Ethics rules matter little to an authoritarian White House …

CATEGORY: PoliticsLawGovernmentA code of ethics defines behaviors. Many professions have such codes. For physicians, for example, the code of medical ethics of the American Medical Association prescribes how they should interact with patients. For many, if not most, journalists, the code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists dictates acceptable practices.

The executive branch of the American government also has a code of ethics and an office to oversee it. The United States Office of Government Ethics, whose tagline is “Preventing Conflict of Interest in the Executive Branch,” issues regulations titled “Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”

The OGE rules say any political appointee must sign an ethics pledge regarding conflict of interest. Continue reading

Want to save local news? Kill off local newspapers. Really.

Consider this verdict based on the evidence of economics: Local print newspapers ought to die. Now. That’s what one observer believes, and he’s pretty convincing.

CATEGORY: JournalismNewspapers are on their deathbeds now, burdened by several diseases associated with print. Their physical infrastructure — printing presses, distribution means such as delivery trucks, the large buildings that typically house them (and heating, cooling and electrical costs), news stands, and single-copy racks — is too expensive to maintain. The advertising revenue that system once gleaned in bucketloads is now merely a trickle.

Newspapers’ core product — presumably valuable local news — is insufficient to fill the space around the ads, so fluff of little or no value to local readers — wire copy, advice columns, national and international news, crossword puzzles, sports agate copy, and so on — occupies the remaining space.

Ben Thompson, who writes and speaks about strategy and business, argues to save local news, everything not associated with local news ought to be stripped away. A journalist entrepreneur focused solely on local news could fund that operation with subscriptions — not advertising, he says.

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Journalism’s new (not really) vehicle for delivering news — email newsletters

CATEGORY: JournalismI don’t read The Washington Post any more. I don’t see a hard copy. I don’t go prowling around its website.

Instead, I read four of its newsletters delivered by email every day. In fact, WashPo offers 68 newsletters culled from the work of its journalists and pundits. So it’s easy to select the kind of news anyone might want (rather than have an algorithm do it).

These newsletters are well-crafted and not necessarily hastily churned-out hodgepodges of factoids. For example, the Daily 202 (all about news from the American capital), begins like this today:

10 important questions raised by Sally Yates’s testimony on the ‘compromised’ Michael Flynn

Sally Yates’s Senate testimony in three minutes

THE BIG IDEA: Sally Yates’s riveting testimony Monday raised far more questions than it answered. Most of all, it cast fresh doubts on Donald Trump’s judgment. [boldface in original]

Each Daily 202 from WashPo is designed to be quickly read. Each item is one or two paragraphs and contains a link or two for further consumption.

WashPo’s not alone in the newsletter game. Continue reading

Freedom of the press means little if audiences are trapped in bubbles

A free press won’t amount to squat as long as it has audiences who hear only what they want to hear, read only what their Facebook-sculpted algorithms tell them to read, and worship blissfully at the Church of Confirmation Bias.

It’s nice, I suppose, in this era of Trumpian Twitter bashing of the press, that journalists trumpet right back about bolstering freedom of the press, citing its absolutely necessity to the survival, let alone the maintenance, of democracy in the Republic.

google-bubbleIt’s nice, I suppose, that a satirical comedian hosts a “Not the White House Correspondents Association Dinner” (in prime time, no less) to, as she said, “celebrate the freedom of the press.” (She did this, of course, while occasionally mocking pack journalism and chiding CNN for not “setting free” its high-priced on-air talent to be journalists instead of entertainers).

It’s nice, I suppose, that the failing New York Times headlined the actual Donald-less White House correspondents’ dinner with us vs. them gusto: “For Journalists, Annual Dinner Serves Up Catharsis and Resolve.”

And it’s nice, I suppose, that the famed, once-young lions of an earlier Golden Age, Woodward and Bernstein, were trotted out at the latter dinner to extol the virtues of a free and vigilant press.

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Is Trump right about “fake news”?

Yes and no. Let’s look at the cases of CNN, the New York Times and the Denver Post.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” – Warren Buffett

President Donald is big on labeling things “fake news.” While his definition of the term amounts to “reporting that disagrees with me or calls me out on my many lies,” the truth is that, for reasons Donald wouldn’t be able to grasp, America actually does have a serious news credibility issue. “Fake news” isn’t new, and it does represent a toxic blight at the core of our republic.

I, for one, am hellishly unforgiving when news agencies lie to me, and it happens more than it should. Continue reading

Anniversary journalism? Well, mostly it just sucks.

