April 21, 2015

Thriving in the gray areas

News judgment is one of those tough-to-describe intangible concepts that best represents a balance between understanding what readers want to read and knowing what they should read.

But it’s never that simple.

As journalists, we are told that we need to have “good” news judgment. But all journalists possess a different sense of what’s newsworthy based on their own values and backgrounds. So how can all of us have the same news judgment? Isn’t that what diversity is meant for, to provide different perspectives on issues?

This past week, I worked on a story about the effectiveness of solitary confinement in protecting gay and transgender immigrants held at U.S. detention centers. Although solitary confinement is supposedly used to protect these vulnerable immigrants from abuse and assault from other detainees, a new report found that the psychological trauma of solitariness can be extremely harmful and in some cases, irreversible.

I pitched this story to a couple of publications that I thought would be interested, but they didn’t want it.

Although I finally found an outlet that published my story, I did not understand why this underreported issue was deemed not newsworthy to some.

Maybe it was my background and experiences that shaped the way I saw this piece. Or maybe I need to develop my skills and gain more experience, because this isn’t the first time I felt this disconnect.

Yes, my story affected a smaller demographic (gay and transgender immigrant detainees), but that does not mean it is not important. Most good stories are rarely isolated issues, and many journalists understand that a smaller issue is part of a bigger problem. With this particular story, it dealt with the bigger picture of immigration reform and how we, as a country, treat vulnerable populations.

So the most important part of news judgment is the balance between want and need. Working at a media outlet requires a journalist to hone into the publication’s audience and understand what they want to read about. However, journalism is also about setting the news agenda and publishing stories that we think our readers should know about. How do we find that balance, especially when everyone has such different backgrounds and perspectives? Should we place want before need or vice versa?

I don’t know if there will ever be a black-and-white answer to these questions. However, I think good journalists are able to thrive in the gray areas and help their audiences understand that many issues today are rarely black and white.

LGBT immigrant story:
“Report raises concerns about solitary detention for gay, transgender immigrants”

Rep. Takano slams GOP Congressmembers’ Faulty Logic, in Red Ink

Takano edits to GOP immig

Like the veteran high school teacher that he is, Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), decided to take out his red pen and apply it to a letter on immigration that fellow Congressmembers from the other party were circulating. Politico gave him some ink for exposing the shoddy reasoning.

He dishes out kindly but exacting critique, pointing out where the letter has logical and factual flaws. For example, the Republican letter claims that the Senate-passed bill is over 1,000 pages, so Rep. Takano circles this and points out that it’s exactly 286 pages. (Note to Congressmembers and staff: please do your research.)

Rep. Takano repeatedly points out “tawdry accusations” and Republican claims that are lacking in evidence. No, seriously, he points it out no more than four times in the short letter. What assertions does he specifically call out?

-“reportedly not all the Senators have read [the bill]”
-“We are disturbed by the secret and under-handed way that the immigration bill moved through the Senate…”
-“To attempt to do everything at once ensures that little will be done right”
-“will prevent the last minute secret deal-making and vote-buying”

One of Rep. Takano’s best closing lines is, “If you don’t understand the bill, come by my office and I’ll explain it. Weak draft, re-do.”

That’s called taking your colleagues to the toolshed. and why I love teachers as elected officials! (Full disclosure, AAA Fund enthusiastically endorsed Rep. Takano early in his campaign.)


Annise Parker Enters Colbert Nation

Houston’s Madam Mayor Annise D. “The Batman” Parker was the guest on last night’s Colbert Report.

Madame Mayor Annise D. Parker with Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert

In introducing Parker, Colbert joked

I assume she’s here in New York to pick up Jeremy Lin.

She, however, passed through Colbert Nation on her way to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in nearby Philadelphia. I take that to mean The Colbert Report had its choice of mayors and Parker came out on top.

What does Houston have going for it?

We’re a foodie town, we’re an arts town, we’re a sports town, a theater town, anything you want in a big city you have in Houston, plus we have a good quality of life, we’re affordable and we have jobs.

Yep. An arts town and a theater town. She neglected to mention one of the best restaurants in the country is a nice walk from her house.

Colbert also mocked Houston when noting Parker would be his guest:

I’ll ask her how she broke it to her parents that she wanted to live in Houston

While people enjoy or at least make the best of living in Houston for the above things, they live in Houston for the jobs.

Oil and gas — still the biggest. But we have America’s largest foreign tonnage port, we have Johnson Space Center with NASA and aerospace, and we’re a big manufacturing center

That’s right. Johnson Space Center is still going strong.

When Colbert asked how it’s possible that Parker is the first openly gay mayor of a major American city — insulting Portland, Oregon and ignoring that Houston is one of the largest cities in the world to accomplish such a feat. Parker wisely noted Houston elected her six times before electing her mayor and explained

Houston is very tolerant of a lot of things; they want to know what you can do, not who you are or where you’re from.

