Just Looking For The Right Fit

Posted: November 30, 2010 in Uncategorized

Did you know that Merriam Webster\’s word of the year in 2006 was truthiness? Along with Stephen Colbert’s well-known definition of “truth that comes from the gut, not books,” American Dialect Society also defines truthiness as being “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”

The quest for truth is at the essence of journalism. Viewers want information that reaffirms their existing beliefs. Stations want ratings. Journalists want jobs. So with this interesting relationship present in the media world, there must be a compromise some where along the way in the search for truth.

In our current “YouTube-addled million-channel media universe—it is no longer necessary for any of us to confront notions that contradict what we know to be true.” Since viewers have endless options to consume their tailored truths, journalistic values will consequently be tailored as well.

The critics of the news say broadcasts exaggerate, twist, and sensationalize the truth for ratings.

My argument is… even if that were the case… so what? Viewers make the deliberate choice to watch their desired news source. There are many clothing stores in a mall to choose from. If you don’t like the way a pair of jeans exaggerate your round figure, then you have the option of going to a different store with looser fitting jeans.

If you don’t like it, change the channel and watch something else. News is a business in which each station must shape a brand in order to survive. Part of the process of developing an image is playing on viewer biases.  Be appealing, be exciting, be desired.  It is the goal of news companies to give the public what they want.

 Manjoo makes that claim that it is in human nature to have biases. We believe what we want regardless of what we see.  Viewers are news consumers with style preference. Back to my example of the jeans, people buy what feels comfortable.

Before reading the book, I did not fully know about the hostile media effect. I had experienced people with these psychological biases and not even realized it. Manjoo noted a study in which viewers watched video of a Princeton-Dartmouth football game and saw completely different things. Princeton viewers saw the Dartmouth team breaking the rules. Dartmouth viewers saw no infraction and questioned the film. A participant in the study thought he had only been sent part of the tape.

Selective perception is a type of cognitive bias. People have the tendency to see a media report as being biased due to their own partisan views. Manjoo argues that we have “distortions in the human mind that are difficult to eliminate and that lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation”

 Facts are the threads that weave together our images of truth. They can be bleached, stretched, and stitched together in different ways. They can be hemmed, altered, adjusted. But the thread is still the basis of its construction despite the changes.  Each manufactured newscast is ironed, folded, and shipped out to the eager customer.  We buy based on how it makes us feel. Maybe we want to feel rich and stylish, or we may want to feel casual and clever.

When buying jeans we rarely look at the tag to inspect their genetic makeup or country of original. Who cares if this fabulous pair of Calvin Kleins was made in India and is 90% cotton? The only things I care about it are the fit and the name on the label.

Like the demographically dissimilar clothing lines Baby Phat and  True Religion, television news target specific audiences.  Fox and CNN highlight the ideological differences between liberals and conservatives. Both have high ratings, but their audiences are quite different. The perception held in our mind is what shapes our reality, so when is there enough truth?

 After reading Manjoo, I believe the truth is sufficiently successful when it is comfortable… just like an old pair of jeans. It is true enough when facts we find make us feel good, if we think we look good whether we really do or not.

 

The Board of County Commissioners meeting on Land Use, Nov. 9, 2010

 

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The first item up for discussion is the topic of construction on Bruce B. Downs Blvd. John Lyons, the interim public works director, spoke to the board about redesigning the I-75 overpass. He estimated the redesign work to cost over a million dollars. He said it will fit into the long-term plans already in place.  Regardless, it seems expensive and traffic causing. I wondered if a design alteration will be worth all the trouble.

As shown in articles like this, construction can serverely impact daily life for individuals. The article is a good use of shaping a story out of public records. Much of the information contained in the article was obtained at a BOCC meeting. The journalist quoted county commissioners, neighborhood residents, project egineers, and  public works managers.  He supplements quotes with statistics on how many people drive by the construction area. The numbers show the impact on the public. “About 60,000 vehicles a day travel the 3.4-mile stretch of Bruce B. Downs from Palm Springs Boulevard to Pebble Creek Drive.” More people might go to BOCC meetings if they realized that the plans voted on may double commute time. 

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When it comes to categorizing land as commercial in the long-range Wimauma Community Plan, a spokesman for residents, Michael Horner, thinks his migrant worker clients and their neighbors are “not ready for a starbucks or cute little restaurant.” He recognized that community plans are in place to better the area, but they inhibit people like his client, Jose, from making a living as a car repariman in the meantime. Jose and his family spent about $2,000 in filing fees to get permission to practice car repairs in the newly amended land development code. Horner submitted to the board a 7-page petition signed by 39 residents who supported Jose’s car repair services. He concluded his opposition with “if this is denied, the house will go into foreclosure putting the  family out on the street. They will be wards of taxpayers. You don’t want to drive by that condition and say at least we maintained a plan.”  

