A Letter to my Graduating Students

It is that time of year, graduation season. I greet the end of the semester with my students with mixed emotions. I am both sad and happy to see the students I have watched grow and learn graduate.

The students graduating from the program this year were Freshman when I began teaching as a member of the Affiliated Faculty. I feel as though they have seen me grow as a teacher, as I have seen them grow as journalists. It is a fairly small program, and I get to know many of the students extremely well. It is exciting to see them win awards for their work leading up to graduation. It is more exciting to hear from each one where they will be headed next.

I often get asked advice about starting out, and I say the same thing to each one, be yourself. No matter the field they chose to enter remaining true to the person, and their values will always be the right choice.  I know there will be times those values are challenged, and that is when you have to dig the deepest.

It is a bit of a scary time to enter the world of journalism. The industry is changing, evolving. The reliance on digital content and the 24-hour news cycle puts more pressure on journalists than ever. It is even scarier for young adults heading out on their own for the first time without the support system of a school or home. It is my hope that first job will offer some support and encouragement as each student grows.

I wish my students well as they step across that stage, I am proud of each and every one of them. They learned to think for themselves over the past four years, and have the skills needed to succeed. It is time for them to spread their wings and trust themselves, I look forward to seeing the great journalism you produce.

Sharing is Caring, Even on Social Media

How do you know what is going on in the world? Do you get up in the morning and turn on the television, or turn over in bed and look at your phone? The answer may depend on your age, still more people are turning to their phones for news than ever before.

A study published in AdWeek shows 80% of 18-44 years old reach for their phone first thing in the morning. The IDC Research report was sponsored by Facebook and claims 79% of smartphone users have the device with them for 22 hours a day. People site connectedness, curiosity, and productivity as the reason. A closer look at the study shows people check their Facebook news feeds on a regular basis, and people spend about 20 minutes a day on Facebook. Think about how quickly you check Facebook on your phone, and how easily those numbers can add up. This study was published in 2013, so you can assume the numbers have only gone up.

Adweek: Digital Study

If you are interested in the latest stats on Facebook check out this blog:

Facebook Stats Blog

Do you share content on Facebook? Many of us do, and that statistic continues to climb. News organizations and marketing companies spend a lot of money trying to figure out how to write a Facebook post so it will encourage people to share. There is no tried and true formula, but researchers keep looking.

Every wonder what makes a person share content on social media? That research still in its infancy but some trends are starting to emerge.

When it comes to social media, there are two types of people, those who observe and those who engage. A study in Journalism and Mass Communications Quarterly looked at those two groups and among their findings, those who spend more time on social media tend to be more heavily engaged. When a person joins a social media network, they often sit back and observe until they are comfortable.

 

When you share news or other content through social media, it is a way to create and maintain relationships according to a study published in Computers in Human Behavior.  News content had a higher social value when it came to sharing information. Those who share news tend to do to so as a sense of social responsibility. They want their “friends” to know what is going on in the world. There is also a sense of increasing your online status when you become highly engaged and share content frequently. Finally, people share information to gain peer acceptance, to show they are “in the know” and can be part of a larger conversation.

 

That peer-to-peer sharing gets shared more often that information put out by an organization or company. There is a level of trust between “friends” when it comes to the types of content that are shared (Mahmood & Sismeiro, 2017).

 

Peer-to-peer sharing is better than organizational sharing, because of the level of trust between “friends” according to a study out of London published in the  Journal of Interactive Marketing. This is why some companies are targeting those primary users with content, in hopes that they share to the wide range of “friends” they have on Facebook or other social media networks. It has been shown, at least on Facebook, that “friends” tend to visit the same websites and can be driven to those sites through shared content.  This definitely has a financial impact to the company because more eyes on a website mean higher ad revenue.

So why do you “share” on social media? How as a company can you tap into that need for people to be social as a way to get more engagement for your audience? This has become the topic of a paper I am writing for a course, and find the questions fascinating.

 

Side Note:

Programs like Facebook’s Instant Articles tends to keep people on the social media network and not visiting those originating websites, meaning a potential loss of revenue for the news organizations. There is a financial arrangement between the news generators and Facebook currently. In fact, a new report claims Google and Facebook account for nearly all the growth in digital advertising, the numbers are still be debated you can read the report from Fortune here.

