Posts from April 22, 2004


: I’m accustomed to live-blogging conferences filled with bloggers who are doing the same.

This was the first time I blogged a — what should I call it? — civilian event. I pulled out my Treo 600 and geeky keyboard and blogged Bush and Rumsfeld; today, I blogged the newspaper ethics panel on my laptop and, as the last sentence was spoken, published it via the Treo as modem. If I were geekier (read: more competent) I would have blogged pictures, too.

This was new and amusing to the grizzled pros around me; some were curious, a few looked faintly disapproving. IT was also new to at least one of my readers, who left a rude comment.

And it occurs to me that live-blogging is a new kind of reporting. There’s no chance for analysis or even organization, but there is a chance for editing: You type what is of interest as it happens. If you want a completely masticated and digested view of an event, a news story is far better. If you want a complete and unedited view, go to CSpan. But for a quick hit of what’s notable (which is what blogs are best at anyway), liveblogging has its advantages.

As I saw the stories about the event today in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Washington Times (links later when I’m not on the train), I realized that, thanks to our geeky tools of citizens media, I was the first to report to the world what these guys said. Now if they’d actually said something…

Credit where credit is due

Credit where credit is due
: After the newspaper ethics session, I found myself sitting across from Tribune Co. President Jack Fuller (a long-ago colleague) at lunch. I asked whether — thanks to all the newspaper scandals of late and weblogs — the paper was hearing more questioning of accuracy from readers. He said he agreed with how Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., closed the session, saying that the most frightening aspect of these scandals is how few people feel compelled to tell papers of problems. But then he pointed out one case where it made a difference that could have happened only on the net: A veteran foreign correspondent was fired after making up the name, he said, of a source in Australia. Oh, I said, that’s Tim Blair, famous blogger and journalist. He didn’t know that it was a blogger who brought it to their attention. Now he does.

(Tim’s posts are here, here, here, and here.)

More Rumsfeld: Ran out of

More Rumsfeld
: Ran out of space in the ongoing live blogging… so a new post..

: “Terrorists are going to school on us just as we are going to school on the terrorists,” he says, answering a question about the quality of training. Times change, he says. He was Reagan’s Middle East adviser when our barracks were attacked by a car bomb. Up went barriers. So the terrorists started using RPGs.

: He says our tremendous success as a nation is based on trust but that is also what makes us terribly vulnerable. He says we want to win without “giving up the thing that makes our country so special: that is to say, trust.”

: He says he gets CDs of a woman with an operatic voice singing his press conferences.

: Arthur Sulzberger was standing up to ask a question but it ended first. Damn.

Blogging Rumsfeld: Now I’m at

Blogging Rumsfeld
: Now I’m at a lunch with Donald Rumsfeld (and 700 others). We can only hope that he’s as tough on journalists’ bosses as he is on journalists.

: He starts with comments on “the interaction with your business and government… You do something that is rare in Washington: You actually produce something.”

It’s really just a shaggy dog joke to start things off affab ly.

He says news organizations are criticized by many. “But interestingly, my sense is that you’re not regularly criticized by each other.”

He reminds us he was a cosponsor of the Freedom of Information Act.

He says he hopes his DOD has offered as much or more access than any before. He inaugurated the embed program. He has held hundreds of press briefings. “It’s unbelievable. It’s exhausting. It’s risky.”

: “Today in the global war on terror there is an often nontrivial difference between what is reported and what is happening on the ground.”

He points to al Jazeera and Arab media.

In Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of papers are publishing, he says, and the “inner gyroscope” of the people will learn to find the truth.

Iñthe U.S., he says, print media has the space to explain more about what is happening in Iraq than where the bomb went off.

And we can report on the “vast majority” of people who are not fighting. “They make a difference but they do not make headlines….

“In Iraq and Afghanistan today there are millions of people building progress….

“Our people and the people of the world need to hear their stories.”

And that’s it for his prepared remarks: safe. Now questions…

: Someone from USA Today asks about a reduction in the firings of gay troops and whether there’s a change in the don’t ask policy. Rumsfeld says he isn’t.

: From Boston University a prof asks whether the closure of a paper in Iraq has led to this insurrection.

“I love the beginning of that question: Some people think. There is nothing that some people don’t think. The idea that the conflict… that is taking place in Iraq now as the result of the closing of that paper is a. a stretch and b. undoubtedly not provable.”

He says the paper was inciting violence.

: Another asks about how satisfied he is with the changes he is making in the army. “The army is making signficant progress… In terms of being satisified, I’m almost genetically impatient.” He says the war on terror shows the need for urgent change.

: A Florida publisher says we hear success with democracy at a local level but where is the leadership that will bring this to a national level. Rumsfeld says he’s right, that local councils are more effective. He sees hope in Afghanistan as an example.

: Narda Zarchino from the SF Chronicle asks whether there are selective Service people getting ready to reinstitute the draft and if not, how will we replenish troops. “My answer is no… There were a lot of difficulties with the draft, as you may recall… A relatively small number of the population in that age group was ever drafted. A large number were exempted…” He says the task of training people who got out asap was not efficient.

So how do we sustain? He says he has 2.3 million soldiers available and all we’re trying to do is maintain a much smaller force in Iraq. So rather than increasing the pool, he says, you can tap from elsewhere in the pool. He says it can be done “by better utilizing the people we have.” There are 300k plus people in uniform doing tasks that need not be done by military personnel. That, he says, is a problem with civil service; a general can count on a soldier — or a contracter — better than a civil service worker.

: He says the armed forces need to do a better job of creating people who are specialists in various parts of the world.

