In journalism on November 4, 2016 at 9:20 am
The Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas at Austin has delivered a report called “The Texas Media and Society Survey” and it offers some insights into how we are consuming news, who we trust and how we feel about professional journalists.
As you can see, at least seven in 10 people surveyed think the media spends too much time on scandals and the loudmouths. I’d like to unpack that a bit.
First, let’s acknowledge that it’s true. And it has something to do with the traditional definition of news. If 100 people gather in Iowa for a polite caucus, that maybe newsworthy to some but you won’t see a lot of coverage on television — or newspapers either, for that matter. In contrast, if those same 100 people gather outside the governor’s office and scream bloody murder you will likely begin to see journalists attracted to that chum. Why? Well, it makes for better art. We are trained to believe that conflict = news. Curiously, we are also taught to be dispassionate in our reporting even as we seek out people of great passion as our focus. It’s as if those two things find some equilibrium together.
It is also true that the people answering the survey often respond in a visceral way to scandal and extremism even as they decry it. Ask any of the dozen other Republican candidates in the presidential primary how much traction they got trying to be reasonable in the wake of Donald Trump.
To my mind, news producers and their audiences share this curiosity for sensation in more or less equal measure. The next time someone walks in my door and asks for less excitement in our political coverage, I’ll let you know. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ethics on July 14, 2016 at 4:47 pm
The other pride of Colorado State University, Liz Spayd. Via New York Times
The New York Times’ new public editor, Liz Spayd, took up an interesting topic when she addressed the newspaper’s decision – made in conjunction with an opinion writer – to massage a pointed piece penned in the wake of police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota. The Times toned down Michael Eric Dyson’s piece, headlined, “What White America Fails to See,” in the wake of a sniper’s attack on white officers in Dallas.
Times’ Opinion desk editors and Dyson both say they wanted to be sensitive to those hurting after the latest attack, so they changed the original piece significantly, both online and for the weekend print editions. The story now contains a one-line explanation of the changes: “This essay has been updated to reflect news developments.”
Spayd quotes reader Rand Richards Cooper, who had questions:
My questions are: Is it acceptable to change an opinion piece this substantially once it has been published? Do such changes imply that the opinions originally expressed in the piece are no longer valid? That the author no longer stands by them? Did the impetus for these changes come from the writer, or the newspaper? And what about the “record,” or perhaps the imprint, made by the originally published piece? Is it simply gone forever? What are the journalistic/ethical considerations involved in making the original essay vanish in this way?
Spayd acknowledges that these are good questions, but she eventually sides with the author and editors. She thinks the changing dynamics of the news demanded a nuanced editing of the piece. She does fault editors for not being more transparent in their explanation.
My inclination, however, is to side with Mr. Richards Cooper. I think many – heck, all – of our stories and opinion pieces are snapshots in time that can’t be divorced from the point at which they were written. Consider more stark examples. Many newspapers argued for appeasing Germany prior to World War II. If these newspapers were digitizing their archives, should they feel free to scrub that historic record? My own newspaper wrote some hateful things about Japanese-Americans at the time? Should I change that history now that our sensitivities have changed? … Read the rest of this entry »
In Opinion pages on September 24, 2015 at 2:12 pm
Occasionally in this life, public officials behave so egregiously that the only rational reaction is a bit of irrationality.
Take the case of Tea Party favorites and former Michigan state House members Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Their actual affair (and yes, I mean “affair” in both the literal and figurative sense) is too tortured to bother explaining. Suffice to say, the Michigan House has voted overwhelmingly to expel Gamrat. Courser saw the writing on the wall and resigned.
No matter: Gamrat is still running for election to her old seat. Not easily deterred is the fourth person ever expelled from the Michigan Legislature!
What you see above is the joint opinion issued by the Grand Rapids Press and the Kalamazoo Gazette. Emphatic enough for you? (Incidentally, one advantage of print over digital is the effect of “negative space” like this. Take a look at how it looks online. Not as effective, is it?)
Look, you can’t do that sort of thing very often. You can’t run front-page editorials all the time, either. But there comes a time when the local newspaper should speak loud and clear. “No” is pretty clear. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Editorial pages on December 11, 2014 at 4:59 pm
So you think your local editorials don’t make a difference? Clearly, you do not live in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
On Dec. 3, Sierra Vista Herald Editor Eric Petermann penned an editorial condemning the Tombstone School Board’s decision to call a special meeting for the purpose of giving the district’s superintendent a long-term contract. The kicker here is that the school board includes a pair of folks who had been voted out of office the month before.
Eric explained the problem succinctly in the last paragraph of his editorial:
When we put all those pieces together — a special meeting that was barely given public notice with an agenda that seeks action on a long-term contract and does not include public comment — the picture is an ugly representation of bad government.
