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‘Liddle’ Bob Corker

In Ethics on October 13, 2017 at 7:32 am

What you see above was a middle paragraph in Peter Baker’s New York Times story about the ongoing acrimony between the president of the most powerful nation in the world and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Or, as Donald Trump calls him, “liddle Corker.”

Friends, these are strange days. When the news isn’t dominated by calamity on a global scale, it is littered with things like this. Small-minded inside attacks that are unworthy of public debate much less public office. In fact, you may ask yourself, is it news at all?

I think it is, when you are dealing with national offices and people who can create wars with a touch of a button. The state of mind of Bob Corker (who started it, I guess, by saying the White House was an “adult day care”) and Trump is of vital national interest. That is true for a range of what might to some seem private affairs. If you are a high-ranking senator or the president of the United States, there is no such thing as private.

But what if the above exchange occurred between, say, the mayor of your town and the city’s development director? Is that news? I think that is a much more difficult question for reasons I have a hard time articulating. Let me try.

For one thing, I think local officials are allowed to have private lives and private animosities. Sometimes. Otherwise, we’ll have a very hard time finding anyone (let alone someone qualified) to run for local public office. … Read the rest of this entry »


The future is coming…

In Innovation on October 13, 2017 at 7:28 am

The Future Today Institute issued its report on tech trends for journalists heading into 2018 and it should make us very nervous.

Let’s start with this: The institute would have us believe the smartphone is dead. That would be the same mobile technology most of us are still understanding.

The future, say many smart people is in conversational interfaces with zero UIs. Right. If you don’t know what that means, you are not alone. It means the future will not have a touchscreen. Or typing. Or writing of any kind. You will talk to your new overlord. Think voice control or artificial intelligence. The report predicts that by 2023, half of our interactions with machines will be using voices — ours and the machine’s. It predicts massive upheaval as a result. For instance, when you type nyt.com into your browser you know you are dialing up a trusted brand. But how will you know the “sound” of, say, the Sierra Vista Herald?

Speaking of artificial intelligence: “It is vitally important that all decision-makers within news organizations familiarize themselves with the current and emerging AI landscapes,” the report states. Are all of our decision-makers current with emerging AI landscapes? (Luckily, the report includes a primer for the one or two of us who may have fallen behind on our study of the future. The report is long and the format takes some getting used to, but it’s super interesting.) … Read the rest of this entry »

We need more female leaders

In Newspapers on October 13, 2017 at 7:22 am

Over the past week, all of us have read at least a little bit about the transgressions of movie impresario Harvey Weinstein. He turns out to be more of a mongrel than a mogul.

It’s hardly the first time we’ve seen men abuse their power in similar ways. We’ve seen this bill come due before. (Hello, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton!)

So, how does this continue to happen? How do some men — and let’s face it, we’re almost always talking about men behaving in this way — come to feel they can behave like this? I surely don’t have all the answers, but I do know one thing: These sexual power plays are much, much less likely when there are women of similar power in the room.

I bring this up here because of an important study that was just released by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. The organization found that many legacy news organizations have made strides to include more women in management over the last 15 years, but some have not. And whatever the progress, women and minorities are still woefully underrepresented in newsrooms in general and particularly in positions of power in those newsrooms.

Here’s something else I know in my heart: If the people in our newsrooms do not reflect the people in our markets we will never be able to truly understand their needs. All-white, mostly male newsrooms are a slow-motion disaster for our industry. … Read the rest of this entry »

Write with structure

In Writing techniques on October 5, 2017 at 3:42 pm

I confess I have never spent much time with the writing of John McPhee. I don’t regularly read the New Yorker and his books always seemed to center on East Coast things that didn’t immediately interest me.

Well, now I’m sure I was wrong. Last week’s New York Times Magazine piece set me straight.

The portrait is of a highly disciplined writer who spends more time on getting the structure right than choosing just the right word. Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about the architecture of our writing. Too often we pick up the paintbrush and start slinging bright colors on the page before we’ve hung the drywall.

