Posts about journalism

What are journalists here for, anyway?

Here are some good comments under my post on journalism and the vow of poverty questioning whether journalism’s job is to dig or inform. They are questioning a primary article of faith that is taught in journalism: that we are here to expose the bad guys.

W.J. Jones says:

Funny how that professor talked about journalists keeping a close eye on the “abuse of power” is their foremost job.

I thought journalism was telling readers what is happening in their community as quickly and correctly as you can.

At least that’s what I do everyday when I go to work.

Maybe the students are fleeing journalism classes when they realize the professor is urging them to doggedly pursue, scrutinize, challenge and scorn anything the professor himself scrutinizes and scorns.

That’s not journlalism. That’s call a vigilante with a pen and pad.

The reason the big newspapers are failing is that the reporters and editors who buy into the professor’s lie are chasing a Pulizter and trying to impress — and walk over — the reporter at the desk next to them.

In other words, they’ve lost sight of what journalism is — and isn’t — and believe a hit piece or expose will put them over the top. It won’t.

People read the newspaper to know what’s going on — not to read who got caught “abusing power.”

John Davidson says:

The way that Schultz frames this is exactly what drove me from becoming a reporter and into advertising when I was in j-school in 1987:

“The thought of starting out at $25,000 or $30,000 to expose corruption and champion the underdog just doesn’t do it for them.”

Which is pretty much the way that most of my professors framed what they were teaching me: it was the altruistic, lowly writer who was the only one brave enough to TAKE DOWN THE BAD GUYS. And thus we have the culture of conflict that the MSM has so carefully manifested over the past few decades: if it bleeds, it leads. If you don’t follow that particular ideology, then apparently democracy is lost (“I don’t mean to overstate this, but I worry about the future of democracy,” one retired professor told me. “If our journalists don’t challenge the abuse of power, who will?”) GOOD RIDDANCE.

And CaptiousNut says:

The notion that good jounalism and good business are inherently at odds is a canard propagated by those that suck at both.

Furthermore, it is rooted in elitism and the premise that the masses are stupid.

“Business” is the feedback mechanism that tells the media they stink. It is not so much the realities of business that chafe them – it is the fact that declining circulation numbers and dwindling viewship dare to impose standards on people who otherwise feel exempt.

: Meanwhile, I happened across a blog post written as a journalism assignment, as near as I can tell. The student said, in response to my saying (in a post or an article, not sure which) that Yahoo should include blogs and news together, since the line between them is blurring:

I can’t help but wonder where the future of journalism is going. Why are students like me studying journalism when the public eventually will not be able to tell the difference between citizen and professional?

Jeff Jarvis is wrong when he says,if you inform the public, you are committing an act of journalism.The public has a tough enough job of determining if something is biased without citizens informing the public.

I’m troubled if journalism students think a degree makes them journalists. Doing journalism does.

The Judy chronicles

are up at NYTimes.com.

I’d say the lead is buried:

She also plans on taking some time off but says she hopes to return to the newsroom.

Place your bets on whether she ever returns for another bylines after this one.

Update on this angle: Raw Story reports that Miller is taking a leave.

“Judy is going to take some time off until we decide what she is doing next,” Times’ spokesperson Catherine Mathis told RAW STORY Saturday afternoon.

RAW STORY spoke with Miller by telephone at the New York Times newsroom in Washington Friday evening. She said that she had not previously been questioned about her plans going forward, and deferred extended comment to her publicist.

Reporters who have flacks? I think matter just met antimatter.

: The other lead from the Times chronicle: Miller wrote down “Valerie Flame” in her notebook but insists she doesn’t remember where or who that came from.

It’s a straightforward piece that speaks frankly. Again, I’ll wait for others who have followed this more closely than I have to give me the better analysis.

The summary of the juicy bits — the nutgrafs, as we say:

Interviews show that the paper’s leadership, in taking what they considered to be a principled stand, ultimately left the major decisions in the case up to Ms. Miller, an intrepid reporter whom editors found hard to control.

“This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,” Mr. Sulzberger said.

Once Ms. Miller was jailed, her lawyers were in open conflict about whether she should stay there. She had refused to reopen communications with Mr. Libby for a year, saying she did not want to pressure a source into waiving his confidentiality. But in the end, saying “I owed it to myself” after two months of jail, she had her lawyer reach out to Mr. Libby. This time, hearing directly from her source, she accepted his permission and was set free.

