If the Republicans tried to pass a bill saying the Earth is flat…

So I promised there would be a post here about, uh, five days ago?

I’m not even going to apologize this time. Y’all know it’s par for the course with this blog.

So I mentioned I would be going a little more in-depth about the idea of objectivity in journalism, or the idea that the media has to report ‘both’ sides of a story.

This idea has always bothered me. First off, there are almost never just two sides to any story. Sometimes there are 7 sides or 10 sides or maybe even just one. (Though if there’s just one, maybe you need a different angle. I’ve never had just one side to a story.)

In Episode Two of The Newsroom, they talk about making News 2.0. News that relies on facts, doesn’t try to sway you with an emotional plea and most importantly, presents the best form of every argument. All the sides of the story so to speak.

Will McAvoy uses the following example: “If the Republicans tried to pass a bill tomorrow saying the Earth is flat, the headline from the Times would be, ‘Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on the whether the Earth is flat.”

That’s completely true, but not the best form of the argument. In that context, the best form of the argument might be “Republicans reject current scientific knowledge” or “Bogus bill put forward to delay passage of the ACA.”

But let me give you my favorite real life example.

So there’s this thing called global warming. We’ve all heard of it by now. We jokingly blamed the weather on it until it became pretty clear it actually was messing with our rainfall. Then we shook our fists at it. But most scientists, including some who were disbelievers before, are now certain that it exists and that humans are impacting the Earth at an alarming rate. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, part of the National Science and Technology Council, has stated that “The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific agreement across nations, said in it’s 2007 report that humans are most likely to have caused the global warming that has occurred over the last 50 years. In science speak, “most likely” means an over 90 percent chance. It’s the closest you’re going to get to a definite yes from almost any scientist worth his salt, let alone an entire panel.

And yet, because some people don’t want to believe that we could possibly be having this impact on our planet – and that our industry might have to change – they try to debunk climate science in any way possible. And because the journalistic norm is for everyone to have a voice, these people get so much attention from the media that the general public thinks the debunkers are a credible source. Even back in 2004 researchers recognized media bias as a serious problem in the fight against global warming.

In the conclusion of a report from the University of California – Santa Cruz’s Environmental Studies Department, two researchers named Boykoff and Boykoff stated the following:

“In the end, adherence to the norm of balanced reporting leads to informationally biased coverage of global warming. This bias, hidden behind the veil of journalistic balance, creates both discursive and real political space for the US government to shirk responsibility and delay action regarding global warming.”

It also found that major news outlets, such as the New York Times, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times and others, have contributed to a lack of knowledge by the general public of what scientists think about global warming and what should be done about it by “adherence to journalistic norms, and more specifically to the journalistic norm of balance.”

Basically, there aren’t two sides to this story. There is global warming and there are people who want to pretend it doesn’t exist because global warming might mess with their profits.

Now, thankfully, I went to a college that factored ethics very highly into my education and we were taught that giving balance to a story shouldn’t be as important as telling the truth. But the truth doesn’t sell papers and the truth doesn’t get funding. “Balance” does.

So, in the case of global warming, the correct headline might be “Companies create propaganda campaign to cast doubt on global warming.”

But no one is reporting that.

And that is reason #1 why I had a problem with working as a journalist.

Next time, I’ll discuss another aspect to the bias-balance debate, one that also became very close to my heart over the last year: personal politics and objectivity.

I’ll leave you with this wonderful clip of Will McAvoy discussing what is best and worst about America to warm your heart. I know it had me cheering by the end.


Guess who’s back (back, back), back again!

So a little over a month ago I quit my job as a journalist for the Times-Press. Amazing for the girl who spent the last seven years convinced that all she wanted to do was be a journalist.

A lot of things went into this decision, not all of which are relevant for blogging in an era where everything is cached for eternity. Suffice it to say that a combination of money, work environment, commuting (which should fall under money but is really it’s own separate heading), boredom and a loss of ideals all contributed to the switch.

I now work for a company in Madison as a Project Manager. It’s not as satisfying at the end of the day as putting out the news for an entire town, but I do know I’ve done a job well, made customers and coworkers happy and learned something new. And that’s a good place to start while beginning yet another new adventure. I’m far more content where I am, though I do hope that journalism will continue to be something I pursue later in life.

