Archive for the ‘Newspapers’ tag
Given the increased prominence and influence of partisan outfits like MSNBC and FOX News, increased job cutbacks and failed newspapers around the nation, increased information on the Internet, and given a decreased presence of good journalism, many have noted the obvious, and inevitable decline of journalism in recent years.
Michael Gerson, with The Washington Post, is the latest, who in his Nov. 27 column, “Journalism’s Slow, Sad Death,” outlines this decline, describing the old newspaper fronts displayed at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., as looking more like a mausoleum than an archive of living history. And he’s right. Journalism, or more accurately, newspapering, is almost a forgotten craft at this point in our history. But while he calls it a “slow, sad death,” I call it a return to form.
In the dictionary, one can find two definitions for “journalism,” one that includes the stipulation that the news gathering and presentation of information be given without interpretation or analysis, and one that simply says it’s about news gathering. Thus, magazines, tabloid publications and standard broadsheet newspapers “do” journalism, but it’s the broadsheet sort that Gerson is referencing, though he never really makes the distinction.
Of course, those who are actually in the newspaper business know what he means when he says “journalism.” We mean the kind of news gathering that attempts to leave commentary or interpretation out of straight news stories, opinion being relegated to the editorial page. But without that distinction, most people in the body politic can’t even distinguish, or don’t know how to, between the kind of journalism done by People Magazine and that of the L.A. Times or the St. Petersburg Times. Celebrities can’t even distinguish. Often, like in this Tiger Woods fiasco, movie or sports stars will refer to “the media” as a blanket term for everything from the trash tabloid publications to The New York Times. As the L.A. Times reported about Woods:
In a Q&A on his website last month, a fan asked Woods why she rarely saw photos of the couple in the gossip magazines. Woods replied that they have “avoided a lot of media (italics mine) attention because we’re kind of boring,” and he described a home life that included watching rented videos and playing video games with friends.
Many people don’t see the distinction, and that’s one point in which journalism as we know it might be going the way of the dodo. Thanks to the tabloids, Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann and others, true objective journalism is simply being drowned out and stamped down in preference to opinion and innuendo (Admittedly, there is no such thing as “objective” journalism as an ideal. Journalists are not robots, but humans. We interpret news and make decisions on a daily basis about what is important to include in news stories and what is not. That skill set largely distinguishes our product from claptrap put out daily by People, the National Inquirer and others.)
All that said, Gerson’s “slow, sad death” is a return to form because his “journalistic tradition of nonpartisan objectivity” is a fairly new phenomenon beginning at some point in the early 20th century. Prior to that, especially in the yellow journalism era and in the mid-19th century right around the Civil War, newspapers and other publications were merely talking heads for political parties. They took a public stance, one way or the other, for slavery or against, for the Barnburners or against, for the Copperheads or not. So, if print newspapers followed the trend of television news, they will more increasingly become partisan, like FOX News and MSNBC.
I, of course, would hate to see this happen and hope that newspapers still practicing good journalism can find ways to remain solvent. Were newspapers to make that eventual turn, it wouldn’t necessarily be the death of journalism, for journalism, objective or not, can live on without getting “newsprint on your hands,” as Gerson lauds newsmen at the end of his column. But it would be a return to its former self. Remember, journalism wasn’t objective first in its history. It was partisan first. The turn to non-partisanship was a turn for the better, in my view, and here’s hoping print journalism remains true to its 20th-century transformation.
As I said here, I like words, and I like information. While pictures and graphics can provide some level of information, I think solid reporting and well-crafted stories serve our communities the best. I think The New York Times’ traditional design is a beautiful thing. Newspapers such as that offer less filler and are teeming with information. As such, I would probably fit perfectly well in some 18th century London coffeehouse or pub reading the latest edition of The Spectator. But then again, and for better or worse, I’m not the average Joe.
