Saturday, February 24, 2007

the free press v. an expensive speech

It's a tangled socio-political landscape we have woven. And in large part, I've come to terms with that. But this was too much even for me.

The Smoking Gun obtained Rudy Giuliani's standard appearance contract. He reportedly charges $100K a pop, and the grandosity of his demands rivals even those of Mariah Carey.

Fair enough.

What troubles me are the sanctimonious media-related clauses. The highlights:

[6] All advertisements, publicity and printed materials for the engagement (whether print, broadcast or otherwise) must be presented to the Washington Speakers Bureau and subject to the prior written approval of Mr. Giuliani. When submitting copy for approval, please include how it will be used and who will be viewing the document.


[7] Client shall not permit any general press or media coverage of the engagement or any additional appearances of Mr. Giuliani, other than print coverage by trade press, which regularly covers Client's industry ... Client shall provide a list of any / all trade media outlets expected to attend Mr. Giuliani's presentation no less than two weeks prior to the event for approval.


[9] For open / public ticketed events, Mr. Giuliani will consider some media ops to include a 15-minute press op (which may or may not include Q&A as determined by Mr. Giuliani), 10 minutes of b-roll (picture only), and still photos by local press for the first 3 minutes ... Approval will be on a case-by-case basis. If the press requests are approved, all recording devices must be escorted out of the room following conclusion of the approved time limit.

The HYPOCRISY! Sure, some may be willing to pony up the fee and adhere to the nuts-o demands, but only because of the fame he achieved as Mayor of New York City. Yes -- in PUBLIC OFFICE.

Of course, hypocrisy isn't illegal or even necessarily unethical. And I can understand him trying to curb possible bootlegs of the material in his speeches.

The contract is not unconstitutional -- it's between two private parties -- but clearly it can deprive many of First Amendment rights!

This particular contract was signed about a year ago, when he was not holding or running for public office. But now that he's announced his bid for '08, any such appearance would have to be considered campaigning! Will he still be able to charge for speeches through the Bureau?

Let's hope he loses this stupid rider ...


Match made in radio heaven

The announcement of the merger between XM and Sirius satellite radio systems sent shock waves through the media and Capital Hill this week. I think the evolution of this newer form of radio is fascinating. It has gone from a threat to terrestrial radio, to being threatened by newer ways to listen to music.

Some see this merger as dangerous to society. Click the link above to read the article. This columnist believes the satellite radio merger will have serious repercussions to the heavily consolidated media industry. He says it will make Clear Channel (as a former employee I prefer to say Cheap Channel) buy more radio stations.

I think the writer is being a bit of a drama queen. Clear Channel has way too much debt to think about buying more stations, but that's not the point. This merger was simply good business to the radio industry, the subscribers and for the companies.

The author says this merger will make a monopoly of the satellite radio business. Now I'm not a lawyer, but I think monopolies are only dangerous when the company chooses to take advantage of the public. Like the phone companies did before they were deregulated. I don't think the merged satellite radio company will be a threat to consumers since these consumers have so many choices in how to obtain their music.

The two struggling satellite radio companies barely brought in 2.5 million subscribers, roughly 1 percent of the "terrestrial" radio audience. In the past few years, the popularity of MP3 players, especially to those under the age of 25, was too much of a threat to the business of satellite radio, and terrestrial radio. Digital radio was also becoming a strong competitor, especially since new cars are coming equipped with this technology. Satellite radio in new luxury cars was the biggest component in obtaining new subscribers, which explains why most listeners to the technology are wealthy and above the age of 35. Having a new car buyer choose between the two technologies is a serious threat to satellite radio.

This merger is good for the radio industry. When satellite radio arrived on the scene terrestrial radio outlets panicked. Radio programmers across the country asked themselves what this new technology meant for their audiences. Well, the audience shrunk, and the industry was forced to reinvent itself. It started creating formats that have more variety and invested in new technology like digital radio and podcasting. So good ole' radio started holding its own and the audience began to realize that there is no sense in paying for something you get for free.

Subscribers of these companies must be ecstatic. They now will have the best of both satellite radio worlds. Martha Stewart, MLB, NFL and Howard Stern! Yippee!!! There's going to be a lot more to offer to subscribers and potential customers.

Furthermore, the columnist says at the end of his piece that it would have been better for society to let the two companies duke it out. I don't see this being true to the stockholders, the employees or the subscribers.

So I think this merger is OK for media business. The only risk is if the newly merged company raises rates. But if they want to continue taking audiences away from old fashioned radio, and MP3 players, I don't think this will happen.

peace out,

Confidential sourcing done right...

Journalists and confidential sources. Should journalists give up the names? Should they go to jail if they don't? That issue is at the center of one of the biggest trials in the country right now... The Scooter Libby perjury trial. We all know that Judith Miller didn't give up her source. And of course, Mathew Cooper and Time did the opposite. Our case studies are due on Monday, so I won't talk about this case.

I want to talk about the Balco case and the two San Francisco Chronicle reporters.
Did you know Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada didn't give up their source and also didn't go to jail.

Last week a lawyer for Balco, the Bay area lab that produced the undetectable steroids, admitted in court that he leaked the grand jury testimony by Barry Bonds and other athletes on Steroid use to Fainaru-Wada. So, the federal government decided to drop their case to send the two reporters to jail for 18 months for not revealing their source.

Troy Ellerman, 44, agreed in court documents last week to plead guilty to four charges of disclosing the transcripts in violation of a judge's order. Ellerman could go to jail for two years and pay more than $250,000 in fines.

So the journalists are off the hook. Ironically though, they still won't reveal their source, even though everyone now knows it was Ellerman.

Did the two reporters do the right thing? I think they did. The government came after the two journalists and tried to get the reporters to do their work for them. As we have discussed before, in matters of national security or impending harm, journalists may be compelled to give up their confidential sources.

What matter of national security was involved here? All Williams and Fainaru-wada did was break one the biggest sports stories of the last few decades.

The baseball players and the Olympic sprinter named weren't even hurt. Giambi and Sheffield are still playing. Even Bonds, who could be indicted any day for lying to the grand jury, just signed a new contract with the Giants.

I would even argue the two reporters did a service to the public and to the athletes who don't take the drugs.

"CW Nevius" blogged about this case in, an online affiliate of the San Francisco Chronicle:

"There were some uncomfortable moments for Williams and Fainaru-Wada at their hearing in San Francisco when the judge asked them, "Didn't you know this was wrong?'' The simple reply is yes, they did. But the longer answer is, that's pretty much the job description. To get the story, to get it right, and to get it first. No one said the stories they printed from the testimony wasn't true."

Was it wrong to publish the grand jury testimony that is supposed to be a secret? I don't think so. The two reporters were shown information and given the green light to report it from Ellerman. They didn't break the law, Ellerman did.

Nevius contends it might have been wrong to publish the secret testimony, "but again, this isn't a matter of nuclear weapons or terror plots. This is about athletes in professional sports who looked us in the eye and lied. Incredibly talented players who decided to cheat to make themselves bigger and stronger."

I agree. Steroid use is illegal and it's unethical. It taints the integrity of the game and it plays th fans of baseball for a fool.

Because of this case and the book, "Game of Shadows," the MLB is trying to make steroid testing stricter and more reliable.

The information Fainaru-wada and Williams published was true, accurate and compelling...what we as journalists strive for. Good for them for not revealing the source. And, in the end, the system worked itself out. The government found the leaker without using the journalists. Just as it should be.


Univision swaps education for entertainment and loses...

Univision may have to cough up a record $24 million fine for mischaracterizing a soap opera as an educational program.

Well, it's about time the FCC fined a major network for feeding its viewing audience garbage. Ratings. That's all anyone cares about these days.

If you're crazy about megahits like American Idol, CSI or Univision's telenovelas, that's fine. Hey, I'm not immune. I obsessed over whether Meredith would make it through last week's Grey's Anatomy episode. And yes, I shed a tear when Denny and Izzie crossed paths.

