photo courtesy Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times
photo courtesy Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times
Three hours ago I was resolved not to talk about market trends in this post. This is supposed to be an overview of what I think of The Seattle Times, after all, and I've spent a lot of time talking about how a refocus on local stories probably saved the paper from going the way of the PI in 2009. Again, that was all three hours ago. My feelings have changed.

What happened three hours ago was the publishing of an amazing article by Erik Lacitis on "white hat hackers," computer geniuses who try to break down programs and hack systems to find the security flaws. The piece profiles Leviathan Security Group, a technology security company specializing in internet security. It uses the story of one of the hackers at the company, and the company itself, to describe how the internet security industry is booming, worth around $1 billion last year.

About three-quarters of the way into the article I realized two things. First, this was really good writing. I had just read an entire article on a guy who hacked computer systems for security purposes and accidentally learned a lot about the industry this character was in. The second thing I realized was this article was published online at 8 p.m. on Sunday night, which means it probably got cut from the Monday morning print edition. Whoa.

I've spent a lot of time in this blog talking about how market trends dictate the way the news is reported. An inability to compete nationally forces papers to take on a regional focus. A need for supplemental elements to a print story dictates that seasoned reporters learn video. Web traffic dictates what the biggest stories are online as much as editors do theses days. However, there is one thing that cannot be changed within the industry, cannot be affected by market trends, cannot be changed by the short attention span of the online media consumer, and that is good reporting. The Times is built on a base of strong reporting.

At the end of the night I don't particularly care what video is attached to what story. Is it nice to have a visual supplement to an article? Absolutely, but its not necessary. The one thing that will turn me off to a story faster than anything else is if the reporting seems thin. I can't stand it. If there is no substance than there is no reason for me to stay on a page longer than 5 seconds. I have never once felt that an article I opened on The Times website lacked substance. It has been the best beat I've covered so far i any of my media blogging experiences. Long live The Times and
The Seattle Times cherry picked the AP wire for coverage.
Yes, I wrote about it too. With a TBD blog post, I'll make a bet that 14 out of 18 members of #loweclass focus their blogs on the Boston bombing that has captured the nation's attention this week. It isn't surprising that it is such a large story. It is the first successful terrorist attack on American soil that took the lives of civilians since 9/11. Every major news agency in the world has taken an extra focus this week on covering Boston.

Naturally I decided to jump on over to The Seattle Times to see how they were handling coverage. If you are a common reader of my blog, which you likely aren't, it is at this point that you recognize that I am going to say "The Times made a good call by going with  the wire coverage because of market trends and smart business." If you were to make said prediction you would be half right. I am going to tell you to that they were smart in grabbing the wire stories, but not because of market trends.

The reason using wire coverage helped them is that it gave them a kind of "self-service" protective blanket. The news agency that broke the most big news first was CNN, a fact that was reflected in their ratings. However, being first comes with a steep price. CNN has been nationally panned for their awful coverage throughout the week. Many journalism reviews and websites have targeted CNN this week as the worst supplier of coverage on the terrorist attack.

It isn't just the dropping of the metaphorical ball this week that has CNN in trouble. This strange and poorly designed website offers a horrifyingly accurate summary of CNN's coverage in this decade. Their broadcasts lack substance and their anchors focus on the wrong issues.

The Seattle Time won't be the national source here, so why should they report the news online using CNN as a source? Because there is a very real possibility that the cable news station could be wrong, and leave The Times in an awkward position regarding misinformation that it reported. By waiting on the AP stories to come across the wire, they increased the likelihood that their information is as accurate as possible.
A screenshot from CNN's "The Undecided" page during the 2012 election
I always love guest speakers, especially when they are someone who has proven successful in their field. While travel and entertainment and health are usually sections I avoid, there is no denying that the woman who runs them for CNN, our guest speaker last Wednesday Mrs. Mira Lowe, is an incredibly successful journalist.

