Friday, December 28, 2007

Lazarous - comment response

I am posting a comment to Brian B's on my Lazarus post, but for some reason it refuses to appear on my machine, no matter what browser I use (though if you click to post a comment, it does come up on that screen). I did not want anyone to think I was ignoriing his good thoughts, so here is my response in case you can't see it in the comments section:

This seems like a false equivalence. As you note, good TV and film are scarcer than good journalism; that applies in absolute numbers as well as volume. I watch maybe 3 TV shows and 1-2 movies (including DVDs) a week, tops, but I read more newspaper stories than that every day. The effect of journalism is more cumulative than episodic.

I think you actually bolster my point here. Unlike an individual book, musical work, movie, etc., The intrinsic value of most pieces of individual work is generally so small that that trying to extract its economic value is almost pointless. This is the point of a newspaper -- it aggregates these small pieces and puts them in an ad and access-controlled wrapper to give them enough value that consumers are willing to pay for them. Here's the evidence for that: Some papers significantly boosted their single-issue price for this year's Thanksgiving issue. Was it because there was more valuable news? No. As one publisher said, it was because there were more ads, and (paraphrasing), that meant more value for the readers!. As for good journalism being more abundant, well, I'd actually dispute that assertion.

If newspapers put up the pay wall, they'll also go after the folks who are essentially pirating their content for their own sites.
And they should. But that's not what I would do. I would write a narrative every day summarizing what is out there and adding context -- and probably amalgamating it with other source, such as TV and radio where available. I'm no lawyer, so take what I saw with that caution, but I have dealt with these issues during my career and have studied the issues with some depth during the past few years and feel pretty certain this would prevail.And, given my assertionm that might be all most people would need. (And I would link, too. But I'm betting that a significant number of readers would find all they needed in the alternative.)

As for gazebo vs. well, pick your metaphor. I'm committed to making it work now, but also finding a way to make it work in the future. Lazarus and his ilk mouth the idea of the future, but largely want to freeze things indefinitely, as near as I can tell.

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Please understand if we're busy for a few days ...

But there has been a new arrival in our family -- a grandson -- and we are in Little Rock with the new mom and dad (and drooling over the baby, of course). 21 inches; 7 pounds, 5 ounces if you need to know.

Please give me leave if I don't provide the names -- I'm giong to let the kid decide when he wants a digital profile.

Mother, father and child are doing fine. Not so sure about the grandparents.

Have a happy New Year.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Pullback in Florida

Word comes via the Association of Capital Reporters and Editors that the Tallahassee Democrat is pulling its reporters back from their Statehouse digs and moving them back into the main office Apparently Gannett, which owns the Democrat, is moving its entire Florida Statehouse bureau back to the Democrat, too.

Of course, it's not like the Democrat or Gannett are pulling out of covering the Capitol. Still, there's a bit of symbolism. And even though there will be a small satellite office as a work station, at statehouses, where symbolism is important, this sends an interesting message.

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Lazarus resurrects old argument

Business columnist David Lazarus moved south from the S.F. Chronicle to the L.A. Times, but it hasn't changed much else in his view of the online world. Like the Lazarus of old, he has again resurrected his argument that newspapers need to put their wares behind a pay wall, or else.

His latest column, "Free news online will cost journalism dearly," brings back, though a tad more muted and with some more research, the tripe he was spouting earlier this year while at the Chronicle. (Shouldn't there be at least a one-year waiting period?)

If I may be allowed to distill his argument:
-- News has value, and by extension, therefore does newspaper content
-- We have raised a generation that doesn't think information on the Internet has value
-- Newspapers, by giving their information away, play into this trap
-- As a result, newspapers risk dying.

Let's go back over this:
1) News has value, and by extension, therefore does newspaper content
This is one of the assumptions journalists make that is, when you look at it closely, largely wrong. News has some value, but it is highly time sensitive. And in this 24-hour world, the value drops to zero almost instantly. Go read the research studies. The way most people use news is for reassurance and surveillance -- wake up, make sure the world hasn't blown up and that my family is safe. During the day, perhaps people need some news to explain something they have seen or heard. But again, the need is rather fleeting. In fact, the greatest desire may be for the hyper-local news that large newsrooms really are not designed to produce.

Any journalist worth his or her salt will do some research into history, journalism and economics. It becomes rather clear rather quickly that the vast majority of journalism's value came from scarcity. Consider the eras when there were a multitude of "print" outlets -- from Revolutionary times to the penny press. Now look at the "churn" among those papers. The increasing stability of the press that we have seen in the past century really was rather special, if you look at it.

2) We have raised a generation that doesn't think information on the Internet has value
Actually, we have raised a generation that is pretty smart when it comes to economics. This generation realizes that information, which is the majority of what a newspaper produces, is a commodity with value so low that it makes little economic sense to try to extract it.

Lazarus steps into it with his lede: I don't pretend to understand all the minutiae of the writers strike, but I do know this much: Hollywood scribes want to be compensated fairly when their work is accessed on the Internet, which is increasingly becoming a venue to watch movies and TV shows. So why should newspapers be any different?

Simple explanation: Good -- even mediocre -- movies and TV shows remain a lot scarcer than even the best of journalism. They also have entertainment value. Decry it as you will, but the public in America (and in many other nations) seems to put a higher value on entertainment than information. After all, why do we have so many initiatives like the Readership Institute that produce studies essentially saying we have to learn to engage and inform? (Even as I write this, the featured report on the institute's site is: "The Readership Institute's latest tracking study on reader orientation shows newspapers have made gains over the last three years in understanding and responding to consumers. Despite the gains, newspapers say they are far from what they themselves consider to be an ideal level of reader orientation." If information were so dang valuable, why would this matter?)

