May 28, 2004

Online News: 7 Lessons for the Future

Dan Froomkin, who writes the daily White House Briefing for, writes for the Online Journalism Review and outlines seven things online news operations - most of which are still newspaper-based - can do to become "central players on the Internet."

 Integrate print and online: "It's time for a whole new round of serious conversations between online and print editors to get newsrooms to move to the next level and make exploiting the technological and journalistic possibilities of the Internet -- not just its news cycle -- a part of the newsroom culture," says Froomkin. He urges webby versions of print stories, URLs attached to stories, more multimedia and FAQs and backgrounders to deepen the context online.

This is absolutely right. Most newspaper web sites are little more than 1024 x 768 versions of the printed page - with wire feeds and archives added. At minimum, every staff-written story online should be loaded with links. Almost none are.

 Learn from blogs: "Consider if you were starting a "newspaper" today. Wouldn't you want to facilitate exchanges with readers? Wouldn't you want to encourage your readers to find out more than what you can publish? Wouldn't you want to make it easier for them to take action? Wouldn't you want to define and create a community? Wouldn't you want to make your readers feel important? Blog tools give you all that -- not to mention the ability to easily and quickly post something you just found out about. (What could be more journalistic?)"

Blogs enable newspapers to fulfill one of the Readership Institute's key mandates - connecting with readers and making the newspaper something they can "experience" and not just read.

 Get geographic: "The most compelling attraction for local users, of course, is something that only local newspapers have: extensive, accurate, very local information. Supplement that with genuine local voices, and you've got a lock on the market."

Froomkin says online content needs to be "geo-coded" so readers can get as local as they want for news, services or entertainment information.

 Serve the audience: "We need to aggressively and visibly use the best tools of print and Web journalism. Our best, most important work should feature compelling narratives, visual story-telling, interaction with the authors and newsmakers, and Web tools that encourage and harness citizen action. Don't just put a big serious thing out there in big fat text parts (with a few links and maybe a poorly captioned photo gallery) and expect to make a splash online."

When the online audience self-selects news, it heads toward what Froomkin identifies as the "zingy, scandalous, outrageous" content. That's the playing the field and serious journalism has to be presented in formats that can compete in that environment without undermining its importance.

 Better tools and support: "The dirty little secret of online is that you build what you can. These days, most online news sites are technologically so behind the curve that we can't build anything close to what we want."

Newspaper companies are notorious late adapters of technology. Little is more anathema to most publishers than an increase in capital spending.

 Sell, sell, sell: "When it comes to advertising, online news sites have always been fairly slow and not always competent trend-followers."

Look for ads that target information seekers, says Froomkin, and get those display ads online as well as in print, especially the local ones. Don't let Google take over the franchise.

 Take a risk, have fun: "Many established news organizations have made a religion out of careful incrementalism, and it generally serves them well. … But online news managers should be constantly asking their staffers for big, new ideas."

Not only do too many online news sites mimic their paper siblings, but they have adapted the paper's risk-averse culture as well. Cultural change has happened in reverse - the new media picked up the personality of the old. Be bold, not old, says Froomkin.

 Online Journalism Review: Dan Froomkin Ideas for Online Publications: Lessons From Blogs, Other Signposts

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:16 AM

May 27, 2004

Anonymous Mess

An one-the-one-hand-but-on-the other-too Editor & Publisher story reporting reaction to the New York Times' WMD mea culpa -- much of which lamented the paper's use of anonymous sources -- contained this paragraph:

One editor at a leading daily, who requested anonymity, said simply, "I don't know how Judy Miller can walk into the building today."

This is the ultimate ironic icing on a rotten cake. Have we journalists become so reliant on unnamed sources that even when we report a story about them we rely on them? Apparently so.

Hello E&P. Pick up the clueless phone. It's ringing.

(Thanks to Romenesko, who had this gem in his letters.)

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:15 PM

May 26, 2004

The Lesson from the Times

UPDATE: Howell Raines takes offense at the notion that Times editors under his watch "felt pressured to get scoops into the paper before the necessary checking had taken place" and argues (correctly, I add) that it is "unfair to single out Judy Miller, even in a blind reference, or to cite individual stories by other reporters without drawing aside the veil of anonymity around un-bylined editors who worked with them." He then names the editors.

Read it all on Romenesko.