 

Sources:

Choi, J. “News Internalizing and Externalizing: The Dimensions of News Sharing on           Online Social Networking Sites.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 93.4 (2016):         816-35. Web.
Ingram, Mathew. “Google and Facebook Account For Nearly All Growth in Digital Ads.” Google and Facebook Reap Almost All Digital Ad Growth | Fortune.com. Fortune, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
Lafferty, Justin. “STUDY: How Addicted Are We To Facebook Mobile?” – Adweek. Adweek, 27 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

Lee, Chei Sian, and Long Ma. “News Sharing in Social Media: The Effect of Gratifications and      Prior Experience.” Computers in Human Behavior 28.2 (2012): 331-39. Web.

Mahmood, A., & Sismeiro, C. (2017). Will They Come and Will They Stay? Online Social  Networks and News Consumption on External Websites. Journal of Interactive             Marketing, 37, 117-132. doi:10.1016/j.intmar.2016.10.003
Stadd, Allison. “79% Of People 18-44 Have Their Smartphones With Them 22 Hours A Day [STUDY].” – Adweek. Adweek, 2 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.
“Top 20 Facebook Statistics – Updated April 2017.” Zephoria Inc. Zephoria Inc., 11 Apr. 2017. Web. 28 Apr. 2017.

 

 

A View from the Sidelines

For the first time in some years, I went to the Boston Marathon as a spectator, not a journalist. There was no need to feed those live reports to radio stations around the country. I was not looking for the wide spectrum of people to speak with about why the braved the crowds. Instead, I was simply one of those people.

 

I dragged my daughter along, she goes to college in Boston. We started at Fenway while the Red Sox were still playing, and stopped to watch some of the runners go through Kenmore Square. These were not the elite runners, but those who have full-time jobs and still manage to train for the grueling marathon. It was inspiring to see the determination on faces of men and women that as a child probably never dreamed they would be running this marathon.

 

We went toward Fenway Park, the Red Sox were still playing, the crowd was huge. There were college students, families and a lot of international visitors. The atmosphere was positive and fun and showed how the city of Boston can come together.

 

One of the highlights of the day, a stretch where the runners go into a tunnel and back out only to have to climb a hill, with one mile left to go. It was 3:30 in the afternoon and the crowds were still there cheering, with cowbells and encouraging each person to just keep going. A metaphor for life, just keep going and encourage others to do the same.

 

Since the 2013 bombings, the marathon has become synonymous with a spirit of perseverance.  It has now become part of the narrative for any news organization covering the event. This year, while the Boston media honored those who died and those who survived, it seemed for the first time it was not the focus of pre-marathon coverage. This could be because the trial is over, and the city has found some closure. There were stories about survivors running the marathon, and the wreath laying ceremonies were covered live.

 

I will admit, seeing large trucks blocking the streets that led to the marathon route was a bit unnerving. Knowing that around the world terror attacks have become more frequent and targeting large crowds. There were security checkpoints along the route, but no one complained about the lines. In fact, many now know the routine, a clear plastic bag or no bag at all.

 

We stopped several times along the route to marvel at the accomplishments of the runners, and the cheer them on. It was nice for a change to be part of the day and not just an observer. It gave me a new perspective on Marathon Monday, that is more than just a day off from school and work and the kick off to the tourism season in Boston. The day is a celebration of unity, because when you looked at the runners and those who were cheering we were all one, celebrating a spectacular event that brings us all together.

 

Next year I am sure to be back in the thick of it as a journalist, and while those press credentials will make it easier to get around, I will have a new respect for those who make the time to cheer on friends and strangers

Is that a Slot Machine in Your Pocket? Some say Yes.

We have all done it, left for work in the morning only to realize you left your phone at home on the counter. What do you do? Some people will turn around, others will ask a family member to bring in, and a small group will just suffer through the day. I say suffer because that feeling of disconnect is sometimes hard to take.

This week’s blog is in response to a CBS 60 Minutes story on “Brain Hacking.”

CBS 60 MINUTES – HOOKED ON PHONES

Companies are developing apps with the specific goal of keeping you engaged, and sort of addicted. They talk about SnapChat and keeping track of streaks to encourage people to use the app more often, which leads to more ads and revenue. What scared me the most about this information is programmers were targeting the individual creating codes that are responding to how you use that smartphone, and when is the best time to give you “rewards” so you remain on the phone looking at ads longer.

