To the finish line

14 03 2008


Bas explains….something.


The new sweatshop labor


Our personas, reflected by the spread on a coffee table.


Bas practices the art of pizza meditation

Over the past month, we’ve gotten to know each other, local journalists, and different parts of Amsterdam we had never seen before. Many of our preconceived views were challenged or confirmed, and our theoretical knowledge was enhanced by real individuals and their stories.

After many hours spent together—through frustrating audio/visual software, instant coffee, dodgy wireless connections, school cafeteria food, and packages of stroopwafels—our team has concluded its study of one minority media outlet here in the Netherlands. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together.


International correspondent responding: Better late than…?

14 03 2008




Minority Report

13 03 2008

Alas, WordPress does not allow you to embed Flash into a post if you don’t have your own server. So click on the image below to view our slideshow.



Only Bad News Is Good News?

12 03 2008

Last Friday, three ‘minority journalists’, originating from Afghanistan, Ghana and Surinam visited our class and shared their experiences. All of them said that they wanted to be seen as professionals rather than members of their particular ethnic groups, but of course they also claimed to have more knowledge about the culture, religion and life situation of these groups in the Netherlands.

What was striking was their claim that the mainstream media and most other journalists not only did not have this different perspective, but also weren’t interested in getting it. Due to the good old journalistic proposition that the best stories are still those involving conflict, crime and catastrophes, success stories and reports on positive developments are frequently neglected.

Is there really only news value in negative stories? Are we really only interested in the bad and ugly sides of life?

Several scholars have explored the fact that the media’s tendency to constantly report on war, famine, crime and environmental disaster (in a rather superficial way) leads to the phenomenon of ‘compassion fatigue’ in the audience. Due to the overflow of images of starving children or victims of bomb blasts, we simply become resistant to their suffering.

This is not to say that the media is reporting false facts. There surely is a lot of suffering in the world, and it is one of the media’s major tasks to inform people about that. But stressing only the negative sides conveys a wrong picture of the world and leaves out positive aspects and developments. The result is a wrong picture of reality. This effect can be seen in statistics that show that people who watch a lot of crime shows on TV perceive crime rates as going up, even when numbers show that they are actually declining.

These wrong pictures can be corrected through experiences that contradict our prejudices. This happened to me when I met a guy from Rwanda. So what is your first thought when you hear the name of this country? I bet that most people think ‘genocide’. When I was talking to this guy, he told me about his education, the different tribal languages he could speak, folk tales involving frogs and how to make banana beer.

When hearing about conflicts in Africa, many scholars and journalists have described their impression that people seem to think that ‘It’s only Africa’, meaning that there are so many problems and so much suffering in the continent that it doesn’t really make sense to care about it any more. Maybe we would suffer less compassion fatigue if we would constantly bear in mind that also people in a war-torn country do lead normal lives or at least have done so until they have been forced to leave their homes or be constantly threatened.

On each cover of ‘The Voice’, the motto of the publication is clearly printed: ‘Actuated towards Africa’s advancement’. According to this motto, the magazine covers African success stories, like economic development in many states. It also proofs that an emphasis on positive aspects does not mean to hide the negative ones. This is probably one of the most important attributes of minority media: To show perspectives that are frequently neglected in mainstream publications.


More Cultural Stereotypes?

10 03 2008

When starting our research project on The Voice magazine we immediately saw it as an opportunity to interview the international correspondents the magazine uses in Africa. We thought it would be interesting to look at the way they want to connect the African community in Holland with events from their home-continent and if this type of reporting required anything in particular from the correspondents.

Interviewing the correspondent was to be one of my parts and I was particularly happy with it.

I sent out two e-mails to the addresses as given on the website of The Voice. Both e-mails were returned to me by the ‘postmaster’ (I have a personal fascination for who or what this exactly is) saying the addresses were invalid. After receiving another pair of e-mail addresses from The Voice I came into contact with a law professor at the university of Nigeria and a Ghanaian banker. Both were open to be interviewed, and I proposed time and date, one accepted, two days later, and the other did not respond.

Neither showed up online at the time I had hoped to see them and they have since then ignored my e-mails.

In another episode I wanted to interview someone at the Nigerian embassy since they have been loyal subscribers to The Voice since the beginning. Everybody I talked to had one standard response: “call back later, please”, when I asked why they would ask me what I was calling about. Eventually nobody was able or willing to answer any question, no matter how simple.

I could not help but think that this is not the way to lose the lazy stereotype Africans often get put on them. I am happy that we have this blog to vent some frustration so that it will not come back in our eventual report.

Most of all I am disappointed to have missed the opportunity to interview fellow journalists in Africa. I have them in my Skype list now though. As soon as they come online I will call them, even if its only after a month or a year.


