Contact Book Reflection

It is said again and again how important sources are for journalists, however it was not until I began this assignment that I was able to experience this for myself. The time spent gathering contacts, starting from scratch, demonstrated to me the necessity of keeping a record of all potential sources. When working to a short deadline, a journalist will not necessarily have time to track down all key sources in a story, yet a source/quote is a vital element to presenting a substantiated, interesting story.

It did not take long for me to recognise that my perception of what actually constituted a contact needed to be updated. My idea of a contact had been moulded by television shows and books, presenting them as something of glamour and secrecy. In reality, a source can arrive in a variety of forms. They may be an expert able to clarify or explain information, a witness or person directly affected by the journalist’s topic, or even the the source of a particular story. Further, prior to this assignment I had not considered a vital element to obtaining a source- the first point of contact. While over time a professional relationship can develop, and should be nurtured, every relationship must begin somewhere. I recognise now that this can be (and typically was) as simple as picking up the phone and introducing myself, and my intentions.

This openness is an integral element of establishing a mutual trust between journalist and source, as supported by Stephen Lamble in News as it Happens where it is stated:

Journalists are seen by many as occupying positions of power. Sometimes sources will go to extraordinary lengths to carefully cultivate journalists they believe can help them or their cause (Lamble p.158).

This element of trust expands further into the ethical considerations and concerns that these relationships raise, such as honesty and accuracy in reporting and service to the public interests. Despite being largely moral as opposed to legally enforceable, a journalist’s compliance to ethics (such as those stated by the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance) can dictate their standing both within the industry and public. These ethics work to uphold the integrity of a profession “society is ambivalent about” (News as it Happens, p.65).

Only a few weeks ago I had been largely unaware of the existence of these ethics, let alone the complex overlap and conflict that such ideological guidelines can pose. This was clearly highlighted to me through Four Corners investigative piece on ‘Safari Tourism’ in Africa, whereby journalist Olivia Mokiejewski was deceptive about her motivations for attending a hunt, in order to serve the public interest of exposing the corruption rife within this industry.

Another contentious issue within journalistic ethics, specifically, is that of anonymous sources. Prior to undertaking this subject I had not considered the delicacy and often difficult moral judgement required of journalists in promising a source anonymity. These sources often hold vital information and/or connections, yet a journalist must be aware of why the source does not want to be named- is it for their own agenda, protection, or another motivation? As Lamble states:

Before agreeing to protect the identity of a source a journalist must understand [they are] making a potentially momentous undertaking (p.157).
It is the responsibility of the journalist to ensure that the information they are publishing is fair and accurate, and this is unlikely to be achieved through blind trust in a source.

My expanded knowledge and understanding of sources, and journalism as whole, notably influenced my creation of a contact book, based around Glen Waverley. Glen Waverley is a suburb in south-east Melbourne coming under the jurisdiction of Monash City Council. The population of Glen Waverley primarily consists of families (about 25 percent, according to 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics data), and retirees. This is largely a result of the prominence of schools (primary and secondary) in the area, as well as the ease of access to nearby tertiary education institutions such as Monash University and Holmesglen TAFE, enabled through the Glen Waverley train station and connected bus services. According to census data from 2011, 32.5 percent of the Glen Waverley population was enrolled in some form of educational institution.

Due to this, in my contact book I included teachers (from varying positions), principals and careers counsellors to reflect the issues and concerns that would be commonly addressed by this demographic. Similarly, I included the details for a local psychologist, specialising in child and teenager psychology, focusing on key areas such as sexual identity, mental health and pressures generated by school and family. To gain a reflection of this communities’ interests, I also contacted recreational groups and sporting clubs, such as Mount View Netball Club and Guides Victoria.

