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A RECENT ATTACK ON JOURNALISM EDUCATION WAS WRONG AND HARMFUL. HERE’S ANOTHER VIEW

By Christopher B. Daly

Journalism Professor,

Boston University

 

In its spring/summer issue for 2018, the Columbia Journalism Review ran an odd attack on, of all things, journalism education. It was written by Felix Salmon, a journalist whose work I admire. But in this case, almost every sentence he wrote was outdated, tendentious, or flat-out wrong.

Here’s his piece in regular text and my comments in all caps bold.

By Felix Salmon

When it comes to journalism school, there are two questions. The first is the tough one, and was asked and answered by Michael Lewis in a blistering (and very funny) takedown in The New Republic in 1993: Is it all bullshit? The answer then was a clear yes.

THIS SEEMS GLIB, ESPECIALLY COMING FROM SOMEONE WHO NEVER WENT TO ONE.

 In the 25 years since Lewis wrote his article, the occupation of journalism has become more precarious than ever: Joseph Pulitzer’s plan to “raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession” rings hollow in an age of Chartbeat, post quotas, and pay-per-pageview. If you meet a theologian today, or a lawyer, or a doctor, it’s reasonable to assume they have studied deeply and learned a lot in order to do their job. That’s not the case with journalism, nor should it be;

ARE YOU MAKING THE CASE FOR IGNORANCE HERE?

even J-school’s staunchest defenders don’t consider a journalism degree to be a necessary prerequisite for anybody entering the field. 

GRANTED, A DEGREE IS NEITHER NECESSARY NOR SUFFICIENT. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THEY ARE ALL WORTHLESS FOR ALL PEOPLE. FOR SOME STUDENTS, THEY ARE A LIFELINE.

 Thus have the contours of the debate stood for at least a quarter century. ACTUALLY, THIS DEBATE HIS NOT CHANGED MUCH SINCE 1904. AS I WRITE IN MY BOOK “COVERING AMERICA,” JOSEPH PULITZER AND HORACE WHITE DEBATED WHETHER A NEWS REPORTER EVEN NEEDED TO ATTEND COLLEGE. (WHITE SAID NO, PULITZER YES)

Copy Desk, Columbia J-School

Students at the Columbia Journalism School work at the “copy desk.”

On one side, we find people who think a journalism degree can be a useful way to learn skills that come in handy while editing and reporting; on the other, more perspicacious types look around, see that many of the greatest journalists have no such degree, and can find no evidence that a J-school education correlates in any way with better work.

THE FACT THAT “MANY OF THE GREATEST JOURNALISTS” OF THE PAST – OR EVEN OF THE PRESENT – DID NOT GET JOURNALISM DEGREES HAS NO BEARING ON WHETHER CURRENT STUDENTS WILL NEED THOSE DEGREES IN THE FUTURE. THINGS CHANGE.

IN MY OWN CASE, I STUDIED HISTORY IN COLLEGE IN THE 1970S AND WORKED ON THE COLLEGE PAPER. I GOT SUMMER JOBS AT SUBURBAN NEWSPAPERS, WHERE I WAS PAID. (AND PAID THE UNION WAGE, TOO!)

Perhaps it is worth asking a more pointed question: Should J-school even exist?

For anybody on Lewis’s side of the original question, the answer is easy. If J-school is indeed bullshit, if it adds no value to the world, if it has signally failed in more than a century of existence to raise journalism to the rank of a learned profession

JOURNALISM IS QUITE A BIT CLOSER TO A LEARNED PROFESSION THAN IT WAS A CENTURY AGO —well, then, it has no real ability to justify its existence, and the world would be better off without it. But the fact is that everybody should concede that the world would be better off without J-school, no matter how noble they consider Pulitzer’s original undertaking.

Indeed, the more useful J-school is, the more urgent and important its abolition becomes. A useless J-school is a waste of time and money for those who go there, offset by the benefit that accrues to teachers and other recipients of the students’ tuition. The net effect is negative, but the only people suffering real harm are the students. What’s more, it’s easy to avoid that harm: Don’t go to J-school. But what if the J-school defenders are right? What if J-school students really do end up with a significant advantage over those who don’t share their credentials? In that case, even more people are harmed. 

HUH?

J-school attendees might get a benefit from their journalism degree, but it comes at an eye-watering cost. The price tag of the Columbia Journalism School, for instance, is $105,820 for a 10-month program, $147,418 for a 12-month program, or $108,464 per year for a two-year program. That’s a $216,928 graduate degree, on top of all the costs associated with gaining the undergraduate prerequisites. (Columbia, it seems important to say, is also the publisher of Columbia Journalism Review, the publication you’re now reading.)

