ran a red light and began to chase it. The car had crashed and the driver had tried to escape on foot when the sheriff’s son shot him.

A colleague and I worked on the story that whole morning and went to press that afternoon,” said Vecchio. “We beat everybody. We beat all the local and regional papers. We beat the Buffalo papers. It was an exclusive, and it was a huge story.”

During his time at the Salamanca Press, Vecchio also worked on a series about part-time police officers in Salamanca. According to Vecchio, his work led to part-time police officers throughout New York State being trained differently. The way they were being trained before exposed their municipalities to potential lawsuits, said Vecchio.

Vecchio also covered the first murder conviction in New York State where a body was never found. State police had asked Vecchio if he wanted to go along with them and cops from every agency in New York to search for the victim’s body.

The case eventually went to trial in Buffalo. The state investigator called Vecchio as soon as the verdict was released.

That meant a lot to me because I had built up a good enough relationship with him that he called me,” said Vecchio. “Again, we sweeped everybody. It was a historically significant story.”

In some cases, professors were able to uncover corruption in their community with the stories they covered. Richard Lee, director of the Integrated Marketing Communications Program, is one of these professors.

Lee worked at the Montclair Times for five years, The Aquarian Weekly for three years and The News Tribune in New Jersey for eight years.

One story Lee covered exposed irresponsible spending by The New Jersey Highway Authority. The highway authority had proposed to double the toll rates on the Garden State Parkway from 25 cents to 50 cents. According to Lee, nobody had ever closely covered the highway authority.

Lee and colleagues received tips that the group wasn’t spending its budget responsibly. After every project the highway authority worked on there would be money left over. This leftover money would go into a numbered account.

It appeared they were deliberately overestimating the cost of projects so they could bloat this account,” said Lee.

The extra money went towards building a local amphitheater. Lee’s story focused on how the highway authority wasn’t making the best use of the money they collected. Ultimately, the toll was only raised to 35 cents.

It’s not a life or death issue,” said Lee. “But I always joke with people that when you’re driving on the Parkway you’re paying a dime less because of what I did.”

For Dr. Dennis Wilkins, there are two stories during his career that he said were important for newspapers to play a role in.

Wilkins started working for The Recorder in Greenfield, Massachusetts as a sports writer in 1970. Wilkins worked there for 20 years, spending his last five years with the newspaper as the editorial page editor.

The first story involved the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986. The Recorder, along with its sister-paper The Concord Monitor, had shared resources to cover Christa McAuliffe, a schoolteacher and one of the astronauts aboard the shuttle.

“It led to the most intense 24 hours of my career along with some difficult ethical decisions,” said Wilkins. “I learned an awful lot about managing material, teamwork and how necessary it is for there to exist a group of people who keep their heads when everyone else is losing theirs.”

The other story involved the unidentified body of an infant found by a state department of highways crew. The crew had found the infant’s body while emptying barrels at a local rest area, said Wilkins.

After Wilkins’ newspaper ran the story, people from the community organized and paid for the infant’s funeral.

“It was amazing to report both a tragedy, but a story of hope,” said Wilkins. “When people who had no connection with this infant stepped up to pay for expenses and give the infant a joyous sending off to wherever the infant went.”

According to professor Anne Lee, her most memorable stories told the experiences of people who had gone through difficult times. Many of these people were Holocaust survivors.

“Not one of them had the same story,” said Lee. “What always struck me was that they were such optimistic people who were happy to be alive.”

According to Lee, one story involved local high school students working on an art exhibit in honor of a woman displaced during World War II. Lee attended an event at the school to hear the woman speak about her experiences.

The woman, after being separated from her family, would wander the forest near her home during the day. At night the woman would stop at houses and ask for food. Eventually, the woman was reunited with her sister who had also been surviving on her own.

“I learned then that everybody has a story, and some stories need to be told or they will be lost,” said Lee.

According to Lee, bone marrow drives were becoming more common during that time. She and other journalists worked on stories covering the drives, who needed bone marrow and what readers could do to help.

Those were the kind of stories that made me aware that newspapers, while holding to their standards of editorial content, could do a lot of good for people,” she said.

Welcome to Journalist’s Workshop: real world experience inside the classroom

By Joshua Svetz @svetz17

Tucked away in the John J. Murphy Professional building is a small room with yellow brick walls and several tables making a circle. On Thursday nights, this little room comes alive, when a handful of students enter with big ideas.

Welcome to JMC 410 Journalist’s Workshop where upperclassmen journalism majors get the unique opportunity to work with former Dorf Feature Service editor Anne Lee and Buffalo News features writer Tim O’Shei.

Recently added to the required JMC curriculum, this class gives students two drastically different opportunities:  On Thursdays, students report for O’Shei’s “Live starring … You” website, which gives them the opportunity to attend and write about concert and sporting events. On Tuesdays, in Murphy 104 – better known as The Mac Lab — students gather with Lee for an online, community news publication called “The Convergence,” reporting on events and people in the area surrounding St. Bonaventure.

The students get the opportunity to network with a wide range of people. From interviewing interesting locals in Western New York to well-known professionals in the news, sports, entertainment, and music industries, all facets of journalism are explored in this course. The class runs in a similar fashion to a newsroom because the professor checks in on the students’ stories and gives feedback and guidance to each of them. The students have the opportunity to pursue their interests while also building a portfolio and learning the ins and outs of journalism in the real world.

Lee, who used to edit regionalized feature sections in New Jersey, said she encourages student journalists to “look for your next story in the contact you just made. If you go to Allegany and there’s a street fair, and you see three different artists with different artwork, take a card, call them later and do a story on them. Always be looking for a story.”

