Posts Tagged ‘Journalism’

This is the news for April First

April 1, 2014

Hat tip to Gin and Tacos.

And now a word from our sponsor.

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Washington Post maps that explain the world

August 27, 2013

Max Fisher of the Washington Post has compiled 40 interesting maps that do throw a lot of light on what’s going on in the world.   I linked to some of them in my posts on country comparisons of religion and IQ and racism and diversity.

You can click on 40 maps to see them all, starting with a geopolitical map of world powers as of 200 A.D. and ending with an interactive time-lapse map of the earth as seen from space over 12 months.

Many of the maps have links to accompanying Washington Post article.  If the video link above doesn’t work, you should be able to see the same video on the 40 maps link.

What we’d know if news media were liberal

August 13, 2013

Jack Akadjian, who writes for the Daily Kos web log, recently listed 15 things that all Americans would know if the news medical really were liberal.

1.  Where the jobs went.

2.  Upward wealth redistribution and/or inequaliy.

3.  ALEC.

4.  The number of people in prison.

5.  The number of black people in prison.

6.  U.S. health care costs are the highest in the world.

7.  Glass-Steagall.

8.  Gerrymandering.

9.  The number of bills blocked by Republicans in Congress.

10.  The Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

11.  Nixon’s Southern Strategy.

12.  Tax cuts primary benefit the rich.

13.  What’s happened to the bees.

14.  The impact of temporary workers on the economy.

15.  Media consolidation.

For details, click on 15 things everyone would know if there were a liberal media.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to buy Washington Post

August 6, 2013

Jeff Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, will buy the Washington Post for $250 million.  I suppose it is not as bad as the Post being bought by the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch.  We’ll see.

Bezos’ politics might be described as Silicon Valley liberalism.  He is a champion of gay rights, but not in the right of his employees to decent working conditions.

I worked on newspapers for 40 years, and liked to believe that journalism was a calling and more than just a way for journalists to earn a salary and owners to earn a profit.

Most (not all) of the historically great American newspapers were owned by families who believed in the newspapers’ mission, rather than by corporations whose main business was elsewhere.

Bezos will own the Washington Post as an individual and incorporate it into Amazon, so he doesn’t fall into either category.  It will be interesting to see what his intentions are.

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The Koch threat to independent newspapers

August 2, 2013

The billionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, are the fourth and fifth richest Americans, according to Forbes magazine.  They own Koch Industries, a conglomerate corporation founded by their father, Fred Koch, which Forbes says is the second largest privately-held American company.

Little known to the general public, they have spent decades funding right-wing, conservative and libertarian organizations, such as the Cato Institute, the Federalist Society, Americans for Prosperity, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council.

They reportedly are interested in acquiring the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun and other newspapers owned by the Tribune Company.

My friend Anne Tanner e-mailed me a copy of this letter from David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of The Wire television series, about his concerns regarding the possible Koch takeover.

Dear Friend,

Strange that I acquired a certain notoriety and success writing television drama, yet for some dumb luck, I’d be in a newsroom somewhere watching what is happening to American journalism and wondering when anyone is going to speak up and act.  Yes, I make television now; but The Wire and Treme are narratives rooted in what I came to value in print journalism, and the world that the Baltimore Sun opened up for me when I arrived in that city, fresh out of college.

A newspaper — an honest one — was a marvelous place to learn about the world and to convey what is learned to the community it serves.  But this is only true, of course, if the newspaper is of and for the community and if it values its daily report more than any pre-determined point of view.  So it is alarming to me that the Koch brothers, the billionaire duo so actively engaged in supporting a particular political ideology, are interested in buying the Baltimore Sun and a dozen other newspapers including the Los Angeles Times , the Chicago Tribune and the Hartford Courant .

Join me in signing a petition asking the Tribune Company not to sell to the Koch brothers, and to instead support the local ownership of American news organizations.

My concern does not stem from my distaste for the Koch brothers’ right-wing ideology.  I would be appalled if, say, Arianna Huffington or Ralph Nader or any other politically engaged voice was attempting to buy my local newspaper.  Good journalism needs to be unaligned and indifferent to ideological cant and partisan politics; it needs to be about the acquisition of unaligned fact.

There are many who claim the internet has rendered professional reporting obsolete; that the careful, impartial coverage of an increasingly complex world can be left in the hands of citizen bloggers, that no one needs to be paid to cover institutions consistently and with unbiased and ethical rigor.

I don’t agree.  Reporting is a delicate and professional endeavor.  And maintaining that endeavor is the only way to maintain an open and honest society.  This will remain true whether a news report is delivered digitally or in print, and supporting professional journalism with a revenue stream that is rooted in a committed hometown readership that trusts its local newspaper.

The original sin of American journalism is having listened to Wall Street four decades ago, when it was first suggested that out-of-town ownership by publicly-traded chains were the optimum means of assuring profit and viability.  The seeds of this disaster predate not only the Koch brothers, or the internet, or even the Tribune ownership of my hometown paper.  It goes back nearly three decades to the moment when local ownership of that paper passed from Baltimoreans to those who did not live, or work, or live and die with this city.