But it's a sad day when networks have to be forced to provide educational television for our (um...your) nation's youth. What's even sadder is when I seek out educational programming for grown ups - that is to say, the nightly news - I'm greeted by pictures of doped-up, bald and dead celebrities. Isn't the 'E' channel supposed to take care of that?

So, the FCC steps in and punishes the largest Spanish-language TV network in the nation to the tune of $24 million. What does that even mean in relative numbers? Will it make a dent in Univision's piggy bank? Probably not. Will it influence the network to air something worthwhile for its impressionable young viewers? I sure hope so.

The fine is symbolic and something I hope other networks will take notice of.
Perhaps if we start force-feeding viewers their greens at some point they'll actually want a daily dose.

JP meantioned in a previous lecture that someone will probably come along and invent a news network where the programming consists of informative, non-sensationalized and unbiased interpretations of the day's events. How retro. Now, where do I sign up and who's coming with me?

In the meantime, I'll keep watching Grey's Anatomy. But I'll do a little digging online for my "educational programing." It just so happens, I like brussel sprouts.


Investigative reporting... in a box

Yet another "investigative report" on Princeton zygotes beer-sliding their way through the best four years of their lives...

A friend forwarded this to me:
Undercover at Princeton's Eating Clubs

At first I was impressed with the access the reporter got. Bicker is highly secretive and eating club members generally don't talk to the media because they've been skewered by the New York Times a few too many times. (There was a full page article on Ivy in the NYT when I was there). So the first question is, who cares what a bunch of naked, drunk kids choose to do with their Thursday and Saturday nights? Why the fixation?

And then the second question is, how did this guy get access. I've been told that the reporter did not identify himself as a reporter to the people he interviewed. He also didn't get any official response from the clubs themselves, and apparently many of the quotes were inaccurate or out of context. Clearly unethical, and equally hard to prove. Most importantly, the reporter was trespassing. The clubs are on private property, and the photographs (though they did blur out the faces) were not taken with permission or acknowledgement that they would appear in a newspaper.

And one more ethical barb. At the article's outset, this gumshoe reporter seems to be focusing on serious issues of race and class, but doesn't develop them. Instead, he intimates that the bicker process is racist, an allegation that lacks the reporting to back it up, but has the same negative impact on the reader. Sloppy, and though you may not feel for the poor little rich kids, unfair.

The Daily Princeton published a response: 'Undercover' story upsets Bicker clubs

I'll highlight one priceless quote: "I would've loved to publish comments about whether or not their stories were or were not true," the reporter said to the Princetonian...

I understand the fascination with eating clubs, because they are somewhat unique and an unapologetic stronghold of old-school social tradition. But I question whether the annual "investigative report" on Princeton's eating clubs is the best use of dwindling journalistic resources...

global reporting...out of our reach?

Paul McLeary of the Columbia Journalism Review published an article this week on the dying days of foreign news reporting. Since September 11, America should have become more interested in the news (and not just the nuclear power) of the people and happenings in the outer world...but his survey of U.S. news agencies commitment to international news coverage shows a weakened interest in world news.

McLeary cited the Boston Globe's January closings of its Jerusalem, Berlin and Bogota bureaus, the Baltimore Sun's closing of its Moscow and Johannesburg bureaus and shifting its own Jerusalem bureau chief into its parent company's foreign news operations.

In addition to these closings, Newsday is expected to close its Beirut bureau in the coming months and in the past two years, Newsweek shut its Beijing, Seoul, Jerusalem and Moscow bureaus and Time followed suit, shutting its Sydney and South African bureaus. For print journalism, there are four primary, international news coverage carriers: NY Times, Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the L.A. Times; all having the most reporters outside the U.S. according to the State of the News Media watch group.

But what about TV?

According to the American Journalism Review, while major networks used to permanently station regional specialists in bureaus and develop extensive sources and expertise, they now use a generic traveling reporter who drops in for a quick standup and gets out before dinner time. ABC and Fox News closed their full-time bureaus in Moscow, once considered the most important foreign outpost. CBS yanked correspondents from Paris, Johannesburg, Beijing and Bonn. No foreign correspondents exist in Manila. And even CNN, the global journalism behemoth ( leading the pack with a total of 28 full-time worldwide bureaus worldwide) shut down its reporting posts in Belgrade, Brussels and Rio de Janeiro.

At several outposts, some broadcast networks maintain skeletal staffs--a bureau manager, a producer or a local camera crew. But the AJR says that to a large extent, all of Europe and Asia are covered from mainstays in London or New York. Latin American correspondents are almost nonexistent, except for NBC's in Havana and CNN's in Buenos Aires, Havana and Mexico City. CNN and ABC and CBS are the only news agencies with full-time Beijing or Tokyo correspondents, and Africa has very few resident broadcast correspondents.

Most news agencies say its too expensive to maintain the foreign bureaus...but aren't they necessary?

With two wars happening simultaneously and even more unrest yet revealed to the public, with increasing focus on Iran, and our national oil issues with Venezuela and Mexico, McLeary is on target with his description of an untimely limit on international news coverage. McLeary suggests all hope isn't lost and that eventually print reporters will provide video footage for their stories. So, again, we could be in store for another cross-medium merge where VJ's and not broadcast journalist provide our news feeds where broadcast reporters won't or can't afford to go.

But besides the necessary presence of foreign correspondents...there needs to be more than one person reporting the news; more than the NY Times and the Washington Post or the CNN and ABC journalist. Why should all news organizations be strapped to the point of single-source dependency?

And what about the dangers of depending on just one or a few pairs of eyes....even our own Headline News dependency on CNN feeds begs the question...are we really telling the story as we would if it we were actually present to interview, shoot and capture the event on our own?


(chart: Halls Media Research)

Friday, February 23, 2007

When the source beats you to it...

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz wrote this piece about his colleague, Dana Priest, and a run-in she had with Army officials over a story.

Priest is a national security reporter for the Post. Last week, she waited six days for the Army to respond to the paper's investigation of "decaying, cockroach-infested facilities and an overwhelmed patient-care bureaucracy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest Washington."

Now, I think we've all experienced just a teeeny bit of frustration ourselves this past week, what with potential sources getting messages and never calling back, simply keeping you waiting, etc. We would understand how Priest felt when Army officials used the time she was waiting for a response to organize a briefing for any and all reporters.

The source scooped her!

And indeed, while Priest did have dibs on the story (other newspapers and so forth had to wait for her story to come out first), it's already out in the open. Every reporter knows about it.

Army officials said that they had already been thinking about briefing reporters on this issue. But that it was the Post investigation that had moved them to hold it sooner. They defended their actions by saying they wanted to get their side of the story out. But that's exactly what Priest was setting out to do, and then some.

Kurtz says there is an unspoken understanding that sources will not tell other reporters about a story. Well, that's great. I would think that's common sense. Since I'm an amateur, I would be incensed if this happened to me.

And I'm sure Priest was pretty riled by it. Indeed, she felt betrayed by her source and told him/her so. I don't suppose this is standard practice by government agencies, at least not all the time. The press is a government and society watchdog. That's what we're here for. Our job is to give them a voice, and as a courtesy, they should allow reporters to have their stories until they are published for everyone to see.

And I think there may just be a problem with trust between reporters and sources. It may not be as monumental a one as the confidentiality issue. But without a good reporter-source relationship in the works, journalism is impossible. And just as Barnett and Dale deceived Food Lion, they lost some credibility with their audience. And sources just as easily can lose credibility with reporters. So will Priest notify high Army officials about her investigations in the future? I'd say the answer is a resounding no.


Citizen journalism ... with wedding bells ...

Or quasi-citi-j hits the NYTimes, sorta.

You too can submit a homemade how-we-met wedding video to the Grey Lady.

"Beginning Wednesday, February 21, couples who submit announcements to the Weddings/Celebrations pages of The Times will be able to submit their own homemade videos. We ask that these videos focus on the story of how the couples met and ultimately decided to make the relationship permanent.