The two instructors offer students opportunities to cover important local events, to interview politicians, musicians, writers and many more. Exposure is the key to this class as young journalists get opportunities that are not usually present outside of internships.

Senior journalism major Mitch Skrabacz recalled going to cover concerts with a classmate. “We were able to get VIP and media passes to do a [Foster the People] concert review,” he said. “We also got an interview with AER [rap group]. It was interesting to talk to famous people.”

In addition to the opportunities presented, students share their experiences in the classroom  and genuinely help each other as they reflect on their interviews, stories and experiences. “It’s rewarding to watch these students grow and learn from each other’s experiences,” remarked O’Shei.

Another interesting thing about the program is that it gives student-athletes and students involved in other time-consuming programs such as ROTC a chance to gain experience and add to their portfolios. Skrabacz has experience with this because he is a student-athlete currently playing soccer for the Bonnies. “I can’t be heavily involved [with clubs], so I haven’t had that much experience, whereas in the class you have to do stories for the class which added to my portfolio.”

With all that in mind, the goal of the class remains the same: become a great journalist.

“It’s a very challenging course, but it’s very rewarding,” said senior JMC major Jalen Taylor. “You’re going to work. There’s going to be a lot of responsibility on you, and a lot of things will be expected of you. But if you make an effort and do what you’re supposed to do, then it’s going to be a good experience for you.”

Greg Mitchell and the rise of digital Media

By Elyse Breeze @ezeerbesyle

Traditional journalists must now contend with web-based rivals. From reporter to social media guru, Greg Mitchell has experienced one of the most prevalent deviations in journalistic history: The transition from print to digital.

Digital media has made it possible for newsworthy information to be at our fingertips at all times. From the newest generation of the iPhone to our laptops, media has become ubiquitous. The trends are clear: young people are turning to the Internet for their news and developing their own digital strategies.

“I knew from the age of, like, four that I wanted to be a newspaper reporter… I was a big Superman fan; but I was the only kid who wanted to grow up to be Clark Kent,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell’s journalism career began at St. Bonaventure University when he graduated cum laude in 1970. The esteemed grad hit the ground running when he landed a job with Crawdaddy! Magazine – the pioneer of rock and roll journalism. Among the latest and greatest of Crawdaddy! scoop, the profile of rock music legend Bruce Springsteen before his major debut, co-authored by Mitchell alongside Peter Knobler in 1972, is one of the most impressive.

Since then, he has worked with news sources such as: Nuclear Times, Feature, Editor & Publisher, Huffington Post and currently The Nation. He has written dozens of books, manages a successful blog and continues to be an icon in the world of journalism.

According to Mitchell, news sources began transitioning their information from print to digital as early as the mid-1990s. “[They] were kind of dragging their feet… they were just hoping that this was kind of a fad.”

Traditional newspapers didn’t want to put too much emphasis on the web for the fear that it would eventually fade out. Online revenues for most news media are still only a small fraction of the income from traditional print or broadcast; however, the rates are increasing as young people continue to retrieve their news via the Internet.

As news sources continue to transition from print to digital, the rest of the world is doing the same. Staying connected through digital communication, social media and technology has become integral in our world, especially for young people. Mitchell, however, a “digital immigrant,” has become accustomed to digital forms of media just the same as “digital natives.”

Mitchell’s impressive blog on Blogspot “Pressing Issues” is a great indication of his digital brand, including his Twitter follower count of just over 27,000. In developing his digital brand, he created a blog that focused on his interpretation of the media in topics such as politics, film, music and television.

“I wanted something that was totally my own,” Mitchell said. “If you’re going to have a blog, you need to figure out what your passion is.”

“You tweet it; you try to get others to link to your stuff. You write something original that’s kind of provocative and next thing you know some big, national site links to you. Overnight, you go from unknown to [people] bookmarking your blog,” Mitchell advises for students interested in pursuing digital media, especially in strategic communication.

Mitchell’s experience in the transition between traditional print journalism to digital media marketing is admirable, to say the least. He has utilized his skills as a reporter to develop his own digital brand using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and Blogspot. As our world continues in shifting prospective, as digital natives, we are expected to adhere to the transition. While print journalism has not become obsolete, we were born prepared for its downfall.

The (Un) Natural State

By Alex Ross, @alchristineross, Contributing Writer

Arkansas: the wholesome “heartland” of America. Within its homogenous population, sightings of tattoos, designed scars, and man-made horns protruding from human foreheads would soil the human landscape, right?

In short, if you want sub-skin décor or inkless tattoos, don’t go to “The Natural State.”

The state, surely wanting to stay natural, recently passed a law deeming artistic scarring and shaped silicone implants illegal. Known as scarification and subdermal implants to the marked masses, they’re nothing new.

According to an Alternative Press article, senators, who are clearly experts on tattoos and piercings, ruled that these methods were “untraditional” and unsafe. Obviously, these guys never spent an entire “sick” day on the couch watching Nat Geo. They would know that scarification practices have been a significant part of African culture for as long, or longer than, Arkansas has been a state. Senators’ lack of knowledge of rules and regulations followed by tattoo parlors and their artists also becomes apparent through their argument. Way to do your research, guys.

It’s peculiar how society allows people to put grossly disproportional implants in their chests and faces for their own decorative purposes. The legislative claims prove suspiciously vague to be working under. The law has a big, red target on the untraditional.

People want horns? Give them horns. They want tattoos? So be it. Silicone and pigment may not be natural, but human nature and choice are. 



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