Several items of interest

I bumped into several stories today about a range of issues in journalism. In case you haven’t seen these, check them out.

The first is a link to a column from Poynter about a Reuters editor who identified one of James Holmes’s classmates as a “person of interest” in the shootings at the theater in Aurora last Friday. What I find especially interesting is the discussion (through quoted material and some tweets) about how news organizations should treat Holmes in the coverage and the pledges being made by some to keep the focus on the victims. I understand the fact that the victims matter more — and some of the Dart Center work (you can find a link to the Dart Center in Caryn’s post, too), but as journalists can we really afford to ignore Holmes’s story? I think too many people still want to get some sense of what led up to his deadly rampage.

The second column, also from Poynter, provides some advice on reaching out to trauma victims via Twitter. Social media can be a valuable tool, but with only 140 characters to work with, it can be difficult to make the request for an interview compassionate. This column has some advice and examples of how to do it better.

Then there’s this story from Forbes about Ryan Holiday, head of marketing for American Apparel, who managed to get quoted in publications ranging from small blogs to The New York Times on topics ranging from winterizing your boat to collection vinyl records. He’s not an expert in any of those topics, but he pretended to be one and offered himself up to reporters in search of a quote. Once again, this speaks to the need to verify what your sources are telling you, including what they’re telling you about who they are.

Finally, here are some follow-up pieces to the story on political sources who are demanding that they get the chance to approve quotes as a condition of being interviewed for a story. I posted the original story last week, and now some news organizations are saying “no” to the quote-fixing demands. The NYT did a follow-up noting that the National Journal is banning the use of fixed quotes, McClatchy Newspapers has developed a similar policy, and On the Media has a short audio story about the controversy.

The Journatic problem

For those of you who haven’t heard of Journatic — or about the scandal that has enveloped the news service — NPR did a great story that explains what’s been going on (and thanks to Jackie for sending along the link!), and Poynter has done several pieces on it, including this one from a few days ago. If you want to see what else Poynter has done, there are some links to “related stories” at the bottom of the Poynter column.

The story raises issues about journalistic credibility, particularly in a new media environment.

The CJR story on freelancing

The Ben Adler article on freelancing that I mentioned in class, which is in the current issue of Columbia Journalism Review, is available online. It’s worth reading … and Adler has a lot of good insights into what it’s like to cobble together a freelance career.

Also, I promised to send along a few links to online sites with useful tips for freelancers. Here are the ones that I thought had the most to offer, though there are lots of other sites that you might want to take a look at.

Daily Writing Tips, “20 Tips for Freelance Writers,” by Mark Nichol

GalleyCat, “NYT Magazine Editor Shares Tips for Freelance Writers,” by Jason Boog

Make a Living Writing, “The 20 Best Practical Tips for Freelance Writers

Poewar, “The Beginner’s Guide To Freelance Writing,” by Jenna Glatzer

If you find others that you think are really helpful, please post them!


Here’s a disturbing trend

The New York Times ran a story today about the fact that journalists from a wide range of news outlets, including the Times and the Washington Post, are letting politicians and campaign managers approve quotes before they appear in stories. I’m stunned. In fact, both as a journalist (or former one) and reader, I think I’d rather have no quotes in the story than have to live with the absurd restriction of prior approval on quotes that apparently is becoming the standard for interviews with candidates, campaign managers and elected and/or appointed officials.

I understand this is the result of gaffe-driven news coverage, and perhaps from the perspective of the politician or political official, it makes sense. But why would a journalist put up with such a policy?? The response from Dean Baquet, the managing editor for news at the Times (as quoted in the Times story) is that, ““We don’t like the practice. We encourage our reporters to push back. Unfortunately this practice is becoming increasingly common, and maybe we have to push back harder.” That strikes me as a timid response and one that doesn’t serve the public very well. We talk about the problem with quotes from press releases and other “overly massaged” types of information.

I’d be interested in your thoughts on this. Is this as bad as I think it is? Or is there an argument to be made for journalists simply accepting this new political landscape?

AN UPDATE: Poynter has been tracking this story over the past couple of days, and today posted this column that includes an interview with Politico editor-in-chief John Harris. It’s worth taking a look at …

Poynter’s McBride on covering the Penn State report

I’m sure most of you know that the report of the investigation into the Sandusky scandal — the independent one commissioned by Penn State University trustees and conducted by a panel led by former FBI director Louis Freeh — was released today. It’s pretty damning in terms of what it says about Penn State officials, including Joe Paterno. And it’s certainly newsworthy.

But, as Kelly McBride points out in this column on the Poynter website, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that this story has an impact beyond Sandusky or Paterno’s legacy or Penn State or even Sandusky’s victims (though they are certainly going through their own traumas as a result of the news coverage). McBride reminds us that one in four women and one in six men have been sexually abused before they turn 18, and that stories like this can have impacts on these victims as well, and she talks about how to more responsibly cover the Sandusky scandal and the Freeh report (and, by extension) other stories like this one.

