Tag Archives: Training

Getting terms right: Acceptance v. Belief

Normally, this space is used to talk about how local and global events are linked and how local reporters can do stories that show their readers/viewers how Main Street is linked to the rest of the world. This time, however, the issue is a plain issue of making sure general assignment reporters need to understand how certain words should be used in specific areas.

I don’t know how many times I have screamed at CNN reporters/anchors and a handful of newspaper/magazine writers over the simple fact that they do not seem to know the difference between “acceptance/rejection” and “belief.”

The confusion  usually comes up whenever there is a discussion of evolution. Too often the question is posed: “Do you believe in evolution?” Or “‘X’ percent of people do not believe in evolution.”

  • Evolution is science. Therefore a person accepts or rejects the findings of the scientific theory.
  • Belief is all about things that cannot be tested and (usually) relate to a theistic view.
  • So, a person who accepts the literal word of the bible,  does not accept evolution but believes in creationism.

Evolution can be — and has been — tested over and over again to the satisfaction of the scientific community. In fact, every bit of science related to biology is based on the simple theory of evolution as put forth by Charles Darwin 150+ years ago. People “accept” or “reject” the findings of those studies and experiments.

Creationism is an event that depends on supernatural intervention. Therefore it is faith. Belief.  People either believe or they don’t. There is no way to test one’s beliefs.

Ars Technica got it right this week when it reported on the latest survey from the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project. The headline was succinct and clear: US acceptance of evolution holds steady overall, drops among Republicans

Note the word “acceptance.” That is the proper use at the proper time.

The first two paragraphs of the Pew report — Public’s Views on Human Evolution — show that the writer understands the difference (emphasis mine):

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” The share of the general public that says that humans have evolved over time is about the same as it was in 2009, when Pew Research last asked the question.

About half of those who express a belief in human evolution take the view that evolution is “due to natural processes such as natural selection” (32% of the American public overall). But many Americans believe that God or a supreme being played a role in the process of evolution. Indeed, roughly a quarter of adults (24%) say that “a supreme being guided the evolution of living things for the purpose of creating humans and other life in the form it exists today.”

When a reporter uses “belief” when discussing evolution, he/she equates faith and science. And while the two may live side by side — most mainstream religions understand the difference — they are not the same.

Mainstream media reporters need to know enough about their subject to make sure they are not making errors of fact or context. Not understanding that “belief” should NEVER be used in any reference to science is an error of fact and context. (And for those who argue that people being quoted say “believe” in reference to evolution, I say, paraphrase them and use the right term.)


By the way, this also goes for climate change and anything else related to science. Just because someone not accepting science is not the same as someone having a different opinion about something. (As shown in The Big Bang Theory.)


I was so happy seeing that the actual article from Pew had the right use of “acceptance” and “belief.” And then I was shattered when I finally go my e-mail notice of the article:

Six-in-Ten Americans Believe in Evolution

While 60% of Americans believe in human evolution, a third reject the idea. Beliefs about evolution differ strongly by religious group and also vary by party affiliation, gender, age and education. READ MORE >


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American people continue to show ignorance on foreign aid

Once again the American people show how woefully ignorant they are about world events.

The Kaiser Family Foundation released its 2013 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health. This year, Kaiser added a look at a “bang for the buck” perception. In other words, does the money the U.S. spend overseas make sense.

To find out if foreign affairs/aid spending makes sense, Kaiser had to learn what people thought the U.S. spent overseas.

And, once again, the message is that the American people have no idea what is being spent.

I have commented about this for some time.

In 2010 a survey by a survey by Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland showed the American people think the US spends 25 percent on foreign affairs.

Actual amount was 1%.

And now, the Kaiser survey shows that the American people have become dumber about this issue.

Consistent with previous Kaiser polls, the 2013 survey finds that the vast majority of the public ove

restimates the size of the federal budget that is spent on foreign aid, with just four percent correctly saying that foreign aid makes up one percent or less of the federal budget. A majority give answers above 10 percent, and on average, Americans answer that 28 percent of the budget is spent on foreign aid.

The survey showed that six in 10 said the U.S. spent too much on foreign aid and 13 percent said we spent too little.

