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Town square for the online Left. The Daily Kos. Huge traffic. The comments section can be highly informative. One of the most successful communities on the Net.

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Digests & Round-ups:

Memeorandum: Single best way I know of to keep track of both the news and the political blogosphere. Top news stories and posts that people are blogging about, automatically updated.

Daily Briefing: A categorized digest of press news from the Project on Excellence in Journalism.

Press Notes is a round-up of today's top press stories from the Society of Professional Journalists.

Richard Prince does a link-rich thrice-weekly digest called "Journalisms" (plural), sponsored by the Maynard Institute, which believes in pluralism in the press.

Newsblog is a daily digest from Online Journalism Review.

E-Media Tidbits from the Poynter Institute is group blog by some of the sharper writers about online journalism and publishing. A good way to keep up

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March 29, 2007

News, Improved: Learning to Change. From a New Book by Michele McLellan and Tim Porter

Tim Porter (of First Draft) and Michele McLellan (ex-Oregonian) have been on a tour of American newsrooms, daily newspaper division. Now they are back with "change or die" findings. It's the people who have to change, they say in an excerpt from their new book. And guess what? It's happening.

Special to PressThink

News, Improved: Learning to Change

by Michele McLellan and Tim Porter

Back in the day—that day when the newspaper was as much as part of daily American life as the cell phone now is—back in that good ol’ day, newsrooms were run and staffed mostly by autocratic, tough-talking men, news was what those men said it was, by God, and no one on the editorial side (and not too many on the business side, either) worried about making money because having a newspaper was pretty much a license to print it.

That day, as we know, has gone the way of the green eye shade, but vestiges of its temperament linger in our newsrooms, hampering their ability to envision and implement the one thing they need for survival: strategic change.

The good news, though, is that many newsrooms have moved on. They’ve shuttered the trophy cases of the past and pointed their focus forward, to a future that while still unknown will surely be shaped only by those who get their hands dirty with its making.

During our work with Tomorrow’s Workforce we saw all points in the spectrum.

We saw many journalists clinging to the way things were. They rationalized their resistance to change by invoking the rules of journalistic tradition, complaining about lack of resources or accusing others, such as bloggers or even readers, as the reason for newspapers’ decline in relevancy.

We also saw many journalists embracing change - editors trying to craft new forms of journalism atop its core principles, reporters carrying cameras as well as notebooks, executives launching targeted news products to capture audience.

Mostly, though, we saw many journalists worried about the future of news. They knew change was necessary and they knew they needed new skills for a new age of journalism - both for themselves and for their news organizations - but they weren’t sure how to make that change happen or how to acquire those skills.

That’s the group we wrote News, Improved for. We wanted to provide journalists who intend to succeed at transformational change with a set of tools that can help them adopt techniques and ideas more apt for today’s digital world.

In the newsrooms we worked with - and in others we visited - we saw three key areas of behavioral change: Leadership, newsroom culture and strategic training, by which we mean training so that your people can do something critical to survival that they could not do very easily or very well before.

Here are some examples of what we mean, with excerpts from News, Improved.

Leadership: Moving Beyond Management

The reinvention of newspapers requires the reinvention of newsroom leadership.

Good editors are discovering that the traditional, top-down “I-paid-my-dues-and now-it’s-your-turn” style fails to foster the nimble thinking, collaboration and risk-taking newspapers today need. Organizational culture expert Toni Antonellis says newspapers are finally learning the lessons of other companies that operate in highly competitive environments:

If you’re … getting your butt kicked on a regular basis and competition is prolific, then you tend to be more mindful about what motivates people and what creates an environment of risk-taking and innovation and adaptability. Necessity is the mother of invention. I think that’s true in a business context as much as it is in a personal context. We all grow when we’re challenged. I’m not sure that up until the last five years we’ve been challenging our (newspaper) leaders to say, ‘How do we need to behave differently to change the dynamics of the organization?’

“I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve participated in at the leadership level where they’ve said, ‘What are we going to do to change the organization?’ versus saying ‘What are we going to do to change our behavior that will then create some change?’”

Many newspapers editors found themselves in the ranks of management somewhat by chance. They were good at their previous job - reporting, say, or copy editing - and got tapped for a promotion. They adapted to the duties - and adopted the values - of their new jobs, becoming decisive, directive and demanding, good for driving a fast-paced environment like a newsroom, but less useful in leading organizational change. That requires communication, collaboration and coaching.

We spoke with many editors who described the difference. Here’s Mike Jenner, executive editor of the Bakersfield Californian:

My job has changed significantly in the last seven years. It’s changed remarkably. The job I stepped into is a completely different job than the job I’m doing now. I used to do some editing, and now I do very little… . Much of what I do now is much less focused on the day-to-day and the news itself and the newsroom itself, and a lot of it is focused outside in dealing with the public or other parts of the company, more strategic things than operational things-which I think is absolutely the way it should be. I’ve had to learn as I go.

