Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Not every detail is relevant.

Like many other Boston-dwellers, I was perturbed by the Green Line crash last week. All the more so because the driver of the offending train was sending a text message to his girlfriend at the time of the accident.

Naturally, an incident like that is going to set the mainstream media on fire - heck of a story we're doing, Brownie.

But something that might have upset me even more than the crash itself was a detail included in some of the stories, entirely unnecessarily.

Boston Globe story
WHDH story (AP)
WBZ story (AP)

Those three stories all exclude something specific. These next three stories do not:

Boston Herald story
FOX 25 story
WCVB story (first to mention, by my notice)

What do those last three have that the first three do not? The information that the driver of the train transitioned from female to male in the recent past, including a name change from Georgia Anne Quinn to Aiden Quinn. Two of those last three (predictably, the Herald and FOX) make this little tidbit the crux of their story.

How is this newsworthy? Does Aiden Quinn's gender identity play any sort of role in his capacity to drive an MBTA train? Yes, the fact that he has speeding violations in the past is pertinent, and yes, it's worth a story. But nothing about those Herald and FOX stories has any relevance to the story at hand. It's sensationalistic, "look, this guy is different!" coverage.

Not only is Quinn's gender identity irrelevant to the story, disclosing it so flippantly goes against every rule of LGBT courtesy out there. It's absolutely unacceptable to out someone's gender identity or expression in so public a forum - it is Quinn's business and nobody else's.

People wonder why the media get a bad rap. It's crap like this.

Pledge of Allegiance

Friday afternoon, while I was working the phones at the Globe, a colleague of mine dug out a packet of business cards and handed one to me with a chuckle. These aren't given out anymore, he told me, but folks used to be instructed to carry one at all times...just in case.

It reads:
Your Honor, I am a reporter for The Boston Globe. On behalf of the public and The Boston Globe, I respectfully object to the closing of this proceeding and request a hearing at which legal counsel may present arguments to the court on the issue of closing this courtroom. I also request an adjournment so I can arrange for counsel to attend the hearing. Thank you.

The card, on its inverse, has numbers for several lawyers retained by the Globe (presumably the Times - all the numbers are New York-based).

I found it an interesting little specimen. Part of me wants to make a snide remark about there obviously being enough use of these cards to justify printing a batch. But part of me rather wishes there was still enough purpose to them to justify handing them out.

There was a time, I'm told in my history of journalism classes, when reporters were respected, rather than despised. There was a time that dropping the name "Boston Globe" would startle many and frighten some. There was a time where reading the text on that card might actually have gotten the desired results.

I doubt any of those are as true today as I'd like, as I enter the industry. A court faced with that card's statement will not change its decision. The last presidential administration so poisoned the judicial pool that most judges won't care. The First Amendment and the respect given to those who protect it has been so eroded that the cards given to reporters, just in case, lie forgotten in a drawer underneath the switchboard.

Damn shame.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Twitter as a Secondary Source

Now that I'm officially out of college, I'm getting in touch with all my past and present editors and offering up my services as a writer-with-a-car to anyone who'll have me. But when the freelance budget is bupkis, there's got to be other ways to contribute. An editor told me he couldn't use me on the writing front for the section he's controlling, but asked if I knew of any ways to "mine the Internet for content" that he might not have thought of.

Well, when in doubt, I turn to people who know more than I do. And lately, I've discovered that the "collective" is often the best source.

My response was to Twitter-search each of the towns. Yeah, it sounds dumb, but hear me out - you're not using the tweets themselves as sources, obviously you can't do that with unconfirmable identities and the easy potential for bad information. But you can see very quickly what people are talking about in respect to a given town.

For example, one town in question had a short tweet about termites. Well, looking at the tweeter's website indicated he was a pest control service provider, so he clearly has a vested interest in increased interest in termites in that town. That said, the simple fact that it's being mentioned merits a call to town officials to see if there has, in fact, been a spike in the number of termites in the town. And if there is - bang. Story.

I'm looking at Twitter for journalists the same way I look at Wikipedia for research papers - you can't use it as a primary source, but you can absolutely use it as a listing of primary sources or an idea well.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Starter's Gun

Let the search begin in earnest, I suppose. I'm now officially graduated from college. (Technically, that means I could put letters after my name if I wanted to, but that would be kinda ridiculous.)

The month of April was so incredibly hectic with finals, my show, moving home, and graduation prep that I wasn't able to properly sit down and plan out what my summer and forward was going to look like. Now that I'm home again, I would like to think that this summer is just going to be a quick rest-stop, as it were.

The plan as I would have it drawn up:

  • Make contact with editors throughout the Globe (and other publications?) and pitch stories for freelance opportunities. Also continue to write for Blast Magazine.
  • Create a home-office sort of space that would give me the right settings to focus on writing and public relations/marketing work.
  • Pick up as many hours at the Globe on the City Desk and Message Center as humanly possible.
  • Finalize production team and resources for Summer Scene's production of Seussical Jr.
  • Find local bartending job, get back into pouring drinks...and getting paid for it.
  • Hang out with Greg and Natalie as frequently as possible, because both of them are taking off at the end of the month.
  • Try to start working out regularly, now that I've got more time to do so.
  • Begin to map out each scene and the set for Seussical Jr.; audition program participants and cast show.
  • Ask around about potential apartment-mates for the fall.
  • Continue to search for and apply for full-time jobs in the Boston area.
  • Continue work at Globe, Blast, bar.
  • Direct Seussical Jr., make the show kick ass.
  • Settle on apartment-mates and find and secure apartment near T line that will let me have car. That last part is pretty key.
  • Continue working at Globe, Blast, bar.
  • Hopefully I'll have a job by now - once Seussical Jr. concludes, I'll be left with only my part-time jobs, so I'll need to have something lined up very soon to work toward the apartment money.
  • Part-time work throughout.
Oh, and blogging and twittering and establishing an online identity throughout.

So yeah, that's what I'm hoping happens. We'll just have to see how well I can put that into action.