By now you all know the New York Times has embraced the recommendation of the newspaper's Siegal Committee, which followed the curse of Jayson Blair upriver in search of the heart of darkness that birthed him, and decided to name two new editors: A public editor (an ombudsman) to connect with readers and a standards editor to, as the Washington Post said, "serve as an internal ethics czar." [ Read the Siegal Committee report. ]
Romenesko has rounded up all the usual links, but I've read the stories so you don't have to. Some highlights:
Washington Post: "Geneva Overholser, former editor of the Des Moines Register and a one-time ombudsman at The Post (said), "It's an acknowledgement of fallibility, which comes hard to the Times. … The editor should hear from readers.' But editors don't have the time or perspective and want to justify the decisions they made."
Wall Street Journal: Quotes Bob Steele of Poynter saying the report was "a key moment in American journalism." (Thanks to Jeff Jarvis, who says being the Times' public editor "has to be the worst job in journalism.")
USA Today: Gina Lubrano, readers' rep at the Union Tribune in San Diego and secretary of the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen: ''Editors are too busy to respond to their readers. I have a feeling that if someone called the editor of The New York Times, they probably wouldn't get to talk to him. I know how busy my editor is -- she's always at meetings."
New York Post: Reports snarkily that some proposals of the Siegal report "are already being lampooned, such as the one that urges the Times to make 'courtesy and respect explicit criteria sought in job candidates.' It backs up that assertion by quoting one anonymous "insider": "The idea that somehow civility and courtesy are going to be criteria for advancement at the New York Times is pretty hysterical. There is a culture of rudeness in here, and getting rid of it has to be done by more than just decrees from on high."
Boston Globe: Quotes committee chairman Allan Siegal, a Times assistant managing editor: " 'We all believed the truism that journalists don't like to be managed.' But in conducting its investigation, Siegal said, the committee was 'surprised by the demands of the staff . . . a uniform demand for more systematic and transparent management.'"
I'm on deadline (well, I'm past it), so there's no time for cogent thought or even the other types I sometimes display. But there is time to check the referrer logs for First Draft and find that someone arrived here via this search string. I do believe I's set a new standard for myself.
The hand wringer of the day among the guardians of the gates of journalism is the return to print of the plagiarizing fabricator Jayson Blair and the fabricating fabulist Stephen Glass - who have found assignments for Esquire and Rolling Stone, respectively.
Robert Leger, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, told Newsday: "These people have committed the most egregious sins against journalism. It doesn't make any sense that anyone would want them back, and I think it hurts us with the public."
Scammers and scoundrels abound, even, (shockingly!), in the (shrinking) world of newspapering, which, ironically, once flourished as a refuge for those very types.
Newspaper journalists should worry less about how the public perceives the resurrections of Blair and Glass (I do think the readers distinguish between Esquire and the New York Times. Or is this a dubious perceive-ment?) and concern themselves with public perception of those journalists who continue to toil in the ink-stained trenches.
Look, Blair is scum and Glass is the fungus that lives on scum, but journalists need to adopt a more three-dimensional view of themselves that goes beyond serving as acolytes in a church of the First Amendment.
Newspapers are a business and journalism is part of their product (advertising, of course, is the rest). So we need to forget the religious role-modeling and concentrate on the product.
The Newsday story on Blair and Glass is a good example of one of our chief failings - writing a lede that is unsupported by the reporting. The first two grafs read:
"How badly must journalists misbehave before they no longer can work in the media?
"That question was raised anew last week as Esquire magazine hired former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair to review a forthcoming movie about another disgraced journalist, Stephen Glass. Experts debated why the press doesn't banish its rule-breakers and whether a failure to do so erodes the public's trust in the media. Some worried that Blair's new assignment, along with Glass' recent gig at Rolling Stone magazine, will feed growing public skepticism about the truthfulness of news reports."
"Experts debated," "some worried," "Leger and others were responding …" So reads the story. Yet, Leger, the SPJ president, is one of only two people quoted in the story who expresses any sort of concern. The other, a journalism professor, offers a canonically pragmatic interpretation: "We can excommunicate you out of our church, but there are other acceptable churches you can get into." Hardly an expression of distress.
