The deadline is now.
Thirty years ago, I faced a deadline once a day. For any reporter today, the deadline is … well, now. The technological leap into the Internet era that changed the notion of deadlines has consequences, as I wrote three years ago:
Speed kills. Accuracy dies when hordes of people, each with an electronic device capable of transmitting a story, strive to be first to tell the world what they found out — without necessarily checking its veracity.
Context dies. Because speed is the premium of the Internet era, the patience for explaining what does this mean is vanishing.
Tweets kill. Successive waves of 140-character messages are unlikely to carefully convey context, meaning and depth and breadth of description. It’s ironic that a generation branded with a short-attention span waits breathlessly for a succession of tweets — about what? And why?
But there’s another, far more subtle consequence on the notion of fairness. In my dinosaur era of once-a-day deadlines, I’d call a source on Monday afternoon. If an answering machine greeted me, I’d leave my name, my affiliation, my reason for calling — and my deadline. I might even place a second call Monday evening and a third Tuesday morning. If she had not returned my call, I would write:
Jane Doe had not responded to three phone messages seeking comment by deadline.
Today, however, the time within which a source has to respond to a message is, well, now. Read the rest of this entry »
Citizen journalist. Citizen journalist?
How does that adjective modify journalist? What is a citizen journalist? How does a citizen journalist differ from a plain, ink-stained (or digitally adept), adjective-unfettered journalist?
CJs (let’s call them that; it sounds cool) are in demand. MSNBC wants them. It asks, “Be part of the dialogue of the issues affecting everyone. Tell us YOUR story by being a Citizen Journalist ” on its website. But, MSNBC cautions: “MSNBC will not pay you for your Submission. MSNBC may remove your Submission at any time. “
A collaboration between CNN and IBN, the Indian Broadcasting Network, really wants CJs. It especially likes the whistle-blowing kind: “Do you know any cases of bad corporate governance, illegal business practices or corruption in a government scheme? Become a CJ and share your story with the world.”
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How much credence should I place, beginning now, in whatever media reporter and critic Howard Kurtz says or writes? First came his ill-considered contretemps regarding NBA player Jason Collins’ announcement that he is gay. That led to this morning’s mea culpa on Kurtz’s “Reliable Sources” program on CNN, quizzed on his credibility by two other media critics.
Did Kurtz, in his phrase, “screw up”? Most assuredly. Did he fail to immediately amend and apologize? Yep. He admitted to both today under (somewhat predictable) questioning by Dylan Byers, media reporter for “Politico,” and David Folkenflik, media correspondent for NPR News.
His two (perhaps overly gentle) questioners noted that Kurtz had made other, serious errors in the past few years involving two members of Congress and a commentator at another network. Given that record, he was asked: “Why should we put stock in you as a media critic? Why should the audience of this show put its trust in you when so much of your recent work has been shown, at times, to be sloppy and even reckless?”
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Shocked! Shocked we should be! But the latest report on the State of the Media by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism comes as no surprise. The bottom line: Fewer resources equals compromised journalism. From a PEJ press release summarizing the 2013 report‘s overview:
The report pinpoints multiple signs of shrinking reporting power. For newspapers, estimates for newsroom cutbacks in 2012 put industry employment down 30% since its peak in 2000 and below 40,000 employees for the first time since 1978. On local television, where audiences were down across every key time slot in 2012, news stories have shrunk in length, and, compared with 2005, coverage of government has been cut in half and sports, weather and traffic now account for 40% of the content. On cable, coverage of live events during the day, which often requires a crew and correspondent, fell 30% from 2007 to 2012, while interview segments were up 31%. And among news magazines, the end of Newsweek’s print edition coincided with another round of staff cuts, and Time, the only general news print magazine left, announced cuts of roughly 5% in early 2013 as a part of broader company layoffs. [For a quick look at the Pew findings, view its infographic overview]
The drop in newsroom employment has fallen precipitiously, particularly since 2007. That’s not news to S&R’s regular readers, as that’s been a principal topic of discussion here over the years. S&R has covered the reasons behind the firings (yep, “layoffs” is too soft a word for canning a pro) and posited on the consequences of a depleted journalism workforce. (See here, here, here, and here.)
The root cause? Loss of revenue. As the graphic below shows, print ad revenue is down dramatically (at 45 percent of 2006 revenues). Digital ad revenue is increasing, but at a far slower rate than print revenue is falling.
And now, Pew research has detailed the decline of journalistic expertise and ability.
This adds up to a news industry that is more undermanned and unprepared to uncover stories, dig deep into emerging ones or to question information put into its hands.[emphasis added]
Pew placed particular emphasis on the one of 2012′s most significant stories — the most recent U.S. elections. Journalists underperformed, argues Pew:
So far, this trend has emerged most clearly in the political sphere, particularly with the biggest story of 2012—the presidential election. A Pew Research Center analysis revealed that campaign reporters were acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators, of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans. That meant more direct relaying of assertions made by the campaigns and less reporting by journalists to interpret and contextualize them. This is summarized in our special video report on our Election Research, only about a quarter of statements in the media about the character and records of the presidential candidates originated with journalists in the 2012 race, while twice that many came from political partisans. That is a reversal from a dozen years earlier when half the statements originated with journalists and a third came from partisans. The campaigns also found more ways than ever to connect directly with citizens.
Sadly, reports Pew, 60 percent of Americans have heard little, or nothing, about the news industry’s financial reversals. But a third of Americans know when they’re not getting what they used to: Pew reports that 31 percent of Americans have fled a particular news outlet because it no longer provides readers or viewers what it once did.
That’s particularly disturbing. A third of Americans, if you have faith in Pew’s arithmetic, seek new sources of information, particularly news. Sure, digital media offer those Americans choices — but how will they assess the quality and credibility of those sources? If information seekers flee to news aggregation sites, where the hell (with a few exceptions) do they think those aggregated stories originated?
