As I age, what I read and why has changed markedly over time
If you’re a reader, you probably have a list of “fave” books. Or of books you found “influential.” Or of books you liked because each told “a good story.” Or maybe because the books were filled with vampires and such.
I’m surrounded by book listers. I lurk on a listserv of really bright people, and one of the topics du jour is “what’s your book list.” (Thanks to them, I’ve picked up several to add to my own list.)
Jim Booth, one of my fellow co-founders of Scholars & Rogues, compiles a list of books each year and reviews them here. (He’s done more than 50 reviews this year alone.) A faculty colleague has from time to time posted outside his office a list of “books I spent time with this summer.”
I never thought much about book lists.
Then the Time of My Great Disenchantment with Mega-Corporate-Run Journalism began to descend on me about seven years ago. I realized that the grist of daily journalism no longer dealt at length or in depth with the gnawing questions I need answered:
How does the world work? Why does it work that way? What are the consequences of the answers to the first two questions?
First, the unaltered, unedited image direct from camera (a small Panasonic Lumix) …
What should replace the crap that passes for much of journalism today?
The daily print journalism I know and love is breathing its last gasps. The craft I practiced for 20 years, and have taught for another 20 years, is limping toward the grave. The newsroom values I have believed in for close to half a century face burial under a morass of corporate arrogance, a flawed business model, and a digital “content” that caters to our shallowest instincts instead of lifting us toward wisdom.
I don’t read as much news as I used to in the nation’s dailies anymore — either in print or online. Nor do I get much authentic news I need from local and cable TV. That’s not the same as saying I don’t get much news — as defined by the bastardized news judgments of managers of dailies and TV — from those sources. Surveys show we get something passing as “news” from those media.
But do we get the news — or sufficient explanation or interpretation of issues and events — we sorely need? Remember, much of what we receive via media, especially mainstream media, is secondhand. We need far more credible news about events we cannot or do not experience firsthand. “Our experiences are shaped by ready-made interpretations,” wrote sociologist C. Wright Mills in the ’50s. (See his “second-hand world” warning.) So we depend on journalism to convey events and issues to us secondhand. But we need clearer, more cogent interpretations than the press provides these days.
Like Mom’s admonition to ‘eat your spinach,’ my sophomores should dine on basics
This week I will teach my sophomores how to write a useful sentence.
A car hit a pickup today at Smith and Wesson streets, injuring both drivers.
I will tell these tablet-toting, smartphone-lugging students that this is perhaps the most efficient sentence structure in journalism.
I will tell them this: “Car hit pickup” tells what happened. “Today” is an adverb telling when it happened. “At Smith and Wesson streets” (and NOT “Smith and Wesson Streets”) is a prepositional phrase telling where it happened. “Injuring both drivers” is a verbal phrase explaining to whom “car hit pickup” happened and the consequence. Yep – action and consequence, all in one sentence.
Then I will conduct a mock press conference in which I play the roles of police accident investigator, hospital spokeswoman, and witnesses. (Incidentally, I get killed in the accident, bringing great joy to my sophomores past and present.)
I will do this repeatedly for the semester. Mock press conferences. Subject-Verb-Object Comma Verbal Phrase. Over and over.
And you’re thinking: Yo, Doc. It’s the digital age. What’s with the horse-and-buggy approach to writing news?
Speed-induced error, lack of definitive sourcing, problematic context always a risk
The emergence of “journalism-as-process” thinking continues to annoy and confound me. Elsewhere at S&R, my friend and colleague Brian Moritz explains its impact in sports journalism. While I appreciate his take on its application in the LeBron Sweepstakes Story, this “process” continues to impress me too often as mere Twitter bait.
Incrementalism breeds error. And not necessarily a highly visible, dramatic error. Often, it’s the absence of information that breeds error of interpretation and story sequencing. If readers and viewers miss part of the “process,” they may take in the story missing earlier fragments. That leaves them, in effect, erring in understanding the story. So does speed degrade accuracy — beat everyone else to the tweet. One only needs to dig into the history of AP vs. UPI to see that.
Does “process” effectively and rigorously sort out hype and the quest for hits and ratings from substantive facts? In the LeBron story, what facts — yes, real facts — emerged in the “journalism-as-process” approach? It’s a simple story: Will he stay in Miami or will he return to Cleveland? Yet ESPN and sportswriters everywhere milked that simple equation for hundreds of hours of airtime, thousands of tweets, and at least two or three column inches in real print newspapers. (Yeah, that last phrase is sarcasm.)