CBS 60 MINUTES: BRAIN HACKING

It sounds like a futuristic movie, but it is here. This is one reason it is so hard to “unplug” and especially for teens being away from their phone and access is anxiety producing. If you think this does not impact you, think again… where is your phone right now?

In the CBS 60 Minute story Anderson Cooper talked to Tristan Harris, a one-time Design Ethicist for Google he now spends his time speaking out about the impact of technology on life, and has created an organization called Time Well Spent. His recent essay describes your cell phone as a slot machine, sometimes you get the reward of likes or other interactions, sometimes you do not.

TRISTAN HARRIS ESSAY

I will admit to being conflicted while writing this blog. I am studying Interactive News, and the idea is to get the audience engaged and return to a specific website or app. It is a business, and this technology is what makes it profitable. In fact, you most likely read this blog after seeing a post on social media.

Push notifications from news organizations interrupt your life, so you feel the need to look at your phone and read the story. That is the goal of the news organization, get more eyes on the website or app to sell more advertising. Without that revenue, there would be no place for journalists work to be seen or read. I will continue to study ways to engage the audience and increase page views.

There are good and bad points to social media, it allows people to connect that may not have had the opportunity, it can also be a time waster and reduce productivity. Like everything there needs to be moderation.

SOCIAL MEDIA TODAY: THE GOOD AND THE BAD

Our smartphones are not going away. In the past ten years, they have become part of the daily life for millions. There is a whole generation that cannot imagine not being connected 24/7. I guess what we need to work on is how to unplug, and why.  How to get over the fear of missing something important. Remember you cannot miss something you did not see.

HUFFINGTON POST: HOW TO UNPLUG

I do not believe it is realistic to completely go off of social media, most people feel the need to be informed. It is possible to set some boundaries, no phones at the dinner table, put your phone in a backpack while hiking, or even resolve to call a friend once a week. Knowledge is power and understanding why our phones, and social media accounts, are so addictive could help you make better decisions.

While writing this article I left my phone upstairs, I will admit it is driving me crazy!

The Reuters Way; “Providing news to people so they can make better decisions.” Why do you read the news?

Just the facts Ma’am. It is a phrase most of us have heard. It has been associated with journalism, despite it coming from the television show, Dragnet, a police drama in the 1950s. These days finding and understanding “just the facts” is easier said than done. This was the premise for a panel at Emerson College featuring Stephen Adler, President, and Editor-in-Chief of Reuters.  Adler making it clear to students and faculty the mission of Reuters “providing news to people so they can make better decisions.”

Who is Stephen Adler?

The panel was titled “Finding Facts with Steve Adler” and students as well as faculty were encouraged to discuss objectivity in journalism at a time when the White House is openly hostile to reporters.  You may recall Adler sent a memo to his staff in January about how to cover the White House, it leaked, and Adler decided just to make the document public. Many believed he was comparing the Trump Administration to regimes in places like Turkey and Iraq, but during this discussion, he corrected that misconception.

Covering Trump the Reuters Way

Adler saying they are putting more resources in better places than the White House press room adding “most of the action is not in that room.” Adler saying that has always been the case, not just in Washington but in countries around the world.  Reporters need to develop sources and find a story not wait for it to be handed to them. Adler would argue that is easier in Washington under the Trump Administration than it was under President Obama, saying more people in government are willing to talk to reporters.

When pressed about the decision to remain in an off the record gaggle that other news outlets, including CNN, were not allowed Adler responded, “our job is to get the news, not commit mass acts of journalism.” Adler did say they shared information with the briefing, and there have been discussions about the course of action should a similar decision be made by the White House Press Secretary in the future. Adler says there are a number of organizations that work on behalf of journalists to fight First Amendment issues, and he is a member of those groups.

Reuters Article on Gaggle Ban

When it came to the topic of objectivity, and how some news organizations may not be following that model Adler was clear Reuters will not stray from the practice. Saying Reuters sells stories to other news organizations around the world and need to uphold a certain standard. Adler believing you cannot do an accurate story if you are not fair. He went on to acknowledge this practice does mean fewer “shares” on social media because people like opinion, and do engage when it is included. Adler not a fan of the media model based on clicks, instead wants to focus on journalism.

There was another pressing issue those in the audience wanted to discuss with Adler, fake news. These are stories that appear to be real news stories but are true fiction. CBS 60 Minutes did a short segment on this recently.

