Models, Media, and News Coverage

Last month, model Cameron Russell gave a TED talk titled “Looks aren’t everything. Believe me, I’m a model.” In the aftermath of that talk, Russell’s idea that models are just individuals who won and capitalize upon a genetic lottery gained a lot of attention.

In a way, this is a good thing. We live in a society where looks are given a lot of attention, and this attention can have detrimental side effects: eating disorders, self-confidence problems — the list goes on. However, as Russell herself says in an editorial published through CNN after her talk, is it right that journalists only started this conversation after a model herself brought the issue up?

Suppose, for a moment, that we look away from the issue of societal beauty standards. Do journalists measure up in that regard? Possibly not.

Colin Powell gave a talk at the same TED conference as Russell, but only got a quarter of the attention (if you consider views of both talks online). Russell is the one who has been on morning shows in the past month, not Powell.

If we look at the Pew Research Center’s data for most discussed issues of 2011, we find out that this is actually a common occurrence. Journalists tend to cover some topics to a great extent (like the economy) but then leave other — possibly equally important — issues and either disregard them or give them little attention.

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Foreign Policy was even able to compile a list of major issues that weren’t discussed in the news in 2011 — and some of them are rather important (Indian military growth, US immigration issues, and drug wars in Mexico, to name a few). At the time of the article, they supposed that many of those issues would show up with greater frequency in 2012. In hindsight, though, did that happen?

So, what does this say about journalism in general? Are journalists, knowing full well that agenda setting is a reality, doing their jobs? Does it really take a model to start the conversation on how well journalists are doing? Is a change necessary? If so, what can be done?

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Storage units in Athens grow in popularity

It is a murky Monday morning in January outside of Crazy Ray’s Self Storage. The location sits on the outskirts of Athens near the Madison County border, and looks to be in the middle of nowhere.

Regardless, a crowd of approximately 50 file their way into the offices and another door outside to the gated lots inside the business’s black, iron gates. Although the number of units that were planned to go to auction is cut in half, the crowd remains.

“When the process started, we had 24 units,” said owner Ray Teaster. “By the time we got to the auction time, and we give them right up to 10:00 to come in and pay. We had 11 units after all of that.”

After Teaster, also taking the role of auctioneer gives a rundown of the rules, the crowd makes its way to the first unit up for bidding.

Welcome to the Athens version of “Storage Wars,” where the bidding is done on Southern time, the units go cheaper and bystanders watch to see who gets the unit of the day.

But what is quickly learned is that there is more to an auction than the free and fun entertainment. The work behind the scenes is immense.

Running the Business

Crazy Ray’s Self Storage came to existence in 2004. Under the ownership of Teaster, the business has clawed its way to success.

“It’s kind of a hard business to get started, because you have a lot of cash outlay in the beginning, and you start out with no tenants,” Teaster said. “It is scary in the early going, but you do customers right, you get a clean facility and you do things right.”

And Teaster’s work shows he does things right. Not only do residential tenants in the process of moving use his company’s storage space, but other businesses including Pepperidge Farm rent as well.

“It’s a pretty wide variety,” he said. “We get a lot of people who may be moving and need storage for a few months. And we got the commercial people.”

Of course as a business that measures its success by the number of units in use, the business is always looking for more tenants.

From foreclosure to auction

Georgia has clear laws when it comes to storage units that are foreclosed.

Enacted in 1982, the “Georgia Self-Service Facility Act” gives the guidelines required in the state.

According to the law, after the tenant has been in default for 30 days, the owner can start the process to enforce his lein – or the right to keep a property until debt is paid.

Teaster usually gives more time, and gives the customer all chances possible to avoid the auction.

“We go as long as we can, and usually it is like 90 days before we even bring one up for auction,” he said. “At that point we send the customer a cut-lock notice informing the customer that we’re going to cut their locks and see what’s in the unit.”

After the owner contacts the renter numerous times heeding warning of losing the unit, the owner then has to run an announcement in the newspaper stating that the units will be auctioned off. In Athens, the notice has to run in the Banner-Herald once a week for two consecutive weeks.

According to the Georgia Self-Service Facility Act, “The advertisement shall include: a brief and general description of the personal property, reasonably adequate to permit its identification; the address of the self-service storage facility, and the number, if any, of the space where the personal property is located, and the name of the Occupant; and the time, place, and manner of the public sale.”

These laws add to the costs acquired by Crazy Ray’s.

“We probably spent $150 or so in certified mail and newspaper advertising,” Teaster said.

While there is public unfamiliarity with the law, the Better Business Bureau has mentioned ways to avoid potential problems.

“While most facilities are operated by reputable businesses, Better Business Bureaus field complaints from time to time regarding theft or property damage and rental disputes,” the release said. “Consumers are advised to shop carefully before signing on the dotted line.”

It’s good to know the cost, payment and climate of a unit before buying a locker. The BBB also recommends that people check with them for a report on the facility before signing a contract.

Increased Popularity

The numbers of people that participate in unit auctions have increased in recent years.

People credit that to TV shows such as A&E’s “Storage Wars” and the spinoff shows based in Texas and New York.