IMPORTANT TO NOTE: MOST SCHOOLS COST LESS, AND NEARLY ALL REDUCE THAT “STICKER PRICE” WITH SCHOLARSHIPS. SO, THIS IS AN ALARMIST FIGURE. TUITION IS STILL TOO HIGH, GRANTED. BUT IT IS NOT THAT HIGH.

 There are also substantial opportunity costs. Once you’ve graduated from a four-year college, you’re eminently employable, and can enter the workforce immediately. If you delay your career by another year or two, you lose out on a significant amount of income as well as valuable professional experience. Even if you start working in journalism at minimum wage, after a year or two you’re still going to be richer, more experienced, more employable, and almost certainly more skilled than someone who’s spent that time getting a grad-school degree.

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE YOUNG PERSON WHO GRADUATED WITH A DEGREE IN ENGLISH? THE WORLD IS HARDLY WAITING FOR THEM. MANY OF THEM TAKE STOCK IN THEIR LATE 20S AND DECIDE TO GET A MORE-PROFESSIONAL DEGREE, LIKE JOURNALISM. WE KICK-START MANY CAREERS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WERE WAITING TABLES.

But what about the people who choose not to go to J-school? Here’s their problem: When you’re looking for that entry-level foot in the door, you’re going to be competing against applicants a year or two older than you who have just spent six figures getting themselves a Columbia degree. And if that credential is worth even marginally more than nothing, those candidates are going to be more attractive to employers, and more likely to get the job. 

The result is a crowding-out effect, whereby job-hunting J-school graduates, having already caused themselves substantial financial harm, then go on to harm any aspiring journalistic employee who was smart enough not go to J-school. 

What does that mean in practice? It means a much less diverse workforce, at a time when newsroom diversity has perhaps never been more important. If you’re poor, or working-class, or a rural person of color, or mobility-constrained, or a single mother struggling to bring up multiple children, or otherwise part of a group that has historically been underrepresented in newsrooms, is it possible for you to go to J-school? Sure. Is it likely? Not in the slightest. VALID POINT. THE WORST FEATURE ABOUT ALL OF AMERICAN HIGHER ED, NOT JUST JOURNALISM, IS THAT IT IS TOO EXPENSIVE.

Is it advisable? It is not. INVALID POINT. IF YOU WANTED TO GO AND YOU COULD GO, YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD.

Yet you’re exactly the kind of person news organizations should be spending more effort bringing into their ranks. Carl Bernstein never went to college; ANCIENT HISTORY

the journalistic profession needs more of his ilk, not fewer.

The best and simplest way to move toward that goal would be to abolish the graduate journalism degree entirely. That would help to level the playing field, while saving students billions of dollars in tuition. Better yet, it would bring the industry back to a model of on-the-job training. People wanting to enter the profession would get paid to learn the ropes.

BY WHOM??? I BENEFITED FROM THAT KIND OF ON-THE-JOB TRAINING, BUT THAT WAS 45 YEARS AGO! THE SMALL AND MEDIUM-SIZED PAPERS THAT USED TO OFFER THOSE KINDS OF JOBS ARE THE LEAST LIKELY AND LEAST ABLE TO OFFER THEM TODAY. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT OUR STUDENTS ARE OFTEN FILLING THE GAPS IN THOSE HOLLOWED-OUT LOCAL PAPERS. MOST J-SCHOOLS COMBINE CLASSROOM LEARNING WITH REAL-WORLD EXPERIENCE.

 It’s more effective, it’s infinitely more real, and it focuses the mind: No one’s going to fire you from J-school if you misspell the mayor’s name in a headline. 

Rather than putting money and effort into expensive trainee programs, news organizations no doubt will attempt to outsource their training to journalism schools, thereby getting someone else (anybody else!) to pay the cost.

THEY DID SO LONG AGO, AND THERE IS NO REASON TO THINK THEY WILL REVERSE THAT DECISION.

 

 It’s a false economy, because a well-run trainee or internship program is not only cheaper than J-school, it’s also vastly more valuable. 

NOT NECESSARILY. I LEARNED A LOT ON THE JOB, BUT I NEVER LEARNED ANYTHING ABOUT THE HISTORY, LAW, OR ETHICS OF OUR FIELD. BESIDES, WHERE ARE YOUNG PEOPLE SUPPOSED TO LEARN SKILLS LIKE ‘DATA JOURNALISM’ OR ‘DATA VISUALIZATION’? NOT FROM GRIZZLED VETERANS, BECAUSE MOST OF THEM DO NOT HAVE THESE SKILLS THEMSELVES. THAT’S WHY OUR STUDENTS ARE IN DEMAND FOR JOBS LIKE “MMJ” AND “MULTIMEDIA PRODUCER” AND “DATA INVESTIGATOR.”

