Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Media opinion influential but not new, says Mount Holyoke prof in video interview

Looking at the growing influence and partisanship of opinion formats in political journalism, a Mount Holyoke expert on the role and influence of media opinions says such formats are not necessarily bad for democracy.

Professor Eleanor Townsley, who co-wrote "The Space of Opinion, Media, Intellectuals and the Public Sphere" with Ron Jacobs (Oxford, 2011) adds that opinions like those now expressed on television and radio shows and in print and online are not really new to U.S. media.

“Opinion formats date back to the origins of modern American journalism," she says. "They pull together different elements from a long history of opinion shows."

Although Fox and MSNBC are familiar today as opinion broadcasters, the format actually originated on public TV on shows such as "Agronsky and Company," "The McLaughlin Group" and William F. Buckley’s "Firing Line."

Do talk shows and editorials, commentary and columns, harm democracy? Not necessarily, Townsley says.

“Shows like Hannity’s and O’Reilly’s engage audiences that may not otherwise participate in politics," she says. "They offer highly authentic performances that speak to people’s values and touch their emotions. This encourages many to join in the public conversation who otherwise wouldn’t.”

Further, audiences who reads, hear or watch opinion journalism can become more media literate, she adds.

“These shows alert people to media bias," she says, "and if more people realize that information comes from a perspective, then that is probably good for democracy.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

'Internet con men' hurt publishing: Harper's MacArthur

Providence Journal writer Robert Whitcomb posted a lecture by Harper's magazine publisher (and PJ contributor) John R. MacArthur that was presented at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and expresses deep doubts about the usefulness of the Internet to publishing.

He's no Luddite, but offers an often-overlooked perspective: What are writers getting out of the World Wide Web? Here are a few sharp observations from the very insightful 4,000-word speech:

"Youthful members of my editorial staff were imploring me, demanding even, that I meet the Internet revolution head-on by posting free what they also described as 'content' on our brand-new Harper's web site. The Internet, I told them, wasn't much more than a gigantic Xerox machine (albeit with inhuman 'memory'), and thus posed the same old threat to copyright and to the livelihoods of writers and publishers alike."

"Print advertising is remembered longer and more clearly for the simple reason that readers spend more time with a printed article in a magazine than with pieces posted on web sites."

"Out of physical sight, out of mind. At some point you've got to turn off your computer or your iPad, but the mail and the brochures and printed matter just keep coming. Advertising on the Internet is just too easy to avoid. Unless the Tea Party and the Democrats kill off the U.S. Post Office, I wouldn't bet against print."

"As Daniel Defoe wrote in 1709, unauthorized reprints of his work by pirate printers meant that 'a Man, who has studied several years to perform this most elaborate work... has his labor destroyed, his expenses lost, and his copy reprinted by sham and piratical booksellers and printers, who eat the gain of the poor man's labor...' The same is true today with illegal downloads."

"The Internet huckster/philosophers are first cousins -- in both their ideology and their sales tactics -- to the present-day promoters of 'free trade'."

"In the long run, I think I'll be vindicated, since clearly the advertising 'model' has failed and readers are going to have to pay (in opposition to Google's bias against paid sites) if they want to see anything more complex than a blog, a classified ad or a sex act."

"As much as I object to free content, I am even more offended by the online sensibility and its anti-democratic, anti-emotional, even anti-intellectual effect. Devotees of the Internet like to say that the web is a bottom-up phenomenon that wondrously bypasses the traditional gatekeepers in publishing and politics who allegedly snuff out true debate. But much of what I see is unedited, incoherent babble indicative of a herd mentality, not a true desire for self-government or fairness."

"Can it be seriously argued that popular government in America -- with our two-party oligarchy, 90 percent-plus re-election rates, and money-laundered politics -- has progressed in the age of the Internet? Have WikiLeak's disclosures on Afghanistan moved us any closer to withdrawal from that country? Would America be any less democratic without e-mail?"

"All those millions of eyeballs glued to Facebook do not a revolution make, or even a reform movement. The energy devoted to the 'net is an astonishing waste. This is time that obviously could be better spent talking to a friend or a child, reading a good book, or marching in a political demonstration."

"I'm still offended by the whole Internet pretension of universality, freedom, and democracy."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A 'penny press' for the digital age?

