Saturday, April 18, 2009

The “Unsinkable” Titanic

The Titanic, in it’s time, was an icon of how far we’ve come as a society. A ship that is unsinkable seemed to be just the beginning. With this attitude in mind, the White Star Liner set off with less than half of the lifeboats needs for the passengers aboard. On Monday, April 15th 1912 the Titanic hit an iceberg causing it to sink and take most of it’s passengers with it.
I focused on two articles written around the same time that were both meant to be breaking news on the event. One article challenges the official story while the other seems to repeat the official story, down to the miscalculated statistics.
The first article is titled “Rule of Sea” and was published by the New York Times the following morning after the Titanic had sunk. It began with ““the biggest steamship in the world” was sunk by an iceberg and went to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean; possibly taking 1,400 passengers and crewmembers.” By the end of the article however, it stated that people onshore were unsure of how the great ship had sunk and that it was either a mechanical failure or because of a collision with an iceberg. I almost felt like this was them covering their butts in the sense that even if it HAD hit an iceberg, maybe it was faulty equipment or something with the engine that pushed it to the point of sinking, after all, it was deemed “unsinkable” in the first place.
This article challenged the official story by getting many different officials from many different liners to speak on the subject, instead of just getting a representative from the liner in question. It was able to point out that the Olympic captain had been giving people false reassurance, saying that the Titanic had been towed to safety. It was only those members of the White Star Liner who knew the truth.
The second article I examined was an L.A. Times article covering the event. It cited only one source and it was from a White Star Line official. In this way, the writer failed at newsgathering by relying on only one outlet for information.
In “Discovering the News”, Michael Schudson writes that during the first two decades of the twentieth century, even at the New York Times, “it was not common for journalists to see a clear separation between facts and values”. I think that the L.A. Times article is an example of this. They only used the official source because they are deemed “reliable and trustworthy” because of the title they hold and therefore should be enough of a source for the whole story. This is the thought of the time and it really limited newsgathering because everyone has their own perspective and there is never just one side to a story. The New York Times did a better job at questioning the status quo by including information that the other ship was falsely reassuring people. This may have decreased the chances of a ship setting off to help the Titanic (or at least that may be argued). This article was well rounded considering the lack of access since the event occurred in the ocean and the time restrictions (the printed a few hours after the ship had sunk).
The need for a variety of sources in this case can be compared to the media coverage during September 11th and the years following. American’s felt so betrayed and abashed that this could happen; they became more patriotic than ever (like the White Star Line being cocky and being “sure” the ship could never sink hence fewer lifeboats). At the same time, the media only relied on official sources when we began invading Iraq. Everyone, including the media, followed along with passionate fervor. Unfortunately, the war may or may not have been the right thing to do. And today, we have suffered because of the lack of media questioning that went on during that period. If a variety of sources had been used, maybe the public would’ve known the truth behind the Iraq war sooner.

Proquest Newspaper Source
“Discovering the News”

“Hello Dolly”

Humanity is inherently afraid of the unknown, the different. When Dolly the sheep was born through cloning in 1996, no one knew how to react. The media formed the public’s opinion of the Dolly discovery and unfortunately, their bias and the affect it had on the public’s opinion greatly affected the ability for more cloning research in the future.
Dolly, the first successfully cloned sheep, was “born” on July 5th, 1996 from a somatic cell through the process of nuclear transfer. The discovery was made by Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell. Other scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland where the experiment took place were unsure of how to react to the findings or whether to make them public so they were hidden for months before released to the media. The public reacted with more concern about the moral implications than praise for the scientific significance of the discovery itself. The media played a huge role in shaping the publics view, and with condescending and sarcastic coverage, the public simply followed suit.
The first article I looked at was “Hello Dolly”, a piece that appeared on page A of the San Francisco Examiner. The article carries a sarcastic undertone and finishes with:
“Although Wilmut found ‘no clinical reason’ to clone humans, there's also no clinical reason for, say, playing major league baseball. We can now assume that it's only a shake of a lamb's tale (no more puns!) before the Giants scrape a few cells from the arm of Willie Mays and make a championship team of him.”

Reporting this as news is appalling, not only to the Examiner itself but to journalism standards in general. Written with a skeptical bias, this piece only further perpetuated society’s negative views of this discovery.
The next article I examined was a New York Times article that seems so unlike the New York Times; it has fallen into the subjective and obnoxious category. The article is titled “With Cloning of a Sheep, the Ethical Ground Shifts” and though it gives a lot of information, the slant of information is obvious as is the bias behind the writing. It starts out with “When a scientist whose goal is to turn animals into drug factories…” which is a presumption all by itself. Is this something the doctor has been quoted to have said? No, sadly, it’s the writer’s opinion rearing its ugly head. The article goes on to talk about the way in which Dolly was cloned and ways in which this could be harmful or beneficial to society. He makes the implication that cloning is simply a step away from genetic engineering and he did this probably knowing full well that genetic engineering was a hot button issue of the time and thought of as highly controversial.
Both of these articles represent the bias of the time and how the media’s view of an event can shape the publics opinion of it. If the media had offered a fair view of cloning, perhaps cloning research would’ve been allowed sooner and who knows what types of cures we may have been able to come up with. It is an example of a time when newspapers failed to question that status quo and reinforced society’s fears and ideals instead of challenging them.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Apartheid in South Africa


The end to apartheid in South Africa was a turning point in American history and media coverage. While apartheid was a system of legal segregation in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s that separated racial groups based on color, the system gave considerably substantial privileges to races of European origin. While blacks were prohibited from voting, attending white establishments, restricted to separate parts of the country, and widely discriminated against, the termination of the white political system ensured a higher level of equality that had not been demonstrated prior.

