New mediums, new ethics doesn’t mean out with the old, in with the new

Opinion-column written for Reporting for the Public Good.

by Kristen Case | 5/9/14

It’s a changing media landscape.

At least, that’s what all my professors tell me. And all the professionals in the industry seem to agree. They write books about the new ethics of journalism because there are so many new and different things in the world of journalism they require new and different guidelines.

Obviously, that is a necessity. Journalists can’t just cross their fingers and hope that the ethics that helped their daily paper run smoothly apply to social media sites with no fuss. But out with the old, in with the new isn’t the way to go.

On April 14, 300 girls were herded out of their beds in the dead of night at a school in Chibok, in northeastern Nigeria. The militant group Boko Haram claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

But I didn’t hear about these missing girls in April. I didn’t hear about them until late one night in early May, when I couldn’t sleep and was browsing popular tags on Tumblr and wondered what was trending about Nigeria.

It wasn’t until a Google search later that I found out what had happened, that the girls had been kidnapped. Because the first several posts on Tumblr under the Nigeria tag weren’t about the fact that the girls were missing. Those posts were about the fact that their names had been published.

‘That must be a joke,’ I thought. ‘Some random source made up a list of names and claimed it was real.’

And then I did another Google search.

The first relevant result that I found was some website called Feministing.com. On the page is a list of 180 first names, claiming to be courtesy of the Christian Association of Nigeria.

‘Okay,’ I thought. ‘This is clearly not a major news outlet, it is entirely possible that this isn’t a real list.’

Then I looked closer at the page and saw the updates. The first update reads: “Some readers have expressed concern that posting these names may put the girls at further risk. We take that concern seriously, but given that the list has been released by a Nigerian organization and has been reported on by both the Nigerian and U.S. media, we feel comfortable keeping it up here. […]”

No. way. I immediately jumped back over to Google to look for a major news organization that even hinted at these girls’ names. Shock and disgust filled me when I found one by ABC.

“The girls have names like Deborah, Saraya, Mary and Gloria. They are all teenagers, between the ages of 16 and 18...”

That makes these girls minors.

I went back to the list of names on Feministing to see if they matched up. They did. Those four names are in the first nine on the list. I then read update number two.

“Upon further reflection […], we’ve decided to adjust this list to include the first names of the girls only.”

Just let that sink in for a second.

These girls are mostly minors. They are all victims. They are being told that they are either going to be sold into marriages or as sex slaves. And some organization released their names to the media. And the media ate it up. They spit those names back out to the public, all for the extra attention it would bring their stories, published almost a month after the girls went missing.

Journalistic ethics say that you can release the name of a minor so long as it is lawfully obtained and truthfully reported. But that has always been about releasing the name of a criminal, or an alleged one, who also happens to be a minor.

The names of the victims, especially in sex crimes, rarely ever get released because sex crimes are still fraught with victim blaming. And there is no doubt that there are some people that are blaming these girls for being kidnapped, since they were away from home, getting an education that many don’t think is necessary.

The governor of Borno state’s spokesperson, Isa Gusau, said, “Abductions of girls are sometimes interpreted to mean automatic rape, [and] where the identity of those are revealed, they could be stigmatized even after being rescued.”

Does it take a clever hash tag to make things #interesting enough to care about?

In-depth news article written for Reporting for the Public Good.

by Kristen Case | 5/12/14

In the world of social media, it often takes something drastic to draw attention to an important issue. Fear is motivator and it is often the most attention-grabbing and fear-inspiring headlines that direct readers to a story, regardless of the focus of the story.

Sometimes, however, all it takes is a clever hash tag.

After a group of Nigerian girls were kidnapped by Boko Haram, a campaign started on social media, using the hash tag #BringBackOurGirls.

But after the wide-spread attention that the #Kony2012 hash tag received, which rapidly petered out, it seems that a clever hash tag isn’t enough to keep the attention of today’s society.

