Tag Archives: Northeastern University

A digital toolkit for better recording, better transcribing

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Photo (cc) 2014 by darkday

Before the emergence of digital tools, recording and (especially) transcribing an interview was a tedious affair. The little micro-cassette tapes were of dubious reliability—and yes, I once had one fail on me during a crucial and contentious encounter. Transcribing was worse, as you’d sit there constantly hitting the “play” and “rewind” buttons, an imprecise process that risked damage to the tape.

I’ve been all-digital for maybe 10 years now. But I didn’t really begin upping my game until I tested my little Olympus recorder in a New Haven hotel room one morning in 2011 only to discover that it was pining for the fjords.

Since then, I have assembled a digital recording toolkit that I hope will be useful for journalists. By now, of course, nearly all of us are recording interviews on our smartphones. But I’ve been surprised by reporters who’ve told me their transcription technique consists of nothing more than playing back the audio on their phones. These tips, I hope, will make it easier for you to record and transcribe.

Read the rest at Storybench, part of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism.

Northeastern j-students expose flaws in public records law

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Still from a video produced by Northeastern journalism students. Click on the Globe version of the story to view it.

Our journalism students at Northeastern made a big splash over the weekend. Professor Mike Beaudet’s investigative reporting class partnered with The Boston Globe and WCVB-TV (Channel 5) to produce a story showing that the majority of the state’s 351 cities and towns failed to respond to public records requests.

Here is the Globe version of the story, written by staff reporter Todd Wallack. Here is the WCVB version, helmed by Beaudet, who was recently hired as an investigative reporter at the station.

Despite an intense focus on the state’s extraordinarily weak public records law (here is a letter written earlier this year by the Northeastern School of Journalism faculty and published by the Globe, the Boston Herald, and GateHouse Media community newspapers), 2015 is drawing to a close with the Massachusetts House having passed an inadequate reform bill and the Senate not having acted at all.

Let’s hope that in early 2016 the Senate fixes what the House got wrong. And congratulations to our students on a great job.

The Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief comes in from the heat

b_kirtzBy Bill Kirtz

Journalism’s toughest assignment?

Being The New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief is right up there when the same story gets you called both a self-hating Jew and a Zionist mouthpiece.

After three and a half years in the hot seat, Jodi Rudoren leaves more concerned than ever about the “dueling narratives” that prevent Israelis and Palestinians from understanding each other.

“There’s a growing sense of hopelessness on both sides,” she told a Northeastern University audience last week, and “very few agreed-upon facts.”

She analyzed that political situation recently in the Times.

Rudoren, who will become a deputy editor on the Times’ foreign desk, is no news novice. She’s been the paper’s education editor, deputy metropolitan editor, and Chicago bureau chief after six years at the Los Angeles Times.

But she still finds it “bizarre” to be excoriated for writing too much about people who commit acts of violence. “This is myopic,” she said. “We have to know their motivations. We humanize them. We don’t glorify them.” Referring to the shooter in the recent Colorado Springs attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic, she asked, “Don’t you want to know who Robert Dear was?”

She called empathy a key to being a journalist—and being a human being: “If empathy’s only for one side we’re in big trouble.”

Rudoren rebutted critiques of Times stories that are based on numbers or the ratio of victims to attackers. She called it “simplistic. Numbers don’t tell the whole story.” She said it’s more important to write about the few who perpetrate violence than about their many random victims.

One of her stories drawing intensive fire from both sides profiled a family of Palestinian stone throwers.

“Children have hobbies, and my hobby is throwing stones,” she quoted one as saying.

Some pro-Israeli readers mistakenly thought that she thought it was a hobby, Rudoren said.
But not to worry: Palestinians hated the story too, she said.

Reporters are routinely chastised for not doing the impossible: putting a complicated story into full context.

Recalling critiques for not going back in Middle Eastern history every time she’s on a tight deadline and word count, she quipped that every 800-word story should note, “Abraham had two sons.”

Bill Kirtz is an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University.

A note on style

From the time that I began writing Media Nation in 2005, I’ve been following the Associated Press Stylebook. I don’t particularly like it. In many ways, it’s the least common denominator of styles. But it is what we teach at Northeastern, and I thought I should model good behavior.

