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Archive for March 2011

Media and Politics conference at Elon University discusses how to present complex information to the media

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By Julia Sayers

Elon University hosted Media and Politics: Openness, Accuracy, and Honesty in the 21st Century Media Landscape, a conference about the many challenges for journalists in today’s society.

“Presenting Complex Information: Scholars Discuss Media, Public Policy, and Audience Response” was a panel held on Tuesday, March 29 that discussed the challenges of presenting complex data and scientific information to the general public.  Four panelists from Elon University, UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University gave short speeches and then answered questions from the audience.

Donald Shaw, Kenan Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication at Chapel Hill, gave a talk about setting political agendas. He admits that media does set agendas, but these agendas are based on the issues we find important.

“In American politics, the idea is that issues matter. We make decisions on the basis of issues and there is always a competition of issues,” Shaw said.

The press sets the agenda with these issues, but tells us what to think about, not what to think.

Shaw also discussed the two types of media and how the agendas differ for each one. Vertical media, which are newspapers and big name television networks, focus on the larger community. Horizontal media, which are magazines, Twitter, Facebook and blogs, are catering to a group of people already interested in a particular topic. Vertical media sets an agenda, whereas horizontal media is used to connect people.

Political based advocacy comes as a result of the issues in the agenda set by the press. Barbara Miller, Assistant Professor of Communications at Elon University, discussed audience response to advocacy.

“Marketplace advocacy has a risk or societal concern associated,” Miller said. “Most campaigns are launched in response to these, such as environment, science or technological issues.”

Miller discussed campaigns by the American Petroleum Institute, the American Coalition for Clean Coal and the Council for Biotechnology. Each campaign has a political motive at the core, but they are not lobbying efforts.

Sarah Cohen, Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy at Duke University, took a different approach and talked about the challenges that journalists have in collecting and going through large amounts of data. Cohen, who was previously an investigative reporter for the Washington Post, is currently working on trying to find more efficient ways of sifting through data.

“In each agency, there are large document collections, but their methods are not up to par,” Cohen said. “They started using social science methods and tools from business in the 1990s, but not much as changed since then.”

Instead of having to go through boxes of information, Cohen in interested in creating an RSS feed of original reporting by story, finding a way to get handwritten police incident reports in a database online and easier way to gather information from court tapes rather than having to listen to the whole tape. This would make data collection easier.

Building off of Cohen’s idea of data collection, David Gammon, Assistant Professor of Biology at Elon University, talked about the importance of presenting that data to the public. Gammon wrote a piece on climate change for the Burlington Times-News because he felt that the public was ignorant of scientific issues. He wanted to work with mass media to reach a variety of people, instead of just publishing a blog that would be read by people interested in science.  He published the piece with no opinion, just data and how to interpret that data.

At the conclusion of the session, each panelist gave their advice on what students should be doing to assess complex information. They all agreed on the importance of doing individual research and fact checking everything.

“Be hesitant to reach a conclusion,” Gammon said. “Know what questions you have instead of knowing the answers to the questions.”


Written by juliasayers

March 30, 2011 at 11:39 am

America’s Best Newspaper Writing – Chapter 5

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Business and Explanatory journalism can be tricky to get people interested in. Most people don’t want to read stories full of facts, figures and explanations. The trick is to put these things into common language that the public can understand. Technical language needs to be translated in order to gain the interest of those outside of the field of interest. Journalists must also use numbers carefully. You don’t want to fill a story with too many figures or you’ll lose the interest of the readers. This ties into the pacing of information. You can’t throw your readers all the facts and figures at once, you need to carefully distribute them throughout the story. Pay close attention to the needs of your readers, if they don’t need all the facts and figures, don’t give them to them.

William Blundell uses a specific equation when he writes his stories. He categorizes the information so it is easier for him to form it into a story. He first deals with the history of the subject he is reporting on. He looks at the scope of the story, what exactly he’s going to talk about. He then looks at the central political, social and economic reasons behind what is going on. Then he deals with the impact of the subject, then contrary forces and finally looks ahead to the future to let readers know how this will affect them later. These different categories can help reporters to come up with a focus and also structure their story well. Blundell also emphasizes the importance of repetition. If journalists want to make a point, they need to bring it up over and over again, but just in different ways. This can be done through figures, anecdotes and quotes. You also want to tease the readers in the lead with your important point.

