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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Tattoo alum Joe Killian probing big breaking news

Shortly after midnight Saturday, outside a dorm on a normally quiet Quaker college in Greensboro, N.C., at least three football players cursed and hit three Palestinian students with fists, feet and brass knuckles, according to police.
"These people who beat me I had never seen before in my life," victim Omar Awartani told reporter Joe Killian of the Greensboro News & Record. "They just began insulting us, calling us 'dirty,' 'terrorists' and 'sand niggers.' We tried not to fight them; we did not insult them back, but they beat the hell out of us."
Joe, a night cop reporter, broke the story and he's been on it ever since, trying to find out the truth about what happened at Guilford College.
The story has appeared around the world, horrifying readers.
It's particularly big news in Ramallah, the West Bank town where the three students hail from. But bloggers and journalists everywhere are examining the incident to see what larger messages it carries.
But Joe's doing the real work. He's getting the story, rooting around to find witnesses, to figure out exactly what happened and why. He's doing what good reporters do - to search through the murkiness to find the truth, and tell it to a wary world.
This week, we're particularly proud of Joe, whose work for The Tattoo helped make it something special years ago. He's been our friend, and a mentor to budding journalists, ever since.
Go read what he's writing about this awful episode of hate and violence in a place that's supposed to be devoted to the Quaker ideals of peace and justice. It's good stuff.

Our official policy: We hate blogs.
Copyright 2007 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Halls of Shame, Part 10

The St. Francis High School newspaper, The Crier, this week has a big blue box on its front page with these words listed inside: “Originally a photo was to be placed here, but was censored by the administration.”
The Anoka County, Minnesota paper had planned to run a picture from a school play that appeared to show the destruction of an American flag, though it was really only bunting.
In the picture, which the St. Paul Pioneer Press published on its website, actress Becca Bennett can be seen holding the red, white and blue bunting in shreds, from a scene meant to depict “how a country could be torn apart by affecting the youth.”
It’s actually a pretty good photograph.
As the Pioneer Press reports: “According to a front-page article written by Editor in Chief Eric Sheforgen, who also took the picture, as well as an editorial in the paper and a statement made today by the editorial board, Principal Paul Neubauer threatened the paper with legal action and froze its funds after the paper gave him a heads-up that they were planning to run it.”
Neubauer, like sissy principals everywhere, dodged the Pioneer Press reporter who tried to get him to explain his actions.
But the school superintendent, Ed Saxton, told the paper the photo was “like a quote being taken out of context.”
“That particular picture, although it’s a snapshot of what was in the fall play, standing in isolation, it could be taken in many different ways. It could be pretty offensive to veterans or people who served in the military. It’s kind of a community standards thing,” Saxton said.
What’s especially amazing about this censorship is that the district actually has a pretty good policy on this sort of thing. It reads, “Official school publications are free from prior restraint by officials except as provided by law.”
That makes it, by law, an open forum that school administrators can’t touch.
So St. Francis High School has the right policy. It just has the wrong principal – and the district has the wrong superintendent.
What’s important to “veterans and people who served in the military” is that America remains free. That’s why they fought and that’s why so many have died on so many battlefields across the globe.
They didn’t sacrifice so that Neubauer and other censorious jerks could treat our freedom as if it were a dirty napkin to be tossed in the trash can.
But let’s give Neubauer and Saxton some credit. It’s not every day that school administrators earn a spot in our Halls of Shame, but today, this pair of doozies made the cut. Congratulations, guys!

Our official policy: We hate blogs.
Copyright 2007 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Why we write news

