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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.

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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It’s Carnival Time: Let’s Get Past the Talking

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I must admit, the latest topic(s) by Carnival Ringmaster David Cohn had me a bit stumped.  And, I seriously considered taking a pass this time around.  But, knowing Dave as I do I wondered whether he wasn’t doing a bit of crowdsourcing here and actually, I think it’s pretty clear he is.

So, maybe the Reynolds folks are looking for some direction?  With that possibility in mind, here are some thoughts on the future of The Reynolds Fellowship.

I struggled with answering this because when I go to the RJI web site, I don’t get much of a feeling of what the Fellows are actually doing.   It looks like a good deal of writing and researching.  And, we all know the definition of  “Fellows” — spend a year talking and writing about issues.  Which, I guess, is fine.  But, man-oh-man, we have so many people writing and talking about the “Future of Journalism.”  Honestly, I grow weary of it.   My Twitter feed is filled with people talking about the Future of Journalism — everyone and their cousin has an opinion on the New York Times’ paywall.   But, seriously, how do paywalls get wrapped into discussion about the future of journalism?  Seriously?

One of my old bosses was fond of saying: “We’re breathing our own fumes here.”  It seems to me that with so many people talking and talking and talking about the future, we end up breathing our own fumes.  We’re intoxicated with the possibilities and what could happen but (with rare exceptions) our legs get stuck in the mud when it comes to execution.

Meanwhile, flying under the radar are educators across the country who are actually experimenting, exploring and trying to implement many of the ideas that are talked to death endlessly.  How can we get them involved as Fellows?

At UMass-Amherst, I teach an Investigative Journalism & The Web course where students provide content for a local news Web site, producing both daily blog content for the site, as well as longer, semester-long projects.  There are plenty of schools around the country, including ours, that are beginning to incorporate elements of Entrepreneurial Journalism into their curriculum.

Listen, I’m not attacking the Fellows.  I know quite a few of them and they’re really smart folks.  But man-oh-man, can we start doing some things?  I’m sure many of them would be excited by that idea.

We all go to the same conferences where we get energized about the Future of Journalism.  We promise to act on the many fantastic ideas we talk about over lattes.  But, all too often (and I’m as guilty as anyone) the ideas get lost when we return to our day-to-day lives.  So, how about making the Reynolds Fellowship into something more concrete?

Some thoughts:

What: Produce from one idea.  Have the Fellows work on one idea.  Give fellows one year to take an idea and make it into reality.  Each Fellow could bring their own strengths/talents to the project….think more along the lines of editors working together in a newsroom.

* How:  The idea could come from a number of sources but it would be worth putting out a nationwide call for ideas and have a panel of former Fellows choose the best idea?

Who:  Is it possible to crowdsource educators and or/students from across the nation on a Fellows project?   This is not an original idea — it’s been kicked around in various corners but might be worth revisiting here.  Can it happen?  Kind of exciting just to think about it, no?

In the words of DigiDave, such a course of action would be pretty “rad.”

Dynamic Archives, Deep Stories

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Friends,

Back in June, I wrote this in an email faculty discussion about the decline of newspapers.

>Folks:
The big newspapers have a resource they don’t use much or well enough: Their archives. Could they generate some money if they packaged these in neat, interactive ways?

An example is the Washington Post’s website section on Watergate.
But this is old, gray, and low-tech, i.e. not updated or interactive.

Imagine a version of THAT site with the exciting bells and whistles of Frontline’s beautiful site , i.e. with deep, readable, neatly packaged archives, historical photographs/slideshows, interactive maps, movable timelines, etc. –and all that stuff marshaled to create a narrative.

Imagine what the Times (say) could do with the Civil Rights movement. Or the atom bomb. Or the space program. Or the Civil War. Or the history of the Times itself. Or Iraq. Or nuclear power. Or the Scopes Trial and evolution. Or deinstitutionalization. The stories are already written, photographs taken. Add forums for debate (“Should we have dropped the bomb?” e.g.) , or updates on “What’s Happened Since”…, or “Arguments about the Past.”

New stories on news websites could link to these “Deep Story” packages, when relevant, in a way that would make you eager to go to these websites for current news, knowing you could get all this background, too.

Then, charge for access. Or maybe there would be enough hits for advertising.

Deep Stories would have a long shelf life, so they would bring in revenue over a long period of time, with minimal new investment needed.

We usually talk about the web in terms of how it allows instant news or commentary from anyone anywhere. We talk less often about how it allows, or could allow, a deeper view of the past, and a longer-term and broader cumulative discussion, than the fast yellowing daily paper (or blog).

This is probably one of those ideas of mine that would cost a lot and never make any money, and everybody knows it but me. I still like it.

>>David

OK, back to the present. A few weeks earlier, I’ve found out, the Times had created something along these lines, called TIMESMACHINE. This is a site that gives access to complete issues from the Times’ public domain archives, from 1851 to 1922. (It is available to home delivery subscribers only, which is a pain, but UMASS students and faculty can get it through the ProQuest database at Dubois Library’s website.)

The technical thinking behind it is here. And the home page and a sample issue are here.

It’s not exactly what I was had in mind–thoughtful combinations of archived stories with other resources, forums, slide-shows, more current stories etc.–but it’s an interesting start.

I don’t know about the business strategy. Wouldn’t it be better to offer it free to home subscribers AND to charge a fee to everyone else? Is a web-related feature going to work as an incentive for people to make a lifestyle decision–to get their paper delivered at home? Meanwhile, the computer-savvy and -curious readers who could really use this resource–high school or college students, for example–can’t get access unless they’re in e the home delivery area, and want to pay for a subscription. (Is this an example of the old-media head-in-the-sand mentality that Steve talks about?)

Shout if you come across any interesting examples of this kind of packaging.

David Perkins

davidsperkins@verizon.net.