The very next day, the school board tabled the matter. Here’s what the newspaper was able to report in the aftermath:
“I think the pressure from the community because of previous newspaper articles and the column by Sierra Vista Herald Editor Eric Petermann had a lot to do with the outcome of the meeting,” said board member Mike Hayhurst, who has been an outspoken opponent of the special session. “The column was very well written and a lot of people agreed with what he had to say.
“Along with that, a lot of people were relieved by the outcome of the meeting.” …
Read the rest of this entry »
In Editorial pages on October 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm
This week, the Pew Research Center suggested that newspapers are devoting less space – in print anyway – to editorials and other opinion. The usually reliable Pew Center seems to lean mostly on anecdotal evidence of cuts at several newspapers and the drop in membership at the Association of Opinion Journalists. No one counted the number of editorials or letters or measured the space allotted. I’m not sure that counts as research.
That said, it may be that there is less space in print devoted to opinion. However, I would argue that newspapers and their attendant websites are running much, much more opinion than ever before in the form of online forum posts and comments behind stories. To suggest that professional news organizations are abdicating the responsibility to lead the discussion in their communities is just flat wrong. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Uncategorized on February 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm
Half Moon Bay Review staff writer Sara Hayden alerted me to the Asian-American Journalist Association’s condemnation of a column by Stanford professor Joel Brinkley. I mention it here for two reasons: It’s another example of a syndicated columnist writing about something that has vanishingly little to do with our localities, and also because some Wick papers regularly run Brinkley columns.
So here is the offending column. Personally, I found the logic so ludicrously tortured that “offensive” was a concept that I didn’t apply, but then I’m not Vietnamese.
Here’s an excerpt and I think it gets at the crux of his argument, such as it is:
… Vietnamese have been meat eaters through the ages, while their Southeast Asian neighbors to the west — Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar — have largely left their wildlife alone.
In each of these other countries you see flocks of birds that are absent in Vietnam along with numerous pet dogs and cats. There, people eat rice, primarily, and for many people in most of those states their diet includes little more than that.
Vietnam has always been an aggressive country. It has fought 17 wars with China since winning independence more than 1,000 years ago and has invaded Cambodia numerous times, most recently in 1979. Meantime, the nations to its west have largely been passive in recent centuries.
… I would argue that because Vietnamese have regularly eaten meat through the ages, adding significant protein to their diet, that also helps explain the state’s aggressive tendencies — and the sharp contrast with its neighbors. … Read the rest of this entry »
In journalism on October 25, 2012 at 2:24 pm
This week, Jeff Zeringue of the Daily Iberian contacted me for my thoughts on over-the-top posts on the newspaper’s Facebook page. While I don’t think there is any legal liability for comments on the site, we completely agreed that the newspaper should foster civil discourse wherever possible and that such posts should be removed, if possible.
It got me thinking about digital bazaar in which we ply our trade. Is there anything we can do to keep people from calling the president a monkey, disparaging his challenger on the basis of his religion and all the rest of the junk that can be seen on the Web every darn day of the year?
Well, an organization called the Association of Opinion Journalists has been working on it. The group has talked of producing a handbook on effective argumentation that would “draw on the rules of rhetoric and journalistic attribution,” according to Frank Partsch, who has been the editorial page editor for the terrific Omaha World-Herald for a quarter of a century. The group may also ask members to host workshops on the subject in individual communities.
Partsch ends his piece on the association website this way: … Read the rest of this entry »
In Opinion pages on February 9, 2012 at 4:38 pm
On Thursday, several of us met by the magic of the telephone to discuss ways to engage more readers on our opinion pages. I don’t think we have any more important job as writers, photographers and editors of community news organizations. In fact, I think it is a duty that is in some ways more important than ever.
I realize that I’m running upstream a bit. Just this week, I read that the Chicago Sun-Times wouldn’t be endorsing candidates any more. The newspaper’s explanation (“We have come to doubt the value of candidate endorsements by this newspaper or any newspaper, especially in a day when a multitude of information sources allow even a casual voter to be better informed than ever before…”) may be true if you are talking big-city politics or national candidates, but I’m not sure you can say that in a place like Roanoke Rapids, N.C. or Montrose, Colo.
The instant gratification of commenting online has taken many of our old letter writers. And these days, fewer of us employ columnists to fill all that open real estate on opinion pages. We’re all busier than ever. Who has time to think of writing opinions when the dang scanner keeps jabbering about crime down the street and the school board is acting up again?
Fortunately, there are innovations we all use every day that can help. … Read the rest of this entry »