Lots of thoughts. Little sleep. College.

Applying Manjoo’s concepts at USF

“Who needs to watch “House of Cards”? The annual USF student government election controversy once again provides more devious entertainment, rule breaking, plotting, cheating and deceit than even Hollywood can script.

I’m very proud of both candidates!!!”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website in response to the article “Student body president elect still unclear,” 17 March 2014.

In a digital era where anyone who wants to publish their information can do so easily and for virtually nothing, a rising question that often appears is whether or not all the information presented to the public is accurate or not.

Sometimes, however, it may not be whether or not the information itself is true or not, but how we disseminate the information and whether our perception of it is accurate.

In “True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society,” author Farhad Manjoo explores this topic and explains a number of concepts that can be noticed in today’s media world because of how the audience perceives its news. One of these concepts is selective perception, which is the a term to describe when although the audience in question is viewing the exact same news story from the exact same source, members of that audience will still perceive it in different ways, and selectively choose which parts of it to believe and remember.

This concept can be viewed even in news on our very own university’s campus. Throughout the semester, USF’s student newspaper The Oracle published a series of stories about Student Government’s spring elections for next year’s presidency and senate positions.

This year, the campaigning became a little heated between two candidates, Jean Cocco and Brandi Arnold. A series of grievances were filed against each candidate, and Cocco had so many filed against him that he was temporarily disqualified from the election, although he won the popular vote in both the first round of voting, and in a run-off round. Cocco later appealed the grievances and was allowed to remain in the race, winning the spot of presidential-elect for the next school year.

Things didn’t stop there, however. The Election Rules Committee also appealed the decision to the Dean for Students, who sided with the decision that Cocco won the election. There was also tension within Student Government itself, with some controversy in the judicial branch and senate, which is still continuing to this day.

As the story progressed, everyone seemed to have their own opinion about what was true and what wasn’t as far as the grievances are concerned. While viewpoints and opinions may have been determined by student’s preference for a presidential candidate, the predetermined views reflected in the comments on social media and The Oracle’s website on the controversy, as students would either support the infractions imposed upon the candidates, or argue that they were a waste of time, as what happened numerous times concerning grievances made against Cocco’s campaign.

“Between the supposed errors on the grievences and the minorness of the infractions I find it absurd to dq Cocco. OMG a link is on the YouTube page and not the video. Oh geez, somebody is wearing a shirt in a printing lab. A long time friend and politician supports someone… oh foreshame. These elections are unamerican. What a sham. And to schedual the hearings when there is a Senate meeting knowing full well he is a senator…. Sounds like a planned mugging to me. There are many questionable things going on here. American values are being sat on here.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website in response to campaign controversy, 6 March 2014.

 

“All these grievances are dumb.

1. Who cares if the voting link is not on the picture or video? It is tedious to do this, and does the campaign get an unfair advantage by NOT putting the voting link?

2. A person is allowed to wear whatever he/she wants if going to the lab for personal things. You can’t penalize people for wearing a shirt while going to the computer lab for academic work.

3. Bringing a celebrity to campus: If the celebrity wants to endorse someone, he should be allowed to do so. So Charlie Christ comes on campus, and you expect the candidate to tell the former Governor of Florida that he can’t say certain things because it will get the candidate disqualified?

If the above are considered violations according to the rules, then the rules are flawed. Change the rules.

The purpose of having rules is to maintain a clean campaign and to prevent abuse. None of the above acts implied foul play.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 7 March 2014

There was also a series of comments made against the publication itself, with many users commenting on the fact that The Oracle quoted candidate Cocco in a story about the university adding Chick-Fil-A sauce to its menu after many requests from students. Many users perceived the quote from Cocco as a nod from the publication in favor of his campaign:

“Passive campaigning”… Look no further than this “newspaper” and its Editor in Chiefs silly article on Chick fil A sauce. Cocco just “by chance” is the first interviewee/random student asked about the lack of this condiment and is support. Cocco is a loser that I’m sure will not go away for the rest of this year and I’m sure the “editor in Chief” will be very negative towards the winner of this race.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 20 March 2014

“I just love the puff piece the EDITOR of this newsrag wrote about the lack of ” chick Fill a” sauce on Campus. The story started with an interview of a student who just happens to be cocco.. What a scam.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 10 March 2014

“I found it interesting that the EDITOR IN CHIEF of this “newspaper” found a way to slip a mention of this candidates name while “reporting” on the lack of Chick -fil-a sauce.”

