Month: February 2014

NBC highlights LGBT persecution during Sochi Olympics coverage; overall trend continues

Media coverage devoted to LGBT issues in Russia decreased significantly. Nearly 40 percent was concentrated during Feb. 6-7.

Media coverage devoted to LGBT issues in Russia decreased significantly. Nearly 40 percent was concentrated during Feb. 6-7.

Earlier this week the Winter Olympics came to a close in Sochi, and the final numbers were tallied for the amount of time NBC and its affiliated networks devoted to LGBT-related protests in Russia. The result: 1 hour, 59 minutes, and 42 seconds.

The network aired more than 1,500 hours of coverage over the course of the Games, and while it may not seem like a lot (roughly 0.13 percent), this is still significant. However, the bulk of the coverage — nearly 40 percent — was devoted during the first two days of the Olympics on the heels of media attention saturated by the anti-LGBT propaganda law in the weeks leading up to them.

This largely falls in line with how controversial narratives have played out in mainstream media in previous years. Just as the Games began, a previous blog post focused on protest coverage in previous Olympics to give more context to the analysis.

What did you think of the Olympics coverage? Click here more information on the Human Rights Campaign’s in-depth analysis on the 2014 Winter Olympics for LGBT coverage

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Give more to pay less: How volunteering can reduce higher education costs

Going to college and earning a degree is an aspiration for many students and their families across the U.S. Yet, unlike in many other countries around the world with reputable higher education institutions, the cost of attending American universities remains simply out of reach. But a new organization is working to change that by sponsoring students willing to volunteer.

SponsorChange finds sponsors willing to take on student loans of individuals in exchange for their manpower and time equity that goes toward a particular cause. SponsorChange’s cofounder, Raymar Hampshire, says the work experience itself is also benefecial, especially for recent graduates who are underemployed.

Overall student loans now stand in excess of $1 trillion. In the Class of 2013, seven out of ten students graduated with education-related debt, averaging $30,000 each.

Courtesy: Washington Post

Courtesy: Washington Post

The cost of a college education is rising two to three times the rate of inflation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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What do you think? Would you consider volunteering time to an organization to help pay down student loans? Is this just another way for the wealthy (aka “sponsors”) to push their agendas via the indebted? Post your comments below.

Final vote pending for Collegetown rezoning amid community concerns

The proposed Collegetown rezoning is on to the City of Ithaca Common Council for a final vote after unanimously passing the Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The measure – a drawn out and still contentious plan for some – seeks to rezone Ithaca’s most dense neighborhood using form districts that will regulate features such as roof pitch, glazing, porches, and size of plain exteriors.

The plan calls for a total of six districts: two Mixed Use (MU) districts, which includes both residential and commercial spaces, and four Collegetown Residential (CR) districts. Much of the concern lies with the transitional CR-4 district with the closest proximity to the MU districts.

Draft: Collegetown Area Form Districts

Under the rezoning proposal, Collegetown will have six newly formed districts: two for a mix of commercial and residential uses in the center, and four surrounding residential districts.

Tom Hanna, one of Collegetown’s long-time residents, has voiced concern over the potential for consolidation by big developers under the law.

“We specified to the city [a concern for consolidation] in the CR-4 zones,” said Hanna, a ’64 graduate of Cornell University and Collegetown homeowner since 1970. Hanna also serves as a member of the East Hill Civic Association.

“If you look at the way we’ve written this law…this is clearly going to end up encouraging individual property owners like myself and others to consider selling out to major developers, rather than try to go through and develop the property ourselves.”

Hanna cites the low vacancy rate as a factor that keeps rent prices higher and worries the new policy will further increase the cost of living with a “gentrification” effect. The Cornell Daily Sun published his editorial on the issue in its Guest Room column last week.

“Everybody wants to be in Collegetown,” said Galal Cancer, a Junior Applied Economics and Management student at Cornell. He agrees that the city should make it a priority to keep Collegetown within the range of students’ budgets.”

“While the plan does not specifically address the goal of affordability, it does clearly address the goal of supplying quality, safe housing,” said Seph Murtaugh, the Chairman of the Planning and Economic Development Committee.

Parking at a Premium

The rezoning measure also eliminates parking requirements for the multi-use districts and, if parking-management plans are approved, the CR-4 district.

Factoring in space for parking can be costly for developers and, according to Murtaugh, is not as necessary with increasing use of alternative transportation.

“The parking requirements can really inhibit growth and density,” he said. “I think we feel comfortable eliminating it in the center of Collegetown.”