The capture of the Nigerian girls, and the other actions by Boko Haram, is an issue that demands attention. Currently, thanks to #BringBackOurGirls, the world’s attention is focused on these girls and the efforts needed to save them. Nigeria is currently getting the help it needs from outside sources to bring as many girls back as safely as they can.

But as proved by the failure of the #Kony2012 campaign, it is going to take more than a catchy hash tag to keep the world’s attention where it is needed.

 

#BringBackOurGirls

Sometime during the night of April 14, the Islamist militant group, Boko Haram, kidnapped more than 200 girls from a school in northern Nigeria.

Nine days, one search mission by the parents of the missing girls and a lot of fumbling lack of action from the Nigerian government, and the Nigerian community took to social media to express their outrage.

A lawyer in Abuja, Ibrahim M. Abdullahi, was the first to use the hash tag #BringBackOurGirls, on April 23, but it would take several more days before the Western world would really pay attention.

It wasn’t until May 4 that President Goodluck Jonathan made his first public comments since the abductions. He informed the Nigerian public that the government was seeking assistance from the U.S. and other world powers to tackle Nigeria's "security challenge".

Two days later, on May 6, President Barack Obama called the abduction “heartbreaking” but that it could be the catalyst that mobilizes the international community to finally act against Boko Haram.

On May 7, #BringBackOurGirls reaches one million tweets.

That same day, First Lady Michelle Obama posts a picture of herself holding a piece of paper that simply reads “#BringBackOurGirls.” The next day, Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai does the same.

By May 10, the government of Nigeria had assigned two army divisions to find the girls. According to a spokesperson for the Nigerian military, the soldiers will be based near Chad, Cameroon and Niger and will work with other security agencies to rescue the kidnapped girls.

But just like Kony and the LRA, Boko Haram was a problem long before social media ever took up the cause.

 

Condemned by even al-Qaeda

Boko Haram is a Nigerian militant group that was formed in 2002, in the poorest part of Nigeria. The country’s northern half is mostly Muslim and many felt under-represented in the general population of Nigeria. Boko Haram was formed as an expression of that, by a cleric named Mohammed Yusuf, but he founded it as Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, or “People Committed to the Propagation of the Prophet’s Teachings and Jihad.”

He established a mosque and school that were presented as an alternative to the government schools that he regarded as alien to Muslims. It was this disdain for the government schools that gave way to the nickname Boko Haram, because it translates as “Western education is a sin.”

The group advocated making Nigeria into an Islamic state lead by a supreme religious and political leader and descendant of Muhammad and imposing Sharia law. Gradually, they grew more militant, attacking their local critics, which included Christians, government representatives and the police.

In the early stages, even as Boko Haram turned to violent opposition, they avoided civilian casualties, which was how the generated a lot of their support.

That changed seven years after the group had begun, in July 2009 when Boko Haram fighters armed with guns and hand grenades attacked a mosque and police station in Bauchi. About 55 people were killed in the battle.

The next day, Nigerian security forces retaliated with a brutal crackdown that killed more than 700 people, including many innocent bystanders.

Security officers captured Yusuf, paraded him before television cameras and several camera phones, interrogated and then executed him in front of a crowd outside a police station without trial.

The group, now led by Yusuf’s former deputy Abubakar Sheku, briefly went underground, but came back more fierce and cruel than they had left.

Five years later, the group has killed more than 1,500 people in attacks that have grown more and more deadly. In 2012 alone, they killed 815 people, which was more than the previous two years combined.

Despite the increasing body count that the group had racked up, it wasn’t until 2013 that the U.S. listed Boko Haram, reportedly linked to al-Qaeda, as a terrorist organization.

Despite the reported link to al-Qaeda, Boko Haram has more in common with a savage cult that terrorized northern Uganda for 25 years, the Lord’s Resistance Army.

Both Boko Haram and the LRA kidnap girls en masse and are led by a warlord to claims to talk with each group’s respective God. And while LRA founder and social media sensation Joseph Kony claims to be Christian, the faith is no more recognizable to believers than Boko Haram’s brand of Islam, which alarms even the most extreme of Muslims.

