Category: News Media

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For Free Speech and Democracy

Fifteen years ago—April 14, 2007—the Wilcox family rode the DC Metro into downtown for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival Parade. The Featured Image is one of many street shots from Canon 20D and EF 135mm f/2 USM lens. This one, composed as captured, is previously unpublished. Vitals: f/5.6, ISO 200, 1/500 sec, 135mm; 9:32 a.m. EDT.

I choose the photo for the strangest of reasons: The riders and their American flags as symbols of democracy and freedom. Why today? Elon Musk bought Twitter, which he plans to take private and supposedly will reestablish as a platform for free speech.

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Okay, They Can’t Both Be Right

Or am I missing something super obvious here? Take a look for yourself: CNBC; New York Post. The funny thing: Both news stories cite the same study but choose to frame the findings differently. Specifically, in presenting their opposing viewpoints, CNBC and New York Post link to different Tax Policy Center datasets—here and here, respectively.

The two headlines, and the reports themselves, are an excellent case study for how data is subjectively presented by the so-called mainstream media—or any other organization with some measure of partisan political leanings. The network is notoriously liberal and pro-Biden. The newspaper is arguably conservative and more critical of old Joe.

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Some Common-Sense Perspective

Two coincidental reports published today put fresh perspective on the demonstration that breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. The Featured Image pairs the headlines and illustrating photos side-by-side: Reuters on the left and Wall Street Journal right. Heretofore I have cautiously opined about the incident because of political polarization that taints any reasonable discussion. My missives (in order published—all January 2021): “Flowers, Anyone?“; “Citizens are the True Symbols of Our Democracy“; “Divided We Stand“.

This week’s collapse of the Afghan government and violent ruling return of the Taliban stands in stark contrast to the unarmed dweebs dumb enough to breach the Capitol building some seven months ago. I don’t mean to diminish the clash that occurred between some zealous Trump supporters and law enforcement, but wonder: How can anyone call that an insurrection after the actual overthrow of the government in Afghanistan? Let’s briefly discuss the two stories, for some common-sense perspective.

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A 20-Year-Old Memento

While rummaging around for one of our daughter’s old drawings, my wife pulled out my press pass issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 20 years ago. At the time, Microsoft sought to overturn, or at least diminish, its adverse antitrust ruling and recommended remedy that would break the company into separate applications and operating systems companies. The U.S. Justice Department and 20 states attorneys general filed the initial case in May 1998. One state dropped out almost immediately. If I rightly recall, only 18 states remained by mid-2001.

I was a staff writer for CNET News.com and remember the court case well. My reporting got lots of attention, particularly analyses of the case and where it would lead—such as prediction that the appeals court would remove the trial judge; it did and upheld eight antitrust offenses. I am unable to find the news piece online because CNET removed the byline from all my stories—presumably purged in a content management system upgrade five years (or so) ago. Even more disturbing: The stories I have found universally have the wrong datelines. For example, my report “New judge assigned in Microsoft trial” has a publication date of July 20, 2002 but should be Aug. 24, 2001. Ugh.

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News Writing Triage (2011)

How unexpected. While cleaning up old files, I found this list created on June 13, 2011, for tech-sector news reporters that I supervised. I wouldn’t make many changes more than eight years later—qualification: for organizations solely focused on breaking news that primarily is original content. Looking ahead to 2020, in a revised list meant for a broader scope of content creators, I would put considerably more emphasis on mainly generating original content—as you will see in a follow-up post closer to the new year.

The original list was supposed to be 25 items, but dumb-butt me made a mistake and wrote two different items for eighteen. I corrected the numbering, and now the list is twenty-six. I also made a change to the second-to-last. 

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Subtract This from Apple News+

I thought so little of what Apple might announce during its March 25th splashy event that I scheduled my annual physical at the same. Not that you asked, and that’s okay: I am healthy for my age, which is not something that can be said of the publishers exposing their operations to the Apple News+ plague. For consumers, the deal is sweet: $9.99 monthly for access to about 300 news sources—the majority magazines.

The first free month tempted, and I had to try it out. As you can see from the screenshot, my tenure didn’t last long—not even a day. During 2019, my subs to Entertainment Weekly, National Geographic, New Yorker, and Rolling Stone will expire, and all of them are available via Apple News+ for pennies, by comparison, plus a heap of other mags I would love to read.

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Twitter is Right About the ‘Public Conversation’

I respect—and support—Twitter’s decision allowing Alex Jones to continue using the service. No other social network is as much about free expression, whether or not you agree with the viewpoints expressed there. I see YouTube in similar vain and, as such, wag my finger in condemning “shame on you” for following Apple’s lead and pulling Jones’ channel(s). (Vain is purposefully misused to make a point that I hope you get.)

For the record: I have never listened to or watched even a snippet of InfoWars. Meaning: I don’t stand up for Jones’ viewpoints but for his expressing them across social networks. 

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‘Fake News is the Cancer of Our Times’

New owner of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Tribune, Patrick Soon-Shiong, succinctly sums up the current state of the Fourth Estate with the right metaphor: “I believe that fake news is the cancer of our times and social media the vehicles for metastasis”. Read his letter, released today, at the start of his stewardship.

I agree: “Institutions like the Times and the Union-Tribune are more vital than ever. They must be bastions of editorial integrity and independence if they are to protect our democracy and provide an antidote to disinformation. We will continue our papers’ dedication to truth, integrity, journalistic independence, and storytelling that engages, informs, educates and inspires with care and compassion…We view the publications we acquired as a quasi-public trust…I grew up believing the best newspapers are the voice of the people”. 

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Caught in a Villainous Lair

Part of the reason, yesterday, I walked down Adams Ave. to Pet Me Please (for cat food) was to swing by Villainous Lair, which is a cool comics shop that also hosts gamers. Last week, I read a San Diego Reader news story by Mike Madriaga about the store closing on January 31.

Employees confirmed closure and the date, although much stock remained to be sold—50-percent-off list price this week. Role-playing game activities, along rows of tables and chairs in the back room, will continue as usual until the last day. Tonight, as part of a kind of send-off party, there also will be live Rocky Horror Picture Show in the store. I shot the Featured Image, of the shop, when leaving, using Leica Q. Vitals, aperture manually set for street shooting: f/8, ISO 100, 1/125 sec; 28mm; 1:59 p.m. PST.  

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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.