Friday, November 21, 2008

Quick! Send me an editor!

Send me a hatchet!

Blogger Jason Linkins blogs on HuffPo today about a piece on by Michael Kinsley who (kind of) blogs about too many blogs. Read Linkins', uh, blog here.

Faced with much too much information out here in webland, the only sane thing for a sensible person to do is step away from the keyboard and exit the net.

As Linkins writes: "So the glut of content may continue to grow and grow, unabated, but it's existence does not necessitate our enslavement to it. Tomorrow, a tree shall fall in a forest somewhere, and this occasion shall pass, un-Twittered."

Or un-linked. bk

Celebrity "journalism"?

Or further adventures in the oxymoronic.

On which I don't even know where to begin. Read this NYT piece on the manipulation of the celebrity press by Brangelina's female half.

* Sources dictating the way they are covered -- and assuming they have the right to do so?

* Magazines paying for the privilege?

* Media companies throwing out serious cash for staged celebrity photos with one hand -- and laying off real journalists with the other?


None of this comes as a surprise. But yet. Read it and weep. Then trade in your subscription to People for a newspaper or magazine that could use your support. bk

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

do you hear that sucking sound?

Rumor has it that Sarah Palin may be looking at a $7 milion dollar book deal.

In an era when money is tight, and word-on-paper is becoming an endangered species, you have to wonder: How much money is that deal siphoning from all those books that could be published -- but aren't? sigh. bk

the dark underbelly ... or what not to do

So yeah, there's no such thing as true objectivity and most stories, if well-reported emerge with a point of view. But here's a great example of absolutely what NOT to do: first assert a point of view and THEN cherry-pick the facts and images that support it, regardless of reality.

Today's HuffPo offers up this piece on Bill O'Reilly who, clearly in a fit of pique about the conservatives having their butts kicked in the election, broadcast this moronic video about the depravity you find on every corner of the city by the Bay. And then took it deadly seriously. Are you kidding me?!

I originally thought the so-called "documentary" had to be a joke. But no. Can someone please get this guy off the air -- or at least make it clear that journalist he is not.

Thanks, Colleen. Watch the video below. bk

a two-fer

In case you missed it, here's the last segment of the first-family-elect's interview on 60 Minutes last week. It's a slow-paced, comfortable and charming interview that reveals a lot about Michelle and Barack, not because of what they say -- but how they respond to the questions, and to each other. Watch how the interviewer controls the conversation while remaining in the background. Also, look at the list of questions on his lap: good prep.

And at the end of the piece, an ode to newspapers from Andy Rooney, who points out that there is "no decline in the faith people put in their newspapers." Yeah, you could dismiss what he has to say as the ranting of an old curmudgeon. But don't.

Thanks, Shannon! bk

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

fast break

Thirty years ago, the city of San Francisco underwent ten days of unfathomable tragedy, bookended by the Jonestown mass suicide of 900 members of the People's Temple (many of them with family in San Francisco) -- and the murders of S.F. Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by Dan White, a former member of the Board of Supes.

The SF Chronicle has run a three-day series on those "Ten Days That Shook the City". Today's final piece is written by the reporter who dashed to City Hall to cover a police action, not knowing that the mayor had been shot.

Read closely and you will feel the adrenaline rush that comes with covering fast-breaking news. You'll also catch a glimpse of police beat reporting at a pretty horrific moment in time. bk

Monday, November 17, 2008

going dark

So last week we got into a discussion about digital news, cable TV and traditional journalism -- all pegged to this story on Martin Eisenstadt, the anonymous McCain staffer who was reported to have leaked the much-told tale that Sarah Palin did not know that Africa was a continent.

Cable chatterers, from both sides of the dial, ate it up. We all did.


There is no Eisenstadt. He never worked on McCain's campaign. Even if he did, he doesn't know Palin from six bits. And his blog? Yeah, it's a hoax.

The question was how could journalists report anything like that without checking it out, and whether blogs and youtube tend to enable sloppyy reporting.