EARLIER: The unsigned editors' note in the New York Times today about the flaws in its pre-war coverage contains one elemental lesson for journalists -- especially for newspapers concerned about credibility -- the quality of reporting cannot be separated from the nature of the sources.

Jack Shafer from Slate, who led the charge that the Times' reporting -- and that of Pulitzer-winner Judith Miller in particular -- on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction favored the view of the Bush administration and Iraqi dissidents who were using assertion of WMD's as pretext for war. In his column yesterday, Shafer focuses on the sourcing lesson:

The lesson of Wen Ho Lee, obviously not digested by the newspaper, is that a reporter should never get too close to a biased source. The danger is compounded when the reporter then talks to a second biased source whose source, unbeknownst to the reporter, comes from the ranks of the first biased source. What looks like corroboration is just confusion—or worse, a scam. From the poison tree comes poison fruit. (Emphasis added)

Anonymous sources are the bane of good journalism. They do nothing to help reverse the decline of journalistic credibility and provide opportunity after opportunity for those sources who see journalism as a self-serving tool to wield that too to suit their own purposes.

As Geneva Overholser has pointed out on many occasions, policies attempting to limit the use of anonymous sources -- or at least force reporters and editors to explain to readers why their using them -- have had mixed results.

Anonymous sources are necessary. Some are whistleblowers who ring the alarm of wrongdoing, others point the way through the bureaucratic labyrinths of government to documents that are better made public than kept hidden. Using unamed sources to identify fact and provide documentation -- in other words, a verifiable result -- is not only acceptable but laudable.

However, relying on anonymity as a source of assertion, especially if the only verification is that of a second or third unnamed source, damages the profession and undermines its core values.

Journalism's first obligation is to the truth. So wrote Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach in "The Elements of Journalism." The truth flourishes in the light and withers in the dark. If the only way to tell a story is to hide the identity of its source, then perhaps it is better left in the dark.

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:44 AM

May 20, 2004


I'm living on airplanes for the next few days. I'll be back next Wednesday. Until then, take a look at the Best of First Draft:

 The Quality Manifesto: What started it all.

 Journalists Overpaid? Nonsense: There are many reasons newsrooms have disconnected from the communities they cover, but overly fat paychecks is not one of them.

 No More Whining: He's wrong that penurious publishers are to blame for readership woes.

 Eliminating the Bimbo Factor: I practiced journalism, but I knew almost nothing about it - although I thought I did.

 Would You Pay a Nickel to Read This?: In the world of online newspapers (and other media), the debate over whether to charge for content (more revenue) or not (more readers) draws well-reasoned and emotional commentary from both sides.

 Newspapers Disrupted: "When you realize this newfangled thing is stealing your business, and you aren't sure how to get it back."

 How Journalism Went Bad: Reading writer Michael D'Antonio's thoughtful essay on the demise of traditional journalism (print and broadcast) in the L.A. Times reminded me of the Woody Allen line about death: "It's not that I'm afraid to die, I just don't want to be there when it happens."

 Time for a Leadership Tuneup: 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.

 There's Nothing Left but the Journalism: 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.

 The Journalism of Complacency: Tim Rutten, who was completely wrong about Daniel Okrent (see my comments here and here), noses about for the roots of journalistic evil and finds it to be money - that is, the relative affluence of reporters and editors, at least those in larger news organizations. He's half-wrong again - but inadvertently landed on a point worth making.
 ASNE's Diversity Study: Looking for Answers: Why do America's newspapers remain so white despite 25 years of effort to have them be more reflective of the communities they cover?

 Money, Money, Money: The salary gap widens between the boardroom and the newsroom

 New Readership Study: Culture Counts: A new study by the Readership Institute - released at the ASNE convention - focuses on attracting younger and more diverse readers to newspapers and on overcoming the internal cultural barriers that inhibit innovation.

 Applied Talent: Howell Raines was right about one thing (at least) -- what counts is how much talent is at work, not how much is in the building.

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:47 PM

May 14, 2004

Forget the Beast, Go After the Ducks

My latest column for Tomorrow's Workforce focuses on efforts to provide support and training to newsrooms' most critical component -- middle managers.

Here's the beginning:

The old San Francisco Examiner had a newsroom culture that was equal parts Sun Tzu, Homer Simpson and Hunter Thompson. When I became metro editor, my management training consisted of this advice from a predecessor: “This job is like being nibbled to death by ducks. Don’t let them get to you.”