“We have everything to be proud of and nothing to apologize for,” Ms. Miller said in the interview Friday.

Neither The Times nor its cause has emerged unbruised. Three courts, including the Supreme Court, declined to back Ms. Miller. Critics said The Times was protecting not a whistle-blower but an administration campaign intended to squelch dissent. The Times’s coverage of itself was under assault: While the editorial page had crusaded on Ms. Miller’s behalf, the news department had more than once been scooped on the paper’s own story, even including the news of Ms. Miller’s release from jail.

Asked what she regretted about The Times’s handling of the matter, Jill Abramson, a managing editor, said: “The entire thing.”

The story leaves open questions about why Miller would not contact her source, Scooter Libby, to get his blessing for her testimony … and then, after dragging the paper into jail with her, she did. The story also has her admitting that her WMD coverage was wrong, but hiding behind sources she does not name.

The theme I’ve heard echoing out of the newsroom — a theme covered by Jay Rosen — is that Miller had the paper wrapped around her q-a-z- finger:

Inside the newsroom, she was a divisive figure. A few colleagues refused to work with her.

“Judy is a very intelligent, very pushy reporter,” said Stephen Engelberg, who was Ms. Miller’s editor at The Times for six years and is now a managing editor at The Oregonian in Portland. …

In the year after Mr. Engelberg left the paper in 2002, though, Ms. Miller operated with a degree of autonomy rare at The Times.

Douglas Frantz, who succeeded Mr. Engelberg as investigative editor, recalled that Ms. Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok.”

“I said, ‘What does that mean?’ ” said Mr. Frantz, who was recently appointed managing editor at The Los Angeles Times. “And she said, ‘I can do whatever I want.’ ”

Ms. Miller said she remembered the remark only vaguely but must have meant it as a joke, adding, “I have strong elbows, but I’m not a dope.”

Miller remains clueless about reaction to the tempest around her. Upon her return to The Times:

At a gathering in the newsroom, she made a speech claiming victories for press freedom. Her colleagues responded with restrained applause, seemingly as mystified by the outcome of her case as the public.

“You could see it in people’s faces,” Ms. Miller said later. “I’m a reporter. People were confused and perplexed, and I realized then that The Times and I hadn’t done a very good job of making people understand what has been accomplished.”

She blames her sources for getting WMDs wrong, Libby for going to jail, and her editors — who stood by her at cost to them — for her unheroic welcome. In a phrase: what a case she is.

: REACTION: PowerlineBlog on Miller’s story: “…a low-comedy conclusion to a low-comedy investigation.” Jay Rosen is on the case; expect that wine when it’s time. Blog posts are pouring in.

Kos reaction here.

: Keller’s statement to the paper.

: And for those who don’t know, here’s a link to my full disclosure. I consult for a division of The Times Company.

: Compare and contrast: This from 1115.org:

Judy Miller 2004:

“You know what,” she offered angrily. “I was proved fucking right. That’s what happened. People who disagreed with me were saying, ‘There she goes again.’ But I was proved fucking right.”

Judy Miller 2005:

“W.M.D. – I got it totally wrong,” she said. “The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them – we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong.

: Frederick Ide compares and contrasts two more quotes:

“……at this point in time I do not recall just who said that….” John Dean–Watergate

“…I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall…..” Judy Miller–Traitorgate

: Arianna’s reaction is up:

The first question raised by the Times’ Judy-Culpa and by Judy Miller’s own account is: Who told Judy about Valerie Plame (or “Flame” as the name appears in Judy’s notes)? According to these two pieces, the name was immaculately conceived. “As I told Mr. Fitzgerald, I simply could not recall where that came from,” Miller writes.

: The Left Coaster:

So now we know that Miller is still hiding her second source from Ftizgerald, and both the paper’s Executive Editor and its publisher were willing to let a single reporter take the paper’s legacy and reputation into the toilet without knowing what for.

: In the having-no-shame department:

Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter recently released from jail after serving 85 days for protecting a confidential source, presented an award Saturday to perhaps the most famous confidential source – the man who was known as “Deep Throat.”

