Posts about journalism

Times change

I happen to have The Mean Season on the TV right now. Kurt Russell, playing a reporter at a Miami paper, is recording conversations with a murderer. Today, reporters in Miami get fired for less.

Follow the money

Cyberjournalist reports on a survey that finds that online workers fresh out of college are getting higher salaries than their print and TV cousins.

The survey found that the media online publishing salary in 2004 was $32,000. By comparison, the median salary for TV was $23,492; for cable TV was $30,000; for daily newspapers was $26,000; for weekly newspapers was $24,000; for radio was $23,000; and for consumer magazines was $27,000.

Since I wrote the new-media curriculum for the City University of New York’s new Graduate School of Journalism, I consider that good news.

But the real question is what an independent online writer (aka blogger) will be able to make soon, from a company a la Gawker Media or WeblogsInc or from advertising at Blogads et al. Where will the best and brightest of journalism’s future go? [via Lost Remote]

I unlearned everything I learned in kindergarten in j-school

Jay Rosen, back from a journalism educators’ confab, writes about what he used to teach but doesn’t now. A few of his bullets:

* I used to teach it implicitly: journalism is a profession. Now I think it’s a practice, in which pros and amateurs both participate. There were good things about the professional model, and we should retain them. But it’s the strength of the social practice that counts, not the health of any so-called profession. That is what J-schools should teach and stand for, I believe. I don’t care if they’re called professional schools. They should equip the American people to practice journalism by teaching the students who show up, and others out there who may want help.

Yes, and so we need to rethink how we look at the schools and their mission just as we look at the news organizations and their missions. More on this soon.

* I used to teach that the ethics of journalism, American-style, could be found in the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by. Now I think you have to start further back, with beliefs way more fundamental than: “avoid conflicts of interest in reporting the news.” If you teach journalism ethics too near the surface of the practice, you end up with superficial journalists.

* The ethics of journalism begin with propositions like: the world is basically intelligible if we have accurate reports about it; public opinion exists and ought to be listened to; through the observation of events we can grasp patterns and causes underneath them; the circle of people who know how things work should be enlarged; there is something called “the public record” and news adds itself meaningfully to it; more information is good for it leads to greater awareness, which is also good; stories about strangers have morals and we need to hear them, and so on. These are the ethics I would teach first….

* Alas, I used to teach that the world needs more critics; but it was an unexamined thing. Today I would say that the world has a limited tolerance for critics, and while it always needs more do-ers, it does not always need more chroniclers, pundits, or pencil-heads.

No news is news

Tonight I was listening to Anderson Cooper (via Sirius) and he broke an unwritten rule of news: He criticized his competitors for overdosing on the Natalee Holloway story. Of course, CNN and Cooper can be accused of overdosing on a few stories of their own (ahem). But I’ll take a little news self-criticism, even if it is self-serving.

COOPER: Well, in Aruba, not much happened in the 11th week of the disappearance of Natalee Holloway, but you’d never know that if you listen to just about every other cable news channel.

We did a number of stories after the American teen went missing and her family’s anguish is and hard to imagine and we understand why they want the story to remain in the news, but we’ve been kind of stunned, because every night, our cable competitors devote hours and hours to this story, even though, sadly, nothing new is happening. We decided to start tracking their coverage, because to be honest, it’s getting downright ridiculous. Here’s what the other guys were reporting just last night…

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL O’REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Not much new in the Natalee Holloway mystery.

RITA COSBY, MSNBC HOST: The big mystery, of course, is taking place on the island of Aruba.

DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC HOST: Let’s go to Aruba. It’s getting ugly. Natalee Holloway’s mother is fighting back.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Meanwhile, a new battle is brewing between Natalee’s mom and a key suspect. We brought you that story last night. ….

O’REILLY: … 2 1/2 months, I’ve never seen in my 30-year career, a crime story covered this way, ever. It’s a mystery. It’s a soap opera. It’s a reality show and each night, people come in for the latest. I thought it would dissipate. I thought it would go away. It has not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: It truly has not. The only thing we can honestly report to you tonight is that a young woman is still missing. A family is still in anguish. Until something else happens, until there really are developments, we’ll leave the rest to the other guys.

Until we get a good, juicy runaway bride, of course.

The trouble with the news

I’m going to quote three leads from three pieces that were just written about the trouble with the news today. The litany of troubles is no longer the subject of debate. It is conventional wisdom.