Bidders on the units, have a strong disdain for the show, believing that with the influx of people the prices of units go up.

“The TV programs have put so much out there about how many deals and things you can find. More people are coming that affects me that they have raised the prices more,” said Vic Peel, owner of Vic’s Vintage in Athens. “They come out looking for bargains, get caught up in the bidding process and end up paying way more than the unit is worth.”

While Peel is based in Athens, his bidding takes him nationally and globally. At about six auctions a year, he goes from Florence, S.C. to New Orleans, as well as Spain and Japan to find vintage items.

“I mainly [look for] chairs, if I go to a storage unit and see chairs, vintage chairs,” he said. “[From the] late ‘40s to early ‘80s, that is my main thing.”

Teaster says he doesn’t see an increase in the prices of his units due to the show. The storage units still bid in the low hundreds.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know if it’s had that much of an impact on us, other than the number of people that show up,” he said. “We probably double in the number of people who show up, but the same people who bought are the same ones buying.”

While Crazy Ray’s has not changed its procedures following the show, other storage auctions have.  Some auctions have resorted to charging admission fees or limiting the number of people who can attend.

Not In it to Bid it

The self-service facility business is not the auction business.

For storage units, the point of an auction is to make back the money that the tenant did not pay in rent. In other words, the parts that we don’t see on television are the real reasons the units are up for bid in the first place.

“We prefer our rent, we do not want to auction people’s stuff,” Teaster said. “But we have to have vacant units. We can’t let them be filled and not be collecting any revenue. That would sink the business pretty quick.”

Rarely do the auctions make up the money lost by the default payments. In the rare occasions it does, Teaster gives the difference back to the unit’s original tenant.

While the auctions are fun to watch despite being nothing like “Storage Wars,” the potential of profit is solely on the bidder. Owners, such as Teaster, still ultimately lose out.

“It’s not our goal to have auctions, we don’t want them,” he said. “We want to collect our rent money. We rarely collect what’s owed on the units. We’re a lot better off if our units are paid for, not auctions. It’s not profitable for us.”


Major Publishers Forge New Ways to Make Content Profitable

Four major publishers Tuesday reaffirmed their commitment to print and discussed revenue ideas that strengthen their product.

This discussion came out of an executive roundtable at the Key Executives Mega Conference in New Orleans.

The publishers of Star Tribune Media Co., USA Today, The Omaha World-Herald and The Dallas Morning News conferred the revenue opportunities of their content.

The Dallas Morning News is blazing trails in modern media by bringing in new revenue by selling access to story archives. Companies in Dallas have been seeking out content to fill company newsletters, websites and blogs, so the paper is making its archives available through its digital agency. Clients pay an average of $4,000 a month for services that include access to the archives.

“Marketing has become a content war and nobody is better positioned to win a content war than a content company,” Jim Moroney, publisher and CEO of The Dallas Morning News, told the more than 500 attendees at the national conference. He urges other news organizations to try his model. “I think it can work on any scale in all markets,” Moroney said.

The publishers also discussed how they are acquiring revenue from their digital content. Each of the publishers, except USA Today, has some sort of paywall.

Do you think that these new ways to bring in revenue for content will be sustainable and profitable? How do these efforts to increase revenue affect news consumers?


Closeted Gays and Public Office

It would follow logic that if one is gay that person would promote gay rights and health in the gay community, that is, unless the person is in the closet and in public office. Ed Koch was the seated mayor of New York City when the first lethal wave of the AIDs epidemic hit the gay community. It was not until after Koch’s death that the public voiced their anguish over Koch’s absent public policy on addressing the AIDs epidemic and most attribute Koch’s stance as that of a closeted gay man trying to “eliminate any whiff of homosexuality from his profile.”

Although Koch never publicly came out as a gay man, his sexual orientation remained suspected his whole life. Since 1977, Koch put energies towards squashing any rumors on his sexuality and reporters and activists in the gay community withheld publicly outing Koch because one’s sexual orientation is his or her’s privacy. Koch garnered near equal attention for his failure in taking public action on the AIDs epidemic. The gay community had no outlet for risk reduction or health education, let alone fair access to hospitals and treatment. Koch’s New York City spent $24,500 on AIDs compared to San Francisco’s 4.3 million.

The Society of Professional Journalists states that journalists should be accountable to the public but still minimize the harm of their subjects. The question, only debated in public after Koch’s death, was whether his suspected hidden sexual orientation affected his public policy towards the gay community. As a journalist, would you have published opinion on Koch’s sexual orientation in order to address an epidemic ravaging a community with no public voice? Or, is one’s sexual orientation private and therefore should never be published on?


MSNBC Hiring Professional Politicos

MSNBC’s recent hiring of David Axelrod, a major insider in the Obama administration, highlights the increasing trend of news networks as mouthpieces for partisan politics.

In the past month MSNBC has hired two former senior members of the Obama Administration. The network has been called blatantly soft on the White House, and this is only another piece of evidence for those who call it that.

