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Media around the world are debating the value of opinion and the role it plays in their editorial mix. Time was, the front page of a newspaper was sacrosanct. No editorial or column was to appear on such valued real estate. The idea was that by relegating opinion to clearly delineated areas of a publication, such as the back pages, then readers could read the “fair, objective” news coverage and then refer to opinion as a second option.
But that got boring, and as readers fled the staid newspapers of the past, journalists began experiment with placing columns and editorials in all sorts of places, including on the front page. Of course, these columns were clearly labeled, so readers could discern the difference between straight news and opinion.
But that got boring and now media are competing with each other for top-notch talent able to unleash opinion on a moment’s notice. And this opinion is flung far and wide, on front pages, special sections, websites, blogs, Twitter and other social media.
And that is not boring. Far from it. It is exhilarating and dangerous, informative and damaging.
Arthur Brisbane addressed this topic recently when explaining changes in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review section, now called Sunday Review. The change, he note, “marks a decided turn toward more opinion journalism.”
We took note of this rush to opinion journalism at the end of 2010 in predicting that publications would make changes enhancing point-of-view journalism.
David Kaplan of Paid Content attributes the desire to insert more opinion journalism as a driving force behind changes at Reuters.com, as well as Bloomberg and Dow Jones.
“Bloomberg, Reuters and Dow Jones have been working diligently on becoming more “consumer facing,” that is, appealing to wider professional audience than the financial markets professionals who subscribe to their respective services. The feeling is that as the business of news is flattened on the web, where traditional print brands are effectively rendered equal in terms of distribution and reach, these financial information companies can expand their presence to both readers and advertisers, thereby enhancing their core services.
"That’s why Reuters has gone on such a hiring binge and has been aiming for prestigious journalism prizes with its long-form “enterprise reporting” and hiring star reporters like the New York Times’ Rohde. It’s also why Bloomberg hired former NYT op-ed editor David Shipley and one-time Clinton Administration-era Assistant Secretary of State James Rubin to run its opinion features.”
But taken to its extreme, there is a real danger to mixing the power of media with a strong, albeit clearly stated, point of view. And for a sample of extreme media, look to the disarray among the liberal and conservative newspapers in the U.K.
On Sunday, Rupert Murdoch closed one of the oldest and highest selling newspapers in the U.K., The News of the World, after allegations that the paper illegally eavesdropped on the phone messages of murder and terror victims, politicians and celebrities.
The media in Great Britain are known for over-the-top slanted reporting and exceedingly aggressive reporting tactics. The News of the World took these to an extreme that has damaged reputations, put hundreds out of work and ended an institution.
Howard Kurtz, who left the Washington Post for the Daily Beast because he wanted more freedom to express his opinion, wrote today that the U.S. media may not be far behind the U.K.’s tabloid.
So as media rush to herald “opinion-based journalism” watch for those who slip from publishing more point-of-view information to abusive, obnoxious and potentially illegal practices. To see how quickly this shift can occur, just ask former commentator Mark Halperin.
Is it my imagination or are there more end-of-year lists and predictions than ever? It would make sense, as there are more sources of information available to us than ever. Or perhaps my appetite for this media tradition every December is waning.
These lists can be poignant, whimsical, silly or just plain ridiculous. The best offer perspective on the year that was and some insight into the year that will be.
This list of the biggest PR blunders of 2010 is entertaining. Of course, at the top of the list is BP’s handling of the oil spill crisis in the Gulf. However, Richard Carufel ranks NPR’s firing of Juan Williams at No. 3 on the list. I’m not sure about the NPR blunder was that significant. But an opportunity was lost to examine the growing problem the media have with uninformed – and often loud -- opinion.
The New York Times released a thoughtful, moving compilation of photos from 2010. I defy you to review this without humble reflection on the world’s joys and disasters in the past 12 months.
For one of the more interesting overviews on the state of the media, see these survey results from Harvard's Nieman Journalism Lab. Here are excerpts:
Q. “Who will have more traffic: The New York Times or The Huffington Post?
A. “Old media wins — barely: 57 percent say the NYT, 43 percent HuffPo.”
Q. “Who will have more traffic: The Daily Beast or Newsweek?” (The two merged in 2010)
A. “Perhaps a trick question, depending on how NewsBeast finally decides to handle its URLs. But 83 percent think the Beast half will win out.”