Please note that only couples whose announcements have been selected to appear in the Weddings/Celebrations pages of the newspaper will have their "How We Met" videos run at"

The site goes on to talk about the guidelines for submitting video.

At least they have a vetting process for how the videos will be selected (sort of) - "A Times staff member will review the submission and, if approved, the submission will appear at on the same Sunday that the couple's wedding announcement is scheduled to appear." So, who's going to review? And on what criteria?

Is this going to spawn a new industry - "we'll help you create the best video ever to submit to the New York Times"?

I don't know how I feel about this. I know the wedding section is always heavily read and important to a lot of people, and I admit to scanning through it once and a while. And "how-we-met" stories are always popular.

And in a way, I think this process is better than the one currently in place - where videos done by NYT would feature one couple each week. See this week's happy couple.

But, is this where journalism is headed? Are we going to see more of this? Will it work? Or, is it not really journalism but still something that's viable?

Not Quite The Half-Hour "News" Hour

The place you go to for all things “fair and balanced” has now become the place you can go to for some Sunday night satire – And frankly I don’t think that it’s right.

I realize that I’m certainly not their target demographic. I voted for Kerry in the last election, I’m in a group on titled “Against gay marriage? Then don’t get one (Penn Chapter)” and I cringe at the sight of Hannity and Colmes.

I may not think the jokes are funny, but that’s not the problem I have with the show. The problem with what many call conservatives’ answer to liberals’ satirical romps “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” is that it airs on a network that considers itself a “news network.”

Lest we forget, the wildly popular mock news programs, “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” are on Comedy Central. To make a show like "The Half-Hour News Hour" a part of FOX News Channel’s programming is a grave mistake that undermines the network’s already questionable credibility.

Call me a purist, but mock news does not belong on a bona-fide news network. As one critic put it, the show is more suitable for FOX News Channel’s entertainment brother, FOX.

Making matters worse, on the show’s premiere last Sunday, the network continued to have its real news ticker run along the bottom of the screen during the program, all the while interjecting an over-the-top laugh track throughout the show, as mentioned in an article on

I have the feeling that many people feel the way I do – maybe even the bigwigs at FOX News themselves. The news network has only ordered two episodes of the show. And its Sunday night premiere tanked. In a journalism age that has seen Stephen Glass, Janet Cooke and Jayson Blair, let’s not deliberately muck up real news with fake.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Sensationalizing for Sweeps

I found a grand example of the ethical problem LA discusses below.

Two weeks ago, an ABC affiliate in Tucson -- KGUN Channel 9 -- aired an "investigative report" by Jennifer Waddell on the trend of using Craig's List to plan sex romps in public places around the city, like construction sites and parks.

The response was general outrage, for several reasons, which a writer for the Tucson Weekly sums up nicely [read it here]:

[1] Fear-mongering. The piece begins with this gem:

"The Internet: You take one wrong turn, and you have gone from looking for a puppy to straight-up pornography involving women and men."

What? Really? And how does that happen, exactly? This description MIGHT have worked 15 years ago, when we were all just learning what the Internet was. The package goes on to conflate the illegality of a public sex act with ... actual or even potential harm to the community. She vaguely describes harm to "public safety."

[2] Waddell talks about police intervention. In her SU, she holds up some folded papers and claims they are police reports re: public sex acts. Later, a VO references video of a stack of paper as reports from an undercover sting operation.
But she gives no real facts to buttress her assertion that public sex is a problem in Tucson.

[3] As you can see in the quote above, Waddell opens the piece talking about "men and women" who seek out sex online. She does the same thing at the end, but in between, it's all MEN.

The Tucson Weekly put it very well: "Awkwardly bracketing her piece with assurances that, yes, both men and women can get off in public may have been KGUN's way of trying to deflect the gay community's concerns."

But not a very effective strategy.

Last week, KGUN aired what I think is a shamefully inadequate response the the criticism [see it here]. Said Waddell:

"We investigated because we are on your side [referencing the station's slogan, '9 on Your Side']. We believe parents needed to know about Craig's List so they could protect their kids ... We are committed to tackling tough stories. You asked us to investigate, and we did."

Without acknowledging the grievous error made in leaving them out, Waddell spouts the numbers and facts about the police reports and undercover investigation.

Then she really knuckles down and shares some of the letters and calls to the station.

The first person thinks the report was fair because it was true: "You got video of the [public sex] activity."

The next respondent says the report was done "with great professionalism" and THANKS the station "on behalf of" the GLBT community.

Then we hear from two critics. Probably the nicest critics ever. The first points out that he, personally, doesn't see the "imminent danger to people and their families that you implied." The second is miffed because the report didn't include the fact that many local GLBTs oppose public sex or are parents themselves.

Finally, and I think worst of all, Waddell's follow-up implies that GLBT advocacy groups were intractable in their dealings with her ... and refused to comment prior to the story airing.

They say it went QUITE differently. Before it even aired, local and national GLBT advocacy groups say they protested Waddell's package for stereotyping and stigmatizing gay men. One Tucson group has demanded Waddell apologize for lying and misleading them, as well as damaging the reputation of the GLBT community.


The February book

... aka sweeps! We're smack dab in the middle of sweeps. February, May, July and November, and we get crazy news, sometimes sensational news, some very good investigative reporting, and some non-news. How is that different from any other month? (just kidding)

I saw this story at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - Rob Owen writes:
"It worked! The time-honored tradition of TV station news directors meeting in the woods to perform rituals before sweeps did the trick. Clearly, one of them did a snow dance at last month's meeting.

What better gift for sweeps than inclement weather, which drives viewers to their TVs in heavy numbers? First the bitter cold last week, and now snow this week, an opportunity for reporters to affect a look of horror if anyone they interview says he or she likes snow.

But who cares if snow fans are looked upon as deranged? Rejoice at the split screen joys of live team coverage!"

Of course it's not just in Pittsburgh but also around the country. And here in the Chicago area we've definitely had our fair share of weather stories. Sub-zero temperatures. Snow! Bad traffic. Cold. But many would argue it's been news here - there have been cold-related deaths, it's affected commutes, schools took snow days, some streets have not been cleared all that well, the city has implemented Phase 3 of its snow fighting plan.

But, have news organizations been making too much of it? I don't know. For our Headline News Tuesday, I decided to lead with snow and weather - I felt it was the biggest story of the day here. That said, I don't know where I would draw the line on snow coverage during another month versus a sweeps month. (except if it was July! then it's totally news and perhaps the apocalypse)

Beyond snow, the Pittsburgh story goes on to talk about other sweeps stunts and promos. And it chastises stations for copying each other on story subjects.

Have you seen any of that in the last few weeks? Has anyone seen any good sweeps stories? Anything really bad?



A massive winter storm has dumped snow on 22 states this week. One area of upstate New York received record snowfall, with some regions getting more than 12 feet of snow.

How do you reconcile Global Warming with winter weather?

Yes. Although it is cold today, average temperatures for the year are rising.

No. With storms this large and the arctic temperatures many experienced last week, I have my doubts.

Maybe. There definitely seems to be changes happening in our climate, but is it global warming?

Are you kidding me?

This just goes to show that any blunder, no matter how seemingly insignificant, can make you look like an idiot. Sure, compared to the overall number of online readers, the group who saw this poll is likely much smaller. But a simple read-through and the author should - at the very least - notice that none of the answers is a gramatically acceptable response to the question.

In a critique of the aforementioned poll CJR's Curtis Brainard also notes that "climate" should not be mistaken for "weather." Essentially, he writes, "ABC's careless poll did a disservice to its readers, to science and to all the bleary-eyed policy makers out there that are trying to make sense of the climate debate. The network can do better -- much better."

Um, no kidding. What ever happened to paying attention to detail? Yes, we all make mistakes - but I might go so far as to say that mistakes as careless as this one are never acceptable when you're an organization the size and strength of ABC (or NBC, CBS, CNN or any number of print publications).

