Tag Archives: news media

The re-making of the news media

By Christopher B. Daly 

We are living through a period of great flux in the news business. There are new ventures, new hybrids, new devices for gathering and disseminating information, documents, and polemics. It’s a treat to have a front-row seat (Goodbye, Google Reader! Hello, Feedly!), but it can be disorienting at times.

To wit: the decision by the mighty Time Warner media conglomerate to abandon its shiny, still-new namesake building at Columbus Circle in Manhattan and decamp to a still-unfinished tower in a lower-rentPennStation district the developers refer to as Hudson Yards. (Does anybody really call it that? It’s really a vast wasteland on the Far West Side between Chelsea and Hells Kitchen, but it is slowly becoming a new media hub within Manhattan.)

But not to be missed is a more powerful trend sweeping through much of Big Media: the break-up of many of the big conglomerates. At Time Warner, at News Corp., and at Tribune Co., the same de-conglomeration process is underway: the division of those big companies into a print division and a (for lack of a better word) video division.

–Time Warner is spinning off its magazine division, which has been the cornerstone of the Time empire since Henry Luce founded Time magazine in 1923.

–News Corp. took out a double-truck ad in the NYTimes on Monday to signal its separation into two divisions. One made up of the Wall Street Journal, the NYPost and many, many other newspapers along with some magazines, almost all of which lose money. The other is a new company (called “21st Century Fox”) made up of the highly profitable television, cable, and movie-making subsidiaries. (The new video division began trading on the stock market on July 1; shares opened at $29 and basically stayed there all day. The new print division has not started trading yet.)

–Tribune Co., which traces its roots to the Chicago newspaper empire founded by Joseph Medill and taken over by his grandson, Col. Robert R. McCormick, announced this week that it is going to spend $2.7 billion to buy 19 local television stations around the country. At the same time, Tribune Co. is trying to sell “some or all of its newspaper properties,” including the cornerstone Chicago Tribune, according to a story in today’s NYT business section.

–The New York Times Co., which traces its roots to the founding of the New-York Daily Times newspaper in 1851, began selling off its broadcast units about six years ago and completed the process a few years later. The Times Co. is apparently pursuing a strategy of shrinking to its core business and trying to defend the castle keep with a paywall.

The big open question: What will any of this mean for the quality of the journalism that is carried out by these companies?

Stay tuned.

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Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, journalism history, New York Times, publishing

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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Filed under blogging, broadcasting, CNN, Fox News, Journalism, Supreme Court

Update on leaks

At his press conference later in the day (June 8), Obama had this comment on the issue:

“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” he said. “It’s wrong. And people, I think, need to have a better sense of how I approach this office.”

Without confirming the accuracy of the information — which was revealed in two articles in The New York Times last week — Mr. Obama said the such leaks deal with the safety of the American people, its military and its allies.

“We don’t play with that,” he said, vowing to investigate the leaks. “We consistently, whenever there is classified information that is put out into the public, we try to find out where that came from.”

 

Of course, what else would he (or any president) say?

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Filed under Journalism, leaks, Politics, President Obama