Q. “Name two media companies you expect to merge in 2011, a la Newsweek and The Daily Beast.
A. The answers were a random spray: no two predictions matched up. Some of the more intriguing: AOL and Yahoo, Tribune and Yahoo, USWeekly and The Huffington Post, Slate and The Atlantic, TBD and the Washington City Paper, Clear Channel and Pandora, Politico and Roll Call, and Gannettand Groupon.”
Q. “How many local sites will Patch have in operation by the end of 2011? (It had 475 on 12/6/2010.)
A. “Most folks believe Patch will still be under 1,000 by next year’s end.”
Here’s a few prediction of my own:
High profile journalists will continue to make news as they leave their traditional media organizations for more cutting edge publications such as AOL, the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post.
Many more lower profile journalists will do the same, but make fewer headlines.
Wikileaks will continue to leak.
Many more lower profile leaks will continue to pepper media reports.
The presence and value of opinion will grow in the mainstream media.
Uninformed opinion will become more of a problem, resulting in more apologies and firings. (See Juan Williams and NPR.)
Do you have any others you wish to share?
Add The Daily to the list of new media to watch heading into 2011.
Built upon the popularity of the iPad and the ingenuity of Rupert Murdoch, The Daily is expected to launch to the public in January. The digital news report will call upon 100 newly hired journalists (many of them freelancers) to provide a regular dose of news from our nation’s media centers and stream it directly to the growing population of iPad owners.
To create the necessary content of a regularly updated report, Murdoch has recruited talent from a broad range of organizations. Executives draw from experience at the New York Times, AOL, the New York Post, Viacom, ABC News and The Sun in the U.K.
In his coverage of this latest step in the news media's evolution, John Koblin details the topics The Daily will cover: politics, health, books, movies, pop culture, education and more. There will be video and opinion pieces aplenty.
One thing The Daily will not have: printing presses. These journalists will not write for a print product. Call it all digital, all the time. Yes, it will publish seven days a week.
Another interesting point Koblin makes. The Daily intends to staff the 2012 presidential election with daily political coverage.
It won’t be the only new media on the horizon. Just consider, one year from now, the other digital media that will have sprouted, either independently or connected to existing media, to cover the next big election.
It's mind boggling to think how far the media have come from the election of 2008. Remember when we thought Twitter was the latest, hottest platform in digital communications?
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.
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.
The Huffington Post recently marked its 5-year anniversary. The online news site and information aggregator now attracts more than 13 million unique visitors a month. That is not a typo. 13 million. More than the Washington Post or USA Today.
Do such numbers qualify “HuffPo” as a member of the powerful media club?
In a recent interview, founder Arianna Huffington described how her site slowly adopted the journalistic attributes commonly expected from her mainstream media counterparts.
“When we launched The Huffington Post, we were worlds apart. There was the legacy media that were very, very skeptical about blogging, or the future of online media. And there were the startups like The Huffington Post. Now The New York Times is doing a lot online. They’re doing a lot of great things online. And we are hiring more and more reporters.”
You know who else is hiring journalists in droves? AOL. The former web portal now employs more than 500 journalists. Not to be left behind, Yahoo is rushing to add to its newsgathering ranks as well. Each site gets millions of hits from a public with a seemingly insatiable appetite for information.
When I recently posted HuffPo’s online viewship on Facebook, a former Northeast Ohio journalist criticized the site for its news aggregation, culling the Web for stories to capture, repurpose and post.
“After all the hours and money we put into putting something original on our website, it’s considered a success when someone else takes it for free and puts it on their website,” said this editor, who works for a national media organization.
My former colleague’s frustration is genuine and understandable. Mainstream media pay their staff to produce the majority of quality journalism in this country. But his point doesn’t address the new dynamic that is emerging. Everyone and anyone can aggregate stories off the web, repackage them and sell the result. That is one of the reasons the universe of media is growing, not shrinking.
Add to the aggregation model the growing number of media utilizing submitted articles from citizen journalists and the nearly limitless supply of bloggers (present company included) and our nation’s total of news sources is in the millions. That is an encouraging, and scary, thought for those who value robust, yet fair and accurate debate of the issues.
