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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

I’m going to repeat myself here, but journalists, not sources, are responsible for the accuracy of our stories.

Jack Shafer has a great post on “anonymous sources,”* prompted by the New York Times walking back from two stories it had based on unnamed sources (stories you probably read or heard about that apparently falsely disparaged golfer Phil Mickelson and former prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl). I encourage reading Shafer’s piece and won’t go into detail on it here.

But remember this is the newspaper that reported false information about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then published reporter Judith Miller’s explanation, “If your sources are wrong, you are wrong.”

That was the weakest explanation of journalistic malpractice of anything I’ve heard, and that includes reporters who blame plagiarism or malpractice on being busy or rushed or on careless note-taking.

The Times apparently didn’t learn or has forgotten the important and difficult lessons it learned in the Miller case.

It’s kind of incredible to me that any journalists don’t understand this, but your sources are nearly always wrong. Not about everything, but usually about something. Verification is your job, not the source’s.

Sources can be wrong for a variety of reasons, innocent as well as malicious (some of these reasons apply to on-the-record sources, but I’m focusing on unnamed sources here): (more…)

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A news meeting at the Bangor Daily News. Photo courtesy of Anthony Ronzio.

A news meeting at the Bangor Daily News. Photo courtesy of Anthony Ronzio.

The New York Times is trying to make its morning meeting an all-platform discussion, rather than its traditional meeting discussing what’s on page one. Public Editor Margaret Sullivan used the changed meeting as the opening of her Sunday column:

IT’S Wednesday morning and 39 editors have filed in to the 10 a.m. meeting in The Times’s third-floor conference room, some carrying laptops and smartphones, others with pens and notepads.

The meeting, which until recently concentrated on the printed newspaper, now emphasizes a different discussion: journalism on the digital platforms of The Times. There was praise for headlines that had contained the right words — both “Eric” and “Cantor,” in this case — to maximize online search results; a query about whether a story would be accompanied by a video; and talk about how to give a political package more weight on the home page.

There was even a half-joking reference to the readership spike that came after an initial foray on Twitter by the new executive editor, Dean Baquet, who had praised coverage of a Brooklyn funeral and provided a link.

The column moved from the meeting anecdote on to broader questions about the Times’ challenge of developing a stronger digital focus to reflect the growing challenges and opportunities of digital publishing.

Times Innovation report

The changes to the morning meeting also were discussed in the Times’ Innovation report:

The newsroom is unanimous: We are focusing too much time and energy on Page One. This concern — which we heard in virtually every interview we conducted, including with reporters, desk heads, and masthead editors — has long been a concern for the leadership.

And yet it persists. Page One sets the daily rhythms, consumes our focus, and provides the newsroom’s defining metric for success. The recent announcement from Tom Jolly to focus the Page One meeting more on the web report is a great step in the right direction, but many people have voiced their skepticism that it will truly change our focus.

their skills and how they could be put to use. “You can’t take new talent and put them in old structures where they are second-class citizens,” said the editor of one competing newspaper. “That is not real change. You must change the structure of power.”

Here is a typical complaint from a Washington reporter who frequently appears on A1:

“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy, disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive. Just think about how many points in our day are still oriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting to the summaries that reporters file in the early afternoon to the editing time that goes into those summaries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30. In Washington, there’s even an email that goes out to the entire bureau alerting everyone which six stories made it. That doesn’t sound to me like a newsroom that’s thinking enough about the web.”

My earlier post on newsroom meetings

In last year’s series of advice for new Digital First editors, I included a post on leading digital-first meetings. That seems timely to repost now, both as part of this year’s Project Unbolt discussions and because the two Times pieces have raised the issue of focusing newsroom meetings on digital platforms. So here’s that piece again, with minor updates and editing:

Daily news meetings are an important place for editors to emphasize priorities.

