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Let’s be honest. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC is paid to give his opinion as he reports on the current events of the day. He reports with a particular political slant, and his audience watches him with full knowledge of his politics.
Today, he was suspended indefinitely for giving political donations to people he interviewed on his show and who share his political viewpoint. What is so wrong with his spending his money to support his stated views?
Less than three weeks ago, Juan Williams was fired from NPR after making prejudicial statements while on Fox News. Williams is paid to provide his opinion. He provides it with a particular political slant, and his audience is fully aware of his politics.
The media reflect the events and conversation of our country. The difference today is that the media are not only reflecting the national political debate, increasingly they are taking part in it. In Williams’ case, he even mixed in some poorly chosen words with his freely expressed opinion.
The fact is the media are drifting into the realm of opinion. In some cases, they have been sprinting toward it. Objectivity, what some call bland or boring reporting, is missing from an ever growing number of media outlets.
If the media wish to report with a slant, they ought to just come out and declare it. Reporters paid to express their opinion, often vociferously, should be able to disclose if they are interviewing someone on their show that they intend to support financially. As media expert Jeff Jarvis said on the Huffington Post, “The problem with Olbermann's contributions is not that he made them, but that he hid them.”
The media that embrace more opinion in their journalism need to embrace more transparency as well. Of course, that just one person's opinion.
Update: Keith Olbermann's suspension ends tomorrow evening when he returns to his show. In trying to draw a line between Fox News and her cable channel, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow argued that MSNBC's enforcement of its policies illustrates the difference between Fox News and MSNBC. In reality, the channels simply fall at slightly different positions on the opinion spectrum. Both offer opinion far more often than objective journalism.
Remember the Rodney King riots? It was 1992 and the nation was captivated as night after night, the media chronicled unrest in Los Angeles, triggered after the acquittal of four white police officers in the roadside beating of King, a black motorist.
The trial, verdict and resulting outrage troubled my colleagues at the Akron Beacon Journal for what it revealed about the status of race relations in the United States. During the next year, we used the power of communications to examine race in our country and initiate a very honest conversation about race in Akron, Ohio. The newspaper triggered a series of community meetings that attracted hundreds, a new year’s pledge by thousands to improve the race conversation in our community and a nonprofit effort to improve understanding between races and cultures. The project won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service that year and placed Akron among the nation’s leading communities in the conversation on race.
This week’s firing of NPR commentator Juan Williams for making an honest but bigoted statement brought back that powerful experience of 1992. Williams was fired for what he said on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox News, where Williams was a part-time commentator.
Williams was talking about Muslims in the U.S. when he said that all Muslims wearing traditional dress made him nervous on airplanes.
"I mean, look, Bill, I’m not a bigot. You know the kind of books I’ve written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."
Not only does Williams stereotype, he fails to admit his reactions are both honest and flawed.
Williams follows a lengthening line of journalists who lost their jobs or ended their careers for making stereotypical, bigoted public comments. In an excellent column, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Will Bunch reviews this unfortunate group: CNN’s Rick Sanchez and Octavia Nasr, Hearst’s Helen Thomas among others.
As the media world debates whether Williams, Sanchez or the others should have lost their jobs over their comments, there is little recognition of the opportunity lost. There is so much opinion in the media today, (Rupert Murdoch recently referred to this media noise as "bloggers and bloviators") that the value of informed opinion is being lost.
Media can be a powerful tool that impacts and improves the national conversation. Expressing raw opinion is not enough. Expressing raw opinion with the goal of improved understanding is a valued – but increasingly rare -- goal.
Just ask several thousand people in Akron.
On Oct. 26, the Associated Press is taking the momentous step of removing the word “writer” from many of its bylines. The idea is a byline that in essence says, “The article you are about to read was created by John Smith, Associated Press Writer,” potentially mischaracterizes John, who may not be a writer at all. With all the digital platforms available to the AP, John may be a videographer, blogger, photographer or some other form of skilled journalist.
The change, of course, is somewhat tardy. As I had the opportunity to write last week and in previous posts, the blurring of journalism’s traditional lines is accelerating.
David Carr of the New York Times (yes, he is a writer) recently addressed this blurring while recounting the transfer of top-notch talent from traditional print media to the digital media world. The most recent journalist to move: Howard Kurtz, who left the Washington Post for the more spirited Daily Beast.
