March 24, 2005
Boston University J-School Faculty Takes a Stand on Video News Releases. Very Intelligent.
"[We] condemn the use of “phony” reporters hired by the government to perform in VNRs where their affiliation with government is unstated, and urge the Administration to translate the President’s words into action by ceasing this practice at once."
Journalism schools have not been known as places from which rebellion is likely to come. Far short of rebellion is their record for taking stances on things that are, shall we say, at stake in the news. The record is basically non-existent.
Journalism Deans (I was a department chair, which is like a dean without secretaries…) might and did speak up as individuals, but not as a council, which might have had some weight but also meant agreeing on what to throw our weight behind. This didn’t happen much during my years of service.
Many faculty members are media critics, of course, and get involved in the passions of the times, but as individuals, not as “the faculty” speaking into public debate. I’m not saying it never happens, but it rarely happens; and during the recent stresses and strains on the press, we haven’t seen J-school faculties passing many resolutions, or putting up much of a fight. (Including, of course, the NYU chapter.)
One could argue that this system is a wise system. “Let individuals take stands.” Most of the time that works.
So I was mildly surprised and mighty interested when I received a copy of a unanimous resolution passed by the Boston University Journalism Department Faculty and circulated to other J-Schools by Bob Zelnick, the former ABC News correspondent who now teaches journalism for a living.
The resolution condemned the practice of broadcasting government video news releases (VNRs) where the source of the material is not identified. It condemned the use in VNRs of “phony reporters” and their phony reports, “including sign-offs.” And, in its most important section, the Boston University Journalism Faculty urge the Bush Administration “to identify and cease other practices with respect to VNRs that run a substantial risk of misleading the public.”
Which is speaking from the seminar room directly to the White House.
Zelnick, who describes himself as a Republican and a conservative today, said in a cover memo to us, his colleagues in J-schools at other universities, that the action his faculty took was, in a sense, a memorial to a time when such actions made a difference.
“During the civil rights era, and again during the Vietnam war, we found that simple appeals to decency and respect for the rule of law presented by academicians often carried great moral and political impact,” Zelnick wrote to us. “We believe the same may be true with respect to this situation which strikes at the core of journalistic integrity.”
And then he urged other faculties to join his. Here’s the Resolution. On the other side, I will have some analysis, and more from Zelnick (who is an interesting man) on why he did it.
of the Boston University Journalism Faculty
Condemning Fraudulent Use of Video News Releases
March 22, 2005
As educators of the next generation of American journalists, we the journalism faculty at the College of Communication, Boston University:
Recognize the need of citizens in a democracy for information that is accurate, unbiased and independently gathered and presented;
Recognize the vital need of government to communicate with its citizens and the useful role print and video news releases (VNRs) can play in this process;
Recognize the obligation of news organizations to identify clearly the origin of any editorial material provided by government, business, interest group or any source other than their own news gathering or that of affiliated news organizations;
Recognize the obligation of government to avoid using VNRs for purposes of political advocacy or propaganda;
Recognize the need to avoid presenting the material in a way that invites public confusion as to its source;
Note the President’s recent statement that acknowledges the need to maintain a clear line of distinction between journalists and members of the government or Administration;
Condemn the use of “phony” reporters hired by the government to perform in VNRs where their affiliation with government is unstated, and urge the Administration to translate the President’s words into action by ceasing this practice at once;
Urge the Administration to identify and cease other practices with respect to VNRs that run a substantial risk of misleading the public;
Condemn the deliberate use by television news outlets of material knowingly obtained from the Administration without clear identification of its origin, and urge all members of the media to cease this deceptive practice at once.
We invite colleagues at other journalism schools and departments to endorse the Boston University Resolution.
of the Boston University Journalism Faculty
Condemning Fraudulent Use of Video News Releases
March 22, 2005
Department Chairman Bob Zelnick’s Letter to Colleagues:
Attached is a resolution adopted yesterday by the faculty of the Boston University Department of Journalism condemning the practice of broadcasting government video news releases (VNRs) where the source of the material is not identified.
We find particularly objectionable the use of “phony reporters” hired by one agency or another who deliver complete reports, including sign offs, without ever mentioning their affiliation and, in some cases misrepresenting it.
We also condemn those stations that knowingly run news segments, written, shot and recorded by the government with no identification as to the source of the material. We regard these practices as unethical journalism that run a high risk of confusing or even deceiving the public.
During the civil rights era, and again during the Vietnam war, we found that simple appeals to decency and respect for the rule of law presented by academicians often carried great moral and political impact. We believe the same may be true with respect to this situation which strikes at the core of journalistic integrity.
Accordingly we invite your distinguished faculty to join us in protesting the subversion of journalistic values both by the Government and those media collaborators who seek competitive advantage at the expense of fundamental public integrity.
Please let me know how your faculty responds to this invitation. It is my judgment that by acting in concert, we can achieve significant results.
College of Communication
Zelnick said he had a sense of alarm about the political moment in journalism. He did not think we were in danger of losing a free press; “that would be too much.” His concern was that the “press is losing its influence and standing in public policy debates.” In effect, a loss of power, but also truthtelling authority.