Too many news organizations, despite their own policies, grant anonymity far too often, allowing sources with agendas to escape responsibility for what they say.
Two words in a news story should forewarn you that what you read is unlikely to be The Truth.
… anonymity because …
Those two words appear in sentences like these:
From Al Jazeera: The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
From an AP story: … who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.
And, just this morning, from an AP story about captured Benghazi suspect Ahmed Abu Khattala: The officials spoke only on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss the Libyan’s whereabouts publicly by name.
Anonymice — what I call sources who will not speak unless journalists allow them to remain nameless (and therefore blameless) — do not and should not inspire trust. The careless use of anonymous sources presents consequences and challenges for journalists and readers and viewers alike. Gratuitous, careless, and amateurish use of anonymice frustrates journalism educators like me, too: It’s a bad habit students often try to imitate.
House bill describes journalism as ‘an act, not a profession’ — but mandates compensation to qualify for protection
The term ‘journalism’ describes an act, not a profession.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed (and quietly, it seems) a comprehensive reporters’ shield law on May 29. Notice came yesterday in the Congressional Record.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL), who snuck the bill into a mini-omnibus funding bill (and pissing off Republicans), said in the Record:
This amendment is to be construed liberally and broadly, to effectuate its purpose of protecting journalists and their sources from any coercive action taken by the government and the legal system. Its spirit applies to other government agencies, and to litigation between private parties. The terms ‘information or sources’ and ‘confidential’ are to be given the widest possible construction.”
For purposes of this amendment, the definition of a ‘reporter’ includes: any person, natural person, or entity who releases, reports on, or provides information of a classified or unclassified nature to a public audience or on the internet, does so on a regular basis, and receives compensation for doing so. The term ‘reporter’ is a description of a profession. [emphasis added]
Even though the House bill describes journalism as an act, not a profession, it does not protect me from a subpeona that requires me to reveal a confidential source. No one compensates me financially for blogging at Scholars & Rogues.
Happy MayDay from Scholars & Rogues.
FiveThirtyEight post on disputed climate change story signals commitment to transparency
Yesterday, after reading criticisms of Nate Silver’s revamped FiveThirtyEight, I thought: Denny, find out for yourself. After all, I am, at least historically, a geek. And, I thought, years of reading his New York Times blog showed me Nate is King Geek and FiveThirtyEight at ESPN would, no doubt, reflect that.
So I read “The Messy Truth Behind GDP Data.” Not bad. Classic FiveThirtyEight geeky on an important topic. But, even through so many pundits and politicos base analyses on flawed understandings of GDP, reading the post was akin to watching paint dry. I tried Harry Enten’s story about Hillary and polling. Egads: So. Many. Numbers. Unfamiliar terms. Headache ensues.
America’s permanent war policy is a reflection of WWII movies, which offered an unrealistic vision of war’s motivations, consequences
My Depression-born parents raised me in a rural idyll during the Eisenhower years. As a child, I snuck into the Garden Theater to watch war movies. They enthralled me: Battle Cry, To Hell and Back, Away All Boats, D-Day the Sixth of June, The Wings of Eagles, Battle of the Coral Sea, and my favorites, the submarine movies: Run Silent Run Deep, The Enemy Below, and Up Periscope. I revered Steve McQueen in The Great Escape and John Wayne in Operation Pacific and The Flying Leathernecks. Later, I learned mediated definitions of traitorous betrayal in Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare. Continue reading
Gannett returns to its TV-model origins to revitalize revenue, reporting quality
What? Better local news coverage at Gannett Inc.’s 80-plus newspapers? Seriously? And they’re hiring more reporters, and good ones at that? Huh? Print revenue is still declining but Gannett is investing in quality?
That’s the portrait Pulitzer Prize winner David Cay Johnston paints of Gannett’s attempts to revitalize both USA Today and its chain of dailies nationwide.
The McLean, VA, newspaper and broadcast chain has begun inserting national and international news sections carrying the USA Today brand into some of its local dailies. The move, designed to emulate the audience-and-revenue building power of network TV, has already dramatically boosted circulation at Gannett’s flagship paper (albeit under new, looser accounting rules), while giving the local papers a polished new look and better, more uniform national and international coverage. Continue reading