Personally, I don't think it was acceptable for the graduate program to submit last night's show with its graphical errors. A "Stop the violence" OTS before a children's story? Sure, things like that happen in the production process all the time. But when they do, fix them.

My point: If Medillians should know better, then shame on mega-networks like ABC for being equally careless.


From paper to monitors...

This month, the world's oldest newspaper, Sweden's Post-och Inrikes Tidningar, ceased to exist in print form and went purely online. The AP article points out that this "fate" is one "many ink-stained writers and readers fear... may await many of the world's most venerable journals."

The Post-och Inrikes Tidningar was by no means a moneymaker. It had a measly circulation of around 1,000, and the current editor Olov Vikstrom believes the web edition will attract a larger audience. It's probably true.

But Hans Holm, who had served as chief editor of the Post-och Inrikes Tidningar for 20 years, called this phenomenon a "cultural disaster": "It is sad when you have worked with it for so long and it has been around for so long."

And yes, I understand how he could feel that way. The man has been working on this publication for just about as long as I've been alive. And I'm pretty darned attached to the fact that I exist.

But on the other side of the Atlantic... we've got people like Arthur Sulzberger, owner, chairman and publisher of celebrated U.S. newspaper The New York Times, who, according to this Haaretz article, said: "I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either."

It's obvious Sulzberger comes from the land of "Let's talk money." Sulzberger says the Times' goal is to lead in the transition from print to web. From what the article says, I get the feeling that Sulzberger has some regard for news content and its role in society. Yet, the business end of things is number 1.

The NYT website has 1.5 million readers a day, in addition to its circulation of 1.1 million. But the difference is...

average age of newspaper reader = 42
average age of website reader = 37

And Sulzberger understands that this statistic is a direct indicator of the future of news on the Internet. He made the point that "the newspaper is not the focal point of city life as it was 10 years ago... Once upon a time, people had to read the paper to find out what was going on in theater. Today there are hundreds of forums and sites with that information."

The man's got a point. And as sad as I think it would be to see newspapers go out of existence, that's the direction in which our society's desire for easier-faster-cheaper has led us. Unless business and journalism can be separated, I don't think newspapers in print form will exist in 50 years. And let's just hope that the desire for convenience doesn't have us traveling down the road that results in one huge worldwide computer crash. 'Cause we all know what that feels like... to lose all your information... and it's not good.


When Interviewees Attack

On Canada’s City News, veteran reporter Peter Silverman found himself in a very bad situation when he was tapped to investigate Optician Adam Plimmer who on numerous occasions failed to provide customers with glasses that they had paid hundreds of dollars for.

Silverman was warned by the customers that Plimmer had a very bad temper and on Silverman’s first visit to the shop, he was sternly reprimanded by the optician and had the door slammed in his face.

A few days later, Silverman received a call from Plimmer apologizing and telling Silverman he could return to the store to speak with him on the matter. But in the message, Plimmer sounded highly unstable saying he has “become a new man” and has “witnessed the power of God” and also that he has “love in his heart” for Silverman.

Still Silverman returned to the shop and was unprepared for what happened next. Plimmer violently pushes the door open into 75-year-old Silverman, grabs the reporter’s notebook and smacks him with it, spits at him, picks up to doormat to swing at Silverman and even resorts to throwing snowballs at Silverman and the cameraman. All the while Plimmer is also yelling and shouting obscenities at Silverman. Eventually police and the SWAT team arrive to arrest Plimmer.

I was shocked by the footage but it also left me with many questions. What would I have done in that situation? Would I have returned to the shop even after that crazy message? Yes, I probably would, my job would most likely depend on it. And upon being attacked would it have been appropriate to hit back? I think the natural response would be to strike back but that could get the reporter in a whole lot of legal trouble.

As Anderson Cooper alludes to, Silverman got some flack for “putting his dukes up” but I think he handled the situation well, keeping himself in defense mode and not really striking back at Plimmer. (On a side note on some message boards posters report that Silverman was a boxer in his younger years). But should Silverman have stuck around for as long as he did? Plimmer was attacking him for some time before the police arrived. I guess he did the right thing; going away would be exactly what Plimmer wanted.

This also brings up the issue of the cameraman’s role. Should he continue filming as he does in this case, or should he come to the aid of the reporter who is being attacked? In this case I also think the cameraman did the right thing, by filming the incident, which is clear evidence of the attack and that Plimmer is unstable. In addition Silverman seems to be handling the situation well on his own. But in other situations, should the cameraman step in when the reporter is being attacked?


I wanna spread the news that if it feels this good gettin' used...

Click for a little background groove:

So, the Frontline piece this week got me thinking about being used and abused.

In the piece, Tom Rosenstiel, Director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. explains how anonymous sourcing has changed - from a tool that journalists would offer to reluctant sources to come forward to "a condition that the source often imposes on the journalist."

Rosenstiel says, "To the public, a whistleblower who is 'Deep Throat', reluctantly guiding an investigative reporter is very different than a high ranking administration official lunching in an elegant Washington hotel spinning a reporter with the protection of confidentiality."

This is an important distinction that Norman Pearlstine of Time expounds on when he explains his rationale to hand over Matt Cooper's notes. Given the journalistic principle of protecting sources, Pearlstine puts it in context: Grand jury, question of national security, White House officials trying to undermine a whistleblower...

... when historically, as in Watergate, the whistleblower was the confidential source himself.

I think having a journalist culture in which sources frequently and arbitrarily allow themselves self-imposed immunity only invites exploitation. Allowing confidential sourcing should be used very gingerly and in the circumstances when the information is "newsworthy" and crucial to the story. This was not the case in the Plame debacle.

More generally, Nicholas Kristof and Earl Caldwell discuss what it's like being used...
Use Me

You mean everyone has an AGENDA!? Get outta town. Bob Woodward makes an interesting point as well, saying that a reporter can't say "the source was no good" and not blame his reporting.

I've already run into quite blatant attempts to exploit my potential as a PR mouthpiece. I think people assume students are particularly gullible in this department, because we have difficulty getting people to talk to us.

Consider the source, ladies... But in the words of the great Bill Withers - It aint too bad the way you're usin' me because I sure am using you to do the same.

Oh yeah.

To Catch a Predator?

We have all seen the show. A creepy guy walks into a house filled with hidden cameras with beer and condoms. He has been invited there by a thirteen-year-old girl or boy who has told the man their parents aren't home. The decoy leaves the room to change into something more comfortable and promises to be right back. But they never come back.

Instead, Chris Hansen from Dateline NBC walks around the corner. The men swear they had no bad intentions until Hansen reads the explicit internet conversations the men thought they were having with minors. The men then change their story to something along the lines of "I have never done anything like this before." They leave the house and are immediately picked up by waiting police officers.

That has been the formula for "To Catch a Predator" on Dateline NBC for the five or so operations since its inception.

Douglas McCollam wrote an article about the show in CJR this month entitled The Shame Game.

Is it a shame game? Who cares if a few perverts are humiliated on national TV? They deserve it, right?

McCollam doesn't care about the perverts though, he notes in his article the ethical questions concerning the journalists invovled.

"At a time when reporters are struggling to keep law enforcement from encroaching on newsgathering, Dateline, which is part of NBC’s news division, is inviting them in the front door — literally."

McCollam also points out that NBC pays the advocacy group that sets up the internet conversations, Perverted Justice, as well as the local law enforcement officials outside.

"But for NBC’s deep pockets, no “parallel” police actions would take place."

NBC says it's no different than paying a retired Army General to retain his services and expertise for stories, but I think it is quite different. They aren't paying the cops to give their opinions, they are paying them to arrest people they might never have known existed.

Isn't that staging?

There is also the question of the "predators" themselves. According to the article, most of the men have to be egged on a little by the decoy to get them to the house. And, just one in ten of the men who show up have criminal backgrounds. Are these men predators at all? No doubt there are dangerous sexual predators on the internet, but is Dateline skweing reality?

In my opinion they are. They are setting these men up. The men might never have gone to the children's houses if not for all the steps taken by the "news" show.