“Those of us who recognize that the traditional tenets of journalism — fairness, accuracy, fact checking — need to prevail and be supplemented by all the new technical tools and the new citizen engagement are also going to survive and thrive,” Huffington predicted.
So, should the Huffington Post be counted among the most powerful of media?
Perhaps a better question is, who will be next to join the HuffPo in this once exclusive club?
One of the first stories I reported as a young journalist in Southeast Florida focused on business owners’ “off-season” struggles. To secure the necessary interviews, I started walking along a major thoroughfare in Delray Beach and before long, came upon a small clothing business. As I walked in, I noticed a sign on the door. “Closed.” It was mid-afternoon.
“I almost didn’t come in,” I said to the owner, indicating the sign.
“Oh?” she said. “I must have forgotten to flip it over. I haven’t had a customer all day.”
Instantly, I had the opening for my story, thanks to some local-level or shoe-leather reporting.
Increasingly, media are finding such golden nuggets of local information without opening those doors, or wearing down their shoe leather.
Earlier blog posts and this article describe the value and use of hyperlocal news sources, from small business owners to residents who blog. A recent national survey from Cision, a software company that services public relations firms, and a professor at George Washington University now offers addiitional insight into the extent to which journalists are utilizing social media for their reporting.
As Jack Loechner of the Center for Media Research reports, 89 percent of the journalists surveyed said they turn to blogs for story research. In another measure, 55 percent of journalists who responded said social media was important or somewhat important to their reporting efforts.
Much of the information provided is local, up-front and personal. But not all. Social media helps journalists find such fundamental facts as the contact information for a valuable new source. Or it can offer a deeper dive, such as the viewpoint on a complicated trend.
“Newspaper journalists (72 percent) and those writing for Web sites (75 percent) use social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook for online research,” Loechner wrote.
This reliance on social media certainly raises questions about sourcing and accuracy. (Even though a blogger says the door sign shows “closed,” how does the reporter know that is true?)
Another question also comes to mind: If media in significant numbers are using these sources to gather information, doesn’t that mean these same channels are becoming increasingly effective tools for those who wish to provide information to the media?
Seems as if the two-way dialogue smart media are creating is rapidly coming together.
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If you are like me, you have been spending some portion of your day consuming news about Haiti and its residents. The coverage has been gripping. As mentioned in a previous post, the tweets and Twitter lists concerning the earthquake’s aftermath have been excellent sources of information. My wife and I also have been watching the news channels in the evening. Some of the reports about survivors and the family members sitting watch while rescue efforts struggle against the clock have been heartrending.
This coverage chronicles for history the human tragedy and, yes, a few against-all-odds victories. Breaking news coverage reminds us what those first moments and days were like after an event. Want to recall what you really felt and knew immediately after 9/11? Review the media coverage from that day, and it will come flooding back. (I have weeks of front pages from that period in my basement.)
Without the huge number of journalists in Haiti, the world’s outpouring of support would be less impressive. Without those photos, stories, videos and other coverage, millions may not have been moved to action, and the extraordinary efforts taking place today would have occurred outside the view of a grateful public. Without the media, this disaster would fade quickly, as the world’s attention turned to other matters.
Yet, for all the good the coverage does for Haiti, it comes at a cost. Hundreds of journalists and their support staff have flooded into Haiti, stretching its diminished resources, and consuming the food and water the Haitians desperately need.
Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute offered a fascinating blog post on this point. He goes so far as to urge journalists not to go to Haiti, to pass on the chance to cover what is likely the breaking news story of 2010.
“The country is clogged with people who cannot find enough to eat or drink,” he wrote. “If you go, you must be self-sufficient. Everything is expensive. I have a friend who paid more than $200 for 10 gallons of gas—either that or wait in line for two days, he said.”
Anderson Cooper is doing a phenomenal job for CNN, but he has the help of as much as 50 co-workers, all of whom need a place to sleep, as well as food and water.
Tompkins also quotes reports from Slate and The New Republic, raising similar points.
In a disaster such as this, journalists labor to chronicle the human suffering, and to do some good. They do it for the victims, as well as the rest of the globe. But the cost of this coverage can sometimes be high.