And John Smalley, editor of the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune:

I had to be willing to look really honestly at my role in either helping or hindering the cause of training and the accomplishment of goals in the newsroom. It wasn’t always the most fun to dig into my own shortcomings, but it was very useful in the long run.

And Melanie Sill, executive editor of The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., describing how she reacted to a 360 review of her performance:

“It required me and the other newsroom leaders to consider our own needs to improve and grow, as well as training needs of the rest of the staff. I wish I’d done it 10 years ago.”

These editors, and many others, discovered that leading a newsroom today requires new skills:

  • Developing vision: Setting a course for the newsroom and keeping it on track (or, changing course as internal and external conditions change.)
  • Communication: Reinforcing direction through continual conversation. Saying over and over and over - in as many ways as possible - “this is where we’re going.”
  • Putting muscle behind the mouth: Backing up vision and communication with resources; putting enough money and enough bodies in place to give goals a fair chance of being achieved.
  • Letting go: Empowering staff, involving them in both strategic and operational decisions, such as setting direction, providing training, and implementing innovation.

Julia Wallace, editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, one of the most progressive training newsrooms in the country, told a panel the American Society of Newspaper Editors convention in Washington on Tuesday that the burden for change rests heavily on the shoulder of top editors. “It’s our problem,” she said, “not our staffs’ problem.”

Exactly right.

Culture: No More Whining

Most newspapers are hidebound by defensive, hunkered-down cultures that reward journalists for thinking small, value editors who can make the trains run on time (even if the track doesn’t lead anywhere) and dismiss the type of creative thinking needed in an age of dynamic media.

As much as newspapers need to reinvent their leadership, they also need to change how they work as organizations. Culture change is hard, but possible. We saw it happen at many newspapers we worked with and studied.

We described culture like this:

Culture is an amorphous term, a touchy-feely sounding concept that seems alien to the hard-charging self-image of the newsroom. But every organization has a culture, and it controls how individuals think they are expected to behave and how they perform. Even cultures based on misperception and miscommunication remain powerful, persistent collections of common beliefs that dictate behavior within the organization.

And like this:

Culture is the air an organization breathes. It is the environment, unseen but omnipresent, in which everyone works. It helps shape attitudes, morale, values, product and even vocabulary.

Ever see a reporter only a couple of years out of journalism school speak with the same jaded weariness and pessimism as the grizzled, 30-year, seen-it-all cityside reporter? When you do, you know the newcomer has been drinking a potent newsroom Kool-Aid, a daily high-octane shot of defensive culture.

Culture is complex. But once you recognize the signs the basic concept can become pretty simple. Contrast the traditional defensive newsroom culture with the newer one that is taking hold in newsrooms with bold leaders who train their staffs heavily and address longstanding problems in the process.

In the old, defensive newsroom culture, a typical staffer…

  • Waits to see what the boss decides. (Or ignores the boss.)
  • Squelches new ideas by pointing out why they won’t work or didn’t work one time years ago.
  • Believes change undermines quality.
  • Fixates on details or small problems to the detriment of big ideas.

While in the new, more constructive newsroom culture, that person is more likely to…

  • Take initiative and responsibility at all levels.
  • Enjoy brainstorming and trying new things.
  • Learn even from failed experiments.
  • Adopt “Change or Die” as a mantra.

Our list sounds abstract. But signs of a defensive culture abound in the daily news meeting, a cultural stage where a newsroom displays values and shows attitude. After sitting in on (and too often suffering through) an uncounted number of news meetings, we summarized the ritual this way:

A dozen or more editors sit around a conference room table. Section covers from that morning’s newspaper are tacked on the wall. The most senior editor opens the meeting with a monolog, lauding a news break in a Page One story, asking why the reporter failed to quote one official in the same story and mentioning that the name of a local athlete was misspelled in the high school sports agate. The city editor adds a few comments about accuracy, deflecting the comment about the missing quote in a story she edited.

By the time the discussion moves to the next day’s newspaper, a lot of the early morning energy that came in the door has fled the room. Shields up and heads down, each department representative reads top items from a budget printout, answering the boss as best as possible while fending off questions from peers with a flip answer or a promise to find the answer later.

Even when an editor has a blockbuster in sight, she is reluctant to be pinned down.

Editors often have had no conversation or only a passing one with their reporters before the meeting, so they don’t really know what they can promise. (Plus the reporters don’t want to be pinned down either.) At the same time, word editors labor to deflect questions and suggestions from photography and graphics editors, preferring to keep them out of the loop until they can pry more information out of reporters.

One editor whose team will produce a major story that day says that she will have to pull one or two others off other urgent projects to help. A colleague from another department has at least one reporter at loose ends that day; it does not occur to him to offer help.

With only a vague idea of what the next day’s front page will look like, participants escape the conference room. Some feel relieved, others uneasy about what they will be expected to deliver by the end of the day.

What are the lessons people learn from such a meeting, day after day?

  • Low-impact details matter more than high-impact strategies.
  • Those who anticipate every possible question will gain approval (and make stories longer so that nothing is left out).
  • Peer-to-peer collaboration is not part of the job description.
  • One way to deflect unwanted attention is by questioning others.
  • It is better to keep quiet than to take initiative.
  • Colleagues are rivals, not partners.
  • Fresh ideas will engender skepticism.

