Regents Heighten Tuition and Students' Wrath - Tribune, Saturday, Nov. 12

Lid on tuition hike pleases students - Deseret News, Saturday, Nov. 12Were the students at Utah's colleges and universities pleased or were they irked at the regents' action? Was the glass half full or half empty?

I figure the student leaders were pretty peeved about the tuition increases but were somewhat relieved the increases weren't higher. But only a reader who saw both stories and read well beyond the headlines would be able to make that judgment.

Interpretation is helpful in a story like this, but a reporter who tries it has to be careful in selecting sources, giving weight to what they say, and putting the comments and facts into a context. Compare competing versions of the same story in different papers on the same day. You'll get a look at how reporters' perceptions make all the difference in the story.

The bare facts were that the state Board of Regents voted tuition increases of nine percent for the four-year universities and seven percent for the two-year schools. The Tribune and Deseret News both added background and reported on student reaction to that decision. But the choice of background and reaction varied considerably.

The Deseret News story gave much weight to how the regent proposals were a notch below the tuition increases originally proposed. It focused on the reaction of the student body president at Southern Utah State College to those differences. He found the vote for a slightly lower increase a "moral victory." It was this interpretation that got into the lead paragraph ("Utah college students believe") and into the headline.

The Deseret News story said farther down that some student leaders felt betrayed but that their mood improved when the proposal was returned from a regents' committee to the entire board. Trying to assess "moods" is always tricky, as hazardous as saying what college students believe on the basis of their leaders' observations.

The Tribune story targeted the reaction of U. of U. student leaders, who said they were angry and called the increase "one-sided and unfair." It did not, however, compare the final figures with the earlier proposals, as the News story did, nor indicate that at least one student leader was not all that disappointed.

One nice feature of the Deseret News story was a box comparing, in tabular form, the typical yearly tuitions at each school compared with what would be paid under the regents' proposal. Such graphics help us get the story at a glance and ought to be used even more.

The following Monday, in its first issue after the meeting, the University of Utah student paper, the Daily Utah Chronicle, was even-handed in its treatment of the story. While the story itself featured student opposition to the regents' action, the headline said simply, "Regents vote for a 9 percent tuition increase." It was the only story among the three that said directly that the increases were dependent on legislative approval of the higher education budget.

(BU) CHINA'S AWAKENING MEDIA: Foreign reporters have not been allowed to visit the worst hit of the areas devastated by the Nov. 6 earthquake in China's remote Yunnan Province. Nonetheless, China is progressing in reporting itself to the outside world since it embarked on its open policy in 1979. What is remarkable is not that the quake hasn't been better reported but that it has been reported at all. Chinese television carried pictures from the scene two days after the quake hit, and the government has apparently been candid about the casualties.

Traditionally, natural disasters rarely were advertised to the outside world. Reporting of these is usually hard, partly because of poor communications, but mostly because of political restraints. News was what built the socialist state, not the dire reports of manifold calamities to which China has been no stranger.

On July 28, 1976, 20 seconds of shifting in the earth's crust under Tangshan, a northeast China industrial city of more than a million population, leveled virtually all of its houses and 95 percent of its public buildings and killed at least 242,000 people.

Yet it was two years before the withdrawn and suspicious China of that era, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, admitted the disaster even to the rest of the Chinese people. Two years ago, a rebuilt Tangshan opened to visitors. Finally, a Chinese newsmagazine called Reportage carried a comprehensive report on the quake's human toll.

The exact figures on the Tangshan dead and injured still are in dispute. Some western analysts say the death figure could be 800,000.

The Chinese also disclosed in discussing the November quake that in 1970 another quake in Yunnan Province killed 40,000. That quake also was not reported at the time.

The Chinese press is still muzzled in important ways, but voices are beginning to argue China needs open media on the Western model if it is to be part of the community of nations and come abreast of the world. Even small gains are heartening.

- MORE FROM AILES: Advertising Age, which has carried a lot of piost-election analysis of presidential campaign advertising, last week had yet another interview with Bush media guru Roger Ailes, even more candid.

His comments on why advertising became such an issue in the campaign: "Because it's easier to cover than issues . . . Electronic media has no interest in substance. There are three ways to get on the air: pictures, attacks, and mistakes. So what you do is spend your time avoiding mistakes, staying on the attack and giving them pictures. You do that and you're guaranteed the lead story on the evening news . . . If I were to talk about world peace, pollution, ethics, no matter how good my programs were, I'd be a guaranteed loser. We put out 200 issue papers with specific proposals and couldn't get . . . a thing covered . . . "