January 14, 2012
During the runup to the Iraq War, The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus was one of the few national security journalists challenging the weapons of mass destruction assumptions being made by the Bush administration. Unfortunately, the administration’s bogus claims were usually given A1 treatment, while Pincus’s stories often made their way onto A21.
At the time, I was one of the editors working on the newsdesk of The Post’s website and we would often try and get the “other side” from Pincus featured prominently on the homepage. Still, you have to wonder what would have happened if his reporting was featured more prominently in the newspaper.
Pincus is still around, now authoring a column entitled “Fine Print.” He recently wrote a column which asked: “Has Obama taken Bush’s ‘preemption’ strategy to another level?” Pincus quotes a revised “strategic guidance” document which is startling in its bluntness:
“For the foreseeable future, the United States will continue to take an active approach to countering these threats by monitoring the activities of non-state threats worldwide, working with allies and partners to establish control over ungoverned territories, and directly striking the most dangerous groups and individuals when necessary” — emphasis added (by Pincus.)
I expected this column to get a lot of traction — for reporters and editorial boards around the country to pick up and run with this story. But, the follow-ups have been relatively few. Where are the questions? Where are the editorials? Isn’t this an issue worth probing?
To answer Arthur Brisbane’s recent question, yes, now would be the time to be a “truth vigilante.”
July 14, 2011
Lisa Williams prompted one of the wildest e-mail threads I’ve part of in a while last month when she asked the simple question of what criteria the Online Journalism Awards (issued at the annual conference of the Online News Association) should be focusing on. The exchange lead to the question for this month’s Carnival of Journalism:
Right now, nominations are open for the Online Journalism Awards. What qualities should awards like this endorse in an era of such tremendous change in the news industry?
It’s a great question. During the e-mail thread, I responded to Lisa’s question with:
What has really struck me about ONA in recent years, at the conference panels anyway, is the over-focus on technology over journalism. While I love panels on the next new whiz-bang-golly-gee-feature as much as the next person, what we do is journalism. I’ve always viewed ONA as the intersection of technology and journalism and believe that focusing on that intersection is key. How are journalists/editors innovating not only in the production of journalism but also in the actual collection/reporting going on? A perfect case in point is the innovation we’ve seen on the part of Andy Carvin and Nick Kristoff (not to influence the judges but these two should get some sort of award for their coverage of the Arab Spring.) What we’ve seen from both is a change in real-time reporting — through the use of existing social media tools. Using tools to innovate while doing journalism should be rewarded.
My comment did not sit well with Geoffrey Samek, who responded with: “Over focus on technology? It is an award focusing exclusively on ‘online’ and a big part of that is technology and how tech changes journalism. ONLINE! Collection and innovative processes that take place in the real world are by definition offline.”
It’s an interesting comment because it points to a separation — a division between what is online and what isn’t — that many of us who have been occupying the digital news space for the past 15 years have been seeking to shed. Granted, ONA was founded in 1999 with the idea that professional journalists that were making their way in the online sector of their news operations would have a place to gather, share ideas and award the work of their peers. But the “online” designation seems almost moot today. Online work is everywhere, being produced by merged newsrooms and honored by all — even the revered Pulitzer committee. So, of course ONA honors work online — that’s where journalism is being done — and important journalism should be acknowledged.
For those who founded ONA — and those of us who have been a part of it for a while — there was always this need for legitimacy. The Web side of news operations forming the core of ONA in the early years was (and in some cases still is) the crazy old ranting uncle part of the family. By creating a huge awards night, ONA and its members declared that the digital crazies with their CMS, servers and crazy code languages were here to stay. The Awards Night has grown (and changed) over time and for many remains the highlight of ONA weekend.
But, ironically, this stepchild attitude remains and has created ONA’s need to focus on the newest shiny object. Awards Night is actually the one point in the weekend where the focus is journalism. In many ways, ONA weekend has developed a schizophrenic feel to it. This split focus is an issue that ONA has been wrestling with for years now and I’m not sure what the solution is. ONA has many audiences — technologists, editors, reporters, educators, students, entrepreneurs, business folks — so where to focus?
While ONA has a nice mission statement, it’s beginning to feel like an organization that has lost its way. Don’t get me wrong, the annual conference is always a good time — membership numbers are strong, the conference always sells out and large tech groups are lining up to buy sponsorships. During a time where journalism trade organizations are struggling and bickering, ONA stands alone as a success.
But in recent years the conference has taken on the feel of South By Southwest — attendees come for the party. And, ONA puts on a great party — it’s the one time of the year that I get to hang out with some of my favorite people in the world. But I’ve felt for a while now that ONA is missing out on some opportunities to have some serious discussions about the state and direction of journalism — not “online” journalism — but the complete whole enchilada.