Some organizations, like Pew, have recorded MSNBC’s ideological bent. The Pew study noted that MSNBC’s coverage was even more extreme than that of Fox News. In the week before the election MSNBC did not air a single positive story about the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

MSNBC anchors and pundits refrained from criticizing the president time after time. In an interview on 60 Minutes almost 2 years ago, MSNBC host Al Sharpton vowed to never publicly criticize President Obama. To some MSNBC’s lack of balanced coverage and the generally partisan tone of the network demonstrated a lack of accountability and even journalistic integrity.

MSNBC is not unique in hiring former political operatives and insiders. News networks, papers, and really every form of political news media have their own political operatives reporting from within. While this trend is pervasive and popular, it may not be positive. The credibility of the news media continues to shrink in the eyes of many consumers.

Is the trend of professional political operatives in a journalistic position a positive one? Are we simply skipping the tedious step between press conference and reporting? Who is better to report and comment on the news than political insiders? Or does this make news media merely another form of partisan propaganda demobilizing voters and lessening the legitimacy of the democratic process as a whole?


British Journalists Compromise News

The Times in Britain are changing, as journalists for Rupert Murdoch‘s newspaper are being convicted under suspicions of hacking into private phone-lines. In addition to the 32 reporters arrested so far, Police detained six more journalists last week in efforts to protect private conversations by famous individuals. Phone lines of celebrities, politicians, sports figures, and even the British royal family were targeted and breached for the sake of making headline news out of scandal. Mike Darcy, chief executive of News International, describes these heinous incidents as a “huge burden on journalists in the daily challenge of producing Britain’s most popular news.” Police are also investigating further allegations, such as bribing of public officials and computer hackers, in order to prevent further obstructions from the media. This is a huge setback for public journalists everywhere as it compromises the relationship of its viewers, and confuses the public when deciding what issues are actually important to the paper.

Especially in these modern times, a proper journalist must stay loyal to all its citizens by avoiding methods to illegally exploit and unofficially document others. Papers need only to provide news that is relevant so that citizens can make democratic decisions and, in turn, govern themselves. In an ironic sense, the muckrakers compromised their own standing once they used dishonest methods of finding the truth. These journalists must be detained and questioned by police as a way to assure the reader’s trust, as well as the integrity of all newspapers. For if people should ever begin to doubt the validity or ethics of their newspaper, its citizens will stop reading, and the public circulation as we know it will fall to corruption. Daily news would rely solely on how the government wants to inform the governed, rather than a source such as a public journalist or reliable reporter. Papers need only to provide news that is usable to its citizens, not gossip, so that they can make democratic decisions to freely govern themselves. Although there have been few similar cases of this happening in the past, in 2006 and in  2007, Murdoch’s reputation and of his paper are relatively clean; allowing readers some time between scandals to build trust with public reporters.

Do you believe the British government was fair to arrest these reporters? Would you publish a story that was deemed true although the methods of finding it were dishonest? Are journalists conflicted between demands for better news, and the lengths they should go to beat technological media?

Source:

Burns, John F. “Six More Journalists Held in British Hacking Case.” The New York Times 14 Feb. 2013, International News. sec.: n. pag. Print.


Twitter and the Hunt for Two Cop-Killers

Social media site Twitter has revolutionized the way people communicate online. From the outbreak of the Arab Spring to breaking news of Beyonce’s pregnancy, Twitter has captivated and connected millions of people with only 140 characters. However, how the media uses Twitter to inform citizens of highly visible criminal cases may be changing in light of a recent Los Angeles manhunt for a cop-killer.

In 2009, ex-convict Maurice Clemmons gunned down four police officers in a coffee shop in the Seattle-Tacoma area. The two-day hunt for his capture dominated coverage in The Seattle Times. Notably, Twitter was used to connect and inform a fearful and vigilant community. Everyone from average civilians to journalists to media outlets mobilized under the hashtag #washooting to share their updates, express sympathies for the victims, and keep the public informed of law enforcement’s progress. The Seattle Times was praised for its coverage, even winning the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Coverage. Portions of their Twitter stream were included in its entry to the Pulitzer Board.

In spite of Twitter’s successful role in uniting a community in the search for Clemmons, police officials asked the media to stop tweeting about the manhunt for Christopher Dorner, an ex-cop suspected of being involved in the deaths of four people, two of which were police officers. Law enforcement worried Dorner might have access to the Internet and news and hoped to prevent any release of information about police strategy from enabling him. Since news outlets granted the request and Dorner has been killed, speculation of police misbehaving has persisted. While keeping police strategy secret is a legitimate concern, problems arise when the news is censored. Rumors lingered over whether police deliberately set the cabin which hid Dorner on fire in an act of vengeance, rather than for the purpose of driving him out. Also, instead of a unifying Twitter hashtag, information was more spread out under varying hashtags such as #manhunt, #dorner and #bigbear.

Silencing Twitter may provide a valuable strategy for law enforcement but it created a cloud of doubt and mistrust over police actions. The media’s first loyalty is to the public. When asked to self-censor, how can journalists keep a watchful eye over authority or does censorship protect the public for the greater good? Why was the use of Twitter successful in the 2009 manhunt but was discouraged in 2013? Should there be standard procedure for Twitter and live reporting regarding public criminal cases like manhunts or does each case differ on its own?