Thursday, April 8, 2010

Television Catching Up

Television is often meant to echo real life experiences, and a CNN article reports that TV shows might finally be catching up on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representation. The article, "Is Hollywood Gay Enough," suggests that the number of LGBT characters on primetime television has doubled since 2005. In addition to writing characters to represent the lifestyle, more people in Hollywood are 'coming out of the closet' about their personal lives. The article points out that typically straight actors play LGBT characters, with LGBT actors rarely playing a straight character (Neil Patrick Harris on "How I Met Your Mother" being an exception). A producer suggests that LGBT actors might be nervous of the stigma 'coming out' could cause, especially because it places their sexuality in the spotlight.

From an editorial standpoint, I felt the article could have used a bit more balance. The main sources are a gay actor playing a gay character, two straight actors playing gay characters and a producer who is gay. It seems ironic that the article says "the "L" and the "T," of LGBT, are still waiting for their TV time," but then no sources or characters are discussed that do represent these lifestyles. I also thought it seemed slightly contradictory for the article to open by saying that the number of characters on television is slowly beginning to serve as a valid representation of real life- how is that possible when the article itself says lesbians and transgendered are rarely represented. However, the article also says that the main decision in representation is whether an audience will be comfortable.

From a 20 something standpoint, I thought this article was interesting, especially in light of a project I completed on the representation of women on TV shows (and whether their careers matched real life). I had never considered that more straight actors are cast as gay men than vice versa, and that bothered me slightly. I appreciated the quote from Sean Smith on the matter: "Whether they're gay, straight, from the South, British or from Mars, it doesn't matter. The best person who captures that character gets the job." While I agree that casting should be entirely based on abilities not sexual orientation, I struggled to believe Smith simply because if more people truly believe that then why is Neil Patrick Harris the only example anyone has of a gay man playing a straight character?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Where There's Smoke There's Menthol?

Tobacco regulation is being reviewed within a Food and Drug Administration's (FDA advisory board, particularly the issue of menthol flavoring in cigarettes. The two sides of the issue that the New York Times presents in the article "F.D.A. to Examine Menthol Cigarettes" are that opponents claim the flavoring masks the "harsh taste of cigarettes" and thus makes cigarettes appealing to young smokers. However, proponents argue that "menthol does not pose any greater risk to public health than other types of cigarettes." The chairman of the advisory panel on tobacco regulation, Dr. Jonathan Samet, reported that the committee's first job is to review evidence before recommending changes of any kind regarding a ban on menthol.

From an editorial view, I thought the article did a nice job of being balanced. It included voices on both sides of the issue with a particular emphasis on the way menthol cigarettes are marketed to young smokers and African-American smokers. While the article did include anti-smoking moments, like "half of long-term smokers eventually die of smoking-related causes", they were cited to various 'reputable' organizations or other sources. My only comment would be that though balance existed in the content the arrangement of the piece should be reworked to highlight that. Currently, opponents of smoking appear in the fourth paragraph, while smoking supports don't appear until three paragraphs later; this pattern seems to repeat throughout the whole article- opponents first, and then supporters.

From a 20 something view, I found the idea of an underground cigarette market interesting. Though there are outspoken voices on both sides of the smoking issue, no one ever talks about what would happen if cigarettes are actually banned. Would the government provide assistance for those addicted to cigarettes? Or would they be expected to quit cold turkey? An industry analyst for Morgan Stanley, David Adelman, points out that no one can predict what a ban on specifically menthol cigarettes would do to commerce and retail, let alone consumers. While I believe that going 'smoke free' would benefit everyone's health, I can't help but wonder what, if any other, positives or negatives on either side of the issue.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Burying Alzheimer's, In Life and In Media

The Alzheimer's Association released its most recent report March 9, 2010, announcing the finding that minorities are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. The coverage of this announcement by USA Today surprised me- it was buried in the "Life" section on the second to last page, below the fold. Granted, this article was published on the day the report came out, so likely the article was a last minute addition with the basic facts about what the report was about. I was still surprised by this coverage and wanted to know more about this report. The CNN web provided some information with their article "'Drowning in Alzheimer's': Minorities struggle with dementia."