Murtaugh also pointed to other available parking nearby, including the Dryden Avenue garage that has been operating on average at only 50 percent capacity. A citywide Parking Director was recently hired to address policies as well.

Seven Years In the Making

In 2007 the City and Cornell University commissioned Good Clancy Associates of Boston, Mass. and two sub-consultant firms for a total of $180,000 to evaluate Collegetown and make recommendations for future development. After some additional modification by the Planning Committee, “The 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan & Conceptual Design Guidelines” was published.

In 2011, owners of affected property halted the plan’s implementation after challenging the parking exemption.

“There have definitely been criticisms of the plan,” Murtaugh said. “I think that the city staff will continue to monitor it…if we find that the plan requires tweaking in some way, if we have to change it to respond to local realities, I think the Planning staff and Common Council will make those changes as necessary.”

As Valentine’s Day blood donations fall short, FDA ban still thorny for gays

It was more white than red that dominated Valentine’s Day this year as severe winter weather blanketed much of the U.S. with traffic-snarling snow and ice. Along with floral delivery trucks that struggled to make their rounds with red roses, the American Red Cross felt the storm’s impact too: more than 750 blood drives were cancelled, leaving at least 25,000 blood and platelet donations uncollected.

The setback is the latest in a string of blood supply shortages in recent years – with the summer of 2012 seeing the lowest level in more than a decade – further prompting LGBT advocates to ask why would-be male donors who have had gay sex are banned from donating.

Last summer, the organization Second Class Citizens hosted a “National Gay Blood Drive” event in major cities across the U.S. to draw attention to the issue.  Another drive is scheduled for July 11.

The Food and Drug Administration’s lifetime ban first went into effect in 1977 after an HIV/AIDS pandemic was first linked to gay communities. The FDA has stated that the ban would be eased “only if supported by scientific data showing that a change in policy would not present a significant and preventable risk to blood recipients.”

According to the Red Cross website, every unit of donated blood is tested for infectious disease markers, including HIV. With the current exclusion of gay males, it estimates 38 percent of the U.S. population is eligible to donate, although less than 10 percent actually do each year.

The American Medical Association voted in opposition of the ban policy in June. One of its members, William Kobler, said it was “discriminatory and not based on sound science.”

In September, at least 80 members of Congress wrote to the Department of Health and Human Services denouncing the ban as outdated and unfair to gay men who practice safe sex.

What do you think? Should the ban remain in place? Reply with your comments below; find contact information for your Congressional representatives here.

Social media: the new frontier of journalism

With the exponentially accelerating advancement of technology nowadays, journalism is undoubtedly one of the most dynamic and exciting professions to be working in. Journalists have always depended on sources and tips for stories. But an unprecedented amount of new information and potential sources have become accessible with the emergence of social media.

One of the developments Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, validates is the need for what some may call “backpack journalists”. The surge of citizen journalism emerging through social media has challenged the professional journalism industry to “transcend the desktop,” as Gilmor puts it, and actually take advantage of every feature our devices have to offer. It’s not necessarily that every person employed by a news organization has to be a trained videographer, but instead simply needs to have an eye for anything they come across in everyday life that may resemble news. Whether it’s in the form of video, audio, or photographs, mobile phones and tablets afford individuals the chance to capture the spontaneous and the unfrequented.

Gillmor also touches on how linking can add depth to stories. Not only does sourcing add authority to a piece by revealing where information was obtained, but also works in the best interest of the reader by directing them to material that provides greater context (e.g. transcripts or data) and perhaps even encouraging them to dig deeper on their own.

If this were a one way street, I might end this post by saying, “Now go grab your phone, get out there and find some news” and leave it at that. But, of course, social media has also fostered a robust dialogue between journalist and audience to offer feedback and new ideas. So, help me out here readers. What are some prime examples you’ve seen of social media’s impact on journalism? What are your thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of this? Comment with your opinion, reflect on your experiences, maybe even share a link or two!

Tech Etiquette: the Dos and Don’ts of Online Reporting

Journalists on Twitter can reap major benefits from the service, but should also beware of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: AP)

Journalists on Twitter can reap major benefits from the service, but should also beware of pitfalls. (Photo Credit: AP)

The online world of social media is something of a mine field. With an ever-shrinking sense of privacy and ever-growing need for connecting via the World Wide Web, knowing what benefits or hinders an online reputation can make or break your personal brand.