As newspaper companies try to generate more revenue from a shrinking audience, they are catering both content and delivery to a wealthy, educated, white audience, according to a panel at the recent SXSW Interaction conference in Austin, Texas.

Panel organizer Fiona Morgan, a researcher at the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University, thinks the old idea of the "penny press" -- which revolutionized journalism by covering news that appealed to a broader audience that flocked to the cheaper publication -- might be updated for the digital age.

Ryan Thornburg, a 2011 Knight News Challenge Winner, has launched OpenBlock, which aims to lower the cost of gathering and publishing basic data about government and public life.

"Property sales, arrest reports, new business openings and restaurant inspections have long been a staple of community newspapers," Thornburg writes. "But until now, publishing them has required a reporter to go down to a county office, pick up a piece of paper, and re-type the information into her newspaper's publishing system. We aim to automate as much of that as possible.

"If OpenBlock lowers the cost of collecting and publishing commodity news in rural markets and staves off some bad competitors, then the next step will be for publishers to reinvest the savings into high-quality, high-impact public affairs reporting," he continued. "Reporters who once gathered paper and went to meetings will need to do more stories about the 'how' and the 'why' rather than simply the who, what, when and where."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Five myths about the future of journalism

Rich Moreno's interesting March 14 post about advances and declines in industry sizes over the last few years could lead to some snap judgments, some erroneous.

Based on data and insight provided by LinkedIn to the White Houses Council of Economic Advisers, it shows employment changes at certain types of industries, not actual jobs. So a newspaper that sheds dozens of circulation staffers and press operators contributes to a drop -- even though newsroom gigs may have held steady.

Plus, people educated in journalism many places, such as a few industries that show dramatic growth; Marketing & Advertising, Online Publishing, Think Tanks and Internet.

For additional perspective, it may be fruitful to read journalist Tom Rosenstiel's piece in the Washington Post from almost a year ago. (Rosenstiel, incidentally, is director of the think tank Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.)

In "Five myths about the future of journalism," Rosenstiel details these flawed generalizations:
1. The traditional news media are losing their audience.
2. Online news will be fine as soon as the advertising revenue catches up.
3. Content will always be king.
4. Newspapers around the world are on the decline.
5. The solution is to focus on local news.

Things are both more complicated than LinkedIn's analyticals, and nuanced with as much hope as fear.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Chicago Reader for sale

Crain's Chicago Business reported that the owner of the weekly Chicago Reader has put the alternative newspaper on the sales block, hiring a Dallas firm to help shop the paper.

Citing sources familiar with solicitations for a sale, Crain's said that the firm handling the talks, Bulkey Capital L.P., has talked with at least two Chicago-area parties, but no deal seemed imminent. The Chicago Sun-Times is one of the potential buyers that was approached, they said.

“So much of the weekly advertising base—the cash cow for so long—were classified ads,” said Charles Whitaker, a professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications. “Once that dried up there was just no place else for them to turn. They're struggling to figure out how to replace that revenue.”

Rising competition from Time Out Chicago also has hurt the Reader, Whitaker said. Before that weekly magazine appeared on the market in 2005, the Reader's subscriber and advertising base was distinct from many other outlets in Chicago because it had almost exclusive appeal to the target audience of young adults. Now, however, Time Out and others also market to that demographic.

Phoenix-based Village Voice Media Holdings LLC, which owns news weeklies across the country including the Village Voice in New York and Phoenix New Times, also might be interested in buying the Reader, industry observers speculated, but no talks with that group has been confirmed.

The Sun-Times was taken over earlier this year by Wrapports LLC, led by Chicago investor Michael Ferro.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Future trends in Journalism

Check this out:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Comedy Central anchor 'greatest public intellectual'

Fake newsanchor Jon Stewart is "our greatest public intellectual," according to a Loyola bioethicist in an article in the American Journal of Bioethics. "This is no joke."

Kayhan Parsi, an associate professor in the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, writes that Stewart (shown above with another articulate pop culture figure, Bruce Springsteen, from an interview in an upcoming issue of Rolling Stone magazine) "has emerged as our voice of sanity in a sea of insanity in a new media age with its ephemeral nature and lack of substance."

