Using simple words does not mean talking down

Over and over I tell my journalism and public relations students that using simple and clear words carry a lot more power than large,  multi-syllable words.

I often point to Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address. William Zinsser in On Writing Well noted of the 701 words in the address, 505 are one syllable and 122 are two-syllable words. That does not leave many words with three or more syllables. And despite these simple words, Lincoln’s speech of 1865 continue to inspire today. Proving simple words can be powerful.

And now, Randall Munroe, the author of XKCD (a great comic strip) explains things using the 1,000 most common English words.

From the pitch posted by Munroe:

The diagrams in Thing Explainer cover all kinds of neat stuff—including computer buildings (datacenters), the flat rocks we live on (tectonic plates), the stuff you use to steer a plane (airliner cockpit controls), and the little bags of water you’re made of (cells).

And all this came from a cartoon Munroe did for his XKCD strip called Up Goer Five, which explained the Saturn V rocket using only common words.

If the book is as good as Up Goer Five, I may have to order this book as required reading for my students.

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Why #GoHomeIndianMedia is trending, and some side notes

The hashtag #GoHomeIndianMedia started taking off over complaints of how the Indian media covered the Nepal earthquake relief efforts. With variations of #IndianMediaGoHome.)

Journalists were accused of creating news or misrepresenting what was happening.

Indian Journalists delivered fake news

One of the largest Indian news channels, NDTV, broadcasted pictures of roads and buildings destroyed by earthquake, saying it was in Nepal. Turns out, the pictures were from Mexico and Chile.

In another instance, NDTV broadcasted a pro-India news, and compared Narendra Modi, Indian prime minister to a god who saved Nepal. India was on the forefront of the rescue team, but this was beginning to cross the line.

A lot of the complaints have focused on how the Indian media appear to be shilling for the Indian government.

Angry Nepalese flocked to Twitter in their numbers, protesting what they have been calling the insensitive, triumphant and jingoistic coverage of the earthquake that devastated the country. End result? #GoHomeIndianMedia was the top trend on Twitter – ironically on press freedom day.

Along with complaints against the Indian media, a number of tweets included calls for the Indian army to pull out.

India Army Media

But, as expected in the area, there has to be a Pakistan angle.

The New Indian Express shows a clipping that explains the #GoHomeIndianMedia movement is all a ploy by the Pakistan nationalists.

One of the complaints using the hashtag is that while 34 countries sent aid, the Indian media focused on what the Indian relief teams did.

Really? Why is that surprising. When I saw the U.S. coverage, they kept interviewing the USAID team (VA Task Force 1). And I bet the French media covered the French teams and so on.

Here is a quick Storify based on the hashtag.

The BBC was also recruiting people to discuss this issue on its World Have Your Say program.

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Filed under Ethics, India

Old and New Washington

I just got my copy of The Correspondent from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong. (Yes, I am still a member.)

One of the little features I have always liked is one with pictures of old and new Hong Kong. (Then and Now. Page 22 of the March edition.)

Got me thinking about how Washington, DC, has changed in the 35+ years I have been here. This would be a nice thing to do on a occasional basis, especially of sites important to journalism.

It’s easy enough to do on the DC SPJ website. So how about it?

Anyone have pictures from 40+ years ago and a picture of the same place (same angle, if possible) today?

Got a story to go with the pictures?

Send them to me at Dan@Kubiske.Org.

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China plays games with journalism visas

But at least it is not as bad as 2013.

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China conducts an annual survey of its members (and a few outsiders) on the visa renewal process.

The bottom line for the 2014 survey period: “In general, the visa renewal process went more smoothly this year than last.”

The survey of 2013 was a damning indictment of the pettiness of the Chinese government authorities:

This year it became more obvious than ever that the Chinese authorities abuse the press card and visa renewal process in a political manner, treating journalistic accreditation as a privilege rather than a professional right, and punishing reporters and media organizations for the content of their previous coverage if it has displeased the government.

The most public cases were the denial of visas (or slow walking of the paperwork) to the New York Times and Bloomberg for their reports on how wealthy family members of prominent Communist Party members became and where they are hiding their money.

(See summary here.)

The 2014 report showed that while the visas were handled in a more professional manner, there were still cases of intimidation and out-right threats.

“In one run-in with the authorities, they made perfectly clear they would see us again at the end of the year for visa-renewal. In that sense it was a covert threat.”

“In case of new hire, visa delay was explained by MOFA in a meeting with bureau chief as being the result of concerns about bias in her previous job.”

“I had two interviews where I was questioned about my reporting on Xinjiang and told that the Foreign Ministry would need to be satisfied with my attitude in order to approve my press card. In the end they said they were and that my card would be approved.”