Zelnick traced things back to Nixon and Agnew and “they way they turned the power of the news media against itself.” (Which I thought a great way of putting it.) He said he recognized, as did others who have been around, that there is a pendulum swing in government and press relations; as they struggle for control of the news agenda, one side will gain on the other. But this situation was different.
“I don’t see the pendulum swinging back,” Zelnick told me. “I see us heading toward lower public standing, our confidence eroding, with the press losing some of its freedom not to government, but to corporate ownership. A lot of negatives. But they do not amount to the press being unfree.”
True. He clearly wanted to be what is sometimes called (in the biz) an “activist” chair, and stir the pot with his term. I told Zelnick that I admired what he had done, and would pass it along to his counterpart at NYU, acting chair Professor Mitchell Stephens— also a journalism historian, media critic, friend, co-author. It would be Mitch’s decision to bring this before the faculty, and I hope he will.
“I can think of a number of issues large enough to benefit from the expressions of the journalism faculty,” he said. Zelnick was serious about parallels to the civil rights era. It seemed to me he was asking the perfect question: if once there were university faculties who felt they had authority to speak in resolution form on vital questions of the day, what happened to that voice?
Did it go away, or did it die? “I would like to see other schools endorse the Resolution,” he said. And maybe more collective action down the road. He said he considered us—the J-school faculty of America!—an “untapped resource.” And of course we are. Zelnick’s a good chair; he knows what he’s doing. But it is the faculty who excelled here, speaking as one. (Itself a victory over the narcissism of small differences.)
Their statement is not excessive. It is not toothless; it has bite. It describes what is wrong. It objects with precision. It connects the duty to speak out with the duty to teach and set an example for the next generation. It is hard on professional journalists (“… We also condemn those stations that knowingly run news segments, written, shot and recorded by the government”) and on politicians or would-be propagandists.
But also notice: the resolution does not grandstand and condemn the Video News Release as a form. It is not about attacking public relations people. Or the Bush Administration with some grand theory, such as you might find at PressThink. It recognizes that government has to communicate information to citizens. It calls on the President to do something: review and cease VNR practices that “run a substantial risk of misleading the public.” It was put together with care and it shows fine political judgment. It limits itself to one thing: a matter of misleading the public— by design.
Thanks, Boston University Journalism Faculty, thanks Bob Zelnick, for setting an intelligent example.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…
At Nieman Watchdog, former Washington Post editor Barry Sussman writes: “Reporters should put the question about the fake videos not to groups that may be seen as adversaries of Bush but rather to his allies, including Republican governors, senators and other GOP figures. I expect some of them will have strong opinions on the issue, if asked.”
Susan Poling, managing associate general counsel at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), interviewed on On the Media:
SUSAN POLING: We didn’t choose to go by defining propaganda. Propaganda is a little bit in the eyes of the beholder. One person’s information or facts is another person’s propaganda. In a pre-packaged news story, an agency is emphasizing some facts and leaving others out. It’s just by the nature of anyone who sits down and writes something - they tell you some things; they don’t tell you other things. When you can evaluate what the source is, then you can help decide for yourself what information you are getting. So, we believe that it’s truly the covert nature of this that pushes it over into propaganda, because if the material were properly identified, we would say it is informational.
Brooke Gladstone of On the Media talks to Barbara Cochran, head of the Radio and Television News Directors Association:
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, the president of the RTNDA would never advocate additional rules coming from the FCC. I understand that. On the other hand, though the RTNDA has a policy, it has absolutely no way to enforce it, and not even any way to monitor these infractions. So, broadcasters can continue to play these things without consequences.
BARBARA COCHRAN: You know, I think, again, the number of instances in which this material has actually been used are so few, relatively speaking, compared to all the information that goes out over the air all the time on so many local television stations.
“It is fair, of course, for the government to communicate with citizens via press releases on video as well as in print. It is not ethical or appropriate, however, to employ people to pose as journalists, either on or off camera.” From the American Society of Newspaper Editors letter of protest to Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson in the Karen Ryan case. (The Radio and Television News Directors Association, the comparable group in broadcast journalism, did not send such a letter.)
Andy Lark: “This is exactly the kind of leadership I wish we could get from the various PR associations that exist.”
Tom Rosenstiel and Marion Just write on the op-ed page of the New York Times:
Local broadcasters are being asked to do more with less, and they have been forced to rely more on prepackaged news to take up the slack. So we don’t have to search far to discover why the Bush administration has succeeded so well in getting its news releases on the air. The public companies that own TV stations are so intent on increasing their stock price and pleasing their shareholders that they are squeezing the news out of the news business.
Online petition from Free Press, an activist group, to Stop News Fraud. (41,000 signatures so far.)
Kudos to thinking man Joe Territo, who changed his mind about this post.
Slate, The Age of Missing Information: The Bush administration’s campaign against openness.