A public intellectual is seriously committed to ideas and discourse, Parsi explains. He or she may be an academic, although journalists, policymakers and even politicians can play that role.

"In an era with a great amount of strident self-righteousness, Stewart cuts through the absurdities of what passes for political discourse," Parsi writes. "Although bioethics topics do not figure prominently in the Stewart oeuvre of satire ... the issues that are part and parcel of bioethics (say, health care reform) have merited a significant amount of attention."

Management, culture significantly affect newspapers' future: PEJ

In a new report from the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) from Pew Research, Tom Rosenstiel and others say many newspapers aren't putting enough effort into new digital revenue opportunities, and they specifically point to decision makers as a problem.

"The future of newspapers, rather than being determined entirely by sweeping trends, can be significantly affected by company culture and management -- even at papers of quite different sizes," they write. "The industry is inhibited by several obstacles that executives themselves candidly acknowledge. One involves the difficulty of changing the behavior of people trained in the ways of a mature and monopolistic industry."

Still, the report puts into perspective the relative stability of a changing medium.

"There are roughly 1,350 surviving U.S. English-language daily newspapers, down from about 1,400 five years ago," the report notes. "The vast majority of these papers are smaller, less than 25,000 circulation. There are 70 papers remaining in the U.S. with circulations more than 100,000."

Monday, March 5, 2012

Guardian releases 'Three Little Pigs' ad for open journalism

The United Kingdom's Guardian has a hilarious new ad based on none other than the Three Little Pigs. The ad, released last week, envisions how the newspaper would cover the story of the Three Little Pigs in print and online.

The spot follows the developing story of the pigs' arrest for killing the Big Bad Wolf. The Guardian covers it all with gusto, from the paper's front page headline, to outcry on Twitter, a simulation of the Big Bad Wolf blowing the houses down, and finally, a very surprising conclusion to the age-old fairy tale.

It is the first major television campaign for the Guardian in over 25 years, according to the paper. It promotes the paper's concept of "open journalism," and multimedia platforms.

"Open is our operating system, a way of doing things that is based on a belief in the open exchange of information, ideas and opinions and its power to bring about change," said editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. "The campaign is designed to bring that philosophy to life for new and existing readers."

(Also, glimpse the behind-the-scenes of the campaign at the Guardian's website:

Chicago's top cop on eavesdropping, police and the media

Illinois News Broadcasters Association Freedom of Information committee chair Bob Roberts in the INBA's newsletter "Tune In" filed this report, which includes comments on the ongoing dispute about recording police officers and the targeting of journalists covering Occupy demonstrations:

Although it remains illegal to record a conversation with a police officer in Illinois if you get pulled over or have a run-in, Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy says the law should be changed. He says the unique law is just as bad for the police as it is for citizens.

An attempt by State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Northbrook) to change the law to exempt recordings by the media or the public, in public places, when police are acting, won approval from a House Judiciary Committee 9-2 on Feb. 8. HB3944 awaits action on the House floor and your FOIA chair strongly urges you to voice support for the change.

McCarthy's support helps. He said at a Jan. 25 Chicago Headline Club forum that he found it helpful as a police official in New York and in Newark, N.J., to record officers politely, but firmly, informing protesters that if they did not end their protest they would be arrested. He said that prevented brutality suits against his officers then, and said he planned to use the same approach with the Occupy Chicago protesters.

"The first night, after we made 147 arrests, the goal was to assure that what was recorded was the fact that, 'Excuse me, sir, you are in violation of the law; You are about to be arrested; You have the opportunity to leave. If you choose to leave, you can leave now. If you choose to stay, you will be arrested.' Which was the warning that we gave every single one of the 147 people that were arrested that night," McCarthy told those attending the panel, at Loyola University, and related in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The next day, I said, 'Let me see the videotape.' All I saw was this." McCarthy pantomimed officers mouthing words to protesters. "This is a foreign concept to me," McCarthy said of the Illinois eavesdropping law. "This is problematic, because the idea was to show exactly what we were doing was giving people warnings . . . It was an enlightening moment for me. . . . Illinois is the only state in the union that has such a law."

Occupy my jail cell

You had to see this coming.