                 Jose’s wife took the stand and spoke for the family in saying field work is so slow that the family’s livelihood depends on the car repair company. It is in jeopardy because the shop does not fit in the vision for the more attractive downtown district plan.  Horner’s long narrative of Jose and his family working the fields to scrape up enough money for filing fees shows there is a human element to meeting’s talking points. You can still get a juicy story out of a dry topic like land use if you effectively tell the story of the people impacted by the issues.

There are some conditions about the business sign size and fence height, but with Commissioner Mark Sharpe’s “soft disagree” and Commissioner Al Higginbotham’s second, Jose’s family gets to continue “living their American Dream.” This instance brought to mind the phrase “the squeeky wheel gets the grease.” Residents have the option to go to public meetings. Speaking up for issues important to them can result in positive changes. 

 

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Lucia Garsys, administrator for planning and infrastructure services, came to the meeting prepared with a powerpoint presentation. Her main point was the benefit of looking at other local commissions to see how they run things.  To see what works for other jurisdictions, could improve our process. She suggested three areas of concentration to look at: the notification process, affect on property rights, and the gap between the actual plans and the land development regulations. The board thought her suggestion was a good idea. They plan for her   to give everyone a workshop on the topic in February.

A big takeway I had from attending public meetings is understanding the public’s ability to be heard. I saw the power that freedom of speech had in changing public policy to improve the lives of individuals.  

Some other interesting things I learned:

– Commissioner Rose Ferlita is leaving the board to run for Tampa Mayor. Old news, but new to me… more info here

– Chairman Ken Hagan played baseball at the University of Florida. This came up when he was given a louisville slugger signed by the board members as a gift of appreciation for his “leadership, character and strength.” He recently won a another term.

– The board members did not get along in previous years. There is mutual appreciation for the congeniality of the current group. A few board members made note of a “dysdunctional reputation” in the past.

For a list of Community Land Use Projects click here

Money Laundering

is engaging in financial transactions that conceal the indentity, source, or destination of illegally gained money. This sounds like something a gangster would do, not a politician.

I had always known there was some limit on political contributions. I was surprised when Windy March informed our class that the limit is $2500. Scott conquered Sink by a 1% margin. In a race that close, every penny counts. Evidently, his commercials telling voters what they wanted to hear was money well spent.

How could Rick Scott be called a “self-financed candidate” with a $2500 limit? If you search his name in a database of political contributions, the results show that Scott only donated a total of $12,200.  Of that money, he gave $5,000 to the republican national committee. The republican party used their fund on commercials and bus tours that primarily promoted Scott for Governor. However, the party paid ads were got around the rules by tacking on Pam Bondi and Adam Putnum at the end. The brief mention of the other republican candidates running for different offices put these “three pack” ads into another category.

March showed us how easily politicians can bend the rules. Using soft money is a way to avoid legal financial limitations.

Rick Scott’s wife contributed millions to “Let’s Get to Work!,” a surogate campgain that didn’t have to follow any of the rules. March said Scott spent $73 million of his own money to become governor of Florida. By looking at the contributions part of the organization’s website, you’ll notice the F. Annette Scott Revocable Trust Account was a heavy donor. With all of the donations, he seems like a jerk for wiping off her kiss.

 

 

Money is power. It can put with zero political experience behind the governor’s desk… at least in Tallahasse. Other self-financed candidates this election season were not as suscessful as Scott was. The former CEO of Ebay, Meg Whitman spent much of her own money in vain when she lost the race. In fact according to open secrets , this year 83% of the biggest spenders won, which is a big decrease from 2004, 2006 and 2008. I guess the conclusion that can be drawn from the election results is that what’s most important is not the amount of money pumped into a campaign, rather how wisely that money is spent.

Karen Bowling, a medical company CEO who has known Scott for 20 years said, “He’s a genius. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever known.”

In an article for Naples News, FAU political science professor, Kevin Lanning explained the role money played in Scott’s win:

“The nature of our system is such that money really matters a lot, and it’s hard to keep it out of the political process,” Lanning said. “When money goes into government, you get corruption, and when people get fed up with that, they elect ‘Good Government,’ with a capital ‘G’ — and people get fed up with that, because ‘Good Government’ is not necessarily fast.”

The result, Lanning said, is a pendulum effect, back and forth between two extremes. Asked whether he believes large amounts of money and corruption always go hand in hand, Lanning acknowledges that a candidate funded by vast amounts of money from shadowy political forces is more disconcerting than one who self-finances, like Scott.