From the Washington Post, evidence that “the press” as a kind of umbrella institution does exist and will occasionally take action:
The friend-of-the-court brief was filed by 36 news organizations, including The Washington Post and major broadcast and cable television news networks, in support of reporters at the New York Times and Time magazine who face possible jail time for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigating the allegations. Those two organizations filed a petition Tuesday asking the full appeals court to review the case.
New York Times, Columbia Plans 2nd Master’s in Journalism. It’s the dawn of a two-year Master’s program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. (President Lee Bollinger is quoted.)
There will be two compulsory courses, a history of journalism and another, taught by the dean, on evidence and inference, in which students will learn to find and interpret statistics, archives and legal documents.
The program will also feature four yearlong seminars, based on subjects taught elsewhere in the university but intended for journalists. These include arts and culture, economics and business, politics and science. The program plans to add other courses, including immersion courses in Arabic, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish.
“We were very clear that what’s involved here is not farming out students to different disciplines, to simply learn what you learn in any political science class,” Bollinger said, “but, how do you create the materials and subject and form and shape of a deep, professional education for journalists?”
Posted by Jay Rosen at March 24, 2005 1:34 PM
I'd like to engage Robin Burk and Stephen Water's comments on what they find to be an off-putting claim to moral authority in the Zelnick memo. Not surprisingly, I had a starkly different reading of the situation.
Given that Zelnick is a Republican, I assumed the reference to the civil rights movement was supposed to raise an issue MOST OF US CAN AGREE ON--that African-Americans should be treated equally under the law. Given that it is unlikely a Republican journalist would be undertaking a hippie-style jab at Bush from the left, I understood him to be saying the following:
In the past, U.S. political leaders had concern for the public good, and were shamed into doing what was morally right and for the greater good of the American people, even when it was politiclly inconvenient, when those issues were raised as moral issues by non-politicians such as Martin Luther King, along with an enormous variety of allied and supporting groups such as Journalism faculties, among MANY others. (Noone thinks journalism faculties were the be all and end all of the civil rights movement).
I took the point of the resolution's raising the issue to be a VERY GENEROUS Republican-friendly suggestion that, despite all appearances of President Bush and his administration's actions to date on the VNR issue, particularly the latest memo that explicitly rejects a US court ruling on what is best for the country, the BU Journalism faculty will nevertheless give President Bush THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. They will assume President Bush sincerely has the best interests of the US at heart, and when he hears the Journalism faculty's resolution explaining that following the court ruling is in the best interest of the country, because they assume President Bush to be a man of honor who does have shame, they assume that President Bush will respond positively.
The implication is that if he does not respond positively, President Bush is not a man of honor who has the country's best interests at heart, and by his actions we may assume he has no shame. They leave it up to President Bush to show by his actions what sort of man we must understand him to be. They do not impute bad faith (though there is overwhelming evidence of it), and they do not accuse the administration of self-consciously choosing deception or disinformation (though there is nothing else we could accurately call it). I see only remarkable restraint in the resolution.
This is much more diplomatic than Brent Scowcroft's statement, for example, that the Bush administration policy community consistently describes a fantasy world that conveniently fits suits the neo-con PNAC foreign policy agenda. By contrast, the BU faculty resolution assumes that Bush has a conscience, does not impute ill-intent and leaves it up to Bush how he will situate himself by his response.
Secondly, in the midst of the GOP circus of moral righteousness over the fate of Terri Schiavo, to get stopped in your tracks over the VERY IDEA that a professional group would presume to judge moral issues is simply stunning. The GOP is incrementally pulling down the constitutional structure of our government with trial by law in their over-weening insistence on demanding that the uninformed religious judgement of the pathologically controlling parents of a bulimic (a psychological syndrome tied to overly controlling parents by definition) trumps professional medical and legal opinion of dozens of doctors and judges of any and all political persuasions.
Is the problem that religious high-ground is to be admired, but claims to moral high-ground are implicitly secular, therefore suspect?
Either way, the allergy to moral judgment on the part of a professional group strikes me as a way of insisting that only people who agree with me have the right to judge right and wrong. A little more press coverage of the fact that the Terry Schiavo case is precisely a question of judgement--that it involves deeply opposed moral convictions would improve the coverage.
Up to now, it has basically been wall-to-wall fundamentalists as if there were no other possible concept of religious and moral right, even as 80% of the country takes exception to the line that the media are effectively promoting. "Not to judge" when covering those who presume to judge is again, false neutrality. For me, but not for thee. I hope that I have missed something here, and one or both of you can make your positions a little more comprehensible.
You aren't calling for the "view from nowhere" in moral matters are you? And you surely aren't selectively calling for the "view from nowhere" only when it comes to Bush critics...
Secondly, in the midst of the GOP circus of moral righteousness over the fate of Terri Schiavo, to get stopped in your tracks over the VERY IDEA that a professional group would presume to judge moral issues is simply stunning
Mark, to respond to only one of the many paragraphs in your comment, what makes you think I support what you call "the GOP circus ... over the fate of Terri Schiavo"? For that matter, do you think I'm a Republican? I don't take a high political profile in the blogosphere but Winds of Change does have a search function, on the off chance that what little I've actually written on political issues is of any interest.