— Comment made on The Oracle’s website, 10 March 2014

These comments show that students are suspicious of the publication for presenting a bias, but it also demonstrates another concept that Manjoo outlines in True Enough: Hostile Media Phenomenon. This concept is the belief that two people on opposing side of a controversy can watch the same news story, and that both people will come away feeling misrepresented in the story.

Those who commented on the story about the Chick-Fil-A sauce believed that the publication held a bias that was against their views and therefore was hostile towards their beliefs, but there were also commenters who believed that the petition for Chick-Fil-A sauce was just a fluff piece and a waste of time, so no matter what end of the spectrum someone stood on, people were going to view The Oracle as hostile toward their beliefs.

While the controversial election has come to a close this semester, the discussion on what should have happened and what did actually happen will still be a popular topic among students, especially those involved with Student Government and the media. Because of the coverage of this election, next year’s race will be just as closely looked at, and it will be interesting to see how Manjoo’s concepts can be applied to future elections.

38 days: Bulls Service Breaks Banquet

BSBbanquet

 

Tonight we had our Bulls Service Breaks banquet, and it was an opportunity for students to reconnect with the groups and share with the other students involved with the program what it is they gained from their trips.

Since we are one of the only two groups who has yet to go on their trip, the experience was more of a learning experience for us, and to show us what it is we have to look forward to when we hop on the plane for Ghana.

It was absolutely incredible getting to hear from the other students about their trips and all of the things they learned. One group said their project changed once they arrived because of weather, but they stayed motivated and were still able to make a difference. Another group found bonding opportunity while building an entire fence together, and they said just being able to see the work they were doing made it all worth it for them. Another group of students said they were told by the organization they were helping that they were some of the best volunteers they’ve ever had.

Hearing all of these stories made me anxious to get going on my own trip and to have my own stories to share. In a little more than a month, I’ll be there, and by the time May rolls around, I can’t even imagine how restless I’ll be.

We’re still in the fundraising stage, and we’re looking to find more ways that we can raise money for our trip. An idea that we’ve thought of for fundraising is canning outside of supermarkets, which is asking for donations from people who have spare change walking in and out of the store. The Threads of Hope sales have gone pretty well, and I’m hoping to sell even more bracelets before I leave. Not just for my funds, but because I believe in both causes that the money goes to: our trip to Ghana, and families in the Philippines who make the bracelets. A fund raiser like that is a win-win for me.

While we’re just five weeks away from leaving, in between that for me are busy work schedules, final exams and wrapping up my semester.

But it will be here sooner than I think.

 

39 Days: The Process of Background Research

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Since it’s my first time leaving the country, I’ve made it a personal goal to soak in any information about Ghana that I can before leaving. My biggest fear is that I’ll arrive at the airport in Accra and find myself completely unaware of how to handle myself or to interact with others. While that may still happen, even despite my research, I want to take any steps that I can to ensure I go over there calm, cool and collected.

So far, I’ve learned a few things on Trip Advisor and in a Culture Smart guide that I ordered off of Amazon:

  • Ghana is referred to as the country that is the “gateway to Africa,”and is also considered one of Africa’s success stories. When tourists visit the country, they’re expected to assimilate into the culture and way of life in the country.
  • In 2000, the literacy rate for males in the country was 80 percent, and 67 percent for females. An updated survey says the literacy rate for the total population in 2012 was at 71 percent, but that some speculate this “may have been a generous survey.”
  • The life expectancy rate in Ghana is is 65.32 years according to the CIA World Factbook.
  • The country may not rank very high on the Human Development Index (it ranks at no. 135 according to current statistics), but it does rank much higher on the Global Peace Index (no. 58 out of 162) and the Worldwide Press Freedom Index (no. 27 out of 180)
  • Personal toiletries will be hard for me to come by when I’m there, unless I find a major supermarket. Plus, if I do find them, they’ll be very expensive compared to what I’m used to. I better remember to pack enough of my own!
  • Tap water isn’t something you can just drink from or brush your teeth with in Ghana. While this one seems like a no-brainer now that I think about it, I never considered the idea of not constantly having clean water available to me. Bottled water can be purchased over there, and we’ll have clean water at the ProWorld offices, but every day tap water and water from the sink isn’t for filling up a glass or water or putting anywhere near your mouth.
  • There is also a difference between satchet water and “ice water” according to Trip Advisor. Satchet water has undergone a filtration system and is safe to drink, but ice water is just the tap water that was chilled in a plastic bag, making it still unsafe to drink. Again, since I had never considered the idea of water being unsafe, finding this out also surprised me.

