When Journalism is Deadly

Reporting on issues of personal sexuality is always a delicate affair, but for Tampa Bay Times reporter Leonora LaPeter Anton, the consequences of doing so may have been tragic. Anton’s hope to shed light on Gretchen Molannen’s genital arousal disorder were at the very least severely complicated when Molannen committed suicide in the weeks following the story’s publication.

In another Poynter piece, journalist Dan Stockman gives his personal account of how one of his sources killed himself as a possible result of his investigative reporting.

While Stockman’s story had a different focus than Anton’s, exposing a community leader for a series of non-sexual abuses, it emphasizes the incredible, and sometimes dangerous power that the media has. As Amanda Hess points out in her write up of the Anton story, it is critical moving forward that journalists covering sensitive topics, even if they choose to print a risky story, at least make their sources aware of the potential outcomes.

The Twitter Storm

Like so many of her peers in the days following October’s Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey reporter Jen Connic published an article to NJ.com covering the storm.

Sort of. Rather than a direct report on the damage, Connic’s piece was at its core a compilation of Twitter posts about Sandy’s effect on Atlantic City. Scouring the social media storm (pun intended), Connic chose some of the most gripping photographs city residents had posted with the hashtag #sandy. Pictures of a destroyed boardwalk and flooded roads were captioned with quips like “See ya! I’m making a run for it.” Connic’s story concluded with several Tweets reacting to Sandy’s impact in AC.

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Is what Connic is doing news? And on a larger scale, does Twitter undermine the goals of traditional news outlets?

Over at The Huffington Post, a video panel discussed Twitter’s role in delivering Sandy related news.

Senior HuffPost editor Danny Shea told the host that social media particularly benefits from the visual nature of storm coverage. Television networks can do little more than play loops of reporters in the field and slideshows of the destruction, Shea says, and the latter have totally saturated Twitter by the time CNN picks them up.

And so you really see that in these kinds of situations social media can almost take over completely from television or from print media.

But while Twitter executives benefit, the public may not, the panelists suggested. Several argued that because the type of citizen journalism that occurs on social media sites is not vetted, it is not as sound as traditional news outlets, and may provide its audience with misinformation.

Austrailian TV personality Josh Zepps offered an alternative way of looking at the phenomenon. Zepps says that live Twitter posts can actually perform an informatory function that a trained journalist can’t.

The reason why I think social media is so powerful in this is because the person who is taking it is usually actually there. We feel an emotional connection… So in that context it’s newsworthy not because it’s giving us any data or any information that we didn’t have previously, but because it’s a real human news story. And that’s something that a reporter on the scene is never going to be able to replicate.

What seems important, then, is that social media users at least develop an understanding of the variety and nature of the sources of their news. Zepps says that behind this human interest angle that Twitter offers, the world will always need journalists to sift through the sludge.

Journalism requires a curator, journalism requires a context maker. We need to figure out the world by having smart people understand it for us and process it for us. The sheer number of photos and tweets and memes that would be flying at us if we didn’t have newsmakers to put in context would be indecipherable.

Jen Connic is exactly the kind of curator that Zepps is describing. Her post synthesized a social media platform that was very overwhelming at the time. The users she featured were not chosen randomly – we have to assume that she spent a lot of time browsing the site for specific tweets and pictures, those that best reflected the overall tenor of the online response. It took the skills of a journalist to do so.

Twitter does not mean the downfall of legacy media. When Jersey was a state in crisis, Connic – the reporter – was more important than ever.

Come Hell or High Water, Social Media Will Prevail

In October 2012, residents of the East Coast raced frantically from store to store, purchasing everything from toilet paper to bottled water to back-up generators. Gas became a precious commodity and natives of states such as New Jersey and New York waited in lines for hours to fill up their tanks and fuel cans. College students rushed home in a frenzy, leaving many universities strangely empty for the time of year. The cause of all of the commotion? The approaching force of Hurricane Sandy.


