The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: journalism

The Deadline

(This is post is backdated, written on 23rd July, 2016)

“Hi, here’s the article attached in this email as per our deadline. Let me know if you have any questions about the article.” 6.10pm

On the day that Josh died, after he had been carted to the medical examiner’s office, I went into the office.

“If it’s OK, I would like to gather my interview notes and work from home for the next few days. My article is more or less done and I should be able to deliver it on Friday, our original deadline,” I told my editor.

“Are you sure? Do you need more time? It’s OK if you want to extend your deadline,” my editor said.

“I’m OK, it should be fine. I’ll be able to deliver it on time; I’d just like to be able to work from home. I don’t want to hold up production,” I replied.

“If you say so. If you need more time, just let me know,” she said.

“I will. If there’s any inkling that I won’t be able to deliver my article on time I’ll be sure to let you know,” I said.

It was 11am or so on Thursday, and I received an email from my editor. “Just checking, how’s the article coming along?”

“The article’s coming along well. In fact, I should be able to turn it in today by late afternoon or in the evening,” I replied.

I don’t know why I promised to turn in my article one day early, when I was only about a third of the way through writing it. I don’t know what I was trying to achieve.

Fellow journalist friend Aaron invited me to hang out to do work with him. I guess it’s good to get out of the house and actually get work done. The night before I had stayed up from 1am to 4am working on the article and only managed to get my data and graphs done.

“Do you know how you’re going to handle the market report you have due as well,” asked my editor later in the day.

“Well I’m about done with the article, will be submitting it soon, stay tuned! Once I’m done with the article, I’ll start working on the market report. That’s not due until next Tuesday right? Well I’m coming into the office tomorrow, on Friday so I’ll work on the market report then. You know how these go, it doesn’t take me much to turn those out. I could probably turn it in on Monday,” I said.

Why am I promising my editor to turn in my market report one day before deadline again? I don’t know what I was trying to achieve.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah it’ll be fine.”

“OK see you tomorrow then.”

“See you tomorrow.”

My iced coffee turned warm, Aaron had finished his writing and left for his event. Shit, it was 5pm already, I’m maybe only about 75 percent done with my article. Late afternoon had passed. All that’s left is evening.

I had finished writing at 6pm. Glanced through it for quick edits, attached the file, compose.

I don’t know what I had achieved.

 

<– DAY 1

DAY 3 –>

How not to write your headlines

ibtuk

From the International Business Times UK site. Apparently IBT UK is a franchise of IBT Media, and that there are multiple IBT’s all around with no editorial links with each other. There’s IBT Australia, India, UK, and the vanilla IBTimes.com, based in New York. As someone who just wrote about this topic, I can tell you what is wrong with this headline.

Argentine President Fernandez did make a tweet that played on racist Chinese stereotypes while she was in Beijing, but she did not say that the “country’s stupidity is toxic.” What she did say was that her tweet, that so many Western media had jumped on and gotten outraged about, was so highly ridiculous and absurd that it could only have been construed as “humour,” or else it would have been a very toxic tweet — which was definitely not her intention.

I mean, she’s in Beijing trying to get the country to invest money in her ailing economy! While her tweet was ill-advised, it was definitely not ill-intentioned, and that IBT UK’s headline is the statement that is truly “toxic.”

The interview that never got published

bmission

As some of you may know, I am currently writing for the International Business Times. On the day the snowstorm was supposed to hit, I pitched a story wondering how various cities in the United States Northeast were going to help the homeless. I got to go to the historic Bowery Mission in Manhattan, and the operations director Matt Krivich was kind enough to show me around. Beyond that, he helped with my request to talk to one of the homeless who was seeking shelter from the storm.

I got to interview Gerald Hudson, an African-American Vietnam War veteran. As much as I wished I could have written the interview as it was spoken to me, I had to quote Hudson as I would in an article; that is in the third person. Here is how the interview went as Hudson and I spoke.


Me: Are you keeping warm from this storm?

Gerald Hudson: I’m just trying my best, man.