Re: the "view from nowhere", I hang around Jay's site in part to help me think more clearly about questions like that.
Here's what I think I want, first and foremost, from journalists: reporting that focuses on representative facts, both raw data and first-order analysis of that data (as in, identifying trends over time, preferably with numbers or citations to back up the claim of a trend or pattern). Given that I work with analytic techniques regularly and am married to someone with both a doctorate and a lot of hands-on experience as an analyst, however, my standards are high and I have a sensitive nose for BS manipulation of statistics and selective quotations. When I see statistics used correctly and quotations givenin context - and especially when an editor brings in an outside opinion about numbers and facts that are used to buttress a serious point - I respect that news source no matter what its political leanings might be. And where that is lacking, so too is my respect and my willingness to pay for their product.
I also welcome informed, trenchant commentary on important issues of the day - and I want it clearly demarked as such, not mingled in with "news" stories. I'll respect commentators who openly acknowledge their assumptions, opinions and values -- and the basis for them -- and who seriously engage the arguments on the other side. Editors, ditch the Michael Moore- and Ann Coulter-wannabees, please.
What I don't want - won't pay for and will criticize - is journalism of the smug. I've been alive 53 years now, I've buried both my parents and raised a child, wrestled with some of the afflictions that humans are vulnerable to and
made some tough choices. I've worked in the trenches for various causes and have my own well-grounded opinions about the worthiness of various organizations and leaders active today.
From time to time along the way a few members of the commentariat have helped me refine my belief and value systems and some reporting has provided me with fresh insights into important events. But many journalists (and I include here many of the current 'name stars' among op ed writers) strike me as shallow in their thinking, ill-informed on many subjects and tendentious.
Is it any wonder I am less than impressed at the thought that collectively such folk might presume to pronounce on moral issues?
Now, professional ethics are a separate and specific matter on which practitioners and academics are more than justified to comment and pronounce. (And I'm free to judge, from the outside, those pronouncements -- but the act doesn't bother me.)
But for the profession (if we want to call it that) of journalism to pronounce on various policy issues of the day - my advice would be to tred very lightly on that thin ice.
If Roberts Rules prevails, this resolution should fail for want of a Second. In the resolution:
Recognize the obligation of news organizations to identify clearly the origin of any editorial material provided by government, business, interest group or any source other than their own news gathering or that of affiliated news organizations; -- Does this mean every complete package, or every single frame provided by the source?
Recognize the obligation of government to avoid using VNRs for purposes of political advocacy or propaganda; -- What is advocacy? If one selects a policy and then supports it, is that advocacy or information?
Urge the Administration to identify and cease other practices with respect to VNRs that run a substantial risk of misleading the public; -- Misleading as to source or content?
Condemn the deliberate use by television news outlets of material knowingly obtained from the Administration without clear identification of its origin, and urge all members of the media to cease this deceptive practice at once. -- So, what form of interdiction is appropriate? Cut off the supply or cut off the demand? There is nothing wrong with an organization supporting its position. If an outlet of the press chooses to mortgage its trust with the audience, the audience is welcome to vote with its remote control. And the audience should.
In their cover letter:
We find particularly objectionable the use of "phony reporters" hired by one agency or another who deliver complete reports, including sign offs, without ever mentioning their affiliation and, in some cases misrepresenting it. -- How about a "spokesman." What are the limits of what a spokesman can do?
We also condemn those stations that knowingly run news segments, written, shot and recorded by the government with no identification as to the source of the material. We regard these practices as unethical journalism that run a high risk of confusing or even deceiving the public. -- And how about those "sponsored" by the local hospital or senior citizen's home that are spacefillers designed to put the creating organization's name on the air? On local television, of the 12 minutes allocated to "local news", if most of it isn't news, is VNR the crisis, or something more systemic?
- - -
I think the resolution is misplaced. If the journalism school wants to teach about the integrity of taking full responsibility for editing, then, dammit, do it. If it wants to release reports encouraging outlets to identify clips, then, dammit, do it. But don't lecture the administration about the multiplicity of avenues it may choose to convince citizens about what it believes to be in the best interest of those citizens, particularly when, as Paul Nelson, says, the press is soooo gullible when it comes to validating the efforts of demonstrators [via Instapundit] angling for air time.
re: Bush. It's important that we continue to give the President the benefit of the doubt. It's the Presidency, after all. That said, it's important that the benefit of the doubt has limits. Right now, the White House is kickin the MSM's ass, and the MSM is still in denial about what's happening.
VNRs: It's worth mentioning that, given the torrent of video information to which we're exposed, VNRs are a drop in a lake. That said, a few drops of cyanide can poison a reservor. Besides, does anybody really want to defend tax money being used to produce political PR, if not propaganda? The people who are working so hard to defend the president here are either counting angels on pinheads or are themselves a few ants shy of a picnic.