Lowe is the editor of the Entertainment, Technology, Health, Living, and Travel sections of She has served as a faculty member At Columbia University and Medill school of Journalism at Northwestern. She was Editor in Chief of JET magazine, and assistant editor at Ebony magazine, and editor for recruitment at Newsday. She came to our class to talk about her website's design and the way they produce content to be more interactive for a growing online audience.

Lowe focused, primarily, on two stories during her guest lecture. The first was a profile piece on a family from California who's 13 year old son was dying of cancer called "The Gift of Charles." Though the namesake of the piece, the story was less about Charles, a teenager who was dying of cancer, and more about how his family was dealing with the death of of their loved one.

The piece, beyond bringing heartbreaking emotion to the reader, incorporated two videos and multiple other supplemental elements to support the text piece. It keeps the reader interested and the design on the page was genius.

The second story Lowe focused on was a brilliant piece that CNN did in November about the Presidential election called "The Undecided," which was an interactive piece designed to give a general outline of what kind of people made up the coveted "undecided" voters during the election. Featuring people from key demographics in key swing states, the article wrote a profile on each of the six selected people, trying to give an indication of what makes each tick, and thus give an idea of how they would vote. There was much discussion in class about the fact that "no one would go and read every part of this article and click on every picture." I'm not ashamed to say I did just that on Wednesday after class.

Overall I loved Lowe's turn at the helm of #loweclass. I hope Lowe's influence on CNN remains prevalent, because I have enjoyed her work thus far.  It was interesting to have someone from the design/editorial side of the journalism world lecturing rather than keeping with the norm. Not that the norm is bad, but it's always good to have a change of pace every now and then.
Somewhere between hating myself for actually reading a story about Halle Berry being pregnant and laughing at the amazing lede in the Seattle marijuana story, I had a realization about how much I love the CNN website. i may be just comparing it to the much less impressive site of my normal beat, The Seattle Times, but I found very few complaints with the CNN channels I am reviewing – other than I can't imagine a scenario in which I would click on the entertainment section unless I were assigned to review it again. I found the CNN website well put together with good use of multimedia.

The first thing that needs to be mentioned on the CNN channels is content. I was able to go to the assigned pages and immediately find something I was interested in. There was an awesome story about using bananas as a computer interface on the tech channel, and an interesting self profile by a 20 year old author, Trevor Pacelli, about autism. It is also worth noting that the CNN Travel channel had a piece on the ongoing Boeing 787 battery dilemma, a story I've been following on The Times.

I was also pleased to find that every story gets attached to some kind of multimedia, be it photos or video, usually both. If there is no direct video on the piece, it is generally attached to a panel discussion from the CNN studios.

The set up of the pages is mostly the same for all the channels, not just the assigned ones but for all of CNN. There is a main story centered on the front page, with a few trending stories along the sides and stories without much multimedia coverage beneath it. While it's not my favorite design in the world, it is simple and efficient and easy to navigate. Its not my favorite design in the world – that honor goes to The New Republic's new site, which continues to blow me away – but its effectiveness for managing mass amounts of content overrides its somewhat dullness.

When I say it's dull,  I don't mean to imply that it makes me want to avoid the site, but when similar designs are seen at every news outlet imaginable, it gets repetitive. There is nothing that makes me notice the design of the website. Nothing that blows me away. I mentioned The New Republic's site as being great, not because it is necessarily innovative, though I haven't seen anything else quite like it for online news sources, but because there is something aesthetically about going to the site. Its simpleness becomes a strength. At sites like CNN I get distracted by all the stuff cluttering up the side bars and drawing my attention away from a particular story. at TNR they use that space to fill supplement the story with footnotes that contain information supplemental to a story. All attention on that page is focused on what brought you to that page. Of course not all sites are the sites of magazines, so TNR has the luxury of being able to manage its content in a particular way.

