February 27, 2004

Engaging Journalism

Read the exchange between Jay Rosen and Campaign Desk on Jay's blog. Not only is it a fascinating argument about the nature or journalistic authority, but, as I added the comments there, it's an impressive display of "the capacity and the desire to engage by all involved."

Imagine this type of interchange occurring -- and being made public -- before technology made publishing a multi-directional endeavor. Never would have happened.

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:26 AM | Comments (1)

The Business Case

Poynter just finished its conference on journalism and business values. Here are some highlights:

 Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Fine: She chastises the gathered executives for blaming their problems on others, including Wall Street. As Poynter's Bill Mitchell wrote: "Redefine what quality means. Get relevant."

 Portfolio manager Henry Berghoef: Quit your griping about reduced profits. Again, as Mitchell put it: "Realize that your business is not as good as it used to be, but it's better than most. … The local Internet franchise is yours to lose. Hold onto classified advertising or brace yourselves for a very different future."

 Tom Rosenstiel of the Project for Excellence in Journalism: He and Rick Edmonds are developing an ungainly named tool called the Newspaper Econometric Model that enables newspaper managers to measure return on investment. One finding, says Rosenstiel: "Greater newsroom expenditures are positively correlated with quality content, which is positively correlated with higher circulation penetration and higher revenues."

 Rick Edmonds of Poynter: Reports on efforts by the industry to "capture new audiences with niche publications," including a panel with Louis Sito, founder of Hoy [ Read: Hola Hoy ]. One fact: Quick, the free, fast-read spinoff launched by the Dallas Morning News last fall, "is distributing 140,000 free copies daily through racks, kiosks, and hawkers … with a return rate of less than 15 percent."

There is a certain amount of meandering in an attempt to be all-inclusive, as there seems to be at all Poynter sessions, but the online package is worth reading. The "business case," as the push for quality as a profit driver has come to be called, is stronger than ever, as is the need to continue to redefine what we mean by quality and how we can deliver it to readers.

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:38 AM

February 25, 2004

Dissection of a Resurrection

Philip Anschutz's infusion of cash into the moribund San Francisco Examiner (my old newspaper) hasn't yet revived the newspaper, but it has resurrected the voices of those once connected to the paper.

 Rob Morse, a longtime (and now ex-) columnist for the Examiner and later the Chronicle, writes in an essay for Grade the News: "If the death of any newspaper diminishes all of us, what can be said about a newspaper that goes from resuscitator to resuscitator and remains a daily of the living dead?"

 David Weir, a former editor at Salon and many other places who once waltzed with the idea of being an Examiner editor and not teaches at Stanford, welcomes the purchase. He writes in the Cardinal Inquirer, a campus paper, that "for informed San Franciscans, living under the tyranny of a one-newspaper monopoly these past few years has been a nightmare" because of the Chronicle's biased political coverage.

Weir does praise some of the changes at the Chronicle, including what he sees as a new-found freedom by beat reporters to go deep, but concludes by urging the Chronicle to hire a public editor ala Daniel Okrent because the paper's current ombudsman "is nothing more than an apologist for management."

The ombudsman, Dick Rogers, whose title is readers representative, responds in Romenesko's letters by noting that Weir's criticism of the Chronicle's coverage of the recent D.A.'s race failed to dislcose that Weir endorsed the candidate he felt was slighted by the Chronicle.

 Dave Burgin, the only man to hold the dubious distinction of having been editor of both the Hearst Examiner and the Fang Examiner, asks, also at Grade the News: "What does Mr. Anschutz really want?" Burgin's answer is, as always, creative:

"Well, he's quite a sportsman with all his basketball and soccer enterprises. He paid $20 mil for all he got from the Fangs, reportedly. That's chump change to this Denver gent. I say he wants to be a good San Franciscan, wants a voice in town, wants to be admired here, wants to own the 49ers and wants to build a new football stadium. You read it here first."

Burgin, who's never met a punch he wouldn't throw, tosses in a shot at the Hearst Chronicle:

"The old Chron also has been, well, revamped under Hearst management. Whatever the Chron brass' strategy is, it isn't clear. And it isn't good. No, I take that back. It is okay by eastern standards maybe, but it has lost its San Francisco flavor. It's no fun anymore. Un-clever. Un-San Francisco."

 Willliam Woo, a former editor turned professor and onetime part-time columnist for the Hearst Examiner, says he sees no redeeming journalistic qualities in Anschutz's purchase of the paper and it's time to kill it off. He writes:

"In the absence of any of these, it’s time to hold the wake, shed a few tears, toss down a drink or two and give the corpse a dignified burial. The old Examiner deserves to be put to rest."

Finally, proving that no one is more interested in news media stories that the news media itself, the Chronicle today profiles Bob Starzel, the longtime Anschutz associate who will run the renewed Examiner.

The story reveals three interesting facts about Starzel:

1. His father was a general manager for the Associated Press and for a time gave refuge to an AP reporter named William Oatis, "who had been imprisoned by Communist authorities in Czechoslovakia while covering that country in 1951."

2. In the 1960s, Starzel worked as a foreign service officer in Bogota.

3. In the '70s, Starzel went to work for Anschutz "trying to obtain mineral rights in Paraguay."

Let's see: Journalism, communism, Colombia, Paraguay. Sounds like Starzel has the right set of credentials for some San Francisco newspapering. Even Burgin might approve.

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:51 AM

February 24, 2004

Hola Hoy

The Tribune Co.'s Spanish-language tabloid Hoy will begin publishing Monday in Los Angeles -- the third leg of its strategy to compete in the nation's four largest Latino markets. It's already in New York, where it began as an offshoot of Newsday, and it expanded last year into Chicago. Look out, Miami!

The L.A. Times had a short story today, notable primarily for its lack of mention that the Times once held 50 percent interest in what will be Hoy's primary competitor, La Opinion.

The original Hoy was created by Louis Sito when he was an advertising executive at Newsday. I interviewed Sito a year ago for an American Journalism Review story. His passion for Hoy, and for a revival of newspapers, is infectious. I hope when he gets done conquering the country in Spanish he takes over a few English-language papers.