Wall Street is very good at manufacturing short-term profit and little else.  And political ideologues are very good at manufacturing a stunted political argument. But for a newspaper to serve its community with care and precision and dedication, the newspaper must be of the city and a part of the city — and beholden only to that city.

To that end, there are Baltimore-based consortiums who have made clear to the Tribune Company that they are ready and willing to purchase the Baltimore Sun and operate the newspaper as a locally-owned enterprise.  There are people in my city who understand that a first-rate metropolis requires a daily paper that is not merely a vessel for profit or ideology, but rather for unbiased, unaligned and properly supported journalism.  And the Tribune company, in divesting itself of its newspaper assets with an eye to local ownership, could undo the great damage that news-chain journalism has done to our civic life.

A sale to the Koch brothers would indeed be a journey from bad to worse.  The only way to restore print journalism for the civic good is to have it practiced and owned by those who live in and are dedicated to the community itself.

Join me in asking the Tribune papers not to sell to the Koch brothers.

David Simon
Baltimore, Maryland

Click on Working Families to sign the petition.

[Update 8/5/13]  Another threat.  Washington Post to be sold to Jeff BezosIt is always a problem when a newspaper or news broadcaster is a component of a corporation in some other line of business, which has interests that will be affected by the way news is covered.  In this case, Jeff Bezos is buying the business as an individual rather than as CEO of Amazon, but the principle is the same.

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For an idea of the Koch brothers’ power and influence, click on the following links.

Inside the Koch Empire: How the Brothers Plan to Reshape America by Daniel Fisher in Forbes.

Political activities of the Koch brothers on Wikipedia.

The Koch Club – Koch millions spread influence through nonprofits, colleges by the Investigative Reporting Workshop of American University’s journalism school

Koch Brothers Influence Peddling Exposed for highlights of the AU students’ report on Daily Kos.

Affirmative action for conservatives?

July 1, 2013

Back when I was a reporter for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, our city editor once did an informal poll on our internal e-mail system as to what reporters and editors thought about the topic of abortion.

Not all the reporters and editors responded, but of those who did, there was a large number (including me) who were pro-choice and one brave lonely individual who was pro-life.

I recalled this the other day when I read that the University of Colorado Board of Regents intended to conduct a survey to determine whether conservatives and conservative viewpoints were underrepresented on the university’s faculty.

newspaper-2In the case of the D&C newsroom, I think our near-unanimity was a handicap in doing justice to both sides.  We all tried to be as fair to all points of view as we could, but you never know what you are unconsciously taking for granted until you interact with someone whose assumptions are different.

I don’t what could have been done about this imbalance.  Nobody asked my political opinions when I was interviewed for the job.  I don’t think that would have been a proper question to ask, any more than a question about my religion.  If a newspaper were ever to start an intentional policy of hiring more conservatives and Republicans, what they would get is a lot of opportunists claiming to be whatever they thought would get them hired.

It is a fact of life that certain occupations attract certain types of people, and it is also a fact of life that working in certain occupations gives you a certain point of view.  I doubt you would find, to pick a few random examples, that the political opinions of military officers, climate scientists, engineers or bankers necessarily represent a cross-section of the population.

Looking back on my own work, I think I was biased not so much liberal or conservative as biased toward the point of view of the people I covered—in my case, the Rochester business community.  This is an old and familiar tendency in newspaper work.  The sports writer becomes a fan of the home team, the police reporter take on the point of view of the police, the political reporter starts to think of herself as a political insider.

The answer is not to try to correct a bias with a corresponding opposite bias, and certainly not to put journalism under the supervision of politicians, but to strive for professionalism, which means reporting the relevant facts as accurately and completely as you can, stating opposing views fairly and being willing to acknowledge errors and inconvenient truths.

I don’t in fact think we did a bad job of covering the abortion issue.  Both sides complained about our coverage in about equal measure.

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Click on University of Colorado plan to survey political climate draws mixed reactions for a report on the Colorado regents’ plan.  I found the link on the Unqualified Offerings web log.  I agree with  “Thoreau” on Class is a battlefield and Samuel Goldman of The American Conservative on Trolling for Conservatives.

What do you think?

Julian Assange on the Bradley Manning show trial

June 25, 2013

Julian Assange said in an interview Monday that the Bradley Manning court-martial is a show trial.   Just like the show trials in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the verdict has been pre-determined, and the purpose of the trial is to convince the public of the defendant’s guilt.

The judge has ruled out the Manning’s lawyers main line of defense, which is that the information he released was wrongly over-classified, and allowed only one of 33 witnesses the defense wanted to call.  The prosecution will call 141 witnesses, some of whom will present their testimony in secret.  Access by the press is controlled, and less than a quarter of those who applied were granted press credentials.

Assange pointed out that many American newspapers published articles using the information Manning revealed, but not one of them contributed to Manning’s defense fund.  Some reporters may have done so individually, however.

Links for weekend browsing 5/31/13

May 31, 2013

Here are links to articles I found interesting, and you might find interesting, too.

Our American Pravda by Ron Unz.

