Category: Journalism

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Mom’s Memorial Got Me to Thinking…

In June 2009 missive “Iran and the Internet Democracy“, I explained how then-recent contextual cloud services used with cell phones had begun, in just three years, to dramatically empower anyone and everyone to self-broadcast/report in ways that not long earlier was the monopoly of media professionals. I have repeatedly revisited this concept since, particularly as more tools became available, mobile broadband expanded reach while becoming less costly, and consumer behavior adapted to the opportunities presented. Most recently, in April 2017: “Praise Be Citizen Journalists“.

Today, the memorial service for my mom, who died August 5th, took place in Burlington, Vt. The church broadcast the farewell live online, via Ustream, which was founded in 2007. But had the family chosen to instead hold a more intimate gathering, anyone with a smartphone could have shared the send-off via a number of services, such as Facebook Live, Periscope, YouTube, or, yes, Ustream, among others. FB opened to the public in September 2006; Live, to everyone, in April 2016. Periscope: March 2015. YouTube is the grandpa service, officially opening in November 2005 but live streaming for the masses debuted only about four months ago.

The power is in your pocket to broadcast to anyone, anywhere, at anytime. Just ask all those crazy Instagrammers and SnapChatters. They know.

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Responsible Reporting Takes Time

I rarely go to Facebook, but my niece was in San Diego County for a few days, and checking up on her travels was a must. During the brief FB foray, a Newsfeed post nipped my attention. Erica Toelle asks: “Bloggers, how long does it take you to write a 1,000 word, well researched and well-written article? I realize ‘it depends’ but it’s usually longer than 4hrs, right? I’m working with under-documented technology and usually have to try it to understand how it works”.

The question is hugely relevant at a time when speed too often trumps accuracy—or accountability—and many writers must meet (often ridiculous) daily quotas. Then there is the controversy about so-called fake news.

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Praise Be Citizen Journalists

On this Easter, like others, I think about resurrection—but this day, strangely, how it should apply to the news media. Three years ago, I wrote largely-overlooked ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers. The concept germinated from my June 2009 essay “Iran and the Internet Democracy“, following protests in the country that citizens documented on social media/self-publishing platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, which at the time were little more than three years old (with respect to availability to the public). I predicted that these nascent services would disrupt editorial monopolies on news and other information, which has occurred in varying degrees during the nearly eight years since.

By March 2010, a troubling trend lead me to write what would become the other genesis for the book: “The Difference Between Blogging and Journalism“. Too many news gatherers single-source blog and socially-shared posts, without independently confirming their accuracy. As I have told my reporters over the years, when working as an editor: Write only what you know to be true. If you haven’t communicated directly with the source, then you don’t know what’s true. But I am more disturbed by social media activity that mainstream media presents as news, such as stories that turn trending topics, or simply single tweets, into clickable headlines. Often they’re unconfirmed filler for driving pageviews. 

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The News I Choose

Strange isn’t it, the quotes that cling to you. In August 2009, the New York Times rightly asked: “What’s a Big City Without a Newspaper?“—when many reputable reporting organizations contemplated erecting paywalls after too long bleeding advertising revenues to the Google Free Economy. Journalist Michael Sokolove interviewed Brian Tierney, who then led a group trying to salvage two major dailies following bankruptcy: “He wants to begin charging for online content. As he told me this, he banged a bagel on a conference table, which sounded like a rock as it hit. ‘You hear that?’ This bagel stinks, he said. ‘It’s got the same consistency inside and out, but if you went down to our cafeteria, it costs like $1.25. That’s what people pay for stuff like this, so you mean to tell me I can’t get them to pay that for online access to all the incredible stuff in The Inquirer and Daily News online? People who say that all this content wants to be free aren’t paying talented people to create it'”.

Perhaps because I am a working journalist, or maybe being someone who seeks news that he can trust, the sources most valuable to me aren’t free. I pay for them—and in putting together a list, much more than expected. But before continuing, qualification: I started to draft this post in September 2015, coming back many times with intention to complete—only to perennially procrastinate. Perhaps I subconsciously intuited that my main news sources would dramatically change, as they have following Donald Trump’s unexpected presidential election victory. 

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Where News Reporting Bias Replaces Fact-Gathering

The inauguration of Donald Trump as 45th President of the United States continues the fine tradition [sarcasm] that became commonplace news reporting following his election victory: Advocacy over accuracy. In my book Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers—and on this website—I explain there is a legitimate role for advocacy journalism (full book chapter). But over the past couple of months—with adverse and antagonistic Trump reporting exploding across the new, news, and social media landscape—misinformation and mischaracterization became normal and accepted. The trend is dangerous, as bias replaces fact-gathering. The precedents are dangerous for all news reporting, not just about Trump.

Yesterday’s blog posts, social media shares, and even some mainstream news media reports about the Whitehouse.gov website are examples—and they also are metaphors for the twisting of facts to (presumably) reflect the writers’ personal biases. What should be legitimate reporting of events are instead editorial comments—no, character assassinations—by news gatherers with clear anti-Trump agendas. Every news blogger or reporter who opposes Trump (and/or his administration’s real or presumed policies) should add a disclaimer stating this bias. 

