Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Database Journalism

Matt Carroll, a Boston Globe reporter, spoke to our class Monday about something he excels at: Database journalism, which is a fancy way of saying putting in a lot of data and thinking up story ideas from what the data shows. On Boston.com, there is a section called Your Town (scroll to the bottom) and we were asked by Professor Kennedy to pick out three of the databases that interested us... keep in mind, the three that I chose are not exactly the most IMPORTANT ones to pick from, but they were some that either intrigued me or (in the case of the third choice) made me laugh:

1. Violent Crimes: List of violent crimes (murder, rape, robbery, aggrevated assult) per 1,000 residents in 2006. Another good list to look at if you're deciding to move to Massachusetts. Ashfield, it should be noted, is 0.0. Lowell is 8.9. Lynn is 9.5. It's definitely something I'd look at if I decided to permanently move to Massachusetts after college is completed, although I hope there's a more recent database by the time that comes along.

2. Auto Thefts: This is a list of the number of auto thefts per 10,000 residents in 2006. Of course, there are a lot of auto thefts in Boston. But this is a great list, just like the above, for people moving to Massachusetts and wondering where they should settle. Clearly they should look at this list, as the list above, to decide between towns as to which is safer to live in. Also, something that should be noticed - both Chelsea and Brockton have higher percentages than Boston in this category. This database out of the three would probably make the best story opportunity. In places where auto theft is high, you can do more research to see if it is centered in a certain area of the town and write a story about that.

3. Dunkin Donuts: I had to pick this one just for laughs. This is a database of the number of Dunkin Donuts in each town. According to the database, there is 67 Dunkins in Boston alone. I can't really think of a story that this could be used for -- except that it could be used by Dunkin's competition to put their donut/coffee chains in cities and towns that don't have even one Dunkin Donuts. So Tim Hortons, Bess Eaton, etc... buy land in Lincoln and Carlisle. I wish it could be said in the database, however, if any of the cities or towns banned chain stores.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Online Political Databases

Factcheck.org: Factcheck does exactly what the name says - they check and double check what politicians claim against the cold, hard facts. Basically, it's a bunch of articles, mainly on Obama and McCain's speeches and television commercials. Before this class, I have never heard of this website. I do like the "Ask FactCheck," where they answer a daily question. Today's was:
How many times did Obama vote 'present' as a state senator?
He did so 129 times, which represents a little more than 3 percent of his total votes.

Frankly, I don't like it that much. I don't think that it's organized as well as it could be. I don't like how the website is set up in general too... and they don't offer much else besides articles. I wish they had more to offer and a more user-friendly setup.

PolitiFact: This is one of my favorite political database websites. My favorite part of PolitiFact is The Attack File, where the staffers collect quotes from the candidates and then measure the "truthfulness" (thank you Stephen Colbert) of each quote, with a cute little image of a meter that measures the truthfulness. I also like how they're somewhat satirical in explaining their quotes in detail. I love how their newest feature is the flip-o-meter: Somewhere, Mitt Romney is crying. There's not much I don't like about this site, and nothing I'd want to change about this website.

Congress Votes Database: This website is run by the Washington Post. The site allows visitors to look at every vote made by any senator or representative since 1991. I love how organized the website is: There are links to late-night votes, key votes, members who have missed the most and least number of things to vote on, and narrow and wide voting margins. This is a website that everyone should look at before November 4th, especially to prepare to vote for their state representative and senator. I learned that my senator, D-Jack Reed, votes with his party 95.8% of the time. He's missed votes 0.8% of the time. He's up for re-election this fall, and there's no doubt in my mind that I will be voting for him. My other senator, D-Sheldon Whitehouse, has similar numbers, but has only missed 0.5% of votes. My state representative, D-James Langevin, has missed slightly over 1% of the vote and votes with the Democratic party 98.7% of the time. I love that this site is super informative, but on the negative side, all it is is statistics and doesn't have any fluff, or any wit/sarcasm that some of the other political sites out there have. However, you do learn a lot about your state's participation in Congress and that's what matters in the end. I wouldn't change a thing about this site.

