Scouring the Media

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News stories have always been sources of information for the public to intake, digest and evaluate. Now, however, many people are beginning to notice that the amount of serious news coverage is dwindling, and that more stories are chosen for by their debate factor.

In a post from the American Journalism Review, Senior Contributing Writer Paul Farhi wrote about Orly Taitz, a lawyer and dentist from California, who is part of the “birther” movement. Birthers believe President Obama was not born in America, and is therefore ineligible to hold the oval office. Farhi wanted to know how such unimportant news became such a media frenzy to begin with.

“Why does a crank like Taitz rate so much attention in the first place?” Farhi wrote.

News outlets are becoming more comfortable with fewer hard news stories and more soft news stories–but the question is why.

“Is a story about the private life of a politician ‘politics’ or ‘entertainment’?” an article from the Media Awareness Network asks. “Is an article about the importance of investing early for retirement a ‘business’ story or a ‘lifestyle’ story? Judging solely on subject matter, it can be difficult to tell.”

Subject matter has always been important for journalists, but with the rise of the World Wide Web, many unfounded underground news stories are starting to gain popularity. Once people notice that the stories are popular, those people may be unable to discover that the source that published the story is misinformed or biased.

“Stories that might have been dismissed as marginal or kooky in an earlier age now command serious scrutiny from mainstream news organizations,” Farhi wrote. “Before there was an Internet, before the explosion of sources of news and commentary, mainstream news organizations could maintain something like a gatekeeper role, downplaying or ignoring stories they deemed unfit for public consumption.”

Farhi cited theories ranging from the birther movement to the ignorance towards Muslims as being some of the topics that often allow for uneducated commentary to get out of hand. Politico writer Ben Smith offered insight as to why.

“[B] elief in obscure, discredited theories is a constant in a country with a history of partisan division — a country in which, a recent survey showed, 34 percent of the public believes in UFOs and 24 percent believes in witches,” wrote Smith.

Even though internet has given rise to many claims, theories, and news stories, it’s still the responsible journalist’s role to sort through the mountain of dirt in order to find a story with real value. Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, commented on Farhi’s article.

“We’re in the business to tell people what’s real and what’s not. I know it sounds a little arrogant, but our job, whenever possible, is to tell them the truth,” Jurkowitz wrote.

As Farhi wrote in his article, journalists used to be able to decide the majority of news the public heard. Journalists had time to sift through rumors and weed out the falsehoods in order to make truthful and accurate stories. In this era, journalists still must sift through the bad to find the good–but they also must convince their readers that journalists are trustworthy and have the correct answers. In the end, journalists must continue to present their stories honestly and without bias, while remaining honorable. Sensationalist stories and theories have a place, and it’s not in journalism.

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By Alissa Jones
Although USF lost momentum in the PETA2 competition to be named the most vegan-friendly college in the country, vegan students are confident that the university has what it takes.
TAMPA–In 2009, USF came in at fifth on the list of the most vegan and vegetarian friendly schools in the nation. This year, however, USF was knocked out of PETA 2’s online competition in the first round.
The competition, based online at PETA2.com, opened with 16 colleges. Students could go online to the competition’s web page, click on their college’s name and see pictures and descriptions of some vegan dishes offered by their university.

USF was in the running with pictures and descriptions of vegan foods from USF Dining, such as black-bean burgers with avocado-corn relish, Bombay garden spring rolls, vegan macaroni and cheese and vegan jambalaya. But those menu items are only a taste of what USF Dining has to offer, according to Jenna Burns, marketing manager of USF Dining Services.

“USF Dining currently offers numerous vegan and vegetarian options,” Burns said. “All three of our dining halls (Fresh Food Company, Bulls Den Café and Juniper Dining) offer vegan/vegetarian-friendly salad bars, fresh fruit, desserts, vegan mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, at least one vegetarian soup daily, lactose-free (vegan) ice cream and make-your-own waffle stations.”

The competition, which determined winners based off of votes for each college involved, was run by process of elimination.

Despite USF’s quick exit, Burns said the university’s nomination was honorable.

“The nomination was made based on both the quality and quantity of vegan options available to students on campus as well as feedback from students on the receptiveness and creativity of our dining staff,” Burns said. “Although USF did not make it into the Sweet Sixteen, we have already beaten out hundreds of other schools that didn’t even make the first round, which is something to be very proud of. Simply being nominated is an honor for USF Dining.”

After USF’s chances disappeared following the first round of eliminations, Kristie Almeida, a junior at USF and president of Students Protecting the Environment and Animals with Knowledge (SPEAK) at the University, said USF could have done better if the competition had been more publicized.

“I think last year there was a lot more advertising. In 2009 SPEAK really started talking to the school about more food options on campus,” Almeida said. “I think we strongly advertised the competition before.”

SPEAK may have not advertised the college competition, but that doesn’t mean students don’t support the vegan cause.

“At Greenstock, we signed up for about 50 people to become members of SPEAK,” Allison said. “We already have over 100 members online.”

SPEAK said that USF’s loss does not mean that the University isn’t trying. SPEAK’s president said that the University has added more vegan options to the variety of foods in the Marshall Center.

“There’s a lot of grab and go stuff (in the Marshall Center),” Almeida said, “there are vegan sandwiches, wraps and dumplings.”

Kristi Allison, vice president of SPEAK, said although USF didn’t place in the competition, she’s happy with recent vegan additions to USF’s menu, especially those in Juniper Poplar’s Pod market.

“I’m really impressed with the vegan options they have on campus,” Allison said. “I was impressed with how many to-go containers they have there (in the Pod market). There are so many vegan options. I’m so impressed with the variety.”

SPEAK agrees USF has many vegan and vegetarian options, but the school will have even more once the university’s newest dining hall, the Southeast Student Dining Facility, is opened in July 2011.

“The fourth dining hall will serve vegetarian/vegan, healthy, low calorie and low fat items, as well as serve as a training table for athletes,” Burns said.

With the oncoming opening of the Southeast dining facility, Burns said USF Dining will continue to adapt to the needs of vegans and vegetarians despite losing the online competition.

“USF Dining is always expanding their offerings of vegan/vegetarian options,” Burns said, “and
are continually adding options based on suggestions from the USF community.”

Almeida believes that the university will have another chance of claiming title of the country’s most vegan-friendly school, but she said students will have to help the school get there.

“USF usually makes it into the first round of voting, so then it’s just a matter of getting students out to vote,” Almeida said.

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