VNRs, Take Two: As much as I dislike the government cheese here, those TV stations that run these things without caveat ought to foresake their FCC licenses. It's just bullshit -- the TV equivalent of running an unedited press release under your byline. Which happens, by the way.
Anyway, my point is, journalists EXPECT politicians to try this kind of crap (i think we're just shocked that the current WH is so blatant about it). We should call it by name and not let it slip by. But our real anger over VNR ought to be at those of us within the profession who are ruining our reputation.
Re: Staged Events. The 1988 presidential election was a low point for American journalism, and much thought went into improving our performance in the next cycle. We developed new ways to aggressively fend off staged events, managed coverage and diversionary politics. Coverage of the 1992 election was vastly improved, and cause for optimism.
From my vantage point, our coverage of the 1994 mid-term and 1996 presidential election actually built on those lessons -- but the response was a collective shrug of indifference. People were bored by the Clinton-Dole race and generally thought that our coverage was too wonkish and dull.
That was the last presidential cycle I directed, and there was little complaining when our coverage plan de-emphasized "civic" political coverage in 2000. By the 2004 cycle, we were right back to being passive participants in the political process (PPPP), and I think most papers fell into that category.
My inferred lesson: When the electorate is aroused and interested, people will demand better coverage. When the voters are fat and happy, stage management and negative, diversionary campaigning works. I think the 2004 election was an anomaly: half the country was up in arms and the other half was doggedly trying to stay the course. I don't know what lessons to draw from it.
I don't know what to expect in 2006 and 2008. If the press is learning from this experience, I think you'll see it much more aggressive and focused on issues. If the press is as corporate as I fear it has become, look out. We could see PPPP on quaaludes.
Jay, Jay, what a laugh. The gov't puts out a pro-gov't video, and the Leftist press calls them "phony reporters". How many lies and frauds does Dan Rather have to report, as news, before HE is "phony reporter"?
The Leftist press, de-certifying itself.
How about that "talking points memo" being talked about by Powerline, now in the Weekly Standard?
The Leftist press, de-certifying itself.
But as you might guess, I'm enraged by the "moral superiority" assumed by the Press:
"During the civil rights era, and again during the Vietnam war, we found that simple appeals to decency and respect for the rule of law presented by academicians often carried great moral and political impact. We believe the same may be true with respect to this situation which strikes at the core of journalistic integrity.
Right. The Press identified how terrible the US was in Vietnam; the Press supported the US leaving Vietnam; the US left; the commies took over; and mass murders of unarmed civilians. Communist Killing Fields in some ways worse than Hitler's gas chambers. That was the RESULT of following the policy the Press, like Rather and Cronkite, supported.
And the anti-War Left thinks it has "moral superiority". Bah.
But then those Swifties, pointing out how the Leftist biased press hasn't had much to say about
Kerry's lies (Christmas in Cambodia, often), and his failure to sign the errrrgh upph...
Where is Bob Zelnick's letter to ABC telling them not to call an unsigned piece of paper, that nobody admits to writing, or even distributing, a GOP memo? Oh, well, that's just another little Leftist lie.
The Leftist press, de-certifying itself.
Too bad the public DOES want an honest press. Wonder when we'll get one?
My personal epiphany happened in thinking about Bush's VNRs: how "the media" is righteously angry with the Bush Admin for making the videos, even as it seems to give itself a pass for itself running them as straight news. (It seems to me, by the way, the outlets that do this are the more blameworthy in this scenario.) And then I connected this to that old Apple commercial from 1984. I realized that we have been living in some real sense in the fabled Orwellian dystopia, but the role of mind-controlling Big Brother is actually not the government. VNRs or no, the government still doesn't have the power of the "voice," which belongs in theory still to "the people," but until recently has belonged in fact almost exclusively to large media corporations who behave often as a herd or even as a single entity motivated by a mixture of profit, self-interest, politics, righteousness, ignorance and vanity. This entity does not control "reality" but of course it does control how we see it and what we know about it. Control is exercised by regulating what we know, the image and sound of reality. In other words, the Big Brother threat doesn't come from the government. BB is not an entity with a powerful voice, but en toto the voice-- BB is nothing more or less than the voice itself, which is just your basic McLuhan in new words. We know tht voice as the MSM.
This leads me to wonder--is bad information better or worse than no information? Taking the extreme example of the Rather forgeries: from that flawed report I would know that Bush was in the National Guard, that there were annual physicals and that he had commanding officers by the names of X, Y and Z. However, if I listened to Big Brother, I would have a completely inaccurate picture of the relationships between those three things and the implications to be drawn thereof. Am I better off knowing nothing? In all seriousness, I might well be. Maybe I'd be getting better info from a Bush VNR? When it comes to Social Security, I might know there are facts and figures and that there is a debate, but listening to the major media I would know only its construction of the facts, which may or may not be true to some "reality" (and most likely is not).
Fortunately, I now have alternatives. The info-garchy is being broken down (decertified) by computer-empowered voices. So back in the actual year 1984 Steve Jobs was right too. The computer did smash Big Brother, but BB wasn't the government, he was the guy speaking on the screen himself, the voice, the mouthpiece, the assembler of reality and now he is being smashed, or no?