Did the Newsday reporter make up the story? No.
Did he lift it from elsewhere. No, again.
Did he overstate his reporting to support a clever lede? You bet.
Is that, to borrow Leger's words, "an egregious sin against journalism." No, but it is a minor crime of marketing - a product that fails to deliver. And that's the kind of journalism that sooner or later sends the consumer elsewhere.
Newsday Writing After Wrongs Fuels Debate
The debate over to name or not to name Kobe Bryant's accuser rages on, intensified, like all discourse these days, by the Internet. Media critic Neil Gabler tells Bob Baker in an L.A. Times story:
"The Internet has no editor, so everything gets out there. Then it gets picked up by talk radio, which also has no filtering system. Then that process puts pressure on more traditional news outlets, like local newspapers, to pick up the story because it's out there and people are talking about it. These newspapers are in competitive situations. Once they pick it up, there is pressure on more responsible organizations to [make use of] these rumors, if not publish them as fact."
Also in the L.A. Times, the paper's own media critic David Shaw comes out in favor of naming Bryant's accuser. He writes:
"Surely, the stigma attached to being accused of sexual assault is even worse than the stigma attached to being a victim of sexual assault. So why publish and broadcast his name and not hers? She's not a minor, and since everyone in her hometown knows who she is, just whom are we protecting her reputation from?"
That said, I sympathize with anyone who falls under the hoof of the rampaging media pack these days. As Bryan of Media Review said in a comment to Overholser piece:
"I think there are a great number of people who would find the concept of naming names as Overholser wants to practice it would only further alienate the public from journalism. How many rape victims would have to be paraded before us, saying how the media perpetuated the rape by publishing the name?"
He proposes "a more enlightened policy" - asking the victim for permission to use her name.
Now that California's political shenanigans have made the nation's front pages, you might want to keep up with the coming gubernatorial recall campaign by reading Sacramento Bee political columnist Dan Weintraub's (relatively) new blog, California Insider.
Weintraub started the blog in April. Even though he self-identifies as a member of the "dreaded mainstream media," he inspires bridge the gap between David Broder and Mickey Kaus, "hoping that the combination produces the best of both worlds and not the worst."
Weintraub's latest post: Debunking a Drudge "world exclusive" report that former Rep. Jack Kemp is going to run for governor.
Good move by Weintraub to move into the blogosphere. Politics should not be left to the thumbsuckers.
Dan Weintraub California Insider
Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz is "troubled by the media spectacle surrounding the Kobe (Bryant) case, where Kobe gets pummeled by the press while the accuser gets to hide out, trotting out her friends to say how much jaw-dropping evidence there is against the basketball star."
Kurtz suggests that "perhaps a reassessment is in order" about mainstream media's policy of withholding names of accusers in sex cases. "Although," Kurtz asks pointedly, "why do we only hear about such media soul-searching when a hugely famous person is involved?"
Howard Kurtz Outing Kobe's Accuser
Mainstream news organizations are still not naming the woman who accused NBA superstar Kobe Bryant of raping her, but Geneva Overholser, the former ombudsman for the Washington Post and now a columnist for the Poynter Institute, says it's time they did. I agree.
"When journalists depart from the commitment to telling the whole story, to naming names, to getting at painful truths, we tread on dangerous ground. With very few exceptions -- national security, individual cases in which loss of job or loss of life will clearly ensue -- the best journalistic principle is to tell the public what we know. Selecting certain categories of information and seeking to do social work by acting against this principle is dangerous territory. Clearly, we owe children special protection. Beyond that, who of us is wise enough to select -- out of all those who would prefer not to have their names in the paper -- the winning categories? A general obligation to share the information we have is our surest course." [ Read the whole column ]
Overholser has long been a proponent of naming rape victims. She was editor of the Des Moines Register in 1991 when it won Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a series on surviving rape that named, with the victim's consent, a woman who had been raped. The Pulitzer board said the series prompted "widespread reconsideration of the traditional media practice of concealing the identity of rape victims."
