“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” Book Review

As a journalist interested in science, I had been meaning to read this novel for a while. I hadn’t gotten around to picking it up when my mom brought it home saying one of her professors she works with wanted me to read it for it’s journalistic value (Thanks Donald!!).

Skloot book cover

Front cover of the book by Rebecca Skloot

I picked up this book and couldn’t stop reading. The author, Rebecca Skloot was able to capture my attention by switching between the distant past of Henrietta’s life, and the near past anecdotes of her attempting to obtain information from friends and family of Miss Lacks.

Henrietta Lacks was a poor black tobacco farmer living in Maryland in the 1950s whose cells were taken from a tumor when she went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to treat cervical cancer. It is unclear if these cells were obtained with consent, but these cells, known as HeLa, were able to continue to replicate themselves. This allowed for scientists all over the world to research how human cells work, how disease effects cells, and eventually led to the production of vaccines for many ailments.

This book touches on the issues of racial inequality, economic inequality, patient disclosure, and the balance of rights to tissue and scientific research.

While Lacks’ cells were important to scientific research, her family remained in the dark about how important her death really was. This is where Skloot comes in.

Skloot spent years trying to gain the trust of the family, particularly Lack’s daughter Deborah, so she could write the real story of the woman behind the HeLa cells. Skloot was able to get the story of Henrietta’s life through many interviews and was able to tell her family just how important she was.

The book was wonderfully researched, well written, and gave me a great example of someone who was willing to put blood, sweat and tears into the sake of writing a story about a woman who was left under appreciated for the sake of science advancements.

Check out Rebecca Skloot’s website here.


The quickly changing state of the news media

Recently, the Pew Research Center released their State of the News Media for 2014, and found some not- so-surprising facts (at least to me) about the current state of the media.

Following a few scary years where a lot of jobs in journalism seemed to be disappearing, this new report gives a positive view into the future of journalism. I think this shows the industry has been adapting well to changes in technology that once threatened to knock out journalism.

Overall, they found digital media is rapidly expanding. This is not surprising considering most people are walking around with mini-computer in their pockets.

Here are some highlights of the findings from the report:

  •  Local broadcast news is still the most widely used place for adults to find news and saw an increase in viewership. But because most of these stations are being bought up by bigger companies (like how Sinclair Broadcasting owns 167 stations in 77 markets), we are seeing more and more companies use the exact same newscasts and reporting.
  • Online news video is growing and ad revenues tied to them grew 44% from 2012 to 2013.
  • Nearly 50% of social media users share or repost news stories, images and videos.
  • Many digital news sites (like Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post and Vice) are expanding to have overseas reporting. Many news sources are also expanding to have a Hispanic version of their publications or sites, due to the growing population of Hispanic people in the United States.

So for all of the haters of the journalism field, this should prove to you journalism isn’t a dying industry! We are changing our process to adapt to advance technology to get you reliable news in fast and creative ways. Watch out for what we’ll be doing in the future!

Reddit: How can journalists use it?

reddit front page
The Reddit.com Front Page

Yesterday, I had my ‘teaching moment’ presentation in my mobile and social media journalism class. Over the course of the semester, each student has to give a presentation about something they think is relevant to journalists these days. I decided to present on one of my favorite places to find news, interesting facts, and funny pictures. This site is reddit.

Reddit can be a great tool in the online toolbox for journalists. In my discussion, I brought up a few ways journalists have used reddit in the past.

  • Finding story ideas by subscribing to ‘subreddits,’ which are sections of the site with content related to a certain topic. Subscribing to subreddits related to your beat is a great place to find new things that are happening in that area.
  • Finding and contacting sources. Because this is a user driven site, if you find someone who has an interesting story to tell, or could potentially be a source of information about a certain topic, you can private message them to see if they would be willing to be interviewed. r/IAmA is a Q&A format subreddit that is great for this.
  • Crowdsourcing. Journalists can ask questions on the r/AskReddit subreddit to get a general idea of what angle they might want to take with a story.
  • Breaking News Threads. Often, people will use reddit as a platform for their citizen journalism of breaking events by posting pictures and updates to a thread on reddit. These can be a great place for news organizations who are not close enough to the event to go themselves, but still have some first-person perspective of what is going on.