No matter how often newsroom leaders say they want more risk-taking, more collaboration and more personal initiative, the staff absorbs the more concrete messages of such news meetings and acts accordingly, further hardening the newsroom’s defensive shell.

How can you move a newsroom from a defensive to adaptive culture? We found newsrooms doing three basic things that work: Offering more training. (What we call strategic training, a key byproduct of which is better communication.) Employing groups like staff committees to identify problems and recommend solutions. Allowing more decision-making and trial-and-error at the staff level.

Bob Zaltsberg, of the Herald-Times in Bloomington, Ind., worked with The Learning Newsroom project. His staff launched a new blog without telling him beforehand. Says Zaltsberg:

Two years ago that would have made me feel really uncomfortable. Now we’ve done enough talking about what we want and the readership we’re going after, I trust that they’ll do a good job. If they don’t, we’ll worry about it later.

When top editors loosen their hand on the reins a bit their staffs respond with enthusiasm and initiative. Mike Jenner of Bakersfield explains the culture change he saw in his newsroom in 18 months:

One of the hardest things we’ve had to do-and it’s not just me, but my department heads and all the managers here-is letting go. We’re such control freaks. Getting things right is critical to our credibility, but the idea that I’ve got to sign off on it, or I’ve got to be the last guy to touch it, that tends to tell people below us that “I don’t need to worry about this so much.” Learning to tell people “this is yours, you’re in charge, I’m not going to follow up,” that’s really vital to reaching a level where people feel they are empowered to innovate and to take risks. Like many editors, Jenner says, “we’ve got many, many smart people in this newsroom.” But he adds that they don’t need him constantly looking over their shoulder. “Some of the old habits I learned from editors I worked for over the years, I have to let go of those because I think they’re detrimental.”

Zaltsberg emphasizes how critical communication is to good culture:

There’s just more information that’s shared with everybody. Today, we’re having a brown bag meeting about the newsroom budget. We’ll talk about how it’s put together, what our revenue goals are-and we’re not meeting them, which is why we’re not filling a position.

Why does culture matter anyhow? Because defensive cultures inhibit innovation and professional growth - two things the news industry badly needs right now. Constructive cultures, by contrast, foster learning, creativity, retention of the best and brightest staff and have been linked in other industries with improved business results.

Strategic Training: The Business Imperative of Continuous Improvement

Here’s a typical old newsroom answer to questions about training: Training? No time. Training budget? What budget? Even traditional news organizations that are ready to change are overlooking a key lever - smart, strategic training and staff development. Some in the industry, including leaders like Jay R. Smith of Cox and McClatchy’s Gary Pruitt, understand this. As we wrote:

Change will demand new forms of leadership and new skills throughout the newspaper industry, says Pruitt, and that increases the need to spend more on training. Some industry executives are prepared to buy into change, but others are not.

“The tumult in the industry has forced everyone to recognize that we need to change to be successful and that there is a need for leaders and employees who are trained to handle that,” says Pruitt. “On the other hand, there’s a sort of bunker mentality that may actually rein in any training spending because some people think they have to weather this storm.”

The “bunker mentality” or old-think is evident in news industry training figures. Nationally, corporate spending on training has increased since the last recession. On average, companies spend an estimated 2.3 percent of payroll on it, more than five times as much as the newspaper industry, according to an analysis by the Inland Press Association.

Rather than increasing, training budgets have been flat in the news industry after dipping during the downturn. Many organizations reduced training or stopped entirely. A new survey from the Knight Foundation shows only a third of news organizations have increased their training budgets in the past five years.

The rest appear to be using the old newsroom model, in which much training for journalists is a random, opportunistic act of kindness that is heavily underwritten by charities, like our funder, the Knight Foundation.

In the old newsroom model, need for training is overwhelming: nine in 10 journalists want more, according to new research, and nine in 10 newsroom executives—often the most experienced and knowledgeable journalists in the room—say they need more training as well.

In search of a new newsroom training model, we looked to other professions and industries to learn more about why organizations train more heavily, especially in fiercely competitive times. Here’s what we learned:

… companies that invest in their people and create environments that support innovation are better able to adapt to changes in their markets. They also have highly satisfied employees and outperform their peers financially. These companies devote money and time to ongoing learning because they see it as critical to their core mission.

We relied heavily on research and thinking from the Readership Institute at Northwestern University, which has long linked training and other investments in employee development to business success: “People factors are twice as important as economic factors when explaining the overall differences between high performing companies and average performing companies,” says the Institute.

Indeed, a study by consultants Roberts, Nathanson & Wolfson of 5,200 organizations found that “world-class development practices targeted at ‘rank and file’ individuals throughout the organization make a significant impact on business results.” The study also found that strategic training enables organizations to become more constructive and more flexible. Training, the study said, is “learning for their future success.”