An important industry within Glen Waverley is retail. Currently, my suburb is filled with rumours of the development of a multi-level apartment complex in place of a current ‘Village Walk’ (a collection of shops) and car park. This issue has been highly contentious and a lack of clarity has defined the proposal for months. This is combined with further rumours regarding the remodelling of the main retail centre, the Glen Shopping Centre. As such, I deemed it necessary to obtain the contact details of various city council members potentially involved in the planning (such as the Engineering, Community Planning and Development, and City Planning managers). Additionally, in the interests of ensuring balance, I also acquired contacts such as franchise owners within the Glen, staff from Centre Management, and business owners along Kingsway (an area that would be significantly impacted), so as to garner a variety of perspectives and reactions brought about by these developments. This construction would also cause interruption to workers and commuters due to the removal of a large car park and (temporary) road-blocks, and as such I have included details for the traffic manager and a former Vic Roads employee in my contact book.

Another key industry in Glen Waverley is hospitality. There are countless cafes and restaurants to be found in the area, with ‘Kingsway’ acting as a key social meeting-place. A laneway lined with a multitude of western cafes and Asian restaurants, Kingsway also hosts various festivals and cultural events throughout the year, such as the annual Chinese New Year Festival. In reference to this, I included in my contact book owners and media managers of some of these businesses, as well as the events manager of the city council, to enable me to potentially cover these events in the future.

Ultimately, following the completion of this task, I now have a more in-depth understanding of the vital relationship between sources and journalists. Without relevant, credible sources, a journalist is unable to fulfil their public duty, and they risk jeopardising their professional reputation through publishing unsupported and unbalanced reports and stories. Yet, building up these contacts take significant time and effort, making a contact book an essential tool.

 

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The Social Impact of Hearing Difficulties

Everyday, we wake up, have some breakfast, get ourselves ready for the day. Everyday, one in six Australians do this while factoring in a hearing disability[1]. Many of us are none the wiser that these individuals may be facing any different morning stresses than the rest of us. What we don’t see is the planning that commonly goes into the tasks of those 3.55 million[2] people living with hearing loss. Is my hearing aid on correctly? Do I know where I need to sit for my lecture today? Will I be working in a group? Academic impacts of hearing difficulties are well recognised, but what can go unnoticed are the social repercussions of being deaf or hard-of-hearing.

 

Jackie Dowling has seen these challenges in communication up close for many years, being the mother of a profoundly deaf son and having 18 years of experience working in the Oral Deaf facility at Mount View Primary School in Glen Waverley.

 

In their desire to understand and be able to provide support for their children through informing themselves on hearing impairment, parents can become overly focused on the medical (physical) challenges faced by the family. Despite their best intentions, parents may overlook the pragmatic skills (such as social cues like “please” and “thank you”, eye contact and smiling), which can result in hurdles in social settings later on[3].

 

Alongside general curriculum, these skills are a key area of focus in Ms Dowling’s sessions.

“[Pragmatics] need to be, for many kids [involved with the facility], more explicit,” says Ms. Dowling[4]. These details, necessary for “developing language for polite interaction”, are frequently lost in the broader conversation. This can impact upon these children’s development of friendships in the schoolyard, as “little kids may not be as forgiving or understanding.”

 

A lack of confidence and self esteem commonly arises from having a hearing disability, as experienced firsthand by university student, Jack Dowling. He has learned to “embrace being impaired as part of who [he is].[5]” Growing up it was not so easy.

“Over the years it severely impacted my confidence, as I wasn’t sure how [somebody] would react to someone with a disability,” he says. “I have often…wished I could hear fine.”

 

This lack of confidence can occur at any age, as demonstrated by Matthew Pruys, who became hard-of-hearing in his mid-twenties following the removal of an acoustic neuroma. Having grown up with full hearing, Mr Pruys had to go through a big adjustment period.

“[My] confidence was definitely rattled in the first few months,” he says. Despite being a social guy with support from his family and friends, Pruys felt “pretty isolated when [he] was with mates,” particularly in venues such as pubs and crowded bars. “I definitely don’t head out to really noisy bars or clubs anymore, as it’s just no fun,” he says, an experience shared by Jack Dowling.