This also explains why the students Lazarus talked to were willing to pay for music, but not "news."

Here's a test: Name three TV shows or movies (or songs) that have really affected you and made you think about your life. Now name three newspaper stories. I'm betting most people will have a hard time with the second part of that. That's the intrinsic value part many journalists still don't seem to get. (Put another way: Just because the Founding Fathers enshrined the overall concept in the Constitution does not mean you or your business matter.)

3) Newspapers, by giving their information away, play into this trap.
4) As a result, newspapers risk dying.
Lazarus embodies both concepts in this excerpt:
Rely solely on the Net for circulation and revenue, as some pundits have argued, and the unavoidable fact is that you can't support a news-gathering operation this large or resourceful.

You'd have to make do with significantly fewer people, fewer (if any) overseas bureaus, fewer investigations, less original content, less of the watchdog sort of thing that readers consistently say they rely on newspapers to provide.

There are many problems with his analysis, but most get back to what I will call "the fallacy of no substitutes" coupled with "the semantic trap of 'newspapers'" and "the view from the bottom of the well."

In short, Lazarus uses "newspapers" as a semantic term for the all-purpose, large newsroom and he fails to see or acknowledge that adequate substitutes might develop. Further, he suffers, as do all of us from time to time, of seeing things from the bottom of the well -- thus we can see only that small patch of sky above us. We cannot see what is coming over the horizon. The danger is in believing that small patch of sky is the only reality.

"The Fallacy of No Substitutes": People are generally willing to pay for something when there is economic return. This can be an increase in or savings of real wealth, or a desire for those things that will improve our well-being, from simple survival (food, water and clothing) to stimuli for our psychological self (such things ultimately, it can be argued, improve our psychological well-being so that we are better prepared and equipped to survive and increase our wealth). In reality, there are many good substitutes for the newspaper, and even journalism in general, when viewed in this light.

We've seen it in classified ads, but we see it in the news business, if we look closely enough, even the comics. Why do I pay $15 a year for two online comics services when I can get the same thing in my local paper? In fact, I prefer the first read in the paper as an entertaining way to top off my morning. I am paying online for the access to the archives and for the ability to get a digital copy I can use in lectures, which is more convenient that cut and paste from the paper. In other words, I am not paying at all for the content, but for the convenience. And the comics are closer than about anything else to the type of content Lazarus refers to by invoking the writers' strike in his lede.

And if papers put their material behind a pay wall, what then? Well, let's look back at Mayor LaGuardia and the great New York newspaper strike of 1945 during which he read the comics over the radio (You Tube video). LaGuardia was doing it because he realized the political value, but why might we not expect that some bloggers somewhere might find that the newspaper industry has handed them a business model? They can plunk down a buck or two for the paper or online access (we'll assume this is a model that can actually make significant money for those oppressed newsrooms), then write up a digest of the major stories -- and maybe add some comment and other context. Throw some Google Adsense against that (and maybe sell some local ads).

I that case, why do I as a casual reader need to climb that newspaper pay wall? (Add to that any local broadcasters who might see an opening, as some already are seeing in classifieds.)

(After all, La Guardia did that, too, adding his own comment and context: "So say, children, what does it all mean? It means that dirty money never brings any luck ...)

"The view from the bottom of the well": What says the "newspaper" is the only way to have a news operation adequately staffed to challenge and stand up to society's institutions? Just because we can't clearly see it yet does not mean it won't exist. It's not impossible to conceive of agencies being formed that aggregate "independent" news professionals into fluid but cohesive units for various projects across media and that provide them with the professional services (insurance, legal, etc.) that newspapers now do for their writers and editors. What's to say that the L.A. Times needs a newsroom of 800 people? Perhaps a close look discloses that only 400 are needed, with other "specialists" being brought on as needed. I suspect we are going to see a redefinition to the true meaning of "journeyman" journalist.

Jay Rosen and others have been experimenting with some of these models through projects such as, and the hundreds of community/citizen journalism projects that have sprung up on their own or with the help of things like New Voices. These are experiments, so of course they are rough and far from final form. But we already are beginning to see aspects of what has been learned incorporated into newsrooms and j-school curricula.

Lazarus takes the common dodge: What's the answer? Hell, if I knew that, I'd be making a fortune selling it to newspapers worldwide.

I'd suggest that instead of resurrecting the same old tired stuff, Lazarus use his talents to actually look to the future and think about the multitude of possibilities. Deconstruct them intelligently from a business perspective. That might be something I'd pay to read.
(Brian B. posted a good comment to this post. Unfortunately, I cannot seem to make my response appear on the browsers I am using, despite clearing cache, etc. It acknowledges three comments, so I don't know what's up. I've posted my response separately in the interest of making sure there is a full conversation. If you can't see my comment below, then tool over there to see it.)

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

About those search terms lists

The Wall Street Journal's "Numbers Guy," Carl Bialik, lends some leavening to the over-hyped most popular search terms lists that come out from the various search engines at this time of year.

A must read for copy editors handling such stories.

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The EPIC Flash videos by Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson that have been amazingly prescient in a lot of their near-term predictions of media's future apparently now have an additional home at a UK site called "Making it Happen."

EPIC 2014 came out in November 2004, and EPIC 2015 updated that two months later. The presentation by the fictional "Museum of Media History" purports to look back at what happened to media in the early 21st century as Google and Amazon became giants that ruled the Earth and the New York Times slipped into oblivion.

Sloan and Thompson eventually put the videos under a Creative Commons attribution-share alike-noncommercial license, which has hastened their spread.

The nice thing about the UK site is that both 2014 and 2015 are together and you can choose full-screen or smaller screen format.

It's always useful to return to these occasionally to see how they hold up.

