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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Local newspapers: fewer reporters = less content = declining revenue

Corporate owners treat news as “product.” As a result, the industry is on life support.

by Patrick Vecchio

I can’t remember how young I was when I fell in love with my local newspaper. It started with a comic strip: Mandrake the Magician. I would wait on our front porch for the newspaper boy, spread the paper on the floor and read Mandrake on my hands and knees. As I grew older, my interest expanded to different sections of the paper. By the time I reached high school, I was reading it from front to back. I loved it.

I never left my hometown, and after studying journalism in college, I began working as a reporter at a tiny daily newspaper about 20 miles away. Continue reading

'Premium content': What is it, who decides, and how?

I detest the phrase premium content. Like much of the poorly thought-out jargon descended from news management gurus and consultants, its definition lies in the mind of the speaker. It’s not alone: For example, product has replaced news as the reason for a journalism organization’s existence. Add repurposing to the list of agenda-hiding argot that hides a rarely disclosed intent.

I’m not sure what premium content is. But I’m dead sure I won’t be able to see it unless I’m willing to pay for it. That’s one yardstick for the premium goods: stuff you’re willing for pay for online vs. stuff that’s offered free. But that definition doesn’t tell you what you’ll get when you decide to buy. Continue reading

Nota Bene #124: I'm a Doctor, Not an Engineer

“I don’t believe in this fairy tale of staying together for ever. Ten years with somebody is enough.” Who said it? Continue reading

The Komen "reversal": a crushing failure of America's newsrooms

Yesterday I attempted to shed a little light on the PR crisis strategy behind the Komen Foundation’s sudden Planned Parenthood “backtracking.”

Contrary to what Komen’s highly-paid PR crisis hacks and gullible headline writers at newsdesks around the nation would ask you to believe, The Susan G. Komen Foundation does NOT promise to fund Planned Parenthood in the future. They promise to let PP APPLY for grants in the future. Applying and receiving are different things, as anyone who ever applied and got rejected for a job ought to know. Continue reading

Nota Bene #123: Behold the Chickenosaurus

“There ought to be limits to freedom.” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #122: OWStanding

“When I lie on the beach there naked, which I do sometimes, and I feel the wind coming over me and I see the stars up above and I am looking into this very deep, indescribable night, it is something that escapes my vocabulary to describe. Then I think: ‘God, I have no importance. Whatever I do or don’t do, or what anybody does, is not more important than the grains of sand that I am lying on, or the coconut that I am using for my pillow.'” Who said it? Continue reading

Nota Bene #121: Birds of an Ancient Feather

“Television is an invention whereby you can be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your house.” Who said it? The answer is at the end of this post. Now on to the links! Continue reading

Nota Bene #120: Crazy Ivan

“If you can make a woman laugh, you’re seeing the most beautiful thing on God’s earth.” Who said it? Continue reading

Jaycee's story more important than tracking Casey Anthony

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Where in the world is Casey Anthony?

I don’t know, and I don’t care, and I think the media pursuit and frenzy over this question is both bizarre and foolish. Her parents care, and that’s appropriate. Likely the plaintiffs in the various lawsuits care because they have to serve her under the court rules. But the media frenzy, with more than likely a number of blank checks ready to be written, hurts journalism as a profession.

In stark contrast to the Anthony is kidnap victim Jaycee Dugard. What an amazing woman, she’s a true profile in courage and grace. She went through 18 years of hell, captured by a pedophile and his sidekick–his equally sicko wife. Diane Sawyer’s ABC interview was probing and often disturbing as Jaycee calmly related the day to day horrors of her existence during her imprisonment. ABC paid for her story, and likely People did, too. Continue reading

A morality play: When Rupert Murdoch entered Parliament

Any morality play has its set-piece characters. The villain, the outraged public, the crusading representatives of order.

Democracy in the UK is very tactile. Parliament is the voice and instrument of the people. Anyone, no matter how powerful, can be summoned to answer questions before the people. These performances can destroy careers and reputations but are an adjunct to the more dull and complex process of police investigations, judicial review and eventual judgement. They permit the public to see their anger expressed.

Rupert Murdoch’s role before his questioning was clear: he is the villain of this set-piece. He was there to be a subject of the collective outrage of British society and to hold himself to account.

Yet you don’t get to be an 80-year-old media tycoon without understanding that a story is made in the telling. Continue reading

Murdochgate redux

There have been any number of further developments since our last post, and this shows signs of accelerating to the point of being out of Murdoch’s control entirely. Well, let’s face it—in the UK, it pretty much is. Rebekah Brooks resigned on Friday, and was arrested on Sunday. Murdoch’s long time deputy Les Hinton, who ran News International at the time of peak phone hacking, and more recently ran Dow Jones for Murdoch, also resigned. Brooks’s arrest means her testimony to Parliament tomorrow may be compromised—how convenient for someone, maybe the police?

Let’s not forget that in all the unseemly haste to somehow pin this all on PM David Cameron (of whom I am not a fan, by the way, but still), that all of this pretty much happened while Labour was in power, and Labour pretty much did nothing. And that the Metropolitan Police force has been deeply compromised, as evidence by the head of the MPC, Paul Stephenson, resigning yesterday. And the Assistant Commissioner, John Yates, resigning today. Continue reading

Hold Rupert Murdoch to account. But go no further.

A goodly number of Murdoch’s newspapers run at a loss.  This isn’t because he’s a bad businessman, it’s because of the industry.  His competitors are doing worse.

