Friday, July 10, 2009

Economics and media ethics

Meanwhile, MediaDailyNews's Eric Sass uses the recent Washington Post's now-rescinded plan for sponsored reporter/editor-administration sources-industry representatives parties to ask whether economic pressures are pushing media (especially newspapers) into ethically-challenged areas. Short answer: yes.

It's another of his good columns that should be read by every journalist, professional or still in school

Some thoughts on planted "scoops" and conventional wisdom

Speaking of the New York Times, Executive Editor Bill Keller offered some interesting comments in a Time magazine "10 Questions" feature. Of special note were his responses to the questions about the Times' behavior before the Iraq War and on the future of newspapers. Asked about why the Times' basically parroted the administration line on Iraq (that's my characterization, not his), he responded: "It was partly the insatiable desire for scoops people in the Administration were feeding about the potential threat in Iraq. But a lot of it was just that we floated along with the conventional wisdom, the worst enemy of journalism." Asked about the future of newspapers, he replied: "I think this talk about the death of newspapers is a little exaggerated. While online is clearly more and more the future, print has a lot of life left in it."

I was especially struck by the implications for journalists in his answer about the war. Given media's reliance on online publishing, I would think "scoops" would be even more important. As Keller said, scoops often rely on planted "tips" by sources including administrations, businesses, unions, etc. Seems to me that as media put more and more pressure on journalists to come up with instant scoops, they become even more vulnerable to planted stories. And relying on conventional wisdom is one of the many signs of poor (or missing journalism), which really shows up in so-called "citizen journalism," which far too often really means uninformed opinion.
Journalists are taught to be leery of planted stories. Far too often, they don't follow that teaching.

I subscribe to the idea of "journalism of verification," where journalists check out anything they're told. That becomes harder to do if you are being judged on how many tweets or blog items you post each day or how often you update your site's "news digest" as many media outlets do. It's like the No Child Left Behind law's unintended consequences where teachers teach to the test, not what students should be learning. Reporters will be rushing items into print rather than carefully verifying them.

NY Times may charge for Internet access

New York Times appears set to charge Internet viewers. It's floating the idea of a $5 monthly charge. Subscribers to the print edition would pay half that. Look for a flood of other newspapers to start charging for at least part of their websites. It's probably the only way for them to survive.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Even citizen journalism needs more money

In another setback for citizen journalism, Korea's Ohmynews is facing money troubles. The problem for the organization, which is built around non-staffers writing stories that then are edited by professionals, is the worldwide advertising slump, which has cut sharply into revenues. It once again raises the question of whether media money problems are because of lack of interest in news or due to advertising cuts. Or maybe a little of both.

Computers and writing, some observations

There are a couple of interesting stories out there about how computers are affecting our minds.
One, from Newsweek, is about something called cryptomnesia in which we unconsciously plagiarize material. Although the story doesn't say it, I think our new lives on computers, with all the information we take in, makes it easier for us to subconsciously plagiarize. What the story does say, and this is the most important part, is that journalists must be aware of this possibility and really battle it.

The second story is from the Atlantic. It suggests that extensive use of Google (and I would add other Internet sources) is affecting our concentration and reading habits. For example, the article cites a former College literature graduate who now can't concentrate enough to read books. I find that my concentration levels needed for long-form writing isn't as strong as it used to be, and wonder if that's because I'm spending so much time reading short bursts of information.