Tag Archives: journalism

Inside the meme factory: The Clintons figured this out long ago

By Christopher B. Daly

When Hilary Clinton complained back in 1995 of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” trying to bring down her husband, she was not wrong. In fact, she and her husband’s political advisers were onto something: the interlocking network of conservative institutions set up since WWII to American politics to the right. As the Clintons realized, the right-wing think tanks and the right-wing media were mutually supportive in their campaign to concoct conservative political themes and inject them into the mainstream media. (Whether this system qualifies as a “consipracy” is a fine point, but Hilary was right to be paranoid: people were out to get her.)

A new batch of disclosures from the Clinton presidential library lay out the Clintons’ grasp of this phenomenon, circa 1995. They rightly identified Richard Mellon Scaife as a major source of funding for both conservative think tanks and media.

Scroll down past the heading sheets for a fascinating glimpse inside this usually hidden world.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.01.39 AM

Leave a comment

Filed under history, Journalism, journalism history, media, Politics, publishing, Uncategorized

Interns should be paid!

By Christopher B. Daly 

The unpaid internship is a social evil. If a business is willing to have someone in the workplace and let them anywhere near work, then they should pay. As we know, most interns contribute something (and often quite a bit) to the places where they work, so it’s only fair to compensate them.

Let’s face facts: an internship is a temporary job with no security and no benefits. Most interns do not stay very long, and most places that use interns only use a handful. The total compensation of all interns cannot represent a lot of money to any business, including the news media. Employers exploit interns for a very simple reason: because they can!

Or, they used to be able to. Now, there are stirrings in NYC, the nation’s media capital. The state AG is cracking down on unpaid labor. Most recently, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio has signed an ordinance giving interns the right to sue employers if they are harassed or discriminated against.

Interns, arise!

 

3 Comments

Filed under Journalism

Inside the meme factory: GOP discovers “imperial presidency”

By Christopher B. Daly

In today’s NYTimes, a story purports to have discovered a trend among Republican congressmen, who are depicted as suddenly deciding to accuse President Obama of creating an “imperial presidency.”

Hmmm. . .

Whenever Republicans start using the same phrase for the same purpose, it behooves political journalists to dig a little deeper and figure out where the new phrase/slogan/soundbite is coming from. Usually, it has been hatched deep in the bowels of the conservative “meme factory” — that set of interlocking think tanks, consultants, and media that serves the conservative movement by providing it with a constant supply of talking points, slogans, and rallying cries.

Today’s story, by Ashley Parker, traced the new “meme” as far upstream as a recent report from the office of Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the House, but that’s as far as she got. I suspect there are more tributaries to explore, even further upstream.

An excerpt:

Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, recently released an addendum to a 33-page report his office had already put out on the “imperial presidency.” And both Mr. Broun and Mr. Loudermilk used similar phrases when talking about the role they believe government should play.

“Our founding fathers truly believed that government should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people — not a government over the people,” Mr. Broun told a gathering of supporters recently.The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

Imagine that — Loudermilk “offered a nearly identical refrain.” What a coincidence!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Journalism, New York Times, Politics, President Obama

Reporting on autism: wrong or dumb?

By Christopher B. Daly

What does it mean that the two sides of this graphic are so out of whack?

Screen Shot 2014-03-30 at 3.01.00 PM

What it shows (according to Princeton prof. Sam Wang, in an article in today’s NYTimes Sunday Review) is that journalists way over-report the wrong things about autism. Whereas most articles are about vaccines, the science suggests that most autism is a product of genes and/or prenatal and very early stresses on mother and child. Hmmm…..

I had never even heard about “injury to the cerebellum at birth,” which turns out to be a major added-risk factor. How are we supposed to understand issues like this and — god forbid! — formulate public policy when journalists present such a distorted view of the science?

Sheesh.

 

1 Comment

Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, Uncategorized

What if traffic metrics had been used throughout journalism’s history?

