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Archive for the ‘Writing and the media’ Category

Another plane tragedy, rest assured CNN’s on the case

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Airbus A320 plane crash

Part of me can’t help but wonder if CNN’s producers are secretly rubbing their hands in some kind of sadistic satisfaction that they can now justify spending weeks and weeks in obsessed speculation about what happened in this most recent event involving Airbus A320.

Written by Jeremy

March 24th, 2015 at 7:52 pm

‘In theory but not in practice’

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Those are two keys words in federal open records law, as Hillary Clinton was apparently using a personal email server while conducting the nation’s business as secretary of state. According to this story from the Associated Press, Clinton retains ownership of the emails that are on her personal account, even though they should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act:

In theory but not in practice, Clinton’s official emails would be accessible to anyone who requested copies under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. Under the law, citizens and foreigners can compel the government to turn over copies of federal records for zero or little cost. Since Clinton effectively retained control over emails in her private account even after she resigned in 2013, the government would have to negotiate with Clinton to turn over messages it can’t already retrieve from the inboxes of federal employees she emailed.

The AP has waited more than a year under the open records law for the State Department to turn over some emails covering Clinton’s tenure as the nation’s top diplomat, although the agency has never suggested that it didn’t possess all her emails.

As the AP report also mentions, President Barack Obama signed a bill into law last year that prohibited government officials from using private email accounts to conduct business “unless they retain copies of messages in their official account or forward copies to their government accounts within 20 days.” Although the measure didn’t actually become law until after Clinton left office, this seems to beg the question: Why were government officials allowed to use private email accounts for work in the first place? It shouldn’t matter if a government official claims to be forwarding all business emails to a public account from a private email address. This provides too many opportunities for abuse. Federal employees and officials should have been conducting public business with government email accounts the whole time. The Internet is not exactly a new thing. Where was this legislation 20 years ago?

Welcome to journalism in 2015

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The Dallas Morning News is dictating that its reporters have at least 1,000 Twitter followers apiece. Apparently, it doesn’t matter if 25 of those come from within the office, if half the reporters don’t even use Twitter or if they are just empty, meaningless follows.

Here is what long-time reporter Jeffrey Weiss wrote, ironically enough, on Facebook:

I’m shamelessly trolling here for Twitter followers. The DMN has set a goal of 1K per person. I’m not there. I like FB a lot better than Twitter. But when the company sets a goal, to hear is to obey. I’m a sporadic Tweeter. I don’t post much just to kibbitz. Curated, if you will. So I won’t fill up your Tweet stream. If you have a mind, I’m at @jeffreyweissdmn

This is apparently what leadership in journalism at some news outfits looks like in 2015. Hopeful though I might be, thanks to social media, Buzz Feed, smartphones and the continuing “merger” of print and dumbed-down, lowest common denominator broadcast media, real journalism requiring competent reporting and editing — and folks with the work ethic, diligence, focus and brain power to pull it off — could be a relic 10 years from now.

Written by Jeremy

March 4th, 2015 at 10:08 pm

Fox pack of faux pas

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PolitiFact has provided links to fact-checks for The Daily Show’s “50 Fox News lies in 6 seconds” Vine video. I wish PolitiFact had provided some analysis as it usually does, but by my count, the video includes 49 outright mistruths — blatant or otherwise — one incorrectly aired video and an admission of error from Sean Hannity and a gaffe and clarification.

Written by Jeremy

March 1st, 2015 at 11:51 am

Cheap journalism, ‘sloppy’ journalism

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Back in the fall, Gannett made the decision to cut its copy editors from The Cincinnati Enquirer staff. Forward three months, and here is editor Carolyn Washburn complaining about “sloppy copy” from her staff. What a surprise.

Just a reminder that clean and accurate copy starts with each reporter and photographer sending clean and accurate copy along to their producer or coach… then that producer or coach reviewing to make sure it’s all good before sending it along to digital publication or the Studio.

I’ve been communicating one/one as I see things, especially things that can still be fixed.

I know we aren’t at full staff. I know our workflow is different.

But I need to share these examples with you now and ask each of you to take full ownership of your own clean copy.

I know none of you want this either. So the only way to fix it is for each one of us — me included — to pay special attention to our own work. (I even made myself spellcheck this email.)