Peter Rinearson uses the idea of “gold coins” to keep readers interested in his stories. After the lead and initial information, readers can tend to get bored with the explanation of facts and figures. However, Rinearson uses gold coins of interesting information throughout the story to keep his readers reading. He says that to make your readers understand the story, you must understand it. It is better to look stupid to your sources by asking lots of questions then to look stupid to your readers. Rinearson finds a way to keep it interesting and understandable, even when he’s writing about something like the Boeing 757. He adds humor with the chicken guns and keeps the technical terms to a minimum.

Michael Gartner creates lyrical editorials by using word play. The best wordplay for journalism is repetition, alliteration and one and two word sentences. These can all combine to give the story a rhythmic feel.

Other great articles:

The Burger That Shattered Her Life by Michael Moss

What I thought was interesting about this article was how Moss combines a feature/profile story with an explanatory story about E. Coli in meat. He puts technical terms into understandable language and makes the story easier to ingest (no pun intended) by adding a human element with the profile.

Plague of Plastic Chokes the Sea by Kenneth Weiss

Weiss uses a good technique to focus his story. He starts small by telling the story of the specific bird and then expands on that to draw in his main issue of pollution in the ocean. Also the pictures with the story are awesome.

The French Fry Connection by Richard Read

Read writes this explanatory piece as a story, which makes it easy to read. It flows together nicely to keep readers interested.

Battling the Bulge by Thomas Burton

I chose this story because Burton makes something that could be hard to understand very simple. Medical pieces can turn into a mess of medical jargon that won’t apply to the general public, but Burton uses simple terms to interest everyone. For example, he says “aneurysms arise when a thinning, weakening section of an artery wall balloons out.” He uses the term balloons instead of some medical term.

Big Burn: Just for Show? By Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall

This article is also told like a story, with a chronological explanation of the event. I also liked the use of the graphic with the story because it helps to make it more understandable.

Written by juliasayers

March 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

Anna’s Thai Café offers unique and flavorful ethnic cuisine

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By Julia Sayers

Anna's Special Rolls, crispy fried rolls with ground pork, are a great option for an appetizer. Photo by Julia Sayers.

Burlington, N.C. – Need to get your Pad Thai fix? Try Anna’s Thai Sushi at the new location on Church Street, which opened March 11. The original Anna’s Thai Café is in downtown Burlington.

Curtis Bishop, owner of the restaurant, has worked in the restaurant industry since 1994. He chose to open the restaurant on Church Street to get more exposure. Bishop is not worried about competition with the other Thai restaurants in town.

“There’s enough business for everyone and we have some unique dishes,” Bishop said.

The restaurant boasts its own sushi chef, who has been in the industry for 17 years. In addition to a large variety of Thai food and sushi, the restaurant also offers a fully stocked bar. The dining area, separated from the bar by the sushi preparation area, has a calm and relaxed atmosphere where diners can enjoy a quiet dinner. The waiters and staff are all very friendly and attentive.

Diners can choose from a variety of appetizers to start off their meal. Anna’s Special Rolls, crispy fried rolls with ground pork, are a great option.

They burst with flavor and have the perfect amount of kick to them; not too spicy, yet not bland at all. The house sauce served with them tastes like a unique version of duck sauce and compliments the rolls well.

For a main meal, the options are endless. The menu, while a little overwhelming, offers everything from sushi to lamb to noodle dishes and curry. The spicy dishes are rated on a scale of mild, medium and hot but can be requested to be less or more spicy, depending on the diner’s preference.

Anna's Thai Sushi offers Pad Thai, a dish consisting of thin rice noodles pan seared with egg, scallions, bean sprouts and topped with crushed roasted peanuts, as an entree. Photo by Julia Sayers.

The Pad Thai, a dish consisting of thin rice noodles pan-seared with egg, scallions, bean sprouts and topped with crushed roasted peanuts, was unique, but delicious nonetheless. It was different than most Pad Thai in that it was sweeter and almost had a tangy citrus taste to it.