Some things a few of my classmates brought up is they don’t like the layout of the site, or find it a bit confusing. I’ll admit, it does take awhile to get used to, but just like anything else, you become more familiar with it as you use it.

Overall, I think reddit is a unique hub of information that you can refine to better fit your interests and area of specialty as a journalist. I personally like to use it,  both for the entertainment and news aspects.

The changing process of journalism; What does the future look like?

Technological advancements are necessary for the culture and society of the world. Without new inventions, we would still be stuck in the stone age and the world would be unchanging.

Now, many people would say we’re living in the digital age. Communication has never been easier, information is at the tips of our fingertips, and we walk around with small computers that can help us organize our lives. Technology allows our lives to move quickly, which has many implications for a lot of aspects of society.

Apple iPhone

Apple iPhone (Photo by AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

We The Media, by Dan Gillmor, is a 2006 book about the changing system of journalism, and how it has been greatly affected by the rise of the internet.

First of all, access to capturing, creating content and finding news is easier than ever. We’re in a time where wearable technology, like Google Glass, will give us a way to essentially wear a computer.

As Gillmor puts it; “At one time, an individual with an issue had few options. He could stand on the corner and rant, or post a sign, or write a newsletter, or pen a letter to the editor. Today, if his argument is sufficiently moving and/or backed up with facts, the tools at his disposal can make it a global phenomena(pg 64).”

An example of how this is becoming popular is Neal Augenstein, a journalist who only uses his iPhone for reporting. He takes images and records audio on this, and he says it has little effect on quality.

The process of journalism has sped up greatly with the introduction of the internet, but that also means almost anyone can be considered a ‘journalist,’ or what is considered a ‘citizen journalist.’

There are pros and cons to citizen journalism. One advantage is that breaking news is captured by people actually experiencing it. Social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook, make it so easy to share a video or photo with the world.

But a disadvantage of citizen journalism is the fact they are not trained in ethics or how to be transparent in their works. With the spread of information being so fast, wrong or opinionated content can be distributed to a lot of people, and they might not double check their sources.

Overall, technology has given my generation so many opportunities to gain information, and make news ourselves. Finding out what is wrong with the world and reporting on it has given a rise to activism. Now more that ever, we need to figure out how to use technology in the best way possible.

Tech writer Alexandra Chang visits IC to talk about Social and Mobile media

Technology and freelance reporter, Alexandra Chang, guest lectured in my Social and Mobile Journalism class on Friday, February 7th.

As a former writer for Wired magazine, Chang was able to inform inspiring journalists about how important social media is to the future of the career. She gave us some great tips on what to do, what not to do, and what apps and websites are the most beneficial to use for our stories and branding ourselves.

Here are my top 10 most useful things I learned during her lecture;

1. Be careful of what you post on social media sites. They are important to have a presence on to get your name out there, but potential employers and others will be critiquing everything you say.

2. Tweeting to big names is shows you’re not afraid to put yourself out there, and there’s a possibility they might even write back! This shows possible employers you are willing to engage in conversation.

3. Having a professional Facebook is a good way to separate it from your personal account. It also is a great way to share stories.

4. Linked-In is a great place to find possible sources for your stories, just use the advanced search function.

5. Use third party apps to shoot video and pictures on your phone, just to make sure there aren’t any problems when it comes to editing.

6. Twiangulate.com is a great place to find useful people to follow related to your beat. You can put these people into lists on Twitter to organize them even more.

7. Wearables (like Google Glass) show a lot of promise for reporting the in future.

8. Reporting from your phone is a lot of the time easier, and writers today need to be aware of how to use their phones to make good stories.

9. You can follow companies on Linked-In that are related to your beat. This makes is very easy to find sources and find story ideas.

10. Don’t feel like you need to follow everyone who follows you back, it’s not personal, it’s just a way to keep your Twitter dash clean!

Overall, I learned a lot and hope to be able to put these practices to use!