The targeting of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement for arrest has caused the United States to plunge in a leading worldwide survey of press freedom. The index, prepared by Reporters Without Borders and released Jan. 25, showed the U.S. in 47th place, down from 20th in 2010.

And this spring's NATO and G8 meetings in Chicago haven't even occurred yet.

Of course, Occupy demonstrations were far from the only place that journalists were harassed, their photos and videos confiscated, and arrests were made. Authorities in a host of countries did so in 2011, but it still remains surprising to many that the U.S. would place so low in a worldwide survey. The Huffington Post story on the index noted that Tunisia moved up 30 spots because of the coverage of the Arab Spring protests, although Bahrain and Egypt dropped 29 and 39 spots, respectively, for the same reasons.

That same day, NPPA general counsel Mickey Osterreicher told the National Press Club that a "perfect storm" of repression has raged against U.S. photojournalists in recent years. Osterreicher, who spent 40 years as a photojournalist, said police in many cases simply don't understand that the media ad the citizenry alike have a right to take pictures in public, so long as it does not do something harmful, such as impeding police making an arrest or blocking paramedics who are treating an accident victim. He said the Occupy Wall Street-related harassment and arrests involving reporters and photographers have only exacerbated the situation.

A coalition of media groups, including the AP, NPPA, NBC, Dow Jones, Bloomberg News, the New York Press Club and Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP), wrote the New York Police Department Feb. 1 for the second time in two months, saying it must take more steps to resolve reporter access issues. The letter says that officers continue to interfere with reporters on the job, even after Commissioner Raymond Kelly told his officers in November that they could be disciplined if they disrupted media access.

Meanwhile, the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals, in San Francisco, ruled Feb. 16 that restrictions on access for photojournalists to a horse roundup by a federal agency may have violated the photojournalists' rights. NPPA reported that the court remanded the case to a lower court to reconsider the question based on a specific analysis. Photojournalist Laura Leigh sought a court order overriding the restrictions after being placed under a media escort and being forced to move to areas in which she could neither observe nor photograph the horses being moved or sorted, but was denied by a trial court judge.

In Memphis, WPTY-TV videographer Casey Monroe ended up in the back of a squad car, under arrest, with his photos deleted, on Jan. 29 after he attempted to use his cell phone to photograph police giving a ticket to a restaurant owner for parking illegally. Monroe said he was simply trying to document the situation, but said he was told by police that he could not shoot video of them even though he was on public property. WPTY reported that cameras were not allowed inside when Monroe filed a complaint to the Memphis Police Internal Affairs Unit, either.

Media: 'Fewer words, less filling'

In his Feb. 18 column and blog post, journalist and novelist Walt Brasch ably criticizes contents and management of most media outlets, with some special scorn for newspapers. An excerpt:

When the newspaper industry was routinely pulling in about 20–30 percent annual profits, the highest of any industry, publishers were routinely delusional, believing that was the way it was supposed to be and would always be. Instead of improving work conditions and content, they increased shareholder dividends and executive bonuses. When advertising and circulation began to drop, they made numerous changes to keep those inflated profits.

Publishers downsized the quality, weight, and size of paper. Page sizes of 8-1/2 by 11 inches are still the most common magazine size, but several hundred magazines are now 8- by 10-1/2 inches. Newspaper page width has dropped to 11–12 inches, from almost 15-1/2 inches during the 1950s.

Faced by advertising and circulation freefall the past decade, publishers cut back the number of pages. More significantly, they began a systematic decimation of the editorial staff, cutting reporters and editors.

Faced by heavier workloads and tight deadlines, many reporters merely dump their notebooks into type, rather than craft them and then submit the story to a copy editor to fine tune it so it is tight, has no holes, and no conflicting data. In the downsized newspaper economy, stories often pass from reporter to a quick scan by an editor and then into a predetermined layout, all of it designed to cause fewer problems for overworked editors.

The solution to the “newspaper-in-crisis” wailing, with innumerable predictions that print newspapers will soon be as dead as the trees that give them nourishment, may not be in cutting staff, and replacing the news product with fluff and syndicated stories that fill pages, but are available on hundreds of websites, but in giving readers more. More reporters. More stories. And, most of all, more in-depth coverage of local people and issues, with each article well-reported, well-written, and well-edited.