However, since I can’t seem to stop writing to save my life and the new HBO show The Newsroom has me thinking again about a lot of journalism and politics related topics (I had to take a break after months of covering the recall elections for the Times-Press so I wouldn’t lose my sanity) I’ve decided to start Policy Dorks back up again.

I can’t promise a post every week, but I will do my best to present my (three) readers with the same researched, well thought out opinions that I would be proud to present as opinion pieces in any newspaper I’ve worked for so far and any I may work for in the future.

You will also notice some changes to the format of this blog soon. While this template worked well for me two years ago, I’m not so keen on it now. So we shall see what stays and what goes. Expect much prettier things soon (and possibly even a domain name! Gasp!) I may even learn the WordPress CMS while I’m at it. Woot woot.

In my next post, which will likely come by Thursday, I’m going to discuss something I’m sure I’ve touched on previously here: why I hate the idea of “fairness” and “objectivity” in journalism. Where it came from, where it is now and why it made my life hell this last year.

So welcome back, everyone! I can’t wait to have you join me on my ride to stay sane through writing!

6 qualities required to be a journalist

Editor’s note: I started this post on my birthday, a little over a month ago. Apparently drinking mojitos alone on your birthday while you’re sick means you’ll feverishly start blog posts and then totally forget they exist. Oops. I have been thinking about this post for a while though and apparently was pretty far along, so I’m going to finish it up. With some editing for drunken stupor.

So I’ve been thinking a lot the last few weeks. I’ve been wearing several different hats at the JT, and it’s made me think about the qualities needed to be a journalist, no matter what kind. So here’s my list, composed in my head over days of stories. (I may add to this post or create a new one when I come up with more.)

1. Curiosity: You must always be thinking, “Why?”
Why do you have to bore 1 1/2 inches into that tree to treat it? Can the people still live in the house after the fire? Why did that alderman vote that way in that controversial ordinance? What signs mean you have a ghost in your house? (Yes seriously, I did a story on a ghost hunting group this summer.)

2. Persistence: You have to always be ready to call back.
So, so, so many times this summer  I’ve waited for a call back from someone, only to call them an hour later and have them be free and willing to talk. People, myself included, aren’t good at returning messages. But if you call them while they’re slogging through their afternoon work email, they’ll be happy enough to take a break and talk to you about something they actually care about.

3. Personality: Connect with your sources.
People, especially in smaller towns, love to have their name in the paper. Despite dropping circulation, the paper is still  the first way people get their news, be it the print or online edition. And if you chat them up first, they won’t mind telling you intrusive details like their age and occupation. Honestly, they’ll feel flattered by the attention. But in return you have to really listen. You have to take notes on what they say, get them to tell you what they were thinking and feeling, and then come back to the office and synthesize it into a 12 inch article. If you do it right, people will email you to thank you. If you do it wrong, your editor is bound to know. So make sure to connect.

4. Composure: You WILL do awkward things in the name of a story, get used to it.
Last week, a woman died in a car crash in Sturtevant, a suburb-ish area absorbed into Racine. My first day as cops reporter was filled with calling every single Stewart in the local area to ask if they were related to her. Then the city clerk. My fellow reporter Stephanie called the local councilman to see if he knew. Ultimately, no one had any idea who she was, but let me tell you, I have had to do far less awkward things than call up random households and say, “Hi, is this the Stewart residence? Yes, my name is Alicia, I’m calling from the Journal Times. Are you related to Judy Stewart? No? Thanks much.” But you do it anyway.

5. Meticulousness: The Devil is in the details
This seems totally self-explanatory, (how can you be a good journalist if you’re not detail oriented and vaguely OCD, right?) but it’s not. I’ve partnered with some journalists in college that were possibly the least organized people I know, and it showed in their work, their grades, and I imagine in their later job search. You have to know more about your story than you put into it. Not just most of the time, but ALL the time. You have to dig. Why this? Who’s that? Why was he there? How do you feel about him being there? How will this affect that random thing over there? This goes back to #1, but holds a different side. Don’t just ask why, make sure you have ALL the why.
Also. make sure you don’t lose your pen. Having like 10 in your purse is a good start.