I think the biggest takeaway I’ve had so far as I prep for this trip is that it’s really not going to be anything like what I’ve experienced before, and that’s not just because I’ve never left the country before. It’s exciting, nerve-racking and something I’ll never be able to compare to anything else.

And I can’t wait to get going.

Trip to the medical examiner’s office

I’ll be honest — when I found out that we had a field trip to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s office, I was a little uneasy at the idea. My understanding of a medical examiner and what they do stretched about as far as seen actors and actresses play them on Law and Order.

Hillsborough County sees about 10,000 deaths each year, and about 1,700 of those come to the medical examiner’s office. The medical examiner’s office can run for two and a half days on its own power if there is an outage, and can hold up to 200 bodies in its facilities.

The facility was built in order to handle the growth of the county for the next 50 years, as the population will continue to increase over the years. It was interesting to me how intricate the planning and general infrastructure for the building was.

My first impression walking in wasn’t so bad, though. You could hardly tell what the place was from the outside, and even the front lobby didn’t look anything like I imagined. There were flowers and posters hung up in the administrative officers. Friendly staff greeted us, and it just seemed like any other ordinary place.

I learned quite a bit from the experience though. Dick Bailey, the operations manager at the medical examiner’s office, told us that the staff tries to be courteous to the people who visit them, because a lot of the time it’s not under pleasant circumstances. 

Bailey explained to us the difference between a coroner and a medical examiner, which was that a coroner is elected and a medical examiner is a licensed doctor. He also told us that the coroner system would one day become obsolete, as cities are able to hire more licensed doctors.

A medical examiner is also the person who will determine the cause of death, and that an autopsy is not always run once a person dies. Basically, the medical examiner’s office will deal with any death that we see in the newspapers or online, Bailey said.

The public records available at the facility includes just about everything they do, Bailey said, unless it is part of an ongoing investigation. What interested me about the public records was that if you receive a death certificate from the medical examiner’s office, it will include more information than it would had it been received from Vital Statistics, such as the cause of death.

Learning that helped me see that sometimes it’s not what you’re asking for that determines what you’re going to get, but where and who you’re asking. 

40 Days: Learning about our service projects

At Tuesday night’s meeting, we had the opportunity to learn about some of the projects that we will have to choose from when we are over in Ghana. All of them sound really interesting to me, and when it came time to decide, it was pretty difficult to try and figure out which ones I wanted to preference.

The plan so far is to split our team up into groups and for the smaller groups to try and tackle most of these projects while we’re in the country. The handout we were given had a lot of information, but below is a quick summary of each of the projects:

  • Health and Environmental Sanitation: We will be speaking to the community on health topics and educating them about proper sanitation. We’ll also be counseling youth and young adults on HIV/AIDS, and STI’s, and delivering medical care to homes and schools.
  • Public Health Youth Organization: Along the same lines as the first project, but more directed at youth and children. The organization we would be working with wants to help youth realize the need for them to contribute to building up the nation of Ghana. We would also be conducting workshops on sanitation and recycling, and also help with planning and implementing malaria and teen pregnancy programs.
  • Education, Special Needs School: We would be working as teacher’s assistants in a special needs school, providing general assistance in the classroom and working one-on-one with students, as needed. We would also be developing marketing and business strategies for the schools “bags and beads,” project.
  • Education, Catholic Primary to High School: At this school, we would also be serving as teacher’s assistants in various subject areas. The school also has a bunch of clubs and programs for students, and may also be facilitating projects in those programs.
  • A Rural Development Agency: This social enterprise program would give us the chance to work with an organization that is promoting self-help strategies toward community development and poverty reduction in certain areas of the country. We would be promoting basic education to poor, rural communities, and also be promoting vocational and entrepreneurial training to women in these areas and encouraging them to find self-sustainable employment.

I put some thought into it, and I knew what it was I was looking to get out of my experience in Ghana first and foremost was to know that I was making a difference. All of these projects seemed to fit that mold.

Second, I wanted to try and play up my strengths. As a mass communications major, I have a lot of experience with writing and communicating with others. I also used to volunteer with children in my youth group and have experience working with younger generations. A close second when I was choosing my major in college was education, and even to this day I could see myself working as a teacher at some point in my career.

