Today’s decision by a Federal court judge ordering Oracle and Google to disclose who they paid to write about their “JAVA trial” poses interesting questions about corporate media management — who pays for what to be written and what extent does that have on influence within the industry?
What would you expect that answer to be?

All Things D’s filing  Judge Orders Google and Oracle to Disclose Who They Paid to Write About Java Trial has the story quoting “Judge William Alsup, who presided over the case in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, wrote in his order that he’s “concerned that the parties and/or counsel herein may have retained or paid print or Internet authors, journalists, commentators or bloggers who have and/or may publish comments on the issues in this case.”
We’ve seen purchased coverage before in terms of trade press, I’m thinking especially of the sychophants who write gushingly about the latest Apple release and who (masquerading as reporters) would leap to their feet to applaud Steve Jobs.  Other companies (Cisco’s news site) commissions articles by well-known and reputable authors — though one might assume they are not (often) going to either write nor would Cisco (or others likely) post unflattering comments, reviews, analysis or criticisms.  This is coverage purchased to put forth the issue in the most flattering light possible under the circumstances.  
It is corporate communications imitating news.  It’s a lot like Sorkin’s The Newsroom imitating real news rooms.

BP Oil was insidious in the way it aggregated media coverage during the gulf oil spill while inserting reports from its own commissioned reporters…. it did make a disclaimer but only in the tiniest of print.  It was clever – in the midst of critical news it seemed unexpected to read glowing accounts of the importance of big oil to the community and their years of service and commitment to the economy and residents.
I don’t argue that this is happening – I find it refreshing that a federal judge is concerned enough to demand a review into how pervasive it may have been during his trial.
I find Judge Alsup’s order compelling. His full order can be found here .

A letter appearing in today’s NY Times prompts my response – Good Riddance.
The letter:
Why I Decided Against a Career in Journalism
To the Editor:

Re “Journalism’s Misdeeds Get a Glance in the Mirror,” by David Carr (The Media Equation column, July 30):
After holding top positions on my college newspaper for the last three years, I recently decided not to pursue a career in journalism. Coincidentally, Mr. Carr’s examination of the public’s lost confidence in the news media shares some of my rationale.
While he rightly criticizes the journalists in the phone-hacking scandal, he explains that they succumbed to the pressures of cutthroat competition and ruthless profit motives.
In many ways, these journalists reacted to the demands of the consumers of their reporting: a public infatuated with the private lives of celebrities and the sordid details of their gossip, infidelities and failings. Readers, too, share some culpability for driving reporters down such a contemptible path, through their continued subscriptions and consumption of those dubious tabloids.
Perhaps when the media replace supplying the guilty pleasures of their readers with the ethical pursuit of the truth, then journalism will be the right field for me.

JAMES R. SIMMONS Jr.

I offer this response:

Dear Mr. Simmons,
I wish you well in whatever endeavor you choose and congratulate you on your decision not to pursue a career in journalism.  Obviously you dont have the fire-in-the-belly to really succeed in this field which will require creativity, stamina, perseverance, and commitment.  Forgive me, but as someone who has worked and succeeded for more than 40 years as a journalist I’d conclude from your letter that you dont seem to have the gumption.
Yes there are admittedly many troubling things about our field – corporate ownership, a troubling economy, business models which are in flux.  Sure we’re making mistakes – we tend to see things too often in terms of scorecards – who’s leading, what’s trending, what’s the latest (even when there is little that’s new or changed).  Too often it seems we hype rather than just report.  All true.
We reduce even the more complicate social issues to short and often too simple vignettes, as if that does justice to the issue.  Network news stories are pitifully abbreviated; print lines and newspaper sections are often embarrassingly thin, compared to what many of us remember only a few years ago.  
New models of news, including many of the services aimed at college-aged students such as yourself are thin on substance and too-hip-for-their-own good.  New programs that feature scandal and celebrity over substance are not what I find much favor with — but trends come and go and change is always part of the equation.  Some times it requires more patience as change – including audience’s tastes – adapt.  Yes, there have been mistakes – and there are also corrections.  I suppose if you want to toss blame maybe we ought to include an education system that seems content not to teach civics or citizenship much less create an awareness or sufficient appreciation of the integral role we should responsibly play in society.
Yes Mr. Simmons there is much that is wrong but if you don’t have the stomach to be part of the solution then I am glad that you have decided to pursue a career elsewhere.  To me Sir it is better that you have been culled from the pack lest readers/audiences, including me, become saddled by your bemoaning and wailing.
Perhaps you might follow a career in  politics?  Or business? Surely there is nothing too challenging or wrong about those fields, or is there? 

