Page One Reflection

The New York Times is usually the first thing that comes to mind when someone hears the word ‘newspaper’. It’s become ubiquitous within modern culture as ‘The Newspaper’. This movie had an important job to do conveying why they’ve achieved this status in the public’s eye. It had to get people interested in what most probably only knew as a name. And it pulls this off by showing a more human side of the organization. The New York Times is a very famous paper, one that everyone knows and can affect other news carriers to the point where there is a ‘New York Times Effect’. But it’s also full of people who love what they do and are in the middle of a crisis as the way the public receives and views news rapidly changes.

David Carr is used as a mouthpiece for most of the film and is a good choice as its focal point. He proves more than memorable enough to fill the roll with both a gripping history and a unique voice that becomes recognizable within minutes. The movie uses him as an anchor as it goes through both the history of the New York Times and its influence over the word along with the current troubles the paper is facing. A good chunk of that is devoted to how the staff reacted to the WikiLeaks scandal. There is a particular bit that discusses how information can just be left online to be found to the public. It’s something that had never been possible on a widespread scale and older papers, the ones who were formed before the internet really got going, couldn’t anticipate this kind of shift. Interviews with the staff about how news media has changed really sells that even a paper as grand as the New York Times can have troubles adapting to new forms of media.

It puts a lot of things into perspective. Those of a younger age who are just starting to pay attention to the news (such as the kinds of people in our class) probably don’t spend much time thinking about how it was done before. There are very few teenagers and young adults who will take the time to sit down and physically read a newspaper when they can go and get the headlines from the web. This trend has hurt the New York Times and shaken its foundation. Other papers, old ones that have been around for just as long and carried similar weight behind their names have already gone under. The movie brings up this fact and uses it to add precedence to the idea that the New York Times might not be around forever.

Overall, it’s a very effective and informative look into the most prestigious paper in the United States. It shows it to be both a normally run institution with a human staff and as a fallible organization. It’s a beautiful documentary on one of the cornerstones of the news media and is more than worth the watch for anyone who reads or is curious about the New York Times.


Helvetica Reflection

Compared to the last movie we watched in class, “Page One: Inside the New York Times”, Helvetica feels much more like a straight documentary. The main way information is conveyed is through dialog which, more often than not, consists of people speaking into the camera. They answer implied questions in a straight interview style, sometimes showing off their work while they talk. Their names and occupations appear at the bottom of the screen for a few seconds which is about all the introduction you get towards them. The rest you’re supposed to pick up from what they say. It definitely gives the sense that a lot of information is being conveyed, and a lot of important, factual information besides, but is somewhat hard to follow. And unless the audience finds the talk particularly interesting, paying attention can be a bit difficult as well.

It does give a good sense of what Helvetica is and how it has ingrained itself into society. The portions where the camera moves around the street and shows all the different places where the font has appeared in advertising and signage does well to convey its importance. If someone was unaware that the font used on street signs was Helvetica (like I was), it’s a bit eye opening. The font has truly become something of a staple in modern society. The go to for advertising due to how easy to understand and unobtrusive it is. Throw in a look that screamed ‘modern’ at the time and it was simple to turn it into the norm.

However, the film doesn’t do as well making the people who study or made Helvetica very memorable. The entire movie is done in an interview style with very little variance. Good for letting them speak their minds about the subject, but there aren’t parts that truly stick out save for a few instances where they went out to the street. Most of the film is simply a fixed position camera on a person whose name appears for half a minute and speaks for around five. It is somewhat difficult to keep track of who is who. The information itself is a bit more memorable, but not in any way that sticks for more than a few days. People who are really interested in typography or language will probably have a far easier time following along than the average viewer.

One thing of particular note is that the film isn’t one sided. While they are outnumbered by people who like and approve of Helvetica, there were a couple (both graphic designers) who expressed an extreme dislike of the font. They call it boring and corporate which is kind of true given how much and where it is used. It is a nice surprise from a movie that at first glance could be expected to glorify Helvetica.

While it is somewhat interesting to listen to, it obviously is intended as an educational piece and isn’t really all that entertaining. It wouldn’t be surprising to hear that it didn’t get much screen time these days outside of classrooms and those who have a genuine interest in typography.

Good Headlines

A headline is the first thing any person will see when they look at a news article or story. Whether heading up a web page or sitting above a physical article in a newspaper, it is the main source of advertising the individual piece is going to get. The headline is the one chance a paper has to convince someone to give the work more than a passing glance. Naturally, it should be something that quite a bit of thought is put into. Especially if the author in question is just starting out and doesn’t have any reputation behind his or her name. Quicksprout’s “Definitive Guide to Copywriting” makes it rather succinct: “A great headline convinces more people to read your story while a poor one sends them somewhere else to spend their money.”

The thing that should always be kept in mind when creating a headline is that its first job is to describe the story. The equivalent to the summary that appears on the back of a paperback, only it’s on the front and also the title. Whatever is written should accurately represent the content of the article. If the story is about spiders, then the word ‘spider’ or ‘arachnid’ should appear in the headline somewhere. A site from the University of California put it bluntly. “Ask yourself this question as you compose a headline: If people see my five to ten words, will they know what the article is about?” On the same point, it is generally a good idea to keep it short. The details are for the story, not the title.

With a shorter, succinct headline, word choice becomes extremely important. The piece will be fighting for page space with every other article in the newspaper or on the front page of a website. A story that can get the most out of every single word it uses will have a far better chance of beating out the competition. The language used must be clear and unambiguous. A word with multiple meanings should generally be substituted for a more specific word as long as it isn’t too obscure. The general public needs to be able to understand exactly what the headline is trying to say at a glance. Often that is the only chance it has to hook them in, which is why boring, meandering, or repeated speech should be avoided at all costs. Once again, something quick and to the point will do miles better.