She then listed many errors that any copy editor worth his or her weight in salt should have caught. With “newsroom leaders” having silly titles like storytelling coaches and strategists, it’s no wonder mistakes are falling through the cracks. How can they not? The simple fact is that not all reporters, and I would say only a limited few, are equipped to even begin to try to edit their own work, and even the most steely-eyed editors need a second person checking behind them. Pick your metaphor. Reporters editing their own content is like building contractors performing their own building inspections and then issuing the permits. In no scenario does the work come off looking polished, much less professional.

Written by Jeremy

February 12th, 2015 at 8:09 pm

Is this story about a red light system or the Chicago Tribune?

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In the 2014 story, Tribune study: Chicago red light cameras provide few safety benefits, readers first hear about the Tribune’s “state-of-the-art” study — whatever that means — to examine the city’s red light system, and then the writers of the story insert “the Tribune” and the paper itself into the report so many times (“the Tribune” gets not less than 23 mentions) that one can easily forget what the story is actually supposed to be about. Not to mention it’s more than a little distracting.

This seems like a running theme with the Tribune. I’ve always thought that newspapers should not become part of the stories they cover. A newspaper’s job is to report information, and of course, tell readers about any interference public officials give about handing over public documents, but newspaper should not be so presumptuous as to think that the paper’s plight is more important than informing readers.

In any case, and despite all that hard-hitting journalism pitting the city of Chicago and the Tribune’s lion-hearted reporting staff, the Tribune still endorsed Rahm Emanuel for mayor. Go figure.

Written by Jeremy

February 7th, 2015 at 2:45 pm

All the news that’s not fit to print

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And now for a eulogy on journalism, from REM’s Mike Mills, Zach Sherwin from “Epic Rap Battles of History,” Colton Dunn from “Key and Peele” and actor Brandon Johnson:

The song is part of the comedy album “2776,” which was made to raise money for OneKid OneWorld.

Written by Jeremy

February 7th, 2015 at 11:51 am

Michelle, the white soccer mom, ctd.

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Today, Jim Romenesko posted an update to his article about a female cardboard cutout, which appears to resemble the stereotypical, white, on-the-go soccer mom, that is apparently being posted around various TV news stations as an example target audience for writers and on-screen personalities. In the original post, Romenesko was curious to know whether WSPA in Spartanburg, S.C., rolled out its cutout “mom” named Michelle on the advice of a TV consultant.

A female TV journalist responded to the question with the following rather damning critique of the type of advice a male consultant has been giving to Raycom Media-owned TV stations, which carry similar firefighters-to-the-rescue-type local coverage as WSPA. Consequently, Raycom owns WTNZ here in Knoxville; WSPA is owned a company called Media General.

The journalist had this to say about the consultant’s sage advice:

To answer your question regarding whether media consultants nationwide are giving similar advice, WSPA’s “Michelle” is a copy of the “Female Switchable” that [a consultant] has been preaching to Raycom Media-owned stations around the country for more than two years.

[He] describes her as a mother short on logic but long on social media obsession, terrified of her neighbors, needing constant updates on the weather and consumer trends, with the attention span of a fourth-grader and much less understanding of the greater world around her. She wants “lists,” wants to know how things “affect her.” She’s self-centered, myopic and terrified.

She is nothing like the women I know, and I’m glad you finally called television news out on this caricature. I’d really like to see the data that’s used to build that caricature, because as far as I can see, she’s the sexist mythology of overpaid consultants.

This consultant’s fallacy of the “female switchable” isn’t good for anyone. And it isn’t good for the company.

According to Romenesko, the consultant declined to comment other than to dispute these claims. Needless to say, if this critique is even half true, Raycom is putting forth a rather dim view of its own target audience, casting its female viewers as fearful, short-sighted and selfish. And that’s just what this consultant, or people like him, allegedly think about the target audience for local news, which apparently is the white, female, working mom demographic. I wonder what glowing traits these same consultants would bestow on black and Hispanic families, single moms and blended parental units?

In any case, I previously questioned whether white working moms should even be the target audience for a station located in Spartanburg, S.C., which isn’t exactly a mecca of affluent white suburbia. More than half of the population of the city of Spartanburg is black, after all; only parts of the county outside city limits are a majority white.

