Not For Profits are Trying Their Best

Posted: February 15, 2011 by Joanne Goodall in #5 Not for Profit

Not for Profit News Organizations

The Voice of San Diego (www.voiceofsandiego.com)

When you open the homepage for Voice of San Diego, it is bright, colourful, and easy to work through and read article that you find interesting. The large photo window grabs your attention, especially its current photo of artists in front of their large painting. The headline font is a bit too small for me. I prefer the font to be large, bold, and catchy if it is on the web because it’s easier to read and to decipher what sounds interesting.

When I started reading some of their articles I couldn’t help but notice that some sounded more like press releases. Two examples of this would be “Universities Withholding Public Information? You Flunk” and “San Diego to Join Redevelopment ‘Mardi Gras’”. I don’t like it when hard news sounds more like a press release copied and pasted from a government, company, advertising agency, etc. because you can’t always take what a communications department gives you at face value. Journalists should always fact check, base their story on sound fact, and shouldn’t assume that a PR firm is telling the truth. A PR firm has a specific job to do, most of them time it is dedicated to making a company look good in the public eye. What they say is usually spun in a way so that it doesn’t damage or hurt their company’s reputation, sales, and decency in the public eye- therefore sometimes they say little white lies that some might find harmless but to journalism it could be deadly. If Voice of San Diego, for example, is following press releases given to them or one they find, but doesn’t do any background research, interviews, and be as objective as possible, and their stories turn out false or inaccurate, than their members will no longer follow them. For a non for profit online news organization, membership is key to its success and helps them to continue with their reports.

I really enjoy the beats drop down menu on the website because it allows me to quickly choose the topics that interest me the most. It reminds me more of reading a magazine than a newspaper. Most of the time I end up wasting or throwing out half the newspaper because I don’t read those particular sections, i.e. sports and business. By having an online newspaper, you are able to categorize your beats, making it easier for your customers to read. I can quickly click on the arts section and their stories pop up in seconds. However, this may cause problems down the road as we discussed in class. People, especially younger ones, do not have a general knowledge in different topics as much as they used to, i.e. a little bit of politics, economics, arts, foods, math, etc. By only choosing articles you find interesting, you are limiting your knowledge to those subjects only. People should continue reading every section (especially local/national/international news, features, editorial/opinion, and politics) so they have a broader sense of their surroundings. Who won the Super Bowl will not help a person when it comes to election time and what Lady Gaga wore to the Grammy’s won’t let us know how to respond to an emergency when flood season approaches.

The Minnesota Post (www.minnpost.com)

I enjoyed reading the Voices of San Diego website better than the not for profit news site, Minnesota Post because their articles and reports sound more professional, even though many of them sounded like copied versions of press releases.

I clicked on the story “This social service program saves money-and people” because I like social justice articles on poverty, anti-bullying, pro-humanitarian rights, etc. This article is about the implementation of a program in Minnesota jails and half way houses which help keep track of revisiting homeless people. Their system had a problem with homeless people not seeking help and constantly either seeking refuge in shelters or getting arrested and thrown into jail. I enjoyed the content of the article but I found the writer wrote in a way that made me feel “dumb”. She talked down towards the reader and explained scenarios and definitions way too much in this article. For example, she wrote:

Seeing some of the same faces over and over at homeless shelters, in jail and in detox, Hennepin county officials in 2007 decided to sort out the numbers. Turns out, the same 266 individuals stayed about 70,000 nights in shelter, jail or detox over a period of five years at a cost of $4.2 million.

In other words, the same folks were constantly recycling through the system. Clearly, intervention was called for.

Um, it’s pretty obvious by the description above that it meant that some homeless people were “recycling through the system” and that something had to be done to solve the problem. I didn’t really need this reporter to tell me this. It sounds like she doesn’t believe in the intelligence of her readers or feels confident in her reporting.

I also didn’t care for their Egypt coverage in the article “In Egypt’s secret military empire lies a cautionary tale” because it sounded fishy. The reporter didn’t interview any Native Egyptians, military personnel (present or retired) from Egypt, or anyone who lived in Egypt for a long period of time (i.e. 20-40 years). The one person they did interview is a Minnesota Native who I can only assume has never been in the Middle East for a long period of time but only studies the region. Yes, the reporter is in the right to interview this person but they shouldn’t rely on solely him but should talk to an Egyptian for their take on the military taking over Mubarak’s position as government. I’m sure it wouldn’t be a difficult task because there are still thousands of Egyptians who want their voices heard in the media and many have Facebook accounts, Twitter, email, Skype, etc.

They also used information and an interview from a Time magazine article. Journalists shouldn’t use other sources’ material unless they verify the facts, all quotes used, or if it’s the last resort. Because this article sounded simple enough to do (contact people in Egypt, make connections), I don’t think it was necessary to rely on the Time piece. A journalist cannot assume that because another news organization found the information that it is true- people make mistakes all of the time.

I think not for profit news organizations are great but that they need to sharpen up on their journalism skills, i.e. verifying facts, doing their own interviews, making connections, talking to people, writing in a way that is clear and effective and not too simplistic, and encouraging people to expand their interests by making each section of the paper interactive and interesting. When you lose touch of what a real reporter does versus what a communications officer, police officer, advertiser, etc does, than you may lose some of your members when trouble hits the fan. If members don’t trust you they will not sign up to your news site or donate to its cause.

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