I would argue that it is just like the GM/NBC case. NBC is rigging these scenarios like they rigged the trucks.

McCollam agrees. "...journalistically it looks a lot like crossing the line from reporting the news to creating the news."

This is not news. This is a reality show. This is a way to watch others humiliated. This show should be on Bravo or FX or some cable show, not a respected news show.

It hurts NBC's credibility. Hansen has been on TV defending To Catch a Predator. To him, he is doing a public service. He is getting dangerous men off the street and away from children. Oprah applauded him on her show last season.

That's not Hansen's job as a journalist though. That is law enforcement's job. If he were to come across some illegal action while investigating for a story, he should report it; that is his duty. But he hasn't come across anything, he and NBC have created it.

Don't get me wrong, I am disgusted by the actions of these men. I am not unhappy they are prosecuted and sent to jail. I just don't think it is news or something Dateline should be a part of.


and the beat goes on...

The Frontline special did an excellent job of contextualizing many background facts related to the Libby trial. I was thinking about the victim/culprit dynamic that many of the journalists are and will face during the trial and I realized that part of the conflict (as it relates to a journalist's values and loyalties) stands with the very structure of current journalism....the beat system.

In a January 8 article in the Miami Herald, Edward Wasserman (a journalism professor at Washington and Lee) writes "If you deliberately set out to invent an arrangement less conducive to tough adversarial reporting, it would be hard to beat beats."

In the article, he describes a local police beat reporter who learns of police misconduct. The reporter knows it's a great story but she also knows that to pursue the story is to risk future access to stories (and even her career) on the police beat. So the reporter faced a choice: She could sit on a perfectly newsworthy story that would embarrass the sources she relies on, or she could write it and sacrifice her future effectiveness as a police reporter.

Wasserman suggests this conflict has been institutionalized into a routine reality that traditional journalists face, thanks to the near-universal adoption of beat reporting.

Our role this quarter was much more like that of general assignment broadcasters...not beat many of us were (and some will be:) ) during our respective RPAs. Overtime, many of us developed relationships with sources and most likely, developed a kind of repository of stories that we wanted to tell. But did some of those stories ever put into question our loyalties or our value systems? For our 10-week stints..likely not. But one recent Newslab article( ) describes how beat systems appear to be "making inroads in local television newsrooms, which for years have been staffed mainly by general assignment reporters."

Beat systems vary depending on the station; some stations assign every reporter to a beat and at others, just a few. Advocates of beat reporting note that it provides quicker access and story-telling within a specific domain. While I'm a fan of beat reporting, I find that the system can provide conflicts of interests. When beat reporters form relationships with "trusted sources" loyalty systems could shift and this shift could jeopardize the ability to tell or reveal certain stories lest the reporter risk acceptance and success within a beat. Do those risks trump the innumerable advantages of beat reporting – the development of sources, the ability to know when a story is newsworthy, and the growing sense of expertise that comes with beat experience?What happens when career beat reporters are exposed to things that would make amazing, Pulitzer-worthy, A-block stories that couldn't be told simply because of a need to protect his/her career?

The more immersed a reporter becomes with a beat, the more likely he/she will develop relationships with "trusted sources" and it's also more than likely that the reporter will run across stories that are incredibly tempting but aren't reported.


Global Fact or Farce

Global Warming. Scientists, and Al Gore, say that man is killing the earth. Rain Forests are decreasing, glaciers are melting, rivers and lakes are drying up. That video of Florida being underwater scared the bejesus out of me!

There is no doubt that the earth is warming, but there is doubt about what is causing it. Al Gore says there is scientific consensus that man is responsible. But according to this article, there are many scientists out there in our country and the rest of the world that debunk the theory of man possibly causing the phenomenon. Keep in mind this is from a conservative web site, proving that this issue is more political than scientific.

As journalists I think we should present this other side, as well as for whom these scientists work. During 2005's hurricane season, there was a plethora of reports about the monstrous storms being caused by global warming. Some of these reports also implied that if we don't stop driving SUV's, we are all going to die from a massive storm. But last year, no hurricanes and no reports. Do I still need to trade in my SUV?

You don't here enough about weather patterns on the news. The 1940s and 1950s were warm, and the 1960s and 1970s were very cold. The last 25 years have been warm. Pattern? The late 1960s saw huge hurricanes. The next 20 years, it was quiet. In the 90s, the hurricanes started to rev up. Last year, it was calm. Pattern?

We also don't hear enough about weather records. We've only just started keeping track of the weather in the last 100 years, so we have no idea what was going on with the earth 500 years ago.

So to have a fair view of the political and scientific issue, as journalists I think we should hear from other scientists, and let the people decide about what to do with their SUV.

And now, I leave you with a message from our President....


Monday, February 12, 2007

Well, last week's post certainly caused a stir.

I had a number of faculty members approach me to express their opinions about what I and my fellow classmates wrote. So much for the anonymity of posting with initials. Either way, the response was overwhelmingly supportive of my point of view. If students are frustrated with changes to the curriculum, I think faculty are even more so. I'm interested in seeing what the response is when the Dean reveals his new curriculum on Wednesday.

I'm assuming the dean has also read my post. I'm certain I'm not the only person who has expressed concern about how his new vision is being implemented. He's invited us to a pair of "democratic forums" where we make our own suggestions and tell him what's not working. Now I invite him to further justify his actions to us.

Given the number of faculty who have quietly walked or been swiftly booted out the doors of the McCormick Tribune Center, I am deeply troubled that some of the best instructors I have had the pleasure of working with may be summarily dismissed. I hope administrators will turn to students for input on how valuable these faculty members are. In case I didn't make myself clear the first time, it is the administration that I am unhappy with. Not the instruction.

Change is not easy and it can't move so slowly that nothing ever gets accomplished. But the band-aid method of ripping off the old to reaveal the new isn't working either.

Now, to prove that I'm not categorically against innovation in the news industry:

Pat Walters wrote an article this week for about user-generated content in news and advertising. Specifically, he writes about the Super Bowl Doritos ad that generated $10,000 and two game tickets for its 22-year-old producer, Wes Phillips.

New York times ad critic Stuart Elliott says the point of advertisers - and news organizations - asking for public input is to say: "Hey look! We're on this user-generated content bandwagon. We're hip. We're with it. We might be a massive corporation, but we're down with what you young people are into."

I say it's smart. It's a fresh perspective and, in the case of news organizaitons, it's great so long as we follow the basic guidelines about fact checking to make sure the story is legit. Few organizations will argue that. The controversy arises, however, when you bring up the issue of compensation.

Some say exposure is enough. Bob Garfield, an ad critic for Advertising Age magazine and co-host of NPR's "On the Media," disagrees. "In effect, [Phillips'] commercial was free," he says. "Ten thousand dollars is what Frito-Lay could shake out of the sofa cushions."

When you do the work, compensation is certainly warranted. But don't expect to make really big bucks unless you do this for a living. This is especially true if you're contributing to a news organization. As we all know, most full-time journalists don't make that much anyway.

Besides, as Walters points out in Phillips' case, his video recently hit a million views on YouTube. "It's caused a buzz and no doubt launched Phillips' career."

I have to agree with Walters when he says you can't really put a price on that.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Deja vu

I'm visiting the fam in Tampa this weekend, and I notice while watching the local FOX affiliate that the set looks a lot like the set of the FOX station in Chicago.

I'm intrigued at this point so I then check the web sites. The sites for Chicago and Tampa are identical, except for the featured news of course. The sites are also labeled similarly:,

I then find out that both stations are owned by News Corp, in addition to 30 others; myfoxmilwaukee, myfoxatlanta. Is this a good thing for local news?

Tampa is so different from Chicago and I believe this branding of FOX affiliates is taking the local flavor away from local stations. I can't even imagine how many corporate mandates they must adhere to; do a story about American Idol, do a story about Bill O'Rielly's new book.

Then again I do admire the marketing. In this country where everyone is transient, this creates loyalty with those that find a station to be similar to the one they are familiar with back home.