“The violence most of the African rebel groups practice makes al-Qaeda look like a bunch of schoolgirls,” said Bronwyn Bruton, an Africa scholar at the Atlantic Council in Washington. “And al-Qaeda at this point is a brand — and pretty much only a brand — so you have to ask yourself how they are going to deal with the people who are doing things so hideous even the leaders of al-Qaeda are unwilling to condone them.”

“Their brutality is kind of a combination of African rebel groups and al-Qaeda in its original incarnation,” said Sarah Margon, Washington director of Human Rights Watch,who previously worked for the Senate subcommittee on Africa. “Al-Qaeda now realizes you have to engage in populations, you can’t just slaughter them.”

It is safe to say that something is terribly wrong when a terrorist organization is condemned by the same group that coordinated the 2011 attacks against the U.S. and is compared to the LRA. But Boko Haram has more in common with the LRA than their brutality and ‘religious enthusiasm.’

 

LRA and #Kony2012

The LRA, led by Joseph Kony — self-proclaimed spokesman of God and spirit medium — claims to be establishing a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments, Chrisitan fundamentalism and African mysticism.

It is a militant movement that started in northern Uganda and terrorized the region for over 25 years. The LRA has been accused of widespread human rights violation, including murder, abduction, mutilation, child-sex slavery and forcing children to participate in hostilities.

The group was originally formed to resist the National Resistance Army before it took control of the country, which has also recruited over 5,000 children.

No one in the Western world really took notice until the #Kony2012 movement began.

On March 5, 2012, a group called Invisible Children released a short film titled “Kony 2012.” The purpose of the film was to raise awareness about Kony and the LRA in order to have him arrested by the end of 2012, when the campaign expired.

The film quickly exploded all over social media. A poll suggested that more than half of young adult Americans had heard about the video in mere days after the video’s release.

As of March of this year, the film has over 99 million views on YouTube and over 21,900 likes on Vimeo, as well as views on the central “Kony 2012” website operated by Invisible Children.

But nothing really changed.

The film exploded all over social media, and crashed the site operated by Invisible Children, but many denounced the video, claiming that Kony and the LRA hadn’t even been in Uganda since 2006 and that all the attempts to stop Kony over the years had only resulted in failure and retaliation from the group.

They also denounced Invisible Children, pointing out that the group only has two out of a possible four stars on Charity Navigator, America’s largest independent charity evaluator.

Foreign Affairs claimed that Invisible Children “manipulates facts for strategic purposes, exaggerating the scale of LRA abductions and murders and emphasizing the LRA’s use of innocent children as soldiers, and portraying Kony — a brutal man, to be sure — as uniquely awful, a Kurtz-like embodiment of evil.”

Invisible Children supports direct military intervention and the Ugandan army, which was receiving funds from the campaign, also uses child soldiers. But only 32 percent of the money raised by Invisible Children went to those direct services.

Dr. Danieley more than just towel-waving basketball fan, piece of Elon's history

Blog post written after Elon University's Spring Convocation 2014 for Reporting for the Public Good.

by Kristen Case | 4/3/2014

Storyteller. Professor. Friend. Dean. Student. President. Advisor. Elon graduate. Sports fan. These are just a few of the words that make up the man that is Dr. J. Earl Danieley, president emeritus of Elon.

Many students know him as the kind, older gentleman from basketball games who enthusiastically waves his towel in support of the Phoenix. Others know him as their funny chemistry professor who is chock full of interesting stories. Few, if any, realized that he is one of the main reasons that Elon is the wonderful, successful place it is today.

 

Background:

Dr. Danieley has been with Elon for 72 years. He is an Alamance County native who grew up in a farming community about five miles out from campus. He is a graduate of Elon College, circa 1946. He is a professor of chemistry, he was dean of the college from 1953–1956 and he became president in 1957 at the age of 32, one of the youngest college presidents in the nation at the time.