The publisher of the American Conservative writes that many important news stories are ignored by the major U.S. newspapers and broadcasters, including the mystery of the 2001 anthrax attacks, evidence that American POWs were left behind in Vietnam and charges by an FBI whistleblower of a high-level espionage ring.  Ron Unz says you need to use the Internet to find the real news.

Postal service is on its last legs, with little help in sight in the Los Angeles Times.

OC&LpostofficeAs a government corporation, the U.S. Postal Service has the worst of both worlds—a requirement to make a profit, but no freedom of action to do the things necessary to make a profit.  Even so, the USPS might be able to survive if not for the requirement that it fund retirement benefits 50 years in advance—far longer than the USPS is likely to be in existence, unless things change.

At Universities, Too, the Rich Grow Richer by Lawrence Wittner.

Graham Spanier, the president of Pennsylvania State University, received $2.9 million in salary for the 2011-2012 academic year, the year he was forced to resign in disgrace over the Penn State pedophile scandal.   He is an example of how state universities reflect the U.S. trend to huge compensation packages for top executives, wage stagnation for middle-level workers and a growing number of low-paid temporary workers (adjuncts) at the bottom.

Why is the FBI helping a monstrous dictator? by Ted Rall.

A cartoonist and syndicated columnist asks why the FBI has arrested an opponent of Uzbekistan’s corrupt and hated dictator, Islam Karimov, who has massacred his own people and literally boiled opponents alive.  Karimov was so odious that the Bush administration severed relations, but the Obama administration restored the connection, because of Uzbekistan’s strategic location and Karimov’s help in prosecuting the war in Afghanistan.

Are journalists biased in favor of abortion?

April 19, 2013

Back in the 1980s, when I was a reporter for the Rochester (NY) Democrat and Chronicle, we had a managing editor who used the newsroom e-mail system to provoke discussion and bring the newsroom closer together as a group.  One day he conducted a poll on whether we were pro-choice or pro-life.   Some of us declined to answer, but of those who did, all (including me) were in favor of abortion rights, except for one person.

Did this raise questions about whether we could be balanced our coverage?  Maybe it did, although we seemed to get the same number of complaints from the pro-choice and pro-life sides.   To the extent this was a problem, I don’t know what we could have done about it, except to try extra-hard to be fair to the side we didn’t agree with.   Nobody asked my opinion on this or any other controversial issue when I was interviewed for the job, and for obvious reasons I don’t think newsrooms would benefit from affirmative action policies for conservatives.

Journalism is a field which attracts people with particular sets of values, as does medicine, law, teaching, police work, military service and entrepreneurial business, and these values affect your outlook.   That’s just how things are.

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

Dr. Kermit Gosnell

The reason I write about this subject today is that a lot of people evidently think that (1) the murder trial of abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell should have got more coverage than it did and (2) the reason it didn’t is that journalists are biased in favor of abortion.

Based on my newspaper experience, I think you have to turn to Chaos Theory to explain why some events become national news and others are only local news.   If bias caused the Gosnell case to be under-reporter, this bias affected the right-wing press such as Fox News and the Wall Street Journal as much as it did CNN and the Washington Post.   In any case, it is front-page news now.

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“Good Night and Good Luck”

October 6, 2012

Watching this excellent docudrama about Edward R. Murrow’s battle with Senator Joe McCarthy took me back, in imagination, to those days.  In 1953 and 1954, when the events of this movie took place, I was a college student in Wisconsin.   I listened faithfully to Edward R. Murrow’s CBS radio news broadcasts, and admired his use of language—precise, strong, not a word wasted and his tone of voice full of majesterial disdain for liars and demagogues.   I don’t remember whether I viewed Murrow’s CBS TV documentary on McCarthy when it was originally broadcast, but later, but I greatly admired it for the same reasons.

I watched it the other night on DVD at the home of my radical friend Larry, who pointed out that the time frame of the movie coincided with the CIA-sponsored coups against the elected governments of Iran in 1953 and Guatemala in 1954—both of which planted the seeds of the tragic histories of those two countries down to this day.  I don’t remember if Murrow ever did broadcasts on those two events.  At the time they did not loom large in my consciousness.  To the extent that I thought about them, I thought about them not as examples of American imperialism, but as episodes in the global struggle against totalitarian Communism.

My writings for the student newspaper were about academic freedom, which all educated, right-thinking people were for, and about racial discrimination, which all educated right-thinking people were against.  I thought the danger to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights came from demagogues like McCarthy and the Southern segregationists.  I did not think there was anything systemically wrong with the basic institutions of American society, nor did Edward R. Murrow.

It is only in the past 20 years, and especially the past 10 years, that I have begun to see that I was wrong, and radical friends such as Larry were right.  U.S. government policies that I saw as byproducts of the struggle against Communism continued and grew stronger after the fall of Communism.

The movie depicts a program that Murrow did defending Milo Radulovich, an Air Force lieutenant who lost his commission on the grounds that he had been determined to be a security risk on the basis of secret information.  He had been asked to sever ties with his immigrant father, who subscribed to a Serbian-language newspaper published on Communist Yugoslavia, and his sister, who allegedly was active in liberal and left-wing causes.

Today this seems almost quaint.  The U.S. government now uses secret information to designate people for “targeted killing”.


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