But all is not lost. It appears that some people can be educated and change their views once presented with the facts and context.

When survey respondents are told that only about one percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, the share saying the U.S. spends too little more than doubles (from 13 percent to 28 percent), while the share saying we spend too much drops in half (from 61 percent to 30 percent).

I have pretty much given up on the U.S. foreign affairs agencies trying to explain what they do and why. Way too many — not all but too many — spend so much time talking among themselves and other government agencies that they don’t know how to talk to the American public.

So that leaves journalists to play the watchdog role and explain how U.S. government money is spent overseas, how it affects Main Street USA and the context of that spending.

And OOPS, the journalists are also failing in that job.

So many news organizations have misread the desire of their readers/listeners/viewers for better local news coverage as a desire for only local news.

It is not hard to provide local news with an international connection and to put it in context.

For example, the economically hard-hit state of Michigan exported more than $51 billion to the world. Most of the items were manufactured goods. These are items produced by high-paying jobs.

One would think that there would be more discussion of how good jobs are saved and created in local area through trade would be a good idea for a series of stories.

Likewise, overseas development programs often depend on U.S. products. In this case, small companies — with 100 or fewer workers — often make the goods that get shipped overseas.

And included in that 1% of the federal budget are men and women who work to protect the rights and intellectual property rights of U.S. companies operating overseas.

So for less than a penny on the dollar, small businesses benefit from development programs; good jobs are created from international trade and U.S. companies can operate around the globe helping build a stronger global economy.

Oh, yes, that small amount also pays for all the diplomats who work tireless to resolve issues before those issues fester into a shooting war.

A penny on the dollar brings jobs and security without having to shed blood.

Sounds like a good deal to me.

Too bad it is not getting reported in a way that the American people can understand.

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas

Fallows: Seeing the local/global connection in small town USA

Wonderful posting by journalist James Fallows from Eastport, Maine.

Eastport Road Map: Global Meets Local in a Very Small Town

Fallows notes all the things the town is doing trying to survive — revitalize downtown, local farmer markets, local museum, etc. And then he points out what could be a major benefit for the town: Eastport is the nearest natural harbor to Europe.

Its siting, “remote” from the rest of America’s perspective, is also a potential strategic plus. [Using] the handy online Great Circle Mapper [you get] the idea that Eastport is the closest U.S. location to ports in Europe.

Having the ideal harbor along the Great Circle may not convert into a major economic boon for Eastport. After all, goods shipped in or out of that port still have a major inland trip to make.

But if Eastport can get a rail station — something they are looking at — then maybe they could become a major trading site between the US and Europe. (Fallows points out the connection to Africa and Asia, via the Northern Passage, is also advantageous.)

It is indeed warming to see a report that shows how local and global work together.

But the, I would expect no less from Fallows. He has seen these connections for years. The real trick is getting local journalists without Fallows’ global experiences to see the connections for their local news outlets.


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Context is always important

Trying to get people to understand how economic or political policies affect them means finding a way to put those policies into context.

This blog started trying to get people — mostly journalists — to understand that there are plenty of LOCAL connections to international events.

Now we have the issue of trying to help people make sense of the loss that hit the American economy thanks to the GOP-forced government shut down.

Standard & Poor’s estimated that the U.S. economy took a hit of $24 billion for just the 16 days the government was closed.

And all praise to Foreign Policy for this great graphic:

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage, Story Ideas, Trade

New transparency law gives Brazilian voters look at corrupt practices

Great little piece on a new law is drawing attention to stuff Brazilian lawmakers tried to keep hidden. And it shows how getting even the weakest freedom/right of information law or transparency law enacted is a benefit. Once in place, people can use it to its limits and then lobby for changes that make it work even better. (That’s how the US FOI act evolved.)

Will Brazil’s Transparency Law Work?

The recently approved Transparency Law in Brazil has exposed that one-third of the 594 Brazilian federal lawmakers have pending cases in criminal and civil courts. Most of the criminal cases against the Senators and Deputies in Brasília involve corruption charges.

The Transparency Law was approved following the presentation of over one million signatures from the Brazilian people. The purpose of the bill is to expose members of Congress with criminal charges to the public. The law is seen as a filter of allegedly corrupt candidates with the hopes of discouraging them from seeking re-election.