Print media, as is evidenced by the recent demise of the Rocky Mountain News, the Detroit Free Press scaling back to only three days per week, Knight Ridder’s purchase by McClatchy, among others examples, print media is tanking. Perhaps sooner than later, the days of sitting in the local Huddle House or at your kitchen table reading the morning paper may be one and done. Today, at least among small to mid-size dailies, there’s this dire atmosphere, almost like a desperation, to sell papers. I saw it at a local daily I used to work for. The leadership wanted giant photos, “teasers” everywhere, sports cut-outs … basically as much crap as one could pile above the fold, the better, information and usefulness of such “elements” (as they called them) be damned. For a national example of this, see USA Today.
The problem with that model is that a publication could offer the most artistic, elegantly designed and well-photographed publication in the country, but if it missed the boat on content, it has failed in its duty to inform and educate the community it serves. After all, with all those “elements” flying around everywhere, something has to be compromised. And the content usually gets the ax, and at this aforementioned paper, that’s exactly what happened. Thus — and I know to the budget-minded publisher or editor this is unpopular territory — but the public is shortchanged when elements take precedence over content. The job of newspapers is to add to the intelligence and knowledge of the public, not take away from it or contribute to the general dumbing down taking place in other outlets like radio and television. Have we lost our muster when we simply can’t sell newspapers by compelling headlines and probing reporting? Have J-schools across the country failed us in producing a generation of editors and publishers who are OK with this nonsense? Can’t we be everything television and radio isn’t?
As an example, Stephen King’s name doesn’t jump out at you because he’s got lots of cool pictures and graphics in his books. In fact, it’s hard to find a single picture anywhere! His name jumps out at you because he does something with words and ideas that few others can. We are raising and educating a generation of journalism amateurs — or wimps — in this regard. What King does and what journalists do are polar, of course, but I’m arguing that words, in and of themselves, can be compelling and can make newspapers or books or whatever fly off the racks. Journalism is not for the bashful. True journalism doesn’t hide behind snazzy graphics or photos. It can be powerful, and it can change communities. I’ve seen it happen. But I’m probably arguing in 20th century, or even 19th century, terms.
Here in the 21st century, the Internet provides a literal free for all of information, thus rendering newspapers largely irrelevant, except only to a select few still enamored with their morning coffee-paper routine. I’m in that crowd, but admittedly, we must move on. Insomuch as small- to medium-sized dailies are going to continue to offer their daily fare of elements, giant photos, graphics simply for the sake of graphics and cartoon-sized headlines, they should just fold up shop and put all that time and effort into the Internet, as witnessed by this publication:
Whoever created this is probably quite proud, but this is a newspaper, not a graphic showroom. And by the way, to further illustrate why this is trash, where is the local news on the front page? Can you find it? Clemson Tigers basketball is local, but that’s sports. A local feature story about an artist is not local news. Photos and graphics have all but consumed this paper. I am sure local news in short supply can be found inside, but it should be found out front, and it’s not. (The paper recently reformatted to this tabloid design.)
Almost all of this paper’s readers — and millions more — are online, so why not scale back the effort, stop contributing to the trash heap and publish solid reporting and well-crafted writing on the Web site. And, the money saved from going virtual could be put into increased attempts to sell ad space on the Web through banners, specially-priced ads based on where they appear on the page, Web design, hosting and other ventures. In short, if the goal is to abandon the traditional model for newspapers as we know them, get on with the end game. Get completely virtual, stop publishing graphic-laden, information-less trash and give up the ghost. I’ll never read books online and if there is still a local or national newspaper still putting out quality work in print form, chances are I’m going to read it. But thankfully, books still have a market in print form. Of the former newspapers, I’m not sure. We are too enamored with the sound bites of FOX News and CNBC and CNN to care about newspapers anymore. And that’s fine. But it’s time some papers stop pretending to be relevant, if that relevancy means compromising journalistic integrity to en masse photos and graphics signifying nothing.
In a Feb. 8, 2009 column, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker supplied her view of Black History Month, dubbing it, “quaint, jarring, anachronistic.”
