Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Helpful online materials for journalists

In journalism, it's not enough--and worse, a disservice to the public--to just get the names, places, and events right. "Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context," said the U.S.-based Committee of Concerned Journalists, explaining that journalism's first obligation is to the truth. "Even in a world of expanding voices, accuracy is the foundation upon which everything else is built--context, interpretation, comment, criticism, analysis and debate. " If we journalists barely know the background or context of what we are reporting, then how would we be able to present these issues clearly to the public?

Raging issues at present are the current peace situation in Mindanao and rising oil costs. Below are online articles and materials that could help journalists covering these issues gain better perspective and context to what they are reporting. Of course, non-journalists would also find the materials very useful.

Filipina journalist Raissa Robles of The South China Morning Post writes a comprehensive story on the current Mindanao issue, providing background on and context to the issue.

Gathering storm
Manila's botched attempt at creating a southern Muslim homeland has inflamed religious tensions and raised the spectre of civil war
Raissa Robles
The South China Morning Post
Aug 26, 2008

A serious government miscalculation not only led to the eruption of violence in the southern Philippines, but it might also have raised the long-dormant spectre of civil war with religious overtones.

"I fear a civil war ... I'm scared," said prominent socialite-activist Precy Lopez-Psinakis this weekend.

In Cotabato City, after Friday prayers at the mosque, Nash Pangadapun expressed concern over text messages circulating in this Muslim heartland which revealed that some Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) commanders intended to attack Christian communities before September 1 - the onset of Ramadan, the Muslim period or fasting - should the military continue to shell their camps.

"It that happens, this could be a precursor to a civil war", Mr Pangadapun, secretary general of the Muslim civil society group Maradeka, told The South China Morning Post.

Last week, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's top aide, executive secretary Eduardo Ermita, voiced concern over the rise of armed Christian vigilante groups. "At first glance, you might think we could allow them to fight the Milf. But what if civil war breaks out?" the former general said.

Read more here.

Al Haj Murad Ebrahim, chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Central Committee, held a press conference last Aug. 23 with other MILF officials. The group's views and claims were presented during the event. “As far as we are concerned, the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA – AD) is a final document, a done deal,” the MILF said.
The group said it "cannot allow renegotiation on the MOA–AD, which took both the MILF–GRP Peace Negotiating Panels four years and eight months to discuss and initialed through the superb facilitation of the Malaysian government. "

For details of the conference, please click here. Hat tip to Tita Ellen.

Some local reports on the oil problem have not provided the larger picture, how the current oil problem in the country are intricately connected with issues and problems in the international community.

Journalists and ordinary citizens closely following the oil issue may want to check out a pictorial representation of global consumption of oil using Google Earth. (Oh, while in Google Earth, you may also want to see a worrying animation of the effect of rising sea levels in the planet.)

The prominent education and research think-tank East-West Center has also just released a short analytical piece on several policy options to improve energy security in the Asia-Pacific.

Six steps toward increased energy security in the Asia Pacific region By Kang Wu, Fereidun Fesharaki, Sidney B. Westley and Widhyawan Prawiraatmadja
East-West Center
Aug. 25, 2008

Given the region’s growing populations, expanding transportation needs and rising expectations for a better standard of living, the demand for oil can only go up. The result is a steadily growing dependence on imported oil, largely from the volatile Middle East.

Oil production, consumption, and net surplus or deficit in major regions of the world, 2006 (million barrels per day). Source: BP (2007). Image from: East-West Center

This is no doubt cause for concern, but a number of policy options can help governments improve the security of their oil supplies and, in the long term, bring oil supply and demand into better alignment. The following policy measures could make a significant contribution to energy security in the region:

1. Initiate joint ventures with oil producers.
2. Improve the efficiency of domestic oil markets.
3. Build up strategic oil stocks.
4. Strengthen regional cooperation.
5. Reduce transportation bottlenecks.
6. Establish a regional oil futures market.

For explanation on these measures, as well as more information about the piece and authors, kindly click here.

Proven oil reserves at the end of 2006 (billions of barrels). Source: BP (2007). Note: Measurements of proven reserves are imprecise, because there is no globally accepted system to certify reserves, and reports from individual companies or countries cannot be verified. Image from East-West Center

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Some thoughts about Super Sentai

While reading online resources about the peace deal between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (the blog entries of Manolo Quezon and peace advocate Fr. Jun Mercado are particularly engaging), I am viewing some Youtube clips of old Bioman episodes.

I just realized that after more than 15 years, I still can't get over with the death of Kc, the original Yellow 4.

From Youtube user bampam69:

It's a good thing that Jun, who became the new Yellow 4, was as skilled as Kc.

Some Youtube commenters say that the new Yellow 4 is even better than the old one, especially when matched against Jun's old rival, Farrahcat. Speaking of Farrahcat, do you know that the actress who played Farrahcat, Yukari Oshima, is Cynthia Luster?

Taken from Youtube user cscentrITV:

The episodes also remind me of the group project we did for visual literacy class under Prof. Isabel Kenny, about the gendered realities of news--how stereotypes of women are portrayed in the news. I still adore Bioman that's for sure. But come to think of it, how come many--if not all--Super Sentai shows have male characters as lead? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall any Super Sentai show with female character as a lead. Is it because men are seen as better leaders than women? And that women are still seen as mere secondary leads, sidekicks, or love interests?

And what about the colors? How come female characters in Super Sentai shows typically have
yellow and pink as uniforms while the male ones usually have red, green, blue, or black uniforms?

(Bioman photo from http://www.supersentai.com)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Why plagiarism weakens the reason why we still need the press

Whew. I'm back blogging. I just hope I would be able to blog on a more frequent basis this time.