One of the many woes that comes from young people's abandonment of newspapers is that far too many of them haven't got a clue what news is anymore.
So let's take a quick look at news.
News is, at its root, a story about what's new. It can be a thrilling story or a dull one, depending on who's writing it and, to an extent, what it's about. It's hard, for example, to write a gripping tale about the changing price of cattle futures from day to day -- unless a reporter happens to find someone who made, or lost, a bundle on them. But for the mainstream press -- which includes The Tattoo -- news generally aims to tell something interesting, not just potentially useful.
News can be written with verve, even with spunk, but it has to be fair to all sides. It has to try to tell the truth about the story, to give an honest account of what happened and why. It relies on what witnesses, officials and experts tell reporters, who have to talk to everyone they can in the time they have and then pare it all down into a story that informs readers about something that matters. It gives the who, what, where, when and why, but it also should find the hook to make it all matter to a harried reader.
At The Tattoo, we mostly focus on news that young people would find most interesting, but our readers obviously include all ages.
So what's the difference between news and opinion? Sometimes, not all that much, if the writer isn't particularly opinionated. But the idea of an opinion piece is to try to convince readers of a particular point of view. A news story tries instead to lay out the facts in an unbiased way so that readers can draw their own conclusions.
It's harder to write news than it is to tap out a column or a personal essay because news is not about the person who writes the story. It's about the story itself. Reporters are only visible to the degree they're good, or bad, at what they do.
But what writing news does is unimaginably important for anyone who believes in democracy. News stories are the only source of information that even attempt to say what's happening without bias, partisanship or an agenda to push. It's the vital, beating heart of a free society.
And it should alarm everyone, old and young, that it's getting harder and harder to find legitimate news in the morasse of sloppy information that permeates the web.
At The Tattoo, we're trying to uphold the standards and values of the golden age of newsapers, to teach young writers that writing a good news story is ultimately more valuable than churning out more entertainment goo.
The Tattoo is about more than news, naturally. But writing news is why we're here. It's what our writers need to master. It's what makes The Tattoo special. News is our thing. We just need more of it.

Our official policy: We hate blogs.
Copyright 2007 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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Monday, January 08, 2007

High schools need to rock and roll

The Tattoo's got a scoop today from America's coolest deejay, Little Steven Van Zandt.

In a Tattoo exclusive, reporter Zach Brokenrope breaks the news that Van Zandt, a rock and roll legend, is planning to put the music that made him a star into the curriculum of high schools from sea to shining sea. Van Zandt is a prophet of rock 'n roll, a true believer in the power of music to remake the world.

And as the guy who led the anti-apartheid music movement in the 1980s, which helped to free Nelson Mandela and South Africa itself, Van Zandt may be on to something.

In any case, check out the fabulous stories that Brokenrope brought back from Van Zandt's New York City studio, where "Little Steven's Underground Garage" takes to the airwaves each week. It's great stuff, including audio clips and our first-ever Tattoo video.

This is great journalism on a great subject. Don't miss it.

Our official policy: We hate blogs.
Copyright 2007 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Halls of Shame, Part 9

Princeton High School Principal Ray Spicher is off to a good start in the new year, earning his way into The Tattoo’s Halls of Shame by censoring a student’s opinion piece that criticized the school’s none-too-good football team.
According to Denise Smith Amos’ story in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Spicher made the staff of Odin’s World “rip out two pages” from its December issue to remove a piece by 17-year-old Evan Payne that criticized the football team for its third straight losing season.
It’s probably no coincidence that the team’s coach is married to the school board president.
Payne told the Enquirer that he tried to write a solid, professional opinion piece.
“I knew it would probably make somebody mad, but for them to cut it out it completely threw me off guard,” Payne told the daily.
Evan’s mother, Paula Payne, wrote in a letter to the school board that her son’s article “merely questions the team’s choice of offense by pointing out the sub par results of the scheme. We contend that this is far from bashing. These are fair questions that could be raised by any sports journalist, high school or professional.”
Spicher, proving once again that he’s not a big fan of words, declined to comment to the Enquirer.
The district’s superintendent, Aaron Mackey, is naturally taking a stand in favor of censorship.
He said he is “taking additional actions to make sure the publication better reflects the district’s attitude and values,” according to the Enquirer. “He is making a district spokeswoman an adviser to the magazine and changing policies to make it clear that advisers can censor articles.”
Mackey said that Payne’s article would have damaged morale, because it is one student or group of students criticizing another group.
“We felt the kid was putting himself out there for some serious ridicule potentially,” Mackey told the paper. “You’re dealing with a very large football squad, not in stature but in numbers. You’ve got one kid putting his neck out there. It may not be in his best interest to have that article. This is not a threat, but it creates an attitude and a situation between kids. You’d have a lot of staff noses out of joint as well.”So there’s a great lesson to learn, too. If a kid has the courage to write the truth – that a football team sucks – it’s best to censor the piece than to protect the writer from what might be a mythical threat.
At a time when American troops are fighting and dying every day to protect America’s cherished freedoms, it’s especially sickening to see men like Mackey and Spicher casually toss the First Amendment in the nearest trash can.
Let’s hope that Payne and Odin’s World keep trying to do journalism with courage and insight, whatever their misguided elders say.
And let’s hope that Americans as a whole have more respect for the Bill of Rights than these school officials at Princeton High who need a good civics lesson.

Our official policy: We hate blogs.
Copyright 2007 by The Tattoo. All rights reserved.

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