McPhee says his interest in the structure of his work began long, long ago when a teacher made him write an outline before getting on with the writing. My guess is you don’t do that. I myself generally only outline things when I’m contemplating a long narrative. Otherwise, I convince myself that I have already done that heavy lifting solely with my mind’s eye. Most of the time, I’m fooling myself. A quick outline, jotted on a napkin, might be all it takes to make sure your story begins where it ought to and hits the right notes as it careers on to the ending.

The weird snail-shell looking thing at the top of this post is McPhee’s image of a story that became “Travels in Georgia,” an essay he wrote for the New Yorker in 1973. … Read the rest of this entry »

Is Tom Petty dead?

In journalism on October 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm

Tom Petty died this week. Then he came back to life, for a while.

CBS News, among others, reported that he was dead about mid-day on Monday. Shortly thereafter, one of the most respected names in news reported that he hadn’t, in fact, died. There are a lot of misdemeanors committed in journalism, but to be wrong about a death is pure felony. It’s extraordinarily hurtful to family and friends. It puts a cannonball-sized hole in your credibility. And it will make you the butt of jokes for years to come. (“The report of my death is an exaggeration,” Mark Twain told a newspaperman after another periodical actually printed his obit. That was 1897. The fact that you’ve heard that story before is all the proof you need that these stories stick around…)

The initial erroneous reporting on Petty’s death came from something someone at the Los Angeles Police Department said, apparently in an off-the-cuff discussion with a reporter. My guess is LAPD was on the scene when the famed musician was taken to the hospital, but did not file an official report as it wasn’t really the department’s case. Cops are people too and sometimes they gossip.

So, here’s the challenge: If you can’t believe the police, who can you believe?

Good question. Ordinarily, I would say if you get a news tip from a man or woman in blue, you are golden. For one thing, they tend to be tight-lipped. If they are telling you something, it’s probably true. Most likely. Almost always. … But not always. … Read the rest of this entry »

A new ‘Co/Lab’ in Arizona

In Innovation on October 5, 2017 at 3:30 pm

Many of you have probably been reading about an exciting new project that has brought some of the brightest minds in the industry to Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of journalism. It began with a question: Can news literacy be made universal?

Obviously, that is a tall order when literacy is low by many measures. I think the fundamental challenge is that so many of us just don’t want to hear about complications. We’ll take 140 characters and a photo, please. To be literate is to be curious and to put our mind to tasks.

Anyway, this collaboration is sponsored by Facebook. I know. We’re letting the fox in the henhouse. One of the project idea men is Dan Gilmour, who is a very well regarded former newspaperman who benefited from being at the right place at the right time as a columnist in Silicon Valley at the turn of the century. He says in a blog post that he trusts Facebook to do the right things now, having done so many wrong things then. We’ll see, I suppose.

Dan is right about the problem, in my view. We’ve ignored the “demand side.” We were arrogant. We owned the means of production of the news for so long we just thought folks valued us for that reason alone. Not so much, it turns out. … Read the rest of this entry »

Too much tweet?

In Social media on September 28, 2017 at 2:04 pm

The journalism world is atwitter this week with news that Twitter is doubling — doubling! — the number of characters allowed in a tweet.

What you read there is 136 characters. It’s essentially an old-school tweet. Do I need more space?

Adding characters to the tweet just so characters can ramble on is, of course, a blaspheme. As journalists, we are the most loyal users of the phone-friendly platform. And, as journalists, we know that shorter is better — even if we don’t always practice what we preach. For, I believe it was Shakespeare who held is iPhone X in the air in order to get a better signal in the stuffy Globe Theater to tweet, “Brevity is the soul of wit!” #PlaysTheThing #WhereForOutThou @juliet.

In all seriousness, I think we journalists like Twitter so much, in part, because it forces concise expression and we’re trained to be good at that. Fast and succinct are two words we appreciate perhaps more than the average bear.