6. Patience: Or how you will work the weirdest hours of your life in this job
Here’s the thing no one tells you in college about being a journalist. (Or maybe someone did and I just forgot about it in my enthusiasm to write things for money.) You will work the most whack hours ever. Some days you’ll come in at 7:30 and be out by 3:00. Some days you’ll come in at noon and leave at 9. Some days, and these are the worst, you will come in at 9 a.m. and work till 9 p.m. You will likely be expected to write an article at the end of this 12 hour day. Probably more like two or three. It doesn’t matter that the last thing you ate was a bagel around 3 p.m. That’s just how it works. If you want a 9-5, do something else.

Alright, there you have it. After months of consideration, here’s my list. It may update or change the further I get into this job, but the key principles stand.

P.S. I have an awesome job as a real reporter for the Reedsburg Times-Press now! Yay, I have a big girl job! You can find all my articles online, published every Wednesday and Saturday at http://www.wiscnews.com/reedsburgtimespress/. Yeah, that’s what’s up.


Welcome to…Reporting?!?

Once upon a time there was a girl named Alicia who ran a blog called Policy Dorks. In April, she interviewed for a paid internship with the Journal Times, a daily newspaper in Racine. She never heard back from them, so she assumed the worst and, after graduation, started doing temp market research work. (I really was a busy human, I wasn’t just totally blowing off my blog. Promise!) She made a lot of really boring confidential phone calls for a few days, and then, out of the blue, got a call from a dude named Rob Golub. Rob is the local editor of the Journal Times. He wanted her to drop everything, move to Racine for the summer, and get paid to be a real reporter!

Well, easier said than done, (for example, I flew to Texas to drive my new car back home to Wisconsin, whew that was a long weekend), but three weeks later, Alicia is the newest reporting intern at the Journal Times!

So for a lot of this summer, this blog will be my reflections on not just law, politics and technology, but just the experience of being an actual, real, honest-to-God reporter. I’ve freelanced before, but never been part of an office, and even that is so different to me. The fact that either of my editors can overhear my interviews makes me nervous, not because I’m asking the wrong questions, but because to me phone interviewing has always been something I do in a quiet room by myself.

I’ve written 4 articles in the last week and have had 3 of them published so far! It’s so much fun, so challenging, and yet so familiar that I can’t believe that its been so long since I did it. How can it have been over a year since I’ve been a journalist? It’s so…awesome 🙂 Really. (Let me keep my idealism while it lasts.)

More later, its 12:16 am and I have to get up early to go to my (usually) 9-5 job. Isn’t that a strange thought.

Check out my newest work below!

Christian volunteer organization helps improve area low-income neighborhoods

Lemonade stand to benefit children fighting cancer

Area woman becomes new host of Discover Wisconsin

Fixin What Ain’t Broke – Voter ID Bill

So yeah, its been a month or so since I’ve posted. Oops.

I don’t really have much of an excuse, except that working full time over break and then starting school has taken a lot out of me. Also, normally I take my politics break over winter break, (there’s only so much I can take before I need some time off and this election cycle was rather insane), and didn’t do so this time. So I’ve been a bit out of the loop. Confession: Still have not watched/listened to/read the State of the Union address. That’s how bad it is. At least I’m still Tweeting.

I’d like to focus on something a little closer to home than national politics today. Shocking, I know! Instead, I want to focus on Wisconsin Attorney General Van Hollen’s proposed Voter ID bill.

To give you some background: This bill is intended to cut down on Wisconsin voter fraud. An admirable goal, for sure. For example, in the 2008 election, there was a huge stink over ACORN in the US and other smaller pieces of fraud in Wisconsin. But in reality, according to a study from Van Hollen’s office, there were only 18 fraudulent votes out of all 3 million votes cast in the state. Big deal? Maybe, but not huge.