Some say that news organizations have the online journalism part of the equation solved. I’m not sure that’s the case. What about the growing number of plagiarism cases confronting news organizations? Ethical issues abound in the arena of social media, comments boards, news gathering — yet rarely do we have these discussions at the annual conference. What role do journalism schools play in the future of the industry? We’ve had these historical moments in journalism with the Arab Spring — are we going to talk about it in September? (UPDATE: The answer would appear to be a resounding Yes!)
To answer Lisa’s original question, the awards do seem to focus on the meshing of technical innovation and journalism — my only real issue is with the three-hour long awards ceremony. It makes the Oscars seem like a fast show
Some of the organizations awarded last year point to a real understanding by the judges of the changing nature of the business and that’s a positive development. Still, I hope the judges find a way this year to acknowledge the groundbreaking efforts of Carvin and Kristoff.
….I thought long and hard about writing this blog post.
I have many friends, colleagues and former colleagues who have helped form this organization into the force it is today. My words are not meant to critique the efforts of anyone — this is a volunteer organization that thrives on the goodwill of many. And we’ve all been a part of trying to bring change to major organizations and understand the frustrations that can occur in trying to make things happen. After several years of persistent suggestions, ONA finally agreed to setting up student clubs at universities around the country several years ago. That’s a positive development.
I guess my hope is that ONA’s Board of Directors recognize that change is good and will help return ONA to its revolutionary roots and understand the larger impact this organization can have. I would love to see ONA’s Board of Directors beginning to take stances on major issues outside of the conference — ONA is a force in the field but there are many issues where ONA has remained silent. Should it begin funding partnerships between journalism schools and news organizations? Should it become a lobbying force for journalism? Should it start weighing in regularly on discussions and scandals within the industry? I think so.
I remember my first ONA conference in Chicago in 2003 and the rollicking nature of the organization back then. (I asked my old washingtonpost.com boss Doug Feaver, one of ONA’s founders, if I could attend in 2002 but he didn’t think the group would be around long enough to warrant the company funding my attendance
The General Excellence award winners in 2003 were an eclectic group: ESPN.com, BeliefNet, CQ.com and the Gotham Gazette. I remember sitting in on one panel where Jeff Jarvis spoke about the glories of blogging and how he posted one blog entry to his blog after editors at a magazine attempted to edit it. Gasps filled the room as Jarvis said he posted his blog entry without the edits of editors.
I remember sitting in on another panel about coverage of the Iraq War and listening to a PR representative from the Army critiquing self-censorship of images by those within major U.S. media organizations. He told the group of us that we were failing to tell the whole story if we weren’t showing the graphic images illustrating the cost of war.
Both discussions had a major impact on me as a journalist and educator. They were discussions of substance. I want more of them.
I want more.
January 19, 2011
To quote Dave, what a “rad” idea. In his opening blog entry, Dave writes:
- One of the Knight Commission‘s recommendations is to “Increase the role of higher education…..as hubs of journalistic activity.” Another is to “integrate digital and media literacy as critical elements for education at all levels through collaboration among federal, state, and local education officials.”
As one who has written about the intersection of academia and the profession often, I’ve kicked around how exactly to approach this initial blog post. Increasingly, I believe universities have a major role in news literacy and returning journalism to the principles of the “past.” The behavior of news organizations in the initial coverage of the Tucson shootings got me thinking again to how off course many mainstream news organizations are in the quest to get the great “scoop.”
We’ve all read about the disastrous breaking news coverage, in which NPR, CNN and others mistakenly reported that Rep. Gabrille Giffords had died. After the fact, Alicia Shepard, NPR’s omudsman, deconstructed how NPR’s shoddy reporting happened and its effect on the families involved. But, in a Facebook posting prior to her report, Shepard said the erroneus report was “only” up for about 15 or 30 minutes.
And in one early tweet captured by several, NPR’s David Folkenflik attempts to explain the erroneus reporting through human assumptions:
- “That said, if bullet goes entirely through someone’s head, not hard to believe eyewitnesses might be convinced she was dead & say so (more).”
The message to journalism students should be simple: Speed Kills. In this case, speed killed the reputation of NPR, CNN and others.
It isn’t news that Twitter has dramatically changed the journalistic playing field. The ability to transmit news instantly is tantalizing. We need to teach students that just because you can post NOW doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Stop. Think. Report. Write….then, maybe, you Tweet.
The need to be first, compounded by cable television’s 24-hour desire for images and anything close to news has created an environment where reputable news organizations are now reporting faulty information in the quest to be first.
It’s not Ok to be wrong. Even if it’s “only” for 15 minutes.
It’s not Ok to assume a shot to the head means death. Sometimes people survive.
My old boss at The Washington Post’s Web site was fond of saying “I would rather be second and right than first and wrong.”