That was many years ago, and the old Examiner is gone. But the ducks are thriving in newsrooms across the country, biting the ankles and nipping at the shins of front-line editors, quacking up a storm about budget lines, weekend shifts, seating arrangements, the company car and so much more, distracting those editors from what they were hired to do: Good journalism.

It’s not a fun place to be, in the middle. Bosses want long-term vision converted to daily reality. Reporters have needs and idiosyncrasies. The news beast is ravenous around the clock.

These editors – the department heads, the assigning editors, the copy desk chiefs – have the hardest jobs in the newsroom. In most cases, they receive the least preparation to do them well.

Read the rest here.

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:45 AM | Comments (1)

May 13, 2004

Must Reads

Don't miss these posts in other blogs:

 NewsDesigner on how the Dallas Morning News handled the Nick Berg decapitation photos -- none in the news section, but the severed head on the editorial page.

 Jeff Jarvis on the Berg photos: "I've been holding an internal debate on the use of photos in all the cases the Dallas editorial cites: the old, print editor in me is fighting with the new, transparent blogger in me. The blogger is winning. It's important for us to know what is happening in Iraq."

 Leonard Witt pointing to a Jay Rosen interview on Minnesota Public Radio in which he says bloggers who are credentialed for the Democratic convention should report as citizens and not try to replicate professional journalists. Jarvis adds: "Do not cover anything we can see on TV: not a single speech."

 Witt (again) on classism and racial diversity in newspapers.

 Dan Gillmor reporting that Larry Kramer, head of CBS Marketwatch, says Google News is not journalism.

Posted by Tim Porter at 10:35 AM | Comments (1)

Money, Money, Money

Dave Cole, a newspaper industry technology consultant, tracks the compensation of newspaper company CEOs and publishes an annual update in his newsletter News Inc.

News Inc. is a subscription product, but Dave said I could share some of his research. The chart to the right is a sampling of what Dave pulled from company proxies for fiscal 2003

newspaper executive compensation, 2003Of course, these salaries (which don't include valuable stock options and equity grants - see News Inc. for more on those) are not as outrageous as compensation packages granted executives in other industries, and they must be viewed in the context of each company's financial performance.

(For a good example of executive compensation measured against financial performance, see this report and chart in USA Today, which was based on data compiled and analyzed by San Francisco proxy advisor Glass Lewis & Co., for whom my wife is an executive.)

For example, Junck of Lee Newspapers was awarded a $325,000 raise in 2003 (24 percent), while the company profit fell 4.8 percent and shareholder return fell 17 percent from the end of fiscal 2002 to the end of fiscal 2003. That's not much of an investment for shareholders.

Even more important is the the gap between rank-and-file newsroom salaries and those in the executive offices. Dave Cole calculated that "when you trim off the biggest and smallest companies, it appears that the 'average' newspaper company chief executive gets about $1.6 million a year." By comparison, the average salary for a reporter working under a Newspaper Guild contract in 2002 was $43,818. The CEO-to-reporter pay ratio in this case is 36 to 1.

(Of course, non-union journalists and those working in smaller papers earn much less. The University of Georgia's annual survey of salaries obtained by their graduating journalism found the average starting wage in 2002 to be $26,000 - a 61-to-1 pay ratio from the boardroom to the newsroom.)

Again, these ratios are much lower than the national average - 301 to 1 in 2003 - but poor salaries are one of the top reasons that good journalists leave the business as well as one of the major hurdles to attracting the best and brightest college graduates.

Dave Cole asks the question that deserves to be answered: "In the six years I've been keeping these records, that means that the average newspaper CEO compensation has increased 47 percent, even after compensating for inflation. Did your salary go up 47 percent in the last six years?"

Before corporate boards award more salary increases to news company executives, perhaps they should also answer these questions: Has circulation increased? Is readership on the rise? Is the quality of the newspaper improving? Has the staff of the newspaper become more diverse? Have news executives demonstrated an ability to innovate? Has newsroom attrition declined?

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:45 AM | Comments (2)

May 11, 2004

Free Press and Faux Journalism

The first duty of a free society is stand vigilant against those who would remove its freedoms. So it is also with a free press.