Training so that…

Mary Nesbitt, managing director of the Readership Institute, says strategic training “institutionalizes the notion that in order to be adaptable, in order to respond to the market, which is what all businesses do, we need to be a continuously learning organization.”

Training also tells people what the company thinks is important, Nesbitt says. It’s part of the “so that” equation: training so that you can do something. Even more important, a company that invests in its employees tells them they are important, and from that Nesbitt sees a bonus. Not only, she says, does training help “the company realize its stated goal, but it also leads to improvements and innovations that had never been thought of before” because people are “being encouraged and rewarded” for thinking.

Mike Jenner, executive editor at the innovative Bakersfield Californian, says training has been critical to transformation:

Today, the Californian operates with a fully converged newsroom, its 80 staffers moving fluidly and fluently between the print and online publishing worlds. Mike Jenner, its executive editor, says the growth of the newspaper’s digital abilities directly paralleled the rise in newsroom training.

The number of training hours at the paper rose more than 70 percent from 2004 to 2006, with a heavy emphasis on multimedia skills. “Not one hour was devoted to multimedia training in 2004,” says Jenner. In 2005, “that number was 76 hours; this year we’ve recorded 276 hours of training in Web video, audio and other convergence issues. This does not include one-on-one training in multimedia editing, which takes place nearly every day.”

Bakersfield isn’t alone. Other news organizations are using training to transform their newsrooms and their products, among them: The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, The Herald Times in Bloomington, Ind., the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Corpus-Christi Caller-Times have all used strategic training to achieve significant changes in the content of their news products, the culture of their newsrooms and, in Bloomington’s case, circulation of its newspaper - upward!

Is strategic training a panacea for all the woes of the newspaper industry? Of course not. Mostly like ad revenue and print readership will continue to erode. Most likely the continuing upsurge in online revenue and readership won’t be enough to replace print losses. Most likely there will be further staff reductions.

But we wrote News, Improved for the news organizations that intend to survive these changes and thrive in the post-digital future. What that future will be, we can’t say. We do know this, though: The future of news will belong to those who build it. And strategic training, supported by leadership and constructive culture, are the right tools to do the job.

After Matter: Notes, reactions & links…

News, Improved is a new book from CQ Press by Michele McLellan and Tim Porter. It explains how news organizations can, by training their people the right way, improve the product, discover new leaders and make their journalists better. The book is based on the work of Tomorrow’s Workforce, a Knight Foundation project which helps newsrooms develop training plans for experienced journalists.

You can read excerpts online. You can also buy the book. Here’s their one-page survey about training at your news organization. They also have a tools section.

And don’t miss Doc Searls, How to Save Newspapers.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 29, 2007 8:49 AM   Print


fyi to all, excerpts are in PDF

Posted by: A. at March 30, 2007 6:17 PM | Permalink

Good post

It's key for news people to remember that Bloggers are Journalists TOO!

Things are changing.

Posted by: gary at April 2, 2007 7:19 AM | Permalink

It's important to remember that journalists can be bloggers, but not all bloggers are journalists.

Posted by: elephantman at April 2, 2007 8:34 AM | Permalink

I don't know. The problem is only partly the structure. Most of the problem--from the consumers' point of view--is the product.

If the structure can improve the product, it might be worth the effort. If not, not.

Do you think the changes would keep the professionals from mixing up the Purple Heart and the Purple Star? Remember, the point of the pros was that this was an entirely understandable error since so few people know about Purple Hearts. The assertion seemed to think the newsroom and the public at large knew the same things to the same extent. This is not true, and perhaps the knowledge of the non-journalists might help the product.

But that depends on people and the people will have to change and that might or might not be a result of the change in structure, culture, and process.

Interesting article from a left coast paper about women and guns. The journo had a woman firing a revolver, BANG, a hot shell hit the floor. BANG. Another hot shell. Howls of laughter from the lower orders, of course. (Anybody who wants to know why is free to e-mail me.)

The journo in question said she got a couple of paragraphs mixed up. So there go the hard-eyed, cold-blooded, helium-pump-for-heart factchecking layers of editors, too.
When you make a stupid ("garden variety") error that everybody knows better than, the reader is likely to ask himself whether the stuff he is not in a position to know better than is any more reliable.

Either of these howlers, and zillions of others, could be prevented by having non-journalists review the work before running it.

Put your pride on the shelf, as the Village People said.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 2, 2007 8:59 PM | Permalink

Oh, yeah. A recent article in the Chicago Times about a unit at Ft. Stewart getting ready to deploy referred to the cracked red Georgia clay.
She was busted by people who'd actually been there--swamp, mud, black gunk.
There was some speculation as to whether she ever got out of Atlanta, or, for that matter, Evanston.
Now, if you want cracked, red Georgia clay, try Ft. Benning.
Too bad she didn't run it past the folks who knew better before she ran it. That would be better than running it past them by publishing it in the paper.
Wouldn't it?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 3, 2007 11:36 AM | Permalink


Journalists generally (and rightly) bristle at the idea that they should ever participate in the same kind of state-sanctioned education or be subject to the same kind of state-sponsored licensing as physicians.
The institutional press, its fourth estate identity, and what Ben Bradlee called a 'holy profession' (because 'the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit')� these are all modern inventions. Their legitimacy derives not from the founding fathers but from the opinion of living Americans.
JIM LEHRER: Ben Bradlee is one of America's most famous newspaper editors and he believes the practice of journalism is more than a job.