Customers can choose to add chicken, shrimp, pork, beef, tofu or vegetables to the Pad Thai. It is best with chicken or shrimp and you get a good amount of what you order. You don’t have to dig around in your noodles to find a few pieces of meat. The pieces of chicken were sizable and plentiful. As a cute decoration, a flower carved out of a carrot is added to the side of the dish.

Anna's Thai Sushi has a wide range of desserts, including homemade coconut cake. Photo by Julia Sayers.

The restaurant also offers homemade desserts as a sweet way to end your meal. The coconut cake is just one of many options, including blueberry cheesecake, crème brùlée and German chocolate cake. A large slice of coconut cake is served on a drizzle of chocolate syrup and topped with a cherry. The cake is extremely moist and has a delicious, authentic coconut flavor. The icing and filling are also to die for.  Customers can get just a slice or can choose to buy a whole cake to take home with them.

Anna’s Thai Café is open for lunch and dinner, seven days a week. They will soon be accepting Phoenix Cash.

Written by juliasayers

March 16, 2011 at 1:08 pm

America’s Best Newspaper Writing- Features and Profiles

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Feature writing, which started out as the over sensationalized yellow journalism, is human-interest stories. People want to read about people so why not connect news to individual lives? Feature writing “finds the human behind the celebrity” and “celebrates the life of uncommonly common people.” Feature writers, like all good journalists, need to be hard workers and good listeners. However the role of the feature writer is much different than the investigative journalist. The feature writer does not exploit his sources, he uses virtues to gain access to these sources. Feature writers must represent their subjects with fairness, honesty, thoroughness, and courtesy. The stories of these sources are then combined with the issues of today as a powerful reflection.

Cynthia Gorney recognizes all aspects of a good profile by including detail, observation, quotes, testimonies from friends and family, biography and history. She gives the advice to find a writer you love and read all you can of that writer. To do a feature story, you have to passionately interested in everything, or else your lack of passion will show through your story. She echoes the personality of her subject (Dr. Seuss) in her writing.

Saul Pett tests the limits of traditional journalism. He varies sentence structure and length to give the story a rhythm and he fills his stories with metaphors. He brings a personal side to the story by mimicking how the subjects speak. For example, he writes out “bill-y-on” in one of Ed Koch’s quotes to portray how Koch speaks. This is a unique technique that you don’t see in many stories. Another unique writing approach is Mirta Ojito’s writing in first person. It brings a more personal and therefore more universal approach to the story. However, the most unique tactic I’ve ever seen was the one in Ken Fuson’s story about the weather. The article is literally two sentences, 1 short one and 1 extremely long one. This is something you hardly ever seen, and wouldn’t want to see much of, but in certain instances it works and fascinates.

One writer that I found incredibly observant was Tommy Tomlinson. He noticed every little detail about his subject, like how the subject’s “eyebrow rose over the rim of his glasses.”

Other great writing:

Fatal Distraction by Gene Weingarten

This piece is about parents accidently killing their children by forgetting them in their cars. The story is extremely sad and disturbingly descriptive, but the reason I chose this article is because it is similar to the story by David Finkel about the man who crashed the boat into the bridge. It tells the story of people who caused accidental deaths and shows their emotions throughout the story.

Pearls before Breakfast by Gene Weingarten

This story, also by Weingarten, tells the story of a world-class violinist who plays in a subway station in DC.  It mimics the subject because the story is told casually, just like the subject is casual. Weingarten also uses a unique technique by adding in caps locked lines saying things like “hold on, we’ll get you some expert help.” This also adds to the casualness.

A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds by Andrea Elliot

I chose this story because it employs the same technique of Saul Pett’s use of metaphors. For example “his long robe billowing like a ghost through empty streets.”

A wicked wind takes aim by Julia Keller

I liked this story because of the way Keller immediately engages the reader in the lead. She tells the reader to count to ten. This gets the reader involved and wanting to know more about the story. She also uses lots of detail and observation: “the lights flickered,” “she had just pulled a frozen pizza out of the oven, ”the basement door was toward the front of the bar, under the stairs leading to the second floor.”

At a certain age, nothing is more important than fitting in by Tom Hallman Jr.