Sure, universities need to be hubs for their communities but we educators to begin the quest to end “spaghetti against the wall journalism.” Let’s stop throwing news against the wall and seeing what sticks. Let’s preach about the need to make sure what we’re reporting is right.
November 6, 2009
My old editor at The Washington Post’s Web site was fond of saying: “I would rather be second and right than first and wrong.”
It was good guidance. And it was advice that I often followed during my years as an editor at The Washington Post’s Web site. During my 10 years at The Post, we were regularly confronted with BREAKING NEWS events. It was always a tug-of-war. We forced each other to check out everything — not an easy task when you have a bank of televisions yelling at you with speculation and editors wondering why TV had the story and we didn’t. But, we sought confirmation and stayed away from skeletal one-source stories.
I remember one friend and colleague in particular who saw cable television’s Breaking News-ification of news events as having a serious, negative influence on good journalism. During the 2000 election recount, Jason was working one Saturday afternoon when the Supreme Court came out with one of its many contorted statements on the recount. One of the Web producers working under Jason posted a BREAKING NEWS headline based solely on a headline that CNN had run on television. Jason moved quickly to take it down, explaining that journalists need more than CNN — we needed actual facts before reporting.
So, that brings us to yesterday’s reporting on the Fort Hood shooting.
I was in the offices of the UMass Journalism Department, watching the coverage yesterday. Having covered and watched dozens of breaking news events, I was willing to shrug off the confusion over the number of shooters, number of dead and number of wounded in the first several hours.
However, when it became clear hours after he was reported dead that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan — now the alleged shooter — was actually alive, I realized we had another victim of cable’s Breaking News-ification of journalism.
I posted a few items to Twitter yesterday about the failure of cable, television and other news reporters to get the facts right after the news came out that the alleged shooter, Nidal M. Hasan, was actually alive, not dead.
Here’s one of my tweets:
Another chapter today in how cable TV turns fiction into fact. Ft Hood shooting shows again that BREAKING NEWS! takes time to get it right
My tweets prompted one of my followers — a TV journalist — to send me an e-mail noting that the suspect’s death was announced on camera by Ft. Hood’s commanding officer. I have not been able to find that video (if you see it, please e-mail it to me,) but, whether it was on camera or not, the word of one military official was was passing along secondhand information soon became established fact.
One-source journalism is too often the norm for television and cable journalists. And, in this case, traditional print journalists filing for their news Web sites passed along the bad secondhand information.
Did anyone ask where military officials were getting their information? Did anyone try and get confirmation from hospital officials? Did anyone official actually identify the body believed to be Hasan’s?
The information from “military officials” was bad information that took hours to sort out.
As this video points out, the situation at the emergency room involved in handling victims was chaotic. Were military officials sure that Hasan was killed?
Apparently not. But, it doesn’t appear anyone asked.
We as journalists have seen time and time again that the ‘facts’ in the initial hours of a breaking news event prove to be erroneus. Balloon boy is a great recent example. Even when officials on the ground raised questions about whether the boy was in the balloon, CNN’s Rick Sanchez plodded on with the drama of the balloon.
Is this “spaghetti against the wall” journalism — report now, figure out the facts later — good for journalism? Good for Democracy? Good for communities?
What we saw yesterday — in the rush to be first — were a bunch of profiles of Hasan characterizing him as everything from guilty to unstable to having an Arabic-sounding name. Stories that framed him as the obvious guilty shooter are reframed today as a ‘suspect’ and ‘alleged shooter.’ The need to be first rather than right resulted in horrendous journalism.
Today, military sources put forth the Islamic terrorist angle. Lt. Gen. Robert Cone appeared on several morning television shows and said that soldiers who witnessed the shooting reported that the gunman shouted, “Allahu akhbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” before shooting.
Is it true? We don’t know. It’s one-source reporting from a military source right now. But, it makes for good television.
April 15, 2009
In case you missed it, Nicole Sobel, a columnist for The Collegian has admitted to plagiarizing an article from the New York Times. I’m not too sure of the exact timeline of how things shook out but if you look at the comments board attached to the article, you can see that some readers began calling the veracity of her article into question on Monday afternoon — once again demonstrating the power of the Web. Sobel is not the first writer to be fact-checked by the Web’s user community and will certainly not be the last.
