Monday, August 29, 2011

Readers, communities lose big when media execs shutter newsrooms

Northern California has a "news emergency," according to digital news observer and author Ken Doctor (Newsonomics) and radio listeners phoning in about the Bay Area News Group combining 10 of its 15 titles into two new ones: the Times and the East Bay Tribune.

The 137-year-old Oakland Tribune was one of the papers closed.

The business decision may result in gains in savings, but it'll also mean reader loss, Doctor says.

"It's a community loss and points to the wider impact of news cuts on the society in which we live," he writes, recalling a caller bemoaning fewer reporters.

"'The news is our last great hope for justice'," Doctor quotes a woman who advocates for the elderly and hasn't been able to get help from local government. "'We've been working with a reporter... and to see the newspapers get cut back is really hard'."

The corporate decision-makers are being short-sighted, Doctor says.

"Newspapers are all about community identity; they have both reflected it and provided rallying symbols for it," he says. "How many corruptions, large and small, [will be] unfound? We don't know what we don't know.

"How much of the reporting that does see the light of day will be 'local'?" he continues. "What's local to one reader [of the new regional papers] won't really be local to another."

Nevertheless, it's up to the reporters, photographers and editors to persevere --- and hopefully prosper individually in their careers.

"It's important for all the journalists to do what jouralists need to do: Forget the uncertain usiness around them and report the news as best they can," Doctor says.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Two sentenced for killing journalist

Two Bay Area men were found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with the murder of newspaperman Chauncey Bailey -- the first U.S. journalist killed in the United States for reporting a story in 19 years.

Bailey was shot to death in broad daylight on a busy street on Aug. 2, 2007, while walking to his newspaper, the Oakland Post. He'd been investigating the group called Your Black Muslim Bakery.

Convicted of shooting the reporter with a shotgun was Yusef Bey IV; convicted of murder for his part as Bey's getaway driver was Antoine Mackey.

"This sends a signal to those who would violently attack the press in the United States that they will not get away with it," said Frank Smyth, Journalist Security Coordinator fofr the Committee to protect Journalists (CPJ).

CPJ's web site is

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Advice for J students from OJR

Incoming journalism students should take a science lab course, learn about business and network, according to writer Robert Niles (at right), whose tips appear in Online Journalism Review.

The laboratory science course can implicitly teach the scientific method, which can help aspiring journalists appreciate the goal of being "objective" -- or at least complete, fair and accurate.

Involvement in a business or even a student organization can expose students to the nitty-gritty of dollars and (financial) sense.

And networking extends from access to opportunities to developing sources.

"Without sources, you are a novelist," Niles writes. "(Not that there's anything wrong with that.) Use your non-journalism classes to build your personal network. Publish on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. Blog. Video blog. Make meeting and conversing with people your addiction. Fail to network responsibly, and all the smarts in the world won't help you succeed."

Print better than online for retention: study

People who read newspapers "remember significantly more news stories than online news readers"; print readers "remembered significantly more topics than online newsreaders"; and print readers remembered "more main points of news stories," according to study presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The paper, "Medium Matters: Newsreaders' Recall and Engagement With Online and Print Newspapers," by Arthur D. Santana, Randall Livingstone, and Yoon Cho of the University of Oregon.

Reporting on, "Press box" columnist Jack Shafer recounted his own unsuccessful attempt to go "print-free."

"What I really found myself missing was the news," Shafer writes. "Even though I spent ample time clicking through the Times website and the Reader, I quickly determined that I wasn't recalling as much of the newspaper as I should be."

"Online newspapers tend to give few cues about a story's importance," he continued, "and the 'agenda-setting function' of newspapers gets lost in the process. 'Online readers are apt to acquire less information about national, international and political events than print newsreaders because of the lack of salience cues; they generally are not being told what to read via story placement and prominence—an enduring feature of the print product,' the [AEJMC] researchers write. The paper finds no evidence that the 'dynamic online story forms' (you know, multimedia stuff) have made stories more memorable."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Whistleblower case plea deal not reassuring

This summer, federal prosecutors agreed to a deal with a whistleblower that avoided a trial (and public disclosure of information the government prefers to keep secret), but civil libertarians and journalists haven't been reassured that the Obama administration's zeal to vigorously stop leaks won't continue-- and have dire effects on transparency and on basic reporting.