And the blogs? How will the credibility of millions of blogs, many, if not most, operated and populated by untrained volunteers (or wing nuts with large chips on their shoulders), be assessed?
Good sources of reliable, credible information exist. Most are newspapers or originated with newspapers’ materials. Some are operated by foundations or Kickstarted into existence.
Newspaper circulation has begun to recover (or at least not decline further). But 44 million papers sold daily is a far cry from nearly 60 million in the early ’90s at the dawn of the World Wide Web. Those 16 million readers aren’t returning. (Many are dead, of course; newspaper circulation skews more older than younger these days.)
Is there hope that newspapers will survive long enough to return to some form of prosperity (defined either as financially healthy or journalistically sound)?
Rick Edmonds, a longtime newspaper analyst at The Poynter Institute, suggests the news industry is not dead despite its myriad problems.
Newspapers’ fortunes, admittedly from a rock-bottom base, have been looking up lately — Warren Buffett and others have bought papers, digital pay plans are boosting circulation revenue, and new lines of business like digital marketing services are taking root.
After wisely noting the “continued erosion of resources” in the industry, Edmonds offers this counsel:
- Be present on the mobile platforms where news consumers are headed. Try, try again on advertising or related revenue possibilities. Find money to support development of new apps and experimentation, but pace the spending since today’s hot technology yields quickly to tomorrow’s.
- Get reader/users to pay a share. Digital subscriptions and print + digital bundles have been the industry’s biggest success story of the last several years. The report found that 33 percent of the country’s 1,380 dailies “have started or announced plans for some kind of paid content subscription or paywall plan.” Of course, a corollary to asking readers to pay is giving them a news report that’s worth it in an era where free options are abundant.
- Continue to develop “other” efforts — digital marketing, events, contract printing and sponsored content. And measure it — first indicators are that newspapers may be covering as much as half their print ad losses with circulation revenue increases and income from these new ventures.
- As the new business models become established, focus on the net income they generate. Halting, or at least slowing revenue declines, has been the first order of business. However, New York Times Co. executive James Follo raised the relevant caution late last year: the margin on new circulation revenue and other activities may not be nearly as good as on selling more print advertising. [emphasis in original]
That’s good advice. Readers — and those who need information — should hope it’s not too little, too late.
In America, most — but probably not all — citizens who seek public office do so with initial good intent. They wish to perform a public service.
That quaint, altruistic notion lasts, on the national level, perhaps 10 minutes after the swearing-in ceremony.
Lobbyists descend. Party leaders demand fund-raising success now. The novice lawmaker is partnered with veteran D.C. good ol’ boys (and girls). And before casting a single vote, the political novitiate begins the daily grind of hours spent dialing for dollars.
And the new titles — Congressman, Senator — and their apparent conferred respect edge into the psyche. I like this, think the freshmen. People stand up when I enter a room. People with money — lots of money – offer me not-so-subtle favors. I like this.
The discovery of power breeds the lust to retain it. An individual politician may be a decent human being. He (or she) may not end up in sexual disarray or keep $90,000 in his freezer. But as a species, politicians place preservation of power at the center of their communal altar.
National politicians cheat, steal, connive, and kiss babies to stay in office. That we can live with. But we should no longer stomach the mind-numbingly boring — so mind-numbing far too many journalists ignore it — and tainted process of redistricting. We must demand its reform.
That’s because Machiavellian maneuvers in redistricting — manipulating lines on a map — is how these charlatans keep the power they use so ineptly and unwisely.
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Americans do not have an effective Congress because its members’ fears of political poverty leave them spending too much time begging for money from those who have lots of it. That leaves too little time for members to deliberate, seek nuanced compromise, and, ultimately, legislate effectively. Many proposals to fix this coin-operated Congress have been proposed, but a special Scholars & Rogues High Commission on Ending Ineptitude and Malfeasance in Congress has found a way to put Congress on a dialing-for-dollars diet.
Congressional races are pricey. Challengers and incumbents spend millions of dollars to buy and retain their Hill seats. Political spending in presidential election years has doubled each cycle since 2000. Members of Congress spend 30 to 70 percent of their time raising money. That’s time spent keeping their jobs, not doing their jobs. Senator Kent Conrad, a retiring Democrat of North Dakota, said:
We spend now too much of our time seeking partisan advantage. We spend too little time trying to solve problems. We spend too little time in our caucuses, in our meetings, focused on how to solve the problems facing the country.
The S&R investigative commission has crafted a path to financial freedom for members of Congress that will keep them on the House and Senate floors and in committee hearings (instead of sending staff — unless the media’s gonna be there). Those in our legislative branch of government will be able to actually stay in Washington, D.C., on weekends instead of attending fundraisers back in the district. They’ll get to have dinner weeknights with their families. They can invite their congressional colleagues out for a beer without a horde of K Street lobbyists in tow.
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Better get used to it, people. As governments increasingly place public information online, news organizations are going to demand access to it and print it — but not always with appropriate context. That must change.
Among the leaders of the data-mining charge appears to be media conglomerate Gannett Co. Inc., owner of 82 U.S. daily newspapers, including USA Today, and 23 television stations. You’ll recall that Gannett-owned The Journal News published an interactive map of addresses of gun-permit holders in the New York state counties of Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam.
The News has been roundly criticized for that act. But there are reasons for criticism beyond the rabid fear-mongering.
The News has a First Amendment right to print public information (lawyers would argue some limits do apply). But any newspaper printing public information, especially when unpopular, has the responsibility to carefully and intelligently construct context for those data. Simply printing that these households have a gun permit does not do a damn thing to advance a public debate about guns, deaths related to guns, and the Second Amendment.
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