Admittedly, I was disappointed Parker failed to mention Houston is the most diverse big city in America.

Watch the full interview:

Only time will tell what the Colbert Bump will mean for Mayor Parker.

– Justin Gillenwater

Why GOP Christians are Pushy

We know GOP Christians decided Obama’s not a Christian little matter how much proof we pump here, so instead of wasting time doing that, I explore why GOP Christians decided as such. Their religion gives hints:

1. GOP Christians see the world in black vs white.
These folks are literalists, they take the Bible as their primary source and haven’t a care for the notion of intrepretation because they view their intrepretation to be actually the single only right way to view the Bible with all other intrepretations as wrong, misled, flawed, not of God, whatever wording they like to use. Either Obama’s a non-black guy yapping about Jesus’ working his life (ignore intelligence or hard work, education is for non-Republicans, hard work is for everyone “else”) or he’s just not Christian, period.

2. GOP Christians have a way with words that splits the world.
Naturally, a religion requires others be wrong so to split the world into “us” vs “them”. What else could invigorate a man of faith more than to conquer, the whole “soldier of Christ” imagery and language which makes a Christian man feel like twice the man because now he’s got some vision (another word Christians salivate at), some worth, some sense of purpose. If you’re non-Christian, get out. They want to preach to the choir, not everyone else. Either you’re with them or against them, something past conservatives have honed.

3. GOP Christians need to denegrate others because there has to be a particular reason Christians exist.
GOP Christians are self-assuredly (they’ll say their assurance comes from Jesus Christ, but often it’s more in their own heads instead) the (self-)righteous kind who naturally, spiritually seek purpose and when none can be found, religion offers them the reason they exist. Existing in economically depressing areas requires such spiritual resolve and a great many GOP Christians exist in just such areas. For those on the rich end, they still carry the same sense of purpose as they manage the big wig task of screwing over others. Those in between can uneasily adopt both psychologies for an especially uneasy and insecure one that prefers religious comfort.

4. GOP Christians fundamentally preach the Gospels, religiously or politically, better when combined.
Don’t pretty it up, they’re bullies who use religion to (self-)justify their shoving their beliefs on you. The irony is that they’re the least likely to be receptive to others shoving beliefs down their throats, like, oh, rational thought. If we told the fundamentalist how pregnancy works, they’d use the opportunity to remind you how interested in your reproductive health they are because a fetus gives them great purpose in life. Churches train their followers to use any opportunity to preach the Gospels. Likewise, they’ll use an opportunity to preach anything to you, whether religion, politics, or both.

5. The truth always wins … their truth, that is.
Truth is indeed always going to win. Sure, some GOP Christians will hijack that word with their powerfully religious definition, causing them to burn the earth in their frustrated attempt to do so.

Now for some comedic relief:
Why God Never Received a PhD

Focus on the Family: We've Probably Lost on Gay Marriage

“We’re losing on that one, especially among the 20- and 30-somethings: 65 to 70 percent of them favor same-sex marriage. I don’t know if that’s going to change with a little more age — demographers would say probably not. We’ve probably lost that. I don’t want to be extremist here, but I think we need to start calculating where we are in the culture.” —Jim Daly, president of the far-right social issues group Focus on the Family, on marriage equality. [World via Mother Jones] (h/t NYMag)

This is pretty big that they are waking up and realizing that America is changing and has changed. It’s almost as if the energy CEOs said, “Yeah, we kinda believe in global warming”

Hey, a girl can wish, can’t she?

WH: Statement by the President on Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
December 18, 2010
Statement by the President on the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010

Today, the Senate has taken an historic step toward ending a policy that undermines our national security while violating the very ideals that our brave men and women in uniform risk their lives to defend. By ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” no longer will our nation be denied the service of thousands of patriotic Americans forced to leave the military, despite years of exemplary performance, because they happen to be gay. And no longer will many thousands more be asked to live a lie in order to serve the country they love.

As Commander-in-Chief, I am also absolutely convinced that making this change will only underscore the professionalism of our troops as the best led and best trained fighting force the world has ever known. And I join the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as well as the overwhelming majority of service members asked by the Pentagon, in knowing that we can responsibly transition to a new policy while ensuring our military strength and readiness.

I want to thank Majority Leader Reid, Senators Lieberman and Collins and the countless others who have worked so hard to get this done. It is time to close this chapter in our history. It is time to recognize that sacrifice, valor and integrity are no more defined by sexual orientation than they are by race or gender, religion or creed. It is time to allow gay and lesbian Americans to serve their country openly. I urge the Senate to send this bill to my desk so that I can sign it into law.


Gay Marriage: What Happens From Here

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Now that a federal judge has struck down California’s ban on gay marriage, what happens next?  In a nutshell, the endgame will be up to California’s voters and the U.S. Supreme Court.