PressThink: An Introduction
We need to keep the press from being absorbed into The Media. This means keeping the word press, which is antiquated. But included under its modern umbrella should be all who do the serious work in journalism, regardless of the technology used. The people who will invent the next press in America--and who are doing it now online--continue an experiment at least 250 years old. It has a powerful social history and political legend attached...
The People Formerly Known as the Audience:
"You don't own the eyeballs. You don't own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don't control production on the new platform, which isn't one-way. There's a new balance of power between you and us." More...
Migration Point for the Press Tribe: "Like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them. When to leave. Where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life. They have to ask if what they know is portable." More...
Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over: "Here is one advantage bloggers have in the struggle for reputation-- for the user's trust. They are closer to the transaction where trust gets built up on the Web. There's a big difference between tapping a built-up asset, like the St. Pete Times 'brand,' and creating it from scratch." More...
"Where's the Business Model for News, People?" "It’s remarkable to me how many accomplished producers of those goods the future production of which is in doubt are still at the stage of asking other people, “How are we going to pay our reporters if you guys don’t want to pay for our news?'" More...
National Explainer: A Job for Journalists on the Demand Side of News
This American Life's great mortgage crisis explainer, The Giant Pool of Money, suggests that "information" and "explanation" ought to be reversed in our order of thought. Especially as we contemplate new news systems. More...
The Beast Without a Brain: Why Horse Race Journalism Works for Journalists and Fails Us. "Just so you know, 'the media' has no mind. It cannot make decisions. Which means it does not 'get behind' candidates. It does not decide to oppose your guy… or gal. It is a beast without a brain. Most of the time, it doesn’t know what it’s doing.." More...
They're Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial: "I’m just advising Newsroom Joe and Jill: make room for FDL in your own ideas about what’s coming on, news-wise. Don’t let your own formula (blog=opinion) fake you out. A conspiracy of the like minded to find out what happened when the national news media isn’t inclined to tell us might be way more practical than you think." More...
Twilight of the Curmudgeon Class: "We’re at the twilight of the curmudgeon class in newsrooms and J-schools. (Though they can still do a lot of damage.) You know they’re giving up when they no longer bother to inform themselves about what they themselves say is happening." More...
Getting the Politics of the Press Right: Walter Pincus Rips into Newsroom Neutrality "The important thing is to show integrity-- not to be a neuter, politically. And having good facts that hold up is a bigger advantage than claiming to reflect all sides equally well." More...
A Most Useful Definition of Citizen Journalism "It's mine, but it should be yours. Can we take the quote marks off now? Can we remove the 'so-called' from in front? With video!." More...
The Master Narrative in Journalism: "Were 'winning' to somehow be removed or retired as the operating system for news, campaign reporting would immediately become harder to do, not because there would be no news, but rather no common, repeatable instructions for deciding what is a key development in the story, a turning point, a surprise, a trend. Master narratives are thus harder to alter than they are to apprehend. For how do you keep the story running while a switch is made?" More...
He Said, She Said Journalism: Lame Formula in the Land of the Active User "Any good blogger, competing journalist or alert press critic can spot and publicize false balance and the lame acceptance of fact-free spin. Do users really want to be left helpless in sorting out who's faking it more? The he said, she said form says they do, but I say decline has set in." More...
Users-Know-More-than-We-Do Journalism: "It's a "put up or shut up" moment for open source methods in public interest reporting. Can we take good ideas like... distributed knowledge, social networks, collaborative editing, the wisdom of crowds, citizen journalism, pro-am reporting... and put them to work to break news?" More...
Introducing NewAssignment.Net: "Enterprise reporting goes pro-am. Assignments are open sourced. They begin online. Reporters working with smart users and blogging editors get the story the pack wouldn't, couldn't or didn't." More...
What I Learned from Assignment Zero "Here are my coordinates for the territory we need to be searching. I got them from doing a distributed trend story with Wired.com and thinking through the results." More...
If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn't. So Let's Get a Clue: "Those in journalism who want to bring ethics to blogging ought to start with why people trust (some) bloggers, not with an ethics template made for a prior platform operating as a closed system in a one-to-many world." More...
The View From Nowhere: "Occupy the reasonable middle between two markers for 'vocal critic,' and critics look ridiculous charging you with bias. Their symmetrical existence feels like proof of an underlying hysteria. Their mutually incompatible charges seem to cancel each other out. The minute evidence they marshall even shows a touch of fanaticism." More...
Rollback: "This White House doesn't settle for managing the news--what used to be called 'feeding the beast'--because there is a larger aim: to roll back the press as a player within the executive branch, to make it less important in running the White House and governing the country." More...
Retreat from Empiricism: On Ron Suskind's Scoop: ""Realist, a classic term in foreign policy debates, and reality-based, which is not a classic term but more of an instant classic, are different ideas. We shouldn't fuzz them up. The press is capable of doing that because it never came to terms with what Suskind reported in 2004." More...