So before we beg  the question of whether this bill is necessary at all, here’s how he wants to do it: by requiring all users to show a photo ID before being allowed to vote. And not just any photo ID, but only drivers licenses, state IDs and military IDs.  For example, UW students could no longer use their UW identification cards along with proof of a current address to vote.

Now, we all already know that getting voters to the polls is a problem. If you’re poor, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re a minority, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re young, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re too old, you’re less likely to vote. If you’re disabled, you’re less likely to vote. Less than half of the people in Wisconsin voted in the 2008 election, and even less in the 2010 midterms. So now, all of a sudden, if you decide, “Hey, I might go vote today!” but you’ve been too poor to get a state ID, you can’t.  If you’re a student from out of state and your license hasn’t been switched over, you can’t vote. If you’re elderly and don’t have a license anymore because you don’t drive, you can’t vote. And if you don’t live close to a DMV or work during business hours? You’re SOL.

One Wisconsin Now keeps pointing out the problem, as does the Government Accountability Board.

See the problem?

But it gets even more confusing. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, to make sure this doesn’t amount to a poll tax, state IDs will no longer cost money. But wait, you say, isn’t there a budget deficit? Doesn’t even that small amount of money help the state? Well, yes, yes it does. Thanks for noting that. You forgot to mention cost of training for state employees to learn the new rules, training for everyone else to make sure it’s enforced, and special exceptions for students, elderly, etc.

In fact, according to the Sentinel, in 2009 this was estimated to have an annual 2.9 million dollar price tag. That’s not counting the training costs (estimated at 2 million by the Government Accountability Board), the loss of DMV revenue, or anything else. That’s just the cost of the program itself.

So while I know the Republicans are trying to put some trust back into the political system, I don’t see how this is going to help. You know that saying, if it’s broke, don’t fix it? Here’s another, if it’s broken, don’t spend money to make it worse.

Lessons in losing

Today is another break from Teh Commerz Clawz day. (Though according to my ever-growing page hits, I’m pretty popular when you search for anything regarding Gibbons v. Ogden or FDR’s court packing plan. LOLZ.)

This post has been floating around in my head since before the brutal attempt on Congresswoman Giffords’ life and the resulting discussion surrounding the dangers of overblown political vitriol. So let me preface this by stating that I don’t believe someone as out of touch with reality as Laughner really paid that much attention to politics. Selectively maybe, but the immediate conclusion that political name-calling led to her death is ridiculous. Thankfully some columnists kept their heads while the rest of the media was losing theirs, and it seems discussions about gun control and mental illness are finally springing forward. Ugh.

But back to my point. I’ve been thinking about this idea of bitter, mean-spirited politics since January 1st, actually. Several of my more liberal minded friends started ranting about how life was going to be over in Wisconsin as soon as Scott Walker took office, and were instrumental in calling for his repeal.

First, there’s the bit where Walker can’t just be repealed like he’s an offensive bill, since he’s an actual elected official that won fair and square. Obviously. But that’s not the issue. The issue is the current insistence on combativeness in the political process. (If you need another example, the Republican insistence on a symbolic health care vote should be enough.)

Now I understand that politics create controversy. My opinion is not going to be the opinion of someone on the far right. Or the far left either. And I don’t expect those two people to agree either with me or with each other. That’s what makes democracy work, and theoretically with debate and compromise all those different ideas lead to the best deal for everyone in America. But that’s not what happens anymore.

Instead we end up with the ridiculous amount of name-calling familiar to anyone who even vaguely follows politics. This person is the incarnation of the devil! This person’s policies will make your crops wither and die! That person is a witch! This liberal wants to send all our old people to death camps! That conservative is a Nazi and wants you to march in lock-step for the rest of your life as punishment for having brown hair!

I only made up the second and part of the fifth one.

As soon as the opposing party takes power, suddenly the world is going to end. “Life will never be the same!” the losing party exclaims. “This is the worst thing to happen to our (city, district, state, country) since (last terrible buzz-person) ran everything into the ground! Run for the hills!” They inflame their staunchest members with floods of fund-raising emails. They tell half-truths when they can. They get everyone they can all riled up. And suddenly people actually believe that the President wants death panels. They believe that this person is the incarnation of the Devil or is a witch or a Nazi or a terrorist or whatever the buzz-word of the day is. Not everyone pays enough attention to know better.

