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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Journalism has no such sin as low-level plagiarism.

The very act of rewriting stolen material makes a theft more sinister and deliberate than the stupid plagiarists who steal whole paragraphs, passages or stories verbatim.

Plagiarism accusations against Fareed Zakaria continue, and Poynter’s Kelly McBride evaluated them for Politico and concluded: “It’s plagiarism. Low-level. But plagiarism.”

Kelly is a longtime friend and one of the strongest and wisest voices on journalism ethics. Several years ago we collaborated on a series of ethics seminars and my respect for her grew each time we worked together. I have praised and promoted the ethics book she edited with Tom Rosenstiel, The New Ethics of Journalism. And I’ll invite and publish or link to any response she has to this post.

But she’s wrong to use the phrase “low-level” in describing dozens of instances of obviously deliberate theft of other people’s work. That’s not all she said. She also said, “It seems obvious that Fareed was overly reliant on his source material.” I agree with that, but it’s a huge understatement. He was overly reliant on his source material, without attribution.

Here’s how we defined plagiarism in Telling the Truth and Nothing But, a book on which I collaborated with journalists from more than 30 journalism organizations, media companies and universities: (more…)

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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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