Category: Journalism

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Be Careful What You Wish For, Mr. Thiel

A report available today from Pew Research Center finds that 62 percent of American adults “get news on social media, and 18 percent do so often”. Those statistics should frighten new and old media, but more so critics like billionaire Peter Thiel, who bankrolled wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against Gawker; the blog and news site lost. Depending on the outcome of a court hearing, Gawker could be shuttered or sold, if forced to put $50 million in escrow during the appeals process. The amount exceeds yearly advertising revenues.

Thiel admittedly put up about $10 million, if not more, to support Hogan’s lawsuit and unnamed others. Destroying Gawker might seem like an enviable outcome for one of Silicon Valley’s tech elite—he is a PayPal cofounder and early Facebook investor—but, as they say, nature abhors a vacuum, which replacement isn’t waiting around. Social media increasingly fills the niche that Gawker vacates. 

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BBC’s ‘Bathroom Bill’ Story is the Worst Kind of Journalism

This analysis is not a commentary about North Carolina’s controversial bathroom law, but the irresponsible and unethical news reporting about it. I am appalled by the headline and dek of a BBC story posted earlier today. Quoting the latter: “North Carolina is suing the U.S. Department of Justice over its attempts to bar the state from upholding its anti-LGBT ‘bathroom bill'”.

While many people might agree with “anti-LGBT” as descriptor, BBC nevertheless shouldn’t use it. Doing so makes a value judgement and demonstrates bias rather than neutral news reporting. Even using LGBT without the “anti” is biased. Also, as a foreign news agency, regardless reputation, the Beeb makes moral pronouncements that may not reflect those of the country that it reports about. The headline and dek implicitly impose values, and that should not be the news report’s goal—all while diminishing, if not ignoring, the rationale behind the legislation. 

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The Four Bad Habits of News Sourcing

The most notable news media event of the week goes to New York Daily News, which basked in the illumination of social media’s ire over accusations that writer Shaun King had plagiarized text verbatim from a story that appeared on the Daily Beast. But like so much that rises to the top of Twittersphere. the backstory is more complicated. Turns out that an editor removed attribution, accidentally, he says. The tabloid subsequently fired him.

Unless there was deliberate and chronic attribution removal, editor Jotham Sederstrom’s  dismissal after seven years service stinks of face-saving. He made a mistake, two admittedly, and takes full responsibility. In a Medium post worthy of inclusion in J-School ethics classes, he writes: “This was my fault and I accept 100 percent of the blame”. That’s an editor you want on staff. He stands behind his writer, and rightly protects the only commodity any journalist can truly offer an audience: Trustworthiness. 

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Don’t ‘Fall into the Gap’

The Internet outrage over the photo for a Gap Kids advertisement is rather ridiculous. The meme accuses racism, because the taller white tween rests her arm on the shorter black girl’s head. Gap was wrong to apologize and replace the pic, bowing before the will of social media bullies. They read too much into the modeling, and you shouldn’t side with their idiocy.

The posing isn’t unusual for Gap marketing, and there is at least one earlier instance where roles reversed: Black tween resting arm on the head of a white girl, as filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry tweets with question: “Does the @GapKids pic on the left make the pic on the right okay? Let’s debate”. The answer is immaterial, because motivation and meaning are assigned, in conspiratorial fashion. I look at the pic and could, purely for contrarian perspective’s sake, assign equally-outrageous interpretation. 

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Six Films Every Journalist Should See

Yesterday afternoon, I started watching movie “Spotlight”, which later won Best Picure during the 88th Academy Awards. Following the Oscars, I finished the film, which warrants inclusion in my list of movies that every news gatherer should watch. If there are others worthy, please prompt me. I previously posted, on Dec. 30, 2014: “You Could Study Journalism, or Learn as Much Watching These Five Films“.

All six movies offer valuable lessons about responsible news reporting and ethical boundaries that matter in the real world—beyond the ideals that J Schools teach, regardless the kind of journalism you practice.  My ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers identifies five types (and really should count seven): Advocacy, contextual. conversational, mob, and process

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Old Habits Stymie The New Republic

In companion posts (one and two) 13 months ago, I defended Chris Hughes’ decision to reimage The New Republic and relocate operations to the Big Apple. Having the right strategy (and I believe it remains so) isn’t the same as being the person capable of executing it. Today, in a stunning admission, Chris writes: “I have decided to put The New Republic up for sale”. Son of a bitch! Really?

“After investing a great deal of time, energy, and over $20 million, I have come to the conclusion that it is time for new leadership and vision at The New Republic“, he explains. “When I took on this challenge nearly four years ago, I underestimated the difficulty of transitioning an old and traditional institution into a digital media company in today’s quickly evolving climate”. 

