Archive for August, 2015

Donald Trump’s obviously phony pandering to evangelical Christians, and his strong showing among them in polls, continue a decades-long tradition of Republican exploitation of conservative Christians.

Journalism has not often done a good job of covering the intersection of religion and politics, partly because the he-said-she-said story form and the tradition of “objective” journalism hinder journalists from calling bullshit on the hypocrisy and exploitation that many journalists see. And religious extremists wouldn’t care what journalists say anyway.

But here are some facts and observations from my decades of covering religion and politics as an editor and reporter, as well as many years when I had different journalistic duties, but still have watched in fascination as a voter:



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Times Livermore storyHow long after publication should a news organization be responsible for correcting a story whose very premise appears later to be bogus? And, if new documentation challenges the premise of an old story, should a news organization start its reporting over, either to correct the record or to confirm the integrity of its original work? How thoroughly should journalists check the credibility and claims of sources they feature in stories?

Those questions arose in a string of emails sent me recently by Nancy Levine, a San Francisco area executive recruiter who has been unsuccessful in seeking a correction to a 2007 New York Times story. Levine has exposed the premise of the Times story as apparently bogus. She is campaigning for a correction, and I think in an age when stories live online for years, the story needs a correction and a new examination by the Times.

This will be an extraordinarily long post, even for me, but I think the level of detail here is important. It’s discouraging to see how little verification too many journalists have done, and how reluctant news organizations can be to correct their errors. Is anything more fundamental to good journalism than getting facts right and correcting errors when we fail? The number of journalism organizations that fell down on this story, and continue to fall down, is shocking and discouraging.

And, if you’re one of those journalists who looks down your nose at BuzzFeed, prepare for your nose to be surprised. (more…)

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Two New Zealand journalism students, Bethany Murphy-Suddens and Cassie Arauzo, recently interviewed me for a project on journalism ethics and the issues technology has presented in the past 15 years.

Here is a Prezi on their project. Their video interview with me is part of the Prezi and also embedded below.

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Today’s live-TV killing in Virginia clearly was planned to bring as much attention to the killer as possible.

When media fall for this, they are telling other sick, twisted or just evil potential killers that they, too, can get lots of attention by using their guns in ways that the media find sensationalist.

I made my initial arguments on this case in the posts linked below and won’t belabor those arguments here. But some thoughts about how my ethical principles about refusing to provide the attention they seek might apply here:

  • Someone who attacks during a live telecast is seeking attention. Obviously you need to report the attack, but I would not broadcast the attack or make it available online.
  • While a killer is at large, identification is important news. So as soon as the killer’s identity was known, if he were still at large, I would publish name, photograph and any other information that would help the public report his location, apprehend him or seek safety if they saw him. Public safety overrides my belief that we should not give the killer attention.
  • Once the killer was dead, I would stop publishing his name or photograph.
  • I see no ethical justification for publishing videos shot by the killer. That is the ultimate in attention-seeking behavior.
  • You can report the mental health issues, gun access issues and other issues that a story presents without publicizing or profiling the killer.
  • My focus would be on the people who were killed or injured. They warrant media attention, not the person who was seeking it.

Previous posts on attention-seeking killers

News orgs should deny mass killers the attention they crave

Media feed mass killers’ desire for infamy and attention

Kudos to Charleston Post and Courier for putting mass killer’s name and photo inside newspaper

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This is a slightly edited version of an email I just sent to LSU Student Media alumni:

The LSU Office of Student Media will host a meeting of students and alumni interested in discussing the strategy for Student Media Saturday, Aug. 22, at noon in the Holliday Forum on the ground floor of the Journalism Building. Please spread the word to alumni you might know, either by sharing this link or by word of mouth.

We hope that people who have expressed interest in the future of the Daily Reveille and other Student Media matters will join us for this discussion.

No decisions will be made at this meeting — or have been made yet. But we want to hear from students, alumni, faculty and other interested members of the LSU community. We are holding this meeting on a Saturday to reduce conflicts with people’s jobs, though we know that we can’t pick a time that is ideal for everyone.

Students will be invited to attend this meeting as well, and some student leaders have been invited to speak at the opening of the meeting. We also will be discussing the strategy and related issues extensively with students at staff meetings the week of Aug. 17, expanding and continuing the discussions we’ve had by email, Google documents and in individual conversations since May.

The Manship School has graciously offered to sponsor lunch, since we didn’t want to spend Student Media funds on this meeting. We’ll start gathering around noon. After about a half-hour of lunch and informal discussions, we’ll start the discussion of strategy at about 12:30.

Please email me (stevebuttry@lsu.edu) if you plan to attend in person, so we have a number to plan for seating and refreshments.

