The Right to Offend?

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Scene of the Attack on Charlie Hebdo

Two Muslim brothers walked into the offices of the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, on January 7, 2015. Equipped with assault rifles, they massacred 12 people while injuring several others before dying in a shootout with police. A branch of Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility, justifying the attacks for Charlie Hebdo’s articles mocking Islam and Mohammed, the founding prophet of the religion. As France mourned, an international debate raged on free speech and antireligious publications. A year later, heated discussion continues among both policymakers and journalists on what should and should not be said.

 

The Debate on Freedom of Expression

It’s paramount to understand the context of the leading voices in the debate over freedom of expression. Despite objectionable content, Charlie Hebdo was entirely within French law and protected by Article 10 of France’s “Declaration of Human and Civic Rights of 26 August 1789,” which states, “No one may be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious ones, as long as the manifestation of such opinions does not interfere with the established Law and Order.”

Admonishing supporters of open expression, Dr. Bart Cammaerts writes in his article, “Charlie Hebdo and the Other Within,” that the freedom of expression cannot be left unchecked, “this freedom comes with responsibilities and as far as I’m concerned this freedom is not necessarily a primary right in all circumstance, it has to be balanced out with other rights and protections, for example the right not to be discriminated against, the right not to be racially abused.”

There is, however, a third major voice in the debate of free speech. For the religious, the satire of Charlie Hebdo could be more than insults. It could be blasphemy. John Tate explains in his article, “Toleration, Skepticism, and Blasphemy: John Locke, Jonas Proast, and Charlie Hebdo,” how satirizing religion can be viewed as more than a simple insult. Tate writes, “Religious belief, when deeply held, is likely to define the core identity of a person, and so demands that such individuals tolerate that which is at odds with such belief are likely to produce some resistance. This is particularly the case with ‘blasphemy,’ which in advancing images, statements, or opinions profoundly at odds with particular religious beliefs, sometimes in a derisive or satirical way, impugns all that religious believers hold dear.” For some, an insult on their faith is perceived as a direct assault on them. While this is an invalid reason to support or commit violence, it’s conceivable that blasphemy can be used by the extremists to justify their actions.

Je Suis Charlie : I am Charlie

 

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Je Suis Charlie : I am Charlie

The attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo rattled the world, both in its brutality and its blatant assault on the freedom of expression. In the wake of the attack, many took to social media, using the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie), demonstrating solidarity with both France, the newspaper, and the belief of freedom of speech. However, while #JeSuisCharlie was adopted by many, another hashtag gained prominence, #JeNeSuisPasCharlie (I am not Charlie). Fabio Giglietto and Yenn Lee studied the evolution and use of the hashtag in their article, “To Be or Not to Be Charlie”. The authors shared, “Users of the said hashtag showed resistance to the mainstream framing of the Charlie Hebdo shooting as the universal value of freedom of expression being threatened by religious intolerance and violence.” Just hours after the tragedy, a movement began that condemned the attacks but similarly rejected the rhetoric used by Charlie Hebdo that initially put them in the crosshairs of terrorists.

 

Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie : I am not Charlie

The day after the Charlie Hebdo attack, NY Times journalist David Brook penned the op-ed, “I am not Charlie Hebdo.” He begins by commenting on the hypocrisy of America to extol the brave comments of the French publications and similar voices while simultaneously trying to silence and punish those same opinions within our own borders. Brook argues that most of us cannot claim to be Charlie as we would not use such inflammatory language. However, the satirist has not only the right to speak but is even necessary at times. Despite this occasional need to challenge thoughts, the author considers such speech as juvenile and often harming more than helping. Brook writes, “Healthy societies, in other words,don’t suppress speech, but they do grant different standing to different sorts of people. Wise and considerate scholars are heard with high respect. Satirists are heard with bemused semirespect. Racists and anti-Semites are heard through a filter of opprobrium and disrespect. People who want to be heard attentively have to earn it through their conduct.”

In his article, Brook supports the freedom of expression and places society as the gatekeeper. This approach certainly stays within the letter of the law. In fact, it proposes no legal change, whatsoever. What it does ask is for individuals to aspire to more mature dialogues and reject those voices that are pointlessly inflammatory. Legal action would still need to be taken in cases of clear misdemeanors and felonies. However, the idea of society policing conversation raises the tide for all boats. The outspoken gain too much response but like a child’s tantrum, they will quiet down when they don’t receive the attention they crave.

Christian Satire?