Here is Sito, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1961 at age 15, talking about how newspapers stood still while their markets moved on and what they can do to begin catching up:

“I have been in this industry for long, long time. I started at the Chicago Sun-Times as an apprentice printer in 1965. … I am in the Hispanic media for the last four and a half years. I am on a crusade on this thing. If you look at the general market properties (all across the country), something very interesting has happened. I am very critical of it. ... "

We were all, as an industry, asleep at the wheel. While we were trying to protect markets, while we were trying to protect our little niche publications, our customers changed dramatically and we have not adapted to the marketplace gracefully. ... "

"Look at most of the newspapers. They are boring, they are boring. What are we doing to attract new readers to a product that competes with the 24/7 coverage of news on the electronic media? We have to evolve into something that has more analysis, has more relevancy, has more educational punch to it, has more fun. It is obvious that the old formula hasn’t worked. It is obvious that the old formula is a recipe for disaster. If you look at our circulation levels across the industry, they go down every year. So we cannot be smug and say that because we have been here forever we are going to continue to be here forever. That is crazy. ...”

"We have to be more creative. We have to be more market savvy. We have to do more research into what the people who don’t read us expect or want from a publication. It doesn’t mean you have to pander. It means how do we create niche publications that attract large segments of our population that currently do not look at newspapers.”

Andale, Louis!

(Gracias to LA Observed for the heads up.)

 My previous posts on Hoy are here (partnering with Wall Street Journal), here (Tribune's rocky history with La Opinion), and here (how other companies like Belo and Knight Ridder are pursuing readers in Spanish).

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:01 PM

Scott Peterson Has Hijacked My Newspaper

Scott Peterson S.F. ChronicleWhen attorneys for accused family killer Scott Peterson won a change a venue from the his small Central Valley city of Modesto to the San Francisco Bay Area - apparently because the news media's carpet bombing of the case destroyed the ability of every sentient being in Modesto to independently reason - I thought, "Great, now, after avoiding stories on Peterson for more than a year, I'm going to be subjected to them daily in my local paper."

Sure enough. In these first 55 days of 2004, Peterson's name has shown up in the San Francisco Chronicle 54 times, including the off-lead story from today you see here, which seemingly merits front-page play because it reports on allegations made by prosecutors that Peterson lied -- to the news media.

In other words: It is a news media story about alleged lies made to the news media by a man whose notoriety depends solely on the news media. Accompanying the story, is a picture of the news media (in the person of Diane Sawyer) interviewing Peterson. Calling rhetoricians: Is there a word for this type of circular coverage? I call it informational incest.

The other day I wrote, in commenting on how mainstream journalists have lost or are confused about their sense of civic purpose, that they fill "the void with faux news."

In the same post, I cited five suggestions made by Eric Alterman and Michael Tomasky about how journalists could reclaim that purpose and take the initiative against what they call "journalism-related program activity." No. 5 was: "Don't let non-news organs drive the news cycle."

Sure, cover the Peterson case. Report on Kobe and Michael and Janet. But, let's use our own perspective, our own news judgment. As journalists -- not media personalities, not commentators, not hawkers, squawkers or gawkers -- let's develop our own news, set our own agenda and be driven by our own values.

Let's stop confusing media with journalism. Let's put Scott Peterson back inside the paper. I want my front page back.

 San Francisco Chronicle Earlier Peterson affair alleged by prosecutors

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:41 AM

February 23, 2004

Digital Democracy: Gillmor, Rosen and Jarvis

For those of us who weren't at the Digital Democracy Teach-In earlier this month in San Diego (part of O'Reilly's Emerging Technology Conference), we missed a terrific discussion on the changing nature of journalism led by Dan Gillmor, Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis.

Fortunately, a transcript (and streams) of the session -- Gatekeepers No More? The Grassroots Challenges the Journalist Priesthood - are online and well worth reading by editors and reporters who want to understand better how their roles and those of their readers are merging and forcing a redefinition of news, one that more resembles an ongoing, 360-degree conversation than the traditional us-to-them model of journalism.

Here are some highlights:

 Rosen: "Journalists think … we need to give people information so they can participate. But it is more likely that if people participate they will seek information. … Activity comes first, and journalists in this country made a big mistake long time ago when without realizing it they began not to care if people got engaged with the information, they cared only if they received the information.

This is a key concept that must be understood by newspapers, and especially by newspaper editors, if they are to retain their community relevance and authority. Interest is directly relational to involvement. Journalists need to follow more than lead. Truly listen to your community, and the content that will engage them will be clear.

 Jarvis echoes this while commenting on blogs: "As I look at this election, I think we have come through some very important and big changes. The first is that the audience has a voice. When I lecture people in my business about blogs … the first obligation we have I tell them is not to go writing blogs. We already do write. We already have a printing press. Now that people have a voice, the first obligation is to listen. The first obligation is to go read those blogs and see what the people are saying and what they care about, which may be very different from what we say they care about on our front pages."

 Rosen on amateur journalists (bloggers) vs.professionals: "Professionals may love their work, but they are doing if for a living. They can get paid. They can devote themselves for full time. The bloggers are at a disadvantage it many ways because they are not necessarily able to do that, but they have an advantage, which is they are doing it for love. Love of writing, love of participation, love of their community, and love of getting reactions from the 50 people who read their blog. That is a very powerful thing and … very practical thing and amateurs in that sense are a threat (to traditional journalists) not because they are going to take over a franchise, but because they have such different motivations for what they are doing and the root of amateur, the word, of course, is lover. People do it for love. That is a huge thing."

 Gillmor on the economic threat: "Amateur participatory grassroots journalism … is not the threat from my perspective to big media that is the most serious one. … It is eBbay, which is the world's largest classified advertising site. … We're being picked apart, nibbled away at by people who want all of the discrete revenue streams of the big media and who do not really need the margins that the current big media enjoy, and that may be the bigger threat."

 Rosen on journalism and authority: "Journalists in their minds have always represented us, the big public, with the insiders in trying to get them to speak the truth. But for a long time people in the public have seen journalists as themselves insiders and this has worn away at their authority. And so for journalists, the problem is ... not they are mistrusted in some global way, but their authority to monopolize the news is eroding. … So, that is the challenge for the press right now, is to find a form of authority that is more interactive, more transparent, and more open."

Read the whole thing.

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:51 PM

February 22, 2004

Alterman and Tomasky's Wake-up Call

Eric Alterman and Michael Tomasky sense that the national news media is “starting to rouse themselves from their long torpor” in covering policy and politics, and proposes five things journalists can do to regain their standing as observers and interpreters of public life.

Their suggestions, made in this article in the American Prospect, reflect basic tenets of journalism, many of which have been trampled upon in the explosion of media, and although they were made with national politics in mind are easily translate to local news They are:

 Go beyond the "he said, she said" and tell us what you believe to be true and important about a story. In other words, to quote again from the 57-year-old Hutchins Commission report, A Free and Responsible Press: “It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.”