Overholser also points out, as I did the other day [Read: Does the Blue Dot Work in a Dot-Com World ], that if protection of identity is the goal it is simply impractical in an age of omni-media to withhold a rape victim's name. She writes:
"Newspapers are not -- as they once were -- the gatekeepers of such information. The culture has changed. Details about the Kobe Bryant accuser are being bandied about by shock jocks and on the Net netherworld. Mainstream media stick to an outdated policy, which has turned into a conceit."
Overholser's colleagues at Poynter don't share her view. In a note in the feedback forum about Overholser's column, Bill Mitchell, a Poynter editor states that Poynter Online "is not naming the accuser … we do not publish the names of accusers in such cases without their consent. This policy applies to comments posted to our Feedback area as well as articles written for the site. Names posted here will be deleted."
And Bob Steele, who teaches ethics at Poynter, told the Denver Post for its story about a Los Angeles talk radio host who has been naming the accuser for several days that "opinion should not cause great harm to other individuals and (he) is casting major aspersions against this woman. He is harming her, and that is irresponsible and unprofessional."
I agree with Overholser that the larger damage is done by withholding information. "Truth-telling does have its victims," she writes. "My own view is that recovery from difficult times is, like journalism, abetted by openness and hampered by secrecy. But the larger point is this: Openness serves society as a whole. It serves enlightenment and understanding and progress. And it serves the criminal justice system."
Jeff Jarvis gets evsicerated by an editor at the Neiman Reports on a piece about blogging and lays out the all the fetid, bleeding guts of the edit. It's not a pretty site, but it's a great read about the editing process (or nightmare).
His take: "The edit I got back was a ham-handed butchery that also betrays plenty of print prejudices about this, our new medium."
My take: Bad editors abound on both sides of the digital divide. Jeff ran into one.
As much as I want to, I don't find most of the newspaper projects considered for this year's Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism all that innovational.
The awards, given out by the J-Lab, part of the Institute for Interactive Journalism, are intended to honor news organizations that "used technology in innovative ways to involve people in the news."
I just don't see projects like compiling all your big story coverage on a CD (Chicago Tribune - 9/11) or a Web site (Providence Journal - The Station dance club fire) as innovations, even with the inclusion of a weblog (as Projo.com did), nor is adding more photographs and some video to the Web version of a print feature series.
Some of the work is beautiful. The Orange County Register's electronic edition of its series about a Buddhist monk is wonderfully designed, but does it fulfill the J-Lab's stated mission of using "new technologies to help people actively engage in critical public issues."? I don't think so. Despite all the electronics extras, what we have here are clip jobs. Nifty digital clips, to be sure, but clip jobs all the same.
Two of the Batten nominees go further toward meeting that criterion, though. One works well; the other less so.
The San Francisco Chronicle succeeds using the lowest of high tech - email - to connect with a database of nearly 1,500 readers who chime in on news and sports stories espousing a variety of views (even, oh my God, in San Francisco, an occasional conservative belief). The paper has d-based the Man on the Street and called it Two Cents.
I also like the Kent State University and L.A. Times' Digital Newsbook, which reproduced in elegant typography a Times series on the journey of a Honduran boy to the U.S. in search of his mother. Unfortunately, the PDF is apparently such a memory pig - it's embedded with loads of video - that once I got the splash screen open on my machine I could never get to another page. Maybe you'll have better luck.
Nonetheless, the Newsbook represents one version of the news future (one that, like all technology, will compress and speed up over time) and Two Cents another.
The Newsbook performs a platform transformation (with agnostic content) that mimics one of newspapers' greatest assets - portability. Download the Newsbook, maybe on your tablet PC, and read it anywhere. Someday, surely.
Two Cents enables the Chronicle to move beyond the traditional newspaper one-to-many broadcast model and fulfill the role of conduit for many-to-many conversation - readers talking to readers. It should move Two Cents to the Web and crank up the interactivity even further.
Batten Awards 2003 Selected Entries
Richard Roeper, a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, makes this bet: "You watch. Well before Kobe Bryant's case goes to trial, some old-school news organization will make public the name of his accuser."