If a morning meeting focuses on the next day’s newspaper, that will be the focus of the staff’s energies. A Digital First editor should place the focus, especially in a morning meeting, on plans and results for digital content. Don’t critique the morning paper (or, if you must, critique it briefly at the end of the meeting). Instead, you should discuss what’s resonating this morning with your digital audience: What’s getting strong traffic? What’s generating comments on your site or your Facebook page or on Twitter? Do you have plans (or should you make them) for advancing those stories through the day?

If you have projection capability in your conference room, show the site and/or your Facebook page and/or your analytics page(s) on the screen to aid in the discussions.

Discuss digital coverage plans for the day: What video are you shooting? What stories might you be able to supplement with YouTube videos? What stories provide good crowdsourcing opportunities and how should you pitch them to the community? What are photo gallery opportunities, and are you planning to shoot them (and/or to seek community photos)? What events will you be covering live this day (and the next)? Will you be livetweeting them, liveblogging, livestreaming or some combination? Are you planning a live chat about an event or timely issue (or should you?)? Discuss what you’re promoting (or will promote later in the day) on social media.

The meeting also should reflect that mobile content and audience are growing in importance (more than one-third of Digital First newsrooms get half or more of their digital audience on mobile platforms). Look at your tablet and phone apps during the meeting to see whether the right stories are featured and how your content is displaying. If you can project a laptop or phone screen, that would be great, but holding a device up or passing it around will work. (At a recent meeting of Digital First senior editors, one editor showed that a photo was displaying improperly on his newsroom’s iPad app and quickly messaged back to his newsroom to get it fixed.) Discuss opportunities for engaging with your mobile community.

(I addressed mobile issues further in a post on mobile opportunities, a post on the mobile aspects of the Berkshire Eagle’s unbolting plan and a guest post by Dan Rowinski.)

For the morning meeting, the print product should be an afterthought: Perhaps a brief mention of which stories have page-one potential or of any graphic elements for print that will need attention early in the day.

Two Digital First newsrooms that have an excellent digital focus to their morning meetings are the York Daily Record and Salt Lake Tribune. The Bay Area News Group, which has a morning conference call of editors from multiple newsrooms, has dramatically changed the focus of its morning meetings in the past couple years from print to digital.

If you have a late-afternoon meeting, that can focus appropriately more on print. Most of your day’s digital news traffic and coverage is behind you and the print deadlines are approaching. Go ahead and make your page-one plans. But even here, you need to mix in some digital discussion. If you have some evening events, discuss your live coverage plans. If you have an afternoon or evening iPad edition, discuss which stories will be ready and how they will be played. Facebook use gets a boost in the evening, so you should also plan some evening posts.

Maybe you should overhaul your meeting(s) in other ways. Should you scrap them altogether and communicate through a shared Google doc or gchat and/or smaller conversations with one or a few staff members at a time? Should you invite all staffers into a meeting that’s now just for the editors? Or should you invite staffers from remote bureaus or sister newsrooms to join by conference call or Google Hangout? Should you meet in the middle of the newsroom instead of a conference room?

Should you livestream the meeting or invite the public to attend in person, as the Register Citizen does in Torrington, Conn.? If you do, you might want to tell staff to tone down foul language or edgy sarcasm, if your meetings tend to be foul or sarcastic. And you certainly need to tell staffers to be careful not to mention details that shouldn’t be public, such as confidential sources, juveniles whose names you won’t be publishing and speculation about people who might be charged with crimes.

In some posts in this series, I have discussed examples where my leadership was successful, which can come off as boasting. So I should acknowledge here that I was not successful in significantly changing how we conducted meetings when I was editor at the Cedar Rapids Gazette. I did not want to take over running the meetings, so I mentioned to an editor who led most of the meetings how I would like the meetings to change. I would often (if I attended a meeting) ask some questions about live coverage, video or other digital aspects of our coverage, but the focus of the meetings did not change as strongly as it needed to.