Nonetheless, this week Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey caved to the long-winded and announced that his maligned platform was testing 280 characters. Why? Well, whatever he says, the reason is because the social media giant has sort of stalled. He’s trying to see if he can interest more people by allowing, well, more.

Great. There goes one of the last bastions of the edited word.

By the way, do you use Twitter? I like it a lot. It’s easy to follow local schools, first responders, area legislators in order to get a first head’s up. And as a news consumer, once you get the hang of what can feel like an archaic system of @ symbols and #s, you can follow breaking news like never before.

Most Wick papers use it to broadcast breaking stuff and local sports scores. Wick editors @hr_epetermann1 and @brandonbowers are two of my favorite follows because they have mastered the right voice for the platform and they post interesting stuff.

I’d be interested in knowing what else you do with it.


Taking photos of kids

In Photography on September 28, 2017 at 1:56 pm

This is Jamie Soja’s recent shot in the Half Moon Bay Review.

You’ve done something like this a bunch of times: You take your camera or cellphone to cover some community event. Say it’s the official unveiling of some new playground equipment at a municipal park. You talk to the city administrator and maybe the contractor, who are both there for the opening. Out of the corner of your eye, you see a very cute young boy going down the slide and into his mother’s arms. It’s the perfect photo for your story.

The right thing to do, before approaching children, is to find the responsible adult first. Introduce yourself, and ask if they would mind your taking a photo. Any parent would appreciate that. Most would say, “yes.”

However, the truth is that is not strictly necessary. I got to thinking about this because of a separate conversation with a Wick editor earlier this week, and I think it important to understand your rights. For instance:

“You have the right to take photos of any person from a public place (when that person) is in public,” writes California Newspaper Publishers Association legal counsel Nikki Moore in an email to me. “That doesn’t change for minors.” … Read the rest of this entry »

Going undercover

In journalism on September 28, 2017 at 1:49 pm

There has been a lot of ink given this week to a man named Patrik Hermansson. The Swedish graduate student went undercover in the European and American alt-right for an organization named Hope Not Hate. He says he spent hundreds of hours with people most of us wouldn’t want to encounter at all. He surreptitiously taped these encounters and is presenting them in various forms.

Is it journalism?

I would argue not, although it is certainly interesting. (I’m talking about the Hope Not Hate undercover work, not the NYT report, which I think is perfectly within the bounds of what we know as journalism.)

There is much to be gained from learning about people we might find repugnant. We have pulled ourselves so far apart over issues of race that it’s hard to know what our “enemies” really think and how they operate. It’s interesting to see Hermansson meeting these particular kinds of leaders in a local coffee shop, even as they plan and say terrible things.

Having said that, journalism requires of us a certain kind of integrity. I don’t believe that undercover taping meets that threshold. In fact, in many places, like the state of California, it’s illegal. … Read the rest of this entry »

Report for America

In Innovation on September 21, 2017 at 3:07 pm

There is a new idea afoot that seeks to make explicit something we all know intuitively: Journalism is as important to the republic as military might and the ready availability of quality, low-cost donuts. Kidding aside, it is heart-warming to see the unveiling of a program that will be known as Report for America.

The concept is simple, though execution might not be. A partnership between Google News Lab and a non-profit called GroundTruth seeks to put local civics journalism on par with organizations like the Peace Corps and Teach for America. It would work like this: New reporters who need the experience and mentoring would apply for positions that are funded 50 percent by Report for America, 25 percent by the local newspaper and 25 percent by local donors the newspaper would help find. These reporters would agree to stay for a year in exchange for inclusion. Sorta like a paid internship making real money.

I was particularly heartened by what one of the program’s founders had to say about the importance of mentorship and the fact that many good, young journalists are now lucky enough to skip the ladder through the ranks of the profession and that that sometimes leads them astray.

“What I think a lot of emerging journalists are missing these days is the experience of being lied to on a local level,” he told Poynter. “You need to go into storytelling and you need to know what it’s like to be misled.” … Read the rest of this entry »