Thursday, August 28, 2008

point and shoot journalism

This is slightly old news, but stick with me:

According to a piece by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Joe Garofoli, comic Jon Stewart took a bunch of print reporters to breakfast on Monday and read them the riot act for letting cable networks set the news agenda. Here's Stewart's beef: quick camera shots on cable followed by quick cuts to the studio where a breathless talking head tells us that this is a matter of urgency. No filters, no depth, no insight, no background. That's the stuff, Stewart says, we should be getting from print -- but don't when the print guys rush to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle.

Good point. Garofoli quotes Stewart:

"We've fallen into this false sense of urgency that they [the cable networks] create," Stewart said. "That idea that everything is breaking news and that if you're not watching us, you're going to miss this thing.

"But nothing they're saying is of any import because nobody filters it. (Print reporters) are able to step back for a moment and think. They're not. They're just pointing a camera and saying, 'What do you think that is? I don't know. Let's go to 'The Situation Room.' "

"It's about earning your authority back. That gravitas," Stewart told the print journalists. "It's showing an expertise. It's the whole reason you guys are in the business. You're not on anyone's team. You're on our team. And that's what's stopped."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

quick-click journalism

Learning by doing: I asked Lotta if I really needed to add links to yesterday's freakishly-long post. I was hoping for a no, but she said yes, as i knew she would. So i spent way more time than I had searching for appropriate links for all those names, etc. What I discovered is that Alberto Manguel was right: a library that has everything becomes a library that has anything.

Linking to sites that were current, comprehensive and somewhat neutral (if you'll forgive the term) was difficult in many cases. And I didn't always do the best job of it. Which makes me wonder if the ease with which we can access (and link to) information online also presents a burden for both writer and reader. Digital journalism (ahem, blogs?) based on quick-clicks, it seems to me, can open the door to a whole bunch of bias in a whole bunch of ways.

Unless we become our own editors, yeah? Caveat emptor. bk

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

dispatch from denver

This just in from Jessica Silliman, a former j-stoner (that's journalism capstone student to the rest of you), now in her second year with Teach For America in Denver. She currently teaches middle school reading and has started a journalism program at her school. (photo credit: jessica silliman)

"The DNC has invaded our city. From road closures to celebrity sightings, the convention is the buzz of the town. It's quite the party, but unfortunately the Pepsi Center is packed nightly with three-piece suits and crazy button-clad delegates. Denverites are forced to peer in from the distance—from across barricades, behind police lines and below sniper fire.

I managed (by accident, I'm sure) to secure a credential to see Monday night's convention festivities, headlined by Michelle Obama. I just watched the YouTube video of her speech to relive the moment and catch lines I missed by the roaring crowd last night. She was electrifying and the replay doesn't do it justice. She brought tears to the packed house. Many likened her speech to Barack circa 2004. If all George Stephanopoulos can complain about is the "kitschy" stage, I'd say it's a great start."

head spins

Dispatches from the Sun Valley Writers Conference: My head is still rocking from three and a half days of talks, panel discussions and break-out groups with folks like NYT reporter Timothy Egan, memoirist Frank Mc Court and Miami Herald columnist and novelist Carl Hiaasen, who by the way is the world’s funniest human being. McCourt is a close second.

More about ideas than process, much of this year's conference was oriented toward politics, current events and journalism, a lot of which will find its way into the classroom this year. A few quick hits: Former reporter Robert Caro, Pulitzer prize winning biographer of Robert Moses and LBJ, talked about his strats for understanding Johnson, lessons that could be applied to any form of journalism. He referenced his first editor at Newsday who told him the key to investigative reporting was documents: “turn every page, kid.” Which Caro did, literally millions of them, which was how he was able to follow the money that was the seat of LBJ’s rise to power. But he also talked about how he came to understand how Johnson was at once a ruthless politician and a champion of the underdog by literally moving to the high plains of Texas, where Johnson grew up.

Similarly, Timothy Egan -- his new book, The Worst Hard Time, is about the tragedy of the dust bowl in the 1930’s -- told how he found the story by searching for and listening (there's the key to all reporting) to the tales of the survivors, most of them women in their 80s and 90s.

NPR journalist John Hockenberry, the program director of the conference, moderated several panel discussions, among them a discussion between former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, New Yorker writer George Packer and ABC White House correspondent Martha Raddatz about everything from the dangers and difficulties in covering the Iraq war to the future of journalism. The sometimes heated debate was followed by a tribute film to the late David Halberstam.