Me: Do you mind if I ask you a couple of questions?

GH: Sure thing! I just want to let you know, thanks to this Mission, I have the warmest equipment around.

Me: What do you mean by “warmest equipment?”

GH: A jacket, man. This Mission gave me a jacket.

Me: Is that the one you’re wearing right now?

GH: No way. I only wear that specially when I go out. I ain’t gonna wear that in here. Do you want me to show you?

Me: Is that alright with you?

GH: Sure! Come, follow me!

(We walk to the chapel)

GH: I’m a grateful man, and I’m always grateful for what this Mission has done for me.

(We walk to the pews where Hudson has his stuff. He lifts his bag off the pews, and hidden underneath is a nice brown jacket)

Me: That’s a very nice jacket.

GH: Yeah, it keeps me warm when I go out.

Me: So how did you know to come in here for the storm? Did someone tell you?

GH: No, I’ve been here for two weeks.

Me: Oh, so you didn’t just come in for the storm?

GH: Nah, I’ve been here for two weeks. But trust me I’m trying to get a place to live. The last time before that was six months ago.

Me: I’m sorry?

GH: I don’t want to be here too much. I’ve been here for two weeks, and the last time I had to be here was six months ago.

Me: Oh, Where were you during the time you were not here. Did you have a place to stay?

GH: Yea, kind of.

Me: What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?

GH: Bad things happened, violence and stuff. I’m just trying to get a permanent place to stay, you know that? But I’m just waiting for the right time for that to happen.

Me: I’m sure that will work out for you one day.

GH: I’m a vet, you know that? Vietnam War.

Me: I’m grateful for what you’ve done for the country, as I’m sure many others are.

GH: I came back, and I had a hard time. I’m at the epitome of… of… (can’t remember what he said here)

Me: Are you a religious man?

GH: I’m a believer, I’m a believer in God, in the Father, and that he will take care of me.

Me: Well I hope things work out for you.

GH: I hope so too. Hey man you know I gotta try, but would you by any chance…? (hand gestures) But I don’t think you can right?

Me: I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to give anything. I wish you all the best.

GH: Alright you take care too, God bless.

Bespoke education and entertainment, or risk it?

bespokeTwo days ago, I was at work transcribing an interview one of the interviewees used the word “bespoke.” That was a word I haven’t heard in a while, and I just shared my thoughts on Facebook, “I think “bespoke” might be my favourite word of the day, today.” It’s a simple word that means something one would not associate with how it looks and sounds: it basically means something that is tailor-made to individual preference.

My friend Kevin Allison, who hosts a podcast and runs the live comedy show The Risk! Show, commented, “I tried to cut it from a recent RISK story because I didn’t know what it meant.” I asked if he could not have simply checked the dictionary and he said something that struck me: “If I don’t know what a damn word means, plenty of listeners won’t either!”

This forced me to think a lot about the role of those delivering informational content, be it via print or broadcast such as newspapers (print/online) or the radio. Is it our role to expand the vocabulary of those watching/reading/listening, or should we create a bespoke program easily digestible and understandable by readers?

I’ve always been impressed with the balance of hefty words and simple terms that the New York Time achieves, and constantly learn new words or remember old ones I’ve forgotten. English is a beautiful language, the bastard amalgamation of some many languages from continental Europe, that in its plenitude are niche, forgotten gems we should celebrate.

But in our consideration of the audience, especially here in America, we (content producers) amputate ourselves to fit the ready-to-serve boxes that the audience expects. As my journalism professor once said, “Why used ‘dollar words’ when a ‘fifty cent’ one suffices?” Maybe because sometimes there is beauty in the complexity contained within the brevity of “dollar words.” The best uses of difficult words are those placed supremely in a sentence where the context allows the readers to read and extract the meaning without having to stumble over it, and upon reflection on the use of the word, appreciates that that word is not run-of-the-mill. Where a “dollar word” is pivotal in the sentence, and the meaning known only to Webster-Merriam, that is untenable. We use many clues in context and morphology to help us understand words we don’t, harkening back to ye ol’ grade school days of “reading from context.” Morphemes like “un,” “mal,” “pro,” etc. contribute to the understanding of the word, even if the reader doesn’t know the word, and writers should take that into consideration when trying to achieve beauty with their words.