In early April 1970, I walked into the newsroom of my hometown newspaper and asked the editor if he knew anyone at the state department of natural resources. I’d just received my undergraduate degree in geology. I could do that kind of work for a while before I returned to university for master’s and doctoral degrees and to eventually live happily in Alaska as its state geologist.

best-earth-day-poster-ideas-pictures-2016I walked out of that newsroom as a journalist. (I lied about being able to type.) The editor needed another sportswriter but couldn’t hire one full time. He needed an environmental writer (the first Earth Day was two weeks away) but he couldn’t hire a full-time one.

I could do both, he judged. He hired me. I wrote about Sen. Gaylord Perry’s first teach-in on April 22. For the next six weeks, I wrote “green” and follow-up Earth Day stories in the afternoon, and local sports in the evening.

But come June, the editor asked for fewer “green” stories and more sports stories. By July, I’d more or less become a full-time sports writer.

In March 1975, five years later, I was asked to produce a slew of Earth Day anniversary stories. Then, a few weeks after Earth Day, no more stories. Ditto 10 years later and 15 years later.

That introduced me to anniversary journalism. I witnessed that with the rise of fall of Earth stories every five years in my newspaper and many, many others.

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Some helpful suggestions for the New York Times

I just learned of the editorial kerfuffle going on over at the New York Times regarding the hiring of some git or other who shall remain nameless here. Don’t worry, he’s named all too often at the link. I apologize that the link is to HuffPo, because I ordinarily don’t waste my time with them, and shouldn’t waste yours with them, but they’re relevant this time. HuffPo apparently had something to say to and/or about the Times. The Times replied to HuffPo. So I kinda have to cite them. Bummer. Continue reading

S&R at 10: Still thinking, ’cause it ain’t illegal, and we want to keep it that way

Fanaticism consists in redoubling your effort when you have forgotten your aim— George Santayana, 1863-1952

We’re not fanatics here at Scholars & Rogues. As our founder, Sam Smith, writes today on our 10th anniversary, our unruly mob of scholars and rogues believes in a “fierce commitment to confronting challenging questions facing ourselves, our society and our communities.”

S&R-logo-originalMany, if not most, of those challenges arrive at our digital doorstep because those who are fanatics have lost both their aim and their minds. We, as do you, routinely witness assaults on common sense, on dignity, on respect, and on intelligent public discourse.

We’ve tried to be more than mere witnesses here. When we’ve seen stupidity, we’ve shouted, sometimes whispered, “Hey! That’s not right. Don’t do that.”

But that’s not enough. To again paraphrase my favorite fictional president, Andrew Shepard, those who have lost their way or their minds on an issue do two things and two things only: Telling you to be afraid of it, and telling you who’s to blame for it.

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The kitten, the junkie, the dog, and Steven

Extremes enrich an abundant life…

In my chosen profession there are extremes which exist outside of me and are mine (or yours) to take or leave. The world is ugly, and the world is beautiful, and I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable calling myself a photojournalist if I wasn’t willing to embrace how wonderful and horrible the world can be. You got to love the hate and hate the love, so to speak.

Scholars & Rogues has given me a forum to show you, our faithful readers, the weird bits of pathos, promise, and pain that I encounter as I wander in and around San Francisco, California and its suburbs. I do this to show you that we are not just a collective of progressive thinkers, critics, and college professors. We are also no strangers to the street. We have been in, and sometimes slept in, the gutters and found within ourselves the strength to take a realistic but also an humane and compassionate view of American life and how our country fits into the world.

So on the tenth anniversary of Scholars & Rogues, I want to make you feel good. And I want to make you feel bad. And I want to give you hope. Because that’s what life does to all of us on a regular basis. And to start here’s my kitten Kuro-chan grooming himself at my house in Brisbane, California…

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The Mature Society, pt 1: 1984 vs Brave New World

Part 1 in a series.

by Dr. Michael Tracey

We live in a moment of hyper-consumerism, uber-war and insidious surveillance by a vast security apparatus. But what might it look like if Orwell and Huxley were both wrong.

“The age of maturity that past authors were hoping would come seems not to be the destiny of humankind… Humanity is condemned to seek truth rather than possess it… This would be the vocation of our species: to pick up the task of enlightenment with each new day, knowing that it is interminable.”- Tzvetan Todorov, “In Defence of the Enlightenment.”