Yet, despite the ubiquity of the Web — the knowledge that the reach of what you write is far and wide — writers continue to plagiarize. This situation reached the boiling point Tuesday when a blog known as the NYTPicker posted an entry accusing Sobel of plagiarizing a recently-published New York times article. The authors — I can’t name them because they apparently prefer to hide behind a cloak of anonymity — also sought comment from those involved, leading to this posting, which the anonymous authors say came from Sobel:
COMMENT FROM NICOLE SOBEL: In an email to The NYTPicker tonight, University of Massachusetts student Nicole Sobel had this comment on her plagiarism of the McWilliams column in the Daily Collegian:
In terms of my comment, the only thing I have to say is that I apologize, and that I have no excuse, I was going through alot and was under alot of pressure with schoolwork, and copied some of the article from the NY times, because I didn’t have the time to write alot of my own stuff that day. I have written wonderful things in the past, and am completely capable of it, this is the first time i’ve ever done anything like this and I apologize to the Daily Collegian for my mistake, and to the original columnist from the NY times, I’m honestly truly sorry, and regret it – I was in a rush, and didn’t know what to do to finish my article, so I took a bad route. It’s never happened before in my life, and I do not plan to do it ever again, it’s not in my character to even do something like this. I made a mistake, and It will never happen again, and like I said before i offer my deepest apologies.
As in most semesters, I’ve had many discussions in my classes this semester about ethical issues. There have been some interesting discussions. Conflict of interest always seems to garner heated debate. I know of three journalism students who hold or have held positions within political organizations on campus and we’ve talked in class about whether such behavior presents an inherent conflict of interest. Several of the students defended having one leg in journalism and one leg in activism, saying many of the new journalism outlets out there — such as The Huffington Post — are looking for journalists with a specific point of view. It was an interesting point, but one that worries me. We have way too many journalists in the mainstream and independent realm operating with blatant conflicts of interest. Credibility is really the only currency journalists barter with and it’s jeopardized if you’re acting as both observer and activist.
Which brings us to plagiarism. It’s nice that Sobel shares her reasons as to why she did what she did. But as a student of journalism, she, and As all journalism majors know, that plagiarism is a fireable offense out there in the real world. Your reasons don’t matter. You do it, you get fired. You don’t pass ‘go.’ You don’t collect $200. You don’t get a second chance, no matter how much ‘pressure’ you are under.
Journalism is a deadline-driven profession. On most days, you will be under pressure one way or the other — it’s the nature of the beast. In today’s competitive 24-hour news cycle, the pressures are even greater. ‘Pressure’ has lead to an increased use of anonymous sources, while rumor reporting is out of control. Cable television throws spaghetti against the wall when reporting, throwing reporting everything out there, and separating rumor from fact at some later date, if at all.
If anything, ‘pressures’ should be a signal to all journalists to slow down a bit. My old boss at washingtonpost.com was fond of saying: “I would rather be second and right than first and wrong.” It’s a mantra to live by.
As student journalists, you have options. If you are feeling rushed in handing in a piece for publication or class and feel the need to steal someone else’s work, please understand that you are stealing. Your profession is all about seeking out the truth, being transparent in your work and being honest with your audience. If you feel the need to steal someone else’s work, step back and re-think what you’re doing. In the end, missing a deadline or handing in a paper late is a momentary setback that can be remedied. Committing plagiarism is the cardinal sin of our profession and a sin few recover from.
January 30, 2009
My favorite story of the day comes courtesy of Les Carpenter at The Washington Post and his take on the Springsteen press conference at the Super Bowl:
“But nothing brings tears to the eyes of middle-age men more than the Boss. And almost an hour before the news conference began, an army of said middle-age men clad in ill-fitting Dockers made their way up the grand staircase, hastily shoving through the aisles of the darkened conference room in hopes of securing a seat near enough to the stage that their PowerShots would work.”
Now, all who know me know of my deep devotion to the work of the man from Jersey. After reading this, I remembered the ‘Vote for Change’ Tour in 2004. That tour was co-sponsored by America Coming Together and MoveOn.org. It was clearly a political fundraiser and I decided that I wasn’t going to go. . . as much as it pained me to stay home, I did.
If I was in Tampa this week working? I wouldn’t have gone to the press conference. I recognize my bias. I am a Springsteen fan. I can’t go to a press conference and be a reporter.
It is this ultimate choice that we in this profession have to make. Are you going to participate and be an advocate or are you going to be on an impartial recorder of events on the sidelines?
Students feel deeply and passionately about many things these days and that’s good. But I keep coming across examples of student journalists acting as advocates. Pick one or the other, you can’t be both.
January 20, 2009
Still have questions about the role of technology in delivering information? Twitter seems to have held up under heavy traffic usage today and the Inauguration 09 feed was one of many ways to follow the day’s events.
And, will Obama be known as the technology president? Some think so….
And, recent Journalism grads Eric Athas and Daryl Popper are generously donating their time and filing photos and stories from D.C. to Amherst Wire.
Still, despite all the excitement over this historical moment, one has to wonder about the behavior of the press over the last several days. Television coverage has verged on that of cheerleading during a British coronation and provided much support for those who claim that members of the mainstream media have a Democratic bias.
Will the MSM retake its role as a vigilant watchdog on government? Going to be interesting to watch.