The public's right to know is under attack in the United States, sanctioned by congressional law, judicial fiat and executive disdain, and applauded by a public grown weary of the puffery of television news and the mediocrity of most daily newspapers or confused to the point of disinterest by the rise of faux journalism and its exploitive use of journalistic values to cloak personal or partisan interests.

That's why I was thrilled yesterday to see two prominent news executives fight back, to call for a staunching of the loss of freedoms and urge a recommitment to the values and ethics that separate actual journalists from those who just play one TV.

Tom Curley, president of the Associated Press, an organization not ordinarily associated with editorial leadership or progressive thinking, proposed a plan to create a media advocacy center in Washington to lobby for open government. He said in a speech:

"The government is pushing hard for secrecy. We must push back equally hard for openness. I think it's time to consider establishment of a focused lobbying effort in Washington." (Emphasis added)

Curley said Attorney General John Ashcroft has reversed "the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act." He said:

"The essence of the FOI Act is that government information is open and accessible to the public unless there is a very good reason to keep it secret. But under the attorney general's directive, department heads were told they should treat government information as secret unless presented with a very good reason to make it accessible. The agencies eagerly complied. Up went the barriers. Down came the official Internet sites and document databases." (Emphasis added.)

Curley also cited the recent incident involving U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who refused to allow reporters to record a speech in Hattiesburg, Miss., and ordered U.S. Marshals to erase reporters' voice recorders. The AP and Gannett filed suit in that case today.

Journalists need to abandon their pretext of impartiality and fight back, said Curley.

"I know that some in the journalism community would strongly disapprove of a project of this kind. They believe the role of journalists is to remain strictly impartial, and that express backing for even the best intended legislation would compromise that role. I respectfully disagree.

"The objection reminds me a little bit of the saying about the man who was "so broad minded that he wouldn't take his own side in a fight." A fight is what this is. A fight is what our system of government intends and expects it to be. (Emphasis added.)

Joining Curley on the offensive is Los Angeles Times Editor John S. Carroll, who, in a speech at the University of Oregon, attacked the "rise of pseudo-journalism in America." The college's campus newspaper quoted Carroll:

"All over the country there are offices that look like newsrooms and there are people in those offices that look for all the world just like journalists, but they are not practicing journalism. They regard the audience with a cold cynicism. They are practicing something I call a pseudo-journalism, and they view their audience as something to be manipulated." (Emphasis added.)

Carroll singled out Bill O'Reilly of Fox News' as one of a "'different breed of journalists' who misled their audience while claiming to inform them."

It is the belief in and adherence to the ethics of journalism that separates the real from the faux in the field - and these ethics are as equally important to a free press as freedom itself because without them the public has no way of distinguishing truth from propaganda.

Newspapers in particular have an obligation to protect a full and robust interpretation of the First Amendment by government and the courts because they are the nation's largest news-gathering institutions and on many local levels often are the only source of original reporting.

For journalists, it is time to take sides - to be for openness and against secrecy, to be for higher standards and against mediocrity, to be for depth, context and an informed public and against information that is sliced and diced to fit a specific political or social agenda.

To use, again, a quote someone left in my comments the other day: "Where there is no sunlight many cruel habits grow and are accepted as normal ..."

It is time be for sunshine - in our government and in our own profession.

 Tom Curley The Hays Press-Enterprise Lecture
 Oregon Daily Emerald (Univ. of Oregon) Esteemed journalist lectures on ethics

Posted by Tim Porter at 08:30 AM | Comments (1)

May 09, 2004

Going Public in Baltimore

The Baltimore Sun names its first public editor, Paul Moore, formerly the paper's Page 1 editor. He cites Cool Hand Luke in his first column.

Posted by Tim Porter at 06:00 PM

Generation Thumb

Newspapers have gotten their inky butts kicked by television, the Internet, talk radio and shouting pundits. The next boot on the back page appears to be coming from text messaging.

"The growing 'thumb generation' posed the greatest new challenge to traditional media, with cell phone text messages conveying news, rumors and gossip, said Pedro J. Ramirez, editor of Spain's El Mundo," reported Eweek.

Of course, this is all about chasing the mirage-like "young reader," who, according some massive Italian study, dislikes newspapers for "using arcane language, rehashing crime stories already seen on television and wasting space by reporting on reality TV shows."

All good reasons for not reading, but I say let the generation thumb be generation dumb if they want to be. There are millions of adult non-readers for newspapers to chase -- and be caught -- with quality local journalism.


