KSDK-TV was wrong to test Kirkwood High School’s security

Last week on Jan. 16, KSDK-TV caused Kirkwood High School to go on lockdown as part of a news story.

As a security professional, a journalist, a St. Louisan, and a parent, I have more than one stake in this. And an opinion. KSDK has no leg to stand on. Read more

An inside peek at a newsroom

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Joe Holleman and his editors had to dodge some strange accusations this past week. These ranged from Holleman catching his editors sleeping, to amazement that his editors “allowed” him to write something they agreed with.

My longtime readers will know that prior to becoming Security Dude, I graduated from journalism school with the intention of eventually becoming a magazine editor. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time paying my dues writing for a daily newspaper. I’ve dealt with a number of editors. And they’ve dealt with me. Although I’m considered a moderate now, in the 1990s my now-moderate views qualified me as a conservative. My editors were always more liberal than me, so we had some disagreements.

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What I would say to someone starting to study journalism today

One of my former classmates sent out a query, asking what we’d tell someone who was thinking about studying journalism today. Predictably, a lot of people wrote “Don’t do it!” or “Newspapers aren’t hiring anyone,” or something similar. I never had time to change careers; my IT career essentially started a week after I started taking journalism classes and I was working full-time in IT a good three months before the dean of the school shook my hand and gave me my diploma.

Although I’ve had to explain my education virtually every time I’ve been interviewed for a job, I don’t regret it.
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Taking a stand: Rupert Murdoch and the Chicago Sun-Times

Some people are ready to throw the entire journalism trade out with the week’s trash thanks to the deepening Rupert Murdoch scandal. But to some people, this wasn’t a surprise at all.

In 1984, 60 journalists took a stand against Rupert Murdoch. Without them, he quickly ran a once-proud paper into the ground, and he cut his losses and sold out after just two years of ownership. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Maybe this is the difference between US and UK journalists

I’ve always wondered about the difference between US and UK journalists. I’ve always noticed a difference, but never quite figured out what it was or why. This CNN editorial is good insight.

There’s a certain irreverence and snarkiness in the UK press that you don’t see often in the States. The linked is an opinion piece and what she’s saying is theory rather than provable fact, but my experience matches hers. Read more

Should journalists hack?

I experienced an interesting collection of contrasts going to journalism school in the mid 1990s. Inside the same building, we had investigative journalists who specialized in advanced use of databases and stodgy editors who missed the days of manual typewriters and wore technological ignorance as a badge of honor.

And yet, there were textbooks that said journalists ought to be learning computer programming, because there was going to be a need for journalists who had the ability to do both. It took a while, but it seems that day has come. Maybe not to sit down and write applications software, but to hack.

But is it ethical for a journalist to hack?
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On 99-cent e-books

Slashdot has the story of independent writer John Locke, who writes crime novels and sells them as e-books on Amazon for 99 cents. He’s sold 350,000 copies since January, which was a 20x improvement over his sales rates when he was selling them for $2.99.

Publishers hate the idea. There’s not enough perceived value in a 99-cent book. Looking at it from an author’s perspective, I don’t think it’s necessarily bad.
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On content farms

It looks like Google has taken action against content farms, low-quality sites that publish articles about anything and everything quickly, and try to make money from the ads.

I can’t tell yet if this has really affected my traffic any–my traffic can drop or jump 20 percent on a daily basis for no apparent reason. But I support the change.
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Of cameras and manhandling

If you haven’t heard, Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-N.C.) is the new Internet meme.

Two younger men, claiming to be college students, approached Etheridge on the street as he left a meeting. They asked if he supported Obama’s agenda. Etheridge demanded to know who they were, manhandled one of them, then finally walked away. Although he succeeded in disabling one camera, the other camera was rolling. After some editing, he became a You Tube sensation.

This is a very clear-cut case.Some are speculating the two "students" were trying to trap a Democrat in an embarrassing situation. In this case, the motives don’t matter. The two men were on a public sidewalk. They had every right to be there, cameras rolling or no.

Etheridge wanted the two men to identify themselves. However, this is a courtesy, not a right. When I was reporting, I always identified myself. I told my sources my name, the name of the publication I was working for, and, usually, the subject of the story I was working on. A few times I flashed my press pass, but usually nobody cared. Such courtesies lend credibility, but a journalist isn’t required to disclose any of that.

What did these two men say? "We’re two college students working on a project." Credentials like that will get you the brush-off about 99% of the time, and for good reason.