Ex-National Security Agency official Thomas Drake (pictured above in a shot from the Government Accountability Project) was charged with violating the Espionage Act by giving classified information to a Baltimore Sun reporter, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser misdemeanor. Drake's defense was that he was a whistleblower exposing waste in an NSA program after his superiors ignored his concerns.

Journalists are very sensitive to the case -- and the federal government's targeting whistleblowers -- because journalists by the nature of newsgathering could be interpreted as co-conspirators.

"Because reporters often retain unauthorized defense documents, Drake's conviction would estbalish a legal precedent making it possible to prosecute journalists," wrote Jane Mayer in The New Yorker magazine.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, predicted the administration will continue to pursue whistleblowers at intelligence agencies “very, very aggressively.”

For more coverage and context, check out Mayer's piece (, Scott Horton's piece in Harper's (, and Pete Yost's Associated Press story from Army Times (

Friday, August 19, 2011

GJR criticizes investigative reporting

Former Chicago Tribune reporter and editorial board member in the new Gateway Journalism Review blasts investigative journalists and their editors for concentrating too much on public-affairs reporting and not enough on the private sector.

McCarron appropriately points out that, too often, it's easier to investigate public bodies that, at least on paper, must adhere to Freedom of Information Act rules and similar public-access measures.

However, by charging that focusing on goverenment malfeasance contributes to a public disdain for government, he overlooks the obvious: the facts.

The truth is, some local, state and government officials do act with disregard for the public they purportedly serve. The chips sometimes fall where they may.

It's also true, nevertheless, that reporters must also do the extra shoe-leather work and sourcing needed to cover local businesses, corporations and interests that are far less transparent than government is at least supposed to be. Otherwise, such prominent forces in the community are not fully covered.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

UK's Cameron threatens to block social media

Bloomberg reports that Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom is considering blocking social media, which he blames for facilitating some of the unrest that's hit England in recent weeks.

Cameron apparently learned little from similar attempts in Egypt and other "Arab Spring" sites that ignored reasons for unrest, and is focusing on tools some ruffians may be using as opposed to the property damage, thefts and other crimes that have happened.

“If you try to stop people communicating, you create more of a problem,” said Jim Killock, director of the Open Rights Group, an organization promoting freedom of expression on the Internet.

Speaking to Bloomberg reporters Amy Thomson and Robert Hutton, Killock added, “People are angry because their freedoms are threatened.”

Illustration from

ABC-TV 'bans' checkbook journalism

ABC News has dropped the network's practice of paying subjects of news stories for exclusive interviews, media critic Howard Kurtz recently reported.

It's also addressed in the current issue of Quill magazine, published by the Society of Professional Journalists. There, columnist Mike Farrell reminds readers of ABC News having paid more than $10,000 to buy pictures tied to disgraced Congressman Anthony Wiener's "smartphone stupidity" and $200,000 to exonerated murder defendant Casey Anthony for family photos and videos.

ABC also paid $10,000 to a woman who said she'd injected Botox into her 8-year-old daughter.

Farrell reports perspectives from insiders and experts, too.

"What happens to journalism when sources agree to interviews only when they are paid?" he asks. "Media ethicist John Michael Kittross has argued that 'treating news as a commodity eventually will destroy journalism as a public benefit'.”

ABC spokesman Jeffrey Schneider, meanwhile, told Kurtz that ABC News isn't too worried about stopping the pay-off practice.

"We can book just about anyone based on the strength of our journalism, the excellence of our anchors, correspondent and producers, and the size of our audience," Schneider said.

Elsewhere, SPJ president Hagit Limor said, “When you pay for a story, you’re making a contract with the person who supplies it, and that means you’re no longer acting independently."

Monday, August 15, 2011

New ethics for local journalism?

The new "Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism" from J-Lab is somehow reminiscent of the supposed exchange when non-violent anti-imperialist Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization.