Hurricane Sandy developed from a tropical wave in the western Caribbean Sea on Oct. 22. It grew in strength and was quickly upgraded to a tropical storm, then a hurricane when it hit land near Kingston, Jamaica. Sandy became the largest Atlantic hurricane on record and is expected to be the second-costliest Atlantic hurricane, only behind Hurricane Katrina, which ripped apart New Orleans and caused significant destruction along the Gulf Coast from Florida to Texas.

For my podcast, I will focus on the societal aftermath of the storm, as well as both the knowledge and panic brought on by the use of social media. I will be interviewing Samantha Toscano, Copy Desk Chief at The Review and a senior at the University of Delaware, who is doing her senior thesis on citizen journalism and the affect it has on society. She will speak on how social media was used as an outlet of knowledge for those on the East Coast looking for information about the storm, such as when it would be touching down and where one could find gas in certain areas. She will also discuss the negative effects citizen journalism had after Sandy. Some negative effects that will be discuessed are bloggers or Facebook users who spread flawed knowledge and those who abused the privileges of the internet by creating falsified images and videos of the hurricane devastation.

In addition to Toscano’s interview, I will also focus on those whose homes and lives were negatively impacted by the hurricane. Doug Kenny, a junior from Staten Island, New York, will describe the damage to his and his neighbors’ homes that occurred during Sandy’s rampage. Due to a falling tree, Kenny’s home experienced significant damage to the pool, gazebo and fence in his backyard. Kenny will also talk about how social media impacted his image of how the storm was affecting his home. Due to the expected damage of New York, Kenny was forced to remain at the university and had to solely rely on social media and information from his mother about the damage being done to the area. He will discuss how this impacted his views on how much damage was done to the area surrounding his home and New York in general.

Finally, I will interview Eric Robinson, a Connecticut native, about the damage done to his home. Although Connecticut was not a main focus of media coverage for the storm, Robinson’s home experienced significant flooding, forcing his parents to temporarily relocate and Robinson to stay at the university over the winter. He will discuss the damage done to his home, as well as how the images and messages posted by his friends and neighbors to social media sites affected how he viewed the damage done to his home before he was actually able to view the damage for himself.

Rachel Taylor

Staten Island Left in the Dust of the Storm

During the week of October 29, 2012 Hurricane Sandy ripped through the east coast, destroying houses, cars, and many buildings in its path, there was one borough in the state of New York, that seemed to be forgotten in the wrath of the media storm that soon followed Hurricane Sandy. Staten Island was unfortunately extremely banged up and severely needing help and rescuing, many people felt like they were being left to literally drown after the storm.

The problem with such a terrible natural disaster happening, besides the obvious destruction is that the city should try to provide assistance. Also meaning have news reporters on the scene to get the word out about what is happening so officials can be aware of what needs to be done and where help is needed.  The problem there was that there was no coverage on how badly Staten Island was hit. Unfortunately no one knew how bad the citizens of the “forgotten borough” had to try and handle things alone with no FEMA or city assistance by their sides.

There were many news articles on the destruction of the Jersey Shore and New York City and it angered many people on Staten Island because as bad as their borough was destroyed and of all the devastation they went through, they weren’t being heard. Reporters didn’t go to Staten Island to report and explain how Staten Island was doing and the condition the borough was under, they weren’t showing the rest of the world how bad Staten Island got hit.

The comparison of CBS New York’s reported article and The Daily News’ article are examples of how differently the media portrayed this situation.

CBS New York seemed to focus more on the condition of Staten Island and speaking of the devastation these families endured. It also spoke about the fact that Staten Island citizens were hurt and felt abandoned because they didn’t receive any help or even acknowledgement that Staten Island was in such a poor state. CBS New York really tried to report on more of the emotional toll that these Staten Island citizens were taking.

Then The Daily News had a picture on their front page of President Barack Obama shaking Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie’s hand. The article talked about how Obama and Christie were going to work together to get New Jersey and the shore back to normalcy. This article differs greatly from the one put out by CBS New York because CBS was trying to show the Borough and the destruction there and telling of the cries for help. While The Daily News focused on ensuring normalcy to the Jersey Shore, even though that is important there were bigger issues going on in Staten Island where people were literally starving and dying to try and keep their families alive.

