Alexander Cole Montero, who will be a senior journalism major this fall, has been named 2014-15 winner of the Otto J. Bos Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Journalism. The award, the Journalism Department’s largest, covers tuition costs for a year, or approximately $6,460.
For the first time in the history of the 22-year competition, the judges also named three finalists who will receive $100 scholarships. The finalists are Sara Gobets, Ida Mojadad and Jessica Nemire.
“The judges said that the applications and essays were among the best they had ever seen,” said Prof. Jon Funabiki, who serves as chair of the scholarship committee. “Because it was difficult to winnow down the top entries, they decided to take the extraordinary step to recognize the three finalists.”
The annual scholarship honors the memory of Otto J. Bos, who was a 1970 graduate of the department, editor of its award-winning newspaper (then named Phoenix) and an All-American soccer star. Following graduation, he covered politics and government for The San Diego Union. He became a key staff member of San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who later was elected a U.S. senator and then governor of California. At the time of his death of a heart attack in 1991, Otto was Gov. Wilson’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs.
Montero, a graduate of Petaluma High School, initially entered SF State as a cinema major but switched to journalism because of a strong desire to do in-depth writing. He has been spending the past semester in the study abroad program at the Danish School of Journalism. His brother, Jake Montero, was graduated this May from the department.
“The writing I like to read and do is more analytic,” he said. “I prefer to do writing where you kind of guide the reader – not necessarily opinion writing – but getting into issues that are more complex.”
Montero’s winning essay focused on the question of how journalists can maintain their integrity in a profession that has been buffeted by the instant demands of digital and social media. He wrote: “So, how can depth, accuracy and contextualization meld with a system that operates not on diurnal rhythms, but on a second-by-second basis? Journalists ponder: investigate versus simply relay.” His winning essay, “New Appendages: The News Media’s Conflicted Interface with the Digital Sphere,” is reprinted below.
The Otto J. Bos scholarship recognizes and supports meritorious journalism students. Normally one student is honored each year, although two students shared the prize in 1990.
The finalists are:
• Sara Gobets, who will be a senior this fall, is a graduate of San Lorenzo Valley High School, Felton. Her essay, “Don’t Believe Everything you Read: Strengths and Weaknesses of News Media Today,” warned about the growing influence of information relayed via social media without verification. While living and traveling in Tibet, she became friends with a Tibetan nun who was persecuted by Chinese authorities and decided to pursue a career in photojournalism in order to “give voice to people who typically aren’t heard.”
• Ida J. Mojadad, who will be a senior this fall, is a graduate of Brea Olinda High School. Because of her interest in international reporting, she has been participating in the Danish School of Journalism study abroad program and recently visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey. Her essay, “Sustainable Readership: Narrowing Minds through Partisan Journalism,” attacked media conglomerates for emphasizing partisan reporting, which “has the same dishonest effect of telling readers what they want to hear, not what they need to hear.”
• Jessica D. Nemire, a graduate of Pacific Collegiate School, Santa Cruz. She will be entering her senior year and recently completed an internship with the SF Weekly. Prior to enrolling at SF State, she did volunteer work at a children’s center in Antigua, Guatemala, and studied Spanish. Her essay, “Problems with News Media Performance,” showed how an emphasis on sensationalism, political bias and celebrity antics crowds out coverage of important news events.
The scholarship was started by friends of family, including his widow, Florence S. Bos of San Diego. She regularly comes to SF State to attend committee meetings. The scholarship judges all had close ties to Bos. They were: Former reporter/editor David Kutzmann, who studied at SF State with Bos and worked with him at The San Diego Union; Lynn Ludlow, and journalist and one of Bos’ former instructors in the department; and Michael Grant, a former columnist at The San Diego Union. Funabiki, the committee chair, also went to school with Bos and worked with him at The San Diego Union.
* * *
(Editor’s note: Alexander Cole Montero’s winning essay is reprinted below as submitted.)
The news media’s conflicted interface with the digital sphere.
By Alexander Cole Montero
News media is changing—so goes the platitude, now a global axiom. But, why? News reporting is a structured discipline, an exact craft in which objectivity, depth and variegated sources are inherent principles. In light of these, American news media’s newly symbiotic relationship with social and digital media is provoking questions about the future packaging and presentation of news in ways unprecedented before the advent of the so-called digital age.
As a structured discipline, news—and its interface with new online consumption formats—is ostensibly experiencing rapid change as social media—e.g., Twitter and Facebook—forces it to become more ephemeral, more dynamic, more pluralistic, and more immediate within an online social system where aggregate likes, branding, entertainment and immediacy reign supreme. The pertinent question for today’s reporters, however, is this: how can news adapt and keep its integrity?