We all know that NBA superstar Bryant is charged with sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman at a Colorado resort. What we don't know, at least not from newspaper or broadcast reports, is her name. The print and electronic press routinely withhold the names of victims of sex crimes, a tradition that dates to an era when being raped was more a stigma than, say, being murdered.
From an ethical standpoint, I'm not sure how I feel about the continued use of the "blue dot" - Roeper's reference to the obscuring graphic broadcasters floated over the face of the victim in the William Kennedy Smith rape case. In general, I favor more disclosure of information rather than less (especially in legal matters), but I'm also wary of freely unleashing the press jackals on unwitting victims. [ Read: How the National Enquirer tried to buy the Bryant story. ]
From a practical standpoint, though, the blue dot is useless in this dot-com era. Following Roeper's lead, in less than five minutes, using a Google search, I found the (alleged) name of Bryant's accuser, her (alleged) home address, her (alleged) email address and (alleged) photographs from her high school yearbook, "information that would have consumed a week of a reporter's life in the old days."
Roeper says that at the time of the William Kennedy Smith case (1991), "when the New York Times published (Patricia) Bowman's name - and then reversed itself and went back to "protecting" her anonymity - it was shocking for media insiders and news junkies alike."
"We didn't realize we were on the brink of an information revolution, in which facts (and non-facts) would be gathered and disseminated at the speed of light. We didn't realize how quickly it would all change."
Anyone want to take Roeper up on his bet?
When the editorial page writers of the Dallas Morning News have something to say they don't need to wait for the next edition of the newspaper or a convening of the editorial board to say it. They use their new Edblog.
The Morning News began the Movable Type-powered blog with the intent to "allow board members to share their evolving thoughts on a variety of issues, and to allow readers a window into our opinion-development process."
John Granatino, who manages the DMN's web operations, said in an email to an online news list, that he's "not aware of any similar newspaper-sponsored project."
Thus far, the editorial board members - whose names are posted but unfortunately not their bios -- have opined on Tony Blair's problems, Texas redistricting, the nature of Islam and the movie Winged Migration.
Many newspapers invite the public into editorial or news meetings in an effort to make the paper's decision-making process more transparent, but access is limited by the number of seats in the room. In a way, the Dallas blog does the opposite - it takes the decision-making out of the room and into the public using a vehicle (the Internet) with unlimited seating.
Smart move. I'll expect other papers will follow suit.
Dallas Morning News EdBlog
Newspapers are like cars. They are complex machines that require regular maintenance, occasional new parts and a certain amount of high-speed driving to keep the grit and road grime from dulling their engines. Without these things, newspapers break down or, like old cars, they run rough, sputtering noisily, belching fumes and generally stinking up the neighborhood.
The newspaper industry's recent embarrassments (Blair, Raines, Bragg) as well as its longer-term ailments (declining readership, flagging relevance) reflect a record of lousy newsroom maintenance, especially at the leadership level.
Newsroom leaders define standards, by their words and their actions, not only for the daily journalism to be done but, even more importantly, for the organizational culture that will produce those stories, photographs and page designs.
Unfortunately, America's newspaper editors are, on the whole, the most poorly trained group of professional managers in the nation. Nieman Curator Robert Giles, in a Reed Sarratt Lecture last fall, pointed to a finding from the Readership Institute at the Media Management Center at Northwestern University: "The average newspaper industry expenditure on formal training is 0.7 percent of payroll. The national average for companies that have been tracked on this scale is 2 percent, or nearly three times what newspapers spend on training."
Giles then asked:
"Can you imagine another industry that so depends on charity to pay for the education of its work force? Companies like General Motors and General Electric believe it is in the best interests of their companies, and their shareholders, to invest in the knowledge base of their employees. They understand that brainpower is an imperative in creating new products and sustaining market share in their industries. These companies are fully committed to investing in training and education across the breadth of the work force. Lifelong learning is part of the culture."
The lack of newsroom-wide training was documented a decade ago by the Freedom Forum's report "No Train, No Gain." But in the current post-Jayson spate of newsroom navel-gazing, many journalists are looking beyond skills to cultures that either enable, or even encourage, dysfunctional behavior. That's where leadership comes in.