 

The combination of communication difficulties and impacted self-esteem commonly prevents deaf individuals from initiating conversations or friendships. It can be confronting for anybody to take that first social step. Hearing-impaired individuals, particularly those born or diagnosed with difficulties early in life, have the added strain of developing language and speech more slowly than their peers (this level of difficulty also influenced by the severity of hearing loss, age of diagnosis, and personal characteristics).

 

They may not be able to hear their own voices when they speak, resulting in an inappropriate volume being used, or may miss soft speech sounds such as “f” or “sh”, therefore not including them in their words and making their own speech more difficult for others to comprehend[6].

 

This is a factor considered by Mount View’s facility. The teachers encourage students to bring a classmate to their sessions once a week or so, to “help bridge that gap of making friends.”

 

The social impacts of hearing impairments aren’t limited to the deaf person.

“It took some getting used to from both my end and my mates end to make sure I was in the best possible spot for hearing,[7]” reflects Mr Pruys; a consideration also translated into his work life. Pruys had to ask his boss to assign him a desk that was to everyone’s left side to ensure his inclusion in conversations or brainstorming sessions.

 

In interviews conducted between deaf individuals and their partners, support organization Action on Hearing Loss (formerly the Royal National Institute for Deaf People) found that frustrations and challenges in relationships often arose through a hearing-partner’s difficulty in understanding the nature of hearing loss and its implications[8].

 

A female participant in the study (names were not published to respect privacy) reflected on this in her interview.

“With hearing loss it depends on how tired you are; how much you have to concentrate. How well you hear depends on… the timbre and pitch of people’s voices and so it’s difficult for somebody who doesn’t have hearing loss to understand how all these factors come into play”.

 

Similarly, children living with this sensory deprivation often come into conflict in playgrounds and classrooms. For many of us, remembering lunchtimes at school brings back fond memories of playing footy on the oval, gossiping with friends, and loud games of ‘tag’. For students with a hearing difficulty, these environments can pose much more of a challenge than simply finding the best position for hide and seek.

 

Many students rejoice in the ability to forget their ‘inside voice’, instead “relying on information yelled from one to another,” says Ms. Dowling. The environment is less controlled than a classroom, and as such deaf students may miss rules of games being explained, or fragments of conversation. There is more background noise and likely to be more than one person talking at a time, making lip-reading difficult, often leaving the hard-of-hearing student feeling left out, or forgotten.

 

Fortunately, with continual developments in aural technology and early screening processes becoming more accessible (Victoria achieving statewide coverage of hospitals in 2012)[9], the difficulties of hearing disabilities are being minimized. There is greater quality of sound enabled through more modern, compact models of hearing aids and cochlear implants, and families are readily educated and assisted in developing strategies to live with this sensory deprivation. However, social challenges persist, demonstrating the importance of ongoing support, and understanding of the difficulties faced.

 

Written by Megan Whitfield
*photos not included for privacy preferences

[1] http://www.and.org.au/pages/disability-statistics.html

[2] http://hearnet.org.au/hearing-loss/facts-on-hearing-loss

[3] Understanding acquired from Jaqueline (Jackie) Dowling

[4] Personal interview conducted with Jaqueline (Jackie) Dowling

[5] Personal interview conducted with Jack Dowling

[6] http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/Effects-of-Hearing-Loss-on-Development/

[7] Personal interview conducted with Matthew Pruys

[8] http://idainstitute.com/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/In%20It%20Together%20-%20Impact%20on%20Personal%20Relationships.pdf

[9] http://www.rch.org.au/vihsp/

Hard News Story Reflection

The first thing I realised when beginning this assignment was that, despite my few contacts I had made for my earlier assignment, I was again starting from scratch. I was uncertain of how to find a ‘newsworthy’ story, and how to write about it in only 300 words.  Through the process of seeking out my story, my understanding of how proactive a journalist must be, particularly in the beginning of their career, has grown.