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You’ve Been Misled About Fake News

I am ashamed and embarrassed to be a journalist. This past week’s coordinated attacks on so-called fake news sites—largely orchestrated by the mainstream media and supported by Internet gatekeepers like Google and social media consorts such as Facebook or Twitter—is nothing less than an assault on free speech by organizations that should protect it.

They blame so-called fake news sites for influencing the 2016 Presidential election in favor of real-estate mogul Donald Trump and seek to extinguish them. But the Fourth Estate really responds to a perceived threat that looks to upend the mainstream media status quo. More appalling is the rampant advocacy journalism wrapped in cloak of objectivity from news orgs like the New York Times and the Washington Post. Meaning: Anti-Trump editorial policy and reporting slants are as biased as the labeled fakers. Worst of all: Many, if not most, media outlets fail to acknowledge, if even see, how they failed the American public during the campaign. Their accusations should point inwardly, not outwardly to other information disseminators.

So there is no misunderstanding: I am not a rabid Trump supporter, but a journalist who separates personal sentiments from my ethical responsibilities. More of my peers should do likewise.

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Facebook, Mainstream Media, Confirmation Bias, and the Trump Trauma

Lots of Americans, like those out here in liberal-leaning, Hillary Clinton-supporting California, are suffering what I call the “Trump Trauma”. They were sure she would win, easily, and are shocked at the unexpected outcome. It’s all disbelief, like someone suddenly died without warning. They were unprepared and now mourn the death of the Clinton candidacy. How could this come to be?

During our pre-election Frak That! podcast, on Nov. 7, 2016, cohost Randall Kennedy and I discussed the social media election. He expressed surprise at the “speed with which information travels”. I interrupted: “The speed with which disinformation travels now”, later describing social media interaction as something like “Borg sentience”, in context of phenomenon “confirmation bias“. The group mind—perpetuated by Facebook, news media reports, and political polls over-weighted to fit the narrative booming from the Echo Chamber—led many Americans, regardless of party affiliation, to misguided expectations about whom would be President-elect.

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CNET Expunged My Byline–and I Don’t Feel Fine

I made a rather startling discovery yesterday while looking for one of my old CNET News stories: My byline has been removed and changed to Staff. Not on just the one, but all. That ends any historical record reporting for the early tech website—from 1999-2003. While others sites I wrote for during 2003-2009 have vanished, CNET remained and my name as author of record on thousands of stories. It was a repository I could rely on. No longer.

The discovery came while searching for “Mac Cube: Is it all it’s cracked up to be?” The analysis sought to answer a question I had as a G4 Cube owner—as did others, many of whom were regular readers. The dek captures the story’s spirit: “Apple Computer is fending off criticism its stylish Power Mac G4 Cube is marred by cracks. But are the hair-thin lines the defects they appear to be?” 

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Why We Need Gawker

I love tabloids like the NY Daily News or New York Post. The editorial style is aggressive; reporting is accurate but snarky-authentic; and headlines typically are punchy and bold. These pubs also push boundaries that more traditional, staid—and, honestly, hoity-toity—papers like the New York Times often won’t.

Gawker Media blogs adopt similar scoop style appropriate to online news gathering; they connect the dots, adding breadth and context to stories all while keeping what I call the Prime Directive: Write what you know to be true in the moment. The approach—think tabloid and wire-service mashup—assumes the reporter doesn’t have the whole story, but writes what he or she has, following up as new info is available. Professor Jeff Jarvis calls it “Process Journalism“, which gets a chapter in my book Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers

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Litigation Censorship, Gawker, and the End of the Free Press

I am super grumpy today. Angry. No—thoroughly pissed off at billionaire bully Peter Thiel’s vendetta litigation financing that resulted in today’s bankruptcy filing by new media journo Gawker Media. Thiel plunked down, admittedly, at least $10 million to back Hulk Hogan’s breach-of-privacy lawsuit, which resulted in a $140 million jury judgement against the blog network for releasing the former faux wrestler’s sex tape.

Gawker had asked the presiding judge to set aside damages during the appeals process. Denied. The amount due exceeds the company’s assets, precipitating the Chapter 11 filing that will effectively end the media company as we know it now. Gawker is on the auction block, where Ziff Davis already has an offer. 

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Defending Gawker

What do you say about milk-curdling success? Dilbert-creator Scott Adams liked one of the tweets (posted by another team member) on our Frak That Twitter today. I am less enthused and disagree with Scott’s blog post spotlighting similar topic: Billionaire backing third-party lawsuit against a news organization; Peter Thiel’s previously secret assault on Gawker Media.

“Gawker’s business model is built around destroying the lives of innocent people to attract clicks”, Scott Adams writes. “How awful is Gawker? Imagine if revenge porn and cancer decided to get married and have an ugly baby with fangs. That would be Gawker. Pure evil…I see Thiel’s campaign against Gawker as a public service, and a valuable one”. I couldn’t disagree more