Category: About News

Crime Stories Are Everywhere, but You Really Can Go Outside

The news media love crime stories, which, of course, is the fault of the audience for giving them clicks and ratings.

But some commentators on the press offer unreservedly brutal words for how journalists do crime coverage:

—Tauhid Chappell and Mike Rispoli of Free Press wrote for Nieman Lab in 2020: “Crime coverage is terrible. It’s racist, classist, fear-based clickbait masking as journalism. It creates lasting harm for the communities that newsrooms are supposed to serve.”
—Kelly McBride of Poynter told an online seminar in 2021 that years from now, “newsrooms will issue apologies for the harm they caused” with their crime reporting. For good measure, she called it “journalistic malpractice.”

Yikes. Read more.

A Journalist Who Doesn’t Want You to Buy His Book

When the best journalists put their work in book form, they invest exhaustive effort to portray the subject as completely and truthfully as possible. Often, they nail it.

Sometimes, in hindsight, they miss.

Sportswriter Jeff Pearlman, a New York Times bestselling author whose work includes books on Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Cowboys, believes he missed with his 2016 book “Gunslinger: The remarkable, improbable, iconic life of Brett Favre.”

Remarkably and improbably, Pearlman went on Twitter on Sept. 13 and told his followers not to buy or read Gunslinger. He did so in the immediate wake of news reports that Favre, the retired Green Bay Packers and Southern Mississippi quarterback, knowingly participated in steering $5 million in government money intended for impoverished Mississippi families to building at new volleyball stadium at Southern Miss, where his daughter played on the team. Read more.

Tattletales: News Media Love to Call Each Other Out

Sunday marked the final broadcast of CNN’s 30-year-old news media criticism show called “Reliable Sources.” The reasons for the cancellation aren’t clear, but the network’s new CEO has said he wants to cut back on opinion, re-emphasize straight reporting and, notably, attract conservative viewers who have turned off CNN.

Good luck with that last part, fella.

There’s still plenty of press criticism out there from politicians and other partisans, but less and less from professional reporters who are designated to do so. In addition to losing “Reliable Sources,” the job of “public editor” – a newsroom reporter given the authority and independence to listen to audience complaints and write about their own organization’s failings – has almost disappeared. Read more.

Sick and Tired of All the Bad News? You’re Not Alone

“I can’t even.”

That was a common remark on social media in the wake of discovery that a mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, left a 2-year-old boy orphaned. He was found wandering in the street. “Are Mommy and Daddy coming soon?” he later asked his grandfather.

I can’t even.

Of course, what’s the unspoken part of that sentence?

“I can’t even comprehend something so awful.”

“I can’t even imagine what life will be like for him.”

“I can’t even believe we live in a society where that could happen.”

All of the above.

And for some people: “I can’t even bring myself to read the news these days.”

It’s bad out there: COVID, the Ukraine war, mass killings, political insanity, add your own. Many people decide they just don’t want to read or watch it anymore. They engage in “news avoidance.” Read more.

Emotions of Abortion Debate Put Newswriters in a Language Jungle

I don’t know how journalists writing about the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs abortion decision manage to meet their deadlines. They have to stop practically every other sentence to think and avoid words and phrases that are loaded like landmines.

I can’t think of any other issue in which the language has become so politicized. Journalists writing news stories seek truthful characterizations while steering clear of perceived partisanship. This may be impossible here. Read more.

Policing the Truth: Yes, the Cops May Be Lying

Whenever a large-scale crime of violence grabs national media attention, it’s gut wrenching to watch those interviews with grieving families and witnesses. It’s only natural to think, “Leave those poor people alone.”

But reporters have reasons for doing it. Here’s one: To try to figure out if the police are lying to everyone.

We are seeing this now with the mass murders at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Interviews and social media videos have shown that early law enforcement accounts of quick confrontation and bravery by officers were bogus. Read more.

D.C. Dinner of Journos, Pols and Celebs Was Black Tie and a Black Eye

The news media that cover the White House have a really great plan for combating the common public perception that they are elitist and out of touch with the rest of the world.

They hosted a black-tie dinner in Washington to schmooze and hobnob with government leaders and politicians. Really.

The White House Correspondents’ Association dinner returned Saturday night after a two-year absence because of the pandemic. The gala event featuring Beltway journalists, leading political figures and celebrities presents such a terrible picture.

The message to media consumers (and haters) says this: The D.C. press and politicians are quite cozy, actually, and what we see 364 days a year is just a game they play to fulfill prescribed roles and maintain access. It makes one wonder if the independent and sometimes adversarial relationship that’s needed to produce accountability journalism truly exists in untempered form. Read more.

Photos We Don’t Want to See, But Maybe Should

We spent part of Monday’s media ethics class talking about dead bodies.

The topic was prompted by some gut-wrenching social media photos of fatalities from Russia’s special operation to liberate Ukraine. (That’s how I’m referring to Vladimir Putin’s immoral invasion of a sovereign nation just in case Putin reads the Arenblog and decides to poison my Diet Coke.)

My very smart students nicely framed this longstanding dilemma of whether and when to publish such photos. Respect for the victims, compassion for victims’ families and the danger of exposing audience to upsetting images all dictate not to publish. But showing the truth of war – so that citizens of the world might insist their nations never engage in it – demands no withholding.
The New York Times picked its side of one such debate on Monday. Read more.

Public Figures Race to Court With Bogus Grievances (And They Know It)

Sarah Palin: I think I’ll file a libel lawsuit against a news organization that’s so legally flimsy that both the judge and jury will decide against me.

Kyle Rittenhouse: Hold my beer.

It’s becoming fashionable for individuals on the far right of the political spectrum who believe they are the unfair targets of the news media to engage in defamation litigation that’s purely grandstanding and harassment.

Palin, a former Republican vice presidential nominee, unsuccessfully sued The New York Times over an editorial that wrongly stated that a campaign advertisement by her political action committee had prompted a man to kill multiple people at a political rally in Arizona six years earlier.

Then Rittenhouse, the acquitted killer of two people at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 2020, announced this week on various media forums that he plans to sue selected celebrities and news organizations for their negative coverage of him, including labeling him as a “murderer.” He’s launching “The Media Accountability Project” to raise money for his efforts. This is so heroic that I have tears in my eyes. Read more.

Beijing Olympics: Media Can’t Ignore the Elephant in the Room

The pageantry and inspiring athletic accomplishments of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, China, will captivate many of us for the next two weeks.

It will be easy to forget that outside the TV cameras’ frame, the host country is abusing and killing some of its people.

Human rights groups around the world have called on countries, companies and media to boycott the Beijing Games in protest of an array of documented oppression by the Chinese government, primarily the forced detention and labor of Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region. These groups and the United States, which announced a boycott by diplomats, say China is committing genocide.

But a little genocide isn’t enough to keep corporate sponsors and NBC away when China is such a huge potential economic market and the Olympics are a TV ratings magnet. Read more.