Coming from a black person, this comment itself may sound jarring. But it’s really not. As Tucker notes, even after Carter G. Woodson’s original 1926 Negro History Week went into effect, black folks were still the but of racial epithets and racial acts. Lynchings were still imminent for many. Segregation was still very much in force. Then, as now, Black History Month or Week or whatever we want to call it, means little, for those recognitions do little to repair scars, smooth hatreds or open locked minds.
As a child, I certainly remember sitting through special lessons in class geared to teach us about the important contributions of black people through America’s history, from Stowe to Tubman to Douglas to Du Bois down to King and Jackson (Jess, not Michael, though Michael has made important contributions as well). But even then (although it probably didn’t occur to me at the time), it merely seemed like we were just throwing black folks a bone, as if to say, “Sorry about those 150 or so years of slavery and another 100-plus of oppression and inequality under the law. Here’s a month just for you. Enjoy!”
I wonder how black children or youths feel nowadays when it comes time for the lessons on black leaders throughout history. Do they feel proud? Undermined? Embarrassed? No doubt, those lessons are important and every child, black or white or brown or yellow should be well-grounded in our own history. But shouldn’t we now, in the 21st century with a black man holding the highest office in the land, move past all the silliness of giving certain groups special tokens simply for being a certain color? As the new president has continually stressed, black people’s history is so inextricably bound up with America’s history that none of us can escape it. And why would we want to?
Tucker also notes that many traditional textbooks “gloss over” certain ugly periods in our history like Jim Crow and Reconstruction and the Black Codes. I would say this is largely true. Frankly, I knew little, if anything, about Reconstruction, lynchings or Jim Crowe before going to college. Some of that lack of knowledge falls on me. I didn’t have the hunger for learning that I do now. But part of that falls on our educational system. I knew all about Black History Month, even as a tyke. But after that month was over, it was back to pilgrims, stage coaches and manifest destiny (Interestingly, we learned less about the human atrocities resulting from that “destiny.” We did, however, touch briefly on the Trail of Tears. Thousands of Native Americans relocated from their homes and thousands dead. But let’s quickly move on.)
In short, at this point in our history, we can now, and should, move past the necessity for Black History Month. Of course, as a white person, it seems tougher for me to theoretically and socially to say such a thing than it is for Tucker. But perhaps that’s the point. The fact that it seems harder for a white person to say that proves the point. It’s time to move on and integrate the history of black folks with the history of America, both in our textbooks and in our social conscious. Or, as Tucker concludes:
Americans young and old, black, white and brown, will understand that black history and the nation’s history are one and the same. — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
First, apologies for not being terribly consistent with the blogging as of late. My personal writing time has been largely devoted to some short stories I’m working on.
Today, I wanted to comment on Matt Millen’s commentary during the Super Bowl pregame show. The content of said commentary is not my concern, of course. The fact the he was and is commentating is my concern.
What broadcast executive would give this guy a job at NBC after he, for all intent and purposes, ran the Detroit Lions farther into the abyss? What would make someone think, “Eh, he failed at running a football team. Maybe he will be OK at commentary?”
I don’t know the answer there, but he started talking on NBC during the pregame show, and it was a distraction for me, as I’m sure it was for many others, knowing the history of the Lions, etc. I think NBC took some hits for that … if not in the ratings, at least in untangible viewer perceptions.
To make it worse:
Every time a certain familiar face showed up on camera Sunday during NBC’s Super Bowl pregame show, Channel 4 ran a scroll at the bottom of the screen:
“Matt Millen was president of the Lions for the worst eight-year run in the history of the NFL. Knowing his history with the team, is there a credibility issue as he now serves as an analyst for NBC Sports? …” — Detroit Free Press
Ok, so, knowing his history with the Lions, we might agree with this statement. But what of Channel 4? A television news channel should not be running editorial content to supplement its coverage. And believe me, both of those sentences were nothing but opinion. Channel 4 was unquestionably in the wrong. But, to be sure, this is a symptom of many local news television channels. The only potentially truly objective news medium is newspapers (Broadsheet, not tabloid). While the word “money” rules the day no matter where you get your news, newspapers seem to still hold the purest form for objective news.