But ere we lose the readers in a mire of SAT vocabulary list, there is nothing more exhausting than having to refer to a dictionary every couple of sentences. I think content producers, in an ideal world, should challenge the limits of the audience’s knowledge every now and then, and achieve a balance between inspiration and information.

The covenant between a reporter and an interviewee

Bitcoin traders Kolin Burges, right, of London and Aaron, an American who gave only his first name, hold protest signs in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Bitcoin traders Kolin Burges, right, of London and Aaron, an American who gave only his first name, hold protest signs in front of the office tower housing Mt. Gox in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

The Story

An article on the Wall Street Journal today on Bitcoins, Shutdown of Mt. Gox Rattles Bitcoin Market, jointly written by Robin Sidel, Michael Casey, and Eleanor Warnock, talked about the closure of Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based Bitcoin exchange, and the lack of regulation of the virtual currency.

In a nutshell, it talked about Mt. Gox stopped all transactions on Tuesday, and that it has been experiencing technical difficulties for months, including a hacking attempt two weeks ago and an alleged loss of almost 750,000 Bitcoins, about 6% of the Bitcoins in existence and valued at $400 million. Overall, it cast a pretty grim outlook on the future of Bitcoins as a reliable trading currency due to its volatility and lack of regulation.

One of the subjects interviewed for this story was Erik Voorhees, a Panama City-based investor of Bitcoin startups, whose mention in the story was:

Erik Voorhees, another investor in bitcoin startups, said he has given up on a stash of more than 550 bitcoins that he has at Mt. Gox. At current prices, they are valued at about $300,000.

“That’s gone now,” said Mr. Voorhees, who is based in Panama City, Panama. “There’s no chance of getting that back now.”

No one knows how many investors face possible losses or how much money is at stake. Mt. Gox has been losing trading volume in recent months to rival exchanges. Efforts to reach Mt. Gox officials were unsuccessful.

Voorhees (whom the author misspelled as “Veerhoos” originally) felt that his quote was heavily misrepresented, and his interest in the matter completely warped. He posted an open letter to the reporter, Casey, on Reddit:

Hello Mr. Casey,

I read your WSJ article today. I feel deceived by you.

You requested to speak with me, so I took time out of my day to do so. We talked for 20 minutes, during which time I conveyed to you my sentiments about the Bitcoin ecosystem and the matter of MtGox’s collapse. My message was unambiguously a positive one. I didn’t focus whatsoever on the personal funds I lost at Gox. Indeed, the impetus for your call was my heartfelt post on Reddit.

Yet, you ignored everything I said. The only quote that you published from me in the Journal’s cover story was “”That’s gone now,” said Mr. Veerhoos, who is based in Panama City, Panama. “There’s no chance of getting that back now.””

Is that really the takeaway you had from our call and from my letter? Is that your idea of journalism? Did I come across with the sentiment of a despairing investor whose confidence has been rattled? It seems you were happy to completely ignore my sentiments, preferring instead to cherry pick the one fact that is least important, in order to paint a narrative that Bitcoin’s biggest problem is that it’s not “regulated.” I didn’t expect you to quote everything I said, but should you not have maintained at least a modicum of fidelity to my message?

I have dedicated my life to building and supporting the Bitcoin project. I don’t give a damn about the money I lost at Gox. That’s not important. What is important is that Bitcoin is resilient and enduring, and will continue to grow and change the world for the better. It is a story of human progress through technology. It is a story of the good seeping into the cracks of a corrupted financial system. It is a story of passionate people struggling against all odds to remedy the calamities brought down upon society from the most potently misguided people and institutions on Earth.

Next time you spend your efforts casting a pall over this cause, please don’t ask me to contribute mine.

-Erik Voorhees

PS – I will be posting this letter openly on Reddit. I will post your reply if you’d like. And if I do, I won’t cherry pick the most misleading points of it, and I will spell your name correctly.

