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The 9/11 Anniversary Isn’t News? Says Who?

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So, on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the editors at the almighty New York Times don’t think there is enough news value to warrant any 9/11 anniversary coverage on the front page of their newspaper.

In an online discussion with Poynter’s Mallary Jean Tenore, Margaret Sullivan, the new Public Editor for the Times says she spoke with two key editors “and they explained that their decisions were driven by news value and by the fact that this is the 11th anniversary, after an elaborate effort last year.”

Not news?

In New York City?

Seriously?

Talk about disconnect.

The good news is that at least The Times didn’t feel breast implants merited A1 coverage today.

I just don’t buy this defense.  Even the Times realized it WAS news today….because there was 9/11 coverage on the Web site for most of the day. And, given the millions of people who come to the Web site every day, whose to say that the A1 editors for The Times dictate what is news anyway?

And, as I wandered  through my Facebook and Twitter feeds today, it seemed that many people disagreed with the “it’s not news” designation.  My twitter feed has been churning away with the “#remember911″ hashtag for much of the day.  But the esteemed editors at The Times probably think Twitter isn’t news either.  This notion that the almighty editors within closeted offices at hallowed newspapers are the ones determining the news proves again the quaint and antiquated nature of many news organizations in the year 2012.

The difference these days is that people don’t seek the guidance of The Times news editors — or any editors for that matter — to designate what is and isn’t news.  They go find the news themselves.

I don’t know why this bothers me so much. It really shouldn’t — the arrogance of this type of thinking from newspaper folks has driven many businesses aground.  But I worry that The Times editors — and many journalists out there — are missing a real opportunity.  “Anniversary stories” are rarely a plum assignment.  It’s easy to fall into a formulaic trap with the storytelling….but there is also a real chance here for journalists to continue educating, investigating and reporting out stories on 9/11.  Kudos to The Times for running such a story today — on the dangers of small ideologically-driven groups controlling the White House — even if it wasn’t on the front page.

Newspapers and news organizations are also a place for people to learn about history — in order that we not repeat it.  Yes, we need to avoid saturation coverage — but the coverage can’t just disappear. I asked my son — a freshman in high school — what he was going to be doing today in school regarding 9/11 discussion.  He said: “Nothing.  We did a lot last year but that was only because it was the tenth anniversary.”  Such a mentality is a dangerous, slippery slope.

‘Preemption’ Strategy: Where are the hard questions?

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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.”

 

Hiatus Is Over….A Rough Week for Ombudsmen

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Hi and welcome back!  It’s been awhile.  Admittedly, the care and feeding of this blog fell off last semester (sometimes life takes over) but now I’m back to reviving my little plant.

So, of course, where to start?  As more than a few folks noted on Twitter the past several days, it’s been a rough week for newspaper ombudsmen.  Arthur S. Brisbane, the public editor for The New York Times, drew much attention  with his column which posed this question:  “Should The Times Be a Truth Vigilante?

The lede is poster-child verbiage for those wondering whether there are still out-of-touch editors roaming around in the mainstream media:   “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.”

Oy.

My head hurts.

The backlash on Twitter and on the comments board for the article was predictable. Christian Moerk of Brooklyn captured the feelings of many:  “As a former Times freelancer, and ’92 graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism, I’ll keep it short and to the point: Mr. Brisbane, even posing the question as you did reveals an appalling ignorance of what journalists are supposed to do for a living. You wouldn’t have lasted in a J-school ethics class for five minutes, let alone a newsroom.”

This old-school print mentality of he said/he said journalism still dominates too many mainstream newsrooms.  It’s one of the many reasons why journalists get a bad reputation.  Too many readers views journalists as nothing more than glorified stenographers.  NYU’s Jay Rosen calls it the “View From Nowhere.”  The Times should really know better (remember the assertions about the “weapons of mass destruction?)

Brisbane’s question on how to tell the truth while being “objective and fair” came on the heels of a column by Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton, where he asked: “Is The Post innovating too fast?

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