Karl Rove and the Religion of the Washington Press: "Savviness--that quality of being shrewd, practical, well-informed, perceptive, ironic, 'with it,' and unsentimental in all things political--is, in a sense, their professional religion. They make a cult of it. And it was this cult that Karl Rove understood and exploited for political gain." More...
Journalism Is Itself a Religion: "We're headed, I think, for schism, tumult and divide as the religion of the American press meets the upheavals in global politics and public media that are well underway. Changing around us are the terms on which authority can be established by journalists. The Net is opening things up, shifting the power to publish around. Consumers are becoming producers, readers can be writers." More...
News Turns from a Lecture to a Conversation: "Some of the pressure the blogs are putting on journalists shows up, then, in the demand for "news as conversation," more of a back-and-forth, less of a pronouncement. This is an idea with long roots in academic journalism that suddenly (as in this year) jumped the track to become part of the news industry's internal dialogue." More...
Two Washington Posts May Be Better Than One: "They're not equals, but Washington and Arlington have their own spheres. Over the newspaper and reporting beats Len Downie is king. Over the website Jim Brady is sovereign. Over the userï¿½s experience no one has total control. There's tension because there's supposed to be tension." More...
Laying the Newspaper Gently Down to Die: "An industry that won't move until it is certain of days as good as its golden past is effectively dead, from a strategic point of view. Besides, there is an alternative if you don't have the faith or will or courage needed to accept reality and deal. The alternative is to drive the property to a profitable demise." More...
Grokking Woodward: "Woodward and Bernstein of 1972-74 didn't have such access, and this probably influenced--for the better--their view of what Nixon and his men were capable of. Watergate wasn't broken by reporters who had entree to the inner corridors of power. It was two guys on the Metro Desk." More...
Maybe Media Bias Has Become a Dumb Debate: "This here is a post for practically everyone in the game of seizing on media bias and denouncing it, which is part of our popular culture, and of course a loud part of our politics. And this is especially for the 'we're fair and balanced, you're not' crowd, wherever I may have located you." More...
Bill O'Reilly and the Paranoid Style in News: "O'Reilly feeds off his own resentments--the establishment sneering at Inside Edition--and like Howard Beale, the 'mad prophet of the airwaves,' his resentments are enlarged by the medium into public grievances among a mass of Americans unfairly denied voice." More...
Thoughts on the Killing of a Young Correspondent: "Among foreign correspondents, there is a phrase: 'parachuting in.' That's when a reporter drops into foreign territory during an emergency, without much preparation, staying only as long as the story remains big. The high profile people who might parachute in are called Bigfoots in the jargon of network news. The problem with being a Bigfoot, of course, is that it's hard to walk in other people's shoes." More...
The News From Iraq is Not Too Negative. But it is Too Narrow: "The bias charges are getting more serious lately as the stakes rise in Iraq and the election. But there is something lacking in press coverage, and it may be time for wise journalists to assess it. The re-building story has gone missing. And without it, how can we judge the job Bush is doing?." More...
The Abyss of Observation Alone. "There are hidden moral hazards in the ethic of neutral observation and the belief in a professional 'role' that transcends other loyalties. I think there is an abyss to observation alone. And I feel it has something to do with why more people don't trust journalists. They don't trust that abyss." More...
"Find Some New Information and Put it Into Your Post." Standards for Pro-Am Journalism at OffTheBus: "Opinion based on information 'everyone' has is less valuable than opinion journalism based on information that you dug up, originated, or pieced together. So it’s not important to us that contributors keep opinion out. What’s important is that they put new information in. More...
Out in the Great Wide Open: Maybe you heard about the implosion of Wide Open, a political blog started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer with four "outside" voices brought in from the ranks of Ohio bloggers: two left, two right. Twelve points you may not have seen elsewhere." More...
Some Bloggers Meet the Bosses From Big Media: "What capacity for product development do news organizations show? Zip. How are they on nurturing innovation? Terrible. Is there an entreprenurial spirit in newsrooms? No. Do smart young people ever come in and overturn everything? Never." More...
Notes and Comment on BlogHer 2005 "I think the happiest conference goers at BlogHer were probably the newbies, people who want to start blogging or just did. They got a lot of good information and advice. Some of the best information was actually dispensed in response to the fears provoked by blogging, which shouldnï¿½t be avoided, the sages said, but examined, turned around, defused, and creatively shrunk.." More...
Top Ten List: What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The weblog comes out of the gift economy, whereas most of today's journalism comes out of the market economy." More...
A Second Top Ten List: What's Conservative About the Weblog Form in Journalism? "The quality of any weblog in journalism depends greatly on its fidelity to age old newsroom commandments like check facts, check links, spell things correctly, be accurate, be timely, quote fairly." More...
Blogging is About Making and Changing Minds: "Sure, weblogs are good for making statements, big and small. But they also force re-statement. Yes, they're opinion forming. But they are equally good at unforming opinion, breaking it down, stretching it out." More...