At one point when I engaged the staff in working on several aspects of change, a couple of staff members were going to study our meetings and make some recommendations about how to change them. I moved on from the editor’s role before we made those changes, and I don’t know whether or how they changed their meetings.

I think I directed my energies to important areas and made significant changes. But meetings are an important – if often boring and ridiculed – part of newsroom culture. I did not sufficiently change the strong print focus of our meetings at the Gazette. Five years deeper into the digital age, an editor with print-focused meetings needs to take charge of the meetings and ensure that they reflect and guide your newsroom’s digital focus.

How does your newsroom focus on digital and mobile platforms in your meetings?

Crowdsourcing note: I wanted to post a photo of a newsroom meeting at the top of this post, but I couldn’t find one I’ve shot. If you have one I can use (with credit, of course), please email the photo (or a link to an online photo) to me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com. Update: Thanks to Tony Ronzio for the photo above. And don’t miss his post on the Bangor Daily News’ digital-first enterprise projects

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Margaret Sullivan, photo linked from Twitter avatar

The mass killings in California last week underscore a point I made in 2012: News media should reconsider giving mass murderers the attention they clearly crave.

I didn’t blog about this immediately after the May 23 killings because I was focused on other matters and I haven’t repeated this point every time a murderer goes on a rampage. But I was immediately struck with how clearly this case was a successful attempt by the killer to go out in a blaze of infamy. His hateful videos and his 141-page diatribe (I think calling it a “manifesto” perhaps overdignifies it) make it clear that attention was as much a motive of this hate crime as was misogyny.

I’m discussing this case a week late because Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of the New York Times, addressed the issue of whether the Times should have published the diatribe and video.

Sullivan’s a friend and the best public editor the Times has had. I’m glad she raised the issue of whether the Times should have published these items and the name of the killer. But I disagree with her conclusion that the Times’ decisions were the right ones.

“In general, I don’t believe in holding back germane information from the public,” she wrote. (more…)

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Belated thoughts on the big developments at the New York Times recently:

I have started twice in the past week to blog about developments at the New York Times. First, I was going to blog about the initial report of the Times Innovation Team, which raised lots of issues for all newsrooms trying to transform digitally. Digital transformation has been the focus of my work at Digital First Media, and I was going to draw some lessons from the Times recommendations for Project Unbolt.

Then I was going to blog about the firing of Jill Abramson as executive editor of the New York Times. I will post some observations about Abramson later in this piece, but I doubt I can add much insight beyond what’s already been written.

Mostly, I want to call my DFM colleagues’ attention (and the attention of everyone trying to change the culture of entrenched print newsrooms) to the full report of the innovation team (leaked to Buzzfeed and both more blunt and more detailed than the summary report). You should read the full report (you can ignore the sanitized version). Then you should read Josh Benton’s piece on Nieman Lab. (more…)

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Jill Abramson, photo linked from New York Times

Because I was attending the International Journalism Festival when Dylan Byers published his click-bait piece “Jill Abramson loses the newsroom” on Politico, I initially intended to respond just with disapproving tweets.

Then Emily Bell slammed the piece for its sexist tone better than I could have. And I initially thought I’d respond just with approving tweets.

After all, I don’t know Jill Abramson. And she doesn’t need me to defend her (great response from her, cited in Huffington Post). I had no idea whether the story was true or not, though I had serious doubts because it relied heavily on unnamed and unaccountable sources. But as I considered it, I thought that a male voice, a former editor who might have supposedly “lost” a newsroom, might have some value and I started pondering a post.

Then I heard Aron Pilhofer tell an Abramson story at the festival and I decided I’d better blog about this.

Most of the editors I’ve worked for have been men. That’s probably true of most people in the news business because the vast majority of editors are men. While women have made strides, men still dominate in newsroom leadership.

(more…)

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Alan Mutter makes a point that I’ve been hearing editors make most of my career: Most newspaper stories are too long.

