April 18, 2007

Reflections on the Virginia Tech massacre

Even though I saw the news unfolding, I found it difficult to stay focused on it at that time. I just didn’t want to follow it closely at first, as I used to do when I worked at newspapers. The Virginia Tech story comes too close and its reverberations echo in my community.

A few years ago while on a journey East, we decided to stop for the night at in Kent, Ohio, the home of Kent State University. We were ready to find a motel and we have had good experiences staying in college towns as there are usually lots of motels, good places to eat, and something interesting happening. It is hard not to think of the killing of four students May 4, 1970 when you are there. But when we visited the campus, we couldn’t find too much that memorialized the students. Maybe things have changed. But we had such an empty feeling as a result. At least, the campus has memorials and observances each May 4. Still, we just wanted some way to pay our respect and reflect better than talking about it in a rather sterile motel room later.

The community of Virginia Tech will probably handle its memorial events differently as Tuesday’s tragedy reflects a different kind of tumult in society. Our culture has changed in how we react to these extraordinary tragedies and perhaps that's particularly positive. Whenever I hear Neil Young sing “four dead in Ohio” I cringe with sadness. To transpose those lyrics to “thirty-two dead in Virginia” is extraordinarily sad and disheartening. I pray for the families and the university and that some positive windows can open somehow.

As a high tech parent, the discussion of how to contact students in the age of cell phones and email is enlightening. Blacksburg is trying to be one of the most connected communities in the U.S., so the VT' administration's inability to understand that the easiest way to contact students is through text messaging to phones seems rather sad. If this community that is quite high tech still had problems, what does it say about how technology could work for the rest of us? The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article probing this question, “Texting when there’s trouble.”

Universities need to rethink security issues as well. Parents and students (and maybe even faculty and staff) have different expectations concerning safety than just ten years ago. We know technology exists to enable only electronic passholders to enter dorms or any building on campus. We know that high schools use metal detectors, but rarely see them in colleges. We know cameras exist all over highways, but are they on campuses in appropriate places?

Even though Hope College is near a somewhat unsafe neighborhood, when I stayed in a dorm for a conference a few summers ago, I felt particularly safe. The reason: to get into every dorm and many other buildings on campus everyone had to have an electronic pass card. I couldn’t even get into the main library until I asked for special clearance. I think this is in the future for colleges and universities.

April 16, 2007

Twins plagiarizing. Fired CBS producer's twin did same.

The CBS plagiarism story continues in a weird twist and commentators continue the dialogue. First, the CBS producer who was fired for plagiarizing has a twin sister who was also caught plagiarizing. The New York Post reports her sister “as canned from Woman's World after being caught plagiarizing from Self magazine in January, a source told the Post.” Whoa. Did they both think they could get away with it? They are both 32 and are graduates of Wesleyan University and have master's degrees from Columbia University, according to the Post and other bios.

Second, a few media commentators are weighing in that CBS Evening News shouldn't be left off the hook so easily. Scott Collins, in his column Channel Island at the LA Times, writes about the seriousness of the CBS Evening News plagiarism case.

Broadcasting & Cable magazine has an op-ed about the problems with plagiarism in broadcasting

Katie Couric Must Share Blame in Plagiarism Case, Says Media Ethicist Bob Steele '69”
from DePauw University news bureau. Steele works for the Poynter Institute.

The Deeper Fakery of Couric’s Plagiarism from Slate by Timothy Noah.
Note: I disagree with Timothy Noah about Jeff Zaslow’s writing. One of the reasons the Couric piece stuck in my head was because Zaslow’s plagiarized writing was clever and intriguing. Noah gets somewhat off track.

Putting Words in Her Mouth, from the Weekly Standard. This is my husband's preferred interpretation.

Thanks to Beth Kujawski's blog for pointing out the New York Post article and the LA Times.

I am beginning to have trouble spelling plagiarizing.

Couric's friends? + CBS changing Couric's incorrect Obama essay

So far only one of Katie Couric's friends, and this one is anonymous, has supported her on the web in regard to her plagiairsm case. Read the tip on Media Bistro about someone how heard from a "dear friend and former colleague" that Katie did write the first line from her April 4 video essay "I remember my first trip to the library..." This post, only so far seen on TV Newser on Media Bistro, seems like a very weak support of Couric.

Also...CBS's significant changes to Katie Couric's April 11 video essay about Barack Obama is just starting to surface. Television news never really has had an ombudsman, like print newspapers have, so they never really have to confess to mistakes. From a media observer's point, I'm finding it curious that CBS is now in the print business and has had to correct print mistakes, something they probably wou
ld never have to do in radio or print reports. Clearly they're uncomfortable about it.
Here are a few links:
Huffington Post: More Katie Couric Trouble: Updates Notebook Again After Spreading Debunked Obama Rumor
Couric's "Notebook" rehashed debunked Obama rumors
Wizbangblog on initial problems with the Obama essay spreading material that was proven false.
The GDAEman blog has been following the story closely. I love the graphs from Technorati showing the posts on Katie Couric vs. Don Imus.

Plus, read Couric's January 27 video essay in which she debunks the Obama rumors and
says "Obama was never enrolled in a madrassa." She ends with "Let's resist the temptation to repeat unsourced gossip. Let's fact-check first and broadcast second." Yet, on April 11 she said "That background sparked rumors that he had studied in a radical madrasa, or Koranic school – rumors later disproved . Obama is now a practicing Christian." (this is the changed version) So she is not really following her own advice.

On a ligher and more fun note (away from plagiarism and taxes) ... last night we saw The Decemberists in concert with My Brightest Diamond opening. The first band was ethereal and beautiful: like a cross between Bjork, Jane Siberry, Tori Amos and her own original concept.

The Decemberists are fabulous! Funny, creative, curiously inventive. Rather dark, too, with lyrical long songs about butchers, chimbley sweeps, and pistols. They just don't do a rock concert, they put on a show, complete with a person-eating whale at the end.

Let's just hope the hungry whale isn't a metaphor for things to com.