Ethics and the news

Ethics and the news
: I’m at a packed (for good reason) session on ethics and the newsroom at the ASNE/NAA (newspaper editors’ and publishers’) conference. Among those on the panel: Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of NY Times; Jack Fuller, president of Tribune; Tony Ridder, chairman of Knight-Ridder; Greg Moore, editor of the Denver Post; John Carroll, editor of the LA Times; Karen Dunlap of journalism gabtank Poynter; and Michael Josephson, an “ethicist.” My friend, Peter Bhatia, exec editor of the Oregonian, introduced them all. I’ll plan on blogging what I hear first; comment later.

: Josephson: “It’s not just about Jason Blair.” He lists plenty of scandals pre and post Blair. “The plague of humanity has, in fact, infected the people in journalism as well.” The plauge of ethics we see in business and even the Catholic church happens in journalism too.

There’s a frightening litany of poll results showing worsening respect for journalism in this country.

He holds up a huge pile of material on ethics put out by journalism organizations all over.

Then he shows a picture of his kids because he says ethics start at the family. It’s what I said at Bloggercon about how to handle issues of church and state in the blog world: It always comes down to personal integrity.

And he lists the “pillars of character” that my kids learn in elementary school. “Ethics isn’t that tough,” he says.

His Powerpoint asks: “Is a profession dedicated to asking others questions and demanding credible answers willing to do the same with respect to assertions and assumptions concerning traditional newsroom assumptions?”

: Asked whether newspapers are more than just profitable businesses, Ridder says “absolutely.”

Asked how he judges his papers on their public service obligation, Ridder says they put together all their public-service journalism. Then they went and asked readers what they thought about the papers judged against seven tenets (like “trust” and “credibility”).

The problem with this kind of abstraction and pedestal-placement, I think, is that it too often leads to creating long, ponderous series judged to be important (because they get prizes) but that’s not what this is about: It’s about covering the stories that matter better.

: Josephson says newspaper people are great “lamenters.” They lament about not having enough resources. “Are those just whiners or are they prophets,” he asks. Moore says it’s a reality. Yes, it is.

Carroll says he can’t believe that he’d be at the LA Times and think he’d need more people but he does.

Fuller says: “It’s human nature, especially if you have a high calling, to want more and to do more with it.”

Sulzburger says “Gutenberg probably needed another pressman desperately.”

He adds that “no matter how many resources you add to a broken system if you don’t fix the system you’re going to be in trouble…. This is not about ethics. We could add 100 reporters to the New York Times… That’s not what this is about.” Ethics aren’t resources. Right. It’s about the every day story, the every day job. “You can’t create a public editor and say that’s done… You have to own this process.”

: Dunlap says what’s needed is (1) more training for assigning editors, (2) a better newsroom culture, (3) focus on mission.

: Launching off the post-Blair NY Times report, Josephson probes the editors on how they vet hires. “Do you handle it with the same professional diligence as a story?” his slide asks. Moore says that too often, you can’t get the truth in a reference check because a former employer is scared of suits. (Hell, that’s how a killer nurse was passed from hospital to hospital in my area.) Josephson says in law enforcement, candidates sign waivers clearing former employers to tell all.

: The panel is almost over and we’ve only gotten this far: hiring. Someone in the audience — it turns out to be Russ Lewis (“I work at the New York Times company … until 12:31” and Sulzburger laughs heartily) — interrupts and says this is microscopic and there is a bigger issue of “truth in the newsroom.” Right. He asks, “Is there a role for an internal audit department for journalism, for news.” Now that is what the focus of this should be. And that “audit department” isn’t just internal, folks; the readers and the sources are at least contributors if not members of that department as well.

: Sulzberger says the new standards person is part of that.

“If I can try to bring this up a little…” Sulzberger says — which is just what this needs.

“I’d like to throw a larger idea out to this group. Why wait? Why wait for thekind of explosion that rocked the New York Times and is rocking USA Today… Why not go back to your newsroom with the assumption that there is someone like this in your newsroom?… Why not run the drill now?”

He says that until your newsroom believes in its soul that you’re serious about this, “it isn’t going to stick.”

I’m not sure exactly what he means: A fishing expedition meets a witch hunt? I hope that’s not it. Making reporters paranoid and timid can backfire. In my book, it’s more about going forward than back: How does a newsroom find out (again, from sources and readers) what’s wrong? How does the newsroom make sure that information comes in (if people think no one will listen, they won’t speak)? How will the newsroom act on it?

: Fuller says Tribune is creating a statement of editorial purpose for all media. Carroll says the credibility of the paper “has to be coddled by every single person in the newsroom.”

: Dunlap asks about whistleblowers in the newsroom. She says the bad guys are often known in the newsroom and the word doesn’t get to managers. Carroll says its the duty of staff members who know of misdeeds to “run” to editors. Josephson says you have to do more than put it in a code, “you have to fire people who didn’t tell.”

: Moore says the morale of the newsroom can turn with all this. Right. Reporters should not fear beheading when they make a mistake; it is better for the paper to report the mistake and care about the truth. Ditto columnists.

: Josephson: “Passing a code has never affected conduct.”

: Sulzberger gets the last word: “We had a truly horrible year at the New York Times last year.” He thanks Al Siegel, the author of the commission report, for getting the paper through its year. He says papers need standards that are monitored and measured and that are specific to newsrooms.

“The scariest thing of all of last year for me… wasn’t Jayson Blair…. The scariest part was that the people we lied about didn’t bother to call because they just assumed that’s the way newspapers worked. That’s scary.”

Amen and amen again.