 Challenge the master narrative with genuine investigative reporting. Again, a journalistic basic applies: Challenge assumptions; don’t buy the party line (whatever the party).

 Show proportionality in covering controversies. Exercise some news judgment, reframe allegations of one side in the context of the larger debate, separate what matters from what is simply being said.

 A little solidarity on behalf of the truth, please. My favorite. It’s time for journalists to get mad, to unify against restrictions on the press and the flow of public information, and to openly resist – with words and actions – those who would redefine the First Amendment for their personal or political interests.

 Don't let non-news organs drive the news cycle. Excellent point. What Chris Matthews says is not reporting. Same for O’Reilly and Drudge. As journalists, we don’t have to repeat what they say. Nor do we have to report the name of a CIA agent leaked by an administration source. None of that is journalism. That’s all being played – and it’s time as a profession we relearned the difference and cherished it.

Alterman and Tomasky add that journalism’s finest moment in recent years occurred when the “profession experienced an all-too-brief injection of self-worth in the aftermath of the September 11.” They write:

“If journalists demonstrated the kind of tenacity in going after key political stories that they did during that brief shining moment, well, America will have an election worthy of the world's oldest democracy, and reporters and editors alike will be able to speak proudly of the charge given to them by its oldest written constitution: to protect and defend the public's right to know its leaders -- and to choose them wisely.”

These are lofty words and appropriately written to invigorate a profession that has allowed itself to be cowed into political correctness of all varieties – left, right and center – by a frameset of meta-messages that taint journalists as liberal pawns, conservative dupes or middle-of-the-road wimps. Taunted and attacked into stagnation, and therefore bereft of the serious purpose for which it, and it alone of all professions, is granted constitutional protection, journalism fills the void with faux news – Bryant, Jackson (both of them) and Peterson.

It’s time to start talking about what’s good about journalism and what can be done to make it better. It’s time to get off defense and take the offensive. It’s time, as Alterman and Tomasky put it, for the “ambitious men and women of the Fourth Estate to reassert their power and professional pride.”

 Eric Alterman Wake-Up Time

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:29 PM

More on the Examiner

An Editor & Publisher story on the purchase of the San Francisco Examiner by tycoon Philip Anschutz goes deeper into the deal. Some notes from the story:

 The Examiner is only one of four free newspapers in the deal. The Independed, a several-day-a-week throwaway (total market) distributes 360,000 copies in San Francisco and neighboring San Mateo County. Scott McKibben, CEO of the Examiner's parent company, said the Independent is the "largest non-daily newspaper -- newspaper, not shopper or Pennysaver -- in the United States."

 Together, the Examiner and the Independent, while journalistic embarrassments, succeed financially where the Hearst-owned Chronicle cannot -- household penetration. Mckibben again: ""This is an opportunity to come into a really great market, the fifth-largest in the United States ... that has one newspaper, that, while it's a good newspaper, quite candidly (its) household penetrations are such that the advertisers cannot achieve the penetrations they need to achieve."

 The Fang family, which bamboozled Hearst into essentially giving it the newspaper -- plus a $66 million subsidy -- when Hearst wanted to buy the larger Chronicle and needed for antitrust reasons to divest the Examiner, took the money and ran. "The perception that I have of the Examiner is that (the Fangs) tried to suck all, I mean all, the profits out of it -- even worse than our usually rapacious newspaper companies," said J.T. "Tom" Johnson, a journalism professor at San Francisco State University.

 The Chronicle, long maligned, may deserve another look, said Johnson. "One of the great turnarounds in American journalism is what the Chronicle has done with its paper," he said. "Many, many days there are breaking stories that we were not used to seeing in the Chronicle before. They're doing a much better job than the average newspaper in America."

 Editor & Publisher New 'Examiner' Owners: Expect Seismic Shift in Bay Area

Posted by Tim Porter at 10:39 AM

February 20, 2004

Frank del Olmo

I didn't know Frank del Olmo well. In fact, I only met him twice. Each time, though, he made me want to be a better journalist. He was smart, principled, passionate, well-spoken, funny and, of course, good at what he did -- all qualities journalism needs.

Frank dropped dead in the L.A. Times newsroom yesterday. He was 55. Read the Times' package on Frank. Honor his life with your work.

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:24 AM

Examiner Sale Examined

As expected, the San Francisco Chronicle, now led by Phil Bronstein, former editor of the S.F. Examiner, went big on coverage of the Examiner sale to tycoon Philip Anschutz.

The main story quotes the new chairman of the paper: "Philip Anschutz is committed to strengthening and building the Examiner newspaper."

It also quotes newspaper analyst John Morton saying that commitment will require money to make a reality. "He would have to put in tens of millions of dollars to create a paper that would be in a position to compete against The Chronicle," said Morton. "I can't imagine he's looking at this as a great business opportunity."

The L.A. Times story is more specific, saying "the papers at best break even on revenue of about $12 million a year" and quoting Morton as well saying Anschutz would have been better off buying a certificate of deposit.

And, Dean Singleton, who knows a lot about making money with newspapers while not investing in newsrooms, told the Times this: "Phil is a friend so I hate to say this, but I wonder if he had a senile moment or something. One of the rules of living in Colorado is that you never bet against Phil Anschutz, but this one just blows my mind."

So what does Anschultz, who the Chronicle reports "hasn't given a substantive interview since 1974," want with the Examiner?

Anschutz is politically and religiously conservative, and has financially supported measures and organizations that are anti-gay and crusade against "overly sexualized" magazines, the Chronicle reported. Could it be that Anschultz wants to establish a conservative media voice in San Francisco to cater to that part of the city who is not thrilled, for example, to see gay couples lining up by the thousands to married in City Hall?

Bob Starzel, a longtime executive for Anschutz and now chairman of the Examiner, hints at this when says, as the Chronicle put it, that the paper "will concentrate on local news, business and sports coverage, with an emphasis on neighborhoods."

"People in San Francisco live in separate neighborhoods, but to a degree they do not know each other that well," said Starzel, who lives in the outer Richmond district.

"Neighborood coverage" is a code phrase used by San Francisco's conservatives -- and, yes, there are some, enough, in fact, to rise up occasionally and elect one of their own mayor -- when they decry front-page stories about gay rights or the homeless. Conservatives, of the moderate variety, are generally thought to represent about a third of the San Francisco electorate and most live on the west side of the city, Starzell's neighborhood.