Overall I love visiting CNN. It provides great coverage supplemented with multimedia. As far as comparing it to The Tmes, it's in a completely different weight class. CNN's budget for those five channels alone probably competes with the entire Time's budget. While I would love to applaud The Times for being almost as good as the mighty CNN, they're not. And they never will be. Its the sad truth of the current journalism world that with shrinking budgets,  only so much great work can be done. I'm going to end here before I spin off into another tirade about how market trends in journalism are demanding more localized coverage. 
Well this one throws me for a loop. I'm supposed to write about religion for this week's post. It is the day of Jesus' rising from the dead, and the week of Passover. A Big deal in the religious community. So one would think that a time honored news organization like The Seattle Times would be vast in their coverage of such an important yearly event. Not so.

According to the website, 37.2% of King County is Christian. Of that percentage, more than 86% affiliates themselves as Christian. This is a significant portion of the King County community that "cares" or has a vested interest in Easter.Yet, The Times  only has a few religious articles on its website.

In fact, the most prominent "Easter Related" article had to do with a peep sculpture competition. While the competition has some brilliant pieces – see "peep impact" in the slideshow above, a play on the 1998 film Deep Impact staring Robert Duvall and Tea Leoni – the article is useless as far as religious articles go.

There were some cool religious articles posted on the website. There was one associated press piece about Christians in the Middle East that was posted today. Again, the coverage was not totally lacking, just totally lack from The Times' reporters. The top three articles on the site on Sunday had nothing to do with eater at all, though.

The top article was about a former sex-offender who had been accused of rape. The number two article was bout the potential trade of the Seahawks' Matt Flynn to Oakland. Nothing stops the football machine. The Third is about an event that could lead to NBA basketball returning to the emerald city, a story that has more than just sports implications.

The Times is a great paper, but they didn't cover Easter for some reason, even in a market that theoretically demands it. The only explanation is that their local beat writers chose not o cover a story they had in the past, and chose to cover something else. I have no problem with this in and of itself, but it does make it difficult to cover re
I have been very critical of The Seattle Times in the past for its coverage of national stories. Actually, I have applauded them for using wire coverage rather than wasting resources on stories where they can't compete. The NCAA tournament is certainly a national story, but their coverage has been excellent thus far.

Most of their coverage has focused around Gonzaga. On Thursday night they had a very good article about the near upset that the Zags had against 16 seeded Southern. Gonzaga, a Jesuit school from the other side of Cascade Mountains in Spokane, Washington. Even though the school is far away from Seattle, its recent basketball success has made it a favorite among Pacific Northwest college basketball fans, and thus a coverage favorite.

The school also locked down its first 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. It is also the highest seeding for a team from the state of Washington since the University of Washington– colloquially known as U-Dub – was a 1 seed in the 2005 NCAA tournament. Unfortunately for Gonzaga fans, people from Washington, and anyone who had the Zags going far in the tournament, the Zags lost to mighty Wichita State on Saturday. Bud Withers had a great lede in his story about the loss yesterday. Actually most of Wither's writing ha been excellent thus far in the tournament.

Mr. Withers stories withstanding, The Times coverage has had its faults. I talked in my last post about their use of video, or lack thereof. Those faults have continued, despite the criticism's of this world renowned media critic. It draws me away from the story I am reading every time I go and click on a video. Very frustrating. They also have not had their own writers covering the other games. They have had AP stories on other big games, though.

I would be remiss if i wrote a blog post about college basketball and didn't mention Marquette University advancing to the Sweet 16 for a third year in a row with their win over Butler.

All problems aside I have really enjoyed The Times' coverage of the tourney this year. It has been well put together, and like any other Times coverage of an event, the writing has been excellent. It seems to me that the Times writers really pride themselves on their prose. As a journalist that makes me very fond of them.
The Times did not attach the video they have for this story on the same page.
In my media critiques of The Seattle Times I have found very few things to complain about. Unfortunately that streak has to come to an end. When it comes to how the Times uses video, there is a lot to be desired. I'm not saying that they don't have good video, because they do. The problem is, there just isn't enough of it.

