An open letter to The Washington Post:
I met the problem newspapers like The Washington Post face. She is a 30-ish admissions nurse at Inova Hospital.
I was sitting in her office clutching The Post and the Wall Street Journal, my hands gray with newsprint. She noticed and volunteered, “I stopped my subscription recently because the paper was all yesterday’s news.” She confirmed to me that she gets her news online.
The most obvious way to profit from readers like her is to give her information she can’t readily get elsewhere or charge for online content. Maybe you put it in newsprint before going online with it, if you think newsprint is your future.
I suggest you might save both your newsprint and online real estate for stories that readers like her care about. Dan Balz’s article about a “pep rally” is a case in point. I understand that The Post’s reputation has been built on its reporting of politics, but that’s no longer helpful for two reasons.
One, Politico, Huffington Post, blogs, etc. give us more and faster.
Two, politics has become so predictable and offensive. Writing an article that’s nothing more than dueling talking points probably holds little interest for most of your readers. Exactly how many of them care to hear the partisan tit-for-tat about what might happen a year from now? And even “Republicans acknowledge that events could change the political landscape before next November.” In March 2007, a year before Obama’s breakthrough victories in the primaries, who would have bet on his being president? Still, let’s assume such navel gazing matters to political insiders. Count them all. I’m sure there are thousands. Are there enough to save The Post?
Now consider Shear and Eggen’s story this morning. There is no news there except the coordinated effort by healthcare opponents to tie the recent mammogram study to “healthcare rationing.” And The Post dutifully obliged to help that effort with front page placement. The lede has no news hook: “opponents stepped up efforts to define the legislation as big-government ambition run amok that will interfere with intimate medical decisions and threaten the pocketbooks of average taxpayers.” Is that news? Increased taxes had never been mentioned before yesterday? “Stepped up efforts”? I was unaware opponents were holding their powder before yesterday. The story is “fair and balanced,” if that’s your criteria for good journalism. But is this story of any value to my admissions nurse? It certainly helped “radio show host Rush Limbaugh and Fox News host Glenn Beck,” who again seem to act as The Post’s assignment editors.
I might argue with at least one point in the article: “Obama administration officials [say the] U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issued the [mammogram] guidelines, has no power to affect coverage decisions by insurance companies.” In fact, insurance companies could use the results of the task force as a rationale to cut coverage for mammograms for women under 50.
But my complaint is not about any partisan slant or arguable point. Nor is it with any of these reporters. My problem is their talents are going to waste because of bad decisions about what content readers want. That ultimately rests with Mr. Brauchli. Maybe he needs a push from the national editors.
Maybe readers want more critical analysis of the big issues of our day, which I seem to get more of in Post columns than I do in daily stories. Or maybe it’s a curriculum change being considered by the local school board. I don’t know, but surely it isn’t what The Post has done for decades. That’s over. You’ve lost that war, at least for your newsprint edition. And I would argue that getting the story about the Republican governors’ conference on your web site faster isn’t the answer, either.
This doesn’t reflect well on mainstream broadcast health reporting.
What they don’t overflow with is accuracy, context and journalistic responsibility, or so concludes University of Minnesota’s Gary Schwitzer, publisher of HealthNewsReview.org. In September, Schwitzer announced that his team will no longer be reviewing every single medical item on TV. The reason? Despite HealthNewsReview’s years of reporting on the reporting and publishing the results, TV health pieces consistently failed to adhere to basic standards.
Here’s a story that supports the thrust of my previous post. Listening to the producers and writers of “The Daily Show” describe their mission and how they hold themselves accountable makes you wonder why real news organizations can’t do this.
"I feel like there are lot of critics of the government but there are very few critics of the media who have an audience and are credible and keep a watch on things," said "Daily Show" writer Elliott Kalan. "That’s a role that we provide that we take very seriously."
And they try to be funny and accurate.
One of the show’s rules is to not trust any source too much until it’s been confirmed by another source. The show’s 11 writers and eight producers — who range in age from their early 20s to mid 40s and four of whom are women — say they often check The New York Times and other newspapers to verify the facts and figures they hear on TV or read about on blogs. They also have a researcher and fact-checker, Adam Chodikoff, who makes sure any information that’s used has been verified by multiple sources.
"We work very hard to make sure that we don’t take anything out of context," King explained, "just because we like to think at the end of the day that what we’re doing is right and correct, but also because while the networks don’t respond to us all that much, people attack us and criticize us and we don’t want to give them ammunition than they need."
Daily Show producers have their sights set on my pet peeve.