“Though that does lead one toward oligarchy, I guess,” Lanning said. “I think it can be pretty intimidating. I think the effects are subtle and pervasive — and they can’t be good.”

 

Journalism 101- search the wife’s name. Often there is real estate in the wife’s name. There are also funds and transactions. Also, as I have found out through my many searches for this public affairs class, wives are the ones with facebooks.

This one was particularly instrumental and discovery details during my first search. Searching the wife can lead to finding other family members, and a ton of useful information.

 

 

So when it comes to digging up the facts and following the money trail, search the wives…. their partners in crime.

Mr. Trigg says to Dig

Posted: November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

If a story is what you want,
.
what you wish wish wish,
.
Finding one can be as simple as…

.

.

.

.

“It’s easy!” says Trigg
.
“You just have to dig.”
.
.
.
You’re in luck…
you Who in the journalist position.
You don’t have to be a master magician,
a who-gypsy given a future vision,
or even a big brainy mathematician.
.
.
just look over there to .. oh… what is it?

.

.

that thing with all the numbers,
is the government budget

.

but do not fear… do not fidget
do not be scared of those big ol’ digits.
.

.

Let’s talk about what a budget is to begin.
It’s what you take in and then what you spend.
.
They consist of two parts,
revenues and expenses.
The big dollars and little dollars,
even the centses.
.
Most budgets are balanced,
but some of them are not

.

and that my who friend,
is when the story is hot!
.
Income Tax,
.  .  Sales Tax,
.  .  .  Lorax Tax,
.  .  .  .  .  Flax Seed Tax.
. .   .    .      .       . Tax Tax Tax.
All the tax makes my bank account low.
Where oh where does all the money go?

There’s a summary with highlights of projects, cuts, and changes in expenses.

But for the story, don’t stop there.

. .  .  .  .no,

.     .      .       .     .     .come to your senses!

The summary is what they what you Whos to read, so do not rely.

Those public people can be oh so sly!

you see, to stop there would be really silly
so keep digging till you come to the capital of Chile.

.

.

let me explain….
to get the story…  just use your brain
these people who reign,
are not allowed to be wild or unrestrained
.

.

it’s a journalist’s duty to inspect
inspect with a close eye those we elect,
no one is perfect, that is what we expect.
.

.

.

budgets are about financial allocation
with income and expenses…. and the two in relation
.
a taxation is not merely a donation
to be used without explanation

budget analysis is a scrupulous occasion
so when the numbers are out of equation
there’s causation for speculation.

.

Rather than resort to emigration, seek clarification.
You’ll know something’s not right when the budget bug bites

.

.

The best way to react, is to inspect the facts.
facts, facts, what great things are those facts
you can add and subtract
know right where you’re at
indisputable, verifiable and delightfully exact
and no one, not no one can argue with that.

.

.

so dig for the facts, every who on staff
for journalists, facts are the core of our craft
When you can decipher a budget, you can’t get much cooler,
(even though it could be done by a tiny preschooler)
So don’t be scared on your first gig, just give your coffee a swig
turn to a budget… and dig, dig, dig!

Election Day on Campus

Posted: November 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

November 2nd : What an exciting day!

                My personal experience at the polls revolved around reporting it. For Florida Focus, I went out to a polling station last week to cover early voting. I interviewed a Pasco County branch volunteer who said many people had already voted early and absentee. People should vote early if they don’t like to be inconvenienced because lines will be long on election day. 

            I also went to the CNN debates at held at USF. Political Science professor Susan MacManus gave her expert opinion of the election season. She the USF was chosen to host the debates because we are the major university in the swing market of the swing state. “There are a small proportion of Floridians who are still undecided, and in a close race that can make a difference. Most of the time, people will judge the debates not by what they saw in person or on television, but how the whole debate is spun tomorrow in newspapers, in the radio stations and television stations in the area,” Macmanus said.

 

Here’s another important quote this election day…..

“Students who are registered voters can still change their precinct today a t any voting location.”

– Frank Hernandez, Student Government director of Governmental Affairs

                        On Tuesday, that statement was published in the Oracle (beginning on the cover and continuing on page 5.) When I read through the article, it did not jump out at me as being confusing or inaccurate. It was only later, around 4 p.m. when I set out to shoot a video at the Marshall Center polling site that I realized the impact of the quote. In the hour timeframe that I was at there, I talked to five affected students. There were mixed feelings. Luis Silva, a self-proclaimed “voting advocate” was frustrated. He felt that the mix up could was such a big deal, it could alter election results. Students who were turned away on campus late in the day were unlikely to make it to their assigned precinct before the doors closed. 