He stepped down as president in 1973, after 16 years as president, but during his tenure, he racially integrated the campus with his: “There was no doubt about it, we were going to do it,” attitude and he established early study abroad programs with his catchphrase: “Sounds good to me!”

 

Setting the Stage:

Many convocation speakers have been highly anticipated by much of campus. When Brian Williams moderated convocation back in 2011, the entire communications school was abuzz. And while many of these convocation speakers have seemed if they had been participating in a conversation, none have seemed more like a chat between two old friends as Dr. Danieley’s.

Dr. Danieley and current Elon University president, Dr. Leo Lambert, sat in matching chairs on stage, facing each other and sharing laughs over the Dr. Danieley’s third grade teacher and his fourth and fifth grade teacher, (“I loved the third grade teacher, she was a beauty. You notice I don’t mention the fourth and fifth grade teacher, she was the pits!”) the students that Dr. Danieley threw out for drinking, who Dr. Lambert still runs into, and his crazy decision to become president of Elon College.

 

The Quotable Moments:

On his first years at Elon: “I started out to be a teacher, after a couple classes, I knew I was going to be a history teacher. I came here and signed up for American History, and I learned that if you don’t have time to read the lesson, you’re in trouble. I never had time to read the assigned work, in the history course. As you know, looking at the transcript, I got a D!”

On telling his mom that he’d been offered a full-time job after dropping out of Elon: “My mother looked at me and she said, ‘Earl, when you go back to work tomorrow, you tell Mr. Love you’re not taking that job. You’re going back to school.’ She was determined that I would have the advantage of an education. So I came back to school, and I signed up for a course that I had never heard of before. Because back in high school, we didn’t have chemistry. I took to that chemistry like a duck to water.”

On getting a job as a professor at Elon College: “First of August, the phone rang in Chapel Hill. I had one phone call that summer. President Smith was calling me. Asked me to come back and talk to him. He offered me a job to teach chemistry at Elon College. Now if you ever thought about what it would be like to die and go to heaven, think about it. I had my ticket, I had my passport, I was invited to come back and teach chemistry at Elon.”

On being offered the job as president of Elon College: “We rarely had a phone call, but the phone rang. I went in to answer the phone. It was George Colclough. I thought somebody had died. We talked a little bit, then he said to me: ‘We elected a new president at Elon today.’ I knew that Smith was looking to retire. Truth is, he didn’t want to, but the board was going to see to it. Boards will do that sometimes. And I said, ‘Okay, who’s that?’ And he said, ‘You.’ Nobody had talked to me about being president, nobody had asked me if I wanted to, I didn’t apply for it. They just called me up and told me I was it. And I said, ‘George, you’re crazy.’ And I meant it.”

On being president of Elon College: “Just before I came here as a student, I heard a guy in Burlington say, ‘If you can’t go to college, go to Elon.’ That made me furious. When I took over the job as president, I said, I will shut that guy’s mouth. I will not hear that again.”

“I knew that I had to raise some money, but I had no idea how to do that. September came, school started and everything was going well, but I felt guilty. Every day I had raised no money, I hadn’t asked anybody for money.”

On Elon’s first donation: “I would go back to visit him in his home. He was a dear man, and he put Elon in his estate plans. We got our first money from Walter Franklin in the year of 1990, 100 years after he left school. Sometimes, you have to be patient.”

On his wife of 62 years: “Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a lady standing in her chair. I didn’t know her. I walked into the room and asked her, ‘Is something wrong?’ and that’s when she said, ‘I saw a mouse!’”

“I took her to a football game. Then I took her everywhere else from then on.”

On breaking up a party at Carlton House: “The rule was very, very strict, no alcoholic beverages on campus. I came to Carlton House and, man, the party was going on. I said, ‘Okay, every one of you who is drinking, go home now. You are suspended from college. Don’t you come by my office, I will sign you out, you are under suspension.’ A student came up to me as I was going into the next building and said, ‘Dean Danieley, I wasn’t drinking.’ And I said, ‘Gary, didn’t you hear what I said? I said everyone who has been drinking, go home. If you haven’t been drinking, that doesn’t apply to you.’ Several years later, I’m sitting in the president’s office and I get a letter. I open it up and it says: ‘Dear DEAN Danieley. I lied to you. Please forgive me.”