Project Vote Smart: I did not know about Project Vote Smart before taking this class, and now I'm trying to learn as much about it as possible. Their about us page is absolutely perfect, and a quote from their about us page where they talk about themselves:

Picture this: thousands of citizens (conservative and liberal alike) working together, spending endless hours researching the backgrounds and records of thousands of political candidates and elected officials to discover their voting records, campaign contributions, public statements, biographical data (including their work history) and evaluations of them generated by over 100 competing special interest groups. Every election these volunteers test each candidate's willingness to provide citizens with their positions on the issues they will most likely face if elected through the Political Courage Test.

This is just a great effort by the staffers working on this website. Their main concern is that the average voter can go onto their website and find out everything that has been uncovered about any person in office. They also have links that direct people how to register to vote in their state if they haven't already, voting records for their candidates (just like the Congress Votes Database) and so much more. My only complaint is that I wish this site could be a little more fun. Their about us pages, as much as I like them, are a bit too serious and I hope they lighten up a bit. Also, they don't really write their own material, there are no links to articles that staffers have written. They really only have dedicated themselves to gathering information.

David Blaine and Celebrity Blogs

This is most of the blog entry that I had written last night on my other blog after watching David Blaine's special. I wanted to post it here and then do some more commentary from the celebrity blogs' point of view. I quote myself..

I just wasted two hours of my life watching David Blaine's latest and lamest stunt. He hung upside down for 60+ hours (and also took lots of breaks, according to witnesses), and then ABC pumped up this huge finale, called Dive of Death. I'm too bitter to think of a better name for it. But here's how it went.

It was 1 hour and 59 minutes of watching David be upside down, and taking breaks. In between that, there were clips of him doing street magic. The entire time I'm wishing that David supported a charity, and raised money during these specials (possibly a telethon) that all went to a charity. Then at least it would have been useful! Then, in the last minute, David jumps from the rafters held by a cord. The cord then pulled him up and out of sight into the night. Yes, he "disappeared" into the night. It's 11:15. Not much can be seen in the dark, and if I remember correctly... I'm pretty sure he was wearing all black!

I'm so unimpressed and I want two hours of my life back. The crowd watching him in Central Park was speechless, but not in a good way. One of the commentators ends the broadcast as "He's GONE! He disappeared into thin air!" The credits began to roll, while myself and hundreds of thousands of others are just sitting here, confused about what just happened. Again, not in a good way.

David Blaine had not gotten much attention from celebrity blogs until people who went to see his stunt got to witness him taking these much-needed breaks to relieve himself and release pressure on his brain from all the blood flowing to his head. It was then that people wrote to celebrity blogs like TMZ and Perez Hilton calling Blaine a faker. The blogs, who were not there to witness it, posted some of the emails they had received. This morning, both websites posted about how David Blaine's stunt was disappointing.

Perez says:

We previously mentioned that many folks felt like David Blaine 'cheated' his way through his 3 day, 60-hour hanging stunt over New York's Central Park because he took multiple right side up breaks during the endeavor. At least one an hour. Sometimes more!

New Yorkers are a vocal bunch and they let Blaine know how craptasticlly they viewed this latest attention seeking gig.

The 'magician' was booed by onlookers at the big, ceremonial 'conclusion' event of his 'death defying' hanging stunt in New York City on Wednesday night.

Does this mean we won't hear from Blaine for a long time!

Don't come back unless you have something really, really good, Davie!

Had ABC muted the scene after David "disappeared"? I don't recall hearing any booing. Although, like I mentioned above, they began rolling the credits right after he went out of sight.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TMZ's mishandling of Travis Barker and DJ AM's plane crash

Possibly my favorite drummer around and a DJ I only know because he was once engaged to Nicole Richie were involved in a deadly plane crash that occured shortly before midnight on Friday. Out of the six people aboard the small plane, Travis Barker and DJ AM were the only survivors. The dead are the pilot and copilot, Barker's assistant and Barker's bodyguard. It's a devastating tragedy and I'm glad that the two men survived the crash, and are recovering in a burn unit in Georgia where they are being treated for second and third degree burns.

TMZ had been updating constantly with information on the crash and their conditions all weekend. It was on Sunday when they posted this bit of information on their website (which post has since been taken down):
Travis Barker's assistant wanted to get home in time for his pregnant wife to give birth.

We've now learned why Barker and his friends decided to get on that doomed Learjet in South Carolina late last night, and the explanation can only be described as a horribly cruel twist of fate.