I learned about the transformation of India (while 4 out of 10 of the richest people in the world are Indian, 260 million people in India live on the equivalent of .30/day) from diplomat Shashi Tharoor; changing attitudes in Europe on tolerance, multi-culturalism and Islam from literary journalist Ian Buruma, whose latest book, “Murder in Amsterdam” is on the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh; and the centuries-old culture of the Japanese imperial family from John Burnham Schwartz. His new novel, “The Commoner,” based loosely on the life of the current empress of Japan, imagines the life of the first woman outside the aristocracy to marry into the imperial family, which has been separated and cloistered from mainstream Japanese society by hundreds and hundreds of years of spiritual and cultural tradition. “As a novelist," he says, “you are always trying to enter the silences.” Ditto, journalism.

The conference closed with Argentinian writer Alberto Manguel, who spoke reverentially of books and libraries as the repositories of our collective memory. On the migration of books and information from brick and mortar to cyberspace, he ended with this reflection: “A library that contains everything becomes a library that contains anything.”

So much more. I could go on. And will. Just ask.

Meanwhile, the Democratic convention: Substance or sizzle – or a little bit of both? I understand the blog tent features beer, burritos, couches – and CNN on flat screen TVs. Interesting, yeah?

Finally, speaking of dispatches: Let me know what’s going on in your part of the country, and I will post your dispatches (especially if you happen to be in or around Denver this week) and/or photos.

Alrighty. I’ve just broken a bunch of blogging rules: too long, too many ideas, no pix, and too many linx. I'll learn. bk

Thursday, August 21, 2008

we are our own editors.

People might be changing their patterns of how they get their news, but not necessarily where, writes Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. Commenting on the latest PEW survey on news audiences -- he calls it "the on demand culture" -- he writes:

"This new culture, however, appears to differ from what some technology pioneers imagined. Citizens are not, generally, becoming their own journalists, replacing news professionals. The numbers for that are strikingly limited.

"Instead, already in large numbers, people are becoming their own editors, checking for news throughout the day, hunting through links and aggregators to find what they want, sorting among many sources, while also looking for overviews of what’s new today—and sharing what they find with friends.

"In short, news consumption is shifting from being a passive act—tell me a story—to a proactive one—answer my question."

He notes that people still rely on traditional news outlets -- but in digital form. Those that generate the highest audiences are still the sites connected to "old brands" and also sites that "aggregate" stories from, well, traditional sources.

The plot thickens. Or does it? And where do blogs fit? Is there a spectrum?

BTW, be sure to check out yesterday's comments and keep the conversation going. I am off to the Sun Valley Writer's Conference -- sure to be a humbling experience. Catch you next week. bk

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

josh wolf: real journalist

Josh Wolf, the anarchist-slash- blogger-slash-videographer who did some time in the local pokey for contempt of court for refusing to turn over his videotapes of a G-8 protest in San Francisco's Mission district, has resurfaced. He is now doing time as a reporter for a small daily newspaper in Palo Alto, Calif. What's most interesting to me is not Wolf's reinvention as a mainstream reporter, but the question his case brings up about the evolving definition of journalism -- and what falls under 1st amendment protections -- especially wrt the ever-expanding blog world.

Is there a defining line? Tell me where.... bk

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

thank you, mr. president

I am a sucker for journalism movies and documentaries -- new, old, good, bad.... (see sidebar). Here's a new one: "Thank you, Mr. President: Helen Thomas at the White House". The documentary on the iconic White House reporter who has been a thorn in the side of every president since JFK airs throughout the month on HBO.

btw, if you are looking for comprehensive, check out paul schindler's list: the most definitive ever. bk

Monday, August 18, 2008

a touch of grey

To steal a line from an op-ed on journalism ethics I wrote for the CSM a few years back: "when it comes to reporting, there are some things journalists should always do, some things they should never do, but most of the day-to-day decisions reside in a vast landscape of gray."

Here's a good example of that thorny terrain: In a letter to his readers today, Sioux City Journal editor Mitch Pugh discusses the decision to run a photo of a grieving mother, caught in a moment of raw emotion by the paper's videographer, on page one of last tuesday's paper. I'm not sure I agree with his decision, but I like his analysis of the process.

You also have to wonder if the ability to add video to news sites adds a whole new layer of complexity to the ethical decision-making process. Just because you can, should you?

On a lighter note, if a certain song is on mental replay right now due to the title of this post, go here. Tie-dye optional. bk


Sunday, August 17, 2008


The House has proposed a bill to lift the ban on photos of the coffins of military dead returning from Iraq. I think it's about time. And you?

j.linx will crank up in earnest once the school year starts, providing updates for current students, connections to former ones, links to useful sites, as well as subjects for lively debate for anyone interested in journalism.

In the meantime, let me know where you are, what you're doing, and most importantly, what you think about the above -- or anything else. Catch you in September. bk