On his hopes for Elon’s future: “I have met several old folks, who sit around and gripe. Unhappy and fussing about the way things are going. I thank God I’m not one of those people. I enjoy seeing this institution grow and develop. I’ve developed a thesis that I give to everybody. There is no more remarkable story in all the history of American higher education than the growth and development in this institution. Nothing could please me more than to pick up my paper in the morning and see you scored another one, Mr. President. I want to see us as one of the premiere institutions in this nation. And I’ll just sit and be happy. I love to see all those people at Chapel Hill and Duke look at me and say, ‘I hope my children can come to Elon.’”

On being asked if he realized how much people love him here: “Do they have any idea what I think of them? It’s a wonderful place to be, a delightful community. It’s been a glorious ride.”

 

Wrapping up

After a standing ovation for Dr. Danieley, Dr. Lambert ended convocation with asking the audience to join in and sing “Happy Birthday” to Dr. Danieley, who turns 90 in July.  Dr. Danieley displayed his usual enthusiasm and love for Elon by taking out his handkerchief, in lieu of his usual Elon towel, and waving it above his head.

Rowling series lives on through interactive website Pottermore

News article written for Elon University's student-run newspaper, The Pendulum, originally published here.

by Kristen Case | 11/15/11

Mystery has surrounded J.K. Rowling's Pottermore since its creation in June.

The website, which builds upon Rowling's world of "Harry Potter," is a way for people who grew up alongside Potter and the rest of the characters to continue their experience. The books, reaching millions of people, made the best-seller list for substantial periods of time.

"I think the biggest thing was that Rowling's work rekindled an interest in reading for kids," said Amanda Sturgill, associate professor of communications. "Their popularity has meant that a lot of the millennial generation had the world of Harry Potter for a substantial part of their developing years, and I think that will mean some shared cultural ideas — inside jokes about house points and the like."

Pottermore allows users to see all the content that Rowling did not work into the books, about 18,000 words worth, a lot of which are background details about characters, places and setting information.

But it's not just a site for more content. It's also a way for "Potterheads," fans of the series, to interact with other fans, a type of "Harry Potter" social network.

"I guess in a sense, it's a chance to return to a familiar friend of sorts or to not have to let the world of Potter go quite so quickly," Sturgill said.

Upon accessing the site, Pottermore users take a quiz to determine which house they are in and their layout colors change based on where they are sorted.

Beta users, the site's earliest users, currently have access to the first online book and can go through chapter-by-chapter to experience all the additional content that Rowling has for that book. Once the site opens to everyone else, users will have access to all seven books. In addition to the content, members can do other things, such as make potions, which hinge on timing and the ability to follow directions and duel other users.

These activities earn users house–points, which determine which house wins the House Cup. The website was, and still is, a very anticipated thing for many "Harry Potter" fans.

"I love Harry Potter," junior Lida Bard said. "It was never a question of whether or not I'd get a Pottermore account. It was just a matter of when and if I'd get in the selected group of beta users, which luckily, I did."

But not all "Harry Potter" fans are planning on joining Pottermore, including senior Holly Taylor.

"I read the whole series and loved it," she said. "I won't get a Pottermore account because I'm not interested in playing online games. It just doesn't appeal to me."

Megan Isaac, associate professor of English, said she believes only the die-hard fans will spend much time on the site.

"One of the unfortunate aspects of a strong film is that the director's vision becomes the dominant visual interpretation of a book," she said. "Pottermore will appeal to readers who 'saw' Rowling's world in their own heads first and still want to explore all the nooks and crannies of it that were not included in the films. I don't think it will have much appeal, however, to people who only know Harry Potter through the films."

The readers who want to explore all those previously unknown parts of the Potter-verse did not have it easy.Rowling made those who wanted beta access jump through a lot of hoops to gain access.