In a 2005 story by Masha Geller, Sloan says he doesn't really expect much of what the EPIC series predicts to happen, such as the combination of Google and Amazon, but sees it as a fable with the various companies serving as stand-ins for sectors of the media.

Sloan and Thompson have moved on, but still blog at Snarkmarket.

What amazes me is how people continue to "discover" the Epic series. The latest is the Society of Professional Journalists' e-newsletter which breathlessly declares: The Museum of Media History presents an interesting (OK, you might think it's downright frightening) view of the "mediascape" of 2015. Watch the video, and share your thoughts about it on SPJ's Technolo-J blog.

These are journalists. Shouldn't they have, like, known about this three years ago and been discussing it then? Sadly, too many are just now discovering what Sloan said in that 2005 Geller interview:

“News organizations have had a lot of different monopolies going for them, all of which are being threatened. ... They’re under attack from everything from Monster to Google. It hasn’t been so clear to them that the monopoly on news itself or people learning about the world is under threat. People who give a lot of credence to blogs know that there is a place for professional journalists. We just wanted to point out that there is a risk that the center of gravity of where people get their news could move."

(As added evidence that SPJ still struggles with the idea behind this stuff, that Technolo-J Blog does not allow "anonymous" comments -- you have to create a log in, etc. Of course, what the software being used does allow is a commenting form that requires a person's e-mail and name input without the necessity of a logon -- a very common moderation tool these days. I'm a longtime member of SPJ and remain a big supporter, but when it comes to new media, I'm beginning to think it stands for Slow to Pick up the changes in Journalism. (At my urging, another of the SPJ blogs, the J-Education Forum, did open its commenting function. I commend you to check out the blog, being run by my colleague Ernie Wiggins. "ELW" consistently finds some good stuff to discuss.)


Heupel moving on

My old friend and cityside boss Dana Heupel is moving on from the Illinois Statehouse press corps to take over as executive editor of Illinois Issues magazine.


(Now, wouldn't it have been great had that newspaper story I linked to included a link to the magazine's site. Took me 30 seconds. Sigh ...)


The year in AP

The Associated Press has always been the 800-pound gorilla in the room, behind the scenes, influencing not only a lot of what you read and see, but the way it gets to you. Some scholars see the AP as a main reason the telegraph became viable. The company single-handedly saved the old Ma Bell system of sending photos over the phone lines, and not too long ago it was AP that pretty much decreed the news world would go to digital photography.

OK, AP may now be only the 500-pound gorilla, but its new multimedia ventures still hold the potential of reshaping the backshop, and its push to consolidate its editing functions into a few superhubs will, if nothing else, tell the rest of the newpapering world that might have been only considering it that it's "OK." Watch for more fallout from that in 2008.

But first ...
The AP Stylebook is arguably one of the most influential publications in the world of publishing, perhaps among the top two with the Chicago manual. Not that AP would have announced this, of course, but it appears from what I have been told that Norm Goldstein, who "retired" last year but stayed on to shepherd the stylebook, has now fully stepped down as editor. (Yes, I know Norm likes things low key. But that doesn't mean you can't announce a successor without making a big deal that Norm was gone.) For now, Deputy Managing Editor Sally Jacobsen, who has had the overall responsiblity for the stylebook (find the hint in this November story), appears to be the go-to person with David Minthorn given the task of handing the "Ask the Editor" questions. No word yet on whether he will have the overall responsibility of bringing the 2008 edition to press. Minthorn, a former national desk editor who now is manager of news administration, has been handling the APME's "Sounding Board" column -- another good place to check in (along with "Ask the Editor") for nuances on style and on why AP does things the way it does.

Elsewhere in review:
  • We should learn more in 2008 about AP's plans to consolidate editing. First reported on this blog and later confirmed by the New York Times, the plan for regional editing hubs may put many AP staffers in the unfortunate position of being told to move or lose their jobs (and the betting money is some jobs will be cut anyhow). Can AP pull it off? Of course, "pull it off" is relative; the past times this has been tried by AP (in the '70s) and UPI (in the '80s), the screams about poor quality forced both to pull back. But quality is not exactly at the top of the wish list of a struggling industry right now, so the chances of its "succeeding" may be higher. (For instance, my sources have told me that McClatchy has seriously discussed centralizing some editing functions for some or all of its papers in the Carolinas -- Beaufort, Hilton Head, Columbia, Myrtle Beach, Rock Hill, Charlotte and, maybe, Raleigh -- and we've seen what MediaNews has done, to much criticism (more here), with its papers ringing San Francisco.)
  • Along that same line, expect more states to be consolidated under one bureau chief.
  • Pay attention to what the audience formerly known as "the members" is doing. The Tennessee Press Association, for instance, has started a NewsSwap service. If -- and it's a huge if -- this kind of insurgency that has been talked about before actually can pull it off, it has the potential to severely weaken the AP. As written here before, AP faces a basic problem -- once it sells the national and international report to a Google or Yahoo, why is there a reason for anyone else to buy it (except, of course, for some specialty sites that might want to finely slice and dice it down only to the stories pertaining to them)? The one thing AP still has at least oligopoly power on is the state news reports. And even though the AP announced a sort of a la carte pricing earlier this year, maintaining a certain core report, and thus core revenue to cover its fixed costs, is important. The state reports, it would seem to me, play a key role in that.
  • Watch for AP to continue to clean its closet of operations that at one time might have made some sense but make little business sense now in the new world of news economics. It's already sold off its Dutch and French operations. No details have been disclosed, but AP describes these as partnerships, so it seems likely it has retained some revenue stake while getting the costs off its books. It still has Italian and German operations that could be ripe for spinning off. Not sure about its Spanish service, however, since there is a burgeoning market for that even domestically. It's also a much different animal than the others.
  • Keep an eye on the AP "skunkworks."
    • Tom Kent has been put in charge of developing a "flexible, transparent and cross-format content system that will enable all of AP's journalists to work together easily." Throw in the ability to manage assignments and general newsroom operations, and this could be another industry mover. AP's ENPS on the broadcast side has moved closer to this goal, but it isn't fully there yet, according to those I know who use it. (This kind of project seems perfect to bring in the help of an open-source community, such as that which has formed around Drupal. That has not tended to be the AP way of doing things, but I wonder if that will change.)
    • AP and other wire services have joined the MINDS project in Europe. MINDS has been very active in the mobile area. Ifra, the giant European-based publishing trade group, was one of the early powers behind the project.
    • And don't forget about Automated Content Access Protocol, the latest effort by AP and others to control the spread of their content online. So far, this requires voluntary cooperation from the search engines. Will it require some legal or monetary inducements as well? Stay tuned ...
And to AP staffers everywhere, may you be left in 2008 to "just cover the news" whenever possible. May you have good stores, great play and an occasional relief shift no matter where you are in this far-flung world. It's a tough job never given enough respect done by people whose devotion is to truth and to their craft. We are all better off because of them.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Smith gives his side