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Milking the Aggregation Economy

The scoop is as old as truthsayers’ ability to freely speak without getting their heads lopped off. Invention of the printing press created the free press, if for no other reason than anonymity for rebelrousers, who in future generations would be called journalists. If you believe the folklore that the news media seeks the truth, just ask anyone about whom it is revealed: “They’re troublemakers. Tell the executioner to get his axe”. That’s me and my kind—headless in another era.

Few months back, occasional emails from the Financial Times started hitting the old inbox with a thud. Each and every one is similar scheme: Highlighting some scoop in the tech sector from the newspaper. What’s the 1970’s song lyric. “Bang a gong, get it on” (Eh,you do know what that means, right—and, sigh, getting older, I haven’t done that for a while.) FT PR bangs about a scoop, which I can only presume is to get attention for it from other news gatherers. 

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Photo Credit: Julia Folsom

Hehe, This is How You Report About the Consumer Electronics Show

Engadget features editor Joseph Volpe buries the lede, so I fix it for him by posting over at my new project, Frak That!, headline: “Steve Jobs calls Apple Watch a ‘Joke’“. Oh, the clickbait accusations will fly from some, and the Apple Faithful will fling rotten fruit for my irreverence, but the post fits the site’s core editorial principle of pointing out the absurd—in this case the otherwise lack of original reporting about the Consumer Electronics Show, to which the somewhat oddball Engadget story affronts.

Joseph rises above the CES 2016 public relations cluster-fuck to write something really original. He consulted a “higher source” to get the lowdown on the year ahead in tech: Las Vegas psychics. Brilliant! And it’s something I actually read in all the dribble designed to self-flagellate corporate egos. 

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Valleywag May Be Gone, But Its Spirit Lives On

I follow few bylines. Matt Taibbi tops the short list, which also includes Gawker writers Sam Biddle and John Cook. I read them for their biting style and searing sarcasm. But one of the vehicles for their content is gone, and I should have seen the end approaching.

The New Year left behind Valleywag, the snarky insider rag that over the course of 9 years shamelessly scorched Silicon Valley’s power elite. But no more. On December 31st, John posted “R.I.P. Valleywag, 2006-2015“.

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Journalism Matters

Over on Google+ today, Alex Hernandez reminisces on 2015’s closing by looking at content from years past. Among them: Dan Lyon’s February 2012 missive “Hit men, click whores, and paid apologists: Welcome to the Silicon Cesspool“. Hey, I vaguely remember that indictment of Silicon Valley journalism. Alex, who runs tech-news site Techaeris writes in response to the nearly four-year old story:  “I’m working really hard to not be a ‘Valley Press’ site—as Scott Wilson rants about often—and after reading this and a few other articles today, I may be reforming the way we approach things.

Jack Weisz mentions me in a comment, to which I responded and to another from Alex. While both responses reiterate principles posted to this site many times before, end-of-year reflection is good time to present them again. 

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Flack Attack

Yesterday, while catching up on days of RSS-feed news, I stopped grazing and actually read TechCrunch Christmas Eve post “#MisguidedPR: The Industry’s Internal Crisis” by Colin Jordan, who is—what many of my peers would call—a flack. I rarely use the descriptor, deeming it as condescending. But for this post, the term fits.

The commentary’s objective is clear: To encourage his colleagues to abandon past public relations strategies that are obsolete today. Part of the problem he identifies is imbalance: There are way many more flacks than there are journalists (but perhaps not bloggers, I must add). Using U.S. Department of Labor statistics, he finds “5.7 PR professionals for every one journalist”. Because I do my own reporting rather than source someone else, whenever possible (most often), I checked the data. 

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Responsible Reporting Section 3 ‘What You Must Do’: Chapter IX

I owe you an apology. Months ago I promised to finish serializing my ebook Responsible Reporting: Field Guide for Bloggers, Journalists, and Other Online News Gatherers, before releasing it into the public domain. The last installment was in mid-October, with one chapter and the Afterword remaining. As I prepare for the New Year, not leaving loose ends is top of mind. Thus, with a huge sorry, this evening I present the closing chapter (but exclude the outdated March 2014 Afterward), The book will release into the public domain to start 2016.

I have posted from Chapter IX before, on Dec. 30, 2014: “You Could Study Journalism, or Learn as Much Watching These Five Films“. Each movie teaches lessons about responsible reporting—some by illuminating irresponsible and/or unethical behavior. The last in the list expresses in an exchange between characters something that should be embedded into the synapses of every 21st Century news gatherer: