Tag Archives: cnn

The Monday round-up

By Christopher B. Daly

Let’s start the week with some required reading. From the Times:

–David Carr on I’m not sure what exactly. This sounds like a mash-up of several columns.

–Here’s a piece about some popular new conservative website, Independent Journal Review. (It’s always odd to see young conservatives. What’s left for them to grow up into?)

–Sleek and shiny Conde Nast gets a sleek and shiny new hq. Just don’t look down on your readers.

–The Times demurely reports its own quarterly earnings. I’d say this glass is half full. Yes, they lost a little money overall last quarter, but don’t bury the lead. Here it is, in grafs 6+7:

While the print business continued its steady decline, with advertising revenue dropping 5.3 percent, the company showed growth in its digital business. Digital-only subscribers — a number closely watched by analysts, some of whom suspect that growth may soon plateau — increased by 44,000 during the quarter, the best quarterly digital subscriber growth in nearly two years. The Times now has 875,000 digital-only subscribers.

Third-quarter digital advertising revenue was $38.2 million, a 16.5 percent increase compared with the third quarter of 2013. Mr. Thompson, the chief executive, said that the digital advertising growth came from a number of areas, including Paid Posts, the company’s push into so-called native advertising, in which ads resemble editorial content.

Just watch out for those “native ads,” and you’ll be fine in the digital future.

–At the new website First Look, zillionaire owner Pierre Omidyar is discovering that it’s not easy to lead a newsroom full of talented, difficult people. The e-Bay founder, who sank $250 million into this news venture, is learning something about how great Ben Bradlee really was.

Mr. Omidyar, according to people with knowledge of internal discussions at First Look who spoke on condition of anonymity, seemed not to realize what he had gotten into by hiring so many aggressive and competitive journalists and then trying to manage them largely from his home in Hawaii, with only sporadic visits to First Look’s offices.

Ouch.

–And from the op-ed page, Tom Friedman weighs in with this thought: what if they gave a war and no reporters showed up? Imagine what ISIS will do when they know that no one’s watching.

ELSEWHERE. . .

NPR’s “On the Media” is on target.

Robert Krulwich had a good show about the “War of the Worlds” on his RadioLab. (which is on death row)

On CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” host Brian Stelter went a few rounds with a founder of the Weather Channel (“… I am the founder” he lectured Brian) who is a self-proclaimed “climate change skeptic.” My question: who cares what this guy thinks? The planet is going to settle this argument for us.

The Boston Globe had an amusing piece in its improving Sunday “Ideas” section about the hidebound typographical practices of the esteemed Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Turns out, the SJC is stuck on Courier, a “monospaced” font, where all the letters take up the same space. This allows the court to enforce its ancient rules about the length of briefs by imposing limits based on page numbers. The court could readily update its practices by imposting a word count and allowing lawyers to use cooler fonts. No rush — it’s only the oldest continuously sitting court in the New World.

2typewriter-courier-658

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CNN gets it wrong

By Christopher B. Daly 

In his column in today’s New York Times, David Carr analyzes CNN’s self-inflicted wound caused by wrongly reporting the arrest of a suspect in the Marathon bombing case. In doing so, Carr makes some of the same points I made here last week in this post. The problem is how to gather news while the public is watching.

There’s no real answer, of course, except for everyone to do better.

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When the news is wrong (for a stupid reason)

By Christopher B. Daly 

imagesAs many have observed, several front-line news organizations reported incorrectly on Wednesday afternoon that authorities had “arrested” or “taken into custody” a suspect in the Boston marathon bombing. As someone who spent 10 years working for The Associated Press (where our watchword was always, “Get it first, but get it right”), I feel bad for journalists who are chasing leads in the investigation into the bombing case. They are under tremendous pressure to advance the story, “break” news, and stand out from the crowd.

I feel bad for them, but that’s not my only response. I also feel appalled at the news media’s chronic inability to exercise restraint. As the afternoon unfolded, I had a sickening sense of deja vu: here we go again, with the race to be first.

But, first with what, exactly? If the cops or the FBI had really made an arrest, they were going to announce it — and quickly. So, what difference does it make if I find that out at 2:30 or 2:45 or 4:00? Is my life any better?

Besides, it’s not as if this is the kind of news that authorities try to hide. When they nab a bad guy, they’re proud of it. They want to stand there at the press conference (ties all straight, uniform gleaming) and take a turn at the podium to say the same clipped phrases they always say. Sure, that’s important, and someone should be there to report it. But we do not need an entire army of reporters trying to get this information first. The mania for being first upsets and erodes all other journalistic priorities.

This kind of frenzy for “scoops” is essentially a waste of journalistic resources and enterprise. There are many fine, experienced, tough reporters and photographers in Boston this week. They should not waste their time trying to surf a few feet ahead of the cops in pursuit of factual information that is going to be divulged anyway. This is particularly true when reporters get in the way: if journalists report, for example, that an arrest is “imminent,” doesn’t that tell the bad guys that it’s time to flee?

In fact, I don’t consider that kind of reporting a “scoop” at all. Real news consists of information that someone is trying to hide or that would not come to light unless an individual journalist gets out and gathers information and connects some dots. Reporters make a contribution to society when they generate information that we would not have otherwise.

So, get out there and find a real, true story — and tell me something I don’t know and that won’t be announced from a podium.

We can do better.

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Tough call

By Christopher B. Daly 

I’m not sure why, but I am finding it hard to sort out the issues in the flap over CNN’s use of the diary of the late U.S. ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

I guess it’s because I cannot reconcile these two imperatives:

1. Never violate someone else’s privacy — by, for example, reading a private diary. As a sporadic diarist myself, I know that I would be appalled by any reading of my diary that I did not personally approve. Private is private. If CNN were to cover a fire or explosion at a U.S. Post Office, would the reporter have a green light to start opening mail and reading private correspondence?

2. Never withhold useful, verified information from your audience. If you’ve got it, use it. CNN did not divulge any information that the average person would consider personal or intimate, and it did find other sorts of observations in Stevens’s diary that have a bearing on important public issues. What if CNN found the diary of the leader of Iran (who can spell Ahmadinejad?) and therefore could say definitively what his intentions are?

 

What’s your view?

Please leave your comments below (with your full name, please).

 

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“Wait, wait”: Would someone please impose an embargo on the news media

By Christopher B. Daly 

Kudos to the SCOTUSblog for this remarkable tick-tock on what went wrong in the initial reporting about the Supreme Court ruling on the Obama health care plan back on June 28. Tom Goldstein, the publisher of SCOTUSblog, has put together a 7,000-word reconstruction of the first half hour of reporting, focusing on the screw-ups  at CNN and Fox News. He has done us all a service with his meticulous, minute-by-minute (and sometimes second-by-second) narrative of that day’s hits, balks, run-downs, and errors.

What this post-game review suggests to me is that, first and foremost, the news business needs to do better. As a former wire service reporter (10 years with the AP, both on desks and in the field), I appreciate the need for speed. SCOTUS decisions move markets; they sometimes hand the White House to one party over the other. Often, they are the epitome of breaking news. That said, it is insane for reporters to cover Supreme Court opinions on the fly. No one benefits. In Goldstein’s tick-tock, the description of the gyrations of the front-line legal correspondents reminds me of nothing so much as an episode of “Iron Chef” — in which highly talented people are subjected to insanely artificial difficulties (“OK, now you have two minutes to make a three-course meal out of kale and strawberries. GO!”). There is absolutely no reason to turn this scheduled event into a speed-reading contest.

The Supreme Court also has some lessons to learn. It is insane that the Court does not post its opinions, in full, on the Web at 10:00:01. Why should the White House and Congress have to wait? Why should citizens have to wait? Why should prisoners facing execution or stock traders or anyone have to wait? In this day and age, to hand out paper decisions is an affront.

But most important of all, after reading Goldstein’s report, I am strengthened in my belief that the Court and the news business need to get together on a slow day and figure out a better system for these kind of hand-offs. The answer is staring them in the face: an old-fashioned news embargo. The Court could simply identify 10-20 of the top court reporters — all vetted, credentialed experts — and invite them to come to the building at 8 a.m. The journalists could all then be locked in a room (like jurors) with no wi-fi access. They could then take their time to read the opinion (in full), digest it, and craft a coherent and accurate story. At 10:00, those stories could all be released, all at once. That way, all the news organizations that care about speed would have a multi-way tie and the issue of who was “first” would be moot. That way, the first version would also be the right version. That way, the public gets a full, careful, accurate version at the earliest possible moment.

