The announcement that The New York Times and Washington Post will cooperate on a new platform to manager reader’s comments is no doubt a leap forward in building opinion sharing and engagement. I suggest the $3.9m price tag paid for with money from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation however, going to do very little to advance knowledge or – as it is promoted – advance innovative journalism.

Ask any one what they think and no doubt they will be happy to tell you whether they have expertise or not or first-hand knowledge. Talk radio demonstrates this hour after hour. We have become a nation of people who want to share opinions before the full scope of a story has been reported. Frank Bruni wrote this. “We no longer have news. We have springboards for commentary. We have cues for Tweets. Something happens, and before the facts are even settled, the morals are deduced and the lessons drawn. The story is absorbed into agendas. Everyone has a preferred take on it, a particular use for it. And as one person after another posits its real significance, the discussion travels so far from what set it in motion that the truth — the knowable, verifiable truth — is left in the dust.

Here’s the point – and no, this isn’ t a tome on the need to develop alternative funding models for contemporary journalism although that is a worthy subject for future consideration. The point is simple — once upon a time and not that long ago, major global media entities paid reporters to work and live all over the world in bureaus and to report on the news and business and politics and personalities and comings and goings that went on in those locales. That investment in human intelligence and resources paid dividends in the reportage, the understanding, the depth and context of what was happening. That investment helped to assure that there would be multiple reports – with differing views and yes, sometimes opinions, but it was all first-hand knowledge. That investment helped assure that individuals anywhere in the world could see and hear and read professionally acquired news. I embrace citizen journalism. I was among the very first to introduce it along with my colleague Mitch Ratcliffe in an ill-fated and under funded experiment called correspondents.org more long before it became ‘fashionable.’ But citizen journalism is not enough by itself. And asking for readers/viewers comments – even managing them superbly – is insufficient too.

So there goes almost $4m to build a platform to aggregate, manage and distribute the thoughts of the average man… the common Joe… the guy on the street who can’t wait to tell us what he thinks… but do I care? Do you? Really? Again quoting Frank Bruni, “Grandstanding is booming as traditional news gathering struggles to survive: It’s more easily summoned, more cheaply produced. It doesn’t require opening bureaus around the country or picking up correspondents’ travel expenses or paying them for weeks on end just to dig. So it fills publications, websites and television airtime the way noodles stretch out a casserole, until we’re looking at a media meal that’s almost all Hamburger Helper and no beef.”

We can bemoan this absence of beef but we’re not investing in making a difference.

The Smugness of the Sigh

February 21, 2014

The sigh – as an expression – is enjoying sudden new prominence in social media.

Rescued from obscure poetry and dusty literature, the lowly sigh is now finding usefulness to either express supreme disdain or as an assertion denoting that a superbly expressed and effective, powerful argument is concluded.

It’s all I have to say on the matter.  Sigh.
I’d like to discuss this further, but you wouldn’t understand the complexity of my thinking.  Sigh.

Have you noticed this phenomenon?

And even more often the word sigh is now written at the end of a sentence as if to denote
dismissal of any argument or consequential belief other than the writer’s opinion;
superiority – again of the writer – as if to say everything on the subject is covered already;
as a cap to the conversation, as in there is nothing more you could say that is of interest to me.

It is a brilliant.  It enables the writer to presumably claim the last word of any importance about the issue; it suggests that the writer has made their argument and is moving on without waiting for or listening to a response – sigh, as if whatever you may still want to say is of no interest and little consequence to me.  Sigh.

With a sigh in my heart as I write, I’ve seen this new 4-letter word popping up more and more frequently.  Its genesis to me at least comes from the social media team at a major, conservative media empire.  It popped up so suddenly and in frequent occurrence that it has left me wondering if this wasn’t part of a larger communications strategy?  But alas, with a proper sigh, that may be too conspiratorial on my part.

I just think this sudden surfeit of sighs is anything but accidental.

Once upon a time when an argument ran its course a different (some would offer a stronger, strident and certainly more rude) four letter word could be uttered contemptuously at one another and that was that.  If you were really miffed you might add that your opponent was a waste of food… but that requires contemplation to enjoy its full effect.

I am growing to appreciate the effectiveness of the sigh.  I’d even invite comments on this, as if I really cared what you thought… sigh.   But really when I think of what you might have to say on this subject, well, meh?

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

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 you 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

Approval for Quotes – Shameful for Journalists and Bad for the Audience

The ongoing debate about submitting quotes for approval is just the latest example of the failure of contemporary American journalism.  In the NYTimes (7.31.12) is a letter to the editor from a former government spokesperson defending the process in order to assure accuracy.  What ever was wrong with the old system where interviews were recorded and quotes taken in context from the public record?  The piece Approval for Quotes by Chris Stenrud, a former spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, is a travesty to journalists.  Plain and simple.  Instead of assuring accuracy it guarantees that nothing is ever reported accurately but is instead passed through a filter of what the organization, company, candidate wanted to spin, manufacture or promote.

This is a bad practice.  It violates the good practice of journalists; it sacrifices content and editing to those who we are supposed to cover and report as first-hand witnesses to history; it cheapens the end product and gives the audience little reason to believe they are reading an independent press.

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.

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