A few days ago I wrote about the troubles W. Thomas Smith Jr., an occasional colleague here at USC, has run into over his reporting from Lebanon.

Smith has now posted his response on his Web site in two parts. It relies heavily on an unedited e-mail from Toni Nissi, general coordinator in Lebanon for the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and a further defense by Tom Harb, the group's general secretary. I encourage you to read both parts -- the first laying out the facts as Smith sees them and the second detailing the interaction with other media as this developed.

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The Convergence Newsletter

A program note from your host ...

In addition to my regular duties here at USC, I have become executive editor of The Convergence Newsletter, a mostly monthly (except for a couple of months a year) e-mail newsletter on trends in media convergence that has grown out of our work at Newsplex.

That makes me the chief beggar and pleader for articles. So consider yourself having been pleaded to.

The first few years have focused heavily on the news media and domestic developments, and Editor Brad Petit and I still want hear from newsrooms about what is working and what is not. But we also want to expand our offerings to include insightful work from around the globe. We hope to broaden the vista to look not only at journalism but at entertainment and at the effects convergence may be having on communities and societies.

Convergence is a broad term, and we don't hew to one definition. As Rich Gordon's seminal work showed, convergence can be defined in terms of technology, organizations, ownership, information gathering and information presentation, among others. Web 2.0 shows us it also can be defined in terms of the formation and coalescing of new communities. In some ways, these may irrevocably change existing communities and traditions.

The Convergence NL is edited but not peer-reviewed. It is an excellent place to try out your first cut of an idea. We also welcome book reviews and suggestions for books to review. (Publishers, if you have a volume relevant to convergence, contact me.)

We encourage both academic and professional articles of from 600 to 1,000 words, and we run about three an issue. Please consider contributing. You can contact me at with your ideas. You'll probably hear back from Brad, who, mercifully, handles the nuts and bolts of keeping things running.

I also encourage you to "subscribe" by dropping us a note with your e-mail address. Or you can go to our blog,, which we started to provide an RSS feed with links to the newsletter on the Web and a way to encourage comments. You'll also find the relevant links in my right rail.

Thanks, and I hope to hear from you.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Regulating cit-j

I'm coming a little late to the discussion over last week's article by David Hazinski, the University of Georgia prof who stirred the blogging hornets' nest with his piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Unfettered 'Citizen Journalism' Too Risky."

I've had my differences with Hazinski before. Leonard Witt of Kennesaw State, one of the high promoters of citizen journalism (note to AJC - the term is so widely used now, I doubt the editorial quotes are needed in the headline), had a fairly effective rebuttal to Hazinski the next day.

But let's, for a moment, give Hazinski the benefit of the doubt and look past his terminally stupid (or perhaps deliberately provocative) early line: "The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend." Or his inept comparison to lawyers with the question of whether someone who can read a law book should be called a lawyer (why, yes, Mr. Lincoln, you may be able to read the law, but ... It wasn't all that long ago that "reading" the law meant just that -- even into the 1950s in some states legal secretaries, for instance, who had the practical knowledge and a little book learnin' could sit for the Bar exam. You can find plenty of comment with a few search engine clicks from those who think the ABA stranglehold on legal certification is more a way to restrict the supply than raise the standards.)

As I read Hazinski's article in its entirety, I take away a larger point that he's trying to make, and it's not that the mainstream media should somehow have power to regulate and license citizen journalists. It's that if you are going to play "mainstream media," then you have the duty to treat cit-j the same way you treat other sources: Verify the information and get all sides. Consider his three points:

1) Major news organizations must create standards to substantiate citizen-contributed information and video, and ensure its accuracy and authenticity. I don't read here that Hazinski wants MSM to try to impose these standards on citizen journalists, but to impose these standards on itself. But, you say, imposing these kind of gatekeeping standards on itself effectively imposes them on citizen journalists. Fifteen years ago, when MSM controlled the gate, I would have agreed. That's simply not the case anymore -- anyone can pretty easily publish any kind of media output. That is the kernel of the entire "we media" meme. You can't have it both ways.

At the same time, MSM still remain the primary channels by which vast numbers of people get much of their daily news and information diet. If one reads Hazinski as saying it's critical that those channels scrutinize and verify the information coming from cit-j as much as they would the info coming from the local pol at City Hall, I agree entirely.

2) They should clarify and reinforce their own standards and work through trade organizations to enforce national standards so they have real meaning. Unfortunately, Hazinski leaves himself open on this one because to non-insiders this sounds an awful lot like a proposal for national licensing. I don't read him as saying that, but saying that MSM already have in place things like the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics and that vehicles like that should be perhaps broadened and somehow strengthened to provide a framework of standards.