By Christopher B. Daly 

That’s a question that came to mind today while reading David Carr’s latest. In his column, Carr identifies a trend (at least, a trend by journalism standards) of news organizations paying their contributors based on how much traffic their individual “stories” garner. If an item is really popular and brings a lot of eyeballs to the site, the “writer” of the piece earns more money. Conversely, if you write pieces that hardly anyone look at, you get paid less — or nothing.

It all sounds simple and fair and transparent and populist. (This approach puts the “piece” in piecework with a vengeance.)

Only it’s not. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take into account that journalism has other values besides popularity. Yes, we want readers/viewers, and we want as many as we can get. But we also want to serve our society by occasionally embarking on stories that are so expensive to investigate that they will never pay back any return on the investment of resources put into them. Or, we sometimes work on stories that matter intensely to a small group of people. And, from time to time, we run stories that turn just about everyone off but still make the world a slightly better place.

Let’s consider how a “metrics model” would have served journalism (and the world) over the last couple of centuries.

–The first story about sexual abuse by Catholic priests was hardly a candidate for “most-read” and yet it began a tidal wave of reporting that ultimately rocked the Vatican.

–The first Watergate story (the one with Al Lewis’ byline, on June 18, 1972) had only a tiny fraction of wapo-front_18june1972the readership that the “last” Watergate story 26 months later (the one with the headline “Nixon Resigns” on Aug. 9, 1974)

–Then there was Sy Hersh’s original story about Lt. William Calley and the massacre at My Lai.

One takeaway from those historical cases: some stories need time to build.

–Or what about the columnist Westbrook Pegler? Incredibly popular, but a crackpot who was wrong about everything. His metrics would have crushed the likes of Walter Lippmann (in terms of actual readers, not just people who said they read Lippmann.)

–The first-day stories about the Gettysburg Address barely mentioned Lincoln’s little speech, because (by the lights of the day) it was considered dull and inconsequential compared to the stem-winder of a speech given by the day’s main speaker, Edward Everett. (Who?)

–For a few weeks in 1835, the New York Sun had a wildly popular (and exclusive) story about life on the moon. The paper really racked up eyeballs — until the story was revealed as a hoax. Oh, well. It sure sold papers.

–Or, how about the summer and early fall of 2001? The media were in full cry to “prove” that

Egregious illustration of Chandra Levy.

Egregious illustration of Chandra Levy.

the disappearance of a missing Washington intern, Chandra Levy, was somehow connected to married congressman Gary Condit. (Who remembers them now?) You could look it up: this was a huge story for months in 2001, right up until 9/11. Anyone want to go back there?

Just as some stories need time to develop, some writers need time to develop.

What was Samuel Clemens’ first story, for the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City, Nevada? If he had not been given time to develop as a writer, he would have ended up as the funniest steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, but there’d be no Innocents Abroad (his first big success), not to mention no Huckleberry Finn. What about the first news stories ever written by Ernest Hemingway? Is there a new Martha Gellhorn or Joan Didion chasing clicks today at Gawker?

If we only work on stories that are popular, we might soon become so popular that we won’t matter any more.

The original moonbats.  New York Sun, 1835

The original moonbats.
New York Sun, 1835

1 Comment

Filed under Journalism, journalism history, media, publishing, Uncategorized

Gabriel Garcia Marquez: What he learned from journalism

By Christopher B. Daly 

Happy birthday to Gabriel Jose de la Concordia Garcia Marquez!images

The Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist turns 87 today.

Here’s a quotation that puts his career in perspective:

“I’ve always been convinced that my true profession is that of journalist.”

“I learned a lot from James Joyce and Erskine Caldwell and of course from Hemingway … [but the] tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable, into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk.”

He worked for a newspaper in Bogotá for many years, writing at least three stories a week, as well as movie reviews and several editorial notes each week. Then, when everyone had gone home for the day, he would stay in the newsroom and write his fiction.

“I liked the noise of the Linotype machines, which sounded like rain. If they stopped, and I was left in silence, I wouldn’t be able to work.”

Who hears the rainy clatter of a Linotype machine any more?

 September 1942. "Linotype operators in composing room of the New York Times newspaper." These machines cast lines of type (Linotype) from molten lead prior to their assembly by compositors into the printing plates that go on the presses. Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information.