Remote options for joining the meeting

We will offer options for those who cannot attend to join the discussion by audio or video. Below I outline the options for either a conference call the evening of Monday, Aug. 24 or joining the Aug. 22 discussion. Audio quality in the conference room likely will vary (we will try to encourage people to use microphones when commenting or asking questions, but some may not wait for the mic to reach them).
If you want to join the meeting by telephone and/or web:
Date and Time:
08/22/2015 12:30 PM US/Central (GMT-0500)
Online Meeting Link:
Dial-In Number:
(712) 775-7031 – United States
Please note: We are using a free conference-call service, so this is not a toll-free number. I recommend using a cellphone instead of a landline, presuming you have unlimited minutes or a high limit.
Access Code:
International Dial-In Numbers:
At the scheduled date and time of the meeting, dial into the conference line.  When prompted, enter the Access Code followed by the pound key. To join the online meeting, click on the online meeting link listed above and follow the prompts to join the meeting.
If you’d like to join by video using Google+ Hangout:
Email me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com and I will send you an invitation shortly before we start. Hangouts are limited to 10 people, so the first nine (I think the host counts) who request invitations will receive them.
If you’d like to watch a live video stream: 
I will be seeking student volunteers to shoot and livestream the discussion. If you want to watch a livestream, email me at stevebuttry@lsu.edu or stephenbuttry@gmail.com and I will send you a link if we will be doing that.
Because our time won’t work for everyone, and because audio of an in-person meeting is not always good, we will provide a separate conference-call opportunity to discuss the same issues. This conference call will be Monday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m. Use the same call-in number and access code as provided for the Aug. 22 meeting.

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No decisions have been made about the future of the Daily Reveille or any other product of LSU Student Media, and all decisions will be made in extensive consultation with the students working in our various media products.

A recent story in the Advocate, mentioning the possibility of cutting the Reveille from five days a week to one or two, generated a strong reaction among alumni and students, which we understand and welcome. Our driving concern in pursuing a new strategy for LSU Student Media is to continue providing an experience that will create such strong and passionate livelong connections.

Some of the reaction has understandably focused on the possibility of print frequency and has incorrectly presumed that this would be a decision made unilaterally by administrators. To ensure that everyone in this discussion knows all the facts, we want to clarify this situation:

  • The most important factors in whatever decisions we make will be serving the university community’s needs and providing relevant experience for our students to help them prepare for media careers. Our community’s heavy digital use is clear, and the importance of digital media will only grow during the careers of our students. We need to provide more and better digital products and more and better opportunities for today’s and tomorrow’s students to practice journalism and sales in digital media.
  • We have not decided to reduce the print frequency of the Daily Reveille, and we won’t in the fall semester at least. In fact, we are considering increasing the frequency this fall with Saturday editions, to be distributed at tailgate parties across campus, for every home game. While no final decision has been made in either matter, the game-day Reveille decision will come first, since we have to prepare quickly if we are going to launch that product.
  • Any changes to the Student Media leadership structure must be approved by the Student Media Board, which has student government, university and professional representation. We have informed the board about the discussions already taking place. We welcome board input on all matters we are considering and will submit all required matters to the board for approval.
  • Students have been involved in our discussions about the future from before Dean Jerry Ceppos hired me as director of Student Media. I explained my vision for a prosperous future for LSU Student Media in detail in the interview process, including at two meetings with students. Immediately on being hired in mid-May, I shared that vision in writing and in personal and telephone discussions with student leaders in the organization.
  • The timing of my hire, right as students were scattering for the summer, did not allow for a large meeting of all student leaders, but I continued the discussions by email, telephone, in individual meetings and on collaborative Google documents. In all of those conversations, I made clear that students would be involved at every step, and they have.
  • The only decision to change any existing product was initiated by Akeem Muhammad, the student editor of Legacy magazine. He proposed cutting print publication from four issues a year to two, with a stronger digital presence using Tumblr. I encouraged him to get started on those changes right away, and they have been incorporated into the 2015-16 budget.
  • Financial challenges facing LSU Student Media are serious, and we cannot continue to draw on our reserve fund at the rate we have the past two years. In trying to balance this year’s budget, we gave serious consideration to cutting the print frequency of the Reveille as early as the spring semester as a matter of necessity. We rejected that measure, for now, specifically because we wanted this decision, if it happens, to come only after discussions with the students and as part of an overall strategy to aggressively pursue digital opportunities. If we do not succeed in generating more revenue for LSU Student Media, finances may force such a decision in the future. But the only decision that has been made about the Reveille’s printing schedule is that it will continue at five days a week for the fall, unless we add a sixth day for home football games.
  • Our new advertising and marketing director, Molly Holmgren, just started Monday. We are confident that she will lead our sales and marketing teams to improved revenue performance. But in a time when newspaper ad revenue has been plunging nationally for nearly a decade, we cannot assume a return to our peak advertising levels. Our strategic discussions also include possible new products that could provide a healthier, diverse revenue stream to support Student Media.

We welcome the interest and passion about the Daily Reveille and the journalism experience and education we provide in LSU Student Media. All discussions and decisions about our future strategy will involve the students and will be made to provide the best experience and education for current and future students.

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AJR home pageWhen I first became aware of the Washington Journalism Review, it was a local magazine aspiring to a national profile in the narrow niche of journalists writing about other journalists.

Before long, WJR became AJR, the American Journalism Review. It remained based at the University of Maryland, but it did achieve that national profile. Along with the Columbia Journalism Review, Editor & Publisher magazine and perhaps a few others, it was a key place where journalists turned to read investigative stories, analysis or other sorts of coverage about our own profession and the businesses that supported it.

As digital publishing presented opportunities for other voices in the business, the field of journalists-covering-journalists grew and the magazines became less important, even though they all developed strong websites and didn’t simply publish their stories weekly or monthly.

Poynter and Nieman Lab became institutional leaders in the field, and individual bloggers, such as Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis, Margaret Sullivan (and earlier New York Times public editors, but Sullivan has been easily the strongest digital voice), Mathew Ingram and, I hope, yours truly, grew the field even further. Even late-night comedy became an important source of media commentary, with Jon Stewart’s regular mocking and commentary on journalism’s failings. (more…)

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