Those who blog anonymously, behind some WordPress (or Blogspot or whatever) screen name that shields you from the blowback of your own views, you are bored, pathetic liars, at least according to Sarah Palin, in these comments.
“Bored, anonymous, pathetic bloggers who lie annoy me….I’ll tell you, yesterday the Anchorage Daily News, they called again to ask — double-, triple-, quadruple-check — who is Trig’s real mom,” she said, in an interview to be published in the magazine’s (Esquire’s) March issue.
The Anchorage Daily News’ editor supplied his response here, attempting to validate rumors (the real story was, in fact, to the advantage of the Palin family!) that the “nonsense” heard surrounding the kid’s true birth mother, was just that.
Over the last year or so, Palin has had an odd relationship with the media. Recently, she has been conducting a voluminous amount of interviews after her ticket lost the election — perhaps as early preparation for Campaign 2012. But prior to Election Day, she was scarcely allowed to be interviewed, and the few sit-downs she did were disastrous. Also, for all her wailing against the media, she seems to now be using it in some way toward her own ends. Interesting. The fact is that if she is to advance her political career, perhaps to a White House run in a little less than four years, she will need the media — and she knows this. If that’s the goal, it would probably also behoove her to read more, particularly the media outlets she bashes, and to learn more, so that when asked which newspaper she regularly reads for information, she can not only be more qualified and well-informed to make a case for herself on a presidential ticket, but be able to give intelligent answers to convince the rest of us — if that’s even possible.
First, we have this guy:
who, unfortunate hair-do aside, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was charged with federal corruption charges Tuesday and was released on a $4,500 bond. The charges include:
“leveraging his sole authority to appoint a United States Senator; threatening to withhold substantial state assistance to the Tribune Company in connection with the sale of Wrigley Field to induce the firing of Chicago Tribune editorial board members sharply critical of Blagojevich; and to obtain campaign contributions in exchange for official actions – both historically and now in a push before a new state ethics law takes effect January 1, 2009.” — United States Attorney,
Northern District of Illinois
“The breadth of corruption laid out in these charges is staggering,” Mr. Fitzgerald (Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District 2 of Illinois) said. “They allege that Blagojevich put a ‘for sale’ sign on the naming of a United States Senator; involved
himself personally in pay-to-play schemes with the urgency of a salesman meeting his annual sales target; and corruptly used his office in an effort to trample editorial voices of criticism. The citizens of Illinois deserve public officials who act solely in the public’s interest, without putting a price tag on government appointments, contracts and decisions,” he added.
I mean, wow. Fitzgerald also called Tuesday a “sad day for government.”
“Gov. Blagojevich has taken us to a new low,” he said. “This conduct would make [Abraham] Lincoln roll over in his grave.” — The Associated Press
Second, The Tribune Co., which owns the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and other papers and media outlets, filed Chapter 11 on Monday, in what was yet another newspaper company to fall under the weight of a modernity that finds it increasingly irrelevant. Economy aside, newspapers — and I’m sure folks at the Chicago and Los Angeles papers have tried — must make the printed word so irresistible that folks are drawn back into the print fold or they must fully throw all their resources into their online products. For bookish types like me and scores of other, the disintegration of newspapers in print, books in print and so on would be a disastrous result of our fascination with the Internet, but from a purely economic standpoint, this may be where we are headed.
Regardless, it has no doubt been a bizarre week in Illinois. Hey! At least the Bears downed the Jaguars.
As a newspaperman, I’m paid to sweat the details, and this particular subject is a pet peeve of mine. As evidenced by this post, it’s been irking me lately. Fail as I may at times, my goal is excellence: correctness in grammar, punctuation, facts and the general assurance the news story content I read is right.