The Poynter Institute rounded up a group of editors and academics recently to discuss discussed "the standards and practices of newspaper journalism in the light, or shadow, of recent news scandals." Leadership and culture were on the agenda.
I know some of the people who were in the Poynter group and they are devoted to quality journalism so I don't want to disparage their dialogue or its results. But after three days of discussion, the group's conclusion about the role of newsroom leadership was hardly groundbreaking: "The top editors have a special responsibility to communicate that mission, both within the newspaper and outside it, and to lead the development and practice of standards that serve and reinforce that mission. Editors must actively seek feedback from readers and staff. Failures occur when editors are out of touch with either of these groups."
(I would add amend the last sentence to say that failures occur when editors are out of touch with any part of either of these groups, such as through a creation of a Rainesian star system in which only some reporters have access to the editor's ear).
I imagine that each of the Poynter group members knows the industry is in trouble and that each is committed in his or her own way to finding remedies, but I believe they also know, as does any one of us who managed a large newsroom, that change is a mulish beast, especially in an environment where risk is not rewarded.
The Readership Institute examined newsroom culture and mapped its characteristics to circulation. It found this:
"Newspaper readership has continued to decline for three decades despite extensive research into reader issues and many reader-growth activities at newspapers across the country. So from the outset of the Impact Study, the Readership Institute felt there must be an internal, organizational factor at play that was keeping newspapers from doing the things they knew they should do. The hypothesis was that culture would be linked ultimately to readership.
"This, in fact, proved to be the case. Impact research shows that newspapers with constructive cultures tend also to have higher readership."
Sadly, though, the bulk of newspapers don't have a constructive culture. Most, the Readership Institute found, have "an Aggressive-Defensive culture, where people are expected to approach tasks in forceful ways to protect their status and security" or a Passive-Defensive culture in which "people do what it takes to please others and avoid interpersonal conflict" and "managers rarely catch employees doing things right, but never miss when they do things wrong." Passive-Defensive cultures are commonly found in monopolies.
Newspapers are lousy at managing people. The Readership Institute found that 80 percent of respondents to a survey disagreed "that best practices in people management were in use at their newspapers," a finding the institute labeled "remarkable" and added: "It is unlikely that there are many other industries in the U.S. today where, as a whole, they have a similarly low self-report in this area."
I used to think, when I ran a newsroom in one of those cultures (and surely contributed to it), that change came from the bottom-up, that if I trained enough reporters or assistant city editors the newsroom would, over time, transform itself.
I was wrong. Yes, skills and behavioral training are important, very important, at all levels, but now I believer it's the managers - the top editors - who need the most training because they must lead the way, must create a culture of change and must model that culture through their own words and actions.
All of the topics the Poynter group discussed - Leadership and culture; Accessibility and accountability; Attribution and sourcing; Corrections and clarifications; Bylines and datelines - are key to maintaining journalistic standards and keeping public credibility, but none is more important to long-term change than leadership.
Scrolling the mags this afternoon, I found Hugh Hewitt of the Daily Standard singing - no, standing on the top of a bar stool shouting - the praises of columnist James Lileks, who writes for the Minneapolis Star Tribune but is better known in the blogosphere for his daily Bleat.
In between an effusive slathering of adjectives over Lileks - "laugh-out-loud writer," "mirth-inducing" and more - Hewitt offers a thought or two about my favorite subject: Making newspapers more interesting.
He taunts ed page editors with this: "Editorial pages are predictable, repetitive, and usually cranky. The worst among you think it is somehow daring and perhaps even courageous to run the fevers of Robert Scheer. The timid recoil at the thought of providing both Will and Krauthammer on a weekly basis for fear of turning the readers into members of the 'undead Halliburton Zombie Army,' as Lileks puts it."
Hewitt then charges at the heart of the matter - the inability of newspapers to change with the times, thereby guaranteeing that they fall further out of step with their markets.