The Ethics

This invites the the question of the integrity of journalists — constrained by word space and the angle they have to push, how much liberty can journalists take with regards to the quotes they get from their interviewees? Any reasonable reading of the article will find not a shred of a positive light regarding Bitcoins, what with lines like:

But the unregulated currency isn’t backed by a central bank, raising alarms about which bodies can intervene when crises arise.

Or:

The Mt. Gox mess hasn’t changed the enthusiasm of Overstock.com, which began accepting bitcoin for payment in January.

It is clear that the authors were trying to push the angle of the unreliability of Bitcoins. However, interviewee Voorhees’ given interview was that of a positive one with regards to Bitcoin usage and its future, according to his post on Reddit. The reporter Casey then seems to have misrepresented Voorhees’ interest by cherry-picking quotes and placing them out of context.

From an ethical point of view, that seems dastardly. I understand that writers have to pick a strong, consistent angle to sell the story, and Casey picked the one about the unreliability of Bitcoins, and had to ensure that the theme is consistent throughout the article. But when the trust in journalists to protect the integrity of given interviews is lost by the interviewees, who will be left to give any more interviews in the future? While not on the same level as Judith Miller refusing to disclose her sources, there is an expectation from interviewees that the journalists whom they have agreed to grant an interview to will no misrepresent them. This is a covenant between the reporter and the interviewee that should never be broken.

One then would also have to wonder about the blame of the editor, who is responsible for making sure the story is as sell-able as possible. In this case, we have not heard back from Casey regarding the decision to cherry-pick Voorhees’ quotes, whether was it his editor that pushed for that decision or was it purely Casey’s. While it is the reporter’s job to do the legwork of collecting the facts and quotes, the editor, who puts things together and rearranges them, is as much a part of the journalistic process as is the journalist.

Interestingly, Chris Lamprecht, known as the first person in the world to be banned from the internet, commented on Voorhees’ predicament.

Erik,

A long time ago, in 1995, I was the first person banned from the Internet, and my case was in the news. An honest journalist once told me something very important that I never forgot. I was asking him if he could include certain things in his article. He said:

“Chris, you have to understand that journalists are not your PR agency. Journalists have their own agenda. They are going to write whatever story they want to, or whatever story their editor told them to write.”

Any honest journalist will tell you something similar. Unfortunately, not enough journalists care about writing an accurate story.

Thanks for being a good voice for Bitcoin.

Truer words never spoken, and an unfortunate but accurate description for what journalists were and still are today. Why do we tolerate such shoddy standards though? It is not as if journalism has to be that way.

The Answer?

Journalism has always been a reader-led effort — not only what the readers want to read, but how they want to read it, journalism has always answered and provided. If readers want salacious content, then salacious content becomes “journalism.” If readers want their content speedy, where the first medium to produce the article is the most efficient, then hasty journalism becomes journalism as well.

And then we proceed to complain about why journalism these days is so poor in content, and poorly fact-checked.

We have to realise that journalism is what we want to read, and until we decide that we want accurate, fair, and balanced journalism, we will always have shoddy, subpar works that obfuscates as much as it tries to tell a story.

So much bad reporting about the Obamacare-Little Sisters brouhaha

Little Sisters of the Poor. Courtesy of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Image credit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty

One of the news stories that came out around the turn of 2013/14 was the story of a religious group of nuns, the Little Sisters of the Poor, who aid the elderly. The story reported by many publications basically says this:

Obamacare is forcing a religious group of nuns to provide contraception to their employees! Shame on Obamacare!

Related arguments include: The Obama administration doesn’t think the Little Sisters are religious enough to qualify for church exemptions; the government shouldn’t force religious entities to do anything that goes against their moral beliefs.

Currently, the majority of news sites that tout this stance are mostly Op-Eds, as well as, of course, Fox News, and some others infamous for being less credible news sources, such as the NY Post.