The award presented by the California First Amendment Coalition was accepted by the grandson of former FBI Associate Director W. Mark Felt because the 92-year-old could not make the trip to the conference at California State University, Fullerton.

: Raw Story with more newsroom atmospherics:

Conversations with nearly a dozen Times reporters revealed a scarred landscape of discontent. Few reporters were willing to go on the record, but none who spoke with RAW STORY said they supported Miller. Many voiced worries that the paper’s editor, Bill Keller, was sacrificing his own integrity to protect her.

“I think they’re looking at him in wonderment, and hoping he can figure a way out of this,” one veteran reporter said. “Because he’s in a real bind.”

“Part of the fear is that there’s a sense that he might not know very much, but he’s been forced by circumstance, and possibly by the publisher, to become a cheerleader rather than the newsman.”

“I think that pains him greatly,” the reporter added. “He is a news guy, he’s one of the best, and to be in a circumstance where he’s trapped, and he’s carrying somebody else’s water, and he can’t let the newspaper do what it does best–which is run with a story–has to be agonizing for him.”

: Rosen’s initial reactions are up:

First of all, I give credit to the Times for running the story a few days after they felt the legal clearences were had, for giving readers a look inside the organization, for airing uncomfortable facts–including internal tensions–and for explaining what happened as well as they felt they could. This was a very difficult piece of journalism to do.

: Here’s Howard Kurtz’ story: very straightforward summary of The Times. I await the followups.

: Frank Rich writes about Plame but — o, irony — I can’t get into TimesSelect.

: Uniongrrl whews:

I just want to personally thank my friends who saved me from making a fool of myself by unconditionally supporting Judith Miller when she went to jail “to protect her First Amendment rights.” I mean, I almost bought the T-shirt!

: IN THE MORNING: Joe Gandelman has another good roundup.

: ROSEN’S ESSENCE: Jay boils it down to eight succinct graphs (make no jokes about his long posts; all those led to this):

Maybe the biggest mistake the New York Times made was to turn decision-making for the newspaper over to Judith Miller and her “case.” This happened via the magic medium of a First Amendment struggle, the thing that makes the newspaper business more than just a business to the people prominent in it….

It never seems to have registered with Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.–Miller’s biggest supporter and the publisher of the newspaper–that he was fighting for the right to keep things secret, not for the right to publish what had improperly been kept from us. By taking on Miller’s secret-keeping (uncritically) the Times took on more and more responsibilities not to speak, not to publish, not to report. All this is deadly for a newspaper, and the staff knew it. By the end the readers knew it and they were crying out. Even the armchair critics knew a thing or two.

So did Bill Keller, so did Jill Abramson. But there was nothing they could do. By the time they realized what Miller’s secrets had done to their journalism, Judith Miller–by staging a First Amendment showdown she escaped from–had effectively hijacked the newspaper. Her principles were in the saddle, and rid the Times to disaster, while people of the Times watched….

Read the rest.

I agree with Jay that one of the oddest angles of this story is Miller having secret clearance. So she knew secrets she could not share with her editors or certainly her readers. She thought she was in the business of secrets.

Call for the Pushitzers

When The Times comes out with its story on the story on Judy Miller, reportedly this weekend, I’m not sure whether I’ll read it first or whether I’ll go to those who will give me the play-by-play and game analysis: Jay Rosen, Arianna Huffington, Mickey Kaus, Powerline, Howard Kurtz… where else?

As I was making this list this morning, during my “run,” as I was also listening to On The Media. And it so happened that they interviewed the elusive, hermitic, hermetic Jim Romenesko, whom I’ve never heard before. They were talking about how he made his mark during the Jayson Blair scandal. Wonder why he has not during l’affaire Judy. Wonder whether that’s why he suddenly started to do PR. Does he feel left behind? Tired to their wired? He said he was uncomfortable being seen as the place where people come to see how the sausage is made, badly. He won’t call himself a blogger. He apparently doesn’t see himself as a press critic. But, of course, that’s what the Miller story is all about.

The real news on news is happening with the press critics online. This was a genre that couldn’t flourish before — because you had to go to the guy with the press to publish your criticism of the press. But now it is blooming like an Outback onion.