CBS 60 Minutes Report on Fake News

The creators are out to make money. However, the practice has made the general public skeptical of news. Not to mention the President referring to fake news on a regular basis. Adler talking about building trust with the audience, and how at Reuters the focus is on accuracy over speed. This means independently verifying every piece of user-generated content before it can be included or referenced in a report. At times this means they are the last ones to go with a story, but upholding the Reuters reputation is worth it.

Adler suggested more organizations be transparent in their news gathering process. Post the court documents or other paperwork if you have it, so there is no question the information is accurate. He also suggested news literacy needs to be increased in America, a return to civics classes for example.  Adler agrees the job of a reporter has changed, more information than ever is to be disseminated. He also believes some things stay the same, like accurate and fair reporting.

Puppies Don’t Do Politics

Admit it, the puppy picture made you click! Cute animals attract everyone, and there is not tension or disagreement when you embrace that cuteness.  Cute animals bring us together, and that can be a good thing.

National Puppy Day was celebrated this week, everywhere you turned someone was holding a cute puppy. The day was created in 2006 by Colleen Paige, an author who also calls herself a pet and family lifestyle expert. The idea was to encourage puppy adoption and bring awareness regarding puppy mills. Since Twitter and Facebook this day has become an international movement, just check out #NationalPuppyDay. You will find pictures and tweets from celebs and just people who love their dog. I admit to being one of those! My Facebook feed was filled with puppy pictures from friends and news organizations. Watching the morning news programs, all I saw were puppies!

 

Today Show National Puppy Day

CBS National Puppy Day

This got me thinking, why are there so many animals in the news lately?  I asked my students, they said it was a break from reality. There is so much negative news that the cute or funny animal video reminds them life is good. It is a stress reliever of sorts. It is a way for them to stop thinking about the seriousness of life, even just for a few moments.

Business Insider: Why We Love Cute Animals

This feeling is actually backed up by science. Researchers at CalTech found people are hardwired to respond to animals. In fact, the research found the part of the brain that is known to be responsible for emotional reaction lights up when the person is shown an animal. ABC News did a story on the study, read for yourself:

ABC News: Why People Love Pets

A more in-depth look at the study can be found here:

Science Daily: Animals Effect Our Brains

So we know the videos get a response, so is that why they are featured in the news so often? When it comes to unlikely animal pairings, there is a special response. Not just because the animals are cute and the pairing is unexpected, but as The New York Times article points out, on some level people can relate and want their species to get along better. It is a metaphor of sorts that crossing cultures can work out.

NY Times: Strange Animal Connections

Then you have the animal webcams, why do we sit at our computers for hours? Some experts argue they make us feel good, and that in turn becomes like a drug.

Seeker.com: The Lure of Animal Webcams

I will admit to loving the National Zoo Panda Cam.

National Zoo Panda Cam

How many hours have you spent waiting for April the Giraffe to give birth, when I last checked into the webcam there were nearly 80,000 people watching?

 

The videos can bring is a sense of awe and levity. My students made me promise to share this ten-year-old video of a bear and a trampoline. The bear was fine by the way.

 

Can you blame the media for tapping into the emotional connection people have with animals?  Could it be that even though there are differences between dog and cat people that humans have a special relationship with animals? Is it one area where we can agree, animals are cute and amazing? If someone gives you a hard time about watching animal videos online, well research shows it is actually good for you.

Daily Mail: Pictures of Baby Animals Improve Concentration

NBC News: Watching Cat Videos is Good For You

Washington Post: Why Do We Love Our Pets?

Business Insider: We Love Cute Animal Videos

So my questions this week, why do you watch animal stories?

Do you wait through commercial breaks if the animal story is teased?

Is it really such a bad thing that we have found something everyone can relate to?  We have all had a bad day, but this Jack Russell reminds us to just keep going. The world fell in love with this clumsy dog!

We have all had a bad day, but this Jack Russell reminds us to just keep going. The world fell in love with this clumsy dog!

Animals are cute and fun, and I enjoy the distraction! So just like National Puppy Day has turned into an excuse to look at cute puppy pictures, this blog has turned into an excuse to watch cut animal videos.

Let the Sun Shine In

Sunshine Week is Over

This past week was “Sunshine Week” in hindsight I wish I had written about this sooner so more people would be aware, and possibly attend local events. The week, put together by ASNE and the Reporters Committee highlights the need to free and public access to public information. The organization has put together a lot of articles and resources to help you learn more.