Anyway, ANC's Media in Focus tackled last night the rampant practice of plagiarism in journalism, basing on the story I did for the the May-June 2008 issue of the PJR Reports. I was invited to be a guest for the episode, but because I had a class on visual literacy under Prof. Isabel Kenny that time (more on my MA Journalism classes at the Ateneo de Manila University in future posts), I declined and referred other people as guests instead.

In case you have not read this, here's my story on plagiarism.

The Vampire Chroniclers
by Hector Bryant L. Macale
May-June 2008
PJR Reports

In the age of Web 2.0, when computers and the Internet have become necessary research and writing tools for reporters, any one can plagiarize by using online search and copy-and-paste technology. But this convenience is a double edged sword: the same tools can also be used to detect plagiarism.

Investigative journalist Alecks Pabico found that out one Sunday. Since he had been writing about the generics drug law for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Pabico kept himself updated on the issue through Google Alerts. A useful tool that journalists can use to monitor issues, Google Alerts can send anyone information on whatever topic s/he wants through e-mail.

Click here for more. Or better yet, read the same article posted on the Eye on Ethics blog. The blog carries the two sidebars of the article, unlike the PJR Reports site which only carried the sidebar on tips regarding plagiarism.

Not only does the Eye on Ethics blog carry the two sidebars (one on the tips and the other views by journalists and media educators on the articles in question). More importantly, it carries the links of the articles so you can compare the articles for yourself and decide whether they were actually plagiarized.

Here's how Eye on Ethics continued my two paragraphs above:

"One item from Google Alerts caught Pabico’s attention: a special report on the issue from The Manila Times posted online that same day, Feb. 3. He was surprised that the Times report contained sentences and quotes that were eerily familiar. Pabico found that the Times report as well as an accompanying story had lifted several portions of a story he did on the generics law almost two years ago. The stories contained several paragraphs nearly identical with portions of Pabico’s September 2006 report. Even several of the quotes in his story two years ago were in the Times stories."

One colleague told me that the article has provoked some discussions in the press community regarding plagiarism. Some mass communication students were also asking my views regarding the subject. I think the article just shows that, despite the existence of rules against plagiarism in the Journalist's Code of Ethics and newsroom ethics manuals, there is not enough discussion within the press on what constitutes plagiarism and how news organizations sanction journalists guilty of plagiarizing.

In this age of Web 2.0, when tons of information are available online and copy-and-paste technology is a common practice not just by journalists but other people as well, the issue of plagiarism in journalism needs to be revisited, Philippine Daily Inquirer lifestyle sub-editor Lito Zulueta tells me in an interview while doing the story. The newsroom guidelines regarding plagiarism were created before the advent of Internet, Zulueta says.

Some comments on the plagiarism story posted on Eye on Ethics are very interesting. "Beautiful article," writes Eliza, a journalism graduate who dabbles in fiction writing. "This article shows that apparently there is no such thing as a 'one-time plagiarist'. Investigations into cases like these should be done as thoroughly as possible."

Another reader, Frank, asks: "It’s been consciously taught in the classrooms that plagiarism is and will not be tolerated. How about in the newsrooms, when everyday, editors and reporters alike are faced with deadlines? Do newrooms teach this?" PJR Reports editor Luis Teodoro replies: "They used to. But I seriously doubt if it happens on a regular basis nowadays, among other reasons because the new technologies have reduced opportunities for personal interaction–i.e., reporters send in their stories via fax or e-mail and in many cases don’t have the opportunity to interact with editors."

UP journalism professor and Philippine Journalism Review managing editor Danilo Arao and Asahi Shimbun reporter Anthony Ian "Tonyo" Cruz, whom I interviewed for the story, also posted the story on their blogs (Prof. Arao's entry here, Tonyo's here). When the Media in Focus's guest coordinator asked for my help on who to guest for the episode last night, I recommended Sir Luis, Prof. Arao, and Tonyo. Thank God they all decided to appear on the "Word Theft" episode.

The hour-long episode was very engaging not only because I wrote the story. More importantly, plagiarism is an issue that strikes at the heart of the ethical values we hold dear in journalism: truth-telling. If we journalists cannot uphold the value of truth-telling when we report, how can we claim credibility and integrity? How can we gain the trust and loyalty of the citizens? How can we claim that we are doing a great service to the public, whom we are supposed to serve? Doesn't journalism exist, as Kovach and Rosenstiel clearly elucidated in their definitive book Elements of Journalism, to provide the public accurate, honest, and comprehensive information on issues they need to know in order to effectively self-govern?

Plagiarism, of course, is not a problem endemic only to journalism. How many times have we heard from the academe horror stories of students, from high school to postgraduate levels, submitting papers and projects plagiarized, some even completely sourced from--gasp!--Wikipedia?

Anyway, I feel that the hour-long Media in Focus episode was still not enough to comprehensively discuss various issues related to plagiarism--although Sir Luis, Prof. Arao, and Tonyo adequately explained some of the core issues, including the element of deception when someone copies a quote, sentence, or paragraph without proper attribution. The Media in Focus episode also happened when there were questions of alleged plagiarism over a piece written by a local lifestyle columnist (more on this case a bit later).

At a time when the role of traditional journalism in today's world is being questioned--some even predicting the eventual demise of mainstream media--journalists should prove why society still needs them. "I know full well how hard it is to defend traditional journalism today. The right and the left join in a critique that says there is no such thing as an unbiased, nonpartisan journalist and that only the despicable MSM, mainstream media, refuse to admit it. The failures of established news organizations justifiably lead to public skepticism," writes American journalist and educator Samuel Freedman (the link of which I got from my media ethics class under Prof. Chay Hofileña). "When we fall short of our own professional standards, we lend support to the cynical or naïve presumption that journalism is something anybody can do."

(Photo above from http://www.pandemiclabs.com)
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