Posted by Tim Porter at 05:49 PM

Abu Ghraib: National Press Takes a Pass

Mike Getler, the ombudsman for the Washington Post, examines the Post's coverage of the reservists-gone-wild prison story and concludes the paper "did indeed seem to hesitate to put the story on the front page" even after 60 Minutes gave the American public - and Congress - the first look at their tax dollars at work in Baghdad.

The Post's post-60 Minutes story ran on April 30 - a day after the broadcast - and, says Getler, "carried two of the most shocking images shown by CBS. Yet it was placed on Page A24, and the only clue on the front page was a one-line reference that said, 'Iraqi prison gets new commander as part of probe,' which some readers said was so casual as to be misleading." Getler continues:

"I do not, at this point, have answers to why The Post was slow off the mark on this story other than points I have raised in other columns. One is that war, including the period before it starts, requires alertness at all times and to all angles of the news. That's a high hurdle, but there is no bigger story. The other is that there needs to be timelier investigative reporting. The clues were there four months earlier, on the public record, and they were put there by the military." (Emphasis added).

When I wrote about Abu Ghraib the other day, I said "newspapers must be more aggressive" in their journalism order to "differentiate themselves from the crowd" of media.

Connie Coyne, the reader advocate at the Salt Lake Tribune, echoes that sentiment, saying "reporters in Baghdad and Washington (made) "a poor effort in chasing the story" when the investigation was first announced in January. She continues:

"The Washington press corps has been accused in the past of having a pack mentality -- that they pursue only what they all perceive to be a story or what they can easily get without ticking off their sources and denying themselves access for other stories. That could be the case in this investigation. Or they could be less intelligent than they are given credit for." (Emphasis added).

Hindsight is wonderful, and as I get older I try to resort to it less frequently because every day there's more of it. I don't know why reporters for the New York Times, the Post and others in Iraq and Washington didn't ferret out the story and 60 Minutes and Seymour Hersh did. But I do know journalists need to do better. The first duty of a free press is vigilance toward those who would hide the truth from the society they both govern and serve.

As one person put it so well in my comments: "Where there is no sunlight many cruel habits grow and are accepted as normal ..."

 Washington Post: Michael Getler The Images Are Getting Darker
 Salt Lake Tribune: Connie Coyne Photos aren't the most shocking part of abuse story

Posted by Tim Porter at 05:29 PM | Comments (2)

May 07, 2004

Abu Ghraib: 1,000 Words

 "… new details from the Army's criminal investigation into reports of abuse of Iraqi detainees …

 "… U.S. soldiers reportedly posed for photographs with partially unclothed Iraqi prisoners …"

 "… the Army's Criminal Investigation Division has focused on these pictures, which may depict male and female soldiers."

 "… there are 'credible reports' that there may be photographs of the alleged abuse."

The above was reported by CNN on Jan. 20, more than three months before 60 Minutes broadcast the Abu Ghraib photos and Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker on the extent of the abuse.

Three days before the CNN report, on Jan. 17, the New York Times reported from Washington that "the top American commander in Iraq has ordered a criminal investigation into allegations that detainees at the sprawling Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad have been abused by American forces."

No details of the abuse were reported and the Times didn't run another story on the investigation until May 1, two days after the 60 Minutes report.

Vaughn Ververs raises this question in the "The episode did get us thinking once again about how news becomes news."

I don't agree with Ververs that "there is more than a bit of false outrage on the part of those involved, as well as the media, about the whole story," but his question is valid, as is the answer he supplies: The abuse at Abu Ghraib became a big story when 60 Minutes broadcast the photographs. He writes:

"There is no way to overestimate the impact that visual images have on our world. Still photos or video, we've now reached the point where nothing happened unless it was seen on TV." (Emphasis added.)

That is, of course, correct for the more-than-half of all Americans who don't read a daily newspaper, but it overlooks the powerful impact of the printed word when it is backed by substantive reporting and displayed in prominent fashion.

If the New York Times had not apparently been content to leave the Abu Ghraib issue as a 373-word, Page 7, Saturday story, and had pursued and pushed it onto the front page, then it would have been a daily newspaper and not a weekly TV show and magazine who was leading the reporting on the story.

Neither the New York Times nor CNN followed up on their initial Abu Ghraib stories. I'm sure people in each organization are asking why. Newspapers must be more aggressive. They have more resources, more reporters and more space than any other news medium.