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The Biblical perspective encourages talk that similarly generates productive communication, including satire. Looking at Jesus Christ, the perfect model for Christians, he did not shy away from trading barbs with the corrupt. In Matthew 23, Jesus called the Pharisees, “hypocrites,” a “brood of vipers,” and accused them of murder. Throughout the Gospels, Christ can be seen using insults, parables, and dashes of humor to attack the religious leaders.  This was not said to tear them down but to say, “what is helpful for building others up according to their needs.” Stubbornly corrupt, Christ’s words were meant to convict.

Brook’s article was not a Christian commentary but was mostly in step with the Biblical worldview. The article promotes respect and encourages beneficial dialogue. Where Scripture would differ would be in condoning efforts like Charlie Hebdo. While Brook’s may find it occasionally necessary, Charlie Hebdo went beyond satire and was borderline bigotry. Their efforts to challenge Islamic radicals was less targeted and more a scorched earth policy. The magazine often was bolstering their like-minded audience than trying to make a genuine effort to rattle muslims into reformation.  

The attacks on Charlie Hebdo were heinous. Silencing voices through censorship or violence is never the answer. However, individuals must be thicker-skinned while simultaneously rejecting destructive talk. Christians need to prayerfully consider the words they share, seeking to build others up while being ready to speak boldly, when necessary. The freedom of speech is best expressed through love and tolerance.

“Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” 

Hebrews 12:14

 

Don’t worry about Zika virus…yet.

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The Zika virus, a mosquito born illness, has grabbed headlines as it causes panic among expectant mothers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began emergency actions in late January in response to outbreaks of Zika in Central and South America. The Zika virus is known for causing birth defects in the babies of pregnant women. Only a few weeks after the initial actions, the CDC would elevate their emergency teams to their highest level of response. With no cure or vaccine, the Zika virus has many questioning if they are safe and how to protect themselves.

Dr. Kristy Bradley serves as the Oklahoma Department of Health’s State Epidemiologist. Beyond local outbreak prevention efforts, Bradley also works in national groups to develop a surveillance plan for the US in response to the Zika virus. She shares how it has already made its way to the States, “The CDC is reporting a total of 84 cases of the Zika virus disease in the United States but all 84 are infections that have been acquired overseas.”

Explore an interactive map of the Zika virus cases in the US here.

The CDC breaks the spread of the Zika virus into two broad categories: travel-acquired and locally transmitted. All of the Zika virus cases in the US have been considered travel-acquired, which occurs when the patient was infected while traveling outside the US in an area with the Zika-carrying mosquitos and returns to the US. Local transmission is where the patient was infected by a domestic mosquito that carrying the virus. While Zika can also be transmitted by blood transfusion and even sexual contact, the virus would still have originated either through travel or local transmission.

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Aedes Aegypti

As of right now, there are no known cases of the Zika virus in Oklahoma. Dr. Bradley explains that our mosquitos are just different. “In regards to the Zika virus, the Aedes Aegypti, or the common name is the Yellow Fever mosquito, is the main type of mosquito that’s effective in spreading this virus…We only have some parts of the United States that have populations of yellow fever mosquitos and its not in Oklahoma.”

 

While Bradley acknowledges the outbreak sounds alarming, Zika only affects 1 in 5 people. The infection yields mild symptoms of a fever, rash, joint pains, and red eyes. The virus usually is gone within a week’s time. The main concern of Zika revolves entirely around pregnant women as it can cause birth defects in the baby. The common birth defect is microcephaly, where the baby’s head grows much smaller than average and can lead to several developmental disabilities. If you suspect you might have symptoms of the Zika, the CDC recommends seeking your healthcare provider, who can test for the virus.

Zika Virus Prevention Tips

  • Avoid travel to Zika outbreak areas.
  • If you must travel to such areas, wear long-sleeve clothing, use insect repellant, and avoid areas and times where mosquitos are common.
  • Avoid sexual contact or wear protection with Zika-infected individuals.

Dr. Bradley says there is no need for concern but that may not always be the case. While the Zika virus’s main carrier is the Yellow Fever mosquito, there is always the possibility that the virus might spread to a native species of mosquito. With so few cases in the US, chances of a domestic mosquito biting and becoming a carrier of Zika are slim. However, Bradley warns of one upcoming event that might change that, Spring Break.

 

 

The best way to stay safe from the Zika virus is to remain informed. Following information by the CDC will keep you updated and aware of prevention methods. While the potential for a US outbreak does exist, health officials say there is no immediate need to panic. More information on Zika can be found on the CDC website and also by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Health’s Zika page.