Animosity toward Western media (and Japan is counted in that group, oddly enough) has been a standard feature of how Beijing deals with the press. When we lived in Shanghai — 1992-1994 — the two Western journalists allowed to live there (Reuters and — I think — Asahi Shinbun) had their phone lines cut and received extra shadows in the lead up to the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

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Freedom House Press Freedom Report Released

The annual Freedom of the Press report from Freedom House is out. And things don’t look good.

Conditions for the media deteriorated sharply in 2014 to reach their lowest point in more than 10 years, as journalists around the world encountered more restrictions from governments, militants, criminals, and media owners, according to Freedom of the Press 2015, released today by Freedom House.

“Journalists faced intensified pressure from all sides in 2014,” said Jennifer Dunham, project manager of the report. “Governments used security or antiterrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices, militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests.”

The worst thing is that the decline is not just because of one or two things. The attack on free and independent media is coming from all sides.

Governments are making it more difficult for reporters to interview government officials, restrictions on free movement limit reporters’ access to conflict areas, violence is threatened from government agents, pro-government agents and just plain thugs, and the list goes on.

The summary of the report is depressing enough.

Percentage of population with access to free media:

  • Americas: 38 (with Latin America at 2 percent)
  • Asia-Pacific: 5
  • Middle East-North Africa: 2
  • EurAsia: 0 (18 percent Partly Free, 82 percent Not Free)
  • Sub-Saharan Africa: 3
  • Europe: 66 (but in a downward slope for past 10 years)

Read the report. It is not the most cheerful document you will read, but it is important.

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Nepal Turns Down Help From Taiwan. Beijing Factor?

Really? More than 3,000 people are dead with the number rising, and Nepal turns down help from Taiwan?

Nepal turns down Taiwan’s offer of quake assistance

Too often when a country turns down anything from Taiwan it is because that country is afraid of pissing off Beijing. The article mentioned above does explain why Nepal turned down the offer. but the implied reason is clear to anyone who has spent time paying attention to the China-Taiwan history.

It would be nice to know if the rejection is because of Nepal’s fear of China or for some other reason.

Just as the mere mention of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton now gets Tea Partiers frothing at the mouth, for many years any mention of Taiwan doing anything would send Beijing into apocalyptic fits. The leadership in Zhongnanhai would start threatening governments who played nice with Taiwan and claimed any acceptance of Taiwanese help “hurt the feelings of Chinese everywhere.”

In recent years, the relationship has gotten more civilized, but Beijing is ever wary of Taiwan making too many friends.

A bit of background:

Ever since the Kuomingdan government was tossed off the mainland and onto the island of Taiwan in 1949, the Communist leaders in China have seen Taiwan, under the name Republic of China, as wayward province that needs to be reintegrated into the China fold. And the 1949 government of Taiwan saw itself as the real leaders of all of China.

That is were it all sat until the 1970s — with the US siding with Taiwan — when Nixon went to Beijing and Taiwan was booted out of the United Nations as the Chinese delegation and replaced with Beijing.

Now Taiwan is recognized by about a dozen countries, mostly because of the large amount of development aid (and other funds) the Taipei government has been able to spend on those countries.

By the early 1990s Taiwan moved toward democracy. (Although in 1992, the government still referred to China as “the Mainland” rather than China.)

By 2000 Taiwan had free and open elections, bringing about the first peaceful change in government leadership in China’s 5,000 year history.

At the same time China and Taiwan came to a tacit agreement to stop the public sniping at each other. That is unless Taiwan wanted into international organizations.

During the 2003 SARS scare in south China, Taiwan had a lot to offer the World Health Organization but was refused entrance by China. After a few more years of leaning on the door and engaging in lots of diplomacy, Taiwan was finally invited to observer status in the WHO in 2009.

What has been clear over the years that even though the level of the rhetoric has eased in the past few years, other countries are still fearful of facing Beijing’s wrath if they do anything with Taiwan. That fear may be why Nepal turned down expert help.

And turning down help in a natural disaster is not something any good government should do. (Just as the PRI in Mexico how that worked out for them following the 1985 earthquake. — They lost their monopoly status as the ruling party in Mexico shortly after the earthquake.)

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Local-Global: Fairfax County Rescue Alerted for Nepal Earthquake Help

The Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue team has a global reputation for its work. And now, once again, it is being called up to help people half a world away.

TWEET:

VA-TF1/USA-1 has been alerted for the Nepal earthquake. All media inquires should report to 14725-H Flint Lee Rd. Chantilly, VA 20151

This is one of the best examples of how something in another country has an impact on something local.

Specifically Virginia Task Force 1 has worked to provide rescue and relief in just about every major disaster around the world. (See their work around the world here.)

There is no better connection to the rest of the world than one that helps save lives.

And now they have been alerted to provide assistance to the victims of the Nepal earthquake.

ADDITION 4/27

 Following the Haiti earthquake I noted how the Fairfax team was involved.

At the time I said the Fairfax teams deserved more coverage — as did all the SAR teams. And I stand by that still.

Maybe some local news organizations might want to step up and do something about it.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas