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Watchdogging the Watchdogs

The press 'rolled over and played dead'

Looking back at the state of journalism post Sept. 11, Helen Thomas was outraged with America. The 89-year-old former White House correspondent said in a panel discussion that the press “rolled over and played dead.”

“The press corps gave up its only weapon, which is skepticism,” Thomas said in the “Why Media Matters” event. “They went along with everything the White House said.”

In that instant, Thomas underlined an issue that many believe to warrant serious attention: putting the media under the microscope.

“The irony is that you need a watchdog for the watchdog,” media studies professor Lisa Burns said. “And you really do need it.”

In many people’s eyes, a watchdog has emerged, and his name is Jon Stewart.

“The Daily Show has filled a void,” Burns, a professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden Conn., said. “Sometimes journalists are afraid to be too critical. They don’t want to be criticized by others. They’re worried about repercussions. The Daily Show, though, can get away with it.”

Stewart recently flexed his watchdog muscles after calling out Sean Hannity of Fox News for reusing footage from a Glenn Beck rally and claiming it as footage from his own, smaller rally.

“It’s unethical, it’s questionable, but it’s something that happens,” Burns said. “Hannity’s a major figure in the media, and he deserves to be called out on it.”

And when Stewart is not picking up errors from the major news outlets, and telling Dick Cheney that “You Don’t know Dick,” where he turns Cheney’s own words against him, Stewart’s big gripe on the current state of journalism, like Thomas, is that the news is not being critical enough.

Stewart went on CNN’s “Crossfire,” in 2005 to tell hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala that he believed their show was “hurting America.”

“We need help from the media, and they’re hurting us,” Stewart said. “What you do is not honest. What you do is partisan hackery.”

In 2009, Stewart uncovered an example of questionable media broadcasts from CNBC, providing examples that told people to buy stocks that went under months, and in the case of Bear Stearns, days later.

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s Mad Money, later went on The Daily Show and said: “Absolutely we can do better. There are shenanigans, and we should call them out. I should do a better job at it.”

But as Jon Stewart’s clout and popularity has grown, he has attracted more and more serious political figures to his show, begging the question: does Jon Stewart have a responsibility to ask politicians the tough questions?

“No matter what Jon Stewart says, he is responsible to the country to ask those hard questions,” Quinnipiac political science professor Scott McLean said. “He has a moral responsibility to really question these figures.”

According to McLean, Stewart has become an “institution” in media and politics.

“It isn’t enough for him to say, well I’m not a newsman, I’m just a comedian,” McLean said. “At some point, his program has become enough of an institution that there’s much more of a responsibility on his part to ask the tough questions.”

And for the most part, Burns believed that Stewart has done a good job with that.

“If he did a softball interview with someone, he’d be criticized,” she said. “He’s put himself in that position. When you’ve created such a good product, you do have a level of responsibility.”

In a Time magazine poll, 44 percent of Americans believed Stewart to be the most trusted newscaster after the death of Walter Cronkite. Brian Williams was the second-most trusted, with 29 percent.

“It says something about our media today that people think he’s more honest and reliable than the people they see on the major news networks,” Burns said. “He’s an equal opportunity critic. He’ll criticize whoever’s in front of him, so in some ways, he’s being the most objective.”

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Some scoff at the idea of calling Jon Stewart a journalist. Others are a bit more welcoming of his "reporting." Call Stewart what you will, but know that he has left quite a few news organizations with their pants down. See a few examples below:

Jon Stewart recently caught Fox News's Sean Hannity reusing footage of a Washington crowd without announcing it. Hannity held a protest in Washington, but reused footage from a Glenn Beck protest (a much larger protest). Hannity later apologized.

A Rasmussen Poll adds up to 120 percent, and the Stanford grad Gretchen Carlson has some strangely simple questions.

"In Cramer We Trust," and other slogans endorsed the work of CNBC and their financial advice. But research from The Daily Show in a March 12 episode showed much the opposite, citing video from men like Cramer who advised to buy stock like Bear Stearns days before a massive collapse.

Jon Stewart jumped into the lion's den, speaking to CNN's Crossfire hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala about their respective duties to audiences. 

Quotable: Stewart after Carlson discusses Stewart's light questioning of presidential candidate John Kerry, "I didn't realize that, and maybe this explains quite a bit, is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity."

Notable: Stewart left speechless after asked by an audience member why it's so hard to get a straight answer from politicians, realizing he was not only critiquing CNN, but himself.

A History of Dogging and Watchdogging

Know your satire reporting? Dating back to the 17th century, America has been toying with the ideas of journalism and sarcasm in stories, literature, and cartoons. Give these images a look-see, and see if you can pin the troublemaker.

Seven steps to maximizing profit on eBay

There are 87.7 million registered users on eBay.

Lucky for you, only a fraction of them know how to use the auction/sales Web site to their advantage. With a few tips of the trade from those in the know, you can become an eBay shark, and make some extra moolah in the process.

Meet the Experts:


HEAR the steps to the right

READ the steps below


Step One: Offer Free Shipping

Free shipping is going to get you a better sale, experts, say.
Don’t even think about having your interested buyers pay shipping fees.

“If you don’t offer free shipping, most people won’t even click on your ads,” he said.

Yes, you will have to cover the shipping costs yourself, but you are far more likely to get a higher bid with a free shipping offer thank otherwise. Very simply, more people are going to be looking at your product if you offer free shipping, and almost 100 percent of the time, Lin said, that’s going to mean a better sale value.

Add “Fast Shipping” as well. This does not necessarily mean shipping with priority or extra dollars, you simply need to react fast when people do buy your product.

“Do your own USPS postage and get it out ASAP,” Lin said.

HINT: E-mail on your mobile device is a decided advantage on both the buying and selling end.

Step Two: Titillating Titles

Point out the finer qualities of your product in the title
"Make sure you make the most out of your title," Bram said.

Your title will make or break your product's chances at sales, so be sure to highlight what makes your product a good sell.

"If it is coming with the original box, make sure to say that," Lin said. "It could be something like: 'brand new Wilson tennis racket in box, fast and free shipping, satisfaction guaranteed."

And of course, the age old question: to CAPS LOCK or not to caps lock. A healthy mix is not a bad thing, the experts say, just don't overdo it. Again, you want to highlight the good things, and sometimes putting a certain word in all caps does that.

HINT: Please don't put the whole title in caps-lock. That's just annoying.

Step Three: Sell from the Cellar

Start low: More bidders means more money
Start the bidding at one penny.

"I might not be interested in tennis, but if you post that tennis racket for one cent, I'll bid on it," Lin said. "And it's all about getting bidders."

Fewer people will bid on a more expensive item, Lin continued. And on eBay, increasing the popularity of the auction is the name of the game.

HINT: The Buy-It-Now option should be used primarily for things in high demand, or things you don't particularly expect to make money on. On the one hand, you know what you'll be getting, but on the other, you're aren't going to make any more than the Buy-It-Now price.

Step Four: High Quality Pictures Only

Pictures pictures pictures. Enough said.
Pictures do speak 1,000 words, so using good ones will increase your chances of a better sale exponentially.

"Show the buyer what they're receiving," Bram said. "Take good, quality pictures."Everyone puts up some picture, but make your photos stand out.

The highest quality photo is necessary, Lin said. More pictures (again, good pictures only), and more chances to catch the eye of an eBay user.

HINT: Avoid using photos that aren't yours. Lin, a former online inspector, said that using pictures or descriptions that aren't yours will result in a removal of your posting. And that's not good for sales.

Step Five: Be personal, not professional

Always be there for your clients
"A lot of sellers will describe their product like they're writing a legal document," Lin said. "You want your consumer to see that you are a real seller. A simple, personal ad seems a lot less like a scam."

Be precise, though, Bram notes.

Don't leave out any defects the consumer should be aware of.

HINT: There are detailed seller ratings for every person who has sold something on eBay. Be courteous, polite, and say thank you after making a deal. And don't forget to eat your vegetables.

Step Six: Do Your Homework

Always research competitive pricing
"It never hurts to know some additional 411," Lin said, especially in terms of eBay competition.

See what others are selling your product at to gauge what price you should expect. Seeing the benchmarks will ensure that you aren't asking for something outlandish. It also allows you to find a quality that no one else is offering, and to highlight that in your item.

HINT: Something as simple as the time you choose to end your auction could spell the difference between someone buying your product or someone else's. Make sure you end it at an accessible time, like midday or 8-9 p.m. Don't end it at four in the morning.

Step Seven: Let Your Buyer Know You Are There

Being a top-rated seller is muy bueno.
If someone sends you a question about your product, answer it and answer it fast.

Let your potential buyers know you are available. And when your consumers are happy, they are more likely to give you positive feedback and a nice comment for return.

"That will definitely help you get a better price next time," Lin said. "It just keeps adding up."

Do your own postage, so you'll can receive a tracking number. Give that to your buyer, so they can know where their product is at all times.

Making the Grade

 Students, professor talk is just about essential.

At least, that’s what scores of college students will tell you.

Boasting more than six million ratings in their 10 years of existence, the popular Web site that allows students to rate and comment on college professors has become one of college’s most necessary tools, some say.

“The teacher makes the class,” Quinnipiac University sophomore Leonard Neslin said. “I’m a strong believer in that.”

Neslin, a print journalism major at the Connecticut school, lives and dies by when registration time comes around.

“I’d rather have a good teacher in a subject I don’t care about than a bad teacher in a good class,” he said.

And according to Neslin, the Web site is accurate. But just how accurate?

Lisa Burns is currently one of Neslin’s professors at QU. A media studies professor by trade, Burns has been teaching for 14 years, including seven years at Quinnipiac. Burns first appeared on on Oct. 10, 2003, with a comment that read: “The assignments are pretty cool and she makes the class interesting.”

Since, she has garnered eight more reviews, the latest coming on Jan. 13, 2009 that says: “Don't take if you want to breeze! So hard, def. dampered my senior year social life a bit but she knows a lot!”

Knowledge was a theme in the comments, including several that noted she “knows her stuff.” But two harped on the work load in her classes, including one particularly caustic comment.

“I don't know what these people are talking about, but this lady gives way too much work and has unrealistic expectations,” reads one 2006 post. “She's also very sarcastic and speaks down to people alot. She's really paranoid about cheating so she treats us like were junior high students.”

That comment was topped off with a sad emoticon.

Two of Burns’s current students were asked to review the profile, in full, and say just how accurate a picture paints.

 “Absolutely accurate,” senior print journalism major Andrew Vazzano said. “She does give a lot of work, and it’s tough. But I definitely take a lot away from her class. I enjoy it.”

“What they’re saying online is true,” Neslin said. “Yes, she gives too much work for an introductory level course. Yes, she’s a very good teacher because of how much she knows and her experience in the field, making her a very credible professor.”

But one individual had a slightly different opinion. Her name? Lisa Burns.

“The comments on the Web sites aren’t that reliable,” Burns said. “The problem with these Web sites, from a professor’s perspective, is that usually only two types of students post comments on them. The first are students who loved your class—and those students tend to give you good reviews. The second are the students who hated your class—and those students slam you and the class.”

Burns also felt an important distinction was being missed in terms of class versus professor. One class may have a difficult subject matter, and that has little to do with the professor, she said.

Unfortunately, some classes are not that interesting, and others involve a lot of work,” Burns said. “That isn't always a reflection of the professor.

A professor may struggle the first time teaching a class, she added. A review of one class “might not be representative of a professor’s work in general.” But her students were not so keen on the rebuttal. When asked what, if either, was more important, the class or professor, students agreed.

The professors,” Vazzano, who took a class with Burns twice, firmly responded. “A professor can make a boring class good, but a professor can also make a good class extremely boring.”

Neslin agreed, and believed the common reader to be intelligent enough to see a trend.

“When people use Ratemyprofessor, it’s going to be a smarter person, because they care about their teacher,” he said. “And since they are smarter, they’ll realize the general direction of the comments online.”

And even Burns admitted that if she were an undergraduate student again, she would probably give it a look-see.

“The site is worth checking out,” she said. “But I think that word of mouth is more reliable. I often tell advisees that they should talk to other students about a professor or a course if they want more information. It's a lot easier to give a detailed response in person than to write one out on a Web site.”

Professor Lisa Burns checks out her own profile

(Burns is a professor at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., 15 minutes away from Yale)

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