Reality has never really stopped local TV news stations from catering to stereotypes and offering shallow and trite coverage of their communities in the past; why should Michelle be any different?

Written by Jeremy

January 29th, 2015 at 5:50 pm

Andrew Sullivan calls it quits … for now

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Longtime blogger Andrew Sullivan with The Dish, and previously with Time, The Atlantic and other publications, has decided to stop blogging for the immediate future after 15 years of commentary on the Interwebs. He did it with a heart-felt message to his readers, concluding:

I want to thank you, personally, for the honesty and wisdom of so many of your threads and conversations and intimacies, from late-term abortions and the cannabis closet to eggcorns and new poems, from the death of pets, and the meaning of bathroom walls to the views from your windows from all over the world. You became not just readers of the Dish, but active participants, writers, contributors. You trusted us with your own stories; you took no credit for them; and we slowly gathered and built a readership I wouldn’t trade for anyone’s.

You were there before I met my husband; you were there when I actually got married; and when I finally got my green card; and when Dusty – who still adorns the masthead – died. I can’t describe this relationship outside the rather crude term of “mass intimacy” but as I write this, believe me, my eyes are swimming with tears.

How do I say goodbye? How do I walk away from the best daily, hourly, readership a writer could ever have? It’s tough. In fact, it’s brutal. But I know you will understand. Because after all these years, I feel I have come to know you, even as you have come to see me, flaws and all. Some things are worth cherishing precisely because they are finite. Things cannot go on for ever. I learned this in my younger days: it isn’t how long you live that matters. What matters is what you do when you’re alive. And, man, is this place alive.

When I write again, it will be for you, I hope – just in a different form. I need to decompress and get healthy for a while; but I won’t disappear as a writer.

But this much I know: nothing will ever be like this again, which is why it has been so precious; and why it will always be a part of me, wherever I go; and why it is so hard to finish this sentence and publish this post.

As a person who has read his blogging intermittently the last five or so years, I will say that Sullivan was his strongest when he was actually commenting on the news of the day, and his essays for The Atlantic and The Daily Beast were some of his finest work. At times, his blog, which often included up 20 or 30 or more posts in a single day, often seemed more like a news aggregate than a bona fide web log of thought and opinion, so I am happy to see him returning to the land of long-form writing, which I think was his best medium in the first place, and I’m eager to see what he can offer by way of a book down the road. For sure,whatever his method of choice away from the blog, I’ll be reading.

Written by Jeremy

January 29th, 2015 at 5:50 pm

A target market of white soccer moms?

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WSPA, which is a local TV news station about an hour north of where I grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., is apparently intent on making its reporters pitch all of their news stories and write all of their stories for a cardboard cutout of what appears to be an on-the-go middle class soccer mom with kids.

Here is the internal memo News Director Karen Kelly apparently sent to her staff (as posted by

Subject: MEET Michelle


Michelle is who you want watching your newscasts, your stories.

She will be in every editorial meeting with us and in the newsroom during the day. She will likely make occasional trips to Greenville and Anderson.

When you pitch, pitch to her. When you write, write to her.

This is who we need watching in February.

Women 25-54 is her demo.

She has children and she cares about:
Their Safety
Saving Money
Recalls that have impact on her family

Even if you think a story doesn’t directly impact Michelle find a way to write it to her.

Give her additional information that is relevant to her.

Post stories and send alerts on stories she cares about.

The problem, as I see it, is that the demographics in Spartanburg aren’t exactly whitewashed with soccer moms, which belies the notion that the WSPA newsroom should be writing exclusively for Michelle here. According to the most recent census estimates, the city of Spartanburg is 50.7 percent black (!) and 44.3 percent white, while Spartanburg County is 74.7 percent white and 20.9 percent black.

Media blogger Jim Romenesko wonders if this was a recommendation from a TV consultant. If so, that person should be fired. Or, this could just be the handywork of a newsroom “leader” who feels the need to justify her job, so she whittles away at some silly ideas to try to keep the product relevant. First, she might want to work on not scaring off her staff. But then again, for an enterprising young reporter being mandated to write for Michelle, rather than for the real people walking the fair streets of Spartanburg city and county, might be a pretty disturbing experience in and of itself.

Written by Jeremy

January 28th, 2015 at 5:35 pm

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