Bad idea. We've been across this bridge before -- several times -- and it's clearly a bridge to nowhere. You simply can't enforce things like this without bringing to bear a whole host of entanglements. Let those organizations that want to follow this sort of "Good Housekeeping" seal display it voluntarily. (TV already does that, for instance, with the AMS seal for weathercasters. But as we know just from turning on the TV, there are a number of marginally competent folks out there who still carry the AMS seal.) Phil Meyer has suggested an intellectually parallel idea with the concept of professional "certification" of journalists in an area of expertise as a way to boost the profession's credibility.

It will always be caveat emptor -- and these days when people can more easily vote with their mouses, I see nothing wrong with that.

3) Journalism schools such as mine at the University of Georgia should create mini-courses to certify citizen journalists in proper ethics and procedures, much as volunteer teachers, paramedics and sheriff's auxiliaries are trained and certified. Sure, why not? It's been done already in a way as part of the Madison Commons project that was funded by J-lab. It holds workshops to train correspondents for its site. The more the merrier.

But that won't stop, nor will it regulate, citizen journalism.

In an oblique way, Hazinski raises central points that we need to continually discuss and debate: How do we take the best of what our former audience members -- and now our collaborators -- are doing and give it the additional distribution and promotion it deserves? And how do we keep this deep well of information, much of which the MSM would never get to otherwise, from being polluted?

(As a sort of Exhibit A is this posting on the chat section of the Web site of KXMB in Bismarck, N.D. -- it's a blogger's response to Hazinski. But it appears to have just been automatically picked up from another blog. The station runs a "Disclaimer" --
This article is a blog post and does not represent the views or opinions of Reiten Television,, its staff and associates and is wholly owned by the user who posted this content -- that is supposed to provide clean hands. There's nothing untoward about this post. But I don't think we can ignore Hazinski's observation that this kind of thing does have a potential for abuse. In a delicious twist, the very act of automated aggregation, while a boon to spreading good posts, can also magnify a posting's presence to the point where the mainstream media sees it "everywhere," and we know how that can be an excuse for mischief.)

It's unfortunate that Hazinski chose to wrap his points in language that tends to provoke more shrill responses than the reasoned research and discussion these complicated issues deserve. Or maybe I'm misreading him and he does want some kind of licensing. File that under terminally dumb.

As Witt wrote:
Models will be formed, just as they were in the open-source software movement, which will filter out the crackpots, vandals and incompetents and it will happen without a certification board. It will not be professional journalism pitted against citizen journalism, it will be a combination of both.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

If you write about blogs, link dammit

Continuing evidence that the New York Times still does not totally get it when it comes to online. (And if the Times is held up as one of the exemplars of this business, what does that say about too many of the rest?)

Maria Aspan writes today's Exhibit A: At Web Site for Journalists, Criticism of a Campaign Article Becomes a Melee.

It's a story about how a Boston University professor and former Washington Post stringer criticized not only an article about Barack Obama and the "Muslim" rumors surrounding him, but the 27-year-old reporter himself, suggesting the reporter had been mainstreamed onto the political beat too early. (Interestingly enough, it wasn't the first time the Post had approached the issue. A Jan. 23 blurb by Howard Kurtz had a headmaster of a madrassah denying that Obama had attended. However, the latest story was on the front page.)

In the Times, Aspan details how Jim Romenesko's blog, the Poynter Insitute's one-stop-for-all-the-tawdry-details site about journalism (and a must-read for many, many journalists) linked to the original criticism by BU Prof Chris Daly, setting off a cross e-mail war of postings on Romenesko's site.

So, does Aspan's story link to any of this?

No. The only links we get are insipid ones to the Times' own canned profiles of the Post, Boston U. and Obama.

So let's all repeat again: If you are going to publish online, and especially if you are going to write about online things, then you are expected to link to them so that your readers can check it out for themselves.

Yes, this is harder than just having a few insipid machine-generated navel gazing links appear in the middle of a story. It might actually require an editor/producer to think about what the story says and include the relevant links. That's part of the online landscape. Learn to deal with it.

(Update: A friend at the Times informs that those links were not machine-generated but were put there by a real editor. Not sure what that editor was thinking ...)

(At Media Nation, Dan Kennedy gives you some other links the Times doesn't.)

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Paper

I caught the national screening of "The Paper" this week on PBS' "Independent Lens," and let me add my voice to the praise the documentary has receive. If it is screened again on PBS, I highly recommend you watch it.

This yearlong look at The Daily Collegian, the independent student paper at Penn State, encapsulates every problem -- and joy -- of the news business these days, from falling circulation to the rising stranglehold power of PR (especially in sports). Yet it was also inspirational to see these young journalists work around the obstacles. (Only downside -- I wish the filmmakers had sought to put the school's sports information department on the hot seat.)

It's good to see from the IL site update that several of the students featured in the film are still in journalism. But it's also disappointing to read this from James Young, the paper's editor during that year:

After two years of laboring at a small newspaper after graduation, the lack of job opportunities in journalism encouraged me to pursue another passion: urban revitalization. I'm living in Philadelphia and in my first year as a grad student in the City Planning program at the University of Pennsylvania. Now I think about traffic circulation instead of worrying about newspaper circulation.

I hear that too often from some of our best graduates, too, and I sometimes wonder if anyone in this business is listening.

I'd love to buy a copy of the DVD, but at $400 a pop that's out of range. (Yes, I understand and support the creators' right and desire to make some bucks out of this, but these days we individual instructors have to buy a lot of these materials, so maybe some kind of "educational" arrangement -- the "Independent Lens" site indicates "educational" copies are available, but I don't see anything on the distributor's site. We'll see what an e-mail inquiry brings.)