Rest of story

The part I like is the enumeration of the crimes the solons were charged with and how many in each party were charged. (To be sure, being charged in a civil case is nothing. Until you remember that Brazilian law allows individuals to launch civil cases that would be considered criminal cases in other countries.)

The list reveals that 190 of the 594 Brazilian federal lawmakers have at some time been charged in criminal or civil cases. The list of crimes includes manslaughter, degrading practices, abuse of power, administrative illegalities, public funding abuse, and illicit enrichment. There is a total of fourteen different crimes on the list.

Furthermore, no party is absent from the list. PMDB, the largest political party presently in Congress with 101 members, has 36 politicians that have been charged. The ruling PT party of Dilma with 100 lawmakers has 28. PSDB, the main opposition force with 60 members, has 22 with pending charges. PR with 43 members has 14 charges, and PSB of 29 members has 12 charged.

But my favorite is Congressman, Natan Donadon, who is currently in jail but is still an active member of Congress and receiving his salary.

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Filed under Corruption, Freedom of Information, International News Coverage, South America

No CNN: Hong Kong is NOT in Japan nor is it in Brazil!

Really!? Really!?

During a story about killer wasps, CNN threw up a graphic that placed Hong Kong about where Sao Paulo is.

Well, they are both business centers. But Paulinos have more fun than Hong Kongers. Plus the Sao Paulo football (soccer) teams are much better.

The mission of teaching journalists about the world just became a whole lot harder!

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Filed under Connections, International News Coverage

ICFJ working to improve journalism in Latin America

Too often too many journalists see government agencies as only the enemy. A place to attack for information.

Hell, I often think that way too. Way too many bureaucrats think that because they have a top-secret clearance (or just access to info that I don’t but need for a story) they have a god-given right to NOT talk to me and not release the information. Even though that information is a.) not classified and b.) the public’s property.

But every now and then a government agency (or two) does the right thing and actually promotes freedom of the press and increased access to government information.

In this case, the US Agency for International Development and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor at the State Department are promoting all these good things in other countries. It is a good and proper thing they are doing.

Working with the International Center for Journalists, these two US government offices are running a multi-year program — which means it is exempt from the current government shutdown — “to build the capacity of investigative journalists in eight target countries, including Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.”

  • The participating journalists will attend series of country-specific workshops on digital and mobile security and developing investigative projects beginning later this month.
  • The journalists will also engage in a  four-week online training course on developing transnational investigative reporting projects along with security protocols for editors and reporters.
  • The ICFJ will help provide online resources and access to database sets that are useful for news reports and are searchable in Spanish.
  • Reporters, editors and media owners will get training in sustainability models and strategies so that what they learned will not go to waste. The training will include how to develop a Latin American Investigative Network of journalists and news organizations.
  • Lastly, the reporters will learn new digital research tools that will help them cover specialized topics of interest.

These are excellent countries for this program.

All of the countries suffer from government institutions that are even more hesitant than their USA counterparts to share information. They are in countries where moneyed interests don’t want their secrets revealed and who are often all to ready to pay for thugs to intimidate and kill nosy journalists. They also come from places where the news organizations often spend less on quality journalism training than even the most cash-strapped USA news group.

In the specific cases of Nicaragua and Ecuador, the journalists are facing hostile governments that have a long-distance relationship with the concept of free and independent media. The other countries do not face government intimidation, rather physical dangers come from gangs and thugs.

The US agencies are providing a leg up and a helping hand to the journalists who want to do their jobs properly and who want to hold their governments and business interests accountable to the public. (I know several journalists like this in Honduras. Their biggest problems are intimidation by the gangs. Many also face lack of proper financial and training support from their publishers.)

Rather than shy away from such US government support, American journalism organizations should embrace, encourage and work with these agencies to help improve the quality of journalism in the developing world. Between the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association, and the Radio, Television and Digital News Directors there are more than enough qualified journalists with the necessary journalism and language skills to help around the world.

And if the national organizations won’t step up, maybe some local chapters should.

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Filed under Central America, Connections, Freedom of access, Harassment, International News Coverage, South America