               I met Monique Blake, the Marshall Center polling station “student inspector,” sitting beside the entrance of the polling site. On the table in front of her was a quickly dwindling stack of change of address forms. Students who live on campus could fill out those forms to change their precinct to USF’s 561, and consequently vote on campus. Notoriously a commuter school, USF has many students who live off campus and thought just because they are students, they could vote at one of the four university polling sites.  Her main duty was to turn ineligible students away.  She said a lot of these turned away students who live off campus ride the BullRunner, don’t have their own transportation, and as a result would not be able to vote.   

               Silva said, “Let’s be honest, most of us are just trying to get through school… trying to get good grades. Whatever happens, happens. It’s sad… but a lot of people feel that way.” He thought that there is a great divide in college students’ political involvement. Some students research, promote and vote for their desired candidate. Others do not care at all. He thought there are few in the middle.

              I disagree. I think the majority of college students are middle of the road when in comes to political involvement. We want to know what’s on the ballot and how it will affect us. We want to understand the issues. We want to know what the candidates stand for. We want to make up our minds and exercise our constitutional right to vote.

             But here are the things we don’t want: to vote for something we do not understand, feel manipulated by the media, coerced by polls.  The bottom line is that it takes a lot of time and effort to decipher all the mixed messages being presented in an election. There are so many contradictions, manipulations, and fallacious logic that the standard of full understanding can be overwhelming.

          

                            I am a registered republican. The only reason I registered to vote is because I got chased down by an Obama fanatic on my way into a concert. The presidential election was approaching… “get out and vote” movements preached it was the thing to do. I checked republican because I am a Baptist. I am conservative on pro-life issues. I’m far from the “wealthy” category, but when it comes to government assistance I see it as enabling ghettoness and think those people should either work hard for a decent paying job or deal with the consequences of their laziness.  Other than those two issues, I am really neutral and open minded. I think opinions should only be formed after thorough investigation. This means reading the newspaper and websites, talking to people on both sides, watching different television news sources. Do research. Know the issue.

But the problem is that so many things on the ballot are more complex than they appear. When college students have papers to write, books to read, and tests to take… optional homework on politics takes the back burner.

              I waited until Election Day because I didn’t want to vote too early, see a campaign ad, hear a startling development, discover anything that would change my mind after my vote had already been cast. However, all the research proved to be in vain, because I spent so much time shooting and editing the election day Oracle video that I missed the deadline to vote. Ironic.

 Links to visit!! 

Students turned out and turned away on Election Day …. Oracle article addressing student confusion

 Voting Polls Available on Campus….. Oracle article that caused confusion

(With the added note) Students must vote at the USF-area precinct for which they are registered. There are two combined precincts in the Marshall Student Center, one at the Hillel Center and one at John Knox Village. Voting precincts are determined by address. Students can find their precinct at http://registration.elections.myflorida.com/.

Videos to watch!!

MacManus interview:

results: Republicans are take over Florida

confused students Oracle Video

Animal Advisory Committee

Posted: November 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

I attended the public meeting of the Animal Advisory Committee. The two main issues on the agenda were tethering and ferrell freedom. The first to discuss is tethering. The meeting began with public comments,

Sandra Fleshman was first to approach the stand. She carried with her a bag she brings to every meeting. She said chaining by the neck 24-hours a day unattended chained up dogs is wrong. She said she called animal services  every day for three months. The dog she was calling about had been chained to a tree and left unattended. He had lost 15 pounds, but because he had shade and a bowl of water, the neglect was not illegal. There was nothing animal services would do.

committee member brought up the point to check animal services records. She seemed angry at the suggestion that she may be exagerating.

Next at the podium was Dennis, the representative from Animal Services. He defended the agency in this case, saying that they went out often to check on the dog. He sent out different investigators each time, and all had the same findings.

The topic was a very emotional one. Many meeting attendants, including Sandra, had emotional reactions to what was said. There were arms waving, heads shaking, facial signs of disagreement. There was more drama than I expected for an Animal Rights Committee meeting.

The committee recognized that improvements have been made. “12,000 fewer animals coming into animal services compared to 5 years ago

After the heated tethering topic ended with “agree to disagree,” the next this to address was the feral cat program. Meeting attendants and committee members went straight into specific updates to the program without explaining what it is, another sign that the room was full of regulars. Finally, midway into the discussion, one board member asked if there was anyone who doesn’t know what they are talking about. Two people raised their hands.