Until then, the IL site tells me "The Paper" is being rebroadcast at 3:30 a.m. this Tuesday, so I guess it'll be slip the tape into the VCR.

(Update: Found an excellent review and further update by Jonathan Storm of the Philadelphia Inquirer.)

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The Smith Controversy

I've been watching from afar as the controversy over W. Thomas Smith Jr.'s reporting from Lebanon has developed (rather than provide a link farm, here is his Wikipedia entry, which is very thorough).

Full disclosure here. I know Tom both as a journalist and a friend. He has taught with us as an adjunct instructor at the University of South Carolina. He is a smart, committed journalist. He also is a proud, committed military man who is iconic evidence of the idea once a Marine, always a Marine. I have seen the two intertwine.

I'm not in a position to judge the veracity of his reporting from Lebanon for National Review Online. I covered the military for several years, but mine was all domestic service. I don't presume to know the pressures of working in a war zone. I urge you to follow all the links from the Wikipedia entry and draw your own conclusions.

(Oh, OK, I can't resist. Here are a few to make it easier:
One of Smith's Lebanon dispatches from which his description of 200 heavily armed Hezbollah malitiamen has been disputed. Another about capturing a Hezbollah flag.
The National Review Online editor's note repudiating it.
Smith's farewell letter from NRO.
A Columbia Journalism Review column criticizing Smith)

I am dismayed on two fronts, however.

First is Smith's lack of acknowledgment of the controversy on his Web site and a full accounting. If nothing else, he should be referring to the Wikipedia entry. But he owes the public more than that. If you have your own site as a journalist, you owe the public to use it to its fullest -- good or bad. I hope he corrects that rather than simply leaving the paeans to his previous work.

Second are media commentary programs like On the Media. Hearing OTM's segment today actually prompted me to write this. The segment features an interview with military historian Robert Bateman who condemns Smith in the same vein as Scott Thomas Beauchamp, the soldier now accused of making up things in his blog posts for The New Republic. Perhaps. But nowhere does OTM indicate any attempt to get Smith to comment (or Beauchmp, for that matter), and OTM's Web site hardly contains the wide variety of links that would allow a visitor to make a thorough examination of the issue. It falls far short of the complete coverage I've come to expect from OTM. Hopefully the program will update its Web site and remember in the future that good journalism, even commentary, means seeking all sides, or at least telling us you tried to get them.

Update: Smith has now posted his response on his Web site in two parts. It relies heavily on an unedited e-mail from Toni Nissi, general coordinator in Lebanon for the International Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and a further defense by Tom Harb, the group's general secretary. I encourage you to read both parts -- the first laying out the facts as Smith sees them and the second detailing the interaction with other media as this developed.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Rene "Jack" Cappon

I just got to see today the obituary for Rene J. Cappon, who died last week at age 83. (Things move slowly here in the hinterlands.)

Jack Cappon -- no one who knew him called him Rene -- was one of the quiet giants of this business. His obituary is headlined "AP writing ace," but he was so much more than that. Polly Anderson's lead on the obituary captures it perfectly when it describes him as "the word master behind some of its best writers."

I worked with him only occasionally, when he would make a bureau visit for a state members' meeting, the sporadic trip to help coach us or, occasionally, at an AP editors' gathering. Spending five minutes with Cappon was like spending four years in journalism school. He was of the "old school" AP -- full of great advice and of the wire service's legendary stories. But he was also all business when it came to getting the news, getting it right, getting it fast -- and getting it somewhere in the first three grafs.

(Hugh Mulligan, a member of the "Poets' Corner" stable of writers that Cappon presided over as AP Features editor, was another one whose appearance in your bureau was a time for learning and some good laughs.)

Cappon's 1982 book, "The Word: An Associated Press Guide to Good News Writing," will always stand as one of those works every budding journalist should read and every veteran should reread. Get an education on the language and writing in a volume so slim you can throw it in a briefcase or backpack and refresh yourself while traveling to an assignment. The AP reissued it as "The Associated Press Guide to News Writing: The Resource for Professional Journalists." But to me it will always be "The Word," with the almost-religious overtones rightfully earned (not to mention the spare, classy cover).

If you do nothing else, read its chapter on "Tone: The Inner Music of Words."

Some things change and move on -- and they should. But Cappon's advice on writing is timeless, and many things about the era he represents at the AP will be missed.

I have faith, though, that every time a journalist sits down to write one of those meandering, tortuous anecdotal leads that bury the news and too often these days pass for good "narrative" writing, a little voice will sound in their heads. "Get the news somewhere in the first three grafs," it will say. "We proved for years at the AP that it can be done and still produce a damn good feature story."

It will be Jack, one of the guardian angels of this craft.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

AP Updates Company Names

But beware of a small trap.

The AP is more explicit in its updated "company names" entry, with specific examples:

Generally, follow the spelling and capitalization preferred by the company: eBay. But capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence.

Do not use all capital letter names unless the letters are individually pronounced: BMW. Others should be uppercase and lowercase. Ikea not IKEA; USA Today, not USA TODAY.

Do not use symbols such as exclamation points, plus signs or asterisks that form contrived spellings that might distract or confuse a reader. Use Yahoo, not Yahoo!; Toys R Us, not Toys "R" Us; E-Trade, not E*Trade.

The potential clunker in there, if you are not careful, is Toys "R" Us. The AP has a separate entry for that company mandating the quote marks. I checked the online stylebook a few minute ago, and it's still there, though I pointed this out to stylebook editor Norm Goldstein about a week ago. So make sure to go in and pencil in both changes. I haven't checked for any others.