It all started some time yesterday, when Barker's assistant, Chris Baker, told the guys that his wife was going into labor. Barker told him that he would do everything in his power to get Baker back to the hospital in time.

The quickest way back to Van Nuys was that Learjet. We're told Barker usually won't fly on private jets, but made an exception for what was supposed to be one of the happiest moments of Baker's life.

The plane crashed shortly after midnight, killing four people -- including Chris Baker. Baker's wife went into labor early this morning. Baker has another young child as well.

Why was the post taken down? Well, it turns out that Baker's wife was not in labor! TMZ soon posted again, and the link can be found here, but here is an excerpt:

A publicist for Travis Barker and DJ AM contacted TMZ and says our sources are incorrect -- that Chris Baker's wife was not in labor when he died in the plane crash and that was not the reason Travis and the others flew home on a private jet.

What sources did TMZ have? Did they know that their story could have been incorrect and still knowingly decided to post it on their website? This is just one instance where this type of celebrity journalism should not be called "real" journalism.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Introduction/First Assignment - Blogs

Some of you out there in the internet world may know me as the "R.I. girl living in Boston"... aka, by the name of my other blog, which can be found at riforever.blogspot.com. If you have not visited that blog already, please visit! It's a great time.

I started this blog for my professor Dan Kennedy's class, called Reinventing the News, and plan on holding this for longer than just the fall semester. I first got really into blogs when I became obsessed with celebrity gossip and needed to finally enroll for a RSS (Real Simple Syndication) feed of my favorite gossip websites and blogs. Strangely enough, my first assignment is to write about my three favorite blogs.

Number 1 Favorite Blog: Perez Hilton.

Perez Hilton is the man. For information on this gossip gangster, visit his Wikipedia page. Whenever there is breaking gossip news, Perez is often the first to have it uploaded onto his site. His trademark is to draw little white lines or dots on the pictures, and writing words like "sexy" or "eww" next to a celebrity. He's also known to draw a white stick figure baby onto a pregnant celebrity's stomach.

Perez's website allows everyone to comment on each post. Perez was one of the first celebrity bloggers to really make it big in the celebrity blogging world. He's appeared on specials for VH1 and MTV giving his opinion on celebrities, and even has his own 1-hour special around award-season time, called "What Perez Sez," when he sits down and interviews celebrities and often gets even the tensest celebrity, such as Victoria Beckham, to open up and talk about her life (and why she never smiles).

Number 2 Favorite Blog: Universal Hub.

Universal Hub is maintained by Adam Gaffin and Steve Garfield and together, they comb the web's best Boston-area blogs and post entries and pictures that they think others would like to see on their blog. I am partial to Universal Hub because several of my blog entries have been posted on their site. Just yesterday, there was an incident where a person tried to imitate a police officer and rob somebody, and Universal Hub is where I first read the story, which is also link here by Adam:
Boston Police report they managed to nab a Roxbury man dressed as a cop just as he was about to rape a woman in a school yard early this morning and that they think he also attacked a second woman in Egleston Square - who fled before actual police officers could get to her.

Sometimes they will add funny comments, and Universal Hub also allows registered people to comment on each blog entry.

Number 3 Favorite Blog: BPD News.

This is the blog that is run and maintained by the Boston Police Department media relations team. They post several times a day about the crimes and bad going-ons in Boston. It is both a scary and interesting read. One thing that I have noticed is that they will post stories and incidents that the newspapers and local tv stations don't always cover -- such as a group of robberies in one area of the city. I wish this blog was more popular because it would make people more aware. When I wanted more information about the assault that I first heard about on Universal Hub I came to BPD News to learn more, where I was not let down. An excerpt here, the rest can be found at the link:
Officers then spoke with the female, who stated she was en route to visit her boyfriend who lived nearby. She then stated that the suspect approached her and identified himself as a police officer. She then stated that the suspect pulled the gun from his waist, pointed it at her and took cash from her pocket. Victim further stated that the suspect then made a sexually suggestive threat. She also said that is when police arrived. Officers asked the victim if she needed medical attention but she declined.

As a result, officers arrested Royal Smith, 23, of Roxbury and charged him with Armed Robbery, Attempted Kidnapping, Attempted Sexual Assault, and Impersonating a Police Officer. Officers believe this individual is also potentially connected to the earlier incident in Egleston Square.

I hope you all enjoy my favorite blogs just as much as I enjoy reading them!