A statement said by the Bolos Family of Staten Island, New York, “We’re truly heartbroken at the lack of concern and consideration the state and city had for our suffering hometown. We needed help and we couldn’t even get a reporter here to explain to people how bad it was and how desperately we needed them.”

-Ashley Zitofsky

How the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point May Not Be What A Recovering Community Needs


virgin marie of breezy

Recently the New York Times featured a story about the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point. For those of you who don’t know, the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point is a Virgin Mary statue that was the only thing left standing amidst the charred wreckage of a home at the corner of Oceanside Avenue and Gotham Street in Breezy Point, Queens. In fact, it is perfectly in tact, down to it’s shell crown niche, and the eery backdrop of blocks of destruction make it all the more compelling. In Catholicism, the veneration of  the Virgin Mary stems from the belief that the holy are imperishable to fire or other forces. So naturally, this statue has made quite the buzz across the country. It’s been featured in stories by CNN, FOX, NBC and the Wall Street Journal. People are making pilgrimages to Breezy Point to witness this so called “miracle” with their own eyes. It has become the feel good story of a neighborhood arguably decimated worse than any other region by hurricane Sandy. But forgive me if I am not so taken by this statue.

Do you remember the 9/11 Cross? Two steel beams in the shape of a cross that had held together as the building collapsed and are now on display at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. When they were uncovered on Septemeber 13th, 2001 in the ground zero wreckage it caused quite the media and religious uproar. Then there’s the Oklahoma City Elm Tree, also known as the “Survivor Tree”. It stood just yards from the explosion of a bomb that killed 168 people on April 19th, 1995, but for some inexplicable reason the tree remained, and still remains standing. It serves as a memorial and a sign of strength for all those affected by the Oklahoma City bombing. Also popular is the Buddhist teacher Shinran Shonin statue that stood 1.5 miles from the center of a nuclear blast that leveled the city of Hiroshima in 1945. The statue now stands outside a Buddhist Temple on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, still in mint condition. There is a plaque next to the statue that reads “a testimonial to the atomic bomb devastation and a symbol of lasting hope for world peace”.

To me, the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point is news that has been repackaged and sold back to us. It seems to me that journalists will always strive to find some source of comfort amidst total chaos. Why? Because it is the exact kind of feel good story that sells newspapers. If you disagree, visit www.stpeterslist.com , a religious website that has figured out how to cash in on this “miracle” by selling Virgin Mary of Breezy Point graphics on their merchandise. More importantly, this story takes away from what is really going on in Breezy Point. People around the country look at this statue as a sign of hope, while people in Breezy Point are wondering why this statue is intact and their homes are destroyed. This story takes away from how terrible things really are in Breezy Point. I’m not saying that it is or is not a miracle, I don’t think anybody has the right to make that call, but I do think in the grand scheme of things that it doesn’t really matter. Does this miracle make up for what has just occurred? Is this the olive branch god gives us after the great flood?

University of Delaware Student Cody Greenstein who was born and raised in Breezy Point thinks of the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point as” a little hurtful, because right now most people have forgotten about what has happened to us, and they find solace in this statue story, but things aren’t all right, the media should be taking a more serious outlook on  Breezy and portray that were still not okay”. Cody, whose home was one of many that was destroyed said that he believes “this story is more for the benefit outside world and not for the people of Breezy”.

I think that it is a great thing that this statue has inspired so many people. In and of itself, the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point is an amazing occurrence unexplainable by simple logic. But this story also makes me feel cynical about journalism. People want a symbol of strength because the country has been wounded, and that is what the media is trying to give them. But anything written about Breezy Point should draw attention to the utter devastation people are living in, not a feel good story about the Virgin Mary. But the Virgin Mary sells papers, and people want to feel like things are getting better.

It’s not that this story isn’t newsworthy, it’s that it’s become more newsworthy than Breezy Point as a whole. I’m afraid of Breezy Point falling out of the public eye. It happened to New Orleans and some neighborhoods have still not been rebuilt. Soon Breezy Point will be yesterdays news, but the people who live there will still be piecing their lives back together. Thats how the media machine works, people want to hear about the recovery effort, not that Cody Greenstein and his family ate Thanksgiving dinner at a hotel.