What do you think?


Citizen-journalism ... gone broadcast

Last month, staffers at KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa, California were called into the newsroom before their 11 p.m. show and told to stop working and that their stories that night would not air. They were done. It's a very small station (almost a blip on the radar) in the midst of the SF Bay Area.

But now ... the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Clear Channel, which runs the station, has an executive with a plan ... to get stories and programming from local residents.

"Steve Spendlove realizes that after last month's layoffs of most of the news-gathering staff at tiny KFTY-TV in Santa Rosa there will be less local coverage. The Clear Channel executive overseeing the station knows there won't be reporters to investigate local scandals, let alone do those fluffy woman-turns-100 features that make TV anchors cock their heads and smile at the end of a newscast.

But Spendlove said that the station's "business model" hadn't been working for years, and that "covering one-eighth of the Bay Area" is neither a moneymaker nor even an operation large enough to be measured by Nielsen ratings.

So the next step in Channel 50's evolution will be a nationally watched experiment in local television coverage. Over the next few months, the station's management plans to ask people in the community -- its independent filmmakers, its college students and professors, its civic leaders and others -- to provide programming for the station. "

It sounds great - as a lot of citizen journalism does these days. The Chron article makes it clear that Spendlove doesn't like that term, but the reporter then goes on to talk about instances where citi-j has worked: after the 2005 London bombings, during Thailand's coup last year.'s executive producer weighs in on incorporating local citizens into coverage, as does the guy in charge at Both plan to develop more, although the CBS guy is much more wary of the phenomenon.

Some viewer-produced content has made its way into local SF newscasts (and throughout the country), but it's been small - photos and what KPIX (CBS) calls "rare" video submissions. I think the stations are rightfully suspicious, or careful, about using that.

This relates to what we talked about in class last week - vetting stories, vetting sources, fact-checking. It's sometimes something that doesn't happen perfectly in regular journalism. Terrible. But sometimes ...

So, what's to happen with citi-j? Who vets? Can it be vetted? How is it to be trusted? Do news organizations lose some credibility with viewers when we don't know exactly the conditions the info was gathered under?

And I know that the viewer submissions help - getting info where access isn't yet, or providing another level of detail. But I'm really weirded out by KFTY-TV's push to local programming by viewers, particularly as the station exec doesn't have a plan or a vision of how it is going to work or what it's going to look like.


Saturday, February 10, 2007


Barack Obama's announcement of his presidential candidacy this morning in Springfield was broadcast live by all the cable news giants.

But it wasn't big enough news for most of the local stations in Obama's hometown.

NBC (Channel 5) sent the talented Carol Marin and Mary Ann Ahern to Springfield for the event. CLTV had live coverage as well. CBS (Channel 2), WGN (Channel 9), Fox (32) and ABC (Channel 7) all stayed on Saturday morning cartoons or paid programming.


Did they break into regular programming for Anna Nicole Smith's death?

I can offer only an iota of insight. I spent four months last year interning at Channel 2 -- which gave the airtime to the cartoon "Trollz" instead of Obama -- so my educated guess is this:


While I was there, the station fired all its per diem employees, and even the most senior reporters had to fight and threaten and compromise just to get a camera crew. Shoots were cut short so that the station wouldn't have to pay its camera crew overtime.

Interestingly, Channel 2 did stream live video of Obama's speech on their Web site. So if the Internet is the cheapest /easiest way to cover live events, what kind of a role is left for TV broadcast news?

I'm so disappointed.


News on the News

I'm sure all of you know what Frontline is. But I don't know if you all knew that Frontline is in the process of releasing a four-part, 4.5-hour documentary about the news media called "News War." It explores the "political, cultural, legal, and economic forces challenging the news media today and how the press has reacted in turn." The series follows this evolution of the media from the Nixon administration up to the present.

"News War" Preview
Naples Daily News article
The first two parts look at sources and the idea of a reporter's privilege. The third speculates on the future of the news, and the fourth explores media on an international scale to see how they affect American journalism.

I love Frontline, and the work that it does. Over the past few weeks, I have been amazed to see some of the things journalists have done in the past. The more I read and think about the profession, the more complicated it gets. The dilemma of whether reporters should get a privilege similar to that of the spouse, the doctor or the social worker is one that I have not yet sorted out completely for myself. Yes, I believe reporters should be able to promise confidentiality because many important stories are discovered in this way. Watergate, anyone? But of course, don't grant confidentiality unless it is absolutely necessary.

American journalism is at a breaking point, I believe. And Frontline has created this piece of work because it is time to address these issues. And maybe we won't have definite answers, but at least reporters, producers, directors should be aware that there are forces guiding their actions, whether it is money, ratings, glory or good old-fashioned democracy.

I'm hoping the future of news doesn't look as bleak as some analysts say it is. I think journalists have an honorable job, one that can be eye-opening and educational. But the blurring of the lines between profit/efficiency/competition and quality/content/analysis has made it more difficult to produce good journalism. Like LT's post suggests, the news media are reponsible for giving people important news, even if they don't want to hear it. Why? Because it is important for you to know. And I also understand the value of entertainment.

What do the people want from news media? Overwhelmingly, the answer seems to be more fluff. But yes, eat the damned spinach. 'Cause it's good for you. And not only that, but you may find that something important can also be interesting.


Televised celebrity murder trial: Part II

This month a judge in California will decide whether to allow television news cameras inside the courtroom of music producer Phil Spector’s murder trial. Spector has been charged with killing actress Lana Clarkson in his suburban Los Angeles mansion nearly four years ago.

The AP says the judge is “likely to allow cameras” at the trial and that numerous television news outlets have already requested that they be allowed to film the trial. Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler says “this is a trial of public interest” and that he would rather people see it for themselves than have commentators tell them about it.

I would argue that in this case cameras shouldn’t be allowed in the courtroom. To me it just sounds like O.J. Simpson part two. I’m all about televising trials for educational purposes, but this trial, like the Simpson trial, is not being aired for that reason. It’s being aired to satiate what the media believes is “public interest” in morbid events involving celebrities. The O.J. Simpson trial was an absolute media circus, and while Spector may not be as well-known as Simpson is to the general population, the media have a tendency to go out of control with coverage of celebrity trials, to name a few prime examples, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson and the late Anna Nicole Smith.

From a legal standpoint, I do think cameras are distracting and interfere with witness testimony. People are nervous enough, but to then have a dozen cameras aimed at you during your testimony…I’m nervous when I speak before three cameras in the studio!

Some may make the argument that the media is simply supplying what the public is demanding. But I find it ridiculous that people are more interested in these horrific crimes so far removed from them, just because they involve celebrities. I would personally like to know more about the crimes that are happening where I live – the incidents that I should truly be worried about. You hear about a crime when it happens, and sometimes when a person is charged, but unless there is something particularly newsworthy, a peg that the media can latch onto, the story just disappears, never to be heard from or covered again.

If the media is going to televise a trial, have a good reason for doing so and in my opinion, celebrity is not always the best reason.


To blog or not to blog?

Most of the presidential candidates have blogs on their web sites. Unfortunately for John Edwards, he didn't read the personal postings of two bloggers before he hired them.

According to an article in the New York Times on February 8, "John Edwards learned the hard way this week of the perils of grafting the raucous culture of the Internet to the decidedly staider world of a presidential campaign."

Before they were hired, the to bloggers criticized the Pope, the Catholic Church, and the "wingnut Christofascist base.”

The NYT article said Edwards had two choices. He could fire them and face a revolt in the liberal blogosphere that has increasingly more power in campaigns, or he could keep them and try to distance himself from the vulgar material.

Being that an election is luming...he kept them to try to keep liberal voters.

MSNBC had to two polital strategists from both parties come on TV this morning to discuss the issue. The democratic strategist said Edwards was right to keep the bloggers, the republican said he should have fired them.

He should have fired them. The postings were crass and offensive. Despite the 'anything goes' atmosphere in blog world, what they said was inapropriate.