BEN BRADLEE: I don't mean to sound arrogant, but we're in a holy profession.

JIM LEHRER: A holy profession?

BEN BRADLEE: Yeah and the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit.

Posted by: Tim at April 4, 2007 10:38 AM | Permalink

Jay, how's that anti-malicious commenting feature working out?

Posted by: Tim at April 4, 2007 10:39 AM | Permalink

Ah, in fairness to the Chicago Times, I've been all over Fort Stewart and Benning, both. I associate Stewart more with sand than with red clay, ('Tis while our Army lines/Carolina's sands and pines/ as under doughty Sherman I march toward the sea!) but there are some sections of it that do have red clay-like mud. It might be used as a filler for the dirt roads there?

I'll cut some slack for Chicago here.

The ULTIMATE red-clay post is Schofield Barracks, Hawaii!

Still, there's no excuse for confusing a Purple Heart and a Purple Star. A citizen has a bloody civic duty to know what a purple heart is, and if a reporter is so culturally illiterate not to know that, he or she ought to find a new line of work.

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at April 5, 2007 12:02 PM | Permalink

Jason. If you recall the discussion hereabouts 'way back when, some of the journos said that there was no reason to expect them to know the diff between the Purple Heart and Purple Star because so few of our population are associated with the military. They made the horrid mistake of presuming their culture reflects that of the rest of the country.

As you say, you don't have to have one to know what a Purple Heart is, nor have an award to a member of the family, either. Actually, probably the only people who don't know the difference are journalists. The argument was that they shouldn't be expected to know, so that means they don't. But the rest of us do. That means...?
If the rest of the country doesn't know the difference--their presumption--why should we expect a journalist and his layers of fact-checkers to know?

Big, big, false, presumption.

They're so removed they don't have a clue how far they're removed.

My guess is, and it's only a guess, is that journos would like to run stories which are not self-impeaching on their face.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 5, 2007 4:46 PM | Permalink

Hmmm. I see no evidence of that last statement. Do you have a link, by chance?

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at April 5, 2007 8:31 PM | Permalink

To get an idea of just how bad it is, though, let's just take a look at one term, "Medal of Honor," in the New York Times.

I'll stipulate that anyone can make a mistake. But look here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

Oh, and the Times still doesn't know what a soldier is versus a marine.

They're beyond parody.

Posted by: Jason Van Steenwyk at April 5, 2007 8:42 PM | Permalink

Jason. No, I don't have a link. More like a vague feeling. But I'm not sure. Sort of hoping uphill.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 6, 2007 10:17 PM | Permalink

Jason, isn't the NYT just trying to get a slice of the Onion's market?

I mean, the NYT is trying to make us laugh, right?

Posted by: Tim at April 7, 2007 1:01 PM | Permalink

The NYT's howlers regarding the Medal of Honor spanned over six years. That means it wasn't just one refugee from a group home doing the reports. It was a number of refugees from group homes doing the reports.
Do you think there's an exception in the minimum wage law for such altruistic hiring?
One of our local big-box stores has the unfortunate people at the doors, handing out the ad folders, under the supervision of the greeters.
Maybe the NYT does sort of the same thing.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 7, 2007 7:04 PM | Permalink

Jay, how's that anti-malicious commenting feature working out?

is there any chance that anti-threadjacking software will be next?

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 8, 2007 11:24 AM | Permalink

Too Funny

Posted by: Tim at April 8, 2007 4:16 PM | Permalink

Tim. You mean right at the bottom of the comments?

I thought, after trying to get through the original post, that this new structure and culture and process was designed to improve the product. Perhaps I was wrong.

Jason and I have picked up on errors in a particular category--military--mostly in a single outlet--the NYT. I figure journos can learn from errors. As in, how did this happen?

One problem is thinking they know enough all by themselves to put a story out that isn't likely to contain substantial error.

So, bring in non-journalists. Outside of professional pride, what can it hurt? And it should improve the product, which is supposedly the objective.

Isn't it?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 8, 2007 11:51 PM | Permalink

Who are a newspaper's stakeholders? How are the stakeholders identified and prioritized? Journalists, editors, and support staffs are stakeholders and you can design new structures and give them more and better training to increase productivity and improve their environment.

But will that produce a revolutionary can't-live-without-it widget or simply produce a little better widget faster?

Are all citizens or, in particular, only those citizens who are liberal-conservative, democrat-republican, military-civilian, etc., stakeholders? Are they the primary stakeholders? Is the risk of not satisfying them greater than the risk of not satisfying any other stakeholder? Should those stakeholders, those real partners in the business, be invited to participate, no, even originate and continually edit the product? Should all new structures and training be focused like a laser on satisfying the needs of those stakeholders?