Five Tips for the Freshman Journalism Student

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With Fall, many highschool graduates are undertaking the crazy adventure of higher education. Among the college-bound is the next generation of journalists. As the Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Oklahoma Baptist University, I’ve witnessed the shock many students have when they take their first steps into news. Its a lot more work than most realize as they often say, “I had no idea…”

To those brave souls beginning their journey in to journalism, here are my five tips to help you better prepare.

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CONSUME THE NEWS

Are you reading the news? No? Start doing it.

Are you watching news broadcasts? No? Start watching them.

If you want to be a journalist, prepare to eat, breathe, and sleep the news. Haha! Not really, there is no sleep for journalists. You need to be plugged into news all the time. Know what is happening in the world around you and stay informed. Consume news in different formats from different organizations. There is no room for favoritism, read and watch it all. You will not only stay up-to-date with events but learn different styles of reporting.

The more you educate yourself, the better you will be able to report on various topics. You will be stronger at finding stories, covering all the angles, and understanding the weight of certain events.

A great way to be on top of things is through Twitter and Facebook. Follow local and national journalists and news organizations of interest. If you check your social media few times a day, you will get the daily updates straight to your feed.

GET PLUGGED IN

Starting college can be an overwhelming experience. There are plenty of things demanding your attention. However, one of the best ways to establish a strong foundation in journalism is by connecting early with your school’s journalistic organizations. You won’t be expected to know everything from Day 1 but taking baby steps with the group will allow you to gain solid experience. Sticking with it through the years, you can graduate with an established reputation and attractive portfolio.

Make journalism your sport. A college athlete works hard to get on the team and trains to be ready for game day. Similarly, a journalism student needs to get involved and commit the time to getting the publication or broadcast polished. Take on that work ethic and you will be a News MVP in no time!

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USE YOUR ADVISORS

In college, you will have a faculty advisor and plenty of “unofficial” advisors. Your professors are excellent sources of knowledge. Too many students don’t take advantage of their teachers. Many of those old guys have careers longer than your existance and have plenty to share.

Professor’s help those who help themselves. Take iniative and go beyond the classroom. Be open with your advisor on your academic and professional goals. Talk to them about what opportunities are available to advance yourself. Ask your professors to teach you beyond the textbook and about their own experiences professionally.

LEARN EVERYTHING

Journalists used to have dedicated roles. You had a producer, a reporter, a photographer, an editor, etc. Times have changed and journalists are expected to be jacks-of-all-trades. News organizations are looking for journalists to be able to do it all. In some places, reporters are their own photographers and editors. Many times, photographers will be expected to conduct interviews, film the story, edit it all, and publish it. And everybody, I mean everybody, needs to be a social media guru.

News organizations are all experimenting with this new reality and, honestly, schools are still playing catch-up. Your education is your own. If you want to be best prepared for the climate of the newsroom, learn everything. Take courses beyond the role you would like to do. Are you an aspiring reporter? Take some photography and editing courses. Wanna be a photographer? Learn to write. The more tools in your belt, the more prepared you will be for any job.

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START NOW

From this day forth, don’t view yourself as a journalism student. You are a journalist. Even as you are learning the craft, see yourself as a professional. If you are truly serious about being a journalist, start acting like one.

Where to begin? Do an assessment of your online self. Is your social media reflective of how you want job seekers to view you? If not, clean it up. Additionally, consider creating new emails and profiles for the purpose of publishing your work.

If you feel you are ok online, start being a journalist. Find stories, write, take photos, report. If you have a specific topic you’d like to cover, go for it! Be a community journalist. Report on local sports. Cover pop culture. Just start establishing yourself. You will not only be building yourself up as a commodity but gaining invaluable experience. Even if no one views your work, you will have, at least, began training your “muscles” for bigger and better opportunities. If you do gain viewers, you’ll have the beginnings of a killer portfolio. Dream big!

For journalism tips and trends, follow me on Twitter @xtiannetizen.

Four Lessons From A First Year Faculty

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After over a decade in media and journalism, I began a career teaching higher ed. Having come from the professional field, I was not familiar with the world of academia beyond my experience as a student. I knew God put me in the right place but I had many misconceptions and lessons to be learned. Here are just some brief notes on things I learned the hard way.

ITS NOT JUST ABOUT TEACHING

Higher education is about far more than teaching. My fantasy vision of effortlessly imparting my wisdom on the future generation of journalists was quickly overshadowed by the behind-the-scenes of course preparation, constant meetings, recruiting efforts, official and unofficial advising, grading, office hours, course text review, networking, professional development,  emailing, and other side activities. I would say only about 1/4 of my work is actually in the classroom and just as much goes home with me. Don’t read this as a complaint but rather the realization of what “teaching” actually is. It’s all very necessary for both the growth of the students and yourself.

