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Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

It would be hard to overstate what Ben Bradlee contributed to American journalism. Bradlee died Tuesday, and I join the parade of journalists saluting him as maybe journalism’s best editor ever.

Journalism’s proudest achievement of my lifetime was the Watergate reporting of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, which uncovered unconstitutional and un-American power abuses by the White House, including President Richard Nixon himself. The many abuses by presidents and their staffs since Nixon still do not match his arrogance in trying to manipulate an election and interfere with the execution of justice.

Many others played roles in exposing Watergate and bringing down Nixon: Judge John Sirica, Senators Sam Ervin and Howard Baker and their Watergate Committee colleagues, John Dean, Alexander Butterfield (who revealed the White House taping system), special prosecutors Archibald Cox and Leon Jaworski, Woodward’s “Deep Throat” source Mark Felt, the Supreme Court, Peter Rodino and his House Judiciary Committee colleagues. But no one played a bigger role than Woodward, Bernstein and their Post editors, led by Bradlee.

As recounted in Woodward and Bernstein’s book All the President’s Men and portrayed by Jason Robards in the movie, Bradlee was a sterling model for editors: challenging his reporters to nail down their facts, find better stories and make every story better; reporting the truth fearlessly; holding the powerful accountable, then standing by his reporters when they came under fire.

I never approached Bradlee’s perch in journalism, but as a mid-level editor for the Des Moines Register and Kansas City Star and Times, I saw his influence in some of the top editors I reported to. And I tried to ask the same kinds of tough questions of the reporters who worked for me.

As a top editor of the comparatively insignificant Shenandoah Evening Sentinel, Minot Daily News and Cedar Rapids Gazette, I never flattered myself that I was anywhere near Bradlee’s stature. But I damn well knew from his model what my job was: To make my newspaper the best it could be, to set and uphold standards and to protect our newsroom’s integrity. I never became as intimidating as Bradlee (or the Robards version of him). But they were somewhere in the back of my mind every time I told a reporter he or she didn’t have the story and needed to try one more source, verify or debunk one more report, push harder for a source to go on the record.

“You don’t have it,” might be an editor’s most important words to reporters, words that weren’t spoken often enough then and certainly aren’t today. But every time I spoke them, I knew I was echoing Bradlee.

I know I’m not alone in viewing Bradlee as the standard against which all editors are measured. I probably describe the experience of a generation or two of editors. We all aspired to be like Bradlee and we all fall short. I salute him for setting the standard so high. I’m not the one to measure how high I reached in journalism, but I know I reached my peak (or will) in pursuit of his example.

I never got to meet Bradlee, but I sat behind him in 2012 when Woodward and Bernstein headlined a 40th-anniversary panel discussion of Watergate reporting at the American Society of News Editors conference. Bradlee wasn’t on the panel but joined the discussion as his reporters deferred to him on a few questions. He was in his 90s then and you could see that he was fading. But he’ll never fade as an example to journalists.

As my former Omaha World-Herald colleague Ken Freed pointed out when I saluted Bradlee last night on Facebook, Bradlee himself was powerful, with close ties to the Kennedys. I’m not aware of any way that the Post, on his watch, went soft on the Kennedys. All media gave President John F. Kennedy a pass on reporting about his personal life, which was standard procedure in that time (and had been for Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower). And Kennedy’s presidency was before Bradlee took over the Post newsroom in 1965.

But I “liked” Ken’s observation anyway. Skepticism and pointing out something that might be unpopular seemed a fitting way to remember Ben Bradlee.

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Fareed Zakaria GPSIf David Carr of the New York Times had documented more than a dozen incidents of apparent plagiarism by Fareed Zakaria, Zakaria probably would have lost his jobs with prominent media outlets.

But the accusations come from writers identified only by two odd-sounding Twitter handles. The substance of the accusations by @blippoblappo and @crushingbort in their blog Our Bad Media gets lost because we don’t know the accusers.

Zakaria gave Politico a response to the initial accusations from Our Bad Media, denying any wrongdoing, but not addressing the substance of most of the 12 instances cited in a Aug. 19 post on Our Bad Media. I have not seen any response from him to their latest post, detailing six more instances of apparent plagiarism from his best-selling book, The Post-American World.

Looking at the substance of the accusations — side-by-side images highlighting verbatim and closely similar passages between Zakaria’s work and sources he never or barely cited — the offenses are similar to the 2012 plagiarism from a Jill Lepore article in the New Yorker, which brought Zakaria a suspension from the three media outlets that featured his work then. I haven’t checked them all out beyond looking at those images, but the checks I have made validate the accusations, and I presume we would have heard if any of them were not accurate.

(more…)

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I have said multiple times here that attribution is the difference between plagiarism and research.

I also have said many times that linking is a matter of journalism ethics and that if journalists were expected to link to their digital sources, editors would prevent plagiarism more effectively and detect it more quickly.

Fareed Zakaria apparently did more research than attribution in some of his work for Time, CNN and the Washington Post. And his failure to link to sources — and his newsrooms’ failure to demand links — has damaged his credibility as a journalist, however this latest accusation plays out.

The media watchdogs who caught Buzzfeed editor Benny Johnson plagiarizing, known only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, have documented a dozen cases of apparent plagiarism by Zakaria. All of the incidents they cite occurred prior to the 2012 incident when Zakaria was suspended for plagiarizing the work of the New Yorker’s Jill LePore.

His employers then said they reviewed his previous work, satisfying themselves that the theft was, in the words of Time’s official statement, “an isolated incident.” On their Our Bad Media blog, the watchdogs say that they needed only “less than an hour and a few Google searches” to find a dozen examples of Zakaria using verbatim passages or lightly rewritten passages from other news sources. So they rightly question how rigorously Zakaria’s employers reviewed his work, a question Craig Silverman raised in 2012. (more…)

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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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