Posted by: Kristen at April 9, 2007 10:57 AM | Permalink


I believe the origin of the term "Stakeholder" is in the process of "staking out" a claim, usually to prospectively valuable mining land. I think the process in the west in the nineteenth century was to plant some stakes, make some map references and hustle to the nearest authority to get it certified as yours.

So a stakeholder is both one with a valuable piece of ownership and possibly an originator of the operation.

Problem with the analogy is that it presumes that what you find and produce from that ground is valuable to non-stakeholders. In other words, if you have gold, others will pay you for it. If you have clayey loam, maybe not. Or if you do get paid, the going rate for roadbedding material is less than that for gold.

While all citizens are stakeholders in whatever process exists in getting reliable and timely news to them, they are stakeholders only to the extent that people in a society depend for part of their prosperity on gold mines.

So citizens need good and reliable information. But they are not stakeholders in any one process. The stakeholders in the process are the ones with money in it, or time for which they hope to get paid.

So the stakeholders in, say, newspapers are the ones sweating bullets just now. IMO, if they could figure out a way to quit making stupid, obvious mistakes that most readers spot instantly, the value of their claim would rise.
I won't even get into bias here. Just dumb mistakes. Yeah, and quit excusing them by insisting that because journalists don't know better, nobody does and so journalists shouldn't be expected to know better. In the first place, that's always wrong. In the second place, journalists are paid to report accurately even on stuff they didn't grow up knowing.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 9, 2007 11:18 AM | Permalink


Good word: "Threadjacking."

Sort of describes the history of Press Think.

Makes me nostalgic for those 1950's Westerns, where every stagecoach had to be on the alert for attacks from bandits, ne'er-do-wells and various hostile tribes.

So we end up discussing the differences between Purple Hearts and Purple Stars ... instead of why the Iraq effort is going down the tubes and the president has approval ratings approaching those of Herbert Hoover in 1930.

Or, instead of McLellan and Porter's original topic, which is what they thread was supposed to be about in the first place.

'Twas ever thus.

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 11, 2007 3:33 PM | Permalink

Your fondest dreams--the Iraq effort going down the tubes--would be a threadjacking. If you read the original post, it would seem to be about improving the product. Not about current events.

The issue of Purple Heart vs. Purple Star is a matter of crummy product. Ditto the Ft. Stewart cracked red clay. Lousy product.
Ways and means to improve it.

Professor Johnson of Brooklyn College has kept a careful and voluminous record of the Duke lax case, including the NYT's absolutely awful reporting of the subject. Lousy product. See the theme, here?

One way to improve the product is to talk to people who know about the issue. Like Johnson ref Duke, and anybody in the world outside of a news room about Purple Star vs. Purple Heart. Get somebody who knows guns before you impeach a story in the first couple of sentences by a moronic mistake of ignorance.

So, I'm for talking about improving the product.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 11, 2007 7:50 PM | Permalink

It would be difficult to see what changes in process, culture, and structure it would take to prevent something like the NYT's complete hosing of the Duke lax case.
Perhaps somebody could explain how that won't happen again. With the new regimes, I mean.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 12, 2007 2:37 PM | Permalink

"so that"


The Associated Press is seeking an experienced journalist to join its reporting staff and cover intelligence issues from the nation's capital. ... Prior experience covering intelligence is a plus.
What's the needed experience to cover intelligence issues? ... "thorough knowledge of the AP and enthusiasm for its mission."

The AP doesn't want an "intelligence reporter," they want an AP reporter to assign to the intelligence beat.

Knowledge Of Subject Not Necessary For AP Reporter

Wonder why so many of the news articles you read, or steam over, are lacking essential information or perspective? Wonder no longer. Knowledge and experience of the subject is only a �plus.�

Posted by: Tim at April 12, 2007 5:05 PM | Permalink

Richard, Jason:

You guys are fiddling {Purple this, Purple that}
while Rome {Iraq} burns.

Which only makes Golvrd's spam (see above) about illicit drugs tragically appropriate.

Bring on the meds !!

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 13, 2007 11:05 PM | Permalink

The issue of Purple Heart vs. Purple Star is a matter of crummy product. Ditto the Ft. Stewart cracked red clay. Lousy product.
Ways and means to improve it.

you are equating "less open to obvious criticism" than "improved". But had the writers who made these minor factaul errors gotten them right (or had a fact-checker fix them before the story was published) there would be no significant improvement in product; it would merely be perceived as more credible to you.

For example, in the above paragraph I deliberately mispelled "factual". But the value of the paragraph is not based on whether that word is spelled correctly or not -- its based on whether its content is worthwhile. What the mispelling does allow you to do is question my intelligence, and give you a reason for dismissing what was written on non-relevant grounds.

Really bad journalism happens when something like the Nancy Pelosi jet story gets published -- and then repeated. The quality of that story wasn't dependent upon whether or not the color of the seats in the cabin was correctly described --- the story was crap because its central premise (i.e. that Pelosi had done something questionable) was false.