Unlike misplaced commas and the like, errors in proper names and spellings of organizations, companies and people do not fall under the header of “detail” in my view. The correctly identification and spelling of subject and source names is one of the most fundamental skills that journalists must master to be successful and to further the credibility of the business. Actually, one can argue that it’s not even a skill; it’s so rote a task that seemingly anyone could do it. (How hard is it to Google a company name, make a call for verification or have sources literally spell out, letter by letter, names? Even a name that seems simple may have an unorthodox spelling (i.e. John and Jon). But it persists as a problem, whether the source of the problem be pressure, lack of sufficient time before deadline, etc etc. Regardless, and obvious typos taken into account, misspelled names of company heads or wrong business names can slowly erode a newspaper’s credibility.
I simply make the point that while the rest of society calls companies and organizations by nicknames, abbreviated names, historical but no longer valid names or just plain wrong names, we as journalists have to have an urgency for the truth and for that which is correct. So, to close this short post, here are a few of the more common mistakes I run across, either in newspapers and in everyday living. The incorrect rendering will be following by the correct name.
- Blooms/Bloom: This is a local grocery store. Folks add an “S” to this name for no reason, just like many add “S’s” to Belk and J.C. Penney. My wife works there, and she says that when customers write out checks, they always write “Blooms,” despite the fact that outside the store, in big letters, the word appears without the “S.”
- Bi-Lo/BI-LO: With good reason, people are uncomfortable with words or names that are in all caps. Turns out, that’s what the folks at BI-LO had in mind.
- Lowe’s Home Improvement Center/Lowe’s: Home Improvement Center may make good propaganda fodder in the commercials, but Lowe’s is just plain ol’ Lowe’s.
- Walmart/Wal-Mart: Though the company seems to be modifying their image with that new sun logo thing, Wal-Mart is still listed on the NYSE and on the company Web site with the hyphen and a capital “M.”
As the election draws near, the question has again been raised this year: Why do newspapers, in this supposed era of news objectivity, endorse presidential and other candidates for public office?
As early as February, Time magazine’s managing editor, Rick Stengel, asked this question in the form of a column titled “Should Newspapers Still Be Taking Sides?” In it, one quickly finds Stengel’s answer.
Says Stengel: I confess that I’ve never quite understood why newspapers endorse presidential candidates. Sure, I know the history and the tradition, the fact that newspapers in the 18th and 19th centuries were often affiliated with political parties, but why do they do it now? Why do it at a time when the credibility and viability of the press are at all-time lows? More important, why do it at a time when readers, especially young readers, question the objectivity of newspapers in particular and the media in general?
First, for newspapers to have an opinion section of their paper is not only crucial for readers to chime in with letters to the editor on issues they feel are important, but it’s critical for the free exchange of ideas in the public forum. This creates an open dialogue, a back and forth. If a newspaper isn’t receiving letters to the editor or opinions in some form from its readers, either that paper or that community is dead or nearly dead. The pulse of a community can be found on a newspaper’s opinion page(s).
For instance, suppose a local county council imposes strict zoning regulations on its constituents. If the local newspaper receives an overwhelming flood of letters and opinion pieces on the measure (regardless of whether folks are yay or nay on an issue), that’s a sign of a healthy newspaper and healthy community. If the newspaper receives sparse reactions, that community is either lethargic about their governance or apathetic toward the local government, the newspaper or both.
While the rest of the newspaper is devoted to objective accounts of local and national news reports, the opinion page sets aside a small forum for commentary on those happenings. Some, however, don’t understand, or find it hard to separate, a newspaper’s opinion pages from the rest of the newspaper. Some newspapers attempt to make the distinction clear by using an editorial staff (separate from the newsroom staff), which works solely on opinion-page content. At large papers, this editorial board usually consists of up to 10 or more members who meet each day and talk about what position the paper will take on certain issues. Often, particularly regarding endorsements, voting takes place and the majority wins out.