Chitchat evolved into a debate about political reporting, cable news itself, and whether any original journalism goes on there at all -- with one student, who may have been channeling Chris Matthews, finally saying that by the time night falls, everyone already knows what's happened anyway, so if folks tune in at all, all they are looking for is spin.

Really? In other words, people are so news hungry, they update themselves throughout the day? To test the theory, I looked at the clock (2:45 p.m.) and said to the class in general: okay, so tell me what's happened so far today. Sheepish looks, total silence. All of which led, in turn, to a serious discussion (okay, a rant) about whether the general (okay, appalling) lack of interest in current events -- even among journalism students, for the love of God -- is partly responsible for the implosion of the news media. We get what we ask for?

So the question became what do we do to support good journalism -- and how do we get people across the board to understand how vital it is to our communities, to our democracy.

Katie Powers, Editor-in-Chief of our campus newspaper, had brought up the original question about Eisenstadt. Her suggestion: maybe journalists across the country should go on strike for 24 hours. No news. Nothing for fatuous blogs to link to. No fodder for cable spin.

Just go dark. Kinda like it. bk

Saturday, November 15, 2008

social media for the rest of us

Former capstoner Andrea Ragni forwarded this link to a listing on Mashable of the ten best social media tools for reporters and PR folks alike.

She writes: "As a PR professional, I find these resources to be helpful - at least the HARO one and it's incredibly reputable. I often wish I had such a resource when I was writing my capstone...but then again I'm sure I wouldn't have learned as much :)

"In any event, I think proposing the question about whether or not
journalists have it "easy" now with such ways to tap vast masses of people would be good food for thought."

Good question. I do think in a way it IS easier for reporters to find sources, thanks to social media and other online tools. (And, of course, PR folks to find us.) On the other hand, there is also a caveat. As Alberto Manguel suggested at the Sun Valley Writers Conference, "A library that contains everything becomes a library that contains anything."

Ascertaining whether those sources we easily find are credible still requires, well, reporting.

But back to Andrea. Two years ago, she wrote her capstone on Second Life, which was not only new to me but to virtually (pun intentional) everyone else in the course. Each class she would regale us with the in-world tales of her avatar, who was hanging with everyone from a wannabe gangster to a Brit fashion designer. Couldn't help thinking about Andrea yesterday when I heard that an online affair in Second Life had led to a real-world divorce in the UK. bk

Friday, November 14, 2008

Phoenix rising?

Like just about everything else in this economy, women's (and men's) magazines are hurting, too. WWDMedia reports that ad pages in fashion magazines have taken a 10 percent hit. (Be sure to check out the chart at the bottom of the page.)

What strikes me is that when ad pages disappear, the dark side should be taking as big a hit as editorial, yeah?

As media continues to contract across the boards, you have to wonder what will be left standing and in what form. (The old-school high-tech term was shake-out.) Maybe we (that's the collective "we") will come to terms with the essentials when it comes to media and pour our limited resources in that direction, resulting in a stronger, more responsible news media, magazine and otherwise.

And maybe we will also eventually see the job opps flip so that bright, young well-trained media types will gravitate toward news rather than spin if only because that's where the paychecks are.

Fantasyland? Possibly. Still, you gotta hope. bk

another opportunity is looking for student journalists to write news articles, features and op-eds. Go here to find out how to pitch.

According to its mission statement:
"Campus Progress, part of the Center for American Progress, works to help young people -- advocates, activists, journalists, artists -- make their voices heard on issues that matter. Through an online magazine and student publications, public events, multimedia projects, and grassroots issue campaigns, Campus Progress acts to empower new progressive leaders nationwide as they develop fresh ideas, communicate in new ways, push policy outcomes in a progressive direction, and build a strong progressive movement."

WIRED magazine internships

Good opportunity: Paid. Full-time. For recent grads.