First, see the remarkable essay by Judge Richard Posner (who knew that he blogs?) in Sunday’s New York Times book review, setting forth the state of the fourth estate:

The conventional news media are embattled. Attacked by both left and right in book after book, rocked by scandals, challenged by upstart bloggers, they have become a focus of controversy and concern. Their audience is in decline, their credibility with the public in shreds. In a recent poll conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, 65 percent of the respondents thought that most news organizations, if they discover they’ve made a mistake, try to ignore it or cover it up, and 79 percent opined that a media company would hesitate to carry negative stories about a corporation from which it received substantial advertising revenues….

Now here is Barb Palser’s piece in AJR on journalism’s backseat drivers (that’s us):

These are beleaguered times for news organizations. As if their problems with rampant ethical lapses and declining readership and viewership aren’t enough, their competence and motives are being challenged by outsiders with the gall to call them out before a global audience.

Journalists are in the hot seat, their feet held to the flames by citizen bloggers who believe mainstream media are no more trustworthy than the politicians and corporations they cover, that journalists themselves have become too lazy, too cloistered, too self-righteous to be the watchdogs they once were. Or even to recognize what’s news.

And now see Rory O’Connor’s piece, published in a few places on the web:

By any measure American journalism is in a state of crisis. Media scams and scandals abound, embroiling journalists and their news outlets — from Jayson Blair and The New York Times to Dan Rather and CBS News — in controversy. Plagiarism, errors and outright hoaxes proliferate, along with corrections, extensive “Editor’s Notes” and eventual apologies. Partisan political operatives masquerade as credible news agents, disseminating fake news produced by phony journalists. Columnists and commentators accept government and corporate money to shill ideas without disclosing it to their audiences. Government-produced propaganda is presented as objective reportage.

No wonder journalists rank near the bottom of every poll measuring the trustworthiness of American institutions.

And yet still, I hear journalists say there is no problem with journalism… and how dare anyone say there is.

: Here are a few samples of what Posner says about bloggers; read the whole thing. He understands the real interaction between citizens’ and professional journalism:

The latest, and perhaps gravest, challenge to the journalistic establishment is the blog. Journalists accuse bloggers of having lowered standards. But their real concern is less high-minded – it is the threat that bloggers, who are mostly amateurs, pose to professional journalists and their principal employers, the conventional news media….

Having no staff, the blogger is not expected to be accurate. [I’d certainly argue with that -jeff] Having no advertisers (though this is changing), he has no reason to pull his punches. And not needing a large circulation to cover costs, he can target a segment of the reading public much narrower than a newspaper or a television news channel could aim for. He may even be able to pry that segment away from the conventional media. Blogs pick off the mainstream media’s customers one by one, as it were.

And bloggers thus can specialize in particular topics to an extent that few journalists employed by media companies can, since the more that journalists specialized, the more of them the company would have to hire in order to be able to cover all bases. A newspaper will not hire a journalist for his knowledge of old typewriters, but plenty of people in the blogosphere have that esoteric knowledge, and it was they who brought down Dan Rather. Similarly, not being commercially constrained, a blogger can stick with and dig into a story longer and deeper than the conventional media dare to, lest their readers become bored….

What really sticks in the craw of conventional journalists is that although individual blogs have no warrant of accuracy, the blogosphere as a whole has a better error-correction machinery than the conventional media do. The rapidity with which vast masses of information are pooled and sifted leaves the conventional media in the dust….

In effect, the blogosphere is a collective enterprise – not 12 million separate enterprises, but one enterprise with 12 million reporters, feature writers and editorialists, yet with almost no costs. It’s as if The Associated Press or Reuters had millions of reporters, many of them experts, all working with no salary for free newspapers that carried no advertising.

How can the conventional news media hope to compete? Especially when the competition is not entirely fair. The bloggers are parasitical on the conventional media. They copy the news and opinion generated by the conventional media, often at considerable expense, without picking up any of the tab….

Some critics worry that ”unfiltered” media like blogs exacerbate social tensions by handing a powerful electronic platform to extremists at no charge….

But probably there is little harm and some good in unfiltered media. They enable unorthodox views to get a hearing. They get 12 million people to write rather than just stare passively at a screen. In an age of specialization and professionalism, they give amateurs a platform….

And most people are sensible enough to distrust communications in an unfiltered medium. They know that anyone can create a blog at essentially zero cost, that most bloggers are uncredentialed amateurs, that bloggers don’t employ fact checkers and don’t have editors and that a blogger can hide behind a pseudonym. They know, in short, that until a blogger’s assertions are validated (as when the mainstream media acknowledge an error discovered by a blogger), there is no reason to repose confidence in what he says. The mainstream media, by contrast, assure their public that they make strenuous efforts to prevent errors from creeping into their articles and broadcasts. They ask the public to trust them, and that is why their serious errors are scandals.