CATEGORY: Journalism

Rolling Stone’s UVA story flogged as flawed — and rightly so

Magazine’s story on college assault claim burdened with shaky sources, biased choice of UVA

Critics are panning Rolling Stone’s 9,000-word account of a sexual assault, an account that preceded protests at the University of Virginia and vandalism of the fraternity house at which, the article claims, the assault occurred.

The chief complaints: First, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Nov. 19 story about a woman identified as “Jackie” relied too heavily on the woman making the accusation and failed to show attempts to interview those accused. Second, Erdely “shopped” for a context that best fit her own agenda in proposing and crafting the story. Here’s Washington Post media reporter Erik Wemple:

Rolling Stone thought it had found the “right” campus and the right alleged crime: Following her Nov. 19 story on Jackie’s alleged assault in a dark room at the Phi Kappa Psi house, the university suspended all fraternity activities and a national spotlight fell on the issue of campus rape. Continue reading

Congress

Voting for a member of Congress? Why bother?

You’ll vote for a person who will put the interests of the monied few above yours

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

Post that over every voting booth next week. Hope and change, promised most recently by our current president and in different verbiage by politicians everywhere since I was born, do not lie ahead. Unless you are a rabid, frothing Democrat or Republican obsessed with ideological purity and achieving a stranglehold on power, choosing a member of Congress, for most of us, represents futility in the hope-and-change department.

I just don’t give a damn any more about Congress. It doesn’t give a damn about me — and most of you. Congress has amply demonstrated for at least two decades its grotesque inability to intelligently and compassionately perform its principal duties — to legislate fairly, to levy taxes sensibly, to advise and consent wisely on treaties and executive branch appointments, and to produce budgets competently.

I have remained rationally ignorant about the coming multi-billion-dollar partisan apocalypse. That’s because no matter who controls the chambers of Capitol Hill, Congress will produce nothing meaningful that will positively affect the remainder of my life. Or yours.

Why won’t that happen?

Congress has become a self-perpetuating, integrated system of bribery and extortion fueled by amounts of money mere mortals can no longer comprehend. Congress is inhabited by men and women who are at worst corrupt or at best willing, perhaps eager, to embrace moral ambiguity. In an institution populated by 535 powerful men and women who are supposed to legislate for the benefit of all, moral clarity is difficult to find. Result: The few get more; the many get less. Much less.
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ArtSunday: LIterature

I read books because I need to know … so much more than I do now

As I age, what I read and why has changed markedly over time

ArtSunday: LIteratureIf 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?

So why isn’t mainstream journalism as practiced these days telling me what I need to know? After all, journalism has been billed as “the first rough draft of history.” Continue reading

Education

My lot in life: teaching sophomores how to report and write

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?
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Journalism

‘Journalism-as-process’ needs an overhaul

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.)
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Journalism

Journalists’ use of anonymous sources now an epidemic of deceit

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.
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House quietly OKs reporters’ shield — but unpaid bloggers beware

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.
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Big-Data

Nate Silver: Geek? Yes. Thoughtful journalist? Bigger yes.

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.

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