It’s worth a few minutes to take a look at what McBride is suggesting … especially, in my opinion, our tendency to soften the language so that readers don’t get offended or put off. But in doing that — by using words like ‘molest’ or ‘fondle’ instead of ‘child rape’ — we also make it seem less traumatic than it is.

The social media non-policy at The New York Times

Since we’re talking a lot about the need for all of you to be involved in social media, I thought you’d be interested in this column that ran on the Poynter website today. In the post, Phil Corbett, the paper’s associate managing editor for standards talks about why the Times hasn’t yet created a policy regarding its reporters’ use of social media.

Of particular note is his comment that use of social media should be thoughtful and, I would add, purposeful. Corbett goes on to say, “social media is basically a public activity, it’s not a private activity, and people will know that they work for the Times.” I think many editors share this perspective, so that your social media use becomes their business.

A piece on our personal lives

In my Poynter newsletter today there was a link to a column by Kelly McBride talking about Anderson Cooper’s decision to go public about the fact that he is gay. What I find most interesting about the piece is McBride’s discussion of the “Land of Few Personal Details.” It resonates with me and the kind of journalism I practiced as a reporter — the kind I was describing in class yesterday. We were not supposed to be involved in the story or be any part of it. The closer to invisible that I could be, the better.

But that started to change with television, and especially the chatty, personality-driven programming that started to pop up — first in the morning news and more recently across programming. So today Anderson Cooper or Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity are brands, not reporters. And there’s a new reality for all journalists — that people do want to know more about you. Some of it has to do with transparency, and some of it has to do with the lens through which readers, viewers and listeners will interpret your work. In your professional work, you may be asked to reveal information about your personal lives. It’s a different world than when I was a full-time reporter, and I think I just want to caution you about being a bit circumspect about what you choose to reveal and what you choose to keep private.

A few things that might be of interest

A few items have come across my inbox this week that I thought I’d post here in case you haven’t seen them. The first is a cautionary tale about an intern at The Wall Street Journal who was fired for fabricating sources in a story. The story has been pulled from the Journal‘s website, but was posted on Talking Biz News, along with a few comments. Poynter has a little more on the intern, Liane Membis.

Of course, then there’s this piece from Poynter about Jeff Meade, a sports writer for The Monroe Evening News in Michigan, who wrote a column outlining several of his ethical transgressions, including making up quotes when he lost his notebook and dating a source. Interestingly, the column appears to have been taken down from the website. I read it this morning (and now wish I’d taken a screenshot of it), but the links no longer work. It will be interesting to see if he keeps his job.

[An update: Poynter ran this follow-up on June 29, which includes a link to a cached copy of the original column.]

Then there’s this piece that ran on The Washington Post website that — once again — points to the issue that speed and quality journalism don’t always go together. In this case, both CNN and Fox initially reported that the individual mandate provision of the health care  act was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. In fact, it was upheld. But in the rush to get the “news” out, the journalists  wrote their reports without reading past the first page of the ruling. The errors were corrected, but I have to wonder if the public would have been better served by waiting for the few extra minutes it took to read page 2 of the decision.

[Another update: The Raw Story ran this brief, which includes a clip of The Colbert Show, on Colbert’s coverage of the error made by both CNN and Fox. The clip includes some of the footage from Fox and CNN programming on the day of the court ruling)

Finally, for those of you interested in issues about media ownership and conglomeration, the Project for Excellence in Journalism is out with it’s new report on ownership changes. It might be useful, and it certainly has some interesting data.

Watching what you Tweet

We were talking in class today about the importance of Twitter for breaking news, but it is important to remember that whatever you do on social media is being watched — and sometimes by your employer. I just bumped into this story on a site called TVNewsCheck that talks about Twitter and social media policies for NBC stations. Essentially, the bottom line is that anything you do, even on a “private” site, is considered company business and is linked to the company’s reputation.

Twitter and the Marten Kudlis funeral

In class yesterday I briefly mentioned the decision by the Rocky Mountain News to use Twitter to cover the funeral of 3-year-old Marten Kudlis, who was killed on Sept. 4, 2008, when a car drove into the ice cream store that he and his family were in. The Rocky Mountain News live-Tweeted the funeral, and you can find the thread, dated Sept. 10, 2008, here.

This, of course, is not a great use of Twitter, though it can be used very well for breaking news stories, like the Hudson River plane crash in 2009. Here’s one story on the crash and Twitter’s role in covering it.

Are any of you using Twitter as part of your internships this summer? If so, I’d love to hear how you’re using it.