College journalists charged with trespassing – at dorm

October 28, 2009

The Breeze, the twice-weekly college newspaper at James Madison University.

    Two reporters for The Breeze, the twice weekly student newspaper at James Madison University in Virginia, have been charged with trespassing.
    They were conducting interviews in at a campus dormitory about an alleged peeping tom incident when they were confronted by the dorm supervisor.  It is sad, though hopefully educational, that these young reporters have to face so early on the challenges – and potential dangers – of confronting authority.

     This is a case where professional reporters in the region would do well to come to their aid by reporting on what’s going on.  One suggestion: Put in an open records request for all trespassing charges filed in the last two years on campus. I suspect this case would stand out as being usually sedate.

   It might also be helpful to point that Madison, the main architect of the U.S. Constitution once said, that “popular government without popular information is a prelude to a farce…” Something to ponder.



Kurtz on Balloon Boy: Eh… no news worries

October 21, 2009

Howard Kurtz,  the unflappable media watcher for The Washington Post, says he is not disturbed by the breatheless reporting surrounding Balloon Boy.

 His point: How could any journalist pass up the possibility of a 6-year-old child clinging to life in a home-made helium balloon, ala Curious George? He’s right, of course.  You gotta cover it.Kurtz

  But, it seems to me, the question is how to cover it. There has to be a better way than gasping talking heads filling hours of airtime, and bloggers going crazy. 

  Let’s ponder that.

‘Community’ press remains vital, survey shows

October 21, 2009

 There is a tendency in the news biz to think of journalism as the major metros in Los Angeles, New York and (maybe) Chicago. But there is a wide and deep swath of daily journalism being committed between the coasts.naa

  A new survey, c0-sponsored by the National Newspaper Association (not exactly an objective source, I know) that sheds a bit of light on how the weekly industry is doing. Among the more interesting findings: community readership is at 81 percent. That means, if you believe the survey, that eight out of 10 adults read their local weekly last week.

   The survey also reported that 30 percent of respondents did not have Internet access at home. This is part of the debate over the Digitial Divide. While all the attention is focused on the migration of news consumers to the Internet, which is a worthy and important thing to which to pay attention, there is a significant portion of the American public who are sailing along as they always have, by reading their local paper.

   This is good and bad. The small paper segment of the news biz provides a wonderful space for professional reporters to start their careers and learn how to do their thing. The bad is that the ongoing Digital Divide continues to new class distinctions that could threaten public participation in the news and therefore in democracy.

Bergen Record suit raises questions

October 15, 2009

 The Bergen Record is being sued for quoting a public document.  Yikes.

  The New Jersey newspaper wrote a story on a bankruptcy filing that contained allegations of fraud, and the man at the center of the allegations sued, claiming they were unfounded. An appeals court agreed and now the state Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case.

    What this points up is the difference between so-called traditional media and Web operations, which operate in a relatively free space. Congress, and so far the courts have largely  upheld their work, wanted to nurture a free market on the Web by protecting Website owners and operators from being sued for postings by users. (Check out the 1996 Telecommunications Act.) As long as Website operators did not heavily edit or redact postings, they were largely immune from lawsuits by those who felt their reputations were damaged.

    Yet, a newspaper has to spend thousands defending quotes pulled from a public document that anyone with an interest go to the courthouse and see. Again – yikes.

Dispatch editor reveals Internet angst

October 15, 2009

 Ben Marrison is a thoughtful, knowledgeable newspaper editor. He knows his readers, his market and his owners (perhaps the most important constituency for any editor). 

  In his latest Sunday column,  he displays the angst nearly all leaders of traditional media are experiencing.  He tells of bringing in Los Angeles consultants to look over the Dispatch’s Web operations to make suggestions for improvement.

   Among the recommendations: Get the story out first, and worry about accuracy later. Web readers, the consultants, told Marrison, know that eventually the truth will get out.  Marrison, of course, recoiled in horror.

    I know exactly what he means: As a grizzled news guy, myself, I would rather shut down the operation than knowingly put out false information, or fail to at least do the minimum of professional reporting.

    The question, however, is whether that position is hypocritical. What exactly does accuracy mean? As reporters, we know that much of what we offer as “news” is accurately quoted nonsense from people with agendas.

    Worthy of much pondering, yes? Make sure you check out the comments associated with Marrison’s column. They are very instructive on how Internet users view their local news sites, and reveal how truly savvy some of these consumers are.

AP seeks to capitalize on war

October 7, 2009

   The venerable Associated Press, the worldwide news conglomerate that is a “non-profit” in the same way Bill Gates is a “philanthropist,” says it wants to take advantage of the search war now underway between Microsoft and Google.

   (Yikes… check out Bing’s home  page today… I’m thinking Bing has a way to go to compete with Google.)

bing    How would it do that? By offering well-heeled clients the option of paying more for its stories 30 minutes earlier than the rest of the world. Presumably, the idea is to get deep pockets like Microsoft to come up with huge dollars to be first with breaking news.

