Posts about journalism

Head. Sand. Insert.

Speaking of Garfield, he speaks on On The Media with overly quoted newspaper industry analyst John Morton, who acts as if there’s nothing strategically broken with the business he covers… because, one presumes, he still wants a business to cover.

BOB GARFIELD: I want to ask you about the Internet. Newspapers are losing readers to online sources. They’re also losing classified advertising, the most profitable part of their business, to online outfits like Craigslist and so forth. Is there anyone who’s getting that figured out and do you have any idea how that’s going to play out?

JOHN MORTON: Well, let me make a couple of observations. One is that the newspapers’ problems with circulation began long before there was an Internet. It’s been exacerbated by the Internet. It’s retail, it’s gone south. But, so far, the Internet has not become such a powerful force that you can attribute any decline in the newspaper business to it. But clearly, you know, the Internet is only going to get to be a bigger and bigger factor, and newspapers probably made a big mistake in the beginning when they adopted the assumption that everybody expects everything on the Internet to be free.

Oh, that fairy tale again.

Next time you see John Morton quoted — and you will — take him not just with a grain but with a whole box of Morton’s Salt.

Damnit: Journalism is an act, not a person

There is real danger in the proposed federal shield law. They would exclude bloggers. But forget bloggers. They would exclude citizens who commit acts of journalism. That is one side of the peril. The other side is that they will certify “professional journalists” by one definition or another and then have the power to decertify them.

“As to who is a reporter, this will be a subject of debate as this bill goes farther along,” [Sen. Richard Lugar] said in response to a question from Washington Post Deputy Managing Editor Milton Coleman. “Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?”

According to the first draft of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, the “covered person” protected by the bill’s terms includes “any entity that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means and that publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical in print or electronic form; operates a radio or television station (or network of such stations), cable system, or satellite carrier, or channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier; or operates a news agency or wire service.” The legislation also covers employees, contractors or other persons who “gathers, edits, photographs, records, prepares, or disseminates news or information for any such entity.”

A key reason some journalists oppose the popular federal shield proposal is fear that giving Congress the power to define who is and isn’t a journalist could lead effectively to the licensing of journalists.

Journalism must be defined by the act, not the person.

Yahoo’s news

Xeni Jardin takes on Yahoo’s news ethics in an LA Times opinion piece, first on their behavior in China and then — as I did — arguing that by hiring Kevin Sites to cover wars, they are turning news into entertainment, they are going just for the bloody bits.

But what’s really behind this is the same question raised by Bill Keller of the NY Times, below, and sloughed off by Terry Semel of Yahoo last week:

Is Yahoo in the news business? Xeni says yes and so their behavior is journalistically unethical. Keller seems to say no because news is just a boutique to them. Semel says no because he doesn’t want to be in trouble.

We all get in trouble if we define journalism too narrowly, especially when the medium that Yahoo depends upon opens up journalism to all, to anyone who finds out information and now can inform the world. If we try to limit the defniition, then we’ll find government trying to limit rights and protections to the few — with the power to take it away from them. If we try to limit the definition, then some people will try to argue that they don’t have to worry about ethics and trust. Funny, people said that’s why we have to worry about bloggers. But it seems we have to worry about big, new media companies, instead.

Guardian column: Secrets

Here’s my latest Media Guardian column inspired by Ms. Miller about the web and the changing nature of secrets: At Media Guardian or here.

Over to you

NY Times Executive Editor Bill Keller speaks at the Association of National Advertisers about bloggers, among other things, and Jon Fine quotes him in Business Week:

“Most of what you know, you know because of the mainstream media,” Keller said. “Bloggers recycle and chew on the news. That’s not bad. But it’s not enough.”

Keller pointed out that it cost the Times around $1.5 million to maintain a Baghdad bureau in 2004. (It cost one Times freelancer much more last month: He was murdered.) “This kind of civic labor can’t be replaced by bloggers.” The Times’ assets: “A worldwide network of trained, skilled [observers] to witness events” and write about them, and “a rigorous set of standards. A journalism of verification,” rather than of “assertion,” and maintaining an “agnosticism” as to where any story may lead. And, borrowing a key buzzword of the day, he said the Times practiced “transparency,” or, in math-teacher terms, “we show our work.”

Some are eager to see Ms. Miller’s work.

Keller made repeated references to the extreme partisan nature of current discourse, and cited voices that he said urged the Times to “give it up. Embrace your biases,” and write about them “openly.” To this, he said “I object. It’s like saying since genetics account for so much, we should abandon being parents.” Still, he conceded that “a lot of people want journalism that thrills them by telling them what they believe.”

And some would say that transparency would include revealing your biases, whether or not you choose to embrace them. More:

Although online portal Yahoo! (YHOO) sent tremors through the chattering confines of journalism by announcing the high-profile hire of Kevin Sites to cover Iraq, Keller does not see them as large-scale rivals. “I’m confident [Yahoo! and Google (GOOG )] will not be the next generation of press barons,” he said. “Yahoo! could buy 1,200 journalists tomorrow,” a figure which roughly compares to those employed by the Times. But, he added, “to them, it’s a boutique” business.

I’m confused. Employing a worldwide network of trained, skilled observers makes your product journalism but employing 1,200 journalists doesn’t. I’ll have to chew on that.