 

Being in the earliest stages of my career, I have no professional reputation to fall back on, and had no contacts strong enough to yet consider bringing me a story. I have to be proactive, and prove my willingness and commitment.

 

My hard news story relates to the resignation of my local Council’s Mayor, Stefanie Perri.

Stefanie Perri made the announcement at the local council meeting that I attended on April 27.

 

As her resignation was effective from 9am the following day, timeliness was a big focus on my story.  I wrote it with the idea that, were it to be published, it would come out within a few days after the announcement.  While a new Mayor was elected by the Monash councillors within my deadline for this assignment, I chose to focus on Perri’s resignation as the topic of my hard news story and so wrote it as though Geoff Lake had not yet filled this vacancy.

 

I deemed this story newsworthy due to my belief that it satisfied multiple news values. In terms of proximity, Perri’s resignation directly impacted the local residents within the Monash City Council jurisdiction. As such, this news piece was written with the target demographic being those residents, with the intention for it to be published in a local newspaper such as the Monash Bulletin or Monash Leader.

 

The story was significant for my local community as I believe residents should be aware of who their mayor is. A change in leadership could bring a change in the focus and running of the council, and people have a right to know who they are being led by. The content would also appeal to locals with an interest in following the federal election, due to the knowledge that Stefanie Perri is a candidate for the seat of Chisholm.

 

Referenced in my story was some discontent towards the Monash council that has been growing recently. Living in the Monash suburb of Glen Waverley, I had heard some of these whisperings, particularly following the council meeting that took place in March this year that ran until around 2am. Therefore, I believed there would be extra interest in  a change in the dynamic of the council.

 

The biggest difficulties I experienced completing this assignment was striving to achieve balance in my article.

 

In the beginning, gaining quotes was very achievable as I was able to quote Stefanie Perri directly from her resignation speech. Further, through gauging the reactions around me I could see how citizens were reacting to the news- the more public, the greater the chance of their willingness to speak to me.

 

I ended up sitting next to a particularly passionate local citizen, Noah McMahon, who was pleased with Perri’s announcement. Initially I had spoken to Noah about a different topic I was considering pursing, and taken down his details for that. Fortunately, Noah was also willing to speak to me about Stefanie Perri’s resignation. Noah ended up being quite an enthusiastic source with a strong civic interest, which made him a valuable contact for this story (and potentially stores in the future).

 

 

A challenge in achieving balance came from a lack of confidence. I had quotes from Ms Perri, and an opposing voice in Mr McMahon, but I did not have anybody vouching for Stefanie Perri. I was hindered by shyness, in approaching other citizens at the Monash council to find a balancing viewpoint. I wasn’t bold enough to search through the crowd for a balancing opinion. It is a necessary skill for a journalist, yet one that for me, is a work in progress.

 

I contacted multiple fellow Monash councillors and the Monash Women’s Business Network (established by Perri during her time with the City Council), as well as I sought comments via twitter and the council website in the hopes of finding a citizen I could reach out to for a comment, however was unsuccessful.

 

I conducted an interview with Cr Theo Zographos- a relevant source due to his close working relationship with Perri, and understanding of the processes behind public council meetings. Although I didn’t get a balancing comment, my article was improved through the insight into the processes of the local council regarding interim leadership protocols.

 

My enquiry into the Women’s Business Network facilitated balance in my article, through a response provided by Mayor Geoff Lake. Mayor Lake was a highly relevant source (elected as Perri’s successor within my assignment deadline), due to his position of leadership within the Monash Council, and intimate relationship with Stefanie Perri, as (formerly) fellow Councillors as well as employees within the economic development department of Monash Council.

 

This assignment was a big learning experience for me in sourcing a story, recognising if something is newsworthy, and the numerous behind-the-scenes processes that go into creating a hard news story- no matter the word count.