With the decision to end apartheid in South Africa, news coverage of the event was enormous. As many newspapers, magazines, editorials, and broadcast institutions provided extensive coverage of the event, reporting methods, framing of the stories, and accuracy of the event varied amongst publications. Although many were delighted with the decision to end apartheid, others were angered over the pronouncement. Unsurprisingly, biases and skewed reporting were actively present within certain publications, while other news coverage of the event seemed to be void of slanted prejudices.

One article produced by the Chicago Tribune effectively reported the event with precision, depth, and fairness. The Article clearly painted a picture of the incident from the perspective of both sides, and efficiently allowed the audience to formulate their own understanding of the conclusion.  The piece of writing not only talked about the previous political structure that was in place, but also illustrated the difficult struggle and commitment that surrounded the passing of legislature. With eight quotes from political figures, officials, and the community, the article was well rounded and diverse. The only questionable motive of the piece, was why the writer concluded the story with a quote that was in obvious favor of the decision. Other than that, the article appeared to not show partiality to either side.

While The Chicago Tribune produced work of unbiased material, the San Francisco Chronicle appeared to show more favoritism in the verdict.  Producing an article that clearly showed their support to the decision to end apartheid, the San Francisco Chronicle came across more liberal and opinionated. While the framework of the piece was similar in structure to that of the Chicago Tribune, the seven quotes that were provided, illustrated the pleased response to the end of apartheid. Noting the events of the decision, the history of South Africa, the political establishment of the past, and the end of segregation, the San Francisco Chronicle provide a plethora of information to their audience. Although the San Francisco Chronicle appeared biased in their publication, the article strongly accomplished the goal of illustrating how positive this new law would be.  Concluding with a heavily visual statement, the San Francisco Chronicle made mention of Rensburg’s voice that was thick with emotion, and the recollection of the first white settlers in 1652.



Chicago Tribune - Constitution OKD Amid Tumult. 1993

San Francisco Chronicle - South OKs Charter to White Rule/Constitution gives blacks equal rights for first time. 1993

BIll Clinton Impeachment


From the beginning of the first newspaper and continuing until the present, news has been a source of debate, sensationalism, bias, political corruption, and a flood of events that have changed society and the image of news coverage forever.

One of many events that have altered history, significantly, the Bill Clinton impeachment trial is one of the more recent and memorable occurrences. From the stained blue dress to the taped Lewinsky conversations, from the cigar jokes told by Jay Leno to the political icons that fought for impeachment, the actions of former president Bill Clinton were written about and discussed all over the world.

            One publication that provided extensive coverage of the incident was the Los Angels Times. While the Los Angeles Times reported a multitude of stories regarding the impeachment trial, one particular published article created a sense of bias opinion, provided zero sources or quotes, and left the reader questioning the authenticity of the piece of writing at hand.

            While the article discussed the understanding of American politics, the possible economic severity of Clinton’s removal from office, the charges of perjury, obstruction of justice, and the abuse of power, there were no sources cited and the frame of the story was wildly left open for interpretation.

            Although there may be a number of reasons why the framework of this article differs so greatly from the articles typically produced by the Los Angeles Times, it is indisputable, that publications of other competing newspapers provided more credibility and cemented framework than that of the mentioned above.

            In addition to the Los Angeles Times covering the historic events of the Clinton scandal, the Houston Chronicle was actively covering the incident as well.

            Contrary to the Los Angeles Times’ article, the Houston Chronicle provided an abundance of quotes, sources, un-biased opinion, and demonstrated effective and accurate reporting. Because the Houston Chronicle provided over ten sources, six quotes, and eluded readership of personal biases, the framework of their article proved to be successful and more reliable.

            Although the article from the Houston Chronicle also focused on the charges of Clinton, the taped conversations between Lewinsky and Tripp, and the republican team of case managers, the in-depth information provided throughout the piece established a sense of trust and unswerving belief in what was being reported.

            While the two publications show difference in reporting style and technique, they both demonstrate the sense of urgency in reporting sensational, politically prompted, entertaining, and history making news. Although the Clinton trial was only the second impeachment of a president in history, bets can be made that it will not be the last, and that news publications will be right there to tell the story.




-Los Angeles Times 1998. The nation; Impeachment doesn’t matter?


-The Houston Chronicle Dec. 30, 1998. New Clinton trial issue: witnesses/house impeachment strategy conflicts with senate’s plans.