P.S.: The world would certainly be a better place if people would stop posting comments just to gloat. Goldstein mentions a couple of these kind of comments that SCOTUSblog received from readers rubbing it in that CNN and Fox were right and SCOTUSblog was wrong. In retrospect, they look like the doofuses they are.

Twitter postings / Topsy

Twitter postings / Topsy

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Journalism 101: Read the whole opinion

By Christopher B. Daly

It comes down to this: two major news organizations (CNN and Fox News) blew their initial coverage of the most important Supreme Court ruling this decade. They did so because reporters at both cable news outlets made a rookie mistake by generating headlines without reading the whole SCOTUS opinion. In these situations, reporters often face an apparent dilemma: Do you want to be first? Do you want to be right?

The answer, of course, is that a conscientious reporter should want to be the first one who is also right.

And, just so I don’t let anyone else off the hook, this message needs to be embraced and shared by editors, desk people, and top management. The message has to be sent early, often, and unambiguously.

How do I know?

Aren’t I just a professor, safely watching this from the sidelines?

Well, yes and no. I worked for almost five years in a news cockpit, covering the state government of Massachusetts for the AP. In that role, one of my duties was to read the opinions of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (the SJC, the oldest continuously sitting court in the English-speaking New World, older than SCOTUS). When those opinions were newsworthy, as they often were, I had to bang out an immediate hard-news lead. Directly across the room from me in the Statehouse Press Gallery, my competitors at UPI were doing the same thing. We could tell from the sound of our typing who was writing and who was finished and had transmitted the story. The stakes were not as high as they were on Thursday at SCOTUS, but covering the SJC is essentially the same challenge.

So, here are my takeaways from the health-care bulletin fiasco:

–News organizations need “beat” reporters. That is, they need reporters who specialize in an area (health care, let’s say, or covering the Supreme Court) and become experts in it. General-assignment reporters (and god love ’em, we need them too) cannot be thrown at every new situation and expected to learn on the fly.

–The Supreme Court should re-institute the “embargo” system. An embargo occurs when the news media are given material in advance, on condition that they agree to withhold it until a specific time. When that agreed-upon moment arrives, the journalists are all released from their promise and can all disseminate the news at the same time. That system has several advantages. It means that reporters are quarantined for a period of time that they can use to their benefit — they can read the whole opinion, maybe more than once; they can check their notes and background materials; they can even call experts for analysis and comment. They can use the time to craft a story that is accurate and complete, knowing that no other news organization that participated in the embargo is going to scoop them. Granted, it is not natural for a news professional to endorse any system that delays the delivery of news. But the reason we sometimes accept embargoes is that they ultimately serve the best interest of our audiences, which is what we should care about the most.

–We need bloggers too. A delicious irony from Thursday is that two big-deal professional news organizations (yes, I am lumping Fox News in here, arguendo) discovered their mistake in part by reading a blog! The highly regarded SCOTUSblog got the story right and prompted part of the correction process. So, let’s give a hat tip to the power of a small group of experts using the Web to communicate.

(And a special salute to Lyle Denniston of SCOTUSblog, seen at right. Talk about beat reporters! He has been covering the Supreme Court for 54 years, or far longer than any of the current justices has served.)

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CNN: the “E.R.” of TV news?

By Chris Daly

Insightful piece today by Brian Stelter in the Times. It raises the question: Is CNN like the emergency room of a hospital that cannot fill its inpatient beds? CNN is very busy during crises, but it becomes a lonely place during periods of routine news. That certainly rings true in my experience: on an election night, I’m a visitor of CNN for sure. If I hear a snatch of something startling on the radio and want to hear/see more right away, I will snap on CNN. If all hell is breaking loose somewhere, it’s usually my top choice (certainly far ahead of cable-news leader Fox News, which has so few correspondents who can jump on breaking news).

Fundamentally, this problem has been with CNN almost from the get-go. Here’s an excerpt from my book, Covering America, about the founding of CNN and its basic business problem. 