However, Murdoch loves newspapers and news.  Whatever else his failings, it’s rare to have a newspaper owner who actually loves the medium.  So even though these companies lose money for him (and, in revenue terms, are a tiny proportion of an empire that is mainly about entertainment and media) he keeps them alive and well financed.

Say that the clusterfuck over the infractions of a small number of his newspapers (assuming this goes beyond just News of the World) results in him divesting of news entirely.  Firstly, who’d buy them?  Secondly, what happens if this leads to the final destruction of actual daily newspapers?  Continue reading

EXCLUSIVE: S&R obtains copy of Rupert Murdoch's original, unedited apology

News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has issued a public apology for the News of the World scandal, which appears in several British national newspapers this weekend. The final text is available here.

For those unfamiliar with the exciting world of public relations, these kinds of official statements often go through a rigorous process of draft, revision, review, more revision, show it to legal, start over, and finally approval by the person whose name appears at the bottom. S&R has obtained a copy of Murdoch’s original draft and the redline revision produced by Edelman, the PR agency handling the crisis. Edelman, whose client list doesn’t include Charles Manson, Hitler, Simon Cowell or NAMBLA, but would if they showed up with a suitcase full of cash, is very highly regarded when it comes to the task of lipsticking rabid pigs. Continue reading

News-of-the-World-gate: the empire strikes back

This just keeps getting better and better. Alexander Cockburn is right—this is just like Watergate. The steady drip, drip, drip of bad news. The iconic hate figure, a man who pretty much singlehandedly created a global media empire against very significant odds, which in any other context might be seen as plucky and admirable in some way, but who wrecked that accomplishment through political blowback once some transparency revealed the depths to which members of his organization would go. (There’s that whole Fox News thing too, for good measure.) The scuttling of politicians for cover, or at least better defensive positions. And a few heroes popping up, occasionally from unexpected quarters.

So what’s happened since our last update? Well, what hasn’t happened? Except for Rebeka Brooks’s resignation, which Rupert has said is not gonna happen. We’ll see—some folks are giving it until Wednesday. In other expected and unexpected developments, Andrew Coulson, former News of the World editor and former press advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron, has been arrested, question, and released. Continue reading

Trouble in Murdochland redux

A couple of months ago we noted that things were not going all that well in Murdochland, what with investigations heating up over allegations that phone hacking–that delightful pastime of hacking into someone’s voicemail so you can read and/or hear their messages—was far more pervasive than anyone had guessed. Or, certainly, than Murdoch and his News Corporation team were prepared to admit. Since then, it’s gotten worse, with lots of lawsuits, and allegations, and to-ing and fro-ing all over the place. But it wasn’t until this past week that the whole situation finally exploded, and explode big time it did.

Because it’s one thing to hack the voicemail of movie stars and politicians—the public turns out to be supremely indifferent to that. It’s quite something else to hack into the voicemails of a murdered schoolgirl and delete messages, leading her parents to think she was still alive. Or the families of other murdered schoolgirls. Or the relatives of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the victims of the July 7 bombings. Not only is this beyond the bounds of decency by several orders of magnitude, the public actually recognizes this. And they’re steamed. Continue reading

The Fourth four years later: Nothing’s changed

As I predicted four years ago on the Fourth of July, little has changed. This year’s fireworks and barbecues offer only a brief respite from the problems of the nation, how they are worsening, and how those who are supposed to address them remain mere chanters of their respective ideologies.

Four years ago, I predicted that the cost of federal elections would continue to rise, that the role of money would increase dramatically. I did not predict — or even dream it could happen — the outcome of the Supremes’ consideration of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that deepened the hole in which corporate money could hide while paying for “electioneering communications.”

Sadly, I did not predict that more than 30,000 journalists would lose their jobs in the past four years, lessening the ability of the press to hold government accountable. To me, corporations are now essentially the American government; more journalists, not fewer, trained in the same accounting chicanery that allowed Enron to flourish, are necessary to hold corporate government accountable, too.
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Righthaven LLC may have wrong approach, but news companies need to protect content

by Jane Briggs-Bunting

Stephens Media and its erstwhile partner, Righthaven LLC, lost a significant copyright battle in both Nevada and likely Colorado when a Nevada judge ruled Tuesday that Righthaven did not have standing to sue alleged copyright infringers who had reproduced articles and other content from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

It’s yet another push by news media to try to get paid for republication of news content reproduced by aggregators, bloggers and others, with or without credit. And bloggers and folks from groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) are fighting back, dubbing Righthaven nothing more than a “Copyright Troll.”

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Nota Bene #119: Think! It Ain't Illegal Yet

“My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” Who said it? Continue reading

Haste, cost erode editing of online and mobile news

In 1976, I was a general-assignment reporter of limited experience and minimal accomplishment. So my editor kindly fired me, then said: “Now get your ass up on the copy desk where you belong.”

I knew little about copy editing. So I asked my newsroom godfather: “Neil, what do copy editors do?”

He looked over the rims of those 1950s spectacles he favored and said, “Defend your reader.”

“Against what?” I asked.

Error,” he said. “Any error possible.”

The memory of, or, perhaps, even the desire to exercise that dictum may remain in today’s newsrooms. But the ability of copy editors today to defend readers against error has inexorably been eroded. That decimation of editing capacity has been fueled by computerization beginning in the late ’70s and continued in this past decade by the sacking of newsroom staffs and the insatiable demand of management to get stories online or winging to mobile devices right now.
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