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Archive for the ‘Journalism’ Category

Greg Sargent has an excellent breakdown of the public relations campaign to make it look like the surge is working and how the media has enabled it.  This sort of thing really is a life or death issue.  The longer this type of crap goes on, the more we’re dying over there. 

This is not a game. 

The conduct of this war should not be evaluated in terms of a political campaign.  Policy principles on the war are infinitely more important than a political career.  Stop playing the game!  Right now, while the cocktail circuit orders another one on the company tab and tells the latest clever anecdote about who said what to who, young men and women are risking their lives conducting dangerous missions which are not designed to get us any further along toward our objectives. 

It’s a disgusting excercise in “looking busy.”  Meanwhile, our media establishment continues to pretend that the dog and pony show is the real thing. 

I wrote this just over a week ago

2. This “Surge is working” meme being pushed by the Bush administration and certain supporters of the war is the function of knee-jerk analysis.  Of course having more troops to conduct more military operations will have an effect on tactical issues.  But tactical military issues aren’t the source of the overall problem.  This war is not primarily about fighting enemy troops in the field of battle.  Killing a bunch of people won’t actually make things better. 

We are trying to prop up/create/maintain/establish a unified Iraqi government which provides security and government services to the people so that markets can function, schools can operate, and people can begin to invest again in their communities.  None of the so-called signs of progress being thrown around loosely by war supporters speak to these issues and therefore evaluating the efficacy of the surge is premature, at best. 

The fact that many war supporters are relying so heavily on skewed data to push their version of the war in the media is an indication to me that they still don’t get it.  They believe the war can be fought and won in the media.  Good public relations is a part of any effective war campaign in this day and age but it’s not an alternative to the facts on the ground. 

But then again it’s convenient to define the war’s progress with the way the media has portrayed it.  It makes pundits who support the war “soldiers” and makes those in the media who don’t play along “the enemy.” 

Somebody please wake up. 

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CBS13 Sacremento in covering the Larry Craig gay sex scandal actually roleplays how to solicit gay sex in a public bathroom.  Hilarious.  God bless local news. 

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There’s an interesting discussion over at Ezra Klein’s for anyone who’s ever been a reporter or been interested in reporting. The impetus was this post at Penquins on the Equator:

I was rather surprised to learn, for instance, that TNR’s fact-checkers don’t check quotes with subjects; they just check quotes against the writers’ notes, which strikes me as less than optimal, particularly given that Stephen Glass fabricated notes to deceive the checkers

Ezra explains that this is common practice for most media outlets that do fact-checking (which is not, of course, most media outlets):

Here’s why: Quite often, a subject will ramble on in an interview and say something they didn’t quite mean to say. These are, generally, the quotes most worth using. But if read back, the subject will deny it, or argue over context, or generally try to edit out whatever bit of illumination they actually let slip. So you don’t give them the second edit.

Some of Ezra’s commentors seem appaled by this, accusing Ezra of meaning that journalists are more interested in getting a salacious quote than getting the truth, and why do reporters still take notes these days anyways, instead of just recording everything?

I agree 100 percent with Ezra’s explanation of why you don’t call sources back to check quotes. I’ve done this a few times, and it can be a disaster. Best case scenario, they just want to “improve,” what they originally said, and you end up wasting time talking to them about the same subject again, risk offending them if you tell them you’re going to stick with the original quote, or appease them and end up with a shmaltzy press-release-esque revised quote from them. Worst case scenario, they said something interesting or revealing off-the-cuff that, when repeated to them, they’ll inevitably want to change and, again, you either go with the original quote anyway, thereby offending them and risking losing a source, or you lose the quotes that were interesting and revealing in your story. Not to mention that by the time fact-checking takes place, a story is usally done, and to change quotes around then would mean the writer has to go back and reconfigure the whole story.

As for the recording interviews thing … well, it’s kind of a pain in the ass. A lot of interviews are conducted by phone, and not all phones are set up to record conversations. When things are recorded (on the phone or in person), there is always the risk that something will happen to the recording, which means the reporter will have to take notes as well as record — in which case, the reporter is probably gonna go from his/her notes anyway. Listening back to the whole recorded transcript of an interview is time-consuming, especially if you’ve interviewed someone with a tendency to ramble. At daily newspapers with tight deadlines, you often just don’t have time to essentially do an interview twice. And I imagine it would probably be a strain on fact-checkers if they had to go back and listen to the entire recorded conversations of everyone every reporter talked to to make sure quotes were not only accurate in wording but in meaning and intent.