-Matthew Speiser

The Final Presidential Debate

As the presidential campaign raced towards Nov. 6, President Barack Obama and Republican Nominee Mitt Romney utilized any resource they had to make a lasting impression on the American people. One of their last opportunities came with the final presidential debate, which was set to focus on foreign policy. The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and CNN all participated in initial reporting on the event, which they all managed to spin in their own ways. Although there was little variation in content, as the happenings of the televised event could hardly be disputed, the way the news sources decided to report on the story were unique to the media outlet.

The New York Times ran live coverage of the debate, as well as follow up coverage the day after, which went on the front page. The story covered the basics of what went on during the debate, citing quotes from Obama and Romney about their ideas on foreign policy, as well as documenting when they went off track and began to discuss more domestic issues. However, The New York Times went into more detail about the candidates’ reactions and behaviors towards one another. The article stated that despite all of the “fireworks,” the debate did not accomplish anything significant enough to encourage swing voters to choose a side. The article went into depth describing how the candidates acted, saying Obama, “chopped the air with his hand” and “lectured and even mocked Mr. Romney on the details on certain policies.”The Times described Romney as sitting “stiffly, his hands before him, back ramrod straight.” Although the Times did follow the debate and reported on the happenings, it seems the article was more dedicated to dissecting the candidates’ reactions towards each other and highlighting the “zinger” quotes of the night.

The Washington Post also kept a close eye on the debates, choosing to release an article the night of the election online. While the article did report on the happenings of the debate, the content had less fluidity then the article from The New York Times. The reporter bounced back and forth between what happened with the actual debate and several other factors, such as how the candidates were doing in the polls and the general campaign trail. Also, this article was less focused on how the candidates responded to each other and more on what was actually said. Editorializations such as “mocked” and “sarcastically” were not present in this article. Instead, the article focused on what was said, if the candidates had ever said anything like it before and how it may affect the campaign later on. This more objective viewpoint gives readers a more straight forward idea of what the candidates accomplished during the night, although it did not have the same entertainment factor The New York Times article had.

While they had other articles to follow up on the final presidential debate, The Huffington Post published an interesting article online shortly before the debate as a precursor to the night’s events. This article was particularly interesting due to the more comedic quality of the article. The article poked fun at the debates, comparing it to an “extra special season finale” of a reality television show. It also went on to make sharp social comments, such as noting moderator Bob Schieffer had not come under as much scrutiny as second debate moderator Candy Crowley, presumably because “Schieffer isn’t a woman, and so no one questions why he is speaking aloud in public.” While the article is mostly satirical, it brings up interesting points concerning the previous debates and how they were managed. It is also noteworthy the Huffington Post chose to run an article a few hours prior to the debate, rather than only reporting after the fact. This allows them to refer back to their predictions and see if the debate unraveled the way they thought it would. It also lets readers refer back to these predictions and have a stronger grasp of what the candidates will talk about and how they may interact with each other.

While CNN ran several stories about the final presidential debate, one of the arguably most interesting articles was a round-up of the funniest tweets concerning the debate. The article was released the day after and compiled several tweets the media outlet considered noteworthy. While the article did not go into great detail about what happened during the debate, it covered the basics, such as where and when it took place. It mostly focused on voter response to the election through the popular social media site, Twitter. It pointed out several keys phrases and incidents that had quickly become parodied and turned into hashtags, such as #horsesandbayonettes, referring to Obama’s comment towards Romney about updated naval and military procedures. The tweets poked fun at both candidates, with accompanying hashtags to further the mockery. For example, twitter user W. Kamau Bell tweeted, “President Obama has that “I have Bin Laden’s head in a bag beneath the desk,” look in his eyes. #mockthevote #debate” and Barack Obama’s parody account tweeted “Wait, so Tumult isn’t one of Romney’s sons name? #debate.” The article emphasized the importance of social media in the election, as well as exposing it as an important journalism tool.

-Rachel Taylor