In The Empire Strikes Back, young Luke Skywalker asks his Jedi master, Yoda, whether the dark side is stronger than the good? “No,” Yoda replies, “easier, quicker, more seductive.”

Begin afresh, afresh, afresh…” Philip Larkin, The Trees

This essay is, in the first instance, impelled by a deep sense of disappointment at the immense gulf between the grand promise of this country, the United States, and its objective contemporary condition, the sense one has looking out across the landscape with squinted eyes that there is, as Milton writes in Paradise Lost, “Demoniac frenzy, moping melancholy, / And moon-struck madness.” Continue reading

Unnamed sources? Journalists should teach readers why they were used

On Thursday, four journalists for CNN reported:

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton’s campaign, US officials told CNN.

CATEGORY: JournalismInformation. Indicates. Associates. Communicated. Suspected. Operatives. Possibly. Coordinate. Information. US officials.

Huh? Could this lede be any more vague? This lede is all may have — which leaves open the possibility of may not have.

The story, reported by Pamela Brown, Evan Perez, Jim Sciutto, and Shimon Prokupecz, contains unnamed sources in 10 of the story’s 18 paragraphs. The FBI director is named, but only in reference to stories reported earlier. White House spokesman Sean Spicer and Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov are named, but only in chiding the findings of the story. Two paragraphs near the end of the story contain no sources and appear to be the conclusions of the reporters.

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Trump’s Mainstream Media Accountability Survey will leave you speechless

fauxnewsThis methodological tour de force is a triumph in honesty, objectivity and good faith. Bigly. You should reply in kind.

I’ll keep this brief. Donald has a poll up asking for your honest opinion on a series of  completely fair, unbiased and objective questions about “the media.” The Mainstream Media Accountability Survey asks questions like:

10: Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?

And:

13: Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?

Here’s the best one, though: Continue reading

Examining the Reddit guide to fake news

The crew on the CoolGuides subReddit are to be commended for a noteworthy effort, but there are a few things we’d like to see adjusted.

There’s an interesting project under way over at Reddit. Interesting in that it tackles the increasingly pressing question of journalistic credibility here in the golden age of fake news (and how can you possibly not respect an effort called “Fight Fake News, updated and larger guide to repubility”? (“Reputability”?) Also interesting in that, this being Reddit, your mileage may vary. Have a look at where they are right now:

Reddit journalistic credibility chart

There’s plenty to like here, starting with the Left/Right and High Quality/Low Quality axes. Continue reading

The overlooked battlefield in the war against the press

democracy-in-americaThe war against the press will be fought at the local and state level, but the war at the federal level will get the most airtime.

CNN reporter Jeremy Desmond asked Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, under fire because of four deaths at his jail, for an interview. On Friday, Clarke replied on Twitter:

Donald Trump has labeled CNN as fake news. When Pres. Trump says CNN is ok again, then I might.

The sheriff — an elected public official — has refused to respond to a press request for an interview. This particular sheriff has a nationwide reputation as a supporter of President Donald and has been considered for a position in the Donald administration. Continue reading

If they lie, journalists should stop covering the White House. Let the interns do it.

sean-spicer-white-housePresident Donald’s press secretary boldly and bluntly lied to the White House press corps last week. Yawn.

Well, so what? Politicians and their spear carriers have prevaricated, evaded, fibbed, misinformed, misdirected, and dissembled since the dawn of government.

But Sean Spicer lied. He did not disguise the lie. He told lies easily contravened. He did so acting as the representative of the president of the United States. He did so just days after promising he wouldn’t lie.

Media navel gazers pounced. Continue reading

President Donald’s already shrunken government

The Trump transition team has yet to name all its executive branch officials, moving to fill only about 4 percent of positions needing Senate approval.

trumpPresident Donald has yet to flesh out the rest of the executive branch despite Vice President Mike Pence’s claim that “We’re wrapping up this transition on schedule and under budget,” according to Politico’s Influence newsletter.

The heat of media scrutiny has fallen on top-level Cabinet posts, and deservedly so. But President Donald as of yesterday, when he was still president-elect, has moved to fill only 4 percent of the 690 executive branch appointments requiring Senate confirmation.

From an analysis by Bloomberg’s Jonathan Bernstein:

Look at the big four departments. There’s no Trump appointee for any of the top State Department jobs below secretary nominee Rex Tillerson. No Trump appointee for any of the top Department of Defense jobs below retired general James Mattis. Treasury? Same story. Justice? Continue reading