McLellan and Porter's essay assumes that everyone in the newsroom operates in good faith -- and insofar as most journalistic professionals do try and operate in good faith, their observations and recommendations are worthwhile, and if adopted would doubtless result in improvement in the "product." Indeed, by following those recommendations, fewer of the minor factual errors that you obsess about would probably occur. Or maybe they wouldn't.

But rather than ask the authors

A lot of people are bothered by minor factual errors they find in news stories (e.g. using "Purple Stars" when "Purple Hearts" is the correct term) because they impact the credibility of the overall article. Do your recommendations address this problem, and if so how?

we got a dozen (give or take) comments complaining about this "problem" without ever asking the authors whether/how their ideas would address it. That's threadjacking.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 14, 2007 9:07 AM | Permalink

It's a shame that PressThink has become an anti-link blog; discouraging commenters that provide links in their comments, encouraging link-free idiotic snark while still allowing multiple spam single-link comments.

'Twas not ever thus.

Posted by: Tim at April 15, 2007 1:22 PM | Permalink

p.l. I agree that minor errors do not materially affect the story. But the problem is that the reader, seeing a simple error, is entitled to wonder if the rest of the stuff is right. It wouldn't be "news" if the reader knew it all already. So there's stuff there he has to take on faith and getting purples mixed up and getting the hot shell on the floor screwed up and getting the terrain of a location wrong if the reader knows better impeaches the rest of the story because what he knows about the story got wrong. It would be stupid to go on from there presuming the rest is right.

Which, it frequently isn't. Bad journalism is Duff Wilson on the Duke lacrosse issue.

Bad journalism is the NYT's report on 51% of women are single--implication is that they like it that way, and it's an improvement. This story was so bad even the NYT noticed. They started "women" off at the age of 15. Since in most states it's illegal to get married at 15, the likelihood of a 15-yr-old being unmarried because she has that as a life choice forever is slight. They counted widows who, while unmarried, could not be said with certainty to be against the institution. Still a skosh short of their 51%, they decided to include married women whose hubbies were deployed abroad.
AFAIK, there were no minor errors there. Only major ones. If you consider those "errors" as in, "I hit the plus button instead of the multiplication button on my calculator by error."
Or, "Jeez. I'm sorry I grabbed your coffee mug. I wasn't looking."
So, next time I see the NYT saying something counterintuitive on the subject of marriage, what am I to think?

Bad journalism is wholesaling moral superiority and faux outrage regarding Duke while next-to-ignoring what might be called the Knoxville Horror. And worse journalism is thinking nobody will think you had a nefarious motive for it.

And, OK. How do the new regime, structure, culture, process fix this?

First, you have to avoid the minor errors which indicate to the reader you haven't done your homework and the rest of the story is probably shaky. How do you do that? We know, from the discussion of the purples, that some journos didn't think they had a responsibility to know that stuff since it's so arcane. That's absurd, but they think so, since they're so isolated it is arcane to them. Not to the rest of us, of course, but they are so isolated they don't know how isolated they are.
A story in a west coast paper on women with guns had a woman shooting a revolver and "a hot shell clanged on the floor." Turns out the reporter got it right but there was a change in which gun the article addressed first and the editor--hard-nosed factchecker--didn't notice. Hint. Everybody outside news rooms knows better. Boy, did that get some crap.

So now, how would you avoid errors resulting from such isolationism? Structure, procedure, openness, culture. How does that work?

How does the new regime avoid such nonsense as flooding the zone for getting women into a country club?

AP sourced sixty-plus stories in Iraq from a guy who doesn't exist. We have no idea where they really got the stories from and so we have no idea how to judge their credibility. The new regime's answer?

Approximately the same day a Palestinian group claimed to have killed a British journo, the UK union of journos voted to boycott Israel. How is your regime going to convince a reader that the ME coverage using the Brits as sources is fair?

You'll note my last three paragraphs did not reference "minor" errors. So, with the "minor" issue out of the way, how is your new regime going to handle this sort of thing?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 15, 2007 10:38 PM | Permalink

Looks to me like the first four bullets in the cited article are the cornerstones of modern organizational change theory--they have been in the OD literature for 20 years; are there some specific reasons why these ideas havent been adopted by journalists?

Posted by: rjarango at April 16, 2007 4:05 PM | Permalink


thanks for your rational response. And while I'd love to reply, lets face it, its off topic, and I since I was the one to first mention threadjacking, I'll respectfully decline to continue this discussion at this time.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at April 16, 2007 8:12 PM | Permalink

If this is off-topic, the topic is how to improve a self-licking ice cream cone.
If the topic isn't about improving the product, it's barren, sterile, and impotent. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
If your new regime doesn't fix the problems, then it won't be any better than the old one.
So, how does the new regime impact the real world?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 16, 2007 9:08 PM | Permalink

Posted by: Steve Lovelady at April 17, 2007 8:56 PM | Permalink

Nice link.