What matters most these days for newspapers is the quality of their work. Everything else is media noise. As Ververs says about the news media in general:

"In this country, there are three broadcast news organizations, three 24-hour cable news networks, a dozen or so major papers, dozens more mid-major papers and even more news magazines. Yet aside from feature stories on women's health or the 'Fleecing of America,' most cover the same news day after day, week after week." (Emphasis added.)

To make a difference, newspapers must differentiate themselves from the crowd. If they don't, they're destined to continue writing Page 1 stories whose first graph contains the words "according to 60 Minutes" or "Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker."

UPDATE: The Financial Times reports that "the US media was slow to jump on allegations of abuse by American soldiers at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison."

 First Draft Digital Proof, Human Source

Posted by Tim Porter at 09:32 AM | Comments (4)

May 06, 2004

Digital Proof, Human Source

The media wary Bush administration's fears of journalists running untethered amidst military operations in Iraq and eroding the American public's will for war with gruesome images of dead and dismembered G.I's appears to have been completely unfounded.

The two biggest recent stories to emerge from the Iraq - the administration's don't-show-don't-know policy toward the photographing of military caskets and the puerile abuses by Army reservists inside Abu Ghraib prison - were based on digital photographs not made by journalists but by participants in both stories.

The photograph of flag-covered caskets crammed into a military cargo plane was taken by a civilian airport worker in Kuwait and the prison porn was shot by the abusers themselves, the reservists of the 372nd Military Police Company.

Reporters and cops know insiders make the best sources. Richard Nixon, Martha Stewart and even Bill Clinton (Monica was the ultimate insider!) were burned by the people they manipulated - the Watergate burglars, Douglas Faneuil and "that woman." Will the furloughed prison guards, truck drivers and community college hopefuls of the 372nd take out Donald Rumsfeld?

One thing is for certain: Digital cameras have changed the nature of news sources. What was once asserted to be true can now be proven (and, of course, manipulated). The latest batch of Abu Ghraib photos, published today by the Washington Post, was "mixed in with more than 1,000 digital pictures obtained by" the paper, most of which resembled "a travelogue from Iraq," albeit one with a side-trip to a wax museum of horrors.

The pictures were burned onto CDs and "circulated among soldiers in the 372nd," the Post reported.

Of course. For a digital generation of soldiers accustomed to Napstering music, it's no technology leap at all and not much of an ethical step to burn a platter of soft-core prison porn and pass it around. This is the world's most technologically-enabled fighting force, and not just militarily. The Post reports:

"For many units serving in Iraq, digital cameras are pervasive and yet another example of how technology has transformed the way troops communicate with relatives back home. From Basra to Baghdad, they e-mail pictures home. Some soldiers, including those in the 372nd, even packed video cameras along with their rifles and Kevlar helmets."

Imagine how quickly the slaughter of innocents at My Lai would have become known had it been captured by a palm-sized digital camera (or phone) instead of reported by letter.

What does this mean for journalism?

First, it converts all camera-toting participants of an event into potential irrefutable witnesses and therefore sources.

Second, these witnesses also have the capability to become citizen reporters (who may or may not attempt to "report" journalistically and instead prefer to "show" a version of an event from their own viewpoint).

Third, it further dilutes the traditional role of mainstream journalists as the primary providers of news. As more citizens become not only subjects and sources but also reporters, professional journalists are increasingly disintermediated.

The deflation of high technology into everyday tools usable by anyone redefines journalism's core function (reporting what happened) from the practice of an elite few to a possibility for many.

The linear nature of news - flowing from source to journalist to public - is disrupted. Journalists must adapt. Explanation and context and depth become more important as the basic "what happened" becomes more commoditized. Official sources - government and corporate authorities - become devalued as they grow warier of and less honest toward the news media; unofficial sources (prison guards, cargo loaders) increase in value. Assertion loses out to proof and the standard of fact is raised.

Ironically, what much of this means is that in a digital world, the human source, the one man or the one woman who was there, who saw, who heard, who documented, trumps all else.

Posted by Tim Porter at 04:44 PM | Comments (1)

May 05, 2004

You Say You Want a Revolution ...