So let’s abolish J-school, or at the very least turn it into a purely academic subject no one can mistake for vocational training. By doing so, we will force the training back into the newsrooms, where it belongs. WISHFUL THINKING.

 THE FACT IS, WE NEED JOURNALISM EDUCATION NOW MORE THAN EVER.

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Filed under digital media, Journalism, journalism history, media, news, reporting, writing

Congress is questioning the wrong guy

By Christopher B. Daly 

As Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg appears today before a congressional committee, the social media magnate is bound to attract pervasive media coverage. But the spotlight is on the wrong party.

The real culprit in the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal is Robert Mercer, the major backer of Cambridge Analytica, who has frankly acknowledged his willingness to use his hedge-fund fortune to manipulate American politics. Facebook certainly had a role in the scandal, but the driving force was Mercer, not Zuckerberg.

Republicans are eager to question Zuckerberg in part because of a long-running campaign by Fox News to discredit not just Facebook but all of Silicon Valley. The Fox script is a familiar one: the “cool kids” in California look down on us, and they support all those liberals in the Democratic Party. Therefore, they are fair game — they do not enjoy the default support that Americans who run businesses otherwise enjoy from Fox and the Republican Party.

By the same logic, there is one key player in the Facebook data scandal who will almost certainly NOT be summoned before Congress: Mercer. That’s because congressional Republicans are terrified of Mercer. He is a billionaire who spends tens of millions of dollars a year supporting conservative candidates for office. He is a principal backer of Cambridge Analytica, the shadowy political consultants who helped elect Donald Trump in 2016.

If you want to hear Mercer testifying in Congress, you’ll have to wait for a Democratic majority to get back in power and resume governing.

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source: Campaign Legal Center.

 

 

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Filed under computers, Donald Trump, Facebook, media, Politics, Uncategorized, Zuckerberg

Zuckerberg is not the real culprit. (It’s Mercer.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is on the hot seat. He is taking a lot of heat this week for Facebook’s role in the assault on American democracy that took place during the 2016 presidential election.

He deserves a lot of the criticism — for not protecting his users’ privacy, for putting jv14ju53t6xpmm9ojuzhprofits above all, for lacking candor at every step of the way.

But he is not the real villain in this piece. The fact is, he was played. Facebook (meaning not just the company but also the vast “community” of users) was used by the real villain.

The moving party in all this was Robert Mercer. Facebook was just sitting there — ripe and perhaps willing to be exploited. But to his credit, Zuckerberg did not embark on a

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US billionaire Robert Mercer in Washington DC in March this year. Photograph: Oliver Contreras/The Washington Post via Getty Images

stealth campaign to change the outcome of our presidential election in ways that damaged the electoral process and stuck us with a president who is — shall we say — not making America great in any way, shape, or form.

That role was played by Robert Mercer. He is the billionaire who decided to take the fortune he made as a hedge fund manager and deploy it in politics.

Here’s a quick bio:

Born in 1946 at the very leading edge of the Baby Boom. Raised in New Mexico.

Got his bachelor’s degree in physics and math at the publicly funded state-run University of New Mexico.

He got experience in writing computer programs at the taxpayers’ expense while working in a weapons lab at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque.

Then, he topped off his education at the public’s expense by getting a PhD from the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign).

Later, he joined the hedge fund Renaissance Technologies, where he made a fortune in the stock market (which functions only because it is regulated, at taxpayer expense, so it does not operate as a den of thieves).

And what was his take-away from all the benefits he derived from all those publicly funded or regulated operations? Apparently, his reaction was a strong hatred of government, regulation, and taxes.

Thanks a lot. After all we did for you, this is the gratitude we get?

It gets worse. Because he is a billionaire (in a society where the rule of law protects him and allows him to keep his money safe), he is able to act on his views in ways that are not available to ordinary citizens. Empowered specifically by the Citizens United ruling, which equated spending money with speaking and therefore allows essentially unlimited spending on politics, Mercer has taken a comprehensive approach:

–donating to conservative “think tanks” that produce the rationales for raging social inequality

–donating directly to Republican campaigns for office (Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and many others)

–secretly manipulating the outcome of the Brexit campaign

–providing financial backing for Breitbart News and supporting its chief Steve Bannon

–backing Cambridge Analytica, a data-mining and analysis firm, for the specific purpose of influencing American politics. It was Cambridge Analytica that picked Mark Zuckerberg’s pockets and used all that Facebook data to promote Trump and denigrate Hillary Clinton.

