Tag Archives: media

We Can’t Handle the Truth

Here's a tasty little tidbit from a post titled Why Fact Checkers Fail:

So here's what we did — what I did — and what others have certainly done as well: I downplayed Republican dishonesty while judging Democratic failings with an unfairly harsh bias. I applied this to assignments, to the tone and presentation of stories, and to the various gimmicks we invented to try to evaluate claims. The results didn't reflect the true scale of the dishonesty gap, but they at least demonstrated that a gap existed. At least, they had the potential to demonstrate the gap, but only to very careful readers with a knack for drawing subtle inference. Because we could never come out and tell you what we all knew in the newsroom: Yes, "all politicians lie" (a cynical dodge if ever there was one), but the modern Republican Party is based on a set of counter-factual and faith-based beliefs, and has been for years. Not only has that foundation consistently put the party on the wrong side of fact-checkers, it has led us to where we stand today, with Mitt Romney running a campaign that has abandoned even the pretense of fact.

There has to be some middle ground between partisan media hacks and spineless media hacks but it seems to be unpopulated at the moment.

NewsRight

I just read a story on the Winston-Salem Journal's website that its parent company is one of a group of news organizations spearheaded by the Associated Pres that's launching a company called NewsRight.  The purpose of this company is to track the usage of news stories on "unauthorized" websites, blogs and other newsgathering services and turn those users into paying customers.  Later in the article the president of the company talks about using the data to inform advertisers about who's reading which articles, but let's be honest here – they're going after folks they think are impropertly profiting off of content they've created.  

On the surface I have no problem with the idea of content creators getting paid for their content*, but I get a little tired of newspapers ignoring the flip side of the coin.  You see there are a lot of people out there who use content appropriately – they quote a paragraph or two and then provide a link to the source material.  Are the news organizations compensating the people who are providing a free reader to them?  Remember, if someone clicks a link from this blog to a story in the Winston-Salem Journal the Journal gets to count that reader towards their ad count. Even if they only make a penny on that reader that's a penny I gave them and I didn't get compensated for it.

My point is this – they might want to view people who are properly using the information they produce as partners rather than customers.  You know, maybe reward people like me for bringing you readers rather than assuming I'm stealing your content.  Maybe that's what the company president meant when he mentioned the advertising, but I didn't take it that they were going to share ad revenue with "partners", but that they were going to use the data gathered to raise ad rates.  

I'd love to know what John Robinson (recently retired editor from the Greensboro News & Record) and Lex Alexander (was responsible for the News & Record's online initiatives before he jumped ship) think about this.

*Back in the early days of my blogging ('04-05) I thought newspapers were wrong-headed for going after blogs that copied and pasted stories wholesale – basically I thought it was overkill – but since then I've changed my mind.  There's no reason for them not to protect their product, but at the same time I think they truly missed an opportunity to develop a new business model that used those very same people to build their audience and profit.  That's a longer post for another day.

BTW, if you're reading this and you work for Media General you're welcome for the link. 

Lost in Translation

One of the things I have set up at work is a system to monitor feeds from various information sources like Google Alerts, RSS Feeds, Twitter feeds, Facebook feeds, etc.  One thing I've noticed is that some of the local media outlets let errors creep into their headlines when they translate them for their social media feeds.  I know they try to get out a lot of info in a short amount of time so I understand typos and bad grammar creeping into the stories themselves, but I don't think it's too much to ask that headlines be done right.   Lest you think I'm referencing one or two isolated incidences let me just stroll through my Twitter feed and give you a sampling from the past week, followed by my initial thoughts upon reading the offending headlines:

@myfox8: High Point Police Officer Seriously Injured After Being Rescued from Wrecked Patrol Car http://t.co/BfEhYWK
"Please God don't let me be rescued by the same people."

@WXII: Homes Evacuated By Gas Leak At Vacant House http://bit.ly/p2qBzY  
"What does a gas leak look like when it goes door-to-door?"

