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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Rick Tapscott

Rick Tapscott

Few people had more impact on my career than Rick Tapscott, who died Sunday.

Rick hired me twice and by leaving the first time and agreeing to extra duties the second time, he really gave me three or four great opportunities. He lured me away from the Des Moines Register in 1985 with an offer to be assistant national/mid-America editor for the Kansas City Times. Then he left to join the Washington Post, giving me the opportunity to run a newsroom department for the first time in my career. Thirteen years later, he brought me back to the Register as religion editor (really a reporting role) and writing coach.

We became good friends, visiting in his homes Kansas City, Washington and Des Moines and our home in the Kansas City suburbs, socializing as couples and with our kids, who were about the same age. We shared with a couple other colleagues in season tickets to the Royals, going to the games together several times. (more…)

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I couldn’t resist aggregating Erik Wemple’s post on aggregation and the Washington Post.

Erik, who blogs about media for the Post, contacted me yesterday asking for a reaction to this statement by the Post’s soon-to-be new owner, Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon:

The Post is famous for its investigative journalism. It pours energy and investment and sweat and dollars into uncovering important stories. And then a bunch of Web sites summarize that [work] in about four minutes and readers can access that news for free. One question is, how do you make a living in that kind of environment? If you can’t, it’s difficult to put the right resources behind it. . . . Even behind a paywall [digital subscription], Web sites can summarize your work and make it available for free. From a reader point of view, the reader has to ask, ‘Why should I pay you for all that journalistic effort when I can get it for free’ from another site?”

It was a bizarre statement, sounding as though it came from a longtime newspaper publisher, shaking his fist at those damned Internet disruptors on his lawn, rather than coming from one of those disruptors, supposedly offering hope by bringing new ideas and a new perspective to one of the most treasured newspapers. (more…)

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In my years discussing disruptive innovation while teaching Newspaper Next concepts, I often said that newspapers’ advertising/circulation blinders kept us from developing a digital marketplace such as Amazon.

Well, now, we finally have Amazon’s disruptive founder in the newspaper business, with the Washington Post’s announced sale to Jeff Bezos.

I don’t have time to analyze the deal today — and wouldn’t trust such swift analysis if I did — but I am glad to see such a disruptor coming to the newspaper business. I think we can count on the Post moving beyond the narrow advertising/subscriptions model that is collapsing.

To see Bezos bringing his disruptive approach to the newspaper of Katharine Graham, Ben Bradlee, Bob WoodwardCarl Bernstein, Dana Priest, Carol Guzy and Gene Weingarten is exciting and intriguing. I look forward to it in anticipation.

It’s not what Matt Thompson and Robin Sloan forecast in EPIC 2014, but that did forecast an amazing Amazon merger. So I’ll post it here as a reminder.

Disclosure: My wife, Mimi Johnson, published her novel, Gathering String, using Amazon’s self-publishing services.

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Wow. This is going to be a short blog post because you shouldn’t be reading me, you should be reading Mark Potts.

Mark’s A Vision for the Future of Newspapers — 20 Years Ago is one of the most insightful pieces you will read on the history of news online and the opportunities blown by newspapers.

He tells the story of a memo Post Managing Editor Robert G. Kaiser wrote 20 years ago after returning from an Apple-sponsored conference in Japan. Awestruck by the upcoming developments he heard forecast (nearly all of which are old hat by now), Kaiser wrote:

None of this is science fiction — it’s just around the corner.

The memo, which quaintly notes “Hook” as a movie viewers might want to see, and Mark’s reflection 20 years later provide insights into a sincere effort by a great newspaper to get ahead of the digital curve that it clearly saw coming.

Mark also reflects on the industry’s failure at digital efforts:

The history of the past 20 years of newspapers and digital media is, unfortunately, a legacy of timidity, missed opportunities and a general lack of imagination and guts to leap into the future.

But stop reading me. Go read Mark. I can’t remember the last piece I read that was this good about the history of digital news.

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On more than one occasion, reporters have screwed up facts when writing about me. At least once I knew I was misquoted. So I have some empathy for Washington Post reporter Daniel de Vise, who is being taken to task for his fact-checking technique.

Getting our facts straight should be a top priority of every journalist. We get them wrong more often than we know (I usually have not corrected the journalists who reported inaccurately about me). We should weigh all factors in considering efforts to ensure accuracy.

As recounted in a story by the Texas Observer, de Vise emailed an unpublished draft of a story to University of Texas officials, inviting them to raise with him any concerns they had about it. The Observer obtained copies of emails between de Vise and university officials through an open records request and quoted extensively from the emails, which indicated this was a common practice for de Vise.