Alexandra Chang — a former technology writer for Wired magazine in San Francisco and current freelancer in Ithaca, New York — recently shared her online wisdom with journalism students of Ithaca College’s Roy H. Park School of Communications. Here are some of her recommendations for behaviors to actively engage in, as well as those that should best be avoided:

  1. Be personal in professional areas. Content reflects how you want to be perceived.
  2. Create lists of reporters within your beat and try to engage with them in a thoughtful way.
  3. If you’re searching for sources on LinkedIn, opt for the anonymous setting. Users can see who views their profile.
  4. Use Twitter in a genuine way, even though it’s not the most genuine platform.
  5. The Internet is often a less than ideal place for civility. If you get heatedly attacked on Twitter or anywhere else, the best policy is to simply ignore.
  6. Create a brand for yourself through tone and how you present content. Social media is not just there for people to follow you professionally, but also to get to know you.
  7. Have a presence on Vine and other similar platforms, but remain conscious of the fact that they are still used more primarily for comedy than news at the moment.

Some other interesting tools that were revealed include Twiangulate.com (a website that allows you to find new people that follow several accounts related to your beat or interests), Qwitter.com (a site that tracks who unfollows you on Twitter), and Paper (the latest iPhone app from Facebook that offers users a “newsier” newsfeed).

Protests during past Olympics may offer insight to Sochi’s LGBT strain

Credit: AP - In this Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 file photo a Russian gay rights activist walks along a police line during a rally at a Moscow boulevard. When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, many will be watching to see whether Russia will enforce its law banning gay “propaganda” among minors if athletes, fans or activists wave rainbow flags or speak out in protest. The message so far has been confusing. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko, file)

Credit: AP – In this Sunday, Jan. 19, 2014 file photo a Russian gay rights activist walks along a police line during a rally at a Moscow boulevard. When the Sochi Winter Olympics begin on Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, many will be watching to see whether Russia will enforce its law banning gay “propaganda” among minors if athletes, fans or activists wave rainbow flags or speak out in protest. The message so far has been confusing. (AP Photo/ Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Yesterday marked the official start of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and already four gay activists have been arrested after unfurling a banner quoting the Olympic Charter’s ban on discrimination. Earlier this week, the Human Rights Campaign sent an email urging supporters to petition NBC to “devote significant primetime Olympics coverage to the LGBT crisis in Russia.”

The network will air more than 1,500 hours of coverage over the course of the Games, and while the anti-LGBT propaganda law has been getting a lot of attention in the weeks leading up to them, will the official U.S. coverage hone in on the tension? Protests are by no means unprecedented for the Olympic Games. Here’s a look at previous coverage of controversies surrounding the Games in recent years:

2008 Beijing Summer Olympics: Months before the Games even began, when the Olympic torch arrived April 9 in San Francisco, networks aired considerable coverage of protests pointing to human rights abuses by the Chinese government. The organization Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR.org) noted that CNN gave related coverage 40,000+ words that day alone.

2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics: With the United States’ neighbor, Canada, as the host country this time around, U.S. media coverage of protestors was comparatively marginal. Only nine articles appeared in the New York TimesWashington Post, and USA Today between the two weeks prior to the Opening Ceremony and the day after the Closing Ceremony. Canadian press, on the other hand, published more than eight times the number of U.S. articles, covering everything from sustainability to the presence of poverty in the shadow of millions spent on Olympics construction and security.

2012 London Summer Olympics: These Games, as with Vancouver 2010, also shared a close cultural proximity with the United States. Unlike the previous Summer Olympics in Beijing, the controversy-based coverage was relatively mild. Pre-Games coverage once again emerged, with articles like this one from the GlobalPost touting five activist groups that were likely to be ‘heard from’.

That brings us to Sochi, which, like Beijing, resides in a country that has proved politically problematic for the U.S. in the past with its Communist undertow. The world will soon see how the new LGBT narrative will play out in mainstream media; but if its anything resembling previously documented protest coverage, viewers and readers may witness the three-stage phenomenon laid out for the last Winter Olympics by FAIR.org writers Jules Boykoff and Casey Nishimura: 1) pre-Olympic stories that allow space for dissent (which has been confirmed with the plethora of LGBT segments), 2) articles appearing once the Olympics begin where media slip into the well-worn ruts of activist denunciation (i.e. traditional narratives of protesters as ‘trouble-makers’), and 3)  articles appearing toward the end of the Games that praise the police and champion the Olympics as a success. This is by no means a be-all and end-all formula, but perhaps may be used as a tool to evaluate coverage of this year’s Olympics, and subsequently validated or contradicted.

Meanwhile, a designated protest area has been set up in a village approximately seven miles from the main Olympic Park in Sochi.

More updates on protest coverage and a follow-up analysis of the Games will be posted to this blog in the upcoming weeks.