Category: About News

Rebuilding Local News? Start With Local Control

A coalition involving the National Newspaper Association, the Institute for Nonprofit News and a dozen more news organizations recently rolled out an ambitious plan to channel $3 billion to $5 billion dollars from the government, businesses and philanthropies into local journalism.

The plan for newsroom funding, called Rebuild Local News, comes as local news organizations in many communities are crumbling. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found that more than one-quarter of the nation’s newspapers had disappeared during the past 15 years.

As policymakers, news organizations, advocates and community members think about how to save news organizations that can (and should) be saved and how to replace those that can’t (or shouldn’t), it is vital to remember that simply “providing the news,” shouldn’t be a journalistic organization’s only responsibility. Local news organizations also must be committed to a community, promoting inclusive dialog to help them see and solve local problems. Read more.

When a News Website Is Not Really a News Website

Apparently, I shouldn’t be wondering about the agenda of my city’s newly elected mayor or what improvements I can find at the renovated public library down the street. Apparently, I should be thinking instead about the awful “C” rating given to Democratic Colorado governor Jared Polis by the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., for poor fiscal management.

Because that was the top story when I visited the news website of the South Birmingham Times on Thursday (and on Friday!)

The site is one of nearly 1,300 pretend local news sites launched by a company called Metric Media in the past several years. That’s about twice as many as the nation’s largest newspaper chain.

Alabama has 20 of them, according to The New York Times, with seemingly legitimate and neutral names such as the Tuscaloosa Leader, the Jefferson Reporter and the Decatur Times. Read more.

Rage Over “Rage”: Bob Woodward Makes a Debatable Decision

I at first disagreed with the criticism that investigative journalist Bob Woodward should have gone public right away with Donald Trump’s taped interview comments about the deadliness of the coronavirus in early February. Instead, Woodward held them for publication in his book “Rage.”

The claim is that Woodward would have saved lives if the public had known Trump had been lying when he repeatedly downplayed the danger during the virus’ early stages in this country. But after three-plus years of relentless conning and fabricating, I don’t think people still trusting Trump for health information would have believed Woodward anyway. Read more.

This Commentary Is Excellent, According to Sources

President Trump claims The Atlantic “made up” its aghasting Thursday night report that the president has privately referred to dead American soldiers as “losers” and “suckers.” The magazine didn’t, as shown by subsequent confirmations by The Associated Press and other outlets. But it’s harder to refute claims of falseness when, as was the case here, a news organization relies solely on anonymous sources.

“These weak, pathetic, cowardly background ‘sources’ do not have the courage or decency to put their names to these false accusations because they know how completely ludicrous they are,” a former deputy White House press secretary tweeted Thursday night. Even some members of mainstream media, while praising The Atlantic’s reporting, called on the sources in the story to come forward.

Journalists have debated the ethics of this kind of attribution forever. They’ve also used it forever.
Read more.

With Huge Stakes, Maybe Media Will Cover Campaigns Right This Time

Donald Trump has presided over multiple crises in America, but don’t forget that Joe Biden has said some stupid things during campaign speeches.

I have just engaged in a prevalent failing of the mainstream political press: false equivalency, which means to give a similar volume of attention to two dissimilar and unequal sets of facts in order to appear fair and balanced. You might recall “But her emails…” from the presidential campaign coverage of 2016.

As we head toward an obviously monumental presidential election on Nov. 3, nonpartisan political reporters are doing their best to avoid their highly consequential mistakes of 2016 and some previous election cycles. With such a stark contrast between the two presumptive nominees – uh oh, I may have just engaged in the also common press failing of tempered euphemism – the stakes couldn’t be higher for the performance of the press over the next three months.
Read more.

Some Fans May Have to Throw Out Their Favorite Sports Team T-Shirt

Two popular fan choices to replace “Redskins” as the nickname of Washington’s NFL franchise are “Pigskins” and “Red Tails” (in honor of the World War II fighter pilots from Tuskegee, Alabama). I suggest owner Daniel Snyder make everyone happy with a compromise choice of “Pig Tails.” (Please push your automated laugh track button now.)

Sports team nicknames can be funny, but the Washington franchise’s adherence to its 87-year-old name in the face of multiple protests in recent decades is not funny. Native American activists brand the name as racist. The franchise cites tradition and says the name pays tribute to the heritage of American Indians. But on Monday, Snyder, who once vowed he would never change the name, agreed to do so. It’s part of a national awakening about memorials and symbols that demean traditionally oppressed groups, but mostly it’s because some big-time corporations threatened to withdraw sponsorship of the Redskins. Read more.

Sometimes, Media Have to Remind Government Who It Works For (That Would Be You)

Imagine giving some money to an investment broker and when you later ask what the broker did with it, you’re told it’s none of your business. I see no difference between that and what agencies of state and local governments in Alabama do whenever they reject or ignore a citizen’s request for government records.

This happens too often in Alabama and elsewhere:

— In June, the city of Decatur denied an open-records request by multiple news outlets for disciplinary records of a police officer involved in a physical assault of a storeowner.

— In May, the environmental advocacy group Gasp and the Environmental Defense Alliance filed a lawsuit against three state of Alabama agencies that have denied access to emails involving state opposition to a federal environmental cleanup of a North Birmingham neighborhood.

— Last year, the state Attorney General’s Office (one of the agencies sued by Gasp) rejected a request by an Alabama Media Group reporter to see a contract signed with an industrial safety expert as part of a new plan to allow death-penalty executions by nitrogen gas.

— In 2017, WBRC-TV asked to see the $2.6 million contract between the city of Birmingham and a company called ShotSpotter that detects gunshots and pinpoints their location. The station also asked for data compiled by ShotSpotter. Three years later, the city still has not provided the data or even the contract.

— You’d think that in a pandemic, when smart behavior depends on having full and accurate information, that there’d be no secrets. But you’d be wrong, as shown by the Alabama Department of Public Health’s refusal of an AMG request to identify individual state-licensed nursing homes that have reported coronavirus cases.

In each of these cases, there is a legitimate public interest. And in each of these cases, the reason cited for rejection was an incorrect interpretation of Alabama’s open-records law.
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Execute Journalists? Don’t Think It Hasn’t Happened

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.
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Coverage of Protests Brings Out Internal Newsroom Anger

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.
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In the Middle of Protests, Reporters Find News — and Danger — on the Streets

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.