(With a work as massive as the stylebook, such glitches are bound to happen. For instance, two years ago AP went to abbreviations for all titles such as Gov., Sen., etc. before names, even in quotes. However, under "titles" is this slightly misleading wording still there: "The following formal titles are capitalized and abbreviated as shown when used before a name outside quotations. (Italics mine.) That's led some folks to mistakenly conclude those should still be spelled out inside a quotation. Much as I favor that approach, it's not how AP does things these days. Goldstein had to clean out several cross-references when this changed; I'm sure he'll get this one clarified before the next edition.)

Some other changes to AP's entry on companies:
  • The formal name need not be used on first reference -- for example, Wal-Mart is acceptable for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- but it should be contained in the body of any story in which the subject matter could affect a company's business. For example, include the corporate name in a story on an earnings report, or in a story on a plane crash that could affect the airline's stock price. However, the corporate name might be irrelevant in a story about a political candidate's appearance at a local retail outlet.
  • When the full corporate name is NOT in the story, it should be included in a self-contained paragraph separated from the bottom of the story by a dash: American Airlines is a unit of AMR Corp., or Disney's full corporate name is The Walt Disney Co. If more than one company is listed, each should be in a self-contained paragraph below the dash.
(I doubt we'll see too many papers adding those last grafs. The wire service does it to make sure editors who want it have it.)

The AP has also changed its reference for proper company names. Instead of Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, it now refers users to the major stock exchange sites (AP also has an internal site, but it's not accessible to outsiders. Wouldn't that be a great addition to the electronic stylebook, however? Share the jewels with those paying the money. The AP tantalizingly makes the link clickable in the online stylebook, only to have it to go a 404 error.)

For a company's formal name, consult the national stock exchanges: the New York Stock Exchange,; Nasdaq,; or the American Stock Exchange, (AP staffers may also reference an alphabetical list of all company names, with stock ticker abbreviations, at

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Must see multimedia

We're involved in a journalism blog carnival this week, and I thought I'd take time to point out this multimedia project, "13 Seconds in August," by the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the victims of the Interstate 35 bridge collapse. I stumbled onto it, and all I can say is "Wow."

The project allows you, through a tagged aerial view of the bridge, to click on any vehicle and read about or, where video is available, hear from the victims. But another aspect is terribly important, in my mind, and that is that the paper makes clear it is a "living document" and is soliciting information from users who may know something about others involved in the collapse for whom there is little or no detail.

The paper does by asking you to e-mail one of two people. The first problem is that if you click on those links, you get a 404 page error (at least I did in Seamonkey). It appears the links are directing to a page, not to a "mailto:" link.

I think an e-mail form would probably be the better solution, and I would like to see a moderated comment link. It would be enlightening to see what others had to say.

The e-mail glitch is not minor -- annoying users and readers, especially in the instant-gratification age, is not good. But it should not detract from what overall is a fantastic project that should be used as an example of what the new medium allows us to do.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

AP Style - drop those periods

AP has updated its headline style to allow US and UN, without periods.

The style with periods stays for now in text, but one wonders how long that will stick at a time when every micro-inch of paper is being put under scrutiny as a cost. (I also eventually expect to see the state abbreviations give way to the post office's two-letter versions in all uses.)


Another recent entry, this one new: The Muslim Arabic name for God. The word God should be used, unless the Arabic name is used in a quote written or spoken in English.

(Muslim was used in the early e-mail alert of the change, but AP has now gone back and tweaked the online stylebook entry.)

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

AP confirms the hubs

As reported here a little more than a month ago, AP is going to regional editing hubs for its domestic service. So sayeth the New York Times.

The official AP line is that there will be no layoffs, but some people may have to move. You can read that as you wish, but that equals layoffs, or at least major disruptions for a significant number of staff.

Still out for the jury, of course, is whether regional editing hubs can know the local area enough to prevent mistakes. As noted earlier, previous experiments in this by UPI were not very successful in that regard.

Key to this will be what level of editing is being done. If it is simply to create hubs to file the national wires, it could work. There long was talk of adding hubs in Kansas City and L.A. to take the pressure off New York and "follow the sun." AP has done this overseas, but AP's foreign service is a little different animal.

But if the hubs are going to control the flow of domestic copy back to the states, that's a different thing.

The Times story's a bit ambiguous on this: The regional hubs will handle coverage in their areas, and the New York desk will focus on “the stories that are the tip top of the day,” Ms. Carroll said. (That's Kathleen Carroll, the AP's executive editor. AP does not have anything on its Web site about this, so no way to triangulate at the moment.)

Interesting line in the Times story: Mr. Kennedy [Jim Kennedy, AP's VP for strategic planning] said another goal was to get editors in the regional bureaus back into reporting, which would increase the amount of content, and to reduce the number of people who work on an article during a news cycle.

Don't want to read too much into that, but if I read it right, it sounds like the state-level news editors, who really knew their areas, are about to be marginalized.

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

The hostage-taker is ... oops, never mind

Anyone teaching, concerned about or even mildly interested media ethics needs to print out the "Troy Stanley" thread on the Huffington Post.

Stanley was a person identified early as the possible hostage-taker at the Hillary Clinton campaign office in Rochester, N.H.

The Huffington Post, partly taking its cues from Fox News and partly from its own "Off the Bus" reporter, kept beating the Stanley drum. Some selected headlines and excerpts:

3:55 p.m. - Troy Stanley's Voice Mail Recording
Huffington Post tried calling Rochester, NH resident Troy Stanley today at 3:50. The phone picks up after just one ring and the caller hears, "Hello? (pause) hello? (pause) hello (pause). Leave a message. Later. (Beep)
Troy Stanley is the alleged hostage taker at one of Hillary Clinton's NH campaign headquarters.