When all of it hits you, there comes a sudden realization how beautifully complicated it all is. Similar to putting on a news show, there are so many elements worked on that must come together for that one moment, the classroom. When it goes poorly, you can see all the little missteps that went into it and hopefully learn from it. When it goes well, you can see all the little efforts that came together to generate the lightbulb in your students’ minds. That one brief moment is what makes it all worth it.

I CANT BE EVERYTHING TO EVERYONE

I was grading the midterm exams and turned into a complete mess. My confidence was zapped and I felt like a loser. A handful of students failed the exam. Frustrated, I took it personally and believed it to be my fault, somehow. Did I make it too hard? Did I not prepare my lessons well? Was there some magical technique that the senior faculty knew that I didn’t? I’m a terrible teacher, I thought.

Similarly, I had some students clearly show disdain towards me and my courses. I even got some negative comments on student reviews! Was I not nice and friendly? Some of those comments aren’t even true so what must I have done to be picked on? Is my teaching boring and worthless? I’m a terrible teacher, I thought again.

So I realized I’m not perfect. And after some reflection and mentoring, I realized neither are my students. Its easy to feel like the classroom of students are homogeneous but that can’t be further from the truth. I’ve got every shade of the rainbow in my classes and each student is an individual. No matter how passionate I am about the material, some students simply will not care. Some students have not learned great studying habits. Some are taking the class just to complete an elective. Some students think my stories are lame and my lectures boring. Some think they know better than me. Some students have personalities that don’t mesh well with mine.

I cannot be everything for everyone. I have to accept that. I am responsible for what I bring as a teacher but not what my students bring. You can bring a horse to water but can’t make it drink. With that, I am called to Christ-likeness and love them equally.

TALK TO EVERYONE

One of the things I love about journalism is what I learn from other people. I love listening to people’s experiences. I always find something I can take with me.

Any university is going to have a sizable staff that have a wealth of experience covering a wealth of topics. Taking the time to know my colleagues across campus opens my eyes to new teaching methods, resources, time management strategies, opportunities, and more. Teaching at a Christian university, I can hear how a business professor is incorporating the Bible into his lectures and adopt it myself. An English professor can share her favorite tool for helping with citation formatting. Going beyond my circle introduces me to new ideas I’d never have thought of.

I also learned to spend plenty of time with non-teaching staff, as well. I gain lots of insights into campus culture and activities by building relationships with secretaries, admission counselors, and even the food service employees. The added benefit of all this is I make plenty of friends to brighten my day!

IM JUST AS MUCH A STUDENT

I adopted a text on journalism and social media which had been published a year prior. It had some fresh ideas but I was surprised to see some of its strategies were already outdated. How could something so new already feel old? I might as well ask myself that question. Only a year out of the news business and some of what I know is already stale.

To be a great teacher, I have to be a great student. I constantly find myself trying to tap into the media vein. Furthermore, I need to study comprehensively various strategies, resources, and industry changes. Its like taking a world religions class where you are learning multiple, often conflicting beliefs.

Almost every free minute I get, I am reading and watching informative media, conversing with professionals, and consuming as much information relevant to my field, as possible. Take it as either exhausting or exhilarating but there is no end for the life-long learner.

A year under my belt. earning my red badge of courage, I find myself just as new as I did last fall. I believe that it will always be the case. While the task may be the same, every year will bring its own challenges, rewards, and lessons to be learned. I am grateful for the opportunity to be an educator. I am a pioneer on an unending quest of discovery.

Smartphone Storytelling: Be Church and Bring Church

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My 2nd entry in my series, “Smartphone Storytelling,” was made with the desire to tell a different kind of story from my previous one. I wanted to work on a NATS package and try to pull it off with only a phone and laptop.

The story of, “Be Church and Bring Church,” arose out of my own personal experiences with church planting and missions and my father’s work as a church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board. I set out to shed light on the challenges faced by church planters and the lack of support by believers. The call to the Great Commission is shared by every Christian but it is the Church’s apathy that has led to many frustrations and failures.

The hardest part of any NATS package is making sure your interviews go correctly. Its like a house of cards. Without solid interviews, the whole thing collapses. Interviewing with a smartphone is a even more complicated than what most backpack journalists deal with. The constant camera shake and limitations of the phone are coupled with the already consuming effort of conducting an interview.