The reason I chose this story is because I think it does a great job of bringing that human perspective that feature stories are supposed to have. It tells the story of a boy with deformities who had surgery to fix them. I feel like most people think people with deformities are so different than regular people, but Hallman shows that the boy is just like any other boy. His mom bothers him to brush his teeth, he does boy scouts, he puts chocolate syrup on his cereal. He’s just like any other boy and Hallman brings that perspective to the story.

Written by juliasayers

March 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

How to save money on spring break

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By Julia Sayers

You aced your midterms, you’re all packed, travel arrangements are set and you’re ready to spend a relaxing ten days with friends or family. And although you planned to save money all year for spring break, now that it’s actually rolled around your bank account is a pretty depressing sight. Maybe you spent a majority of your money on your spring break flight or a shopping spree for cute spring clothes and now have nothing to spend on vacation. Don’t worry. There are plenty of ways to save money while you’re on spring break!

Take advantage of your relatives

Call up those relatives you know in Florida! Most of the time they’ll be more than willing to accommodate you and your friends (and they’ll feed you!). Staying with grandma isn’t exactly your idea of a fun spring break? Consider staying with your relatives for part of the time then renting a condo or hotel room for the other nights. This will cut down costs instead of having to pay for a hotel for the whole time. Research nightly rates at places and then maybe spend the amount of nights equal to the people you have. For example, if you have 4 people, stay at a condo for 4 nights. This way each person pays for one night and it makes figuring out the price much easier.

Buy groceries and cook meals

The first thing you should do after settling in is go grocery shopping. Cooking dinners instead of eating out at overpriced restaurants will cut back on costs. Buy granola bars for breakfast and sandwich supplies for lunches you can pack and take with you to the beach. Delegate dinner duties to a different person (or group of people) each night. Maybe guys can make tacos one night and girls can make spaghetti another night. If you do go out to eat, avoid the most touristy spots, as they will be more overpriced.

Don’t buy drinks at the bar

If you’re going to go out to bars and clubs every night, watch drink prices. At most clubs, especially spring break ones, drinks will be insanely overpriced. According to drinkprices.com, in Miami, FL mixed drinks range anywhere from $3 to $7 dollars (and those are at the “cheap” bars!). Beers are a little cheaper, but still pricey, ranging from $2 to $5 for an average beer. Also be wary of entrance fees. Most dance clubs have a cover charge, which is often between $10 and $20. Choose one night to go to a nice club and then look for cheaper options the other nights. A karaoke bar can be just as fun, but much cheaper than a dance club.

Find cheap things to do

Research things to do in the area that don’t cost much. Look for parks and nature trails in the area. Find out if there are any festivals going on. If you’re spending your break in a big city, you can often buy combo packages, which will give you entry to a certain amount of museums and tourist attractions for a cheaper price than paying for them all separately. If you’re going to Disney World, consider getting the Park Hopper ticket if you plan on going to a few different parks.

Use your Phoenix Card

Make sure you bring your student ID with you. Most museums and attractions offer a student discount if you can show a valid student ID. According to lendingtree.com, even restaurants, movie theaters and stores will offer spring break discounts to students. Ask the concierges at your hotel if they have any coupons or know which places are student friendly.

(Written for the Pendulum’s magazine insert, Elon Edge)

Written by juliasayers

March 9, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Budget cuts scrap NASA’s future space discovery plans

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By Julia Sayers

Discovery, the last shuttle for exploration, was launched Feb. 24. Photo courtesy of NASA.

The last American astronauts on NASA’s shuttle Discovery were launched into space on Feb. 24. President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget plan has put a halt to NASA’s recent plans to send astronauts back to the moon. The cutbacks will end the 30-year shuttle program. Discovery will return to the earth on Wednesday and will be put on display in the Smithsonian.

In the budget, Obama allotted $19 billion for NASA, which will include $6 billion to fund the shift toward supporting commercially built vehicles to launch astronauts into space.

“This new path is a big change. I realize that,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “But it is not a change from the guiding principles of NASA. It makes America stronger. It enables us to draw more strongly on the ingenuity of the commercial sector.”

The budget cuts have caused many different opinions. Elon University Professor Gerald Gibson is sad to see the program go.

“In some ways I’m really sad to see the shuttle program stop,” Gibson said. “I grew up with those TV shows about space exploration. To see it stop means to see that set of dreams comes to end.”