Kurtz follows Peter Goodman, who left the New York Times for the Huffington Post. Goodman follows Howard Fineman, who left Newsweek for ... you get the idea.
Meanwhile, as 2010 begins to wind down, AOL is making news as it reportedly considers the purchase of Yahoo! AOL already is hiring hundreds of journalists, expanding its Patch hyperlocal coverage and is pondering the purchase of a few newspapers. There is no telling what AOL will look like in 2011.
Carr points out that he remains partial to “the old school” of newspaper journalism, with its fact checking, editing and permanence. And there is some allure to this romantic notion.
But in the end, the AP has it right. It is going platform agnostic. Content is what matters most in journalism now. As Carr says, “News is the killer app.”
The world of journalism is crumbling! It’s turning on its head!
Actually, website-based journalism is simply growing up.
Business and economy writer Peter Goodman, one of the New York Times’ top writers, is taking his talents to …wait for it….the Huffington Post.
Yes, Goodman is leaving the “Gray Lady” to work for one of the world’s edgiest, fastest growing major media websites, where he will be the business and technology editor.
In a blog post, Catharine Taylor of MediaPost.com calls the move “ More Significant Than You Think.”
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz is more measured in his post, calling Goodman’s decision “the latest sign that Web sites can compete on an equal footing with media giants.”
Like most coming of age indicators, the news represents neither a sudden shift in power nor a surprising raid of top talent. Just as cable TV grew up to hire away top network talent, just as USA Today expanded and hired away top talent from other, “more serious newspapers,” the best journalism websites are hiring away talent from the mainstream media. (The Huffington Post also recently added Howard Fineman from the failing Newsweek.)
Just as significant is the fact that Goodman intends to write “lengthy, deep-dive pieces” and to hire a handful of reporters to beef up the website’s business and technology coverage.
This is just my opinion. Of course, as a blogger, I’m free to provide an opinion. Mainstream journalists usually don’t enjoy this freedom. That also is Goodman’s point.
“For me it’s a chance to write with a point of view,” Goodman told Kurtz. “It’s sort of the age of the columnist. With the dysfunctional political system, old conventional notions of fairness make it hard to tell readers directly what’s going on. This is a chance for me to explore solutions in my economic reporting.”
The media are becoming increasingly divided, between those who continually strive to produce objective reporting, who try to limit political opinion to the editorial and op-ed sections of their websites, shows, magazines and newspapers, and those who freely express opinion as they report the news.
Guess what? Those who freely express opinion are gaining the louder microphone.
And now, they have Peter Goodman.
Guess I’ll have to tune in more often.
He was on the front page of 50 newspapers on Wednesday. He is featured on numerous websites. He has triggered demonstrations and recriminations the world over.
Yes, Terry Jones is attracting the type of media attention normally reserved for global leaders. This Florida pastor’s on-again off-again plan to burn the Quran has media covering his every statement.
But should they? And are they legitimizing this obscure man and his dangerous agenda of hate?
Count Mike Thomas of the Orlando Sentinel among the journalists questioning the wisdom of covering a religious leader with a following of fewer than 50.
“I ask you: If a sad little man burns some Qurans in the woods, and the media aren’t there to film it, is it news?
Of course not.”
A New York Times article asserts that a similar incident in 2008 on a street corner garnered no attention at all.
But in this instance, journalists argue that once President Obama, Gen. David Petraeus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and others around the world started commenting about the issue, it became an event that demanded coverage.
But this reasoning underestimates the power of social media. If Gen Petraeus or others had not inserted themselves into this event, would the media have followed? If Terry Jones had simply placed a “grainy video on YouTube,” as Thomas writes, would anyone have noticed?
Who knows? But the likelihood of the dramatic, the hateful and the extreme remaining ignored on the Internet seems pretty low.
The mainstream media gives itself too much credit (or perhaps blame is a better word) for Jones’ 15-minutes of fame. Their coverage doesn’t give him the microphone, but it certainly obliges him by turning up the volume dramatically.
The entire incident raises intriguing questions: If the media had ignored Jones, how much attention would a “grainy video on YouTube” received? And more importantly, do the evolving platforms of digital communications and media coverage promise to add volume to the fringe to a dangerous and undeserved extent?