Here's an interesting comparison; look at the previous gas leak story headline and compare it to this one at myfox8:
@myfox8: Hwy. 70 Closed in Whitsett Due to Gas Leak http://dlvr.it/bpXgc 
A little more accurate wouldn't you say? 

@myfox8: Fire Closes Wright Brothers Visitors Center Temporarilyhttp://dlvr.it/bx7SR 
"Did the fire have a key?" 

@myfox8: Overturned Grain Truck Closes I-40 Ramp on US 421http://dlvr.it/bvSyt 
"It's a helluva truck that can pick itself up and direct traffic like that."

To be fair, with the possible exception of the first headline, the questionable construct of the headlines won't cause you to misinterpret what the stories are about.  Also, there are probably 100 stories linked to on Twitter without questionable headlines for each headline that contains the kind of error that would make your average 8th grade English teacher turn red with frustration. And, again, I understand how much info they're processing and getting out to their respective audiences, but I still think there must be a lot of old-school editors out there shaking their heads in wonderment at what has become of their industry. 

So, is it unrealistic to hold media companies to the same editorial standards for their social media as we do for their traditional media?

Reporting is Reporting

A reporter-turned-blogger who won a journalism award in the blog category thinks that reporting is reporting no matter how you report.  She also divulges her secret to scooping her media competition:

Well I use a lot of tasers and threats – idle threats. Someone asked me this the other day, they say how do you get so many scoops? And I’m like, I work harder than you, I call more people, I follow up. I’m kind of relentless in terms of making calls, building sources, creating relationships. When I hear a small thing I follow it up. I think there’s no trick to great reporting, it’s just being curious, following things up, developing sources and not just putting up whatever idle rumor is around. We don’t do that. When we write something it’s going to happen. We spend a lot of time on accuracy, on credibility, on truthfulness, and on being right about what we say is going to happen.

I've long felt that the one competitive advantage that mainstream news outlets had after they had laid off their real competitive assets (their people) was that they were the "reliable source." Of course all it takes to lose that advantage is a couple of poorly researched stories that are publicly debunked by some nosy blogger, or heck, some well informed and well connected person who exposes the errors on Facebook.  It's like you tell your kids, one lie undoes all the trust you built with a thousand truths. Now I'm beginning to think that another way the traditional news outlets can lose their advantage is by having it taken by a reporter who's spent years building her reputation by doing great work and who is now swimming outside of the mainstream media, probably because she was downsized, and is now highly motivated to eat their proverbial lunch so she can continue to literally put her dinner on the table. 

So what's the over/under on when we'll stop referring to reporters as "main stream" or "bloggers" and just start referring to them as, well, reporters?  How about when we'll stop worrying/caring if the reporting comes to us in the form of paper, traditional television newscast, carrier pidgeon or electronically on the personal-digital-device-du jour?  I'm glad I'm not the one who has to figure that out.

Breaking News via Facebook

There's a bit of a political kerfluffle brewing right now in Greensboro over a recent redistricting vote by the City Council.  It's been a hot topic at Ed Cone's blog, which everyone in Greensboro knows is where you go to be seen, er heard, er read when you want to vent your spleen about the goings on in what is likely North Carolina's whiniest city. What's interesting to me is that Ed just broke the news that one of the City Council members announced that she's going to ask that the vote be reconsidered, and she made the announcement via her Facebook status.  

It would be easy to just say that this is a sign of the times, and it is, but upon further examination I think there are some fairly interesting ramifications in this simple act. Here are some that have come to mind:

  • Any reporter "friended" by a public figure who uses Facebook as a primary communication vehicle will have a competitive advantage over a reporter who isn't. Public figures have always had preferred members of media and I suspect they've always cherry-picked who they leak news to, but this is a very public way to play favorites with members of the media. 
  • Of course the public figure can also completely "disintermediate" the media by friending everyone but the media, thereby communicating directly with their audience and excluding the media.
  • Whether or not a member of the media is included or excluded, the news will be old to a healthy chunk of the audience by the time the 5 o'clock news airs or tomorrow's paper is printed.
  • This development has only reinforced my conviction that "news" operations need to move away from the shallow "breaking stories" MO and move quickly towards deep and analytical stories that provide context and avoid titillation and tattling.  In other words most of us now know what happened with the Greensboro redistricting, but few of us really know why.  Giving us the "why" is where the professional media can make hay.
  • In another interesting twist I've found that most of the really good comments on Ed's blog are posted by the professional journalists (I'm thinking of Joe Killian here) who often provide context and expert understanding of the issues in response to other commenters on Ed's posts.

Headlines

Local news operations now publicize their stories through a variety of media including Twitter and Facebook.  I have no idea how WXII doles out the responsibility for pushing content from their website to Twitter, but they may want to have a chat about how those 140 characters are used.  For a story today the Twitter feed read thusly: "Winston-Salem Jogger Struck By Vehicle http://bit.ly/aB1uqp." On the website the headline was "Job Seeker At Fair Struck By Vehicle" and the first paragraph read:

A man who was running to get in a hiring line for the Dixie Classic Fair on Tuesday morning was struck and injured by an SUV along Deacon Boulevard.

It ain't the end of the world but there's a big difference between jogging and sprinting across the street to a job interview, and I think it behooves the news ops to make sure all of their headlines accurately reflect the content of their stories.

Adjectives and Context

It's always interesting to read about an event at which you were present and to really not agree with how the event is described.  This is not to say that the person writing about the event is wrong, or that I'm wrong, rather it highlights the subjectivity inherent to reporting. 

A case in point is a meeting I attended yesterday about which a reporter wrote "Contending for speaking time in a room full of raise (sic) voices…" To me that sentence implies that people were shouting, but I can tell you that from my point of view the participants of the meeting were speaking adamantly, but nobody was shouting.  It might seem like I'm nitpicking, but I think the context is important.  Meeting participants were disagreeing with each other and as I said I thought they were defending their positions stridently, but if what they were doing was raising their voices then my family shouts at each other incessantly.

Again, I want to emphasize that I don't think the reporter is wrong on this point, nor am I.  Rather I'm saying that it's interesting to see how two people can see the exact same thing and come away with differing interpretations.  Something to keep in mind when you read your daily paper, favorite blogs and other nefarious resources.

Oops there I went and dropped an adjective-bomb.

Video of Tasered Streaker is Interesting for Unexpected Reason

A video shot in Wrightsville Beach by Greensboro resident Stephen Stearns is interesting, but not because it features a naked dude being tasered by the police.  Sure, that's interesting if you're into seeing a naked guy tasered in the middle of the street, but I was more interested in the fact that Mr. Stearns kept running his camera even as he was being ordered by the police to stop.  He rightly pointed out that he was in a public place and that he had every right to continue filming. The officer threatened to arrest him, but Mr. Stearns held his ground and he obviously won the argument because he continued to record as the streaker was being escorted away by the police.

Activists Dominate Content Complaints

Link: Activists Dominate Content Complaints.

The main point of this article, Activists Dominate Content Complaints,
is that 99.8% of all the complaints received by the FCC were generated
by one advocacy group.  My favorite part, however, is that the FCC
commissioners claim that the number of complaints received has no
impact on their decision making.  Really it’s a matter of law. 

Right.

That’s why Michael Powell highlights the dramatic year-to-year
increase in number of complaints, from 14,000 in 2002 to 240,000 in
2003 when testifying before the Senate.  (There were fewer than 350 in
2001 or 2000).  But really the number of complaints is irrelevant.

How can it have an impact when they only use the complaints to
decide what to investigate. After all if the FCC monitored the airwaves
for violations on their own then they might be accused of censorship.
But, really, it’s not the volume it’s the quality of the complaint that matters.

BTW, this article is a follow up that MediaWeek did after Jeff Jarvis revealed this little beauty.

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