"Newspapers … refuse to read the map that is in front of their noses. … The wise editor would instead allow the battle of the blogs to throw up champions and then ink them to multiyear commentary deals. MSNBC figured this out with Glenn Reynolds, but the ink-and-paper crowd is still busy debating whether they ought to dignify talk radio with coverage (even though that audience dwarfs their own). Horse-and-buggy editors can't even dream of learning how to navigate the cyber-pundits beyond Romenesko, the media critic at Poynter.org.
"Newspaper readers like me want newspapers to survive for at least a few more decades. To do that, the dinosaurs have to get out of the swamp. That means finding and printing the best writers and employing the best reporters."
Newspapers must embrace change. If they can no longer lead the news agenda, then they must follow their audience.
The Daily Standard The Bleat Goes On
In an email interview, she says her advice to newspapers is "don't be afraid of blogs." They can build Web site traffic and reader loyalty - as well as provide beat reporters with a creative and utilitarian outlet for news that doesn't fit into the newspaper. She adds:
"Reporters should be given the freedom to have a little personality in their blog(s), to link offsite, to post pretty much as they see fit. If they do a bad job, cancel it. But if you try to control it too much, the blog will not really be a blog -- it'll be briefs. Newspaper style briefs are boring. They don't have the same appeal and won't draw the same kind of crowd as a personality-driven insider's look at a given topic."
Personality. Identity. Interaction. A good blog has all of them. Newspapers don't' have enough. They seem like the perfect match.
JournalismJobs.com Interview: Michelle Nicolosi
Mark Glaser of the Online Journalism Review reports that local Web-only news sites “are moving in on editorial and advertising turf that was once a safe haven for newspapers.”
In the last decade, as online traffic grew and newspaper readership continued its decline, newspapers treaded the editorial waters wearing the axiomatic lifejacket that local news was too time consuming and too expensive for a Web-only company to do.
The news on these sites is the über-local – “snooze-worthy to the world at large,” as Glaser puts it – mix of Little League scores and sewer board stories that is the traditional franchise of small-town newspapers.
The newspaper industry has a lot to lose if these online startups can expand, as their publishers hope to do.
I summarized what’s at stake in a piece for the American Journalism Review about the difficulties small-town newspapers face in recruiting qualified staff: “Most newspapers in America are in places like Vacaville. Of the nation's 1,468 dailies, 1,250 have circulations of less than 50,000, according to Editor & Publisher. They have a combined readership of more than 17 million people – just under a third of all daily newspaper readers.”
Without the branded base of a newspaper from which to draw readers – and advertising – the publishers of these Web-only sites borrowed another page, so to speak, from their print competitors.
Says FultonDailyNews.com co-founder to Glaser: "We found the only thing that worked well was covering the news. For each spot news story, people talked about it, and we got a bump in traffic -- which stayed up. Word of mouth really works in small communities."
Listen up, newspapers.
I’m back after two weeks in Provence and Paris and, my waistline a little wider and my wallet a little lighter, I’m ready to forgive the French everything. Any country that loves butter, cream and wine as much as France does deserves a break.
I’m also ready to grab the last seat on the let’s-get-it-on-the-record bandwagon. Dick Rogers, the readers rep/ombudsman for the S.F. Chronicle, recounts a visit to the paper’s brass by a “senior administration official” whose background-only “comments were largely predictable and consistent with previous administration statements.”
I’m not so certain, says Rogers, “whether the deal was good for readers.” He continues:
“Readers may receive little from such deals, but senior administration officials stand to gain a lot. These are chances to spread the pro- administration gospel, perhaps to float trial balloons -- all without fear that anyone in the White House would be held directly accountable.
“By their commanding presence and often disarming style, they hope to co-opt journalists into an insiders' club where skepticism takes a backseat.”
Nicely put. Let’s get the sources – and the journalists – out of the shadows and back in front of the public where they belong.
UPDATE: Still reading in from vacation, and here's David Shaw of the L.A. Times: "I can think of no common journalistic shortcoming that is more threatening to media credibility than the overreliance on unnamed sources."
Dick Rogers The games newspapers shouldn't play
David Shaw Going on the record about those anonymous sources