Finally, grammar is a more interesting beast in a headline. While spelling is still important and using words incorrectly will cause problems, the actual sentence structure of the title is generally less important than in most cases. Lots of headlines are too short to make a full sentence and can easily get away with dropping less critical words every now and again. As long as it doesn’t come out choppy, it should be fine.

Keeping these points in mind should help keep focus when creating a headline, even if they don’t make it any easier. Describing the story in a short, interesting manner will work wonders for attracting an audience. Just remember to put as much (and most likely more) work into the actual article. A promise should be made good on once the audience is drawn in.


The Importance of Accuracy and Grammar

The facts of the story oftentimes ARE the story. What happens in the world is the basis of news media and it is their job to report these events to the general public. Naturally, this means that accuracy is one of the more important parts of their writing. If a paper, website, or program errors in reporting what actually happened, it can distort events and color people’s opinions unfairly. The truth should always be clear and so should the language used to report it. If a story has poor grammar then there is a higher chance something will be misunderstood. On top of that, a story with high quality grammar is just all around easier and more satisfying to read. Both of these points should be of the highest consideration when putting together a news article.

Fact checking should be done first as often as possible given that the research that is done for a story will form the basis of everything you write. Getting sources is the first step to that and it smart to travel as far back to the original as possible. As Steve Buttry puts it, “The person you’re talking to may be mistaken or lying or not remember the complete story. Asking “How do you know that?” helps you find the best source for the information.” First hand sources are always superior to second or third hand. But even if the source used IS first hand, there should always be more than one. A single person or other piece of information is likely going to be colored by many different factors and having a larger basis for facts will make it easier to figure out what really happened.

When the facts are gathered, it is vital that they be told as accurately as possible. This includes names of the people involved, dates, locations, numbers, and any specific technical matters such as laws or scientific research. All of these should be double-checked at least once to make sure nothing is being reported falsely. Any mistake on the author’s part could mislead the audience and a misquoted or misreported source is not likely to be happy with the error. Journalism is the delivery system of current events to the people and it is crucial those events are correct.

Which is why clear correct grammar can make or break an article. Having the right facts and the right context are infinitely important, but pains should always be taken to make sure they are presented correctly. Always ask the person appearing in the piece how to spell their name and write it down. Correct spelling and use of names and places is key to giving a clear picture of the events involved. Good punctuation and sentence structure can set a good pace within the piece for narrative flow. White Smoke is rather forceful about this, but the blunt phrasing reflects the needed mindset. “Newspaper articles have to be clearly written. All names have to be spelled correctly, all facts need to be checked and re-checked, and every quote needs to be verified with the source, too.”

The proper facts are the backbone of news and a good chunk of its purpose. An article must be as accurate as possible if it is going to be distributed to the general public, especially when representing a major paper. And the facts it reports should be presented clearly enough for a majority of the audience to understand without any trouble. To that end, the importance of proper information gathering and correct grammar cannot be stated enough and should always be an early consideration.


Avoiding Libel and Slander

In one’s journalistic career they must always take steps to make sure what they are writing or saying is factual. The main purpose of news media is to inform people about what is going on in the world and making false statements may just be the opposite of that. It can also be illegal under the right circumstances. Such as when one says or writes false information that is damaging to a person’s reputation. The spoken form is known as slander and the written form as libel and both are covered under the legal term defamation. They should be avoided at all costs. The media does not exist to make baseless accusations or to defame people for personal or petty reasons.

Defamation is defined by the News Manual in three parts. “(a) The reputation of that person is likely to be injured. (b) He is likely to be injured in his profession or trade. (c) Other persons are likely to be induced to shun, avoid, ridicule or despise him.” Any false statements made about a person that could cause one of these effects can be considered either liable or slander. The most straightforward advice to give is to simply be thorough with fact checking. Follow up on sources to make sure they don’t bear any sort of grudge against the person that is being reported on and are in a position to make informed comments. A false and damaging quote from an interview could hurt both the subject’s and the publisher’s reputation, as well as your own. Not only that, but legal action could very well be taken if it appears that the article has a strong bias against the subject and is trying to defame them. Always make sure there is proof to any claims made to back them up.

It is also for the best if a journalist avoids covering news stories that cause an intense personal reaction due to bias or personal belief. If a journalist feels that the content of an article is something they feel strong leanings towards, they should likely pass it off to someone else. Note that this only covers news articles, not opinion pieces. Opinion pieces are specifically about the point of view so some bias (or even a strong bias) is expected. However, they are still subject to defamation laws. False, damaging statements made against individuals or specific organizations will not fly in any type of printed or spoken journalism. Proof is absolutely everything even when spouting opinion.

If a potentially damaging statement must be made, either be very specific with backed up information or be incredibly general. Dancing with Lawyers puts it well; “Generally, a statement made about an undefinable group of people or organizations cannot be defamation. Take, “Real estate agents are crooks.” It’s defamatory enough, but there is no identifiable victim. Most of the agents at Smith Real Estate Company are crooks” is getting dicier, but it is still hard to define the victim. Smith Real Estate Company is a crooked company.” Wham! You have a victim: Smith Real Estate Company.” Without information or observation that suggests they actually ARE stealing money from their customers, narrowing it down to one person or company can and will be considered slander.

Journalists have a responsibility to be accurate with their reporting as much as they possibly can. Libel and slander are never appropriate for a work that is going to be published or a public broadcast. News needs to stay about the facts. Wild baseless accusations are for tabloids.