Read the ad here.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


One last riff on objectivity, at least for today, from Fine on Media in Business Week. Read it here.

This graf on the Wall Street Journal gets right to the point:

"I’ve defended, even
very recently, against the notion that a News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal has been slowly tilting rightward, a notion that more than a couple of Journal readers have floated past me in recent weeks. I still stand by this. Although what’s more to the point is that I frankly don’t care, as long as the Journal reports actual facts and I can still access hundreds of other news sources as a counterweight."

I noticed something similar last week, on an early flight back from PA. We grabbed a WST from the hotel lobby on our dash to the airport, and I was pleasantly surprised at how even-handed, comprehensive and credible the reporting on the last weekend of the campaign seemed to be. I found no agenda whatsoever -- until i turned to the op-ed page.

As for the bias I found there, frankly, I didn't care. bk

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

objectivity, redefined. again

Editor and Publisher columnist Joe Stupp poses an interesting question today about how, when new media is folded into old, we are forced to reevaluate what we mean by objectivity. He thinks that may be a good thing.

What we now consider journalism has morphed into a digital hybrid of straight reporting, blogging, commentary, and personality journalism -- complete with the dreaded first person -- often on the same webpage. And with one reporter often wearing several of those hats, lines blur.

It's not that the core values of journalism -- honesty, accuracy, fairness -- don't still hold, even when it comes to blogging and commentary, Stupp's piece suggests. But maybe now that one form is bleeding into the other, it's time to throw the old definition of objectivity as a 50/50 balance straight out the window.

And acknowledge that it never really existed anyway.

From the column:
Andrew Malcolm, who has covered politics since 1968 and blogs at the Los Angeles Times' "Top of the Ticket," says he still treats each item like a fact-based story, but with some buzz and style. "Most non-newspaper blogs are committed, one way or another — there is a slant," he says. "They are selling a particular view. Our niche is to be sort of unexpected. But it is possible to be a real professional. Cover something straight and develop a perspective to inform your discussion."

L.A. Times Washington bureau chief Doyle McManus points out the different views of what is objective. "I think it means presenting every side of an argument fairly in ways that the proponents would accept as valid," he says.

But more and more, both new media and old-fashioned news types are disagreeing with that approach. The growing trend is that the truth must surpass the 50/50 doctrine. "We have gotten it so wrong with the idea of giving equal play to both sides," says Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of and a longtime proponent of trading arbitrary "balance" for truth. "We are not always going to be balanced. Very often, it is one side or the other." She cited the ongoing arguments against global warming, which she contends mainstream journalists allowed for too long to go unchallenged: "We wasted a lot of journalistic capital on global warming trying to be balanced." She says the recent government rescue of financial institutions is another, noting too many mainstream outlets did not question if the bailout was needed: "Those of us who live online already dismissed certain elements of the bailout, such as the lack of oversight."

Adds [
Keith] Woods, [dean of faculty at the Poynter Institute]: "Whether you quote both sides does not change what is the truth. We allow the 50/50 idea to substitute for truth. Where we often fail is when we may get somebody on one side with deep knowledge, understanding, perspective, and credibility to speak and on the other side someone with just an opinion, but they have no credibility."

[Boston Globe Editor Martin] Baron agrees: "We are involved in journalism, not stenography exercises. It is finding out what is actually happening. Balance means every story gets 50/50? I don't believe that."

the beat goes on

Jack Gillum sent me a link to this Q-and-A with New York Times White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg. She discusses the ins and outs of Washington beat reporting, why you don't want to go to the chummy place with sources -- but how you can be shut out if you don't, especially when dealing with a freakishly secretive administration.

(Jack adds: "Note how long they've requested an interview with the president")

What she has to say can be applied to any beat reporter, even those of you struggling through the dog days of Comm 141. bk

P.S. Back to Jack. He also wrote: "I was in the newsroom on election night, and it was a flurry of activity. Then I went to downtown DC and saw people cheering in front of the White House and dancing on cars. What a country."

who says liberals have no sense of humor?

