Category: About News

In a Disaster, Media Heroism (aka Craziness) Has Its Limits

When a natural disaster strikes a community, residents go to shelter. Public safety workers and journalists go to work.

News organizations usually prioritize the safety of reporters in the field during such events. Often, it’s the reporters who will push the limits on safety in order to deliver vital news to the public. Ethical managers talk them out of it.

But there’s no shortage of instances of reporters subjecting themselves to the brutality of nature to report a weather story. Their aim is to show the public the truth about the conditions. Their critics call it reckless showboating. Read more.

Pay-for-Say: Buying Interviews Is a Bad Idea

Paying for information is a much frowned-upon practice in journalism. Fortunately, it rarely happens.

Except, of course, when a media organization pays for a newsworthy photo or video.

Or for breaking news tips from sources (think TMZ paying police officers).

Or to cover a source’s pre-interview expenses.

Or for subject experts to appear regularly on shows.

Or for coaches and athletes to do weekly programs.

Or for event broadcast rights.

The latest incarnation is emerging in the world of sports, where college athletes can now make money from endorsements, appearances and interviews. Read more.

Is This Champion a Quitter? Glad to See the Media Say No

Among a cascade of memorable Olympics stories over the years, I especially remember the tale of a guy who finished last.

During the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Great Britain’s Derek Redmond tore a hamstring muscle in the middle of his 400-meters semifinal and collapsed. He got up and, in anguish, began limping toward the finish line. His father rushed from the stands and onto the track, grabbed him, and propped him up as he tried to complete the race. Near the end, the father let go of him, and Redmond hobbled across the line on his own to a standing ovation. Today it remains a famous moment of determination and inspiration.

But really, he probably should have stayed down and let the medics come get him.

I contrast that story with the decision of four-time gold medal winner Simone Biles to withdraw during the gymnastics team finals last week at the current Games in Tokyo. After an unexpectedly flawed rotation on the vault, Biles said stress and mental health concerns prevented her from continuing in that and other events (though she did rejoin for the balance beam competition on Tuesday). Read more.

The Best Thing About This Post: It’s Free

To get background for this article, I wanted to read a particular article about news organizations removing their website paywalls so people could see important COVID-19 stories for free. But it was behind a paywall. I now have a new classroom example of a paradox.

Many major news organizations that require digital subscriptions to view content generated much debate about the wisdom of their making COVID-19 coverage available to anyone who clicked. They cited a vital public service mission of delivering potentially lifesaving information to their communities. Critics argued that they sacrificed much-needed new revenue that would have helped to pay for continued work on this and other essential topics. This debate arose again last week. Read more.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Careers in Journalism

A remarkable student finished my News Writing and Reporting class this past semester with an A-plus. She wants to practice law.
Another remarkable student also finished with an A-plus. He wants to work in sales.

Journalism is freakin’ doomed.

OK, two anecdotes do not a crisis make. But I wish — unrealistically, of course — that all the talent I see in my courses would want to choose journalism as a career.
Read more.

Philandering Politicians Can’t Hope That Reporters Won’t Care

Came across an academic article saying public officials no longer have private lives off limits from prying media and opposing political campaigns — to the detriment of public service. It was published in 1998.

Imagine how things are now with heightened divisive politics, partisan news media, uncontrolled social media and a never-ending list of politicians whose horrifying activities in their private lives demand public scrutiny.

The question of when the private lives of politicians deserve public exposure is a perpetual one for the press. It has arisen lately with the cases of U.S. Congressman Matt Gaetz (OK, actually zero question here) and Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, who admitted last week to marital infidelity. Read more.

No Haven on Campus: Sad to See College Newspapers Disappearing

I no longer ask my classes “When was the last time you read a newspaper?” It’s roughly equivalent to asking “How many of you came to class today in a stagecoach?”

Generation Z gets its news online. That’s one big reason that a growing number of college campus news outlets have reduced the frequency of their print editions, or have abandoned them.

The Auburn Plainsman announced Thursday that its weekly print publications are done. Editor Jack West correctly noted the irony: Most of his readers will read the announcement online.

What’s happening among campus newspapers reflects what’s happening among professional newspapers. Except college publications can’t try to save themselves with paid subscriptions because they place their editions around campus for free reading. The pandemic has severely limited the number of students walking on campus, not to mention the ability to sell advertising, but the larger forces working against print products have been conspiring since before COVID-19.
Read more.

Warning: If You Get Chills Reading This, Keep It to Yourself

Got a great job for you. It’s in journalism. Never mind that if you take it you can’t publicly support a political candidate, donate to a political campaign, make money on the side without your boss’ approval, date someone you met on the job or accept a small token of thanks from a subject grateful for your hard work.

Here’s something else that many news organizations say you can’t do in your personal life: express a political opinion on social media. Read more.

No Easy Way to Make Fox News Change Its Bad Behavior

No one is more responsible for the devastation to life and property at the U.S. Capitol than the criminals themselves, but retributions are under way against parts of the media environment that allowed it and even encouraged it.

Under public pressure, and perhaps stunned by events, major social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have temporarily or permanently suspended selected accounts, including the president’s, deemed to potentially incite violence. Amazon, Apple and Google essentially shut down Parler, a social media platform popular with conspiracy theorists.

It’s not as clear what to do about traditional news media, such as Fox News, that also stirred unfounded anger with repeated lies by opinion hosts, commentators and guests about the validity of the presidential election. Read more.

How the News Media Can Vaccinate Against Misinformation

The looming public distribution of COVID-19 vaccines offers great optimism for ending the pandemic. But doing so requires a substantial majority of the population to acquire immunity either by contracting and recovering from the disease or by getting a vaccine.

Good luck with that, everyone. We live in a society where we can’t even agree that the coronavirus is real, much less that we all ought to wear masks and get vaccinated.

Making matters worse are the approximately 39 percent of Americans who say they probably or definitely will not seek a COVID vaccine, according to a Pew Research survey in November. If that number holds or goes up, that could be an obstacle to achieving the desired herd immunity that protects everyone.

The success of COVID vaccinations will hinge greatly on effective public messaging by health officials and government leaders. The news media will play a crucial role, as well.
Read more.