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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Keller’

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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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):

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Most top newsroom editors have ignored (or never heard or read) my repeated encouragement that they should be active users of Twitter.

The sorry fact is that, as many times as journalists and newsmakers have proven what an important tool Twitter is, most top editors still don’t engage on Twitter.
Prompted by Boston Globe Editor Marty Baron’s first tweet (upon which I commented on Twitter), Poynter blogger Jim Romenesko Monday checked the Twitter profiles of the editors of the 10 largest newspapers in the United States. The second or third most-active Twitter user of the group was Bill Keller of the New York Times, who has tweeted only 42 times and who famously tweeted and blogged about how stupid Twitter is (more on Keller later). (more…)

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Journalists hate few things more than buzzwords. Many of us regard ourselves as guardians of the language (as if protecting the First Amendment and being watchdogs of the powerful weren’t enough guard duties). Buzzwords feel to many purists as some kind of assault on the language.

Washington Post ombudsman Patrick B. Pexton writes scornfully of my pursuit in his column today:

This is what “engagement” — the buzzword of media theorists and marketers — is all about. It’s using Twitter and Facebook to build a tribe or family of followers, even disciples, who will keep reading you.

I won’t try here to set Pexton straight on what engagement is all about, though my earlier post explaining community engagement might educate him a bit. What I want to address here is the widespread dismissal of new terminology by my fellow veteran journalists.

(more…)

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The crowd can save your journalism career.

I encourage any journalist to read Journal Register Co. CEO John Paton’s message to last week’s WAN/IFRA International Newsroom Summit: How The Crowd Saved Our Company. (I also encourage media executives to read John’s message, but I’m writing here about individual journalists seeking career success in a time of great upheaval.)

I want to suggest how individual journalists can learn from the JRC experience that John shared. I won’t belabor what John said about how the newspaper model is broken and can’t be fixed. I’ve said that plenty of times myself, and if you’re still in denial about that, you’re not ready for the rest of his message or mine. John concluded that discussion with this important point:

You don’t transform from broken.

You don’t tinker or tweak.

You start again anew and build from the ground up.

John was providing advice for his fellow executives for building their organizations from the ground up. I’ll focus on advice for the journalist hoping to make yourself a valuable asset for such a starting-anew organization. (more…)

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As my wife, Mimi Johnson, and I were making plans to spend a few days in southeast Utah enjoying canyons and arches before I start my new job, she made a simple, but firm request: I needed to unplug. Yeah, I’m mostly wireless these days, but I knew what she meant: Put away the laptop, put away the iPhone (except to take photos). No blogging, no tweeting, no reading important or interesting links.

But yesterday morning before we left Salt Lake City, while I was leading the workshop that brought us to Utah, Bill Keller got Mimi all stirred up. And she hadn’t brought her laptop. She can’t post from her iPad to her blog (a really good blog; if you missed her post about me leaving newspapers last year, it’s worth catching up). She also can’t post to her blog from my laptop. So she commandeered my laptop last night (she knew I wasn’t going to be using it) to write a guest post for me. As you’ll see, she’s addressing an issue I might have written about anyway. Better that you get it from the best writer in our family:

It was with some reluctance yesterday that I pointed out Bill Keller’s latest column for the New York Times Magazine to my husband. I have been known to scold Steve for being too strident, especially when it comes to The Times’ paywall experiment and Mr. Keller’s opinions on social media. So I was relieved when Steve posted one amusing tweet on the column and then sighed, “I’ve written enough about Bill Keller.”

“Good,” I said. Good. And then I was the one who just couldn’t let it go. As my mother used to say, “I did not care for his tone.” (more…)

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Janet Coats articulated better than I did the problem with the New York Times paywall: It reveals, she says, a “vision very much preoccupied with the rearview mirror.”

Janet, former editor of the Tampa Tribune and the Sarasota Herald-Tribune (owned by the New York Times Regional Newspaper Group), notes how quickly last week’s paywall announcement followed Times Editor Bill Keller’s column about aggregation (which required a second attempt). (more…)

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