Thus, editors and publishers typically have enough faith in the public that it can separate what takes place in the standard news reporting pages versus what happens on the editorial pages. Political endorsements, then, are not much different than any other element in the opinion page. Large newspapers every day offer their collective perspectives (that is, the collective opinion of the board) on any number of community, state or national issues. It happens every day. Why then, regarding some of the most important decisions Americans make each election cycle, should the paper be silent? The paper uses a vast majority of its resources objectively covering the to’s and fro’s of political candidates. Why is it not then qualified — again, as a well informed body of editors — to offer its collective opinion on the single most important issue, as it has done throughout the year on other topics, facing its readers?
I suggest those still curious read this: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9D01E3D91439F936A35752C1A9669C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all
The job of newspapers is not to be an aloof monolith, but to be an active and engaged member of its community and country. Endorsements are not offered to persuade anyone or tell someone how to vote (Column-writers and editorial writers are disillusioned if they write solely to change someone’s mind. More times than not, they won’t.), but to inform readers of the collective opinions of numerous well informed people who simply want the best for their community and country. Thus, newspapers offer their opinion, take it or leave it, let the chips fall where they may. Offering an official “opinion” of the paper on the editorial page does not dictate what reporters do day in and day out. Moreover, studies have shown that newspaper endorsement don’t have a large-scale impact on how elections turn out nationally.
Now, back to Stengel. He says:
It’s certainly the prerogative of newspapers and their owners to endorse candidates, but in doing so they are undermining the very basis for their business, which is impartiality. It’s a recipe for having less influence, not more.
First, Time magazine is in direct competition with the major newspapers, so, of course, it’s in Time’s best interest to go after newspapers as agents of bias. But Stengel’s argument comes from, either A) from a lack of understanding of opinion sections (Time magazine has opinion pieces and clearly editorialized pieces within their covers which may or may not be marked as such, while in newspapers, they are always marked as such) or B) a direct attempt to put a dagger into the newspaper business. For aforementioned reasons, it could be either of the above. Regardless, that credible, renowned newspapers are biased in their reporting of the news is a myth. There is no bias. Perceptions of such a bias are based on ones own ideology. (What seems too right wing for you might seem spot-on for me and vice versa).
That said, here’s a good resource for sorting out which newspapers endorsed which candidate thus far:
One of the local newspapers here (in Upstate South Carolina), the Anderson Independent-Mail, has decided – and already instituted – a new paper format they call, “Going Green.” They say it’s more environmental friendly, it wastes less paper and that paper itself is environmental friendly. But I ask: at what cost to a) the news hole, which in news-speak means the amount of space alotted to news and b) journalistic integrity.
Here is a screenshot of the new format:
While a giant picture and no text may appeal to fourth-graders, it shouldn’t be satisfactory to anyone with a high school, and especially a college education. To a journalist, it’s truly a road to crisis. But the worst isn’t the front. The front actually looks decent, that is, if you are OK with no stories on the front of a newspaper. I’m not OK with that at all.
Other distressing signals rest inside. Here, content is fleeting. The reader finds 100-word stories and 10-point font that looks cartoonish amidst tiny tabloid-esque newspint. (Note: Say you are a publisher of a fairly sizable daily and you want to make a name for yourself by making a radical change in your format. If that format includes a smaller newsprint, by all means, decrease the size of the type by a point or two. It will make your product look more professional, to the extent this is possible.) As it stands, the font is too big for the format. And by the way, where did the opinion page go? That all important forum for letters to the editor and alternative viewpoints was relocated to the back of the A section.
But maybe I’m just a century behind the times. Maybe I have too much faith in folks. I believe folks want content more than they want a comic book. I believe newspapers have an important and serious calling: to increase the knowledge and understanding of its readership and to give them the tools necessary to make informed decisions. From my observations of the paper itself, this product no longer measures up. A friend of mine told me a few days ago that it’s no longer a newspaper. Frankly, I probably wouldn’t take a job there if it was dropped in my lap unless I was given the freedom to induce a major shakeup — which I wouldn’t be — to instill the kind of changes needed to turn a dumb-inducing paper into an intelligent and well-informed one. Apparently, a shakeup has already occurred, and it was not a good, but a sad day.