As one of the many young news consumers who get all of their news online, I'm used to having a lot of multimedia attached to he stories I am interested in. And not just video. I want graphs, image galleries and links to other stories. The Times is lacking in all of these areas. My favorite news sights – The Washington Post's Wonkblog and Buzzfeed's Politics section for politics, ESPN for sports – all excel in providing multimedia content to supplement their news coverage. The Times rarely attaches video to stories When they do, its not on the story page but linked to a separate page, illustrated perfectly in their thrift-shop fashion story. (On that note, it goes to show just how scarce video is on their sight if I'm reading a fashion story)

While it is frustrating not having the video or other multimedia available to supplement a story, I was never dissapointed in the video i did find. One video in particular, a profile on musician Eyvind King, is among the best I've seen of its kind. interesting and beautifully crafted, it tells a story in an interesting way. Of course, even it is not without faults. The problem lies in the lack of a written story to go with it. When I wanted to find out more on the main character, I had to go searching the internet off sight.

I have talked a lot about market trends on this blog before and how The Times is doing a good job of carving out a piece of the market for themselves to subsist in. I'm going to talk about market trends more now, but with the opposite theme. for any news organization to be successful in the internet age they are going to have to diversify their media presentation. This includes presenting the same written story with different forms of multimedia. It keeps readers interested, which keeps news sources relevant. The Times has been making all the right moves, except in this area.

I think The Times will get the message soon. They have to. As editors start to see the traffic statistics on their site and understand what these numbers mean, they will change. The Times is not very good. But the amazing thing is that they could be great with only a few small changes. Attach more video on the same page as stories, and attach stories to all produced video. Its a simple formula, and one that The Times needs to figure out.
The Seattle Times state government legislative recap focused on major education reform
Anyone who knows me knows that education is one of my major issues. Public education has been called everything from a "failed experiment" to the "silver bullet." I have written in the past about how it is an issue that remains vitally important but doesn't get covered in the way that it should. While I am happy that Brian Rosenthal is writing about the issue, I am disappointed that The Seattle Times's writer is perpetuating the failed style that has plagued education journalism for so many years.

First, a little background on the issue. The Republican Party controls the education committee in the Washington legislature. This is a major victory for the party to control an important committee in what is known to be a very liberal section of the country. The GOP, who recently proposed large scale education reforms in the state, is now drastically altering their reforms under pressure of opposition from unions, and from withing their own party. Without going on to much of a rant, it is worth noting that this type of action is common on education reform bills across the country, regardless of the proponent party.

While this is a story that is important to cover, it is indicative of the type of journalism that fails to help improve the state of public education in this country. As the famous Washington D.C. think-tank the Brookings Institution noted in their 2009 report on education reform, one of the great problems with education reform is that not many people understand the complex issues facing education. Furthermore, those who are supposed to educate the public on the issues, journalists, fail to do an adequate job.

Brookings noted that in the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 % of all published journalism pieces dealt with education. And of those pieces, the majority did not attempt to address education issues, but rather focused on the economic and political issues surrounding reform. Journalists have a distinct ability to bring complex social issues to the masses in a simplified understandable way. Because we have that ability we have the responsibility to do this. When it comes to education, however, we fail to address the problems with education in our areas and prefer to focus on the easier to report angles of politics, crime and money.

While I am very pleased that Rosenthal is reporting this issue at all, it remains one of theses articles that will only point out that there is problems in education. If that is all you accomplish then the story is no long that important. We all know there are problems with public education, but very few of us can actually point out what they are. While this story needs to be reported, it does not accomplish anything other than proving that there are political challenges in the Washington legislature in regards to education. I would like to see a story like this paired with a story that address specific problems in Washington schools.
Rep. Suzan DelBene. Photo courtesy Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times
Rep. Suzan DelBene made her fortune working for Microsoft in the early '90s as a marketing director. Her Husband is a Microsoft executive. Now the two term representative from Medina is facing a serious conflict of interest in her role on the judiciary committee as it relates to immigration reform, a topic that is very important to the the Washington based technology giant. The Seattle Times' D.C. bureau chief Kyung M. Song did an excellent job of bringing this issue to light.