     This is important because Web statistics are pretty clear. He who goes first gets the best traffic and therefore makes more money by serving up ads. Of course, AP is not discussing how this supposed new river of cash would benefit its newspaper and broadcast clients, who continue to supply the bulk of the wire service’s state reports.

     Neither is AP discussing how this would benefit the thousands of journalists it employs around the world – professional reporters. Just a thought. The role of AP in the changing media landscape is just one of many questions that should be pondered.

Check out Annie Le timeline

October 7, 2009

    The Hartford Courant is doing a great job of following the murder of Annie Le, a lithesome young doctoral student at Yale University whose body was found in a chase in the school’s medical research building. Why is that pertinent to this site?

    The above timeline is a great example of fusing technology with reporting in a way only those with time, resources and appropriate skills can do. In addition, the Courant is sending its lawyers to court to force the disclosure of documents in the case.

     Granted, this story is not Watergate, and certainly could fall into the “ballyhoo” trend Silas Bent lamented in the 1920s. Still, this is the kind of reporting and use of technology that argues for creating space for professional reporters.

Backward to the news future? Or, full speed ahead?

September 30, 2009

   For two excellent discussions on the future of news, check out the following at American Journalism Review:

   Paul Farhi’s article on thoughts that would take newspapers back to the future by forcing online viewers to pay (alot) for content, and concentrating on the print side.

     Ronald Yaros’ piece on the ongoing debate over how to best use multimedia. (Simply putting up videos, sound and bunches of pictures is not worth the effort unless they are placed appropriately).

     What’s it all mean? I would suggest two things: 1) Pay walls will not work. When newspapers turned themselves into a mass medium, they rejected circulation as a revenue model. Readers simply will not pay enough to keep enough reporters on the street. 2) Multimedia for the sake of multimedia also will not work (just as quotes for the sake of quotes in a news story do not work).  Multimedia must add and enhance concrete details that enlighten and entertain.

Newspaper stocks rebound amid reports of higher profits

September 30, 2009
Surging newspaper stocks

Surging newspaper stocks

    Newspaper stocks surged this week, something few industry watchers expected.

    Among the winners: Gannett, up  up $1.73, or 17.3 percent; Lee Enterprises, up 48.1 percent; Media General, 9.3 percent, and Scripps, 8.8 percent.

     For those of us who love the news and newspapers, let’s hold the champaign. Investors are notoriously fickle, and the media companies have devastated their newsrooms for short-term bottomlines that will soon evaporate. If the stock prices hold, the companies no doubt will be in a much better position to restructure their debt. That’s good.

     But, having sucked out the core of their businesses, they now find themselves with few places left to cut and a business model that continues to languish. For instance, Gannett achieved its improved cashflow through consolidations and lay offs, not through increased revenue. Check out the official corporate line here.

    Still, the stock surge does indicate one thing: Investors still see value (at least some) in the venerable brands. And that only bodes well for the ongoing transition to the a new journalism paradigm.

Searching for a new business model

September 23, 2009

 California Watch is the latest offshoot of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Founded in 1977 as a way to promote and support investigative journalism (during the last crunch in traditional, mainstream media), the center has formed a special team to examine issues in California.

   The latest effort by California Watch deals with how Homeland Security money has been spent since 9/11. Here is the lead on the main story, which ran in more than two dozen outlets in the state:

   Soon after hijackers obliterated the World Trade Center towers eight years ago, Marin County received more than $100,000 in surveillance equipment to keep its water treatment system safe from a terrorist attack.

But four years after the funds were awarded, state authorities found more than $67,000 worth of the gear still boxed in its original packaging.

It had never been used.

    The package also includes a slideshow narrated by reporter G.W. Schultz. caliwatch

    The package is good, in-depth, detailed and important. Its significance, however,  is less about the reporting (which is rather standard investigative stuff), but how CIR paid for it. The center reports that its funding comes from a variety of non-profit foundations, partnerships with media outlets and universities and donations. The center’s Website pushes heavily for donations and offers for sale a variety of books, primarily environmental and racial investigations.

     Its mission, as explained on the center’s Website:

We are living in an age of upheaval, institutional collapse, and historic unforeseen change. And journalism is not immune. The only “business” protected by the Constitution, the business of informing the public, has been eviscerated in recent years. The role that journalism plays in a functioning democracy—informing the public and holding the powerful accountable—is at serious risk. Major issues affecting the very fabric of this nation and the world go uninvestigated. As we struggle to find solutions to two wars, climate change, immigration, a recession, and myriad other global issues, a thriving media is more important than ever.

         While a non-profit, the center clearly hopes to make money from its California Watch program. (It is interesting to note that of its three newest board members, two are business executives with successful track records of making large pots of money; the third is Len Downie, the former executive editor of the Washington Post.)

          My point is this: Good journalism and money are intimately linked. Someone must pay professional reporters to do professional, independent work. The non-profit model (shilling for donations in much the same way the Red Cross does) is one option that is gaining traction. I am skeptical. What do you think?