From an editorial perspective, I was still disappointed with CNN's coverage of this report. I appreciated that they included a familial profile with the announcement of the report, but I felt that they said little to nothing about the report itself. Instead they focused on how the family of Francisca Terrazas handled her care as she lives with Alzheimer's. After mentioning the report briefly in the second and third paragraph (including the statistics that African-Americans are about two times and Hispanics are about 1.5 times more likely to develop the disease and its subsidiaries), the article moves to the difficulties of handling family members with the disease when a minority. Citing socioeconomic disparities, taboos about assisted living facilities and nursing homes and families simply burying any problem, I know more about the way Alzheimer's is handled within the Terrazas family than about how the Alzheimer's Association came to these findings.

From a 20 something perspective, I wanted to know more. Our parents are getting older, and the age is beginning to show. Alzheimer's, as the article said, is "indiscriminately devastating," and I want to know as much as possible about the disease just in case. This article didn't provide that, even in sidebars or links. While I understand wanting to show a real-life example of a minority family caring for their mother with Alzheimer's, I don't understand why more attention wasn't paid to the report that inspired the story itself- I want to understand why more minorities have the disease, what causes the disease and what symptoms have been currently identified. The article didn't really answer any of my questions, so I felt like the motivation for the story was buried under the profile.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Sleepover at the Supreme Court

Concrete is likely no one's ideal pillow, but many roughed it as they spent the night outside the Supreme Court in Washington D.C., Monday, March 1. This article by Adam Liptak for The New York Times entitled "Tailgating Outside the Supreme Court, With the Cars" provides the story of those wanting to "sit her and see law being made" (in the words of Larken Euiss, second in line). Over the course of approximately 26 hours, people joined the line to witness the open arguments in the case of McDonald v. Chicago, though ultimately only 75 people would be granted entrance. The trial will be examining the constitutionality of the Chicago handgun ban according to the Second Amendment, which is the right to bear arms.

From an editorial perspective, I really enjoyed the creativity of this piece, especially in regards to the angle. The journalist, Adam Liptak, did a great job of "finding the story" within this topic. He introduced readers to those in line and revealed their motivations for being there without going any further into the politics of the trial itself. While I enjoyed the piece, I wish he would have included a brief paragraph on the case itself. Though Liptak, obviously, was trying to avoid the typical trial story, he mentions the case name, McDonald v. Chicago, once and provides no other information. The only clue I saw was the description of Robert Cumberland's button. Readers benefit from a brief background reminder, especially for legal matters.

From a 20s perspective, I appreciated the amount of detail within the piece. Liptak filled readers in on what time things took place over the course of the 26 hours and what people did to pass the time. The piece reads more like a narrative than a journalistic story due to Liptak taking on the role of omniscient narrator. It is obvious that he was "lingering with intent" (in the words of one of my journalism professors), because he knew why a person's hair was blue, what book the high schoolers were reading and heard the retort of the court police. He made the piece more about the people than the trial, and I will readily admit to rereading the piece several times seeking out all the detail. The only thing missing was what kind of pizza they ate.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sale Events Turn to Trials for Toyota

Toyota's focus turned from making cars, to fixing cars, and now two days of U.S. House hearings. The first took place Tuesday, Feb. 23, before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee. The second took place Wednesday, Feb. 24 before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The USA Today on-line article "Toyota Executive Not Sure Problems Are Solved" discusses witness testimony and what the company can expect in the future.

As an editor, I can see that the lead is what makes the story. A paraphrased quote from Jim Lentz saying "he is "not totally" certain the automaker's recent recalls will prevent future cases of unintended acceleration" grabs attention immediately. However, Lentz is not identified as the speaker until his name first appears in the fifth paragraph. With sources ranging from a personal experience of unintended acceleration, to representatives on the subcommittees, to top executives within Toyota, the article balances personal and informative. Also, the list format under the sub-head "Major Issues Raised" is an effective way of presenting the testimony in a nutshell.

