Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

The Wright Brothers by David McCulloughDavid McCullough’s The Wright Brothers is, of course, about aviation, but a few passages made me think about journalism.

After the Dec. 17, 1903 maiden flight of the Wright Flyer, the news coverage was, at least looking back more than a century later, embarrassing. Newspapers either whiffed on the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s historic achievement entirely or got major facts wrong.

The Wrights, who made their first successful engine-powered flight in Kitty Hawk, N.C., actually offered the story to their hometown papers back in Dayton, Ohio, where they operated a bicycle shop and had designed the plane. After his successful flight, Orville sent a telegraph home to his sister, Katharine, and older brother, Lorin:



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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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I remain an optimist that newspapers aren’t dying. But if they die, the cause of death will be suicide, not that the evil Internet killed them.

Hyperlinks are not a matter of life or death, even in the digital age. But failure to adapt can kill your business, or an entire industry, and hyperlinks are a key illustration of newspapers’ failure and unwillingness to adapt.

Shan Wang of the Nieman Lab addressed the issue of linking in a post yesterday (I did too; we were both responding to a post on linking by Margaret Sullivan, New York Times Public Editor).

This passage from Wang’s post was a facepalm moment for me that just illustrates how slow, reluctant and stupid newspapers have been in adapting to the challenges and opportunities of digital media: (more…)

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The New York Times often and flagrantly violates its own standards for attribution.

Executive Editor Dean Baquet ignored my call earlier this year for him to lose his famous temper about the Times’ casual and inexcusable promiscuity in the use of unnamed sources. I will try again (and invite him to respond), only this time I’ll include another issue of attribution: linking to digital sources.

First two disclaimers:

  1. I’ve written a lot about these two subjects before, both regarding journalism in general and regarding the Times. I apologize for any repetition. I will try to minimize and include links to previous posts at the end (and sprinkle them where relevant in this post).
  2. The Times is unquestionably, in my view, the most outstanding organization in journalism, with some of the highest standards in journalism. That’s what makes its daily disregard of its own standards in these two important areas so maddening.

I am writing about these attribution issues because they collided this week in two outstanding posts by others: (more…)

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New York Times story on John Nash's deathI saw a bit of sexism on display by media and Twitter users in noting the deaths of John and Alicia Nash, the couple whose lives were portrayed in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.”

The Nashes died in an accident Saturday while riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Two people died in the crash. Admittedly, one of them was a Nobel Prize winner whose mind was immortalized by Hollywood as “beautiful.” But the other passenger killed in the crash, was also a powerful character in the same movie, her portrayal by Jennifer Connelly winning an Oscar. But Alicia got no mention in the headline, tweet or lead of the New York Times:

As you can see from the screenshot above, Alicia Nash was in the photo the Times used and did get a mention in the second paragraph.

Clearly John Nash was the more famous half of the couple. He did have the “Beautiful Mind,” and his death was absolutely noteworthy. But isn’t an elderly couple dying together newsworthy in itself? Don’t lots of couples hope they will die together, rather than leaving one to mourn the other? Her death is an important part of this story.

And, oh, by the way, she was an outstanding and memorable character, too, in that movie. Wouldn’t her death, if she had died alone, have been worthy of a New York Times obituary (even with the gender imbalance of Times obits), headline and tweet? If she were the brilliant mathematician and Russell Crowe had won an Oscar for portraying her husband (he was nominated for an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind”), I think we can be pretty sure they would have shared mentions in the headlines and tweets.

And if you want to defend leaving her out, don’t use Twitter’s character count or the tighter counts of headlines as an excuse. Alicia is six characters, wife is four. Add a comma or an ampersand to either of those words and you can add an important newsworthy person and element to your tweet or headline for less than 10 characters. I’d like to hear a defense if you have one, but not that one.

While I single out the Times because it’s the most prominent newspaper, it was not alone in its focus on a single death from the crash:

Note that the New York Post uses a photo of Russell Crowe, but not Alicia Nash.

