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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Survey says we aren’t so different

In journalism on 4 Nov 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 »


All’s quiet on the local front

In Elections on 27 Oct 2016 at 2:18 pm
Wikimedia commons

Wikimedia commons

This is the quietest election season in my dozen years in Half Moon Bay. Let me clarify: There is less fire in the state and local elections than in any election year in my memory.

Why is that?

I have three theories and I wonder if things are relatively quiet where you live as well.

  1. There is so much dysfunction and hate speech in presidential politics that it simply overwhelms any vitriol at the local level. It could be that people are getting their fill of political polemics in the outright war for the White House. I’ve never thought of political sniping as a zero-sum thing before, but maybe it is. I wonder if there is data that could measure the level of acrimony in other races throughout the country and compare that to, say, the 2012 election year?
  2. America is already great again. Times are relatively good. The economy has been on a slow, slow, slow upswing. Many more people have jobs than only a couple years ago. At this writing, we aren’t in any boots-on-the-ground wars (fingers crossed.) Racial tension over police action is a notable exception, and maybe that scuttles my theory in places like Charlotte and even New Iberia, La.
  3. Alternatively, America will never be great again. Maybe apathy is gaining momentum. Maybe there is little interest in state and local politics because it doesn’t carry the TV star power of presidential politics and folks are increasingly losing interest as a result. Maybe we just feel like we can’t make a difference? …

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Aboard Air Trump

In journalism on 20 Oct 2016 at 3:19 pm
Montrose's Matt Lindberg and an unidentified man in a tie.

Montrose’s Matt Lindberg and an unidentified man in a tie.

Montrose Daily Press Managing Editor Matt Lindberg knew when Donald Trump planned a rally in nearby Grand Junction that the circus was coming to town. He didn’t know he would be invited into the tent to see the ringmaster himself up close and personal.

He says that he got a call from a Trump operative on Tuesday morning, just before the presidential candidate was scheduled to speak before 10,000 people on the Western Slope of Colorado. Lindberg was being invited on the Trump plane for a one-on-one interview with one of the most controversial men in recent history.

“I was told I would get a call from an unknown number during the rally, and I needed to answer,” Matt wrote to me in an email. “Then I would be escorted to the plane. That happened.”

Matt and Daily Press sports editor Richard Reeder got an uninterrupted 20 minutes with The Donald while ensconced in the candidate’s largely gold-plated jet.

Matt says his goal was to capture some of the flavor of the man rather than give another report from another rally. I couldn’t agree more.

Matt’s reporting from that day is interesting, personal, clean and would be worth the price of the paper to anyone in the area who is interested in presidential politics in this unprecedented year. (By the way, the story is behind a paywall or I would share it with you. I have mixed feelings about the paywall concept, but this is certainly an instance when it increases the value of the paid product.) Matt pulled out local nuggets. Trump said he had been to the area before and found the Western Slope of Colorado beautiful. He asked Matt where he thought the people came from for the rally. Matt said he talked to one attendee from as far away as Utah. … Read the rest of this entry »

Who knew I could feel sorry for Matt Lauer?

In journalism on 15 Sep 2016 at 11:33 am


Pity Lester Holt. The NBC newsman is the next batter up in the lineup of journalists (and whatever Matt Lauer is) sure to be skewered by the left and the right for the temerity of moderating a political debate. Holt will be the man in the middle at the first presidential debate on Sept. 25.

I don’t mean to malign Lauer. And that sets me apart from just about everybody else in the wake of the so-called “Commander-in-Chief Forum” held last week on NBC. Trump supporters blamed him for harping on Iraq. Clinton supporters say he was harder on the democrat. Critics said he was terrible. And, reportedly, even executives with his own network called Lauer’s performance a “disaster.”

Regardless of what you think of Lauer’s performance that night, his experience in the aftermath justifies my own skepticism when asked to moderate political events in Half Moon Bay. Part of me thinks I should, but all of me knows I’ll be pilloried for doing so.

Respected journalists have taken part in political forums for decades. More often than not they have emerged relatively unscathed. One reason, I think, is that the smart ones agree to participate selectively.

If you are reading these words, you may be asked to participate in a forum in your community, perhaps even as this year’s election nears. I think there are three ways you can take part without creating rifts with one side or another of the political spectrum. … Read the rest of this entry »

Checking the facts

In First Amendment on 11 Aug 2016 at 1:29 pm

Screen Shot 2016-08-11 at 11.48.45 AM

One of the most persistent complaints about “the mainstream media” is a perceived lack of interest in the truth. Many, many people think we sacrifice the truth in trying to be fair to each side – regardless of whether one or both sides are just plain lying.

There is truth to that complaint. We are hard-wired in many instances to seek a rebuttal. The mayor says this. His chief rival responds thusly. Etc. You see it every day in coverage of the presidential campaigns. Donald Trump says Hillary Clinton wants to abolish the Second Amendment. She says she doesn’t. Ad nauseam.

But which side is telling the truth?

Too often, we don’t even try to say. That is partly because ferreting out the truth is harder than he-said, she-said reporting.

Well, Green Valley News Editor Dan Shearer has stumbled on one way to get at the truth without having to do it all himself. He pointed me toward FactCheck.org. It describes itself here:

We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. We monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Our goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding. …
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You got the wrong governor

In Editing on 30 Jun 2016 at 3:00 pm

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 4.01.51 PM

If you work in this business long enough (and let’s face it, it probably won’t take that long) you will eventually have a day something like the one Fredricksburg Free Lance-Star Editor Phil Jenkins had on June 28. That is the day his newspaper published big bold display type reading, “McAuliffe’s bribery convictions tossed” right on the front page.

Trouble is, it wasn’t current Virginia Gov. Terry McAullffe up on bribery charges. It was his predecessor, Bob McDonnell.

Oh boy.

As you might imagine, Jenkins issued an apology.

There are several factors that can help explain what happened. We’ve been struggling to adapt to a new software system. And on this particular story, we were making changes to the design of the page and in doing so strayed from our normal process for writing and editing headlines.

But none of that excuses what was a massive and embarrassing error.

You make sure it’s right online. You call the governor’s office and apologize. You write a correction for the next edition. It’s about all you can do after the fact.

Jenkins says his paper is hiring additional editors to assure something like this doesn’t happen again. That is a luxury. I suspect there are many more of these kinds of errors at papers big and small now that most of our newsrooms have shrunk. The industry’s entire system of checks and balances has eroded and often the first layoffs were copy editors who existed precisely to catch these kinds of things before it is too late. … Read the rest of this entry »

The candidate and the press

In Writing on 16 Jun 2016 at 12:59 pm

trump pic

You might have heard that presumptive Republican presidential nominee and all-around feisty guy Donald Trump has revoked the Washington Post’s credentials to cover his campaign. Perhaps, like me, you didn’t even know you needed credentials to cover a presidential campaign. Learn something every day.

Turns out, the WashPo has to get in line in this one. Trump has already revoked credentials for Politico, Huffington Post and other news outlets.

It’s a curious move, and one that does not bode well should he eventually occupy the Oval Office.

Generally, candidates clamor for the free publicity they receive in our news pages. My guess is that Trump falls in the camp that believes there really is no such thing as bad publicity. Nevertheless, he seems to equate “things he doesn’t like” with “dishonesty.” There has, of course, been a lot of reporting on the Trump campaign that is hard to gussy up. There has been negative reporting on Trump University and the candidate’s lifelong relationship with women, to name just two examples.

Which is really neither here nor there. Washington Post Editor Marty Baron – the same guy who ran the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, by the way – has said that the unofficial newspaper of the federal government will continue with rigorous coverage of Trump’s campaign even if access to the candidate is restricted. I don’t doubt him a bit. It’s really no different than a mayor in New Iberia becoming miffed at the Daily Iberian and refusing to comment in future stories. It doesn’t mean the Daily Iberian will quit asking tough questions. … Read the rest of this entry »

The return of gatekeepers

In Social media on 19 May 2016 at 3:40 pm

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 10.42.33 AM

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the uproar over Facebook filtering its News Feed differently for liberal and conservative readers. There was even talk that the social network was excluding some conservative chatter. This has been swirling around for at least a couple weeks, and really, how could you be surprised? The algorithm is designed to give you what you want, whether its sushi over hamburgers,  Trump over Clinton.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal released a tool that allows you to see what arch conservatives and progressive liberals see on their Facebook News Feeds at any given time. Some found the difference unnerving.

Earlier this week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was meeting with conservatives to unruffle feathers. Perhaps there will be some tweak to the math that makes more people happy, though I don’t know. I kind of doubt it. Do most liberals really want more Trump news on their social network? Are your conservative friends eager to scroll past Bernie Sanders every day?

A week ago, I attended a symposium that included a panel discussion with executives from various news organizations. One of those execs was longtime newspaper man Peter Bhatia. The Facebook thing came up and he quipped, “Oh, look at that. The gatekeepers are back.” To which all us old grizzled news hacks chortled because we remember being ridiculed for daring to be the gatekeepers for our readers. … Read the rest of this entry »

Surviving silly season

In journalism on 12 May 2016 at 3:25 pm
Courtesy Getty Images

Courtesy Getty Images

So there is this woman running for sheriff of Mohave County, Ariz. And there are these two people who can’t stand her. The candidate says they don’t like her because she once arrested one of them for assault. A supporter of the candidate wrote something unflattering about the opponents on Facebook. They sued in return.

Welcome to silly season.

The Lake Havasu News-Herald chronicles the dispute here. But, really, as we bear down on election season, you can read stories like that in most Wick newspapers. While they arouse white-flame passions locally, they always appear childish from afar. Interestingly, we tend to think there is something unique about our own local political climate that spawns stories like this, but trust me: this kind of stuff happens in every small town with an election.

Editors and reporters struggle with how to cover claims and counterclaims that often seem better suited for a school yard than a court of law. Usually, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Invariably, these come down to back-and-forth sorts of stories in which all you can hope to do is document each side’s claims and run for cover. (Here in Half Moon Bay, the battle du jour is over an obscure “official argument” against a ballot measure. One guy has sued claiming such arguments can only come from elected officials. He lost and is now appealing. … Not that anyone will actually read the written argument in question anyway. … Except for one fourth-grade class that used the specious arguments as a lesson in logic! That is making for a good column even as we speak.) … Read the rest of this entry »

Introduce your new mayor

In Ideas on 19 Dec 2013 at 12:48 pm
Half Moon Bay Mayor John Muller

Half Moon Bay Mayor John Muller

On a cold December night five years ago, a good man and a farmer named John Muller looked out over a Half Moon Bay City Council audience that included four generations of his family. He drew a deep breath and began.

“We know these are difficult times, which are likely to get more difficult before they get better,” Muller said as he drew a breath that only clutched at the lump in his throat.

In 2008, the country was in recession, the city nearly bankrupt. In the years to come, the council would shutter its the police department, shelve its parks and recreation department and outsource nearly everything. Muller was near tears and heartbroken.

“The mayor can’t turn a switch and immediately fix everyone’s problems,” he said that night. … Read the rest of this entry »