The first interview with John Draper had a lot of issues. Wanting a more relaxed backdrop, we went to a cafe. However, the cafe ground its own beans and caused a lot of noise. Smartphones have omnidirectional microphones which will pick up any background noise. While I want to limit myself to only a phone and computer, I did want to test out a magnetic mini tripod I purchased for $40. It holds the weight of my Galaxy S5 nicely and can stick to any magnetized metal surface. I toyed with it only in this interview and may occassionally utilize it in the future.

The interview with Elie had to be recorded with my computer as I was using my phone to interview the church planter. While using it, I realized the possibility of doing a two camera shoot when combining the two. Set the laptop up for a wide shot and go closer with the smartphone. Synchronize to one audio source. I don’t know. Something to play around with someday.

The smartphone proved to be an excellent candid camera when recording in the church service and in public. A larger set of equipment would have not allowed me to, as freely, move where I wanted to. Almost everyone ignored me and I was able to snag some decent shots. However, capturing the worship leaders on stage led to the struggle with the limited zoom ability on smartphones.

Overall, I feel that I was able to tell a compelling NATS package. Checking off audio storytelling on my list of to-do’s, I hope to do a very visually striking piece in the near future. Stay tuned!

Smartphone Storytelling: Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City

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This is the beginning of an ongoing series I call, “Smartphone Storytelling,” an exploration of how smartphones can play new roles in journalism. Throughout the series, I will limit myself strictly to a smartphone (Galaxy S5) and a laptop (Macbook Pro). I will not use tripods, external microphones, car mounts, or any accessories beyond the built-in features of these two devices (excluding charging and transfer cables). This allows me to work solely with the tools that even the average highshool student would have access to. My hopes is to discover new approaches towards how journalists can use these devices and encourage everyone that, should they have these two basic tools, they have all the power to make their voice heard around the world.

PREVENTING BALTIMORE IN OKLAHOMA CITY

The story I worked on is titled, “Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City.” Previously living in Baltimore, I currently reside in Oklahoma City. I was drawn to the coverage of April’s protests that shook Baltimore. Having seen police-involved deaths here in Oklahoma, I wanted to see what changes were being made and needed to be made to prevent the events of Baltimore from happening here. Speaking with both police and community leaders, I crafted my story. However, anyone in journalism can say how a story changes at a moment’s notice. One moment of breaking news drastically changed everything.

STORYTELLING WITH A SMARTPHONE

This story, being the first, was really meant to be with my technical comfort zone. I did not envision any difficult shots or recording challenges when I started. In fact, the work was made very easy as the phone served a critical part in the story’s development. I conducted research on my phone, made calls, used it’s GPS to get me to the various locations, monitored social media (which is how I discovered the in-custody death), logged my recordings, and was even considering downloading a police scanner app. The combination of the built-in features and apps allow for a great deal of innovation.

Both interior interviews were straightforward. I sat down, supported my elbows with the desktop, and held the phone with both hands (always shooting horizontally). I made sure both the interviews were in a quiet space. Smartphones ‘ microphones act omnidirectionally and will pick up a lot noise. It was imperative to get my phone very close to my subjects (3-4 feet). This shortcoming was what prevented me from getting any useful audio during the press talk by the police at the scene of the in-custody death. Having arrived in the middle of it, I couldn’t get any closer and kept at a distance that picked up too much traffic noise. Recording my own track was perhaps the easiest and I was happy with the quality of the recording.

Broll became considerable harder to film due to the lack of a worthwhile zoom on the camera. The phone did a satisfactory job in capturing wide shots but limited my angles and ability to focus on specific subjects. The medium shots of the police cars suffered both from quality and camera shake. This would be the primary reason why a smartphone would face challenges in reporting on sports and other stories that require the ability to zoom in on the action. To get those great closeups, you physically will need to get closer (which can’t always happen).

At many points in the story, I used video and pictures from other sources. A quick search of “Baltimore protests 2015” under a creative commons filter on Youtube turned up solid video. I also got permission from Mr. Washington to use his videos and images on Facebook. Some online download tools, such as keepvid.com, allowed me to easily get what I needed. With just the one phone, I utilized my laptop’s camera to record my conversations with the OKC media. Additionally, I used Quicktime’s screen capture ability to get the broll of the OKC PD social media sites. All of it allowed me to have many more elements in crafting my story.

For this story, I can’t say I really pushed the boundaries of smartphone use. I did however demonstrate that a complex story can be told with simple tools. I look forward in future entries to have more opportunities to getting up close to subjects and seeing what I can really do.