Sunshine Week Website

There were events around the nation to talk about access to information, and articles are written not only specifically for the event, but also by local newspapers about attempting to gain access to information.

http://www.concordmonitor.com/sunshine-week-animal-cruelty-records-8651597

You may think Sunshine Week was designed for reporters only, that is a misconception. We all have the right to access information from our government. Public disclosure of information is vital to democracy.  There is a lot of information at your fingertips in government databases, but that is changing.

Several articles during Sunshine Week focused on the Trump Administration’s removal of once publically available information. For example, you cannot longer go to a website and see who has visited the White House. The Obama Administration had a link where you could check the guest book.  President Trump’s staff has said they will make that information public on a regular basis when it is ready for release.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/disclosures/visitor-records

There has been other information removed from public web page’s that include data about animal cruelty and climate change. This has prompted groups of people to come together and take part in what are being called “data rescue events.” The groups select federal data they believe is at risk of being removed from websites and downloads the information to private servers to ensure the information will not get lost.

http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/trumps-actions-raise-fears-about-access-to-government-data/

Every administration makes changed to government websites and alters content. This was no surprise. However, journalists and freedom of information advocates fear how far the Trump administration will go. As journalists we strive for transparency, shouldn’t we hold our elected officials to the same standards?  Right to Know laws and Freedom of Information Act requests are not just for journalists. You can help hold elected officials accountable. I know next year I will become more involved with local events, I hope you will too.

Talk is anything but cheap. Lessons from my parents.

I recently visited my parents in Florida for a few days. It was nice to get a break from the cold New England winter, but even better was the chance to have great conversations. I often wonder how I became a journalist; now I know the answer.

When I was very young, the evening paper was delivered to our home each night. We knew the paperboy; he was a neighbor. My dad and I would sit in the living room pouring through the stories, and this became the basis for discussions about the world.

My parents were not worldly, they had graduated high school, and both worked hard. My dad a mechanic who worked his way up the ladder. My mom a waitress when I was young, and eventually worked in an office. She did, I learned later in life, campaign for John F. Kennedy. They understood the importance of world and national events and often brought those discussions to the dinner table.
I can remember talking about Jimmy Carter running for President. The conversation focused on his policies and plans, and the differences between the Democrat and Republican Gerald Ford. They never told me who I should support, but encouraged me to ask a lot of questions. I would find many answers in the evening paper.

We sat down to dinner most nights, and talk about everything from school work to world affairs. I expressed particular interest in the 1970’s energy crisis. When I suggested to my parents a few ideas, rather than brush me aside, they encouraged me to write to our U.S. Senator. Without fear, I drafted the letter and waited. Much to our surprise that Senator from Massachusetts, Ted Kennedy, did send a response. It is a letter I have to this day. He thanked me for the thoughts, and also encouraged me to stay involved.

Ted Talks On Meaningful Conversations
During this recent visit, there was a lot of discussion about President Trump. They expressed concern for the younger generations. We talked about immigration and the impact to Florida and other parts of the nation. I explained to them the college course I taught after election day when I showed the students newspaper headlines from across the nation. The students were surprised to see the different reactions from around the country. There was no arguing about policy or politics, just free and open discussion.

USA Today How to Talk Politics

We talked about the President using Twitter. They do not understand why a President would communicate in that format. I brought up the idea that President Trump may want to speak directly to the American people and not have his message filtered. It was a concept they had not considered. There were no cell phones out, or text messages, actual words were exchanged.

Those conversations are the basis of my curiosity in life. I was taught to ask questions and listen to the answers are keys to a good conversation. It is time to start talking again. Future generations need to learn how to express themselves in more than 140 characters.

6 Tips For a Good Conversation

The exchange of ideas and beliefs is vital to the American culture. You do not have to agree with a person to listen, you may even learn something new.

Huffington Post: How to Talk Politics

Many believe the reliance on social media to communicate has come at a cost. The Wall Street Journal debated the issue. Some experts argue social media allows a person to remain in contact with others, and it will enhance rather than replace a relationship. Others say the reliance on social media limits face-to-face contact and that hurts our emotional health. Statements made on social media consist of only words, and the lack of non-verbal communication can lead to misinterpretation of their meaning.