And so I wondered who is doing the best job dogging the dogs of the press. I’m opposed to awards — I think the Pulitzers have too often skewed journalism to serve prize juries over the public — and so I won’t suggest another damned A-list. But I do want to note who are the go-to guys on deciphering and debunking pressthink. Who do you think they are?

Journalism and the vow of poverty

When I chose not to go to law school and into politics (insert punchline here) but instead headed toward journalism, I knew I wasn’t doing it to get rich (though I was paid well, once I put on a suit).

Connie Schultz, a Plain Dealer columnist, acts as if journalists take a vow of poverty, which is an extension of another popular perspective inside the news nunnery: the belief that journalism isn’t or shouldn’t be a business (a canon brought out every time a newspaper lays off journalists or points out that classified, retail, and circulation revenue are frittering fast). Says Schultz:

Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time with journalism students whose hand-wringing professors still believe something other than salary should be the divining rod for choosing a career.

They are professors who’ve dedicated their lives to training future journalists. They are increasingly alarmed by what they see and don’t want to become targets for saying so.

“We’re losing so many hard-news students to public relations, advertising and marketing,” one professor told me. “They just want to make money.”

His concern echoes through the hallways of other colleges I’ve visited.

“They want to keep the baby-boomer lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed,” said a professor at a school that boasts a boatload of Pulitzer Prize winners among its alumni. “The thought of starting out at $25,000 or $30,000 to expose corruption and champion the underdog just doesn’t do it for them. They have no interest.”

One journalism professor told me that hordes of women are opting for the softer — and more lucrative — career in public relations.

“A lot of them want to be event planners,’ ” she said. She nodded at my raised eyebrows.

“Seriously,” she said. “They want to plan parties.”

These are professors at large and not-so-large schools who care deeply about the mission of journalism at a time when our critics far outnumber our champions. Too many of their students neither love newspapers nor even read them. They worry that the values we old poops hold dear in this profession hold little appeal for the many budding journalists who’d rather shill than grill.

“I don’t mean to overstate this, but I worry about the future of democracy,” one retired professor told me. “If our journalists don’t challenge the abuse of power, who will?”

Oh, come now. Don’t blame the students’ lack of enthusiasm for newspapers on their greed. Blame it instead, perhaps, on the growing irrelevance of newspapers to the students…. that and growing distrust for newspapers in the public… that and growing opportunities outside the shackles of old media.

Let’s also not continue to treat journalism as a high priesthood in the too-honored tradition of Murrow-worshipers. That haughty separation is just what has gotten the business in trouble… that and refusing to acknowledge it is a business, which damned well should be under the market pressures of serving its public or going out of business.

One of the courses I plan to teach at CUNY’s new Graduate School of Journalism will invite students to invent and reinvent the products of journalism — perhaps even helping them to start businesses when they graduate — and make more than they could as starting reporters.

Or they can help develop new products inside companies. At the recent Museum of Television & Radio Media Center confab with bloggers and mogulmen, everyone complained that there is no product development inside their companies. The work on the future is happening outside. Well, one way to make it happen within is to start thinking — and rewarding — entrepreneurially. That means investing in the future by stopping the inefficiencies of the past. So perhaps we shouldn’t have so many cheap reporters and editors and executives whose job it is to recreate the same news everyone else has. Perhaps we should have fewer such people who do unique work well. And perhaps we should be starting new products and new, yes, businesses to invest in the future. From the curriculum I wrote. The class has many goals:

• It demonstrates to students that, for the first time since William Randolph Hearst, young journalists can think and act like entrepreneurs. Thanks to the tools and distribution of online, they can start their own products and businesses today.
• It readies them to work in new-product development for any media company: a skill that is ever-more in demand.
• It encourages them to think out side the box – the newspaper box or TV box – to take a leadership role in reinventing and reinvigorating news for their generation.
• It helps them to recognize and work with the business realities of journalism today.

The students will be expected to develop an idea for a new property with one key requirement: It must be journalistic. The product may involve reporting by professionals or citizens; it may involve packaging and editing; it may involve interactivity; it may involve print or broadcast components.

All of which is better than going into PR, which I never understood anyway.

Even older than me

Don’t know whether this is a new survey but Carnegie says the average age of a newspaper reader is 55 and one cable news channels average age just plummeted to 59. It used too be, it was just the trees that died.