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.”
January 12, 2012
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.”
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?”
August 19, 2011
9/11 Anniversary, 9/11 coverage, Steve Fox, Teaching, UMass journalism, Web journalism 9/11 anniversary, 9/11 coverage, Future of Journalism, Journalism Department, Steve Fox, web journalism 1 Comment
Mark Stencel, the managing editor for Digital News at NPR, will join a group of University of Massachusetts educators on Sept. 8 to take part in a panel discussion looking at how the U.S. and the world has changed in the decade since the 9/11 terror attacks.
“The terrorist attacks of 2001 and the beginnings of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq came as newsrooms were still grappling with what exactly it meant to be Web publishers,” said Stencel, who was an editor at The Washington Post’s web site on 9/11.
“At the time, our interactive online channels were still relatively new. For many of us, these channels for the first time provided global reach around the clock — including a new workday news audience — as well as nearly unlimited potential to dabble in new formats. But there were consequences: Newsrooms had accelerated deadlines and new competitors.
And we faced difficult questions about accuracy and what NOT to report.”
The panel, entitled “After the Towers Fell: A September 11th Retrospective,” will be held at 4 p.m. on Sept. 8 in the Campus Center Reading Room on the campus of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
The panelists for the event are: David Kotz from the Economics Department; MJ Peterson from Political Science; Linda Tropp from Psychology and Stencel. The panel will be moderated by Steve Fox of the Journalism Program, also a former editor for The Post’s web site.
Peterson will discuss the Bush administration’s response to the attacks; Kotz will look at the economic consequences of the attacks in the past decade; and Tropp will talk about general social psychological processes involved in group categorization.
A reception will follow the panel discussion. The panel is sponsored by the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Journalism program, and the Departments of Political Science, Economics and Psychology.
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.