Category: About News
President Trump’s reported statement that journalists who publish leaked information should be “executed” is a more explicit and heinous extension of his repeated “enemy of the people” trope. It’s so far beyond the pale that the only necessary reaction is ridicule, then dismissal as nothing more than Trump venting berserkly in private*.
Except for the fact that it has happened.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports that in the past 18 months, 14 journalists around the world have been murdered because they were journalists. UNESCO reports some that CPJ does not, including one as recently as this month. Some of the assassinations have suspected ties to government officials, others to political or criminal groups.
The homicide of George Floyd and the subsequent street protests have illuminated failings not only among law enforcement agencies but also among many mainstream news organizations. Along with other issues, the well-documented lack of racial diversity on newsroom staffs has shown itself in harmful and embarrassing ways.
Perhaps a black journalist in The New York Times’ chain of editing, or simply a heightened awareness created by a more diverse department, would have anticipated the valid internal and external criticism that U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s published idea to send the military to “restore order” in American cities posed a safety threat to protesters and journalists, especially black ones. “This puts our Black staff members in danger,” the newsroom union wrote.
Hey students: Are you interested in a career in journalism? This exciting field offers not only low pay, long hours and no job security, but also the chance to go to dangerous places where everyone hates you. Sound good?
Recent street protests in Minneapolis and other cities have illuminated the risks that journalists face when they report from the scene of civic unrest. At least six reporters have suffered physical harm in Minneapolis, primarily from getting hit with crowd control ammunition, according to reports on the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker website. One photographer was permanently blinded in one eye from a rubber bullet, according to her social media post. In an especially alarming case – because a clearly identified journalist was singled out – a police officer used a baton to strike a cameraman. Read more.
First came one wave of devastation. Then swiftly came another.
That’s not the precise story of the coronavirus, though in the end it may turn out to be. But it is the story of newsrooms getting piled on by adverse conditions.
Lost advertising put the journalism industry into a decade-long spiral of closures, layoffs and diminished products that was still happening at the time of the virus outbreak. COVID-19 halted events, shut down businesses, and savaged advertising even further. News companies around the nation responded as they always had, with yet more slashing of expenses in the forms of permanent layoffs, temporary furloughs, and pay cuts that they present as temporary but that are likely to become permanent. Read more.
Never more than Monday have I worried that Donald Trump spends too much time trying to defend his past actions and not enough on forging a plan to eradicate the coronavirus and return the country to normal. Read more.
Bringing change to ingrained practices of the news media is slow and difficult, especially if it’s the fundamental premise that journalists should report all the news and let the audience do with it as they wish. But occasionally, when evidence of significant public harm begins to pile up, change can happen.
— Example: National TV networks eventually came to agree that on presidential election nights, immediate, sample-based declarations of state winners before polls closed could affect subsequent voter turnout. Now, they wait.
— Example: A growing number of editors have concluded that repeated and high-profile attention to the names and viewpoints of mass shooters may contribute to the motives of copycats. Now, more organizations practice restraint.
It’s time for another change. TV networks should no longer show live broadcasts of presidential press conferences about the coronavirus. I am not alone in concluding this.
No kind of misinformation from any government official is acceptable. But the news media can blunt some of it with aggressive follow-up questions, prominent fact checking and pointed criticism by designated commentators. With the coronavirus, though, the danger of distortion and inaccuracy is so great that normal journalistic counterbalances are not fast enough or effective enough. President Donald Trump puts some people’s health and even lives at risk when he downplays the spread of the disease, offers premature hope for drugs whose effectiveness and side effects are unproved, and overstates the availability of tests. Read more.
Thursday’s action by Advance Local news websites, including AL.com, to eliminate readers’ ability to post comments beneath site stories was so jaw dropping that it reminded me of Playboy magazine’s decision to eliminate fully nude photos of women. Take what was once a cornerstone of your brand and business model and throw it away.
How well I remember, when I worked at AL.com in the 2000s, the emphasis on posting stories that would generate comments and other forms of reader “engagement.” Reporters were required to engage in a certain number of daily interactions with posters. This really wasn’t a bad thing, as it offered new and valuable chances for direct public feedback, a wider diversity of voices engaged in civic conversation, and even an occasional story tip. But then the lofty ideals got rained on by reality and washed away into a heap of mud and muck.
Website commentary deteriorated into a cesspool of misinformation, viciousness, physical threats, racism, misogyny and other forms of harm and ugliness that made me think some humans should not be allowed to reproduce. Efforts to moderate – meaning to remove comments that violated user agreements – were too inadequate to keep up with the volume of problems. Some Advance employees complained, but engagement was the priority of the corporate office.
Remarkably, Advance finally decided it had had enough. Read more.
The question posed to two classes of college journalism, film and public relations students was this: If you’re the editor of the Los Angeles Times, and you’re directing first-day, deadline coverage of the shocking death of former LA Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant and eight others, do you mention the rape case?
I got a yes – after 10 minutes of noes. The majority view was that discussion of Bryant’s 2003 felony sexual assault charge would be warranted in a few days – after a respectful period had passed to allow the family, the local community and adoring fans to grieve and pay tribute. I didn’t feel then, or now, that I should criticize as journalistically irresponsible any attempt to think ethically and compassionately about a publication decision and who might be harmed by it. We need more of that in media. And it certainly seems out of proportion to brand such a decision as irresponsible after some far more egregious examples of irresponsibility by professional media outlets reporting on the story.
Still, the decision of some news organizations to initially omit this chapter of Bryant’s life, or to give it a mention so brief that it smacked of forced obligation, seems like a failure. Read more.
Local journalism in America is in “crisis,” according to a report last month from the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy and research organization in Washington, D.C. Pen America, a nonprofit free-speech advocacy group in New York, followed a week later with its report that local news across the country faces “decimation.”
I’d like to offer some optimism, please. Read more.
The censorship of student newspapers has been a source of concern among journalists around the nation during 2019. One Alabama school, the University of North Alabama in Florence, became the focus of the issue of First Amendment rights of student journalists when it forced out its student media adviser following the campus newspaper’s publication of articles that drew the ire of some administrators. Here is the view of what happened at UNA from then-student media adviser Scott Morris, a former editor at the Decatur Daily and the TimesDaily in Florence.
Winning a national award and becoming a poster boy for a campaign against student-press censorship is small consolation for losing my job at the University of North Alabama.
The College Media Association recently presented me with its Noel Ross Strader Memorial Award, the Purple Heart of student media awards. The honor goes to a full-time teacher or student media adviser who upholds the principles of a free press at some risk to personal or professional life.
While I greatly appreciate the award, I would prefer to be using the last five years of my professional life by training students to become journalists and other types of media specialists. Instead, I am unemployed at age 60. I lost my job at UNA in May after I stood up for my students’ rights to report on sexual harassment, possible sexual abuse and other important issues that administrators preferred to keep behind closed doors. Read more.