Now I’m moving on. As some of you know, I’m writing regular commentaries for WGBH News, which uses the Chicago Manual of Style (more or less). Among other things, that means italics for the titles of newspapers, books, movies, and the like; Oxford (serial) commas; and an after an s apostrophe, as in Fred Jones’s car rather than Jones’. (No italics for the titles of reference books, in case you were wondering.)

I happen to prefer these differences. Chicago is what we used at The Boston Phoenix, and what is used at most magazines. More to the point, the switch will make it easier for me to repost my WGBH stuff to Media Nation, which I do for archival purposes, and for the folks at WGBH to scrape Media Nation. I also occasionally write for The Huffington Post, whose style guidelines are similar to those at WGBH.

Now I’ll just have to remember the differences between Chicago and AP when I return to teaching next year.

The Boston Phoenix’s archives are coming to Northeastern

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Issue of Nov. 17, 2006

In case you haven’t heard, there’s big news about the late, great Boston Phoenix and its related properties — WFNX Radio, Boston After Dark, the Phoenix papers of Portland, Providence and Worcester, and Stuff and Stuff at Nite magazines.

On Friday, The Boston Globe reported that Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich is donating all of the archives to Northeastern University. The performance of the Phoenix’s website, which is still live, should improve over time. The long-term vision is even more exciting: We hope that every print edition of the Phoenix/Boston After Dark going back to 1966 will be digitized in a searchable format.

Mindich’s gift has been in the works for a year (I’ve dropped hints here and there), and we are finally able to go public. The Globe story is more than kind regarding my own modest role. I put Stephen together with Northeastern archivist Giordano Mecagni, and they did the rest. I am so proud of the 14 years I worked for Stephen, and I’m excited that this incredible resource will be available for years to come.

Here is an excerpt from Stephen’s farewell message, published in the Phoenix’s final issue on March 14, 2013:

What I can and will say is I am extremely proud, as all of you should be, of the highest standards of journalism we have set and maintained throughout the decades in all of our areas of coverage and the important role we have played in driving political and socially progressive and responsible agendas; in covering the worlds of arts and entertainment, food and fashion — always  with a critical view, while at the same time promoting their enormous importance in maintaining a healthy society; and in advocating for the recognition and acceptance of a wide range of lifestyles that are so valuable for a vibrant society.

George Bush Sr.’s no-class putdown of Michael Dukakis

Michael Dukakis. Via Northeastern.edu

Michael Dukakis. Via northeastern.edu.

While you are enjoying George H.W. Bush’s putdowns of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and, yes, George W., pause for a moment and consider his vicious characterization of Northeastern’s Michael Dukakis, one of our great public citizens, as a “midget nerd.”

No, I don’t necessarily expect a 91-year-old to know that “the M-word” is considered offensive to people in the dwarfism community. But one of the reasons it’s offensive is that it’s nearly always used to demean and degrade someone. (Dukakis, obviously, is not a dwarf; he is merely on the short side of average.)

The elder Bush has his good qualities, but he could be a nasty piece of work. You may recall that his late henchman, Lee Atwater, issued a deathbed apology for the “naked cruelty” and racism of Bush’s campaign against Dukakis in 1988, in which Atwater said he “would strip the bark off the little bastard.” Somehow I doubt Bush is going to say he’s sorry.

“Spotlight” is “All the President’s Men” for a new generation

MV5BMjIyOTM5OTIzNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDkzODE2NjE@._V1__SX1152_SY632_On Thursday night I had a chance to see an advance screening of “Spotlight,” sponsored by Northeastern’s School of Journalism and the College of Arts, Media and Design. And I was blown away. How often does a movie for which you have high expectations actually live up to them?

As soon as it was over, Northeastern’s Barry Bluestone said something that I was thinking: this is “All the President’s Men” for a new generation. It is at least as good a piece of filmmaking. And it underscores the vital role that journalism plays in hold powerful institutions to account — in this case the Catholic Church, which at one time was the most powerful Boston institution of all.

After the film, five of the Globe journalists portrayed in the film — Walter Robinson, Michael Rezendes, Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer and Ben Bradlee Jr. — stuck around for a brief discussion. (By the way, I know Robinson fairly well, and Michael Keaton is scary-good at capturing his demeanor.) Two of them, Robinson and Carroll, are Northeastern graduates. Robinson also worked as a journalism professor at Northeastern for seven years before returning to the Globe in 2014.

Congratulations to everyone involved in “Spotlight.” I hope it helps the public understand why the work that great journalists do matters to all of us.