Too often, King said, journalists’ political coverage — and that of media critics — ends up being sanitized and nothing but a perfunctory he said/she said exchange. "If you were going to talk about whether the earth is flat, and 99 percent of scientists are saying it’s round, and 1 percent are saying it’s flat, you wouldn’t bring on the 1 percent guy," he said. "That viewpoint is factually inaccurate and they shouldn’t bring him on just to give the illusion of balance."
When both sides are represented, writer Elliott Kalan said, there needs to be more fact-checking and deeper questioning: "A senator or governor will be on the news and will say something completely biased, and newscasters won’t call them on it. They should be checking these people. Instead they don’t want to alienate them and they let them say whatever they want."
He argued that the news media — and political commentators — need to look more critically at both sides of an issue, and spend more time breaking down complicated talking points for news consumers. Too often, Kalan said, journalists adhere to neutrality to the point where it paralyzes their ability to ask tough questions and undermines the power of objective, informed opinion.
The main man of mainstream media, Brian Williams, claims that Jon Stewart has changed MSM.
The old arc of a news story went like this: News happens. Media cover news. Audience reacts, then turns in for the night. For the past several years, however, there’s been another step added to the end of the process: being held to account for our faults by a comedy show with a sharp eye and a sharp tongue. How did we live without it?
His latest – an interview with Lou Dobbs – was wonderful, especially if you watch the entire interview, only a portion of which appeared on TV. Stewart is not only funny. He is smart and articulate. Dobbs can’t keep up. I doubt few media mavens could.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart
|Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
|Exclusive – Lou Dobbs Extended Interview Pt. 1
With the Senate bill now up for discussion, one focus will be on how the public option is implemented. The Senate allows states to “opt-out.” Who’s the “state”?
Can a governor unilaterally opt-out? Must it be by a vote of the legislature? Is there a gubernatorial veto possibility? Must there be a referendum?
Maybe it’s in the 2,000+ page bill. But as I’m probably the only person on the planet who hasn’t read it in its entirety, I wonder if someone could please inform me, because they press sure hasn’t.
Joe Klein makes a good point about polls on issues: They are useless. But for the press, they are heroin.
This is one of my biggest gripes with journalism as it is practiced, particularly on cable news: Polling numbers are "facts." They can be cited with absolute authority, sort of. And so they are given credence beyond all proportion to their actual importance or relevance. But they are not very truthy facts. The are imperfect impressions. They don’t tell us how many people actually know what’s in the House bill. They don’t tell us what the public thinks a plausible alternative strategy might be in Afghanistan. They are what journalists hang on to instead of actually reporting and thinking. And they are–for me, too–addictive.
Klein seems to target cable news, but have you noticed that just about every poll The Washington Post conducts it touts on its front page?
I think it’s also true that even when ascertaining opinion on politicians, polls can be misleading. If a pollster asked me if I was happy with the job Obama is doing, I’d answer “no.” Does that mean, I’m ready to vote for the next GOPer on the ballot? Not unless they can resurrect Clifford Case form the dead.
Here’s a letter from a Newsweek reader on the week’s previous Anna Quindlen column about Obama’s change challenge.
Anna Quindlen asserts that, to help move the president’s liberal agenda along, Americans "should start acting more like the voters who elected him." I suspect it’s a mistake to equate the reasons many independents voted for President Obama—his youth, his family, his freshness after eight years of GOP governance—with strong support for his policies.
Calvin l. White Ooltewah, Tenn.
Mr. White seems to be saying, “Yeah, we elected him but we didn’t really want him to do anything.”
It’s not longer the five W’s – who, what, when, where and why – but the three C’s – celebrity, currency and conflict – that they teach in journalism school, according to a writer of a letter to The Washington Post Saturday.
The writer comes to the right conclusion regarding the Foreign Service officer who resigned due to his objections to the Afghan war. But the student’s reason is that the story doesn’t have currency.
What is disturbing is the lesson he’s learning in journalism school — that to be a story, there must be celebrity, currency and conflict.
That’s precisely what’s wrong with journalism. Celebrity only counts if you’re working for People magazine or MTV. Currency is probably fair; after all we’re not writing history in the morning paper, except maybe the first draft.
But the focus on conflict is what is taking journalism down. Newspapers are dying for several reason. But journalists can’t blame it all on the internet. Unfortunately, they are taking their cues from the internet, especially rabid partisan bloggers and cable shoutfests. By doing so, they are leaving readers without the information they need to make informed decisions. False conflict, i.e., death panels and whether we go all one way or the other in Afghanistan, is crowding out information readers want. That is one of the reasons they’re losing readers; they’re not any different from what people can get online.
Fortunately, that’s not always the case, but if they’re teaching the three C’s in J-schools, it will only get worse.