All of this to “solve” something which, you know, isn’t really that much of a problem. To paraprhase Ezra, everyone knows the name Stephen Glass because this kind of thing is so rare, not because it’s so common.

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Sometimes the questions raised in a legal battle bear only passing resemblance to the facts of a case.  Neat abstract legal principles are extrapolated from messy realities and the court rules on the principles, often times emphasizing and embellishing certain facts over others in order to make a point. 

So I don’t know exactly what’s going on over at the Santa Barbara News-Press

After a year of name calling, serial litigation and dozens of newsroom defections, American journalism’s nastiest in-house squabble debuted in a courtroom here Tuesday.

Attorneys for eight fired journalists accused Santa Barbara News-Press owner Wendy McCaw of trying to quash a union organizing drive, while the publisher’s lead lawyer argued that the employees overstepped their authority and tried to seize control of the newspaper.

But among other things the dispute raises an issue which should get more attention, as it is an issue being played out nearly everywhere. 

“These are employees who will testify that their sole goal was to take control of the newspaper,” Cappello said, “so the publisher [would have] no control of what is written in the newspaper and how it is written.” He added in his opening statement that McCaw was merely trying to rein in workers who had an inflated “sense of entitlement to write what they wanted, when they wanted” and who, when challenged, denigrated their own paper and publisher.

McCaw bought the newspaper in 2000 from New York Times Co., raising hopes that local ownership would insulate the venerable newspaper from the economic woes plaguing other dailies. Internal disagreements at the paper exploded into public view last summer, when Editor Jerry Roberts, four other top editors and venerable columnist Barney Brantingham resigned en masse.

The journalists said they were protesting improper meddling by McCaw and editorial page editor Travis Armstrong in news decisions. They cited management’s decision to block publication of a story about Armstrong’s drunk driving conviction and a reprimand issued to journalists for publishing actor Rob Lowe’s address in a story about his proposed home construction, something McCaw said was an unwarranted invasion of privacy.

Union activists said the exodus now totaled about 50. Although the News-Press has hired replacement workers, the city desk reporting staff has been reduced to four from 14, according to several journalists who have left the paper. McCaw’s spokeswoman would not confirm or deny those figures.

There is a long and somewhat venerable history of newspaper owners who feel their paper is soap box for their views.  In fact, it was the norm of the press when this country was founded.  But that history has run counter to a relatively recent trend, started in the early 20th century, of professional journalism. 

Media critic Robert McChesney noted that the rise of professional journalism could be linked to media consolidation and the disappearance alternative presses.  Instead of being one voice in a chorus of various perspectives, with that chorus fading, a newspaper needed to market its credibility in order to be relevant.  Otherwise, it would just sound like noise to the readers. 

It was in the cauldron of controversy, during the Progressive era, that the notion of professional journalism came of age. Savvy publishers understood that they needed to have their journalism appear neutral and unbiased, notions entirely foreign to the journalism of the era of the Founding Fathers, or their businesses would be far less profitable. Publishers pushed for the establishment of formal “schools of journalism” to train a cadre of professional editors and reporters. None of these schools existed in 1900; by 1915, all the major schools such as Columbia, Northwestern, Missouri, and Indiana were in full swing. The notion of a separation of the editorial operations from the commercial affairs—termed the separation of church and state—became the professed model. The argument went that trained editors and reporters were granted autonomy by the owners to make the editorial decisions, and these decisions were based on their professional judgment, not the politics of the owners and the advertisers, or their commercial interests to maximize profit. Readers could trust what they read. Owners could sell their neutral monopoly newspapers to everyone in the community and rake in the profits.

I think on some profound level we are starting to see the media swing back to the practices of an earlier era.  With the entry fee into the new media being so cheap and simple, via blogs, there are far more voices today, even in spite of the excessive big media consolidation. 

So while media owners still have an incentive to sell the credibility of its product, FoxNews, Air America, and especially blogs are showing that bias can be a force in the new media. 

I think that’s a good thing, actually. 