This incident illuminates the greater issue of bloggers in campaigns. Most people log onto blogs to get information. The candidates can reach more people by posting blog sites, but how should it be done?

No one knows. It's unchartered waters.

John McCain got into trouble when a blogger with his campaign posted anti-semetic postings among other things. He wasn't fired either! I don't understand. These candidates want to reach more people, but isn't it counter productive to offend a lot of people in the process?

Edwards issued a statement. "...Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but that kind of intolerant language will not be permitted from anyone on my campaign, whether it's intended as satire, humor, or anything else. But I also believe in giving everyone a fair shake..."

I disagree with keeping the bloggers, but the '08 candidates are doing their best in a world that is changing.

Simon Rosenberg of the New Democrat Network said "It is difficult to apply the old ways campaigns were run in the late 20th century to this new wide-open, citizen-led politics.”

Obviously the candidates, and journlists for that matter, are going to need to find a way to work with the bloggers. It will be interesting to watch this all shake out.


The "Oft-Derided Mainstream Media"

It's the job of the Chicago Tribune to make you eat your spinach on a front page paper plate, says ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson. Yes, the same Charlie Gibson from Good Morning America, that great hard news show... though I think he goes by Charles now.

"The fact that people are going to the Web and gravitating toward news that they want makes it more important for somebody putting together the front page of the Tribune to say, `Well, it's still important for you,'" he said.

That may sound elitist, but I think of it more as the 4th estate of an informed society...

Gibson adds, "You are choosing the particular kind of news that's interesting to you. We become more important because our mission is to expose you to things you wouldn't have clicked on."

Phil Rosenthal wrote about it in the Trib this week: Gibson thinks old-style news more vital now

I'm with Charlie. I think people benefit from having the myriad sources of information distilled to a digestible, nutritious form via the mainstream media. This also touches on J.P.'s idea that pretty soon people will just pick their news a la carte, and if they only end up with jellybeans and Starburst, then so be it. The cavities are their problem, right?

I have faith in the general interest of the masses to seek out what's going on in the world... George Will would say I'm terribly naive... But I agree that the mainstream media's function will become more important, not less, as Apple Inc.'s multimedia devices, YouTube campaign videos, and spinning blogheads proliferate. And furthermore, I think this is why MSM will survive -albeit, in a multimedia format. As I've said in the past, it's not the medium but the content that will matter. There is an AUDIENCE who wants the balanced, informed and informative source of news. And I think it's a big one.

I know I don't have time to sift through a lot of junk to find a kernel of goodness...

Rock on, Charlie.


Parents and television...a happy family?

On Monday, Feb. 5, Reuters ran an article that shows many parents aren't too pleased with the media's impact on their children. About 57 percent of 1,138 U.S. parents surveyed were either "very concerned" or "strongly concerned" about children spending too much of their time with different media outlets in comparison to 45 percent of parents who said they were as concerned about their kids engaging in sex or using alcohol.The results of a study sponsored by Common Sense Media (a San Francisco-based media watch group cited by the NY Times, LA Times, Christian Science Monitor, etc.)

We all are living in mediated world, and most American children spend an enormous amount of time with electronic screens. How do we ensure that our kids understand whats happening around them and where should the line be drawn for using graphic headlines and photos? Children, like everyone else, should be well informed and interested in current events, but what happens to children who watch death by hanging, re-enactments of crimes, see close-up shots of body bagged murder victims, or experience the play-by-play excavation of trapped earthquake victims? Kids imitate..and as we saw a few weeks ago, mimic-behaviors have led to fatal accidents.

In looking at the media survey and at an article by Judith Myers-Walls, Center for Media Literacy (see "Parents can help defend bad news", I realized that major news networks' target audience isn't kids, it's adults. But if these adults have children then they are likely (I hope) to censure their viewing to accommodate their own tastes but to also accommodate the defenseless eyes of children.

I don't know if news agencies are taking children as seriously as they should. I don't know if news agencies will even consider this week's survey illustrating just how wary parents are becoming in trusting the media to guard its content and consider sensitive children.

I believe that ratings are heavily impacted by audience that news agencies covers in stories but rarely considers a viable audience. In a world full of bad news....violence, war and disasters....many parents are looking for something..anything good/humorous/less raw and rugged to guard their children and to maintain a little slice of hope that their kids won't grow up feeling like a powerless victim of circumstance.


Saturday, February 03, 2007

Simon says...

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting features an interesting article (see examining top network news approaches to political push-topics and in this case...the 2007 Iran controversy.

The article parallels our class discussion last we determine whether to cover the story, send a live truck or even put include a story in the run down simply because it's what every other station will/won't do? We all know that for most local news shows....stories are reported with similar news angles and similar camera positions. How often is it when you don't see interviews without the same NBC, ABC, CBS and sometimes CLTV microphones in view. The same goes for cable. The idea of the herd mentality isn't something new and isn't something that is likely to change in a world governed by competitive ratings. But telling the story in a different way...or challenging the angle that everyone else is reporting isn't something so common. Which brings me back to the article...

If the President says there are weapons of mass destruction, what does the media do? Well, it depends...when the President first said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq...the media joined him in his search....None were found and Bush later rescinds his allegations. Now, Bush has pitched a similar package for Iran by claiming that Iran is developing nuclear weapons and that Iran is a state sponsor (Iraqi friend and ally) of "terrorism". The media's response--most networks followed suit with what the President said and looked for ways to validate his claims.

Last week's mainstream evening news coverage...."January 29, CBS Evening News aired a report about Iran's alleged support for Shiite militias in Iraq. The following night (1/30/07), ABC World News With Charles Gibson correspondent Jonathan Karl warned that "U.S. officials say the mounting evidence against Iran includes photographs of Iranian training camps on Iraqi soil."NBC Nightly News (1/30/07) pursued alleged Iranian involvement in the ambush of U.S. soldiers in Karbala. Its Pentagon reporter said "secret U.S. military reports have concluded now that the attack against the American soldiers in Karbala was definitely an inside job and that it may have involved Iranian agents."

So all mainstream TV network followed the leader--Bush said something and they all set out to see if it was true...and on what grounds? Based on the Bush track record, someone would think...lets not listen to Simon this time and do/seek what he says, but look for all that he didn't say!

Cable television is also to blame for following a loopy leader (to a certain degree...MSNBC has taken a maybe, maybe not approach regarding Bush's claims against Iran)......but the article provides a string of hope for the reader and for the reputation of the media.

Page 2 of the article: "On January 23, the Los Angeles Times took a more inquisitive look at the U.S. government charges of Iranian meddling in Iraq ("Scant Evidence Found of Iran-Iraq Arms Link"--A1). The paper found little to support the array of accusations from U.S. officials, noting that reporters in Iraq with U.S. troops have not seen "extensive signs of Iranian involvement." The Times also noted that military officers from the U.S. and Britain have not seen evidence at the Iraq-Iran border to support allegations of arms smuggling, and that "U.S. officials have declined to provide documentation of seized Iranian ordnance despite repeated requests."

On January 31, NBC provided a counter report to its 1/30 claims against Iran where it challenged the notion that Iran was in any way supporting Iraq or affiliated with Sunni insurgent groups.

It might be a little comforting to know NBC and the LA Times have tried to find the other side but other stations/media outlets seem selective with when they will and won't challenge or provide skepticism and support for a given issue. We're held to the standard of trying to always present both sides and to challenge/research on our own what we are presented with as truth or as the full, complete story...shouldn't the big guys be held to that same standard?


I'm glad I started when I did...

Venn diagrams. IMC integration. Optional DC quarter for broadcasters??? My response to this is a loud and resounding: PHOOEY.

"All of our students will learn how to tell stories across all the media platforms - print and digital - with words, with audio, pictures and video, and that will prepare them for whatever form that takes in 2010, 2015 and 2020," John Lavine noted in a recent interview with Chicago Tonight.

Well, that's fine and dandy. But here's some insight from the other side of the fence... that is to say from the perspective of someone whose pocketbook is taking the fall for your poorly implemented vision.