Perhaps Anschutz intends to take one of journalism's core tenets and give voice to those San Francisco conservatives, who regularly complain they are voiceless in the Chronicle.

Anschutz was waged a proxy campaign for decades against gays. What better place is there to make that battle more personal through the pages of a newspaper than in San Francisco?

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:10 AM

February 19, 2004

Examiner De-Fanged

The sale of the San Francisco Examiner to Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz ends a shameful episode in San Francisco newspapering characterized by greed, extortion and political cronyism.

Ironically, the end result may benefit the only constituency that really matters - the public.

In November 2000, the Examiner's then owner, the Hearst Corporation, paid what amounted to a $66 million bribe to a politically powerful local publishing family in order to receive regulatory approval to buy the larger, morning San Francisco Chronicle, which was at the time in a joint operating agreement the with Examiner.

Besides Hearst, the beneficiary of the deal was Florence Fang and her family, who published a free, all-local San Francisco paper that overtly supported San Francisco's flamboyant mayor, Willie Brown, who, in turn, hated the Examiner's management and had led the local charge against Hearst's efforts to buy the Chronicle, using the guise of preserving a two-newspaper community.

The Fang family essentially got the Examiner for free and a three-year, $22 million annual subsidy thrown in for good measure. The "new" Examiner was troubled from the start, blew through a couple of editors and eventually collapsed in a falling out between the matriarch of the Fang family and her son, who was publisher.

What remained was the Examiner bought by Anschutz - a five-day, free tabloid with a skeletal local reporting staff that shares content with some of the Fang family's other free newspapers.

It's hardly the robust, head-to-head, two-newspaper competition envisioned by opponents of the original deal. Nor has Hearst yet managed to fully convert the Chronicle from the publication ridiculed by Jason Robards (as Ben Bradlee) in "All the President's Men" into the "world-class newspaper" promised by corporate executives before the sale.

Will Anschutz's presence in the Bay Area media market change that? Do his interests extend beyond the financial? Will he invest in the Examiner's newsroom with the intent of challenging the Chronicle's somnolent dominance of the region?

If he does, then the Chronicle will be forced to respond and the winner will be local newspaper readers, who might unintentionally end up with a two-newspaper city despite all the past disingenuous efforts to prevent that from happening.

(Full disclosure: I was an assistant managing editor at the pre-sale Examiner.)

Update: The AP reports, citing undisclosed source, that Anschutz paid $20 million for the Examiner.

 Denver Business Journal Anschutz buys San Francisco newspapers
 San Francisco Examiner Examiner sold

Posted by Tim Porter at 12:31 PM | Comments (3)

February 18, 2004

Digital Journalism

I just get finished arguing that journalists should blog (see below) and I stumble across Chris "Back to Iraq" Albritton's blog about the digital journalism class he is teaching at NYU.

Not only does NYU think journalists should blog, it is teaching them how to.

Albritton is assigning his student to review and discuss various types of blogs as well as study Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo as a template for how to combine reporting and opinion.

Albritton says of Marshall: "He blogs his opinions, thoughts and speculations. That's fine. Just back up your final feature with hard reporting, and you'll be able to offer opinion and informed speculation more confidently."

I'm not sure I'm like the idea of combining speculation, informed or otherwise, with reporting, but I'm pleased to see NYU -- who journalism program is run by Jay Rosen -- to think beyond traditional formats.

(Thanks to Radio Free Blogistan for the tip.)

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:35 AM

Why Journalists Should Blog

All the hemming, hawing and the on-the-one-side-this and on-the-other-side-that-ing about reporters and editors having a personal blog is a waste of good oxygen.

The issue is simple: Journalists should not involve themselves in activities that compromise their integrity or cast doubt on their ability to maintain independence from those they cover.

This is a cross-platform principle that existed before blogs and applies to freelance magazine writing, weekend panels on PBS, the neighborhood newsletter, or whatever comes next after blogging. So, a political reporter, for example, shouldn't trash the mayor in a column, label him an idiot on TV, picket his house with local activists -- or call for his resignation in his blog.

Steve Outing examines this argument at greater length today in Editor and Publisher. If you read the article, be prepared for much handwringing.

The best point in the story was made by Andrew Nachison, director of the Media Center at the American Press Institute, who said, as Outing put it, "that blanket prohibitions by news organizations on personal blogging are too draconian for this Internet age." Said Nachison:

"To stifle your most creative and energetic staffers, who seek outlets for that energy through blogs or other creative work produced on their own time, will lead to only one thing: those highly desirable employees will seek work elsewhere."(Emphasis added)

Exactly. Newspapers need more creativity, not less; they need their reporters and editors to be more expressive, not less. Newspapers should do all they can to encourage their staff members to as creative as possible outside the office with the hope that this energy returns to the newsroom.

Blogging is writing. Blogging is photography. Blogging is communicating. These are all good things for newspapers.

UPDATE: Tom Mangan adds this on Prints the Chaff:

"Long ago I decided I'd avoid saying anything bad about my employer on my blog. ... Ever since then, though, it has grated on me to think: Wait a minute, aren't freedom of speech and freedom of the press basic human rights. ... And aren't newspapers the most ardent defenders of these rights -- not just for themselves but for the citizens they serve?

"And what does it look like when these champions of the press are saying to us: You can write anything you want so long as you OK it with us first? Isn't that a kind of prior restraint forbidden to governments?"

To this I add: What it makes them look like is defensive, fearful, paranoid and untrustworthy of the very employees upon whom they depend.

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:57 AM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2004

Polk, Clichés, Dice and More

Today's morning reading:

 New forms of journalism: The George Polk awards were announced today and the Center for Public Integrity got one for its online report, Windfalls of War, on U.S. contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan and military spending. If you haven't read the center's work, do so. It's doing the type of reporting once only reserved for the largest of papers, and now rarely found in even them.

 Cliché Collection: Tom Mangan, who can't keep busy enough blogging on Prints the Chaff, is seeking time-worn phrases for his new cliché-ridden (is that a cliché?) blog, Banned for Life. Tom is kind enough to include a list created by Ed Beitiks that I sent him.

 Shooting Dice: The editor of one Las Vegas newspaper accuses the owner of the other of using his newspaper to "to slap down business and political competitors and to bolster its own financial interests to the detriment of its readers and the profession of journalism." Good stuff.