Gibson feels that space exploration is closer to the hearts of the older generation than of the younger generations.

“Space exploration has always been a part of your life,” Gibson said. “But for us, it was a big deal. It was always in the news.”

He says that human’s have an innate hard-wired desire to explore and find out what’s over the horizon or what’s beyond the solar system. He hopes that people will still be able to explore space.

The question now is what comes behind the budget cuts? Will it be robot driven?” Gibson said.  “But you always hope for people in space.”

Catherine Ayers, an Elon University freshman, agrees that people should be sent into space instead of technology.

“You can’t always depend on technology,” Ayers said. “And if people aren’t going, they’re not getting experience. Technology can’t ‘learn’ anything for us. People have to do that.”

Junior Jay Light also believes human space exploration is worthwhile.

“I hope they reinstate man exploration,” Light said.

Not all people are against the budget cuts though. People relied on Obama’s judgment in cutting back on the program.

“We have issues. We have big issues. We have debt and things need to be cut back,” said Elon freshman Curt Lestan. “If you have to cut back somewhere, and Obama feels that’s the area to do it, I don’t think that’s a terrible place at this point.”

Brenda Turner, employee at Acorn coffee shop, also trusts in the budget cuts and the use of technology if that is what is best.

“If there’s no more need for exploration then I can see money being put towards what we need,” Turner said. “If satellites can do what we need, great.”

Written by juliasayers

March 7, 2011 at 10:44 am

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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The French Club “let the good times roll” by hosting a Mardi Gras Party

By Julia Sayers

Image courtesy of mypartyplanner.com

The French Club is hosting a Mardi Gras party on Fat Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. where students can make masks, play games and even enjoy some French Food.

Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday,” is part of the Carnival celebration, a festive season that occurs before Lent. Traditionally, people would feast on Fat Tuesday because they were getting ready to fast until Easter. Today, Mardi Gras is associated with parties, beads, masks and celebrating.

“We celebrate Mardi Gras in America, especially New Orleans, but most people don’t realize it’s French,” said French Professor Sarah Glasco.

The French Club’s Mardi Gras will be held in the French House, Colonnades A, Second Floor. There will be Cajun music and students will have the opportunity to design their own masks by gluing beads, sequins and feathers onto plain masks. In terms of food, there will be a King’s Cake, a traditional Mardi Gras cake with a plastic figure hidden in it that one person will find.  There will also be food typical of French culture such as cheese, baguettes, Nutella and other various things.

Partygoers can win Mardi Gras beads by answering trivia questions about Francophone culture. All communication will be in English though, so students don’t have to speak French to be able to participate. The language aspect will come in with the decorations. Glasco said they are considering putting paper on the wall for people to write French phrases on, such as “laissez les bon temps rouler” which is literally translated as “let the good times roll.” This phrase is used mainly in Cajun French and is often associated with Mardi Gras celebrations.

“We thought this party was an accessible way to expose the Elon community to Francophone culture,” Glasco said. “We’re just really trying to increase exposure of French and we’re hoping that doing something like this will help.”

The idea for a Mardi Gras party was developed by three officers of the French Club, Kirsten Haugsted, Christie Goyette and Erica Edmondson.

“They’ve really taken the reins and gone full speed ahead,” Glasco said. “I help when they need advice but they’ve been planning it all.”

Haugsted, president of the club, and Goyette, treasurer, are both freshmen. Edmondson, publicity chair, is a senior.

“It was a collaborative effort,” said Haugsted. “It’s so simple to do because it’s about having fun and being alive and celebrating that.”

Next year the club is hoping to make the Mardi Gras party a university wide event.

“If we start planning early enough, we’d like to do something like a masquerade ball,” Glasco said.

In addition to the fun and games, the French Club is considering showing a PowerPoint presentation on its service project. Members of the club and French House volunteer with the Avalon Center in Greensboro, N.C., a community of mostly African Francophone refugees.

“It’s really great that we’re able to help this local community that is specific to us because they speak French,” Glasco said.

The Club hopes to raise awareness and show the significance of thinking globally but acting locally.

Written by juliasayers

March 4, 2011 at 9:58 am