3:59 p.m. - Troy Allen Stanley, Alleged Hillary Hostage Suspect, Arrested Earlier This Month
Troy Alan Stanley, the man alleged to have taken Hillary Clinton's Rochester, New Hampshire office hostage earlier today, has a rap sheet.
Earlier this month, on November 6, he was "arrested on a bench warrant for disorderly conduct." Stanley is 44 years old.
(Hmmm, "alleged ... suspect." Could they be any more squirrely?)

4 p.m. - Troy Stanley Charged With Criminal Trespass and Obstructing Governement Administration, August 2007

4:06 p.m. - Troy Stanley, Alleged Hillary Hostage Suspect, Arrested in September
(Another "alleged ... suspect.")

4:12 p.m. - Troy Stanley Jr Identifies His Dad
From Fox: We were told by an eyewitness that the suspect is named Troy Stanley. The eyewitness reporting this to Fox News is Cody Bennet. Cody Bennet is friends with Troy Stanley's son, Troy Stanley Jr. According to Troy Stanley Jr, his father went to a hardware story earlier in the day and bought road side flares to use as fake explosive devices.
(Now there's some strong sourcing, huh?)

4:28 p.m. - Troy Stanley: Marital And Financial Troubles, But a "Tremendous" Man Says Friend

5:06 p.m. - Troy Stanley Has Been Sleeping In The Woods

5:10 p.m. - Troy Stanley: Tales From His Neighbors
Huffington Post is getting eye witness accounts saying the alleged hostage taker Troy Stanley recently made a cross out of duct tape and put it up. He was evicted this morning from his apartment complex. Neighbors who did not wish to give their names told an Off the Bus reporter Bryan Bissell:
"You can hear him preaching to himself through the wall."
"You'll hear him at four in the morning going off on himself every morning."
"He runs his water 24 hours a day in his apartment," said a downstairs neighbor whose apartment flooded.
Pictures coming
OTB Bryan Bissell went to Troy Stanley's apartment, where Mr. Stanley opened the door. He then began talking about the Kennedy assassination.

Those last two posts came after Huffington Post reported at 4:58 that CNN reported that the hostage-taker might actually be a man named Leeland Eisenberg.

5:23 p.m. - Troy Stanley's Ex-Wife: Stanley "Diagnosed Paranoid Schizophrenic" Not Taking His Meds
At 5:16, Carl Cameron of Fox News said he spoke to Troy Stanley's ex-wife of 20 years, who reported that Stanley is "a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who has not been taking his meds." His medicinal regimen includes lithium, but he has not been taking it recently.
Then, at 5:53 p.m. comes this:
Troy Stanley Not Suspect In Hillary Clinton Hostage Incident
OffTheBus correspondent Bryan Bissell has confirmed that Troy Stanley Sr., previously associated with taking hostages at Hillary Clinton's Rochester office, is not connected with the incident.
Contacted at his residence at Sofield Apartments, Mr. Stanley, Sr. confirmed his identity and declined further comment. A call to police verified that Mr. Stanley was not a suspect.
(But wait, what about that update to the 5:10 post. Do you mean to say your crack reporter talked to all the neighbors and only then did he knock on Stanley's door? One assumes that had he done that first, and had he seen Mr. Stanley, it would have been fairly easy to conclude that Mr. Stanley was not a suspect, since his being in two places at once was unlikely.

6:40 p.m. - Leeland Eisenberg, Alleged Hillary Hostage Suspect, Taken Into Custody
See photos of the alleged suspect Leeland Eisenberg being taken into custody by police officers.
(And, of course, there's that "alleged suspect" again. He's a suspect or he isn't. Alleged has no place there.)

At 8:05 p.m. Huffington Post had the cheekiness to put up this: Fox News: We Report (The Names Of Two People), You Decide (Who Is Actually The Suspect)
The HuffPo, of course, takes no responsibility for sucking the teet of Fox and spreading the crap, and even augmenting it with its own reports.
In fact, it almost takes credit for breaking that the suspect was NOT Troy Stanley: "This news broke around 5:50 pm on HuffPo, CNN, E&P and Fox News ..."
Except, of course, for the inconvenient fact, as noted above, that the HuffPo's own thread shows that it had CNN's reporting that it was someone else as early as 4:58 p.m. and still kept piling on Stanley.
Most of the 8:05 post chides Fox for getting this all wrong, including still having a wrong "super" up with Stanley's name.

Not-so-secretly, I wish Stanley could sue Fox and HuffPo back to the stone age over this. For many reasons, it probably won't happen. But it should serve as a widely publicized lesson over how this age of instant communication, where the "echo chamber" effect is becoming more and more prominent in the era of instant news, the dangers grow.

No, I am not of the school that says blogs and such instant media should be shut down or heavily curtailed. Even if I did support it, that genie is already long gone from the bottle, and no attempt to put it back in will work. It's so much useless hand-wringing.

About the only thing that will work for this kind of irresponsibility is wide public shame and unrelenting emphasis on ethics, caution and common sense as we help shape the minds and values of young journalists. In an era where the pressure to get it fast and first continues to grow, this will be harder and harder (and yes, I purposefully left out "get it right" from that phrase).

So I challenge all of you to make sure this disgrace is widely publicized and studied. If you need a PDF of the post thread, I have it and will gladly share. I leave you with the comment of one person responding to the HuffPo's "Fox News" item:

I know you want to shift all the blame onto Fox News, but you know what guys?

You are partly responsible for publicly humiliating a man. It was pretty disgusting what you guys participated in. Maybe you didn't start it, but you're not excused. You really should take some credit and apologize in some fashion.

Just as the Main Stream media should apologize for helping contribute to the lead up to the war and shaping public opinion in favor of it.

I hope that you don't take their path, and try to pretend you had nothing to do with it.

Who says our readers don't know more than we do?

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