I’m sure he’s right. But some newspaper stories are too short. And story length is way down the list of problems facing the newspaper business.

I remember when I was at the Des Moines Register, Jim Gannon, who I believe was executive editor at the time, decreed that no story could be longer than he was tall. He was 5’10″, as I recall, so a story couldn’t be longer than 70 inches. 70 inches! Register reporters were writing so long that Gannon’s idea of introducing some discipline was to limit stories to 70 inches (and newspaper columns were wider then than they are today). (more…)

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Update: Ryan Chittum has responded to this piece in detail. He’s wrong on lots of points, but I am tired of the argument and think this piece holds up well.

An editor shared some paywall results with me yesterday. I don’t use unnamed sources lightly, but I understand why this editor can’t use his or her name or organization. It’s someone I’ve known and respected for a few years. Here’s what this editor of a small regional daily newspaper said:

We have had a digital subscription plan in place for a few months. We don’t even have 300 subscribers yet. It’s a failure. Even at the corporate level we’ve stopped hearing about paywalls. They know they aren’t working either.

I will be clear about one thing: This is not a Digital First Media editor and I will not disclose here the results of any of the MediaNews paywalls that launched shortly before Digital First took over operation of MediaNews last year. I don’t have those results and wouldn’t be the right person to disclose them.

The editor who emailed me is not the only person outside Digital First I’ve heard from who’s worried about weak results of a paywall, just the most specific and the one who contacted me this week. I’m not about to say that the current wave of paywalls will all be failures, based on this one email from an editor who won’t be named and less-specific comments from some other people.

I am willing to say that anyone who thinks the matter of whether paywalls will help news organizations find a prosperous future is settled is completely lacking in credibility. Specifically, the paywall cheerleading by Ryan Chittum and Dean Starkman of CJR is mystifyingly lacking of thoughtful analysis and skepticism. (more…)

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The next time you read the hosannas about the success of the New York Times paywall, remember these two three pieces:

  • Doc Searls’ detailed account of trying to find the actual cost of a Times digital subscription, a situation he describes as “bait and switch.”
  • Jeff Bercovici’s report on the “shockingly weak” advertising results of the Times’ print and digital products, causing a 60 percent drop in third-quarter operating profits.
  • Mathew Ingram’s analysis of the Times’ Q3 results, including the possible impact the paywall has had on ad revenue. (I added this third link after originally posting this.)

I admit that I might be wrong in my view that paywalls are a misguided strategy and that the Times is pursuing a backward-looking strategy. I admit that I don’t have all the answers about the right path to prosperity in digital journalism. But I know I am right about this: The Times doesn’t have this figured out either.

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Update: Bill Keller has responded. Please read his response at the end of this post.

I don’t care that Bill Keller hates doesn’t like social media. What annoys me is that his lazy reporting is making him a bad example of old-school journalism.

I am of Keller’s generation, less than six years his junior. I understand about shoe-leather reporting. Like him, I’ve been doing it for decades. You do a lot of phone interviews, sure, but you also get off your ass and see things firsthand, so you can write with authority.

When I covered agriculture for the Kansas City Star, I walked wheat fields with Kansas farmers, trying to learn their business so I could report it accurately. When I covered religion for the Des Moines Register, I accompanied missionaries to Venezuela so I could understand firsthand their mission work, their Pentecostal fervor and the disaster for which they offered relief. As a reporter for the Omaha World-Herald, when I told the story of twin girls being rescued from near-death, I walked the alley where they were found nearly frozen and I asked medical workers to re-create the scene in the emergency room, so I could tell the story accurately. I’ve gone to prisons, Indian reservations and devastated communities because it was important to understand the topics I covered.

Keller knows, I am sure, that you need to get firsthand knowledge to report authoritatively. He could top my stories of firsthand reporting many times over. I don’t think he won his Pulitzer Prize for coverage of turmoil in the Soviet Union by sitting in the Moscow Bureau of the New York Times. Oddly, you don’t even have to get off your ass to gain some firsthand knowledge of Facebook. But for some reason Keller thinks it’s good journalism to write about Facebook without bothering to use it or learn its culture.