 News and Ads as Components: A new survey finds that "69% of the largest 232 newspapers in the U.S. now offer the option of Web-only help-wanted advertising for employers, compared with 45% in January 2003." The business side is learning that the content produced news organizations - like newspapers - is not dependent on platform to be profitable. Now, the news side needs to learn the same thing journalistically.

 Circling the Drain: A Columbia University economist argues that the information sector is collapsing through devaluation. "It seems to have become difficult to charge anything for information products and services. … Much of world and national news is provided for free. A lot of software is distributed or acquired gratis. Academic articles are being distributed online for free. TV and radio have always been free unless taxed. Even cable TV, at 20,000 program hours a week, is available to viewers at a cost of a 1/10 of 1 cent per hour. Newspaper prices barely cover the physical cost of paper and delivery; the content is thrown in for free." He doesn't offer solutions, but I think the answer for journalists lies in producing high quality, ethical work that separates them from the imploding media mass. And, that means returning to and re-emphasizing core journalistic principles.

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:24 AM | Comments (1)

February 12, 2004

He Don't Need No Education ...

Pink Floyd might have been singing about Dave Weigel, a senior in Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism.

Weigel is completely disaffected with his Medill classes - at least the theoretical ones he mentions - preferring instead the more visceral satisfaction of editing the 5,000-copy Northwestern Chronicle, a student newspaper that bills itself as "one of the country's longest-running conservative college weeklies," but whose content seems less neo-con and more old-campus, albeit written with a modern overlay of sass. Here, for example, is the headline on a story about a sorority member who wants to raise student spirit: "They call her Ms. Football, How Sara Whitaker plans to raise school spirit, beat the flu, and put your ass in the bleachers." It's a fun read.

Weigel writes in his blog today:

"I'm mostly bitter about my remaining commitments at NU. After four years of disrespecting me and belittling my newspaper, the school is about to lose me. I am struggling through two final journalism classes, and while I enjoy my final political science seminar, the Medill classes are a pointless slog, full of busywork (MS Access tests, "media analyses" of November 2002 AIDS coverage) that is truly painful to sit through. And I don't speak lightly. Sitting through a lecture on the merits of South African journalism after having sacrificed 24 hours to produce an actual newspaper causes me pain. I grip my pen, capped, and jab it into my thigh so as to stay awake." (Emphasis added.)

I am not disparaging Medill's journalism program - and there certainly may be more to Weigel's discontent than is apparent from his blog - but his alienation from the school raises this question: Why is a young journalist like Dave Weigel, who seems reasonably smart, who certainly has energy, drive and desire, who's tech savvy, so unhappy with the journalism education he (or his parents) paid almost $30,000 a year for?

Is Weigel an anomaly? Should the school be concerned about the grumblings of one sleep-deprived student? Or does he represent a wider dissatisfaction among journalism school students, one that may be behind the reason so few of them actually go into journalism after education?

I hesitate to raise any question about the purpose of journalism education because there is no encompassing answer and it opens an irresolvable debate. I do believe, though, that journalism graduates should leave campus equipped with:

 Enough basic reporting and editing skills to step into a job and grow as they accumulate experience;
 A substantial amount of journalism history and theory, including an understanding of the ethical boundaries and civic purposes of journalism;
 Exposure to evolving forms of participatory journalism and awareness about how they are changing the traditions of the profession;
 And, most of all, a sense of vision and purpose about the journalistic possibilities that await them.

Does Weigel have all that? If he does, maybe he should quit complaining. If not, maybe Medill should listen to him.

 NYU: Zoned for Debate What's the Right Way to Train Journalists...Today?

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:05 AM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2004

Just the Facts ...

Tony Marcano, the ombudsman for the Sacramento Bee, touches on two often misunderstood journalistic issues in his current column -- "just the facts" reporting and the need for conflict in news stories.

Here's the email I sent him in response to the column:

Hi Tony ...

Interesting column today, two points especially:

First, the reader who suggested that Bush's comments about WMD's be put in the context of those made by earlier presidents or presidential hopefuls has a good point. Why not do that? Why not take the daily first rough draft of history and add some historical context?

I was think about this last night when I wrote about Paul Krugman's criticism of the Washington Post's story on the Bush budget -- which Krugman felt presented facts but not the "truth about the facts." Of course, Krugman has his own political agenda, but I thought his comments about context were valid -- and similar to the above presumably more conservative reader. (That post is here.)

Second, you're dead on about conflict as a driver for news stories. In fact, Andrew Cline, a former reporter turned egghead has put together a list of what he calls the structural biases of journalism. Conflict is one of them. although he calls it "narrative bias," the need to have a story with tension. Here's the rest.



(Tip via Ranting Profs)

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:35 AM | Comments (1)

Talk to the Times

New York Times ombudsman Daniel Okrent has started responding to readers online. As Jeff Jarvis said, it's not really a blog, but it is the beginning of a conversation with readers.

In one of his first posts, Okrent responds to Times reporter Stephanie Strom's comments on Romenesko that she doesn't want those pesky readers to know her email address. He writes:

"Speaking only for myself and not for The Times, I would prefer that all reporters and editors published their e-mail addresses. However, if some would rather communicate by telephone, that seems entirely fair -- but in that case they ought to make their phone numbers widely available. Judging from my own experience, it might make them flee to e-mail in a heartbeat. "

Keep talking, Daniel.

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:15 AM

February 10, 2004

The Truth About the Fact

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

This is where journalism finds itself – struggling to adapt to a universe of media in which core journalistic principles not only play an increasingly lesser role in defining the boundaries of “news” while also suffering the criticisms from within and without that only by re-embracing those basic tenets can the profession save itself from withering into irrelevance among a public for whom Michael Jackson is “news” and inequity, injustice and political chicanery are business as usual.

What hasn’t changed? The journalistic need to put the day’s events into an understandable context for the reader or the viewer. In other words, in the memorable quote from the 57-year-old Hutchins Commission report, A Free and Responsible Press: “It is no longer enough to report the fact truthfully. It is now necessary to report the truth about the fact.”

Nothing changes. Those are wise words, and they are still ignored by too many journalists.

In an interview with On the Media, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who dislikes sloppy reporting about as much as he does the current occupant of the White House, provided an example of facts reported without truth – mainstream newspaper coverage of the Bush budget that failed to explain the math behind the numbers. Reporters, said Krugman, simply didn’t do their arithmetic.

Referring to a Washington Post story on the budget release, Krugman said: “The first ten paragraphs were exactly as the White House media affairs would want them to be, and you didn't get substantive criticism until paragraph 26.”