The Weblog: An Extremely Democratic Form in Journalism "It's pirate radio, legalized; it's public access coming closer to life. Inside the borders of Blogistan (a real place with all the problems of a real place) we're closer to a vision of 'producer democracy' than we are to any of the consumerist views that long ago took hold in the mass media, including much of the journalism presented on that platform." More...
No One Owns Journalism: "And Big Media doesn't entirely own the press, because if it did then the First Amendment, which mentions the press, would belong to Big Media. And it doesn't. These things were always true. The weblog doesn't change them. It just opens up an outlet to the sea. Which in turn extends 'the press' to the desk in the bedroom of the suburban mom, where she blogs at night." More...
Brain Food for BloggerCon: Journalism and Weblogging in Their Corrected Fullness "Blogging is one universe. Its standard unit is the post, its strengths are the link and the low costs of entry, which means lots of voices. Jounalism is another universe. Its standard unit is "the story." Its strengths are in reporting, verification and access-- as in getting your calls returned." More...
Dispatches From the Un-Journalists: "Journalists think good information leads to opinion and argument. It's a logical sequence. Bloggers think that good argument and strong opinion cause people to seek information, an equally logical sequence. What do the bloggers bring to this? My short answer to the press is: everything you have removed."More...
Political Jihad and the American Blog: Chris Satullo Raises the Stakes "Journalists, you can stop worrying about bloggers 'replacing' the traditional news media. We're grist for their mill, says Satullo, a mill that doesn't run without us. Bloggers consume and extend the shelf life of our reporting, and they scrutinize it at a new level of intensity.."More...
Raze Spin Alley, That Strange Creation of the Press: "Spin Alley, an invention of the American press and politicos, shows that the system we have is in certain ways a partnership between the press and insiders in politics. They come together to mount the ritual. An intelligent nation is entitled to ask if the partners are engaged in public service when they bring to life their invention... Alternative thesis: they are in a pact of mutual convenience that serves no intelligible public good." More...
Horse Race Now! Horse Race Tomorrow! Horse Race Forever!: "How is it you know you're the press? Because you have a pass that says PRESS, and people open the gate. The locker room doors admit you. The story must be inside that gate; that's why they give us credentials. We get closer. We tell the fans what's going on. And if this was your logic, Bill James tried to bust it. Fellahs, said he to the baseball press, you have to realize that you are the gate." More...
Psst.... The Press is a Player: "The answer, I think, involves an open secret in political journalism that has been recognized for at least 20 years. But it is never dealt with, probably because the costs of facing it head on seem larger than the light tax on honesty any open secret demands. The secret is this: pssst... the press is a player in the campaign. And even though it knows this, as everyone knows it, the professional code of the journalist contains no instructions in what the press could or should be playing for?" More...
Die, Strategy News: "I think it's a bankrupt form. It serves no clear purpose, has no sensible rationale. The journalists who offer us strategy news do not know what public service they are providing, why they are providing it, for whom it is intended, or how we are supposed to use this strange variety of news."More...
He Said, She Said, We Said: "When journalists avoid drawing open conclusions, they are more vulnerable to charges of covert bias, of having a concealed agenda, of not being up front about their perspective, of unfairly building a case (for, against) while pretending only to report 'what happened.'" More...
If Religion Writers Rode the Campaign Bus: "Maybe irony, backstage peaking and "de-mystify the process" only get you so far, and past that point they explain nothing. Puzzling through the convention story, because I'm heading right into it myself, made me to realize that journalism's contempt for ritual was deeply involved here. Ritual is newsless; therefore it must be meaningless. But is that really true?."More...
Convention Coverage is a Failed Regime and Bloggers Have Their Credentials: "No one knows what a political convention actually is, anymore, or why it takes 15,000 people to report on it. Two successive regimes for making sense of the event have collapsed; a third has not emerged. That's a good starting point for the webloggers credentialed in Boston. No investment in the old regime and its ironizing." More...
Philip Gourevitch: Campaign Reporting as Foreign Beat: "'A presidential election is a like a gigantic moving television show,' he said. It is the extreme opposite of an overlooked event. The show takes place inside a bubble, which is a security perimeter overseen by the Secret Service. If you go outside the bubble for any reason, you become a security risk until you are screened again by hand."More...
What Time is it in Political Journalism? "Adam Gopnik argued ten years ago that the press did not know who it was within politics, or what it stood for. There was a vacuum in journalism where political argument and imagination should be. Now there are signs that this absence of thought is ending." More...
Off the Grid Journalism: “The assignment was straightforward enough,” writes Marjie Lundstrom of the Sacramento Bee, “talk to people.” When a writer dissents from it or departs from it, the master narrative is a very real thing. Here are two examples: one from politics, one from music. More...
Questions and Answers About PressThink "The Web is good for many opposite things. For quick hitting information. For clicking across a field. For talk and interaction. It's also a depth finder, a memory device, a library, an editor. Not to use a weblog for extended analysis (because most users won't pick that option) is Web dumb but media smart. What's strange is that I try to write short, snappy things, but they turn into long ones." More...