"It would be a good idea," he said.

However, J-Lab's Jan Schaffer and others apparently think hyperlocal, online news sites are developing faster than common sense, so something is needed.

"These 'Rules of the Road' are very much a work in progress," Schaffer writes, "shaped by a news landscape in which:
*The threshold for news is lower. Misdemeanors, not just felonies, constitute news,
*Stories unravel in real time. Editors post updates as they come in rather than wait for a fully baked story,
*'Google juice' makes micro news have a macro afterlife,
*Ethical decisions are as open to community feedback as the stories themselves, and
*Attachment to the community is valued more than dispassionate detachment."

Still, one wonders whether new sources for journalism would do well to abide by the tried-and-true code of ethics the Society of Professional Journalists has, broadly summarizing four main points:
*Seek truth and report it fully,
*Act independently
*Minimize harm, and
*Be accountable.

For details or a free copy of the 52-page booklet, go to and click on "Get the pdf."

Obama's EPA uses 'minders' to clamp down on openness

For all the President's talk about transparency and openness, his Environmental Protection Agency is planning to institute a policy that employees must get permission to talk to journalists, according to a short but detailed report from the Society for Environmental Journalists (SEJ).

SEJ and other press groups have opposed such restrictions, but the policy could go in to effect unless people object before the Sept. 6 deadline for public comment.

The "Scientific Integrity Policy" also mandates that bureaucraic "minders" from EPA's press office must sit in on all media interviews with scientists.

"We object to parts of the EPA draft policy that restrict news media access to EPA scientists," SEJ President Carolyn Whetzel said. "In some cases, the proposed policy is much more restrictive than the NASA or NOAA policies, or even the White House guidelines."

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Debt-ceiling crisis coverage lousy

By resorting to a picture of the recent debt-ceiling fight as two political sides equally sharing the blame of refusing to be reasonable, the news media successfully gave an impression of being an impartial observer of reality. However, since that wasn't what happened, mainstream journalism mosstly failed to tell the story in a complete, fair and accurate way.

That's according to an insightful posting by The Nation magazine contributor Ari Melber, whose reporting includes blasting a typical take on the wrangling about approving an increase in what the federal government may borrow to pay bills it already incurred.

"Take this headline, running at the top of CNN [which Fox News calls "liberal"] a day after President Obama’s national address," Melber writes:

" 'They’re all talking, but no one is compromising, at least publicly. Democratic and GOP leaders appear unwilling to bend on proposals to raise the debt ceiling.'

"Journalist Josh Marshall confronted that bizarro narrative with evidence of what’s actually happening. 'By any reasonable measure, this [CNN headline] is simply false, even painfully so'," Marshall said.

"Whether you think it’s good or bad, we have just seen one party’s leadership embrace the platform of the opposing party," Melber adds, "only to watch that party apparently back off its own original position. That’s news!"

Marshall continues, "It is not partisan or spin to say that the Democrats have repeatedly offered compromises. The real driver of the debate is that the fact that Republican majority in the House can’t agree to win."

"Editors or management will not accept a political story about one side being completely wrong," Melber wrote, "Or irrational. Or irresponsible. Because that 'can’t be the whole story!'

"And if you believe that, then your only response to the endgame of the debt crisis is total denial," he concluded. "That may be human, but it ain’t journalism."

Murdoch's goon squad

Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson has a good roundup of many of the allegations against media baron Rupert Murdoch in the August 18 issue of the magazine, and it may be somewhat surprising to learn of shenanigans beyond the ballyhooed phone-hacking flap in the United Kingdom.

The allegations range from weird payoffs and "settlements" to embarrassing coziness with politicians and what sure seems like paranoia and other issues by Fox News' Roger Ailes.

(Oddly, the periodical's web site retitled the feature to "Rupert Murdoch's American Scandals.")

Illustration from

Friday, August 12, 2011

Draft of personal column: 'Mom'

Below is a draft of a column I'm sending out next week to the six newspapers and one news site that get my twice-weekly column, FYI.

By Bill Knight

Fireflies floated free from a field of corn moments after Mom died around dusk on a Sunday a month ago.

When someone close passes on or is in danger, swelling up in us all is fear, impotence or anger. So people reach out and reach in.

Prayer might connect the impulses to look outward and inward, although skeptics scoff, dismissing prayer as talking to yourself. Arguing, even.

But when my mother had become unexpectedly ill, I reached out, looking for a “life line” maybe, through emails, Facebook and conversations with friends. I also felt guilty somehow, remembering a line in my morning prayer: “Encourage my weak faith.”

As people grieve, there’s contact with others, plus flowers and cards, kind comments and heartfelt hugs from close friends and total strangers. Family flew in from the West; pals drove hours to be at the funeral. I heard from my book club, softball team, work, church. Also, some guy in Warren County mailed a memorial donation, and a woman in Fulton County sent a nice note. Neighbors and folks I hadn’t seen in decades – including girlfriends from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s – expressed sympathy.


For journalists, writing obituaries for friends or family is a particularly profound blessing and burden. None fully captures a life.

Born in 1930, in Keokuk, Iowa, Mom spent much of her childhood in Kentucky before returning to Keokuk, where she attended high school. She married Dad in 1949. She leaves him behind, along with my brother and me, our wives and a grandson.

A petite woman – she described herself as “five-foot-nothin’ ” – she was a homemaker and occasional employee at a friend’s small business, active in her church and a volunteer with groups ranging from Scouts to her local hospital in Carthage. She took pleasure in family, gardening, dancing and playing bridge.

There’s more beyond such basics. Reaching in, random memories are ignited.

She enjoyed cooking and creepy novels, and loved animals, from trying to save downed birds and baby bunnies in the backyard, to many beloved cats and dogs.

Humble and stubborn, easy-going but organized, Mom was an amateur archivist of sorts, keeping scrapbooks and genealogical background librarians would envy. She had simple tastes – buttermilk, horehound hard candy, Elvis, Betty Boop – but also was unexpectedly adventurous, like driving 800 miles by herself to visit relatives, or flying in a barnstorming bi-plane that offered rides during a rural stop.

She’d told me how, as a teen-age mom, she’d been fearful and frustrated, which probably explained her being judgmental without condemning others.

“Oh, well,” she’d say. “Live and let live.”

She wasn’t political but paid attention. An Eisenhower Republican, she was drawn to Reagan’s personality, but was put off by the more patrician Bushes. She came to like Bill Clinton and was happy to vote for Barack Obama. She wasn’t exactly athletic but played golf in a determined style, shooting short but straight at the pin while around her long drives were in the woods, and becoming a good putter, tapping the ball and, as it approached the cup, exclaiming, “One time!” It often was.

Smaller memories endure. Mom taught me how to skip as we walked to the hospital, where my baby brother was getting out after being treated for croup; she typed one of the first papers I wrote, in 7th grade; she finished a model rocket for me after I’d given up, in tears, and went to bed when I was about 9.

However, we also argued frequently for 20 years, until the ’70s. Mom scolded me as always opposed to things – an “aginner!” she called me – but she wasn’t my harshest critic. In fact, she could be a heckuva cheerleader. She gave me warm support when I did OK; for decades every word I wrote was done feeling Mom and Dad peering over my shoulders.

Mom was deceptively, sometimes inadvertently, funny. After one road trip with dogs staying rowdy despite sedatives from the vet, she announced, “Next time, I’LL take the tranquilizers.”
Another time, no doubt frustrated with two teens’ appetites, she questioned cooking at all, quipping, “Why bother! You’ll just EAT IT!”

She had a catch phrase – “Yeah, RIGHT!” – as in one conversation, in which I said, “Considering I was 7 when my appendix burst and you had to drain my gut, you’ve had to deal with my crap for 50 years.”

“Yeah, RIGHT!” she smiled.


It’d be an unhappy, hollow place if souls of such goodness and grit in some way didn’t live on.
But frankly, I felt somewhat abandoned until I stumbled on a line from Scripture, where God tells Isaiah, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.”

Now and then, here and there, things still seem empty. Then I answer myself: “But the sky seems full.”