This just isn’t on the left or on the right. This isn’t just from the Republicans or Fox News. This comes from Democrats and MSNBC commentators as well.

We’ve forgotten, as a country, how to lose gracefully. We’ve lost our sportsmanship. We’ve lost our ability to shake hands with someone that ran a better campaign than we did and tell them “Good game. There’s always next time.” We’ve somehow misplaced the lessons taught to us when we were young, lessons about not throwing down our ball and stomping away to pout when the game doesn’t go our way.

And we, as people involved and commenting on the political process of the United States of America need to relearn that skill. Maybe, if there’s anything to learn from this truly pointless murder spree, it’s how to lose gracefully again.

Instead of continuing to rant myself (I have to admit this was far less intimidating to talk about before a prominent Congresswoman almost died) I’m going to let one of the only people I still fully trust in politics finish off with a talk of his own.

I give you: Jon Stewart. He says it better than I do anyway.

Arizona Shootings Reaction
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog</a> The Daily Show on Facebook

Stalemate on Prop 8?

I’m taking a break from Teh Commerz Clawz in favor of new developments on another important national issue: California’s Prop 8 case.

judge vaughn walker

Judge Vaughn Walker, photo courtesy of nydailytimes.com

I assumed (wrongly) that following the very straightforward decision by Judge Walker in August of 2010, which declared Prop 8 unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment, that an appeal was taking place as usual and we’d hear more about it when the appeals court disagreed with Walker’s ruling and sent the whole thing to the CA Supreme Court.

But, as in many things, I was more than a bit off the mark, as I learned reading the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) blog this morning. The appeals process is not continuing in a nice, orderly fashion. The reason? This little part of justiciability called “standing.” Essentially, justiciability is the ability of a court to hear a case. There are various reasons the court couldn’t hear a case, which are called the case and controversy requirements, and which are too numerous and off topic to detail here. But standing is one of the most important.

To boil it down, standing means that the person bringing the suit must have a sufficient connection to the law to be allowed to bring a suit in the first place. The person must be able to show
1)  they have been harmed (or will imminently be harmed) in some concrete fashion,
2) that there is an obvious connection between the harm and the law, and
3)  that the change they seek will redress that harm.
For example, I can’t bring a suit over something that happened to my best friend, because I have not been directly harmed myself. Only my friend could do that. I don’t have standing.

But wait, you say. Didn’t the state defend Prop 8? The case is called Perry v. Schwarzenegger, after all. That should mean that the state has standing to appeal the case. True. But the state is not leading the appeal, and didn’t even lead the original defense. Governor Schwarzenegger and then Attorney General Brown have both expressed opposition to Prop 8. ProtectMarriage.com, the group that originally campaigned for Prop 8, stepped in to fill the defense void as defendant-interveners and have done the same during the appeals process.

But here’s where things get tricky. ProtectMarriage.com is definitely not part of the state, and this is a state law. Regardless of how hard the organization worked to pass Prop 8, if they don’t have standing to sue, then what happens to the appeal, or even the original suit?

The Ninth Circuit Court declined to decide the issue of standing and instead asked the California Supreme Court for it’s opinion before continuing. According to the SCOTUS blog post, the CA Supreme Court has docketed the issue and will address it in the upcoming weeks. You can find the Circuit Court’s opinion regarding standing here.

Personally, I don’t believe ProtectMarriage.com has standing to sue, since I fail to see even the slightest bit of harm to them from the overturning of Prop 8, beyond their work going to waste. But at this point, I agree with Justice Reinhardt, one of the Ninth Circuit judges, who basically stated in his own accompanying opinion what a pity it would be if the case couldn’t be resolved due to a lack of standing. If no one but the state has standing to sue, and the state won’t, then the Ninth Circuit won’t be able to resolve the issue, and then what?

While I don’t agree with Reinhardt that standing and other requirements have become just unnecessary “procedural bars that preclude courts from deciding cases on the merits,” I do agree that it would be a terrible thing to have this entire case thrown out on the basis of standing. The entire issue has become much too important.