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Last week, Google NewsBlog announced:

Starting this week, we’ll be displaying reader comments on stories in Google News, but with a bit of a twist… We’ll be trying out a mechanism for publishing comments from a special subset of readers: those people or organizations who were actual participants in the story in question. Our long-term vision is that any participant will be able to send in their comments, and we’ll show them next to the articles about the story. Comments will be published in full, without any edits, but marked as “comments” so readers know it’s the individual’s perspective, rather than part of a journalist’s report.

I don’t really see how this is a radical departure from anything being done, uh, anywhere else? It’s not as if Google’s allowing interested parties to go in and change the news stories, just add comments after the story. You can already do that on blogs. You can already do that on WaPo.

But a blogger at IP Democracy is in a tizzy over Google’s new feature. In a post titled “Google Loses Mind; Now Accepts News Comments,” Cynthia Brumfield hems and haws over the fact that Google will not exercise editorial jurisprudence over the comments:

Doesn’t Google have some responsibility for the comments its publishes aside from merely ensuring the identity of the commenter? There are a lot of crazy, mean people out there who hold down responsible jobs and get quoted in news articles and blog items. So, can these people just say what they want after only having met the low threshold of 1. being cited in the article and 2. proving they are who they say they are?

Um, yes? Yes they can? They’ve been doing it for years? What?

(More on journalistic reaction to this here)

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Via Lawyers, Guns, and Money

 People who know me know that I hate the general level of incompetence and sheer stupidity of what passes for journalism nowadays.  I subscribe to the radical belief that articles should be informative, filled with facts, identify sources of information, acknowledge bias when it exists, and unequivocally state when someone is clearly in error (or lying).  In other words, journalists should reach past press releases, make some phone calls, interview people, source the people they interview, and check the facts of comments from their sources.  Never let quotes stand alone without at least some attempt to actually, you know, see if what they say is true. 

Needless to say, I don’t come across this type of reporting very often.  This story about Rudy Giuliani from the Village Voice is an example of the best kind of journalism.  There were one or two minor things I took issue with, which were basically incidental to the story, but it’s all out there for you to read, evaluate, and (gasp!) walk away from better informed. 

My short version of this article?  Rudy G is a pompous, political prick who takes credit for things he had nothing to do with, criticizes things he knows nothing about, believes that the proper role of journalists is to regurgitate his talking points and thinks the American people are too stupid to know when he’s lying. 

I suppose that’s what passes for “presidential” in today’s Republican party. 

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The L.A. Times has an article today titled “Democrats shift approach on abortion.”  Here is how it opens. 

Sensing an opportunity to impress religious voters — and tip elections — Democrats in Congress and on the campaign trail have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement.

The rest of the article seems to be about different policy inititatives to help women who want to carry their pregnancy to term without affecting their ability to get an abortion if they want one. 

I don’t see how this has anything to do with the goals of anti-abortion movement.  Many Democrats and some Republicans are trying to address the issues that lead to more abortions without touching the right to have an abortion.  The anti-abortion movement has been doing the exact opposite. 

Here’s a part of the article which represents a more accurate summary of what the Democrats are up to and should have been the lead. 

“We are willing to talk about anything that helps women make good choices,” said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), co-chairwoman of the bipartisan Pro-Choice Caucus. Preventing unplanned pregnancies, she said, “is not the whole story.”

The problem with this article is the framing.  It makes it sound like the anti-abortion movement is “winning over” Democrats and, even worse, Democrats are motivated solely by political gain.  Not actually addressing the needs of those who have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies. 

But conservatives also accuse Democrats of using abortion rhetoric to sell the right on traditional liberal priorities, such as healthcare funding. Democrats have rejected other ideas that conservatives consider highly effective in reducing abortions, such as requiring women to view ultrasound images of the womb.

Right.  Because the issue is addressing the needs of these women.  Not shaming them.  The overriding goal of the anti-abortion movement is to make abortions illegal.  There may be some pro-lifers more willing to except the Clinton framing of making abortions “legal, safe, and rare” but the movement’s goal is getting rid of the choice altogether. 

So anything that does not affect or restrict a woman’s right to an abortion fits snugly within the pro-choice movement and is not a “shift.”  The pro-choice movement has never been just about terminating pregnancies.  It’s about making that choice a choice. 

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