However, given some of the facts of the case that were made available from the beginning of the case that really undermines the Little Sister’s standing, it’s unbelievable that writers are still deliberately ignoring those points and writing pieces with only side of the story — much bad journalism indeed. Well, I suppose sensationalising stories is nothing new, especially with some news sites whose purpose are not so much to enlighten but to build narratives.

However, some sites, such as the Huffington Post and the Denver Post, have also been guilty of reporting only one the side of the story where the Obama administration is being the overpowering encroacher. For them, it shouldn’t have been hard to do a quick search to find out what the facts are, should it?

I’ll summarise the facts and developments of the story:

  • On January 1st, 2014, a mandate from the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as “Obamacare,” would require employers providing insurance to is employees to include contraception coverage, or face fines.
  • Religious organisations, such as churches and synagogues, are exempt.
  • The Little Sisters of the Poor is a religious-affiliated non-profit, not a religious organisation, so they are still required to provide contraception coverage.
  • However, a provision in the ACA states that religious-affiliated groups, such as the Little Sisters, can opt out by filling out a conscientious objection form.
  • The objection form will then pass the burden of providing contraception coverage onto a third-party insurer.
  • Little Sisters says that even signing the form goes against their religious beliefs, because it makes them complicit in providing of contraception.
  • However, their arguments have a flaw: their employees are using a “church plan” insurance, which pre-dates the ACA, and under the church plan, the Little Sisters doesn’t have to provide contraception coverage anyway.
  • Little Sisters appeals for an injunction of the ACA mandate on them, appeal was rejected. On December 31, one day before the ACA mandate takes effect, Justice Sotomayer grants a stay on the rejection of the appeal, until a decision is reached.
  • The U.S. government has asked the Supreme Courts not to extend the exemption

There is a law, the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), that sets the standards for benefits provided to employees, should employers choose to provide them, and those under the church plan provision of ERISA don’t have to provide contraception coverage. Since it pre-dates the ACA, it limits the federal government’s authority over the health plan that the Little Sisters has, the Obama administration argues, and under ERISA the Feds couldn’t intervene or penalize it.

“There is no statutory authority to regulate the third-party administrator of a self-insured church plan and no legal compulsion for that administrator to provide contraceptive coverage where an eligible organization with a self-insured church plan invokes the accommodation, ” the government lawyers argued in an earlier Circuit Court brief.

So the Little Sisters is essentially just against the signing of the form, where if they do sign it, nothing changes from status quo — no contraception coverage will be provided, not even by third-party insurers. Yet if the Denver group doesn’t invoke that “accommodation” by self-certifying, it is still subject to hefty fines under the Affordable Care Act, at $6,700 a day, or $4.5 million a year, which comprises a third of their budget. Are they then petitioning against potential spiritual complicity, not even actual spiritual complicity, where signing the form equates to providing for the possibility of complicity, where if I sign, were I not under a church plan, I’d possibly have to provide contraception coverage, and that is against my moral beliefs? Can people actually petition against a counterfactual situation? The Becket Fund for Religious Freedom, which is also defending a similar case for Hobby Lobby, a private company that refused to provide contraception coverage because of their religious values, has taken up the Little Sisters’ case.

There is no deadline for court action, and Sotomayor can make the decision herself or refer it to the whole court, in which case all nine justices will decide.

The changing face of the New York Time’s webpage

 

 

nyt

The New York Times launched their new webpage today.

From the Atlantic:

This week, The New York Times will be launching a redesign of its website. The updated version of NYTimes.com, the paper promises in a promo, will be “sleeker,” “faster,” “more intuitive,” and “enhanced” than its forebears*. “We’ve streamlined our article pages,” the paper explains, “and created a more responsive interface with faster load times.”

Another thing that’s being streamlined? The site’s homepage. The front door to the country’s paper of record has been remodeled, with a new emphasis on interstitial spaces and sleek blacks and whites. Above, you can see that evolution in action—via a GIF featuring screen-captures of homepages dating from the past to the present: the years 2001, 2004, 2007, 2012, and the soon-to-come version of 2014.

Hat tip Chris Heller