UPDATE: Here is the Columbia Journalism Review piece on Moroney:

"Editors should praise — not punish — dissenters. 'Be thankful for the people who speak up,' he said. 'They are our best hope for getting it right.' Moroney’s “Fidel” speech lasted an hour and twenty minutes. He was preaching the causal relationship between high-quality journalism and financial health. In the final minute he used the word 'revolution seven times, and the crowd in the ballroom gave him a standing ovation. Many were stunned by what they’d heard, particularly Moroney’s praise for newsroom hell-raisers."

As I've always said, when you're too busy to write, use someone else's words. The current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review contains an article examining the newsroom "revolution" at the Dallas Morning News (it's not yet online).

In response to the piece, James Moroney, the paper's publisher, memoed the staff with the "five principles of the revolution," which he called "the remedies we need to get us from where we are to where we need to be." They are worth remembering:

 Be intensely customer focused. (We had become too inwardly
focused and forgotten that we are serving our readers and advertisers, not the other way around.)

 Sense of Urgency. (We began to believe we were the only game
in town. We could take our time to act and to react. We can't. The
competition is at the gate.)

 Be Inclusive. (We lost our focus on the development of a diverse workplace. We must understand we can only truly serve our diverse
group of readers by reflecting that diversity among our own employee

 Carry Two Buckets. (We had become too specialized. We developed a "that's not my job" attitude. There are too many empty hands
around. If you have one, either pick up another bucket or use it to turn
the handle on the exit door.)

 Welcome Constructive Criticism. (We became too arrogant, especially in management. We thought we knew it all or knew it best.
Non-management employees and mid-level management weren't encouraged and rewarded for speaking up. Instead they were ignored or worse, punished. It's way past time for everyone to be able to be heard.)

Newsroom cynics are likely to dismiss these concepts as empty management-speak, but they are shortcuts that acknowledge the weakness of our journalistic institutions and offer ways to overcome them.

Here is another way of looking at them:

 Serving readers means doing journalism for the public good, being the watchdog. Serving advertisers means providing value in exchange for their money, which pays our salaries.

 Time is running out on relevancy. Urgency is a necessity, not a luxury. The conversation of news is faster and more compresses than ever. For a newspaper to participate -- and to do so with crediblity and depth -- it must be nimble and assertive.

 Diversity is good. Does this even need to be explained anymore? The world is diverse. America is diverse. Newspapers aren't. Who wants to read anything that doesn't reflect the world in which they live?

 Learning is also good. The one-person, one-job model of newspaper journalism is obsolete, made so by the capabilities of technology and the demands of a media market in which flexible, responsive organizations triumph over calcified, hierarchical organizations. Start with the Learning Newsroom.

 Change begins at the edges but takes hold in the middle. Train, develop and empower front-line editors. Enable them -- through coaching, support and guidance -- to implement the vision for the newspaper. The Readership Institute's latest newsroom survey concludes that newspaper's with an ability to innovate have engaged and enthusiastic mid-level editors.

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:37 AM

Why John Burns is in Baghdad

John Burns, the New York Times' Pulitzer-winning bureau chief in Iraq, tells the New York Observer why he, and other Times reporters, choose to report from Baghdad despite the dangers:

"At least to speak for myself, I don’t think that bravery has much do with it. I think it’s the sense of being at the heart of the matter. Of reporting about something that engages the keen attention of just about everybody in America. I don’t want to sound grandiloquent about the position of The New York Times in American life, but there are many people who depend on us to report on what is happening here. We have to find a way to continue to cover this."

He also explains his hair:

"'Why do I not go to the barber very often?' he said. 'This may be an affectation, but it’s true. My father was an air force general—Royal Air Force. Twenty years ago, I went to have my hair cut in England, and in talking to the woman cutting my hair, she said that her father, a pilot, was killed with the Royal Air Force in Germany. And I said, "Oh, my father was there at the time." We quickly discovered that it was the same time. The following morning—I was staying at a hotel in the West End—she came to my room and said, "I want to show you a photograph." And it was the photograph of her mother and herself as a young child at the funeral of this pilot, and my parents, my father in uniform and my mother, standing on either side of her. And she said, "My mother said your parents were so kind that I wasn’t to charge you for the haircut." And I said, "I’ve got a better idea than that. Charge me for the haircut, but I will never have my hair cut anywhere else again other than by you." And I have not had my hair cut by any other person than that woman in 20 years, and I’m not very often in England.'"

Posted by Tim Porter at 07:09 AM