The LTC, however, seems to be addressing what the reporters said about what he saw them see, when they were with his unit. And he mentioned embeds. He was not clear on what percentage of the fair reporting he praised was from embeds and what percentage from the networks' non-embeds and others who were not directly attached to a military unit.

Most conservatives think the embeds did a better job, and so do most soldiers who've commented on the subject, than the non-embeds.

Problem is that there is much more to the war than what an American unit does under the eyes of an American reporter. It would be interesting to know what the LTC thinks of all abu Ghraib all the time, for example, or AP's ghost source. The recent resignation of Sadr's ministers is treated with some degree of consternation, sort of like "for the eighty-'leventh time this year, the Italian government fell", which is what Americans apparently think of rejiggering of voting blocs in a parliament.
The NYT's deliberate misrepresentation of two submissions, that we know of, to make them look at the war less favorably, is not part of the LTC's point, but it happened and it does effect the public perception.
So, good for the reporters who impressed the LTC. But that's not the whole story.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 17, 2007 10:35 PM | Permalink


I would not be so dismissive of LTC Gentile's observations.

And during my tour in 2006, I spent about two hours every day reading about Iraq through stories told by reporters from the major national and local newspapers and news services and, at times, watching TV newscasts from the major networks. The stories told by the American press, for the most part, matched what I saw happening on the ground.
Gentile is a respected author and officer. A combat leader and military historian with a PhD from Stanford. A keen observer and thinker.

Posted by: Tim at April 17, 2007 11:28 PM | Permalink

Returning Steve's favor: Our New Way of War - And It's Working

Posted by: Tim at April 17, 2007 11:33 PM | Permalink

I know personally some who--not referring to, say, members of Congress--who will be permanently bummed if this works out.
But that and the progress of the war are other stories. Let's not threadjack.

How will the new regime fix the old problems?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 18, 2007 6:47 AM | Permalink


Several days ago, I offered a comment with links that has been eaten by the anti-malicious comment queue.

I'll try again with individual comment-links.

Tim Porter Lets Out a Roar

Posted by: Tim at April 18, 2007 2:36 PM | Permalink

Tim. You have been busy, haven't you? To not much profit, apparently.
I do see problems which might have to do with culture. In your opinion, how would the new regime change the results you saw/see?

I also note one of your cites to a survey where the conclusion is that the journos frequently don't know enough to do a good job, and probably don't know they don't know enough. Solutions?

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 18, 2007 6:46 PM | Permalink

Bloggers are not journalist. Blogging is extreme form of democracy and not journalism. Bloggers seems very good at editorial writing but I haven't met one yet that went out and dug up a story start to finish. The problem with weblogs it makes the profession look easier than what it actually is.

Danny L. McDaniel
Lafayette, Indiana

Posted by: Danny L. McDaniel at April 23, 2007 8:33 AM | Permalink

Danny. It depends on what you mean by "start to finish". Few reporters do that with big stories.
Or even small ones.
See Michael Yon who, although he didn't start the war, is covering it in ways the media usually don't. Bill Roggio. Others, blogging on their own dime in country.
And, I have a feeling, if a blogger breaks something his very own self, it won't be "covered" until it's blessed by being noticed by traditional journalism.
Like Charles Johnson and the so-called Killian memos.
Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 23, 2007 11:22 AM | Permalink

I will be speaking about American journalism and the rise of a new press on the Internet in a Computers and Society course at NYU today. Here are a few notes:

Human settlements at a small enough scale don't need a press; they are self-informing.

If we look at systems for the distribution of news, these pre-date the press, printing, modern society entirely.

The first such systems were for empires governed from a central place, and commercial empires trading over a broad territory.

The roman empire had s system of couriers over roads the romans built.

Traders in 16th century Europe hired the first professional correspondents.

This was news, but it wasn't news for the public. It was for statesmen, merchants, princes, popes, who had to have information to run their empires.

The origins of news for the public lie with the rise of the press, and the printing press, which spread news to more people than just the princes.

The term "public opinion" dates from the mid-18th century (1750s, 60s) and it signaled the arrival of two new actors on the political stage: the public, whose opinions now counted, and the press, which informed and amplified and influenced public opinion.

From that point on, the power of the mass media grew in a pattern first established by print-- an atomized audience, broadcasted to.

Until the Web.... which began to change things and set down a new pattern.

Timothy Berners-Lee thought he was inventing the ultimate tool for collaboration.

But the way the Web developed it looked, at first, more like a continuation of the mass media: print, broadcast, cable... Web.

But it's way more radical than that. The changes are bigger, more disruptive than they thought. And the people who once ran the press now realize that the Web is where their future lies.

Posted by: Jay Rosen at April 23, 2007 3:08 PM | Permalink

I guess the new regime will have to figure out ways to:

1. Avoid doing again what the Shorenstein Center says journos did wrt Hezbullah in the war last summer.

2. Blow smoke so nobody notices they got caught.

3. Not get caught.

4. Not do it again.

Make your choices, ladies and gentlemen.

The credibility of the media depends not on which choice you make, but how well you do whatever it is you choose.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey at April 25, 2007 9:02 PM | Permalink

From the Intro