Justin McLeod's Blog

Controversy over the word "controversy"

This woman called to complain and since I answered the phone I decided to hear her out.  She was upset because we apparently referred to Congressman Tom Perriello as controversial.  She felt that was an editorial comment because she doesn't believe he is controversial.  I explained to her in some people's minds, like members of the Tea Party, he is.  She then went off on a rant about the Tea Party.  She is obviously a Democrat or a liberal, take your pick.  Because of that, I originally dismissed her complaint.  But then I got thinking and wondered if she has a point.  For a moment, take the politics out of it.  If you are a Democrat, you think a Republican politician is controversial and if you are a Republican, you think a Democratic politician is controversial.  What makes someone controversial and who decides it?  We the news media? Therefore, maybe it is somewhat an editorial comment to label someone controversial.  I don't think we should ban the word when talking about politicians but maybe we shouldn't use it as much.  This goes for Democrats and Republicans.  What do you think?

July 7, 2010

This month I am going to pay off one of my student loans.  Yay!  Certainly it is a relief but it also has me thinking a lot about my college days.  I loved living in Boston.  I met a lot of interesting and different kinds of people during those four years.  I truly miss it at times.

I strongly feel everyone (ok maybe not everyone but most people) should go to college.  Yeah yeah, I know what some of you are going to say.  Not everyone is college material or some can't afford to go to.  I think that is baloney.  Hear me out.  

Yes, college is expensive, too expensive but it is a great investment.  I came from a middle class home but I paid for most of my education.  I did it through student loans.  It hasn't always been easy making those monthly payments but remember interest rates on student loans are typically low.  I borrowed close to $50,000 but I have no regrets.  It was well worth it.  If you want to go to college, do it.  Don't let the cost prevent you.

As for the argument college isn't for everyone, I don't believe that.  I was born sick, really sick.  I had a brother who died before me of the same condition.  I was on a monitor for the first two years of my life.  The doctors told my parents if I survived I would probably be hanicapped.  Thankfully they were wrong.  However, I am not innately smart.  If you put a number in front of me and ask me to turn it into a percentage I couldn't do it.  If you saw my SAT's scores, you would think I was dumb.  But here's what I do have, a strong work ethic.  I worked really hard in college to get where I am today.  If you want it, you can get that degree.  I am proof it can happen.

Back to making that last student loan payment.  I've saved every payment stub from the last 13 years.  I have two large folders.  I've been thinking about what I should do with them.  Burn them?  Save them?  Any suggestions?

June 29, 2010

Missing Persons

We often get phone calls from frantic family members saying their child or someone they love is missing. The problem is, in a lot of these cases, they're not exactly missing, they've runaway or they don't want to be found. Our policy is we don't do stories like this unless the police ask us to. We let them guide us. They are the professionals. You will find this policy is standard at most tv stations. Unfortunately, trying telling that to the person on the other end of the phone isn't easy. They often get upset with us. Certainly, on the one level we feel for them. We want their child or loved one found as much as they do but I think our policy is a good one. If we were to do a story on every so called missing persons, you the viewer would become desensitize to it. Also, once you found out they ran away or didn't want to be found, after awhile you wouldn't take it seriously the next time we ran a story.

Also keep in mind once you get the news media involved we have an obligation to follow the story until the end, even if that means reporting that the person ran away or didn't want to be found. Often times, the family gets upset with us. I think that is unfair. You can't use the news media and then dispose of it when you don't like the outcome. As the saying goes, you made your bed, lie in it. I know this may sound harsh but I am hoping this blog will clear up any confusion.


June 24, 2010

"I can't fight it anymore"

I've been asked several times to do a blog. My reply is always the same "we'll see." There are several reasons for my reluctance. I think blogs have been good and bad for journalism. Too many bloggers post wrong information and many believe it. On the otherhand, some bloggers have broken legitimate stories, stories that put us lazy journalists to shame. I have other problems with blogs. I get paid to report the news, not deliver opinions. Does my opinion really matter? Do you really care? I guess we will find out!

So here it goes. I want to make my blog relevant. I don't think you care what cute thing my cat did or how much I love the Boston Red Sox. So I've decided to write about what I know best, the business I work in. I think many people have misconceptions of what we as journalists do. I've never run up to a grieving mother, stuck a microphone in her face, and asked her how she feels after losing her child. Many think we do that. Part of our problem is we don't explain ourselves so those perceptions linger. It is our own fault. I hope to change that. There are many things we as journalists do well, and quite frankly there are many things we do badly. I've come up with a list of things I hate about tv news.

1. "Just" don't do it.

I've noticed the latest trend in tv news, especially on cable news, is to overuse the word "just." Everything seems to be just happening, certain information was just released, or a reporter is telling us they just got off the phone with someone. What does that exactly mean? Was it a few minutes ago? A hour ago? What you'll often find is it happened several hours ago but if we were to say that, it would sound outdated.

2. Obtain nothing.

A lot of news organizations love to tell you that they've obtained certain documents. When you hear that, you think of a guy standing out from the shadows in a dark parking garage handing you a file from underneath his trenchcoat. It doesn't happen that way. Usually, it's just a matter of going down to the courthouse/etc and asking for documents that you yourself can request to see. That to me is routine journalism. Nothing has really been obtained. It's all about giving ourselves a pat on the back.

3. You are not stupid so don't act like it.

I like watching news with my family back home in the Boston area. My aunt said to me once I don't understand why you have to bend over live on tv and pick up snow. I've lived in New England all my life, I know what snow looks like. My dad told me he lost respect for a certain tv station when a reporter did a snow angel live on the air. I think they have a point. When you do stupid things like that, you look stupid.

4. Silly stories.

How many stories have you seen on tv that go something like this? Hidden dangers in your refrigerator and you don't even know it. Important information that could save your life. Such and such could kill you. Case in point? I was in a hotel recently with my dad in Baltimore. A station was promoting a story called "Diaper Dangers." My dad looked over at me and rolled his eyes. I am sure there are dangers in diapers that could hurt your baby, but what are the chances? I would be ok with the story if we were upfront about it. Tell us how many babies have been hurt because of these so called diaper dangers. Something tells me very little.

5. Common sense.

Why do newscasters have to remind us to bring our animals in when it is really cold? Why do I need to be reminded to drink plenty of water on a hot day? Why do I need to be reminded to have candles on hand in case the power goes out? What a waste of time in my opinion. News should be about providing useful information, not information that everyone should know.

Ok, those are five. I have more but you are tired of reading and I need more material in the future. If you have an issue/question about tv news, let me know. I will try to address it.