Host Brooke Gladstone tossed Krugman this softball: “How much do you think that standard journalistic practice contributes to what amounts to misleading coverage?”

And he swung away: “I think it's partly standard journalistic practice. It's partly the – if the president says that the earth is flat, the news story at best says ‘Shape of the Earth Views Differ.’”

Krugman blamed the budget coverage partly on White House bullying and partly on poor preparation by reporters. He said:

“I think the point is when you see lines that say things like ‘critics say that the administration's forecast of cutting the deficit in half is unrealistic’ -- you shouldn't be saying that. The newspapers should say ‘the administration's forecast of a deficit of 230 billion dollars in 2009 omits 190 billion dollars of costs resulting from programs that the administration itself is advocating.’”

Regardless of whether you agree with Krugman’s position on the political wisdom of the Bush budget, he’s right about the journalistic weakness of that type of story.

Facts are everywhere these days. Context and understanding and truth are not. One reason for the magnetism of opinion masked as news is a public hunger for someone, anyone, to help them make sense of things. The same desire propels the popularity of bloggers, who offer their audiences, large and small, a point of view with which to interpret the facts (as well as the critical opportunity to engage with the author and their fellow audience members).

Must journalists then be advocates? No. As Krugman said:

“There's a difference between advocacy and simply describing the facts. So if you say that the improvement that is forecast in the deficit … relies upon Congress not renewing some expiring tax provisions which the administration has urged Congress to renew, then you're not being partisan in saying that. You're just saying -- look, this number here is not the number that would result from the administration's own policies. … We're actually just talking about arithmetic.”

I am sure someone will dismiss Krugman’s comments because of his political views or dismiss my agreement with him as Pollyannaish dreamings that don’t take into account the demands of daily journalism.

To you I say: Forget about the Bush budget. Apply the Hutchins Commission quote to your local newspaper. Do its stories about the city or school district budget go beyond a recitation of numbers and a comparison to them being greater or lesser than the year before? Does it seem as if the reporter who wrote the story understands financial principles? Did he or she even get the math right?

I was talking to a small-town reporter the other day about training and he told me his newspaper paid to send him to a workshop on basic accounting and financial reporting. Was it useful? I asked. Not really, he said, because he couldn’t understand the material. How is this reporter supposed to write an informative story on a company’s earnings if he can’t read a balance sheet? How can he have a substantive interview with a CEO, or even a city manager about a local budget.

Context derives from knowledge and understanding. The public needs it; journalists have an obligation to deliver it.

News is everywhere. That’s changed since Hutchins. Context matters more than ever. That hasn’t.

 On the Media Just the Numbers?

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:57 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2004

One Reporter's Lament

I'm in Washington, D.C., and wishing I wasn't because it's 20 degrees (yeah, I know I'm a California weather wimp), so filling in for me today is a reporter for a large Midwest newspaper who left the following comment on the Quality Manifesto, the original First Draft entry.

The other day I wrote that "newspapers are lost," meaning that the journalists who work for them are seeking direction and purpose for their work, so much of what has been diverted from the core goals of journalism. The reporter who left the comment echoed that theme. He wrote (all emphasis added):

"I have worked on newspapers for more than 30 years and have heard all the arguments about why newspaper readership has declined. Its my opinion that a segment of the population has lost interest in reading their daily news because newspapers have lost their mission: accurately reporting the news.

"There once was a time when newspaper staffs spread out and beat the bushes and came back with the very best and deepest reporting possible. Basic beat reporting resulted in fine reading. If you didn't, you were replaced.

"But in today's journalism, everyone has tried to take shortcuts. They have tried to compete with the flash of electronic media (unsuccessfully); they have ambitiously tried to compete with magazine reporting (with somewhat success but doomed due to shrinking news holes ); and they have attempted, through graphics and color, to brighten up pages (also with some success.)

"But in some cases, editors have also slotted out their news sections, coverage and display with such predictability that readers' eyes glaze over a product with such consistent, numbing sameness that pages and editions all blend together. No surprises. Little originality. Forget fire.

"There once was a common agenda on a news staff: reporting the news and putting advocacy and personal conflicts aside, including a publication's business interests. Today that has been replaced with a multitude of personal and political agendas. In some cases, such efforts are not only sanctioned and rewarded -- but mandated.

"Is it any wonder that ill-conceived concepts -- often by editors who have never been on the street with pencil and pad -- have served to chill and even kill the creative impulses and instincts of the youngest of reporters?"

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:42 AM | Comments (6)

February 07, 2004

Servant Journalism

Jeff Jarvis raises a question: Is political reporting really reporting? He answers: No, because “reporting is all about getting information the audience can't get … (and) most of the material that's reported is available to all of us on the Internet?”

While I think it’s fair to say that the concept of reporting extends beyond the delivery of information to the selection of information by the reporter – which, of course, many people in today’s disintermediated-minded world will argue is not a good thing – Jeff uses the widespread availability on the Internet of political source material to make an important point about the focus of political reporting: It’s backward.

“Political reporting misses the real story,” he says. “It needs to turn around and look the other way. The story isn't up on the stump; that's the obvious, easy stuff. No, the story is out in the hustings. The real story is the voters.”(Emphasis added.)

This is correct, and as a journalistic concept it addresses one of the news media’s – and particularly newspapers' because of their local nature – core weaknesses: Reporters tend to identify more with their sources than with their audience.

Along that line of thinking, I left the following in Jeff’s comments:

I interviewed someone from the Berkeley Media Studies Group last week for project about news media coverage of crime and violence and your comment that reporters need to do a collective about face from the candidates to the crowd reminded me of something that person told me.

She said that journalist Jane Stevens, who you might remember from your ink-stained past, says broadcasters need to “turn the camera around” when reporting on crime, particularly in communities with high rates of violence and reporters need to ask this question: “What’s happening in this neighborhood that leads to these situations that bring these news cameras here nightly?”

Journalists overly focus on institutions and institutional figures such as politicians to the detriment of the people those institutions were created to serve.

I have been rolling around the term "servant journalism" as a description of a type of reporting driven from the public up instead of the reverse. It is a way of doing journalism that seeks out, listens to and examines the voices of a community -- a literal or a figurative community -- and then bases its reporting on the needs of that community.



Posted by Tim Porter at 10:14 AM

February 06, 2004

Journalism and Political Purpose

While reading Geneva Overholser's argument in the New York Times today that columnist Robert Novak should give up his source on the Valerie Plame outing, I began asking myself:

If journalism has a political purpose, is it still journalism? And, if it is not, then where is the line drawn and who shall draw it?