I am here so you can teach me to tell stories. Instruct me on the nuances of lead-writing. I am paying almost $70,000 to work in a fully equipped FUNCTIONAL newsroom that mimics the environment that I will enter upon graduation. That is to say, THIS JUNE.

I am NOT here to be your guinea pig. For you to cheapen the value of my Masters degree because it has not occured to you that twelve months isn't long enough for us to cater to your revolutionary whims. I am smart and capable woman who is doing all she can to keep up with learning the ins and outs of the broadcast industry, and you want me to burden myself with marketing classes which serve no other purpose than to dilute the integrity of my chosen profession?

If I may be so bold as to speak for the fall-start students, they are not here to purchase prescribed equipment that will be utterly useless upon graduation. Whose bright idea was it to have broadcast students buy video cameras that produce images which cannot be used for television?

It is important to teach us about the things that are immediately relevant to our careers and prepare us for innovations to come. But don't take a focused 12-month graduate program with one of the best reputations in the industry and deconstruct it into shallow interpretations of topics not immediately relevant. Because if you do, it all adds up to one thing: rubbish.


"... better in my imagination."

I tried like heck to find the original clip -- for full context -- but couldn't, so Talk Soup's clip will have to do.

Wesley Morris is a film critic for the Boston Globe, and he appeared on MSNBC because he had just seen Hound Dog's premiere at Sundance.

Now, granted, the anchor's question did not specifically reference the scene depicting child rape. His reply didn't either.

But WE know and THEY know and EVERYONE knows MSNBC had him on due to the controversy of exactly that scene. It wasn't news otherwise.

I would even give the critic the benefit of the doubt and assume he meant to say, "It's better left to the imagination," rather than, "It was better in my imagination." But I don't think he'd get such leniency from most parents, child advocates, religious leaders, etc.



Emotions are taking me over…and a note about race

I was on last night reading about the deadly storms in Florida when I came across a video link to some of the NBC Nightly News coverage of the disaster. I usually prefer to read online rather than watch video but I felt that it’s one thing to read about devastation and another to see it.

About 40 seconds into the five minute clip, there is an outdoor, MOS-type interview between a local reporter and a very distraught woman in front of downed power lines and neighbors walking around assessing the damage.

The reporter is shown very close to the woman, holding onto the woman’s arm almost as if she doesn’t want her to break free. At the end of the woman’s bite the reporter brings her arm around to hug the woman.

I wondered if that was appropriate. I really feel for the woman and her situation but to grab her and hold her…I think that it was crossing the line a bit. It felt very Oprah-ish to me (don’t get me wrong, I love Oprah) but there’s a time and place for that and it’s not necessarily journalism.

And it just looks awkward, like the woman doesn’t want to be hugged. Take a look at the clip, I’d be really interested in what you think about it. What would you do about a particularly emotional interviewee? Do you comfort him/her as that reporter did? Or do you keep your distance and just do the interview?

Scroll back about six seconds and look at the soundbite previous to the one in question. In that bite the interviewee is the only person in the shot (properly framed) and you can tell that she is very upset, but the reporter isn’t made a part of the whole ordeal. He or she stays behind the camera lens.

It’s really effective at showing the subject’s emotions, because the viewer is so up close to her, you can see it and hear it in her voice. The focus is on her (I’m not a big fan of reporter and interviewee two-shots)! Whereas in the other bite, you’re focusing on the reporter and her actions towards her interviewee: the excessive head-shaking, her arm gestures to comfort the woman, even her bright yellow raincoat is a distraction.

During an interview I feel you can sympathize with your subjects with your eyes, your expression, not necessarily your hands. Extending a hug, if appropriate and if your subject doesn’t mind, can be done after the camera stops rolling.

On a side note, there was a really interesting post on Romenesko about the use of race as a noun instead of an adjective. The author, Keith Woods, points out several examples of this practice by the AP in the coverage of Barack Obama. It's so clearly offensive! A few of the examples..."the first black," "the lone black." Would they ever write "the lone white" and leave it at that? I can't believe that the AP would allow such writing to go through its wires. It disgusts me.

As Woods writes "it's an act of dehumanizing the person, summoning up their essence by rendering them an inanimate color." Woods offers a simple solution, use race/color as an adjective and add "man, woman, politician, father, etc." So simple! Wake up AP!! Or how about not drawing attention to race all of the time? How about Illinois Senator Barack Obama, father of two...does his race always have to be underlined? He could be purple, green, rainbow colored, but it's his qualifications that should be emphasized, not his race. How about that Joe Biden? (Sorry that this has turned into a bit of a rant..haha)


A Journalist's cry for "help" attracts bloggers to criticize terrorist video

CBS chief foreign correspondent Lara Logan submitted a report on street fighting in Baghdad, which was not aired on Katie Couric's broadcast, but was posted to the web. Logan was disappointed and took the matter into her own hands - emailing friends and family that they should check out the web posting and write to CBS News that they felt the piece should have been aired. The subject line of her email was "help".

The blog took a multiple-viewpoint stab at the surrounding "controversy." However, I question whether it wasn't a little inappropriate for Logan to ask friends to lobby for her work. On the one hand, she's clearly passionate about the story, but on the other hand, the content of the story is so controversial it makes her seem biased.

Controversy Surrounds Lara Logan's Haifa Street Report

Another issue that has been brought up is whether Logan's piece contained Al Qaeda footage... CBS says they got it from an anonymous source.... not Al Qaeda.... although the tapes seem to match.

The website had this to say:
"In addition to using video that also showed up in an Al Qaeda video, Logan failed to acknowledge that Al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the violence on Haifa Street... They show the same Iraqi Army casualty, because they’re from the same video. Not a similar video. The same video."

Lara Logan and her Terrorist Footage

I don't think Al Qaeda footage should ever be used in a news broadcast - especially considering that CBS News has correspondents and crews on the ground in Iraq... I'm hard pressed to find a reason why the footage would be used, and unattributed, to boot.


Turner in trouble again

Speaking of Turner Broadcasting...

The company has been asked by the city of Boston to compensate them for the panic that ensued due to a marketing campaign that included several small cartoon lightboards.

According to the city, an anonymous caller alerted city officials to a suspicious device hanging from a tunnel. The device, and several like it, were placed all over the city. Since the cartoon lightboards were placed at several transportation areas, they were treated as bombs and as a possible terrorist attack.

The mayor of Boston said the city's public-safety response cost more than $500,000.

The lighted cartoons were created to promote "Aqua Teen Hunger Force," a show on Adult Swim, a late night cartoon show on Turner-owned Cartoon Network.

Due to the incident, Turner took out full page ads in the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

In the ads, Turner said: "We never intended this outcome and certainly did not set out to perpetrate a hoax. What we did is inadvertently cause a great American city to deal with the unintended impact of this marketing campaign. For this, we are deeply sorry."

Certainly Turner's crisis management team has come out in full force, but I think the whole thing is completely ridiculous.

For one thing, the cartoon lightboards were up in nine other major cities (including Chicago) for two-three weeks without incident. They were also up in the city of Boston for weeks before anything happened.

A quick check of one of the devices would have made it clear to authorities that they were indeed not bombs and not a threat.

I just don't think Turner should have to pay the city of Boston restitution for public safety officials doing their job.

I see the other side to this though. Certainly we live in an age when terrorist attacks are on the minds of every American, especially those in public office. The 9/11 terrorists took over planes with just utensils; who knows what these lighted cartoons could have been disguised as.

I think there needs to be a happy medium between protecting this country, and taking every little thing as a terrorist attack. Unfortunately I don't know what that happy medium is. I don't think our leaders know either.

How do you find the fine line between tapping phone conversations between potential terrorists and tapping my conversation with friends about the night before? How do you find the line between stopping the wrong people from getting on airplanes and racially profiling?

I don't know the answer.

What I do know is, those lighted cartoons in Boston were just cartoons. I don't think Turner should have to pay the city for advertising their cartoon show.