WSJ: Technology and Social Skills

I think the time has come to renew the call for conversations. I know sitting down together as a family is difficult when everyone is running in a different direction, but try it just one night a week. For some ideas on how to start, or what to say, check out the Family Dinner Project.

This advice is not just for families with small children, sit down as adults when you can. Ask questions, learn things from one another.

It was these conversations that sparked my curiosity about life. I am not afraid to ask questions, speak up, or change my mind about an issue. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Trouble With The Press Led Other Presidents to Skip White House Correspondents’ Dinner

There has been a lot of talk about the White House Correspondents’ Dinner lately, and the announcement by President Donald Trump that he will not attend is turning some heads. Trump will become the first President in 36 years to skip the event. The last President to miss the dinner was Ronald Reagan in 198, while he was recovering from an assassination attempt. Reagan did call into the event and even made a few jokes. Two other Presidents in recent history also declined the invitation.

Fox News: Trump to Skip White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Republican Richard Nixon skipped the event twice. The first time he declined was shortly after his election in 1970. He did attend in 1971 but was unhappy with how the press treated him in the following days.  In a memo to then, Whitehouse Chief of Staff Bob Haldeman President Nixon discussed his appearance at the Whitehouse Correspondents’ Dinner and says the press were more vicious than usual during the next press conference. Nixon suggested treating the media with more contempt would be productive. He skipped the event in 1972, and again in 1974 at the height of the Watergate scandal.

Weekly Standard: Nixon Carter and Trump Vs. The White House Correspondents Dinner

ABC News: Nixon vs. The Press

Democrat Jimmy Carter also declined to attend the dinner for 2 out of his 4 years. Carter did not attend in 1978, nor did he go in 1980. According to George E. Condon Jr. of the National Journal, officially Carter said in 1978 he was tired from overseas travel and wanted to rest at Camp David. However,  Carter wrote the media was completely irresponsible and unnecessarily abusive in a diary entry. He spoke at the event in 1979 but skipped once again in 1980 at the height of the Iran hostage crisis.

National Journal: Why Presidents Skip the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Two previous Presidents skipped the event over a contentious relationship with the White House press corps, can we really be surprised by the decision by President Donald Trump to skip it as well?

Social media had drawn a lot of attention to the decision.  If the President had been more traditional and sent a letter to the organization expressing regret would we still be talking about it? The President chose to use Twitter to make the announcement, where he could control the message.

Yahoo!: Donald Trump Skips White House Correspondents Dinner

He did not ask for the event to be canceled, just decided not to place himself in a hostile situation. The President did tell Fox News and Friends about the decision, saying he has not been treated well by the press corps and does not like the tone the dinner has taken in recent years.

Fox and Friends White House Correspondents’ Dinner Comments

Donald Trump did attend the 2011 White House Correspondents Dinner. He was the focus of many of the jokes by President Barrack Obama and others.

He was at the event as a guest of Lally Weymouth, Senior Associate Editor of the Washington Post. There are some that contend this event triggered his decision to run for President. Trump has denied that and is even quoted as saying the night was fantastic. Yet, it is not hard to imagine that the event may have played a role in the decision not attend this year’s event as a sitting President.

Washington Post: Trump Denies 2011 Dinner Pushed Him to Run for President

The social media reaction to the President’s decision to miss the dinner was fodder for social media. Some reacted with humor, chiding the President for fearing the media. Others believed the President was doing the right thing in missing the dinner, which has turned more into a roast in recent years.

The Hill: Social Media Response to Decision

This event was not always done this way.  The White House Correspondents Association began in 1914 when rumors swirled that then President Woodrow Wilson would be holding a series of press conferences, and a congressional committee would decide which reporters were allowed to attend. Eleven journalists cover the White House got together and formed this White House Correspondents’ Association.  The selection committee never came to fruition so the association lay dormant for a number of years. In 1920 the first dinner was held. It was and continues to be, an event to raise money for scholarships and recognize work by journalists.  In 1924 President Calvin Coolidge was the first sitting President to attend. Women were not allowed to participate in the dinner until 1962 when President John F. Kennedy refuse to attend unless Helen Thomas and other female reporters were allowed.

White House Correspondents History

The dinner has been canceled a few times over the years. In 1930 the dinner was canceled because former President William Howard Taft died. The event was canceled in 1942due to America’s entry into World War II. It was also canceled in 1951 at the request of President Harry Truman during the Korean War.