After sending fans on a scavenger hunt for the web address, Rowling put up a project page at Pottermore.com, which linked to a custom interactive YouTube channel that featured a countdown. Access to this YouTube channel could also be found in the owls that gathered on various "Harry Potter" fan sites.

Rowling revealed what Pottermore was via a YouTube video June 23 and announced that a challenge to gain access would open July 31.

The Magic Quill Challenge allowed one million fans early access to the site. Every day for one week, a question appeared on the website for a limited amount of time.

The answers to these questions redirected seekers to a different website where they could locate the quill.

The sign-in button for Pottermore appeared Aug. 15 and a very small number of fans were allowed in to the site in its first several days. The last of the beta users were let in Sept. 27.

The site was set to be open to all users some time in October, but the beta period has been indefinitely extended to allow the creators to work out all of the website's kinks.

Shock journalism, even on April Fool's, is anything but a joke

Opinion article written for Elon University's student-run newspaper, The Pendulum, originally published here.

by Kristen Case | 4/3/12

April Fools’ Day is, by far, one of my least favorite days. No one is to be trusted and people think it’s okay to say, or publish, inappropriate things that are ‘made okay’ by tacking on “April Fools’” at the end.

Adding the phrase “just kidding” to the end of something, like telling your parents that you (or your girlfriend) are pregnant, doesn’t make it funny. It doesn’t even make it socially acceptable. Except, apparently, on April Fools’ Day.

If the average person is allowed to give their parents a heart attack with news and have it be okay because it’s the first of April, why did the editor-in-chief of the Boston University newspaper get asked to resign for an April Fools' joke?

On April 1, The Daily Free Press of BU put out a satirical print edition of their paper, which was Disney themed and poked fun at several campus issues, such as the arrest of two students for sexual assault, peeping Tom incidents and a possible incident of sorority hazing.

The top story of the paper stated, “Seven frat dwarves were arrested last night after they allegedly drugged” and sexually assaulted a female BU student, who was identified as “the fairest of them all.” Anyone else just have his or her childhood ruined?

In addition, the edition had stories about Alice in Wonderland having a bad LSD trip and another implicated Cinderella in a prostitution ring.

It goes without saying that this particular edition of the paper caused an uproar on the campus and around the nation. Many people called for the editor-in-chief and other staff members’ resignations and they got what they were clamoring for. The editor-in-chief was asked to step down and she promptly did.

The biggest problem is that she shouldn’t have been asked to resign in the first place. While you’ll never hear me agreeing to publish those kind of stories as an April Fools’ Joke (because I don’t find it appropriate in the least), it wasn’t entirely up to the editor-in-chief.

I work at The Pendulum and I worked at my high school paper, so I’ve had several years of experience with decisions like these. While it is the editor-in-chief’s job to make the final call on problems that are posed to the staff, many decisions that could have serious ramifications for the staff as a whole are put to a vote. Regardless of how the staff votes, the EIC does have the power to veto their decision and go with whatever he or she thinks is best.

Pulling rank and telling your staff, “I’m the boss, what I say goes” never sits well anyone, though, and most people in leadership positions are aware of that fact. So it’s not something that happens very often, especially if the opinion they have about an issue is an unpopular one with the staff. It’s fairly safe to say that this particular edition of The Daily Free Press was put to a staff vote in some capacity, and they agreed it was worth the risk. Maybe not the wisest of decisions, but it was probably a decision made by a majority of the staff.

It seems incredibly wrong to punish one person for the actions of the whole staff. While the edition was not in good taste, and I don’t agree with them publishing it, it does not mean they didn’t have the right to do so.

Ultimately, The Daily Free Press is a student newspaper. While they and student newspapers everywhere operate on the basis that they need to be as professional as possible, being a part of a student organization is a learning experience. People are bound to make mistakes, and sometimes they will be large mistakes. There was no malicious intent behind the publishing of their April Fools’ edition, so it seems extreme to ask someone to step down.