Overholser argues that principles - in this case a journalist's right to keep secret an investigative source - "require defending even when they arise in an unappealing guise," which is why, for example, journalists should applaud Larry Flynt's efforts on behalf of the First Amendment even though they might find his character repulsive. [ Read: Intel Dump's analysis of Flynt's battlefield access for the press case ]

But, says Overholser, Novak isn't deserving of the application of this principle and fellow journalists should not pick up their pens on his behalf because "he apparently turned a time-honored use of confidentiality - protecting a whistleblower from government retribution - on its head, delivering government retribution to the whistleblower instead. Worse, he enabled his sources to illegally divulge intelligence information."

I rarely differ with Overholser [ Read: Naming Names ], but although I agree that Novak is the worst kind of journalist - one willing to compromise ethics for personal notoriety - I can't agree with either point of her argument.

First, divulgence of most "intelligence information" is illegal so the act of making public what the government deems to be secret should not disqualify Novak from journalistic protections.

Would Overholser make the same argument against Neil Sheehan, who won a Pulitzer in 1972 for reporting based on secret documents stolen by a former government employee? The documents were the Pentagon Papers; the former bureaucrat was Daniel Ellsberg.

Overholser's second point - that Novak acted as a government pawn - is more complicated and returns to the question I asked at the beginning: How much political purpose can be injected into journalism before it is no longer journalism?

(Note the difference between political purpose - the intent to influence policymakers or public perception - and politics - the desire to harass or enervate the opposition.)

There is no definitive answer to that question, but I do know that Novak's protections as a journalist should not be undercut by his predilections to be more of a player than a reporter because some day those same arguments will be used against other journalists whose work also has political purpose, albeit more high minded than Novak's.

Journalists who write about poverty, racial inequity, harsh treatment of immigrants and other subjects that address the legion of social and economic injustices suffered by the American underclass, are grouped already under the rubric "liberal media" and forced by the conservative framing of the national agenda into defensive positions. (Another question: Why is reporting on poverty considered to be "liberal"?)

Would Overholser argue that those journalists - the types of reporters who win Alicia Patterson fellowships or Casey Journalism Center fellowships or Ted Scripps fellowships in environmental journalism - don't merit invocation of the protect-your-source principle? Isn't there work inherently infused with political purpose - the desire to change for the better the conditions of the poor or battered women or the planetary ecosystem?

I don't mean to include Novak among the ranks of those journalists who believe their mission is to give voice to the voiceless, but I am not comfortable deciding which journalists are ethical enough or serious enough or publicly minded enough based a political litmus test. I certainly don't want the current gang of First Amendment bandits occupying Washington to be in the position - either judicially or through policy - to further arbitrate who is a journalist and who is not, and which deserve protection and which do not.

The journalistic umbrella is large and, because of technology advances and the ensuing emergence of bloggers and other forms of participatory journalism, still unfolding.

The most principled journalists must share their protections with the less principled or, speaking of more ethical practitioners, the more purposeful.

Overholser is correct in this sense: Journalists who disagree with what Novak did should not support him, but there are ways of doing that without weakening the journalistic safeguards that are already under broad attack in this country.

Don't run his columns. Don't reprint his assertions if they are unsourced. Don't add to his notoriety.

Novak had the right to name Valerie Plame. No one had an obligation to pass it along.

 New York Times: Geneva Overholser The Journalist and the Whistle-Blower

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:23 AM

February 05, 2004

Politics, News & the 'Net

More and more influential people - opinion leaders in social science parlance - are relying on the Internet for news about politics. Unfortunately, political news web sites are giving these readers "less original reporting" and more horserace coverage than ever before.

In other words, at a time when the capacity of the news media to influence greater numbers of people is on the rise, the sophistication of news it is offering that audience is on the decline.

I am sure mathematicians have a term to describe that formula - exponential degeneration? - but I would say it appears that the electronic offerings of news organizations are regressing to be mirror images of their print or broadcast forms. Given the institutional inertia of traditional news media, especially print, this seems natural, but regrettable.

The finding about opinion leaders comes from a George Washington University study on Internet. "The study found that online political activists are nearly seven times more likely than the average citizen to influence their peers when it comes to telling them … which politicians to support," the New York Times reported.

The survey of political web sites was done by the Project for Excellence in Journalism as a follow-up to a similar study done by the organization four years ago.

Here's the good:

"Sites have come a long way in offering users a chance to compare candidates on the issues - something almost entirely absent in 2000. They are also no longer merely morgues for old newspaper stories and provide more chance for users to manipulate and customize information."

And the bad:

"Yet the major Internet news sites make less use of interactivity, contain less original reporting, have fewer links to external sites, and offer fewer chances to see and hear directly from the candidates on their election front pages than they did four years ago."

And the ugly:

"Sites varied widely in style and content, and the organization was often confusing. Sometimes the richest sites were the hardest to navigate."

The study found "the content here is carefully sourced and documented" and consisting of primarily "traditional wire service and newspaper stories," but unfortunately it also found that "when looking at lead stories, the focus was on things like horse race, endorsements, staffing and tactical maneuvers, not on policy, record or biography." More specifically:

"In all, 80% were largely political in topic rather than revealing of the candidates character, record or positions. Four years ago, during a roughly similar period, the study found a slightly higher percentage of political topics in lead stories (85%).

"In contrast, only 2% of lead stories (just 3 out of the 138 studied) were largely about what the candidates were like as people (their record, personality, management style, biography).

"And only 4% of stories were about their positions on issues, their proposals or where they were promising to take the country."

"In the end," the study concluded, "there is a long way to go before the major news sites fulfill the promise of a truly new medium-offering interactivity, citizen involvement, and direct access to diverse sources of information."

Of course, it is no surprise that the content of most news web sites derives directly from the parent organization, as does their identity and personality. Original online reporting by traditional news media is rare, but it is changing - slowly.

Participatory journalism - blogging, interaction between news producer and news consumer and, increasingly, news maker - is growing and I suspect that when the Project for Excellence in Journalism does its study in 2008 web political coverage will look decidedly different.

 Project for Excellence in Journalism: ePolitics 2004 A Study of the Presidential Campaign on the Internet
 New York Times Survey Finds 'Opinion Leaders' Logging On for Political News

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:16 AM

Hoy, Journal Team Up

The Wall Street Journal will create a weekly eight-page insert of news and columns for Hoy, the Tribune Co.'s expanding network of Spanish-language tabloids.