As a 20 something woman, I was particularly interested in the concern that electronic glitches could be to blame for the acceleration issues, since the future is definitely in technology. Associate professor of automotive technology at Southern Illinois University David Green testified that he was able to bypass Toyota's "fail-safe" system that should be preventing electrical problems from affecting acceleration. Green performed his tests on four types of Toyotas, bypassing the "fail-safe" system each time without triggering anything that could be spotted by a technician. This testimony grabbed my attention, because of the ridicule it makes of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood promised that the NHTSA "will not rest" until they determine whether electronics are the problem in Toyotas. Members of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee questioned LaHood's pledge based on his staff's report they felt incapable of handling such an investigation. The solution seems obvious to me: the NHTSA should hire David Green since he is obviously capable of hacking Toyota's system.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Soaking up the Sun in Haiti

Haiti has been in the minds of people for weeks, since the January 12 earthquake. The new angle that CNN article "College Students Heading for Haiti" takes is clearly spelled out in the title. Groups from Penn State and Lawrence Technological University are traveling to the country in the upcoming months as their spring break or post-graduation plans. Lawrence Tech students, working with Reconstruction Efforts Aiding Children without Homes (REACH), plan to help lay foundations for two structures. "Project Haiti" from Penn State will be taking clothing and other supplies to children living in the Maison Fortune orphanage in Hinche.

From an editorial standpoint, I immediately want to know if these are the only two universities who have trips planned to Haiti; other universities could easily be recognized in a sidebar. The article provides a wide variety of sources, including students participating in the trips, advisers and even past participants that still work with the projects. I appreciated the array of voices, and the method the article's author used, which allowed sources to basically tell the story in their own words.

From a 20 something viewpoint, I am slightly disappointed in the tone the article takes. Twice the article points out that a "typical" college spring break is partying and lying in the sun (once in a quote from Liz Stock and again when referring to Christopher Harris). While this tone places a spotlight on these students for choosing to travel to Haiti, it makes it seem like all other college students are self-absorbed. Especially with the decision to end with this quote: "I think more people need to stop being selfish and give back to the principles that we're all instilled with from birth. It feels good doing good things." Interesting choice for a kicker quote on an article that is supposed to be focusing on the good deeds of college students, don't you think? Let me know.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Degrees in Medical Marijuana

On Tuesday, February 9, 2010, USA Today ran an article on their website entitled "As Attitudes Shift, Marijuana Classes Roll." The story focuses around classes at Oaksterdam University, Los Angeles, that teach about the marijuana plant. California is one of 14 states that allow marijuana for medicinal purposes, so the classes are meant to teach citizens about growing the plant legally. The reporter included a glimpse into who the students are within the classes and what they learn.

Looking at this article from an editorial position, the article appears amidst media attention to a California petition to legalize marijuana in every sense. My initial thought was that quotes or biographical information from participating students would have strengthened the story, before noticing this: "Many students, worried about legal uncertainties, did not want to be identified." While this one line explains to me why so few are included in this article, I felt this line blew a huge hole into the credibility of the story altogether. One of the points of the story is that marijuana has now become a topic that people are willing to talk about and even attend classes for, yet people don't want there to be repercussions for appearing in a story?

Looking at this article from a 20 something perspective, it does not seem to have a specific target audience. Though most of the sources are Oaksterdam school officials, their message is refreshing because they don't sound as rehearsed as typical university officials. The one question I am not completely sure was ever answered is: why should I care? I want the news to give me a reason to pay attention, but this article only gives me a weak attempt towards relatability using few sources that were actually students in the program. Legalizing medical marijuana came about through the efforts of the generation ahead of us, but simply legalizing marijuana will likely be up to my generation.

Take a look at the article, and let me know what you think: