Category: About News

A Journalist’s View: As Virus Swirls, President Trump is Too Dangerous for Live TV

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.

Web Comments: You Know It’s Bad When Even Advance Has Had Enough

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.

Media Struggle With How to Remember Kobe Bryant

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.

Some Hopefulness for Local News. No, Really.

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.

UNA Student Media Adviser Learns the Price of Standing up for Free Speech Can Be Exorbitant

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.

Northwestern Students: Low Grade for Journalism but an A for Ethics

Journalism standards need defending in this climate of assault and deterioration, but I never imagined that would include hordes of professional journalists going on social media to meanly bash the daylights out of some college students who work for a campus newspaper.

Such was the reaction to an editorial published Sunday in The Daily Northwestern, the news outlet for Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, that apologized for its coverage of student protests at a campus speech by Jeff Sessions, the former US attorney general and US senator from Alabama.

The protesters accused Sessions and the Trump administration of racism and fascism, manifested primarily in their anti-immigration policies. The Daily published photos of protesters climbing through windows and engaging with police, then followed that up by texting to some protesters to ask if they would consent to interviews. You waiting for the controversial part? For the mistake that required the apology? That was it. Read more.

Local Charities: Soup Kitchens, Fine Arts and … Your Newspaper?

Everyone recognizes the financial distress of most news organizations today. But a speaker at an academic seminar I attended this summer – the founder of a nonprofit news website that covers Vermont – took it a dramatic step further: She believes it is no longer possible to make a profit from reporting news at the local and regional levels. Well, yikes.

That assessment drew disagreement from some other seminar speakers, but it’s nonetheless clear that journalism needs some new business models. One emerging model is the nonprofit news outlet, such as the one in Vermont and BirminghamWatch (which you are reading right now and to which I have donated). Read more.

The New York Times Keeps Making People Mad

It must be frustrating for The New York Times to do such exceptional journalism (for instance, here and here) and then to get beaten up mercilessly on social media because of its handling of a routine story. It’s a reminder that, of course, there’s really no such thing as a routine story, especially if you live in the middle of a political maelstrom, as the Times does every day.

The Times is catching some heat for its headlining and framing of a Wednesday story about contact between the Ukraine whistleblower and Congressman Adam Schiff. Some supporters of President Trump, who likely would have done this no matter how the story was presented, are distorting the article as evidence of collusion between the whistleblower and Schiff.

This unfairness aside, there’s no question the Times is having a real bad run lately. It has gotten justified public criticism for several things.
Read more.

Bring It On: Journalists’ Tweets, Even Old Ones, Are Fair Game

The recent news that political supporters of President Trump have been searching social media channels for offensive posts by journalists who work for certain national media brought understandable alarm and companion rhetoric from the targeted organizations. Media objections that such dirt digging intends to punish and discourage aggressive reporting are correct, but the better response would have been: “Have at it, and let us know if you find anything.” Read more.

Investigative Reporting Must Overcome Obstacles From Without and Within

This week’s child sex trafficking charges against wealthy financier Jeffrey Epstein are a testament to the impact of investigative reporting, in this case by determined journalists from The Miami Herald, who dug through documents, tracked down victims and told a story not only of horrendous crimes but also of enablers and leniency from the court system. It wasn’t easy. Investigative journalism never is. And alarmingly, it’s getting harder to do.
Uncovering malfeasance is becoming more difficult for multiple reasons. Start with rising government restrictions on access to information (laws and court rulings), non-compliance with open-records statutes, and threats of costly lawsuits by news subjects. Further, the boffo investigations by major national outlets are not being replicated to the same extent at the local and regional levels. The well-documented shrinkage of newsrooms across the U.S. has taken a big bite out of community watchdog journalism, reflected not only in fewer staff to do the job but also in newsroom priorities.
Read more.