To be sure, opponents of gay marriage will appeal this case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  And no matter what the Ninth Circuit does, the case will probably be appealed to the Supreme Court.  But here’s the catch:  this case might not be decided until after the 2012 Presidential election.

This means California voters may well decide the issue of gay marriage before the Supreme Court does.  Amidst all the legal debate, everyone agrees that gay marriage will be back on the California ballot in Nov. 2012.  And this time, it’s highly likely that voters will vote to approve gay marriage.

We all benefit when we’re given a second chance.

— Gautam Dutta

2010 Texas Democratic Party Convention

This past weekend, “AAA-Fund Texas” attended the 2010 Texas Democratic Party Convention in Corpus Christi, Texas, where I came across two delicious restaurants: Yin Yang Fandango & Tango Tea Room, a hippy restaurant with a silly name, and Thai Spice, a delicious Thai restaurant that could survive in a city with much more competition. If you’re ever in Corpus Christi, give these two a try. I’m fairly convinced they’re two of the top ten, and quite possibly top five, restaurants in the city.

For ease of reading, I have broken my report into smaller posts:

The 2012 Texas Democratic Party Convention will be in Houston; I hope to see you there.

– Justin Gillenwater

TDP2010: Embarrassments

The lowest point in the convention was not some of the borderline-ugly behavior as delegates weighed in on whether to keep the Texas Two-Step in its current Presidential delegate-allocation form. Instead, the lowest point was when the Convention honored a homophobic racist. His friends and family have my condolences for their loss. Democrats, however, should not honor someone who was such an ugly person so late into his or her life. I’ll never forget the bizarre man who was sitting behind me at the Texas Democratic Convention in 2006 and said, as Glen Maxey took the stage to give his candidacy speech for TDP Chair, “why did they let that little faggot who speaks Mexican on stage.” Ya basta!

I often wondered what a homophobic racist was doing with the Democrats when there’s already a party for homophobic racists, the Republican Party of Texas. You can find a deliciously amusing lost of do’s and don’ts learned at their convention from the Dallas Observer. It’s very much worn the read.

I hope you will also examine the Republican Party of Texas hate manifesto party platform and compare it with the TDP party platform.

– Justin Gillenwater

Stop Being A Federal Snob (If You Care About Education)

I realize many of our readers have an urge to skip anything they see on this blog about Texas. “What does a land of secessionist rednecks matter?” you might ask yourself. If you care about education, it means quite a bit. You see, Texas’ textbooks are a national problem.

Before I continue, let’s get this making fun of Texas out of our systems. Yes, one third of Texans believes The Flintstones was a documentary — or at least that humans and dinosaurs roamed the Earth together. Follow that link, there’s a lot of insightful information both positive and negative about people’s vies in Texas.

Gautam warned you about the attempted retconning of United States history to fit the “Christian Nation” mold. But what does that mean? WASP-washed textbooks for social studies and science, of course: “American exceptionalism” (“God bless American and no place else”), minimalization of the importance of non-WASPs and non-males, some form of creationism, possibly including young Earth, drill baby drill, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Says Don McLeroy, a lame-duck member of Texas’ State Board of Education and someone who sounds like a money changer at the temple:

“Textbooks are mostly the product of the liberal establishment, and they’re written with the idea that our religion and our liberty are in conflict,” he said. “But Christianity has had a deep impact on our system. The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians who knew the Bible. Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible. The Western development of the free-market system owes a lot to biblical principles.”

If you’re lucky enough to be in California or two or three other states, maybe you can enjoy the insulation from the Texas Taliban’s textbooks:

Texas . . . buy[s] or distribute[s] a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS — pronounced “teaks” — for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks — printed or online —are still the backbone of education.

I’d like to blockquote the entire article from the New York Times Magazine. Take the time to read it.

If the results of the Republican primaries are any indication, things may be looking up. The Texas State Board of Education currently has 6 sane members, 2 occasionally sane members, and 7 total wackjob Texas Taliban types, whose side did not perform well on Tuesday.

Don McLeroy lost by 860 votes to the sane Thomas Ratliff in District 9. In District 10, Cynthia Dunbar’s chosen successor is in a runoff with another crazy. At least Dunbar will no longer be in office. George Clayton, who is little-known but seems sane, defeated an incumbent swing vote. These results should be enough to flip the SBOE towards sanity again. What’s more, Democrats are running in and could win Districts 5 and 10.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The current SBOE will remain in office for many months. Language arts and science standards, among other items, are on the agenda for the SBOE meeting this week.

When you choose to ignore Texas, you choose to ignore the second most populous state in the country, with nearly 25 million residents including nearly 1 million Asian Americans. And you choose to ignore all of the consequences that flow from letting the American Taliban control such influential institutions as the Texas State Board of Education. Don’t rely on e-books to save the rest of the country. The cover of science textbooks in your state may soon look like this:

– Justin Gillenwater