He wrote a column about Facebook Sunday, but the most recent entry on his Facebook page is from last Oct. 13, when he changed his job in his profile from Times editor to columnist. In eight months, he hasn’t posted a link or a photo or status update. His other October update generated 51 comments, none of them from Keller. If he’s not even joining the Facebook conversation, it’s clear his understanding of Facebook is based on reading and interviewing other critics, rather than firsthand experience and exploration. But you know what he did Sunday? He wrote about Facebook. (more…)

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The old career advice doesn’t always fit today. For most of my career, veterans would have counseled a young journalist to stick around a while, so your résumé showed some stability. You want to show some commitment, an ability to hold a job.

Daniel Victor

But the New York Times just hired my friend Daniel Victor to his fifth job in just a little over two years. I was one of those others who hired him (to his longest tenure of the past three jobs) and I enthusiastically recommended him to other employers.

Dan was a reporter for the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., when 2010 started. I hired him to join TBD’s community engagement team. When TBD cut its staff, Dan moved to Philly.com to help build an online community. When Amanda Michel was looking for someone to help with social media at ProPublica, I recommended Dan and she hired him. Then she moved to the Guardian and Dan got her job leading ProPublica’s social media efforts. Now he’s moving to the New York Times.

News is a volatile industry right now with lots more journalists looking for work than finding jobs. A journalist who has been hired four times in 26 months is a journalist in high demand.

Since I know a little about Dan and his career moves, I thought I would (with his permission) share some career lessons from watching him, as I did after hiring Mandy Jenkins for the second time. The first four lessons are nothing new and their importance can’t be overstated: (more…)

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I have added three updates, marked in bold, since posting this originally.

Aggregation has become a dirty word in much of journalism today.

Bill Keller, former editor of the New York Times, last year wrote: “There’s often a thin line between aggregation and theft.”

Patrick Pexton, Washington Post ombudsman, in an April 20 column called plagiarism “a perpetual danger in aggregated stories.”

Actually, aggregation has a long, proud and ethical history in journalism. If you’re an old-school journalist, don’t think Huffington Post or Drudge when you think about aggregation; think AP. The Associated Press is primarily largely an aggregation service*, except that it its members pay huge fees for the privilege of being aggregated (and for receiving content aggregated from other members).

The New York Times and Washington Post also have long histories of aggregation. In my years at various Midwestern newspapers, we reported big local and regional stories that attracted the attention of the Times, Post and other national news organizations. Facts we had reported first invariably turned up in the Times and Post stories without attribution or with vague attribution such as “local media reports.” I don’t say that critically. When I was a reporter and editor at various Midwestern newspapers, we did the same thing with facts we aggregated from smaller newspapers as we did regional versions of their local stories.

My point isn’t to criticize these traditional newspapers, just to note that aggregation isn’t a new practice just because it’s a fairly new journalism term. It’s one of many areas where journalism practices and standards are evolving, and I believe standards are actually improving in most cases.

After the Washington Post case, Elana Zak asked me and others if journalists needed to develop guidelines for aggregation.

I’m happy to contribute to that conversation with some thoughts about aggregation. I’ll start with discussing what I mean by aggregation (and its cousin or sibling, curation):

(more…)

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I have written perhaps too much about paywalls. I even sort of vowed once to stop writing about them (fortunately I hedged it). I think maybe I kept writing about them in hopes of someday expressing my doubts about paywalls as clearly as Mathew Ingram and Dave Winer did today.

Ingram cites three reasons newspapers shouldn’t charge for their digital content:

  1. “Paywalls restrict the flow of content.”
  2. “Paywalls are backward-looking, not forward-looking.”
  3. “Newspapers need to adapt, not retrench.” (more…)

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