Statistics on news’ move from tangible to digital are undeniable. Pew Center figures from 2013 show the U.S.’s digital audience grew by 7 percent within a year, while the audiences for audio, magazines, newspapers, network and local TV all declined. Beyond consumption, the Pew Center reports a “shrinking reporting power,” for news outlets, materializing in shortened story lengths and “megaphone reporting”—news correspondents replacing investigative tactics with one-sided, ephemeral retelling of facts.
A 2013 Pew Center report, states, “campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by candidates and other political partisans—a more direct relaying of campaign assertions and less reporting to interpret and contextualize them.” The typical news-is-changing axiom tends to center on the relegation of news to digital formats and cuts in jobs and production. The Pew Center results, however, emphasize a more pressing matter, a breakdown in the integrity of reporting techniques within media—less interpretation and contextualization.
Lack of economic and job security for journalists is a pressing matter, but one that acts symbiotically with growth of digital formats. Researchers Matthew Powers and Rodney Benson state, “Some argue the financial malaise accompanying the Internet’s rise has contributed to a situation in which a depleted journalistic workforce is expected to produce round-the-clock news across multiple platforms: This trend, joined with the ease in which the Internet facilitates constant journalistic monitoring of rival news organizations, creates strong incentives to compete by copying.”
So, how can depth, accuracy and contextualization meld with a system that operates not on diurnal rhythms, but on a second-by-second basis? Journalists ponder: investigate versus simply relay.
A Reuters reporter cited in a study on foreign reporting clarifies: “There is a sense of nuance and basic understanding you cannot sustain if you are flying in and out, and if just the week before you were covering a war in the Middle East or drug lords in Mexico . . . We are often asked, ‘What are people there thinking?’ Well, how can I know if I landed two hours ago and had time to speak to no-one but the taxi driver?” In the same report, author Simon Kruse Rasmussen summarizes the overarching impact digital media has on news: “Structure—from fixed to flexible; Content—from extensive to enriched; Role—from gatekeeper to guide.”
One reason digital media presents a debacle for reporters is it turns once-eternal newswriting theory on its head. Take Walter Lippmann’s influential work Public Opinion, 1922, in which he defines social and individual cognitive perceptions of information filtered through media. Lippmann predicates a chapter, “Speed, Words and Clearness”: “The unseen environment is reported to us chiefly by words . . . Telegraphy is expensive and the facilities are often limited.” Now, digital media has nullified such a statement and modern journalists are left lacking an extensive, empirical balance sheet to draw upon. Says Reuters’ Rasmussen, “Enriched content is prioritized over ambitions to cover as broadly as possible.”
Debate over changing mediums is not new. The Pew Center, 2008, reported 21 percent of Americans under 30 said they regularly learned something newsworthy from comedy shows such as The Daily Show and Saturday Night Live. Does this mean straight news reporting was losing audience? No. Debates over merits between The Daily Show and strict, enterprise news reporting seem banal, if not useless. Jon Stewart, news-aggregate blogs and commentary don’t replace enterprise reporters—which is what many critiques fail to acknowledge. These supplementary sources have a symbiotic, if not parasitic, relationship with the latter. The Daily Show feeds off the substratum of objective news reporting by aggregating and repackaging it into an entertaining, digestible and comedic medium. Stewart and his peers need news; the aggregate cannot exist without objects with which it aggregates. If news media begins to mime aggregate entertainment-based vehicles, like The Daily Show, under the pretense that it must in order to survive, then news, as an informative and investigative substratum, will inevitably weaken in the face of credulity. The Daily Show, Gawker, Twitter and other social media may be, writ large, go-to formats for news consumers today, but the act of investigation—unearthing new, pertinent information via reporters—needs to exist as the former’s predicate.
Social and digital media is not forcing investigative journalists to adapt or die, rather, it has granted individual journalists more independence by providing malleable, diversified media (especially as we bear witness to the death of the common staff writer and foreign correspondent) But how do we adapt news to a new medium without losing the very metrics its existence is predicated on? Well, it’s difficult. The inherent, qualitative properties of news—fair, balanced, factual and attributable—have potential to falter in the face of change. As the media sphere becomes more differentiated, more social and more malleable, increasingly independent journalists will need to wrestle with ways to maintain depth and not credulously accept a purported need to use copycat formulas and so-called megaphone reporting.
Lippmann, Walter. Public Opinion. New York: Harcourt, Brace and, 1922. Project Gutenberg, Sept. 2004. E-Book.
Mitchell, Amy, and Jodi Enda. The State of the News Media 2013: An Annual Report on American Journalism. Rep. The Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2013.
Powers, Matthew, and Rodney Benson. "Is the Internet Homogenizing or Diversifying the News? External Pluralism in the U.S., Danish, and French Press." The International Journal of Press/Politics 19 (2014): 246-65. Web.
Rasmussen, Simon. “Is there anybody out there? Crisis and Collaboration in Foreign Reporting.” Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. 2012. Print: 19.
Internet's Broader Role in Campaign 2008. Rep. Pew Center for the People & the Press, 11 Jan. 2008. Web.