The headlines read:

"Iraq War Ends"
"Nation Sets its Sights on Building Sane Economy"
"Ex-secretary Apologizes for WMD Scare"

And my personal favorite in the bogus business section: “Public Relations Industry Forecasts a Series of Massive Layoffs.”

Other articles tell readers that we have initiated a national healthcare program, have abolished corporated lobbying, and established a maximum wage for CEOs.

It's all the elaborate and expensive work of a bunch of pranksters -- clearly progressives with a sense of humor -- who printed and distributed free copies of the fake NYT at busy subway stops throughout the city. A group that calls itself the Yes Men took credit for the hoax:

"In an elaborate operation six months in the planning, 1.2 million papers were printed at six different presses and driven to prearranged pickup locations, where thousands of volunteers stood ready to pass them out on the street."

On a more serious note, one of the writers told the rationale behind the spoof:

"It's all about how at this point, we need to push harder than ever," said Bertha Suttner, one of the newspaper's writers. "We've got to make sure Obama and all the other Democrats do what we elected them to do. After eight, or maybe twenty-eight years of hell, we need to start imagining heaven."

The newspaper is dated July 4, 2009.

Monday, November 10, 2008

et tu, oprah?

The New York times reports that Hearst Corporation is planning to kill O at Home, a spinoff of its insanely popular O, The Oprah Magazine. Word is out that Hearst has cut staff at other pubs as well.
Remove Formatting from selection
The problem is not that audiences are shrinking -- They are not. Especially online -- but that advertising revenues are.

Clearly, the readers are out there. So are the writers. But where's the new business model?

photo credit: shannon kelley gould
santa barbara independent

wired presidency

The Washington Post has an intriguing piece today on how the Obama presidency might use its unprecedented online organization to communicate directly with constituents -- and in a targeted way -- in a manner that has never happened before.

What's more: there will be instant interactivity so that, at least in theory, constituents will be able to communicate directly with the White House.

All good.

Except for that tiny nagging feeling, even if the president-elect was clearly your guy: If the news media can be side-stepped, will there still be folks out there willing to mediate the message in a credible way? And will we pay attention if/when they do?

Don't know. Can't say. Something to think about, though. bk

Sunday, November 9, 2008

dispatch from jeremy

You may be wondering what it's like to be in j-school on an election night. Jeremy Herb, a former capstoner and currently a grad student at Columbia, forwards this quick note:

I did get to report on the presidential race for a "deadline team" on election day. I was at the Republican camp for most of the night which was, umm, interesting. But fun overall. And then I went to the Democratic event three blocks away, and it was just nuts. Such a fun day, 17 hours of working and I wouldn't have wanted anything less.

You can see everything Columbia did here: Three broadcasts (radio, video, new media) + the print team that I was on. We had to file stories at 5 p.m. 9 p.m. and midnight, which was also good experience and nerve wracking when I had no Internet.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

"information is not free..."

The infamous geewhy sent me a link to this piece from The Century Foundation that, in the face of Google’s $125 million settlement with book publishers vis-a-vis lawsuits challenging the right to digitize copyrighted books for search and distribution without paying for them, wonders why newspapers and news mags aren't getting paid when their stories pop up on Google and other search engines.

And, I might add, on blogs (like this), which would be nothing but silly first-person riffs without links to the work of reporters out there doing the job.

While the majority of bloggers make no money whatsoever, Google makes boatloads. Shouldn't there be a way to share the wealth they make off the backs of the folks who actually do the work? It's a great question, and as the piece points out, an urgent one:

"There is a running and increasingly urgent dialogue under way about new business models for newsgathering in which the brutal realities of lost advertising and circulation are balanced against the still paltry revenues generated by the online newspapers and news magazines. Audiences for news from traditional providers are stratospheric. (On September 29, the day the first Bush bailout proposal was voted down by the House and the Dow Jones went down almost 800 points, the New York Times Web site had 10 million visitors and 42.7 million page views.) And yet the news proprietors have chosen or been unable to do what the pokey old book publisher and authors did: take on Google for what is an absolutely core issue of fairness and increasingly of survival."