History Channel: 7 Things You May Not Know About the White House Correspondents Dinner

The dinner has had celebrity performances over the years, but it was in 1987 that the transformation began into the event it is today. The Boston Globe reports that a reporter for the Baltimore Sun invited Fawn Hall, the secretary to Oliver North, the former Marine Lt. Colonel at the center of the Iran-Contra Affair. Fawn was considered glamorous and more organizations began to invite celebrities. The lavish after parties began in the early ’90s.

Boston Globe: Brief History of White House Correspondents Dinner

The event is no longer just an opportunity for journalists to be recognized for hard work, and to encourage students, it is now a who’s who event that is surrounded by big names in journalism and Hollywood stars. The parties before and after the dinner only add to the hype each year.

Newsweek: What Went Wrong with White House Correspondents Dinner

There have been increasing calls for the event to be canceled permanently after this year, saying it goes against the mission of holding public officials accountable and sends the wrong message about journalists.

Washington Post: Cancel Dinner

The question I pose today, would you go to this event as a journalist or as a poli

 

 

 

 

 

 

The First Amendment Under Attack

I was honored to attend the New England First Amendment Coalition Awards Luncheon on Friday, February 24th in Boston. I was at the event courtesy of Emerson College and attended with several journalism students.  We had no idea an event to celebrate those who had fought to protect the First Amendment would happen as the White House was taking another step to block the free press from doing their job.

The event was taking place as the White House chose to exclude several members of the press corps from a daily briefing with Press Secretary Sean Spicer. When I first heard about the incident, I thought there had to be more to the story. There have been times when a Governor or other elected official has chosen to meet with select members of the media to get their message across. Even President Obama would hold these “off the record” meetings. This was not an off the record meeting. This was the announced daily briefing which is normally opened to the press. It was held off camera, in an office and media outlets that had been critical were not allowed to attend.

I thought it was important to read articles by those who were allowed in, and those who were not. Breitbart News using the decision by President Obama to meet with reporters “off the record” and in private as a defense. However, did comment later in the article that banning reporters from the press briefing was unusual and clarification of the decision was pending.

Breitbart Response

CNN which was blocked from the briefing released a strong statement calling the move unacceptable and vowing to continue coverage of the Trump Administration

CNN Response

The New York Times also responding calling the move disturbing and unprecedented.

New York Times Response

The Washington Post, who was at the “gaggle” went more in-depth. In fact, the report mentioned President Trump served as an anonymous source himself in several stories in the early 1990s

Washington Post Response

So what does this have to do with a luncheon in Boston? Quite a bit, since coverage of the White House and President Trump seemed to be on the mind of Margaret Sullivan, Media Columnist for the Washington Post. She received the Stephen Hamblett 2017 First Amendment Award for her work as a journalist to hold public bodies accountable. Her speech held the room as she talked about the rights of the press in the age of President Trump.

She added President Trump’s decision to blacklist media outlets during the campaign and calling the press “the enemy” shows he has no understanding of the role a free press plays in America. She referred to Senator John McCain’s comments about the issue on NBC’s Meet the Press where he said suppressing the media is how dictators get started.

John McCain Comments on NBC’s Meet the Press

She expressed concern over President Trump taking aim at “leakers” saying should he chose to prosecute those who provide information there are no national shield laws to protect them. Reminding those of us in the audience that the Obama administration “went down that road several times and backed off.” She questioned if the Trump Administration would do the same.

Sullivan did say she remains hopeful about the role of journalists in America, and new polls prove the reporting is more important than ever.

USA Today: Quinnipiac Poll

Sullivan sent a message to all of us in the room, ranging from accomplished journalists to college students, that seeking the truth is more important than ever. Stating “I’m more convinced every day that most Americans know very well that just as the First Amendment protects us, we must return the framers great favor and protect it. We do that by insisting on the truth, seeking it relentlessly and standing up for those who provide it.”

It is now up to us, journalists, to ensure the First Amendment does not get squashed. We need to ask the tough questions and demand answers, on every level of government. Learn about the Freedom of Information Act and how it applies in your state, fight to improve transparency. There are those who do not believe the media is doing its job and creating “fake news.” The only way to combat that attack is the truth. The students in attendance seemed to leave with a strong resolve to fight for he truth.