This is another smart move by Louis Sito, who began Hoy in 1998 in New York, where it now has a circulation of 100,000. Last year, Hoy expanded into Chicago and this spring it is due to launch an edition in Los Angeles, taking on the venerable La Opinion, which has been forced to form its own partnerships in response to Hoy's expansion. [ Read: ¡Viva la Competencia! ]

Hoy's collaboration with the Journal buys it a level of credibility for national and international financial news and adds to my belief that Sito, the Tribune executive who is the force behind Hoy's expansion, may soon become, if he is not already, the publisher with the largest circulation in the nation's fastest growing demographic.

After its launch in Los Angeles, Hoy will publish in three of the four largest U.S. Hispanic markets. The fourth is Miami. Tribune owns two newspapers in central and south Florida - the Orlando Sentinel and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, each of which publishes its own weekly Spanish-language edition. It seems to be only a matter of time before Sito and Hoy move into Florida.

The larger lesson Hoy offers all U.S. newspapers involves adaptation to market. There are untapped audiences out there for daily news - some of them are young, some of them prefer electronic over paper editions, and some of would rather read in Spanish than in English. All it takes to attract these readers is vision, will and, of course, investment - in a other words, innovation and risk.

 Washington Post Journal Will Produce Insert In Spanish
 American Journalism Review Dismantling the Language Barrier

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:24 AM

February 03, 2004

Ribbing the Press Corps

Here is a transcript of an interchange between President Bush and the White House reporters at the Nothin' Fancy Cafe in Roswell, New Mexico. Appropriately, considering the location, it seems other-worldly. The "conversation" begins"

THE PRESIDENT: I need some ribs.
Q Mr. President, how are you?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm hungry and I'm going to order some ribs.
Q What would you like?
THE PRESIDENT: Whatever you think I'd like.

Read it all and decide for yourself what this says about the nature of the White House bear. (Thanks to sylloge for the tip.)

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:15 PM

Don Bolles, Bonnie Fuller and the Boob

I spent a couple of hours yesterday talking about journalism and civil liberties with a few people, among whom was a reporter who has won two Pulitzers.

At one point, this reporter mentioned Don Bolles, the Arizona Republic reporter who was murdered by a car bomb in 1976 in retaliation for his investigations into organized crime in that state.

Bolles' assassination provoked a response in the year-old group, Investigative Reporters and Editors, which, under the direction of Bob Greene, then an AME at Newsday, organized the Arizona Project, a cooperative reporting effort by 38 reporters from more than 25 newspapers and TV stations who had one goal: Not to let Bolles' work die with him.

The Arizona Project produced a 23-part series on organized and crime and corruption and cemented IRE's place in the forefront of American investigative journalism.

When I got home yesterday evening, still thinking about the combination of passion, skill and sacrifice that made the Arizona Project possible, I clicked on Romenesko and, lo, there was an item about Bolles. The Newseum has acquired Bolles' bomb-damaged Datsun sedan (which apparently - correct me if this is not right - has been in police impound these last 28 years.)

Above the Bolles item on Romenesko, in the page's lead slot, was a link to a speech by "supermarket tabloid queen" Bonnie Fuller to APME board members reminding them that "celebrities are fun" and that "if you want to publish for the next generations you have to accept that graphics and format are extremely important in relating to them."

I can't say exactly why, but Fuller's presence before the APME made me mad.

Maybe it was the "yeah, duh-ness" of that advice - graphics and format are important, let's remember that - but it was also the comment by one APME board member that Fuller's remarks are "another wake-up call" for newspapers.

Wrong. The alarm you hear ringing is not emanating from Fuller's grad-school guidance (have a dominant element on Page 1, for example), but instead from APME board members, who must feel they, and the newspapers they run, can learn something valuable about journalism from Fuller.

Wrong again. Newspapers need more Bolles, not more Bonnie.

I've got nothing against "celebrity journalism" - although I believe that particular phrase is self-canceling - because newspapers need to entertain as much as inform, but - and this is the important part - what distinguishes newspapers from all other forms of media is their capacity to report and ability to deliver in-depth, contextual news that enables their readers, their communities, to engage responsibly in civic life.

Once I wrote:

Quality sells. Relevance matters. The real lesson both the newsroom and the boardroom need to learn is that, in the age of the 24-hour scroll, the micro-fragmentation of electronic media, and the constant clamor for a news consumer's attention by everyone from the New York Times to yours truly, all that's left is the journalism. [ Read: There's Nothing Left but the Journalism ].

I believe the above is more true than ever. I told someone the other day during a similar conversation about civil rights and the role of journalists in guaranteeing their preservation that I thought newspapers are lost, confused, that is, about their civic identities and unsure about which direction to follow to recover that missing purpose.

The road to recovery does not lead by the checkout stand at the supermarket. That route is already jammed with celebrity journalism and celebrated journalists. Sure, reporting on celebrities grabs the attention of readers and enlivens the newspaper, which is a good thing because the only thing worse than a newspaper that is irrelevant is one that is both irrelevant and dull, but editors need to keep in mind that the reputation - and therefore the impact and the relevance - of their newspapers rises and falls on the quality of their own reporting.

Today, the papers are filled with stories, photos and columns about the tempest in a D-cup over Janet Jackson's exposed breast. Where, you're asking, do you play that story?

It depends, I say, on who you've got to write it. If you're the San Francisco Chronicle and you have Tim Goodman, who can snark with the best of them, put it on Page 1 as the Chronicle did. Here's a sampling of Goodman:

"Yes, clearly the boob thing and Nelly's crotch-grabbing didn't fit in with the Super Bowl ads touting long-term erections or Budweiser's guy- friendly misogyny, bestiality and flatulent horses. Somebody has to stand up for standards."

Short of that, give it a tease and save the local ink for something else.

I am not arguing for less celebrity news - less Bonnie - although I do believe that because we as a nation over-consume fluff news with the same voracity that we devote to fast food, our national attention span has been reduced as dramatically as our collective waistband has been widened.

Instead, I say keep some Bonnie, but get more Bolles - more serious work that is unique to each community, more reporting that lets government know someone is watching on behalf of the public, more concern about the quality of schools, the fairness of the judicial system and the responsiveness by the elected to the needs of the electorate. More of all that.

That's journalism. That's all that's left for newspapers.

 AP Mag Maven Fuller Dishes Celebrity News
 San Francisco Chronicle: Tim Goodman FCC inquiry, uproar over Super Bowl halftime peepshow

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:18 AM | Comments (3)