September 1942. “Linotype operators in composing room of the New York Times newspaper.” These machines cast lines of type (Linotype) from molten lead prior to their assembly by compositors into the printing plates that go on the presses. Photo by Marjory Collins for the Office of War Information.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Journalism, journalism history

O’Reilly on O’Reilly

By Christopher B. Daly

Not to be missed: this recent commentary by Tim Egan in the NYTimes about Fox News figure Bill O’Reilly and O’Reilly’s recent interview with President Obama. As usual, O’Reilly believes that the key figure in the interview was . . . himself. For days afterward, O’Reilly and his colleagues at Fox milked the interview and scored it a solid win for O’Reilly over the president (as if it were a debate).

Egan makes a good point here:

So, the first point for historians sniffing the odor of O’Reilly’s time capsule in 2114 is that the interview made no news. No ground was broken. It was a journalistic dud. O’Reilly himself spoke for about 40 percent of the time, and devoted 90 percent of the interview to “the full Fox scandal grab bag,” as Jon Stewart called it.

As it happens, I am teaching my students this week about how to conduct interviews in my journalism classes at Boston University (where, yes, I know: Bill O’Reilly attended college). The point I always try to drum into my students about interviewing is simple: It’s not about you. 

Of course, I understand that Bill O’Reilly is not trying to conduct a productive, journalistic interview. He is trying to stage a clash of personalities for television. Like his boss Roger Ailes, O’Reilly is very good at understanding television, even if he seems to have missed class on the day of the lesson about humility.

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under broadcasting, Fox News, Journalism

Globe owner John Henry: A man of few words?

By Christopher B. Daly

Former commodities trader and current pro-sports franchise owner John Henry has also owned the Boston Globe newspaper since last summer, when he bought it for a mere $70 million. Since then, he has said little about his plans, his political views, or his philosophy of journalism. That’s his prerogative, of course, but all the readers of the Globe around New England and beyond, may start to tire of his taciturn approach.

Boston-Globe-and-Henry

 

Last October, Henry published a 3,000-word op ed in his own newspaper under the headline “Why I Bought the Globe.” Among other high-minded points he made was this passage:

 

This much is clear: The overriding mission of The Boston Globe will be to ensure that its readers are getting news they can trust. The Globe will place its emphasis on hard-hitting, investigative accountability that readers can rely on. Not only will the Globe seek to hold people and institutions accountable for their actions, we will hold ourselves accountable for fairness, balance, and fact-checking.

Today, reliable information has never been more valuable. A newspaper needs to provide the breadth of perspective and diligent analysis that gets to the heart of what is going on in our world. The Globe will never be the prisoner of any ideology or political agenda.

Our enterprise reporting will shed new light on important issues of the day, with intellectual honesty and discipline. We will provide our readers with the assurance that if they read the Globe, they will know that time, effort, and thought were put into each and every report.

In this way, Henry sounds like many other American publishers who have issued similar declarations upon taking over newspapers: political independence, a commitment to service, a sense of public trust, etc. His statement was similar in spirit and tone to that of Adolph Ochs when he took over the New York Times in 1896. Here’s the heart of Ochs’ declaration:

It will be my earnest aim that The New-York Times give the news, all the news, in concise and attractive form, in language that is parliamentary in good society, and give it as early, if not earlier, than it can be learned through any other reliable medium; to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved; to make of the columns of The New-York Times a forum for the consideration of all questions of public importance, and to that end to invite intelligent discussion from all shades of opinion.

Since his op-ed last fall, Henry has said little, other than a speech to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce last month. He has removed the Globe’s publisher, Chris Mayer, and given himself that job. Now comes a bit more insight, in an article from Boston magazine, written by senior editor Jason Schwartz. In the piece, Schwartz reveals that Henry would not grant him an interview, but “instead agreed to exchange emails” — without saying how many. The piece includes interviews from other key players (including Globe editor Brian McGrory) but adds little to our understanding of Henry and his intentions.