While I am willing to help out with any of the projects we have, I put in a preference for working in education at the catholic primary school, public health with the youth organization, and the rural development agency. While volunteering with children, I’ve always found it to be an eye opening and enjoyable experience. Kids will surprise you in ways that you didn’t even know were possible, and I think that’s what I’m looking forward to most with this trip.

I want to see how many times I’ll end up being surprised.

41 days: It’s finally coming together

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Last week consisted of a lot of paperwork, like my Passport, Visa and study abroad applications.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this entire process of getting ready to leave the country it’s this: If you’re looking to get out of the United States, you definitely have to work for it.

Last week was a great deal of paperwork, and a whole lot of stress along with it. To travel to Ghana, you have to have a passport, obviously. You also have to apply for a visa, which requires mailing off your passport and waiting up to four weeks to get your visa approved.

Since I received my passport five days before it was time to mail off for my visa, it didn’t remain in my hands for very long.

I’m excited for this trip. Probably more excited than I’ve been for any trip in a long time, but at the same time I’m terrified. With all the paperwork last week came some clarity, such as my welcome packet from Intrax and my flight information. Reading it all made me realize something, too: it’s all starting to come together.

It’s not just about selling some bracelets or filling out a few forms. I am leaving the country for the first time in my life, and of all the places for me to choose, I chose Africa. I don’t think I would have it any other way though, I can never do anything simply.

Along with the trip, I’ll also be taking a couple of online classes at USF that will tie in with the experience. This morning, I signed up for a course in exploring cultural diversity, and another course on the culture and society in Africa. It’s funny that I chose to volunteer abroad over studying abroad because I didn’t just want to take classes and sight-see, but I’ll still be taking classes that tie into my trip. It’s like I’ve crafted my own study abroad experience in a way, and it’s not costing nearly as much as I thought it would.

Over the next few weeks, I still have more to do. There’s travel shots and travel orientations. I have to order currency and find out what’s going to happen with my cell phone while I’m away. I’ll have to figure out how I’m getting to and from the airport in Tampa, and what weekend I’m going to say goodbye to my parents before I leave. It seems like I always have a mini to-do list going in my mind about this trip, and once it’s all over, it’s going to take some readjusting to get used to not constantly being in planning mode.

The trip is 41 days away, and it’s going to creep up on me sooner than I think.

 

 

Sorting through budgets: how journalists follow the money

One of the biggest takeaways that I’ve gained from Public Affairs Reporting as a whole is that public documents and information are an invaluable source in the world of journalism and news writing. When writing about budgets and where the money is coming from in governmental organizations, this fact still rings true.

Preston Trigg spoke to our class on Monday about government budgets and how to interpret them, and while I had worked with budgets in the past with my reporting experiences at USF, I had never thought of a budget so simply before his explanation:

“It’s basic: money coming in and money going out. It’s that simple. Don’t over complicate.”

I was a little surprised at first at how a document with a myraid of headings and numbers could be summed up in a sentence. Then I began to think about it, and he was right. I looked again at the USF continuing operating budget for the 2013-14 school year, the one I had used last summer when I was reporting on the Board of Governor’s meetings for The Oracle, and the one that became a vital resource for many of my stories in months to come.

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It really was as simple as I had been told: money coming in, and money going out. The budget also lists where there are increases and decreases in spending compared to the previous budget, a tool that can really be used to a journalists’s advantage when looking for information for a story.

Another insight about budgets that Trigg shared that surprised me was that budgets are usually created based off of the previous year, with the numbers simple being adjusted. At first glance, they’re not going to look rapidly different or show and obvious changes, but by looking through the information and making comparisons, there is a great deal of information that can be utilized in a story. In order to find this information, journalists have to understand what is it they’re looking at.

The biggest takeaway that I had from Trigg’s lecture was that as a journalist, you can’t be afraid to ask questions about the budget and what it is you’re looking at. The biggest mistake you can make, Trigg said, is being wrong. You can prevent that from happening by asking the right questions to the right people, and it doesn’t always have to be to the decision makers.         

Trigg advised students to talk to people who are involved with the budget process but who may not necessarily be the decision makers. If you’re just asking them background questions, they’re usually less apprehensive about giving you the answers you seek, and it also helps with source building if something major happens down the line. While writing future stories with budgets, I’m definitely going to keep this in mind, and I think it will make me less nervous working with budgets than I was previously.


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