Update: Salon.com reporter Justin Elliott details how the story circulated in media in the Muslim world for several weeks prior to the U.S. mainstream media’s blasting coverage. Include global media to the additional media platforms with huge influence on this story.
When the cable media become increasingly political, suspicion and complaints are sure to follow.
Consider the latest news involving Fox News and the Democratic Governors Association. As reported by the Associated Press, the association filed an “elections complaint in Ohio alleging Fox News Network illegally helped the Republican governor nominee solicit funds during a television appearance.
“The association says Fox allowed John Kasich to request contributions from viewers during an Aug. 18 broadcast and displayed the address of his campaign website. The complaint alleges the free publicity is an improper in-kind contribution to Kasich’s campaign.
“A Fox spokeswoman says the network has not yet been served the complaint and she couldn’t comment.”
As Mark W commented on the previous blog post, a partisanship within the cable media tends to feed upon itself. Expect more of these attacks involving cable media, and the matter likely will spill over into mainstream broadcast, print and digital media as well.
If you haven’t done so yet, take a few minutes and click on the Pew Report analyzing the Gulf disaster coverage. It is fascinating reading. The report cites Fox News’ reputation for conservative bias.
Even when the news organization is reporting objectively, its loss of credibility will hurt it, literally in the eyes of a skeptical and increasingly jaundiced public.
Feeding the situation is the fact that Kasich is a former Fox commentator.
Labor Day Weekend is the traditional end of summer and the beginning of election season, when political advertisements bombard the public and any chances of a high-level debate of the issues evaporates. As cable news coverage of the recent Gulf oil disaster indicates, this year promises to be increasingly partisan and bitter.
Few journalists in cable media even maintain a pretense of objectivity. The recent Pew Research Center report referenced in my last post describes the deterioration.
Cable news coverage of the disaster, the report said, increasingly sought to place blame for the spill rather than cover the event itself. Just where the blame belonged seemed to depend on the cable network performing the analysis. Liberal leaning MSNBC concentrated on BP’s failings, while the more conservative Fox News concentrated far more on the failings of the Obama administration, Pew reported. CNN was somewhere in the middle.
“More than half of (CNN’s) coverage was devoted to the containment, cleanup and impact storyline, while less time was devoted to the corporate and government angles, “ according to the Pew report.
MSNBC, “devoted 22% of its coverage to the government storyline and spent more time than either of its rivals on the BP/corporate storyline (31%), Pew said.
Fox News “devoted the least time to the breaking news aspect of the story and the corporate angle. Instead it easily spent the most time on the government storyline, and a good deal of that was critical.”
In yet another indication of media partisanship, it was reported in early August that News Corp., parent of Fox News, donated $1 million to the GOP.
Political donations from media corporations are not new, but rarely are they so large.
In the UK, partisan media are commonplace, even among newspapers, which trumpet their conservative or liberal bias and then go on with the job of reporting the news.
But a majority of the U.S. media have always believed themselves to be different, holding themselves to an objectivity and fairness standard worthy of the First Amendment. The growing trend of partisan coverage, most evident on the cable news channels, threatens that standard and puts further into question the ability of major media to cover a significant event, such as the Deepwater Horizon, without the taint of political slant.
In the coming weeks, as the attack ads flow and the quality of public discourse declines, watch the media, especially the cable networks. Perhaps you will note the subtle, and not-so-subtle slant. Perhaps you will wonder, what kind of treatment would I receive, or would my organization receive, during an interview? And perhaps you will ask yourself, is this a good thing?
The story was overwhelming. For days on end, from spring and into summer, oil burst from the floor of the Gulf of Mexico and polluted sea and shore. Throughout, the media covered the Deepwater Horizon crisis with conviction and focus.
This week, the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a report detailing just how the media portrayed the worst environmental event in the nation’s history. The excellent analysis titled “100 Days of Gushing Oil, Eight Things to Know About How the Media Covered the Gulf Disaster”offers insight on a variety of fronts, but perhaps most curious is the pure amount of coverage produced.
Normally, the media’s attention span for a crisis extends about a week, depending on such circumstances as the number of people involved and other, competing news.
Remember the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007? That terrible story gripped the country….for a week. Then the media moved on.
“The massacre that left 33 people dead on the Virginia Tech campus was the biggest story in any given week that year, filling 51% of the newshole studied from April 15-20. But by the following week, coverage had plunged to 7%, and the week after that, it virtually vanished,” Pew reported.