These media tweets didn’t mention Alicia Nash, but the accompanying headlines did:

This media tweet didn’t mention Alicia, but the cutline with the photograph did:

To be fair, some media outlets and journalists did mention Alicia Nash in their tweets about the crash, rarely by name:

Update: Here’s a tweet, called to my attention in a comment, that gave Alicia her due:

I’ll be inviting response from New York Times editors and will add it if they send anything. If you wrote one of the tweets above and would like to respond, I invite your feedback in the comments or on Twitter (I’ll add your tweet to the post if you mention me).

But let’s close with a little recognition for Alicia Nash, who died with her husband, John, in a crash Saturday:

Update: Tom McKay tweeted at me that he mentioned Alicia Nash in his headline.

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This week I saw a post from a Digital First Media newsroom in my Facebook news feed, and was surprised to see it there. I “liked” dozens of DFM newsrooms during my time there, but don’t particularly care to follow their news that much now.

So I decided to unlike the page. And, while I was at it, I went into the list of pages I liked and decided to unlike a bunch more — at least two dozen, maybe three (it was probably an oversight that I didn’t like all 75 DFM dailies and some weeklies). And most of them, I had no idea I was even following because, well, they never showed up in my news feed. In fact, I’m not sure how that one showed up the other day because I hadn’t seen it in ages. I only recognized two or three of the ones I dropped as occasionally showing up in my feed.*

That illustrates a problem for news brands. I know every one of those newsrooms I unfollowed has staff members faithfully posting all of their stories, or several stories they think have the most appeal, to their Facebook pages daily. And most of their “fans” never see most of their posts.

The most recent estimate I’ve seen of the percentage of fans seeing a typical post was 16 percent, and that was in 2012, and the figure has certainly dropped as Facebook has made several algorithm tweaks, all designed to make it harder for non-paying brands to get their posts seen.

Maybe the number is something like 10 percent these days, but it will frequently be many of the same people, and probably 70 to 80 percent of your fans almost never see a post. They’re surprised when you show up in their news feed, as I was when my former colleagues’ post showed up this week.

But Facebook traffic is growing in importance for news sites. Parse.ly reported last August that Facebook drives 70 million page views a month to news publishers, second only to Google and more than twice as much as Twitter.

In addition, Parse.ly reported this month that stories with a higher Facebook referral rate have a longer shelf life, attracting traffic over more days than stories that don’t get strong engagement. Higher Twitter referral rates also help shelf life, but not as long as on Facebook.

So Facebook is an important source of news-site traffic, but engagement on Facebook is more complicated than simply posting links there (since most people don’t see them). (more…)

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Jonathan Landay

Jonathan Landay

April 30 update: Jon Stewart interviewed Judith Miller, covering the aluminum tubes story discussed here.

I was perhaps not detailed enough in my criticism of Judith Miller’s memoir/fantasy book The Story: A Reporter’s Journey.

Jonathan Landay, a Knight-Ridder (now McClatchy) Washington reporter, nailed the story that Miller tragically botched in 2002-3 — pre-war intelligence about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He provided by email some details that I didn’t bother to round up.

It was self-abuse enough to read Miller’s book. I didn’t want to dig back and find the stories in question to check any of her claims in the book. And, after a quick read, I wanted to pump out my review, so I didn’t take the time to check exactly what was in the two Knight-Ridder stories she cited dismissively (or the many she ignored entirely).

Landay kindly filled in some gaps in an email exchange thanking me for my post (links added by me; I did finally look up those stories):

Just another thought: the story to which she referred in her book eviscerated — I like that word — her aluminum tubes story. She obliquely criticizes me for using only one named source, David Albright, despite the fact that virtually all of her sources were anonymous, especially on her tubes story.

OK, I just checked and in an article of nearly 3,500 words, Miller cited just two named sources. But one of the names was a pseudonym, “Ahmed al-Shemri,” an Iraqi defector who claimed to work in Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons program. He was quoted at length. Most of the rest of the article is attributed to various “Bush administration officials.” In The Story, Miller claims to have used lots of named sources in her WMD reporting. I’m not going to check all of her stories, but that wasn’t true of this one.

On Page 220 of The Story, in recounting how Times editors took her to task for failing to report the doubts revealed in a Landay article about whether the aluminum tubes could even be used as centrifuges to make nuclear weapons, Miller dismissed the Knight-Ridder story (though she attributed it to McClatchy) as based on unnamed sources: (more…)

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