A Thursday memo to the Post staff from Editor Marcus Brauchli, reported by Jim Romenesko, makes clear that Post reporters should not share drafts of stories with sources except with Brauchli’s permission.

I question de Vise’s judgment, and I would have handled things differently. But people who reject the notion of sharing a story in advance with a source as unethical are trying to simplify journalism ethics to matters of black and white. Way too often journalism ethics are murky shades of gray or any of the many colors of the rainbow. We often wish life were simple. But it’s not, especially in many of the tough questions of journalism ethics.

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Just a quick post to call your attention to John Paton’s blunt but accurate appraisal of the Advance Publications’ cutbacks in staff and print frequency.

As has been extensively chronicled (including by me), Advance cut the staff of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and cut the newspaper back from daily publication to three times a week.

John acknowledges that Advance handled the whole move poorly, chewing up a lot of goodwill. But, he says, “I support them because their industry is my industry and it will not survive without dramatic, difficult and bloody change.”

If you don’t think the news business is in a fight for survival, read Rick Edmonds’ piece on how the Washington Post, one of journalism’s most iconic organizations, is faring. Read how much value newspapers’ print advertising has lost in the past six years.

I think and hope John (my boss; yeah, this looks like sucking up, but he’s right) is making the right moves to help Digital First Media and the news business find the path to a prosperous future. I hope Advance’s moves work successfully. And I hope the Post finds its path to success.

Yesterday’s news produced and delivered at high cost in print is not a business model that will survive.

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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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Because I wrote today about unnamed sources, I thought this might be a good time to republish a blog post from my old Training Tracks blog for the American Press Institute. This was originally published Dec. 19, 2005. I have not checked to see whether the links are still good, but I think I should leave them in even if they aren’t:

The New York Times story on domestic spying by the Bush administration provides a bit of a comeback for the legitimate use of confidential sources.

That story presented lots to argue about: Should the Times have yielded to administration pressure and waited a year to publish the story (especially if that “year” was really a year-plus and meant they waited until after the 2004 elections)? Should the Times have published the story at all?

This much is clear, though: You can’t question the credibility of the story because the reporters, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, did not name their sources. President Bush confirmed the story the next day. (more…)

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Update: The Wall Street Journal sent an email news alert at 6:37 Monday with this subject: “WSJ NEWS ALERT: WSJ/NBC News Poll Finds Voters Deeply Torn.”

The text:

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll has found an electorate that is convinced the country’s economic structures favor an affluent elite and is still deeply torn as to whether President Barack Obama or any of his leading Republican rivals can pull the nation out of decline.

In case you want to read more (and I can’t imagine why you would), a link takes you to the Journal story: Poll Finds Voters Deeply Torn.

We can disagree about whether these polls stating the obvious merit “news alerts.” But there’s no question the Post kicked the Journal’s ass on the story, whatever its value.

Picking up my original post: When I awoke this morning and checked my email, I saw a news alert from the Washington Post:

Really? A poll that reveals nothing new and just confirms what everyone knows about the country’s mood deserves a news alert? At 12:18 a.m.?

In the ensuing discussion, at least a couple people thought I was commenting on a tweet from the Post. I was commenting on the email news alert, but the Post did tweet the news at about the same time: (more…)

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I have been meaning to post more of my old workshop handouts from No Train, No Gain to this blog. Unfortunately, I was prompted to post this one and another, about cheating, by a plagiarism incident at the Middletown Press. I encourage all of my Journal Register Co. and MediaNews Group colleagues to read this. Attribution is one of journalism’s most serious issues. Plagiarism is inexcusable.

Attribution is the difference between research and plagiarism. Attribution gives stories credibility and perspective. It tells readers how we know what we know. It also slows stories down. Effective use of attribution is a matter both of journalism ethics and of strong writing.

How do you know that? Attribution is a key ingredient in any story’s credibility. Readers are entitled to know where we got our information. If we are citing official statistics gathered by a government agency, that tells the readers something. If we are citing the contentions of an interest group or a political partisan, that tells the readers something else. If we don’t attribute our information, readers rightly wonder how we know that.

When should we attribute? Attribute any time that attribution strengthens the credibility of a story. Attribute any time you are using someone else’s words. Attribute when you are reporting information gathered by other journalists. Attribute when you are not certain of facts. Attribute statements of opinion. When you wonder whether you should attribute, you probably should attribute in some fashion. (more…)

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