After the Deepwater Horizon explosion, bloggers and those populating other social media platforms did move on to other topics. But the mainstream media, particularly broadcast media (read CNN’s Anderson Cooper) kept on top of the story.
Think back to the coverage and what sticks in your mind? Pictures of oil soaked birds. Or of ugly brown oil plumes spread across the water. Perhaps the most gripping video was the oil bursting forth from the ocean floor. Yes, this was a visual story, fueled by the never ending gushing taking place.
“The oil spill was by far the dominant story in the mainstream news media in the 100-day period after the explosion, accounting for 22% of the newshole—almost double the next biggest story. In the 14 full weeks included in this study, the disaster finished among the top three weekly stories 14 times. And it registered as the No. 1 story in nine of those weeks,” Pew reported.
“The spill story generated considerably less attention in social media on blogs, Twitter and You Tube. Among blogs, for example, it made the roster of top stories five times in 14 weeks. But during those weeks one theme resonated—skepticism toward almost all the principals in the story.”
In many crises, the public gets fatigued with the subject even before the media moves on, creating the perception the media “milk” the event. But in this case, the public’s fascination appears to have matched the coverage.
“Often between 50% and 60% of Americans said they were following the story ‘very closely’ during these 100 days. That surpassed the level of public interest during the most critical moments of the health care reform debate,” according to Pew.
Let’s see. Which was more visual? Health care debate? Oil disaster?
During my 20 years in journalism, few things were as valuable as a reliable source. Someone with good news judgment, who understood the media and what they were looking for, and provided valuable information, particularly on deadline when chasing a story, was a source to be cultivated.
During my four years in public relations, I’ve learned that few things are as valuable as the ability to communicate well, to reflect good news judgment, to provide interesting and valuable information to journalists in a timely manner and above all, to be sensitive to their increasing deadline pressures.
The key is to make the initial connection, to develop the necessary relationships. In an article today, Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times calls these “professional relationships that seesaw between love and hate.”
Journalists pride themselves on their ability to “source,” or develop the relationships they need to do their job. A new website launched today is designed to help them.
NewsBasis leverages the Internet’s ability to bring people of common purpose together. In this instance, the common purpose is an exchange of information, from an organization to the media. In addition, NewsBasis allows organizations to insert their own information into a news story, just for the edification of other journalists.
PR professionals can monitor NewsBasis for queries pertinent to their clients, and then respond as well.
Whether NewsBasis, created by Darryl Siry, a former journalist and marketer, can become a new marketplace of ideas and mutual information exchange, will be an ongoing question.
I suspect it will work if it reflects good news judgment, is frequented by those who understand the media and what they are looking for, and provides valuable information, particularly on deadline.
And perhaps mixes in a little love and hate as well.
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Do you prefer the Upshot (new media) or the double-dip (old media)?
Both have made splashes in the journalism world recently.
Yahoo! News recently launched its news blog, The Upshot featuring a team of reporters, and perhaps more importantly, a new algorithm-based search engine that will help direct the reporting team’s focus. Here is the low-down on The Upshot.
The double-dip involves a controversial paywall the newspaper in Lancaster, Pa., has instituted. In essence, the Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era paper is charging non-subscribers $1.99 a month to access online obituaries, if they wish to read more than seven obituaries a month. Grieving families pay for those obituaries with the expectation they will be available to whomever can access the print or online newspaper. That will no longer be the case. Pay me to publish, Lancaster’s New Era says, and then pay me to gain access to the paid-for content. Thus the double-dip. (Here is an article that explains the entire experiment.)
Lancaster Editor Ernie Schreiber argues with former newspaper editor Steve Buttry that this innovation is no different than the paper charging for a subscription rather than giving away the paper for free. Here is Buttry’s blog post on their debate.
This is not entirely true. The fact is, subscribers pay for the privilege of reading the ENTIRE paper. Asking someone to pay for access to something that has been free, something that others have paid to be published, is simply a bad idea. It’s innovation for the sake of innovation.
Newspapers are experimenting with paywalls with increasing frequency. Of course, marrying good ideas with new content will lead to increased revenues, and perhaps to new paywalls.
But give me a new blog, with a team of reporters and a hyped-up algorithm any day.