Immigration reform has been set up to be the major issue of the first half of Barack Obama's second term as president. He announced early in his first term that immigration reform would be the next big issue he would try and tackle after he passed health care reform, but was not able to get it done in the fist term. In this year's State of the Union address he announced it would be the first major issue he would approach. Outside of the Sequester, this is the biggest issue facing congress right now.

In her role on the Judiciary committee, DelBene holds a great amount of influence over what bill will make it out of committee hearings on the subject. This constitutes a significant conflict of interest for her as her former employer is one of the biggest supporters of immigration reform. Technology companies like Microsoft are constantly searching China and India where they can find highly educated, highly intelligent young minds to come work for them at a cheaper rate than their American counterparts. The problem is that it is not always easy to get these folks visas to come work in the U.S.

Kyung does a good of of attacking this potential conflict of interest directly while presenting the issue fairly. As journalists we deal with these ethical questions on a daily basis. Anyone who follow politics to any degree understands the ethical questions that face lawmakers are very similar. If you are to close to a subject how can you be fair is your work towards it? I was drawn to this article for these reasons and appreciate Kyong's ability to navigate the rough waters of an issue like this while still creating a narrative that tells the whole story. It is a difficult task, even though he is reporting the issue not living it.

I do have a few complaints about Kyung's piece. I dislike how he breaks up the article into sections. I can understand how that is effective in telling the different aspects of the story, but I have never like that tool. I prefer to read my stories as one single flow of storytelling. When he breaks up the article to tell the story in pieces it becomes distracting to me.
The Seattle Times' profile of Yasmin Christopher raises awareness about the evils of Human Trafficking in King County
As I have noted in all of my previous posts, The Seattle Times does not allocate resources for national stories. This, as I have said before, is a good thing since the newspaper does not have the resources to compete with AP or The New York Times on stories of national importance. Of course there are situations in which national stories, like the problems with the Boeing 787's battery, are focused in the Seattle area. In these rare situations The Times does take the lead on national stories.
Photo by Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times
Thankfully, this week my assignment is to critique a profile on The Times' website, and I am finally able to focus on regional news, which the paper covers very well.

The profile that was receiving the most hits on The Times' site was on Yasmin Christopher, a woman who was brought to this country, along with six other relatives, to work on her father's farm near the town of Oakville.

Christopher's father was abusive. He openly beat the adults and molested the children. He used the family as slave labor. He was also not the "typical" profile of a human trafficker, as he was a concert violinist and held a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Washington.

The Times was quick to point out that human trafficking is a crime that often goes unreported, but is increasingly prevalent and has strong ties to the King County area. Human traffickers favor the area due to its busy ports and proximity to Canada.

This profile is especially effective because it puts a face to a major issue that we have all heard about, but perhaps not paid attention to. For many of us, our knowledge of the international crime comes from the mini-series starring Mina Sorvino and Donald Sutherland. But this continues to be an ongoing problem around the world.

Even though the story does not seem incredibly timely, the author attaches it to the campaign to raise awareness on the issue around the king county area launched earlier this year, it remains enthralling to the last word. What makes the article most effective is it is able to paint victims of the crime as people rather than statistics, while still reporting on the issue.

This is what I hope to accomplish with my profile for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service later this semester. I will be profiling a woman who has done great work helping to economically rehabilitate a historically poor neighborhood in Milwaukee. Hopefully I will be able to focus light on the issues facing the ongoing work in the area through telling the story of a person, like The Times has done so effectively here.