“Well for those two of you who don’t come to all the meetings, the feral cat program is…. a program started in Jacksonville. The ordinance is worded in such a way that when someone traps a cat, data is recorded, and First Coast Pets spays and neuters them.  When they are better, the cats are returned to where they were trapped.  Animal services just records the information.”

“The program has no government funding, only volunteers. It is completely community funded.”

A problem the program is facing has been unjustified calls by “the lady on the block who doesn’t want a cat on her property.”

The statement is followed by a direct reference to the specific person apt to complain. Everyone laughed when the committee member said “right Rojo?”

Something the meeting dedicated a large portion of time discussing was the comfort of the feral cats. They passed around a new aesthetically pleasing cat cushion to be put the cat cages at animal services. The members unanimously approved of the new cushions.

The meeting concluded with discussing the plan for the next meeting. First order of business is to arrange a subcommittee in charge of board nominations. One member asked very seriously, “Can I nominate myself?” There was a quite a bit of confusion over this subcommittee, that requires a nomination to be a nominator. The final word on it were instructions to just come early to the next meeting if you are interested.

Just In Time For Halloween

Posted: October 27, 2010 in Uncategorized

Let me preface this entry by saying I was miserable the times I was drug to Halloween Horror nights.  I refused to watch scary movies. I have distinct memories of refusing baths for a month after watching Jaws when I was three years old. My entire family is in the medical field, but my aversion to blood is one reason willingly accepted the role of an outsider. I considered dropping my anatomy and physiology course mid semester when we were tested on videos of real bodies, detailed shreds of human muscle and slick looking organs of a saturated pink hue. While I am on this confession session, I will go ahead and confide that when my son was a wiggly baby, I was too scarred that trimming his nails with clippers would result in an amputation of a finger, that I bit his nails.   OK…. So, admittedly, I have a weak stomach.

I was hardly prepared for a trip to the medical examiner’s office.

The discomfort started when chief medical examiner Vernard Adams talked about his responsibility to dispose of unclaimed bodies. It’s sad to think that there are people out there who have absolutely no one willing to make necessary burial arrangements. There are about 400 people per year in Hillsborough County that fall into this category.

We walked outside to begin our lovely tour of the facility.  A wind greeted me with a smokey aroma. It was pleasant until our guide Richard Bailey reminded us, that unless the bodies are unidentified, nearly all are cremated. So that firey smell was not crackling yule logs, rather the incinerated remains of torched human bodies.

Would anyone notice if I snuck off?

Reluctantly, I followed the group into the building entrance. It was a tall space enclosed by a garage door that could only be opened by ringing the bell “three times, wait five minutes, then ring again.” Or by manager of operations Richard Bailey’s magical pass that allowed us access into the dungeon of death.

Like a 7-11 beer cave, our first stop was to a refrigerated room, open 24-hours. There was a musty stinch that added impact to the cold temperature of human refigerator. Bailey pointed out the motion activated security cameras and told us about New York body delivery men stealing gold teeth out of the mouths of the deceased.

Cool story, but I was more concerned with how long I could hold my breath before I passed out.

Into the next room. The glistening stainless steel surgical tools catch my eye. Foot-long tweezers, knives and scalpels are orderly arranged on a table. On another table nearby, I notice a sight less sterile. A blood drenched rag sat at the deep end near the hole of the inclined table designed to “drain blood and other fluids out during an autopsy.”

I could handle goosebumps.  What  was harder to handle was the wave of nassua that overtook my at the sight of a foot. His big toe, the brown curly hairs on his pail leg. I remember every detail of that foot. I was attacked by that image unexpectedly. When we had to walk by this body that my dear enthused classmates informed me was cracked wide open in the torso, I made sure to look away.

I thought the walk past this torturous display would lead to safety in a small confined room free of dead bodies and heinous tools. Letting my guard down proved to be a mistake, when in storms an autopsy examiner holding in his hands half of a skull. He just walked through the door holding it as if it were a serving bowl of trick or treat candy.

But this wasn’t Halloween… this was real!

Talk of skulls led into a description of brain texture. “It is the consistency of Jello. When it gets to the right firmness, you can make thin slices.” And the common autopsy procedure involves using a strong claw tool to “filet the chest open.” This is not a horror themed version of the Iron Chef cooking show. The biggest thing I learned from this trip is the level of desensitizing that results from exposure. It was my first (and hopefully last) time seeing a dead body. The employees of the medical examiner’s office inspect them day after day. The same concept hold true in journalism. We easily can become desensitized to the troubles of the world we report.

I pride myself on good attendance, but if I knew I would see the graphic images still burned into my memory during our field trip, I would have skipped class.