Compared to Mercer, Zuckerberg seems like a kinda sweet, perhaps naive, young guy. With any luck, Zuckerberg is wising up fast. He will need to if he wants to keep swimming in the same ocean as sharks like Mercer.

 

 

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The thriving NYTimes passes another milestone

By Christopher B. Daly 

In the end, as the most recent financial results posted by the New York Times make clear, the only real future for news is the audience. Journalists cannot count on advertising, and we should not count on patrons like billionaires or governments. Those sources are too fickle and too compromising. The only true basis for independent journalism is an audience willing to pay for it.

That’s why there is so much to celebrate in the latest performance figures posted by the failing thriving New York Times. Here is the company’s statement.

imagesYes, profits were off a bit. Yes, revenues from print advertising continued to slide. But the real headline is impressive growth in new digital subscribers. These are the folks who supply the company with its most stable source of funds and who do not want anything from the paper but great journalism. They are the foundation of the digital future.

In a story about the company’s earnings, Mark Thompson, the paper’s top business manager, appeared to agree:

“We still regard advertising as an important revenue stream,” Mr. Thompson said, “but believe that our focus on establishing close and enduring relationships with paying, deeply engaged users, and the long-range revenues which flow from those relationships, is the best way of building a successful and sustainable news business.”

Highlights:

–99,000 new digital-only news subscriptions in the last quarter of 2017. (plus about 60,000 more subscribers to the Cooking and Crossword pages) Digital-only subscribers now number over 2.6 million. (If you are one, good for you! Give a gift subscription to someone else.)

Total revenue for the fourth quarter of 2017 was up 10% (over the 4th quarter of 2016), approaching half a billion dollars for just three months. That’s because subscription revenues rose almost 20%, while ad revenues continued their downward slide, dropping by more than 1%.

Revenue from digital-only subscribers (the people who are going to carry this operation into the future) was up more than 50% (!), reaching almost $100 million. What that means, in crude terms, is that if the Times stopped printing (which it must do one day) and laid off everyone who is not associated with news-gathering, there would be about $400 million coming in every year to pay for the newsroom.

Advertising now contributes just 1/3 of company revenues. In other words, subscribers (plus a little money from merch) are already paying 2/3 of the cost. This has not been the case since the Civil War era. Revenue from digital ads was up 8.5%; money from print ads dropped another 8.4%.

–The company’s stock price is also rising.

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Source: NYT business page

Yes, the Times is continuing to shrink its workforce and the space those folks occupy in the company’s signature skyscraper in midtown. During a recent visit, I witnessed the belt-tightening.

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Moving boxes, covered portraits. Photo by Chris Daly

There are movers’ boxes in a lot of corridors, and oil portraits of various Sulzbergers are covered in plastic, awaiting removal to new, smaller quarters. So what? I don’t see this as cause for alarm, or even sadness. It struck me as a healthy sign of a company trying to get its size right. The key issue is finding a sustainable business model that will support quality journalism indefinitely into the future. The Times seems to be the best positioned of all the big, serious, fact-based news media in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

Down in the lobby, Adolph Ochs, the patriarch of the family that owns and runs the Times looks rather confident, no?

 

 

IMG_0914 3

Photo by Anne Fishel

 

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Filed under Journalism, media, New York Times, news, press, publishing, Uncategorized

Why didn’t the CIA stop the Russians from hacking Facebook in the 2016 election?

By Christopher B. Daly 

American taxpayers pay a lot of money to fund the CIA, the NSA, and a host of other intelligence agencies. They are supposed to spy on our enemies and prevent them from spying on us.

What are we getting for our money? To judge by the latest revelations about Russian exploitation of Facebook ads to undermine our 2016 presidential election, the answer would have to be: not much.

I’ve got questions:

What did CIA agents know, and when did they know it? (The Russian campaign appears to date back at least as far as June 2016)

Why didn’t they combat it? Don’t we have counter-measures to this kind of cyber-mischief? If not, why not?

Why didn’t they notify Facebook?

Why didn’t they hold a news conference last year at Langley and raise holy hell — to alert voters in time for them to know that the election was under attack?

Why don’t the congressional intelligence committees demand answers to these questions (instead of leaving it to a blogger like me)?