Style matters, Part II

5 03 2008

In my last entry I have gotten sensitively critical upon the professional norms in journalism. In this entry, I will instead praise some of its attributes and give some reasons why it could be better for minority journalism to adopt these attributes. Note that I’m not performing a strategic ritual to be “balanced”, but rather complementing my own honest opinion.

In a paper published in 2006, Glaser, Awad and Kim promptly pointed out that the mainstream journalists tend to focus a little bit too much too hard on the event-based “hard news”, and seldom trust any sources. The result is the stories being presented in short paragraphs with fragmented, juxtaposed quotes. In their opinion, this shows a “journalist-centered” type of presentation, in that the journalist provide an account of fact not from any source’s point of view, but from his/her own.

Well, as a Chinese national heavily influenced by Taoist philosophy, I’m always convinced that there cannot be any good in anything taken to the extreme. Indeed, the ritualistic practice of juxtaposing fragments of quotes can become a disturbance or even distortion of the source’s original meaning. However, short paragraphs and adequate editing of quotations are always nicer to the eye than article-long single paragraph with long quotation that is indeed original but does not have a point to stress.

To be taken further, practices taken in mainstream feature writing and editing, such as dividing up one big story into three small stories, presenting more than just the source’s quotes, adequate use of pictures, charts and fact boxes, are measures to draw readers’ interest to the in-depth and long stories, as long as moderately used instead of mythically followed. Not to mention reader-friendly font sizes and background colours. Minority media should not refrain themselves from applying these measures simply because they are “problematic”. Presenting as less visual hindrance as possible to readers is something universal.

Style matters

3 03 2008

Now, I might have seeped for quite long a time in the “mainstream”, or rather “Western” type of journalism that mythifies professionalism, detachment, objectivity and so on, but that does not prevent me from finding sociologist Gaye Tuchman’s analysis of “strategic rituals” in the newsroom very attractive and revealing. In fact, if anything, my education and experience has made me identify with her theories better.

In a paper she published on The American Journal of Sociology in 1972, Tuchman observed several journalism techniques so commonly used that they have become common sense, and pointed out that more than often, they have been merely “strategic rituals” that journalists adapt in order to protect themselves from, for instance, the editor’s disapproval, critics, defamation and libel law suits. To give some examples:

  • In journalism, whereas A might not be a fact, “X said A” is certainly treated as a fact, especially when X is a prominent or famous people.
  • That further prompted the necessity for journalists to include both sides of the “fact” in the story in order to fend off potential criticism.
  • But since journalists like to use quotations as supporting evidence as well, so they would want to include somebody else’s words that support one side and then the other.
  • Therefore the Western professional journalism, especially hard news, are often filled with formats like X said A, Y said B, then W said A, but Z said B.
  • Here I must follow up with a little personal experience. I remember vividly that in the news writing course I took as an undergraduate journalism student, our professor, a veteran journalist for more than 20 years, told us that in hard news you always avoid using verbs like claim, blame, allege, rebut, assert, suggest, plead…for a quotation. Always use “said”, the safest (and most objective) verb there is.
  • Sequencing information in reverse pyramid style, leading with the information that is most important, imminent, bombastic, bloody…you name it. Then claiming that it is a formal attribute of news stories, so that one’s subjective judgment may not seem as vital to “constructing” the story.
  • Again, an interesting flashback on the days in school and newsroom. Tuchman failed to mention an important factor why the reporters want to do the reverse pyramid style and the lead (it’s called “intro” in the British practice) right. There is a good chance that your story becomes too long and wouldn’t fit in the box, and editors always cut stories from the end. To protect what you think is the most important information from the scissors, you have to put them on the top.

To explain a little bit of my background: I got my undergraduate degree on English Journalism in Hong Kong, the former British colony, where a lot of things from legal system to automobile structures remain British. Naturally, I received my journalism education from two wonderful professors, both from the UK. Then I worked for some time at a small newspaper focused on the industry of aviation, shipping and logistics. All three full-time editorial staff can be safely labelled as “minority journalists”, since one is a gweilo from South Africa, one is an ah-cha from India, and one a mainlander (sorry for the slurs, my dear former colleagues, but these words just say so much about the colourful Hong Kong society). Even so, we all made our best to meet with the standards of mainstream journalism, always taking as many people’s quotes as we can and so on.

Therefore, even though I am never a Westerner, Tuchman’s observations are still extremely easy to relate to for me, and I do agree with him most of the time that the taken-for-granted practices in Western journalism may be no more than a ritual to keep the hat of “professionalness” on journalists’ head, so that they can feel — at least for a bit — at ease. After all, journalists are sensitive, alert creatures that are always in doubt, including towards the significance of their own job.