Sincerely,

Peter Shaplen

The Guardian (UK) has an interesting take on the fable of Three Little Pigs and how it might be covered in contemporary media. (Slow video window – wait for it to open!)

News – social media input – citizen journalism, blogs, commentators and critics all swarming – do they make for better coverage or a muddle?
In any case, it’s a short video worth more discussion.

The din of the pundits and panelists drowned out the voices of the Iowans at their caucus. Across the dial last night the networks from the big three, the cablers, even those outlying at the far reaches of the spectrum (Current TV) all relied on their experts to talk about the Iowa caucus instead of letting the natural sound play out… the drama play on.
The political coverage resembled a sports broadcast with play-by-play announcers vying for mic time with their color counterparts. It seemed to be a race for who was more clever, who had a better turn of phrase, who was more biting and quote-worthy instead of hearing the direct conversations that stemmed from the caucus. Sure that would have been b-o-r-i-n-g to network executives but it might have been more informative or illustrative of what the voters thought, instead of analysts assuring us what they thought the voters were thinking!

The coverage of the election s more about the commentators than even the politicians. Until we get to a point where we are being offered substantive sound bites in long form – more than 3 and 4 seconds of sound snippets, we are not being truly served by the media investing so much time, effort, energy and resources.

Things seem out of sorts. We have more channels and platforms of news coverage than ever before but they seem to be carbon copies of one another – short blips of sound and long form analysis of what views they wish to espouse. It just seems to be more about what the media thinks – what the media knows – than the reaction of prospective voters… how did they hear the candidates? What did they think of the positions, what did they feel, what impacted them?

With so many choices about coverage why does it seem that we have so few options as viewers?

Social Media Gone Vile

January 13, 2012

Early Friday the profession of the media lost one of it’s finest craftsman when former ABC and CBS correspondent Richard Threlkeld was killed in a traffic accident on Long Island, New York. The local paper Newsday filed a picture along with their story Richard Threlkeld, former CBS newsman killed in crash and that has unleased a cascade of comments taking issue with bumper stickers on Threlkeld’s car – labeling him part of the ‘liberal”, “biased”, an “Obama supporter” and member of the “lametsream” media. Inaccurate since the title of the article described Threlkeld as a ‘former” newsman… no longer in the profession and free to advocate for any position he might choose.

But the question that is more appalling, and frightening, is what is it – even in death – that makes people feel that social media is a forum for invective — even it seems about some one they don’t know personally? What is it about the anger that seems to exist, just simmering at the surface of too many people’s daily lives? What did happen to all those cries for greater civility following the Tucson shooting of Rep. Gifford just a year ago.

Or, just as challenging, what is it about the media that seems to have raised such hatred, distrust and anger among some consumers? Obviously those who made these insulting and personal remarks are consumers of media – they read the Newsday article and then felt perfectly OK to make judgments about the victim.

The ability to make comments is of course protected free speech. But the anger, the rush to judgment, the inappropriateness of the timing of these comments gives me pause.

There’s a new book about General William Westmoreland and the Vietnam war which, again, raises such serious questions about the lies we were told about the war, the progression of that war, its strategy and its failures.
Any one who remembers the “Five O’clock Follies” – the daily afternoon briefing of misinformation and manipulation of the media (and ultimately the public) by MAC-V (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) suspected at the time that the wolves were pulling the wool over the sheep’s eyes — but the military and government establishment did so with such gusto, bravado and the arrogance believing that they’d never be challenged, much less caught.
Almost a half century later we are still buffeted by the lingering effects of that war – the relationship between the military and the media has forever been changed, embeds don’t have the opportunity to report freely on what happens, and there seems to be a revisionist view among the public that any doubt or questioning is in some way unpatriotic. And that – the not-so-veiled-threat of any questioning or challenge as being akin to unpatriotic is the worst result of all.

In Iowa and New Hampshire – two small states known for their tradition of retail politics – why do we hear anchors and pundits tell us this repeatedly while there never seems to be time to hear the candidates speaking to voters? Or even more daring, why don’t we hear much of what the prospective voters think after meeting and shaking the candidate’s hands?
This is more than a sound bite – more than 10 seconds – more than rhetoric.
More than a talking point heard before or a rebuttal to some other campaign assertion.

There seems to be a disconnect. This isn’t intended as a riddle. But the coverage assures us that these are states where the candidates are saturating every town, township, city and opportunity to press the flesh and yet the coverage shows instead, primarily, the anchors and pundits talking about voter reaction instead of allowing us to hear and judge for ourselves.
In an environment with so much available air time why isn’t some network allowing time for the story to breath?

It’s the arrogance, Stupid!

September 21, 2011

The Justice Department admits it served $16 dollar muffins, $8 cups of coffee and cookies and brownies that cost $10 each at a 2009 meeting.

At a time when many Americans don’t have enough money for basic groceries this seems to be, well the word that comes to mind is excessive.

The story, appearing in Wednesday’s Los Angeles Times Justice Department’s $16 dollar muffins don’t sit well, quotes Justice Department officials, “We agree that excessive spending of the types identified in the OIG report should not occur,” adding that the department has taken steps “to ensure that these problems do not occur again.”

Good messaging. Good Crisis Management.

Maybe they might have thought about the ramifications of the decision to spend so much before they thought they were so entitled. But it proves the old media adage, you never get caught for the crime when you do it but always for the cover-up or the discover.

A new low in the war against free speech, open debate, tolerance of views other than those of our own and civility… a new example of a politician stifling debate in what appears to be an effort to prevent an embarrassment.
Steve Chabot’s (R-OH) open town hall with his constituents seems to have been so controversial that the Congressman’s staff requested police disrupt and confiscate citizen-made videos. You’ve got to watch those taxpayers – those interested citizens – those just plain folk-who-no-doubt-have-turned-terrorsist-agents lest they do something really radical like post a video on youtube.com.

It is simply difficult to image what was so threatening to the Congressman that it was worth the fuss and furor of requesting police intervention. It is also mystifying why the police felt compelled to step in where there was no overt or even apparent threat to civil order.

This has the same big-brother feel of overt-over reaction. It raises the question, didn’t we fight a revolution against the British for their same Draconian tactics limiting free speech, open assembly and the right to protest? Are some of us – perhaps among them elected officials – forgetting our own history and roots?

Once upon a time when news was not a commodity and what was editorially selected for print or broadcast was of the most pressing nature so that it deserved reporting, there were fewer stories about incidental nudity or wardrobe malfunctions.

But Nicki Minaj Nip Slip During “Good Morning America” today this has become news… It doesn’t matter which network – or how it happened – or if it was incidental or accidental. This is now grist for the content wheel. And it is, forgive me, awfully superficial stuff.

And here is a worthy-to-be-remembered apologetic quote using the term “regrettably.” From TV Newser, “ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, “Although we had a five-second delay in place, the live East Coast feed of the concert regrettably included certain fleeting images of the performer that were taken out of later feeds in other time zones. We are sorry that this occurred.”

And then – adding this, again from TV Newser, “TMZ spoke with the Parents Television Council: “For the umpteenth time in recent memory a morning news show has included inappropriate content for children and families.” It prompts me to ask — the “umpteenth time”? Did I miss so many of the others? How can they be so carried away with hyperbole – “the umpteenth time”? I guess we should ask for their list (Hah!) – or maybe just watch morning news more carefully.

Maybe this is just a Saturday story… but here’s the point. Until you can put a smoking gun in the hands of the ABC producers and prove they intended this to happen, which I don’t think is even remotely reasonable, can’t we just move on? Is this a worthy-to-be-reported story?

It would seem that there are are more editorially worthwhile things to discuss. My argument here is: this isn’t news. It isn’t fashion. It seems at best to be an isolated and fleeting screw up.

Content matters – this even isn’t worthy. Even by ranting I have given it undue prominence. I guess I just wanted to make a clean breast of how I felt.

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