Is there enough evidence of election tampering to start thinking about demanding a do-over of the 2016 election?

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Journalists: “Stay Safe” while on assignment

By Christopher B. Daly

Journalists face an unprecedented array of threats: the traditional physical dangers of covering riots and fires; the new online threats posed by trolls; partisan attacks on coverage someone doesn’t like; electronic hacking of our phones, laptops, and other gear.

At Boston University, where I teach journalism, my colleagues and I are trying to develop materials to help our students “Stay Safe” while they are on assignment — reporting, shooting videos, taking photos, recording audio, or whatever. This was prompted by the horrors of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing (which took place very near our campus) and renewed by the recent denunciations of the news media by President Trump and his supporters.

Below is an attempt to distill best practices from two conferences. If you have experiences or advice to share, please leave a comment.

A JOURNALIST’S GUIDE TO SAFE REPORTING

 

In rare and unpredictable circumstances, our work as journalists requires us to approach dangerous situations and take calculated risks. Other times, an apparently benign assignment can turn threatening. Wherever your assignment or curiosity takes you, keep these principles in mind:

 

DON’T GO ALONE. If you can, go with another journalist. In any case, always make sure someone knows where you are – an editor, a colleague, a friend, a parent. Stay in touch with your “desk.” If there is a calamity, post to Facebook or some other platform, as soon as it is safe, so your friends and family know that you’re OK.

 

DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE. Do not interfere with “first responders” – their work is even more important than yours. Do not take a risk that results in you needing to be rescued.

 

DON’T GET IN THE WAY. Take up a position where you can see but where no further danger will come sneaking up from behind. Cover your backside. At a fire, stand upwind, so that the smoke and cinders are not blowing at you. Don’t stand right above a working fire hose; they are under a lot of pressure. At a bombing, remember that bombers often plant a second bomb, timed to go off right around the time you would be arriving.

 

DO BE PREPARED. Wear sensible clothes, especially sturdy shoes, even on routine assignments. Pick clothes with lots of pockets. Bring all the gear you depend on, including extra batteries. Wear a press badge on a lanyard, so it’s visible. Carry a pencil or two, just in case your ink runs out or freezes.

 

DO MAINTAIN “SITUATIONAL AWARENESS.” Look around and listen to the environment, even while doing an interview or taking a photo. In disasters, things change fast. Be ready to run.

 

DO WHAT YOU’RE TOLD. Within reason, obey the lawful safety dictates of firefighters, police officers and other first responders. (This does not mean you have to submit to unconstitutional restrictions, but unless you bring your own army, you may have to fight that one another day.)

 

DO TAKE A COURSE IN FIRST AID, from a group like RISC, and consider a course in self-defense.

 

ESSENTIAL GEAR:

 

–Press pass, visibly displayed on a lanyard.

 

–Identification (and, where appropriate, passport).

 

–Cell phone, with charger and external backup power supply.

 

–Digital camera, with charger and external backup power.

 

–Cash and credit card.

 

–A bandana (which can be used to protect your face from smoke or tear gas).

 

–A headscarf.

 

–A bottle of water (and some kind of energy bar).

 

–Collapsable monopod or hiking staff (or, a flexible mini-tripod).

 

–Batteries of all kinds.

 

–Pens, mechanical pencils, etc.

 

–Flash drive or external hard drive.

 

–Mini-binoculars (I keep these around for birding, and they can come in handy).

 

–Comfortable clothes with lots of pockets.

 

Most of these things should be in your backpack at all times. You never know!

 

 

 

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Filed under broadcasting, digital media, Journalism, local news, media, news, Photography, Photojournalism, press

Trump is an unwitting ally of the media

By Christopher B. Daly

Is Trump helping the media more than hurting them?

Consider: After a month in office, Donald Trump’s approval rating is dropping. It was never very high. After all, he finished second in the balloting, received a minority of votes, and won on a technicality.

Since taking office, he has waged war on the news media. How’s that working for him?

While his number drop, all the indicators for the media are rising. Ratings are up for television news programs — and not just on his favorite, Fox News, but also for independent news sources like CNN, MSNBC, the legacy broadcasters, and PBS. At the major independent newspapers (the Times and the Post pre-eminently), subscriptions are up, and I expect revenues will be up for the quarter when the time comes to report.

Yes, Trump recently called the independent media “the enemy of the American people.” That was a hateful, deplorable thing to say. Shame on him.

But so far at least, Trump is losing the war he started.

 

 

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Filed under broadcasting, Donald Trump, Journalism, journalism history, media, NPR, press, Trump, Uncategorized