. . .By approaching cable news this way, [CNN founder Ted] Turner was coincidentally creating a new business model for TV journalism. Unlike the networks, CNN did not plan to build a huge entertainment division that would have to create or bid for programs. And unlike public television, CNN was not dependent on public subsidies, foundation grants, or donations from the audience. Instead, Turner was adapting an older business model from newspapers. In the CNN approach, TV news would be paid for through a “dual revenue stream.” Just as newspapers made money from two sources—advertising and subscriptions—so would CNN. The company would sell ads, and it would also have a steady stream of revenue coming in from the cable operators, who had to pay CNN a few pennies per customer per month, reflecting CNN’s share of the monthly cable TV bills that Americans were getting used to paying. With low costs and two fairly reliable streams of revenue, news on cable just might work.

Ready or not, on June 1, 1980, CNN made its debut. There were the inevitable mishaps (the cleaning lady who walked across the set behind the anchor while the cameras were rolling), but the impressive thing was that it worked. CNN started covering the news that day and has done so continuously ever since—days, nights, weekends, holidays. Only the AP could make a similar claim, (though it supplies news to the industry rather than directly to the public). Soon, Turner was showing the skeptics that it was in fact possible to put news on television round the clock. Yes, it was sometimes raggedy. And yes, there was a lot still to accomplish—including hammering out reciprocal video-sharing agreements with affiliates, hiring more and more staff, opening bureaus around the world. But it worked.

By the end of 1981, CNN was getting established. It was reaching 10 million households and was clawing its way to journalistic parity with the network news divisions.18 One key issue was what is known as “pool coverage.” This occurs in many settings when there is not enough room to accommodate all the media people who wish to cover some location or event, such as a courtroom, a presidential appearance with limited access, or the like. In those cases, the answer is a pool, in which all the journalists in each medium agree to cooperate. Typically, each medium gets to put one representative at the scene. In return for that access, the chosen journalist agrees to share the results with all the other members of the pool in the same medium. In addition, each member of the pool agrees to take a turn in providing the feed. This arrangement assumes, of course, that anyone participating in the pool will produce work of high enough quality to satisfy all the others. CNN was originally scorned by the networks, which refused to let CNN crews participate in the White House television pool coverage. It took a lawsuit (which cost Turner another $1 million), but eventually CNN was allowed in.

One of the early tests of CNN as a news organization came on March 30, 1981. President Reagan gave a speech that day to the AFL-CIO at the Washington Hilton. CNN covered the speech live and then, when it was over, switched to some filler material, about sewing in China. While that was airing, the police scanner in CNN’s Washington bureau barked: “Shots fired . . . Hilton Hotel.” Almost immediately, the veteran newscaster Bernard Shaw sat down in the anchor chair in the CNN Washington bureau and began reporting that shots had been fired at the president—a full four minutes before the networks. Shaw stayed in the chair for more than seven hours, and, with help from Dan Schorr, proved that the fledgling news service could keep up with the established networks. Through the evening, CNN kept breaking in with new details: a picture of the shooter’s home, a report on his motive, pictures of the vice president in Texas heading to Washington. According to one account of that day: “Such details were hitting the air in no particular sequence. CNN’s viewers got the story in the jumbled way a journalist receives fragments of information before transforming them into an orderly, polished report. The ‘process’ of gathering news determined the form in which that news was delivered.” Before CNN, viewers had received their news in measured doses at fixed times; now they were drinking straight from the fire hose.

For years, CNN cost more to produce than it brought in through the combined revenues of cable subscriptions and advertising. The network was burning through Ted Turner’s personal wealth at an unsustainable rate. The early years were a desperate race to get CNN included in enough viewers’ basic cable packages to pay for itself. Most of the costs of gathering and disseminating the news by cable were fixed; the great variable was the size of the audience. Beginning in 1978, from the pre-launch investments in people, property, satellite time, and equipment, CNN lost an estimated $77 million through 1984.20 But then in 1985, CNN began posting profits: $20 million that year and more in the coming years. In the grow-or-die spirit of modern capitalism, Turner soon started thinking about acquiring other businesses. At the same time, a profitable CNN was looking more attractive to other investors, who might try to take it over. By the end of the decade, CNN was earning almost $90 million a year and had an estimated value of $1.5 billion. At the decade mark, on June 1, 1990, it could be seen in 53 million homes in the United States and in eighty-four countries worldwide. CNN had nine U.S. bureaus and another eighteen overseas, with a global total of some 1,800 employees. CNN had arrived. . .

 

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