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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Journalism is in the midst of a slow-motion crisis.

When I was in journalism school, students learned how to write using the “inverted pyramid” approach. The inverted pyramid is a style of writing that dates back to the days when paper real estate — in a print newspaper — was limited. Editors who wished to make room for breaking stories needed the option to lop the bottom of the story off with minimal risk of omitting critical details. The inverted pyramid calls for the most vital aspects of a story to appear at the top. This allows editors more flexibility while recognizing the fact that not all readers make the page jump to continue reading an article that concludes elsewhere. As a result, it was important then — as it is now — to lead with the most relevant details. A properly crafted story lede (introduction) encapsulates the basics: Who?, What?, When?, Where? and Why?.

In the Digital Era print real estate isn’t the limiting factor it once was. But there are indications the digital medium has shortened readers’ attention spans. It is of vital importance, as a result, to impart key facts “up top” — if only because web viewers are likely to skim content and move on.

Something, however, has changed in the way a lot of news organizations craft and promote stories. Call it sloppiness — lax editing — or journalistic “spin”. Some of the most controversial stories to appear in mainstream media are prefaced by misleading headlines on social media — titles that don’t square with a complete read of the content. Misleading headlines on social media posts are far from the only problem, however. Take, as an example, two contradictory narratives: Person/institution “X” and person/institution “Y” disagree over who did what or why. What should a responsible journalist do with this unwieldy story line? The answer is to disclose the ambiguity very early on  — to make clear to readers that a situation is in flux and/or that key aspects of the story are in dispute.

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The University of California, Irvine released a forecast in February predicting a drop in California’s violent crime rate in 2017. The same month, a Whittier, California police officer was shot and killed, and another officer wounded, by a recently-incarcerated gang member. The tragedy touched off a debate about California’s controversial efforts to reduce prison overcrowding.

Common sense would seem to dictate that California cannot move from overaggressive law enforcement under “Three Strikes” to a hasty effort to comply with a Federal mandate to reduce prison overcrowding without consequence. For UCI to forecast a decrease in violent crime in 2017 when, in 2015, violent crime hit a double-digit increase as reported by The Los Angeles Times simply doesn’t add up. But that hasn’t stopped otherwise respectable sources from chalking up the increase in violent crime to a fluke, proving that statics are only as honest as the people who interpret them.

As much as we may wish to compartmentalize nonviolent vs. violent crime, the reality is that antisocial behavior, of which crime is but one manifestation, is on a spectrum. There is no surefire way to predict whether a low-level offender will remain nonviolent for life. Complicating matters, evidence indicates that recidivism among nonviolent offenders is in some cases higher than their more violent counterparts.

Society has long debated the concept of “gateway drugs“, which are thought to open the door to the use of harder street drugs. Seemingly, however, we have no comparable concept when it comes to crime. To the contrary, an argument that has gained popularity in recent decades is that Americans over-incarcerate people who in no way pose a threat to society. We even have a name for such offenses: “victimless crimes“. Using this logic, we should reduce sentencing for nonviolent crimes — in what California Gov. Jerry Brown calls a “Public Safety Realignment” — without fear that it will come back to haunt us.

Not so fast.

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You’ve heard it everywhere: Trump’s “Muslim ban” is inadequate on the one hand — the list of seven nations fails to include, for example, Afghanistan — and unconstitutional on the other hand. We are told that the President’s executive order only makes us more unsafe — and, indeed, his actions have been met with dismay throughout much of the world.

A surprising thing happens, however, upon taking one small step back from the maelstrom: In doing just that, I was given pause to reconsider what I thought I knew based on mainstream media reporting — thanks to the work of fellow WordPress blogger Seth J. Frantzman, Ph.D.

Frantzman did something extraordinary — well, it ought not be uncommon but in today’s climate it most definitely is: he read the full text of Trump’s executive order. 

So what, exactly, is the deal with the list of seven nations pundits and reporters frequently cite?

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