One reveal: Henry confirmed that he plans to sell most of the Globe’s property in Dorchester and move the newsroom into a prominent place closer to downtown — a good idea that I have thought the Globe should have done years ago. The sale of all that land should reap at least $70 million, which would mean that Henry got the newspaper as such for free.

Still, questions persist. Here are some I have:

–How can the Globe return to profitability?

–How long will the Globe continue in print?

–When you start to make money from the Globe, what will you do with it?

–Is it important to even try maintaining a separation between the paper’s editorial page and its news pages?

–If you have money to invest in the Globe, what are your top priorities for expanded coverage?

–Is there a comparable news operation anywhere in the world that you admire?

–If you had to choose between watching the Red Sox in the World Series or the Liverpool Football Club in a championship game, which would it be?

BONUS: My estimable colleague Dan Kennedy has written about this same topic today, including a warning about the possible return of Mike Barnicle. Well worth a read.

 

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Boston, Journalism, journalism history, media, publishing

Boston Globe owner begins making his moves

By Christopher B. Daly 

It’s no great surprise that John Henry, the wealthy former investor who bought the Boston Globe late last October for less than $70 million, has named a new publisher: himself. This is a step that has many precedents in the history of American journalism. And it makes sense: why spend the money to buy a whole newspaper if you don’t plan to run it?

The more interesting development announced by the Globe is that the paper will have a new CEO: veteran ad man Mike Sheehan. A longtime executive with the Boston advertising powerhouse Hill Holliday, Sheehan now takes on the responsibility for making enough money to rebuild the Globe’s reporting strength to the point where it can fulfill its goal of being a robust regional news organization.

Personally, I wish them all the luck. Get cracking, do good work, and start hiring more journalists.

Here's the Globe's caption on this double portrait: John Henry (left) and Mike Sheehan hope to boost ad revenue at the Globe.

Here’s the Globe’s caption on this double portrait: John Henry (left) and Mike Sheehan hope to boost ad revenue at the Globe.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Boston, Journalism, journalism history, media

Egypt rounds up journalists

By Christopher B. Daly

[see update below]

Like almost every regime that wants to cling to power, the government in Egypt has decided to attack the news media. Prosecutors announced that they were charging 20 journalists who work for Al Jazeera with consipring with terrorists. Their crime: contacting enemies of the regime as sources and reporting their views. They are also being charged with broadcasting false images of “a civil war that raises alarms about the state’s collpase.” Translation: they called it the way they saw it.

According to the Times:

The charges are the latest turn in a widening clampdown on public dissent by the military-backed government . . .

This is obviously a shameful attempt to intimidate the entire news media, and it should be denounced in the strongest terms by the United States. Here’s what we got, in the daily briefing from the U.S. State Department:

The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Egypt should reconsider the prosecution. “The government’s targeting of journalists and others on spurious claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms,” she said.

Better than nothing.

UPDATE:

Apparently, the regime in Egypt is having second thoughts — not about rounding up their own journalists, but about the unintended consequences of the crackdown on the rest of the world’s press. Their real goal seems to be to insulate their own people from exposure to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence the roundup of Al Jazeera journalists who have Brotherhood sources.

But they seem unprepared for the fallout — which is a natural reluctance of any self-respecting journalist to stick around in Egypt with the threat of arbitrary arrest hanging over them. Any reporter covering Egypt needs to have and use Brotherhood sources. But if that means you can be accused of conspiring with terrorists, it might be time to leave Egypt for a while.

In a statement on Thursday, the State Information Service said Egypt welcomed foreign correspondents to cover even “constructive criticism” of the government, in accordance with its commitments to democracy, freedom of expression and transparent elections.

Alluding to journalists’ fears about being charged for interviewing members of the Brotherhood, the statement said that “mere contact” with any “accused criminal” is not a crime under Egyptian law.

The statement, however, contained caveats. It said that Egyptian law does not protect freedom of “thought and opinion” if it develops into action that violates Egyptian laws, like “crimes that threaten the country’s national security.”

The statement also said that contact with an “accused criminal” may be a punishable offense “if this contact is a sort of assisting or inciting.”

Hmmm… I’d say it might be time to go visit some other hotspot for a while.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Journalism