The story ends:

"... But the issue itself is very clear: the collection of quality news is expensive, and it is seriously threatened. Google drives a very hard bargain in pursuing its business interests, but can be brought around by persistence and grit. There is a vast amount of money changing hands for news these days. A way has to be found—and fast—for those now making money from the distribution of news to pay for it."

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Mark Purdy sent me this link to President-elect Obama's commencement address to the Northwestern University's class of 2006.

FYI: In 2005, the commencement speaker was John McCain. About three minutes in, Obama mentions the fact that a Northwestern student paper columnist wrote that she hopes that in his speech, he is "better than John McCain."

But listen to the themes. That's where you will find the real foreshadowing. Almost half an hour, but well worth it. bk

go ask alice

More: For those of us who were obsessed with the campaign, Alice forwards this link to a piece from The Onion that, well, mocks us all.

She also just started a blog. bk

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

the day after christmas

On Monday I got a text from someone very near and very dear to me who wrote: "Don't you feel like a little kid on Christmas Eve today?

The answer was yes. Indeed.

On Tuesday, I like many others around the nation, was so excited/nervous, I was about ready to jump out of my skin. Imagine trying to be coherent in the classroom. I came close to letting my afternoon class talk me into migrating from the classroom to a nearby bar with a TV tuned to CNN.

Then Tuesday night: euphoria. One of those capsules of time when all of us will remember exactly where we were at the historic moment.

And now today. On Tuesday, I had gotten an email from Alice Joy, a former capstone kid, who had previously done a piece in my magazine class about the brutal withdrawal among young campaigners who had worked long and sleepless hours for the Kerry campaign. She forwarded this link to a recent piece on This American Life that seems particulary relevant.

She wrote: "I don't know if you remember my magazine article on youth campaign workers in the 2004 election and their post-election depression but this piece just seems like the natural set-up to the article I had written - all these young people 110 percent invested in a cause, pouring all their time and energy into it. I was really thinking just how devastating it's going to be if Obama does lose. It occurred to me, however, that there will probably be some sense of loss for these volunteers even if he DOES win, just because of the inevitable let down once something is over."

The San Francisco Chronicle's Steve Winn also addressed the issue for the rest of us who participated vicariously (Full disclosure: Tom and I did our part in a battleground state at the other side of the country over the weekend. Four turfs in one day, thank you, if you happen to know what that means) Winn quotes media guru Robert Thompson: "This year more than in a very long time, come the day after the election, it's going to feel like the entire nation has woken up in a collective political equivalent of Dec. 26," predicts Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. "The presents look more promising before they're opened. The tree is starting to look a little funky. Reality sets in."

Finally, here's a piece from The New Republic that looks at the end-of-the-campaign from the point of view of the reporters who have been on the campaign trail for what seems like forever.

None of which is to say that the outcome of this campaign has been any less than spectacular. Just that real life will be dull by comparison. bk

have the reports of its untimely demise been greatly exaggerated?

Maybe print isn't dying afterall.

Word on the street is that because the demand for today's paper far out-trumped the supply, the New York Times had to do an extra press run today. Here's a picture of people waiting in line to buy a copy.

How cool is that? bk

Monday, November 3, 2008

"curiosity never killed this cat"

RIP: Studs Terkel, the master of the oral history, the journalist who truly gave voice to the voiceless, and the inspiration for many of us -- reporters, profs, and students alike.

As Charles Kuralt once said, "When Studs Terkel listened, people talked."

Even Marcel Marceau.

Of the many obits written over the past few days, I like this one the best. I read it while out of town, doing my part for that other important guy from Chicago. bk

Photo credit: Associated Press. Author Studs Terkel celebrating after winning the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for his novel, "The Good War" (welt online)