So what’s an appropriate brush-off? Say "No comment," then keep on walking. Make an excuse, like you’re late for another appointment, and keep walking. Hand them a business card and tell them to call you some other time.

Or, just answer the question. The question was whether he supports Obama’s agenda. The answer, of course, is, not all of it. Etheridge represents the second district of North Carolina, and the president does not. Since they’re both members of the same political party, there should be some overlap, but two representatives from adjacent districts who are members of the same party will disagree at times. Assuming they aren’t letting the party dictate everything to them.

Saying that takes less time and effort than grunting "Who are you?" a half dozen times and manhandling someone. And if they really are students, it gives them the material they need and they’ll leave you alone. If they’re political operatives for a rival party, it shuts them right down.

I started in journalism school a long 15 years ago. You Tube was a technical impossibility then, although it was something we expected would exist someday. Back then, the saying was that you should never do anything you wouldn’t want to see plastered across the front page of the New York Times.

There was another saying too. Freedom of the press is for those who own one.

A lot has changed. Today you can buy a video camera that fits in a shirt pocket for $70. Every computer sold in the last 8 years came with at least basic video editing software. And anyone can upload to You Tube.

Anyone can register for a blog and write whatever they want, and Google will index it. The overwhelming majority of it will be ignored, but there are legions of bored people out there. Never underestimate their ability to find stuff.

In 1995, there were serious barriers to entering journalism. Today, the traditional institutions like the New York Times are losing influence, but anyone who wants to practice journalism can do it.

I guess the saying today ought to be "Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to see on the home page of You Tube."

Cameras can be used to restrict freedom and privacy. But they can also be used to prevent (or at least expose) abuses of power. This is still pretty new stuff, and a lot of people are having trouble adjusting to it.

Etheridge is trying to spin this as a mistake made at the end of a long day. That sounds plausible. But it’s a mistake that’s going to be around a long time. He’s up for re-election, and there’s no doubt in my mind that his opponent will use it in political advertisements from now until November.

Until this week, Etheridge looked like an automatic re-election. But video footage of an authority figure going all WWF Smackdown on two young men after asking a simple question has a way of changing things.

Dateline\’s getting sued

I see that Dateline’s being sued because someone who found himself on the “To Catch a Predator” segment and killed himself. His sister is suing for $105 million.

Good.I don’t normally like lawsuits, but Dateline is the most despicable excuse for journalism in the entire world, and yes, I know that takes some doing. Remember, this is the same television show that decided that GM pickup trucks didn’t explode spectacularly enough in collisions and rigged them with explosives, then presented this dramatization as fact.

What Dateline does in its To Catch a Predator segment isn’t journalism at all. It’s entrapment, pure and simple. And capturing it on film turns it into something more closely resembling so-called “reality TV” than anything else–certainly more than journalism.

The job of a journalist is to report events. What this segment of the show does isn’t to report the events–it creates them. What’s worse is that it puts the people caught on camera on trial in the court of public opinion. Many of the people who end up on the show end up having their cases dismissed in court for lack of evidence.

If the police want to engage in this sort of activity, that’s one thing. When a sensationalistic television show does it, unintended consequences happen.

I have no sympathy for pediphiles. But engaging in entrapment to put them on television as a form of entertainment isn’t the proper or ethical way to deal with them. Plus, it certainly isn’t journalism, and it gives a bad name to those who do try to practice journalism in an ethical and principled manner.

Unfortunately, a $105 million lawsuit isn’t going to do much to change Dateline’s practices. The show stays on the air because it gets reasonably good ratings and is dirt cheap to produce. That’s why they put it on in every time slot where another show fails. Even with the occasional nine-figure lawsuit thrown in, it’s far cheaper to produce than any sitcom.

If you don’t like the direction this country or society is headed, thank shows like this. Sensationalism and celebrity gossip is what passes for news these days, so the things that really matter don’t even get mentioned.

If you want to get your news from television, watch Jim Lehrer on PBS. Liberals think it’s too conservative; conservatives think it’s too liberal. That’s usually an indication that it’s doing something right. Flawed though it may be, at least it is journalism, unlike most of what ends up on television news anymore.

I remember someone asking one of my journalism instructors (Bob Sullivan, now an MSNBC columnist) for an example of balanced journalism. Surprisingly, he didn’t hesitate. “MacNeil/Lehrer,” he said. Then he laughed. “And no one watches.”

Sad.

I can find better journalism than Dateline without switching from NBC, however. It happens every Saturday night. Yes, I’m talking about Weekend Update. And it was better even when Norm McDonald was hosting.

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