Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New semester, new year, new goals

With the start of the new year and a new semester, I'm also starting with a new goal: Blog at least once a week. If I can tweet several times a day, I'm pretty sure I can find the time to blog at least once a week. What about? Well, my passions, of course: journalism, technology and, of course, good grammar.

As a journalism educator, it's my job to stay on top of all three of these topics. My students must become expert communicators. To do so, they must first of all understand the basics and importance of grammatically correct speech. I remain amazed at how many of them can't string together a simple subject-verb agreement. I need to drill it into their heads the best job they can ever hope to have includes repeating the phrase "Would you like fries with that?" if they can't master simple grammar. Every human resources and corporate executive I've ever known repeatedly tells me the first screening process for applicants is whether or not the cover letter and resume are perfect. One grammar mistake usually relegates said applicant to the trash heap.

Next up is the technology component of communication. One of the Twitter feeds I maintain is @comminternships. I use that Twitter feed to post internships in the field of communication, more and more of which require students to have social media and communication technology skills that didn't even exist 10 or even five years ago. It's becoming more and more urgent for students to recognize the need for them not just to know how to use these technologies, but to actually use them, daily, and to use them professionally, not as a way to let their friends know where the nearest drink specials are. They need to realize their potential employers are going to search for them on Google, and follow them on Twitter, and friend them on Facebook, and anything they find that brings their character into question will hinder their ability to get a job. It's not just a goal to teach them to use the tools; I have to impart the importance of using them responsibly.

And last, but not least, there's the journalism component. Just having a blog and posting whatever you think is news does not make you a journalist. You need to be able to critically evaluate that information. You need to ensure that the information you share is relevant, ethical, fair and accurate. Speaking of accuracy, how many supposedly reputable media organizations on Saturday falsely tweeted the Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) had died, when in fact she had not? What kind of journalism is that? Is it journalism at all? I was taught to get it right, not get it first. But today's multimedia journalism world is far more focused on getting it first instead. That's not journalism. That's gossip. My Twitter friend Mallary Tenore, a journalist who covers the news for The Poynter Institute's website, has a great column just about that very tragedy. My friend Joseph Blake may have said it best in this tweet on Saturday: "Dear CNN: If you have to use the words 'perhaps', 'maybe', 'not sure', or 'we think' then you should just shut up before you open your mouth." It may be time for journalists to step back from the instant communication and make certain what is being reported is right before it's reported.

One thing that comes to mind regarding reporting the death of celebrities is that news organizations and public officials seem to have a double-standard. Typically, when a non-celebrity dies, the response from officials and media is "the identity of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of the next-of-kin." Why isn't that courtesy applied to celebrities. Did Rep. Giffords husband deserve that kind of trauma, just because the media wanted to get it first? Even if she had died, didn't he deserve the dignity of finding that information out privately, and not publicly? We need to get back to that, and if you're not trained to do it, you won't ever do it.

So, that's my opening rant for 2011. We'll see what the rest of the semester, and year, brings.

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