As we try to unravel the whole Manti Te’o/”Lennay Kekua” mystery – is she dead? Is she alive? Does she exist? Was Te’o in on it or is he the biggest rube in America? – “sports journalists” (one of my favorite oxymorons, btw) are taking a right kicking, and deservedly so. Everybody out there who reported on the heartbreaking dead girlfriend story is now having to account for the willingness to push the narrative even once troubling discrepancies began to arise. Things like there was no death certificate. And Stanford never heard of her. And the police had no accident records. And shouldn’t there be hospital records? And wait – you’ve never met her? And so on. Continue reading Bad journalism: it isn’t just a Manti Te’o thing. Remember Columbine?
It’s no secret to Chelsea fans that the sporting press, such as it is, does not love us overmuch. Time and again, whether we’re reading a match report or an editorial “analysis” or listening to in-game commentary, we’re confronted with “journalists” who seem on the verge of bursting into song every time something bad happens to our side.
Fine. I can deal with this, and in a way it’s a badge of honor. Nobody bothers working up much in the way of snark or venom if you’re bottom of the table, do they? Still, as a guy who has been a journalism professor, it galls me at a professional level to see the media simply ignore the facts. Continue reading Mr. Booth goes to the theater, ESPN FC fails to mention that assassination thing: sports “journalism” strikes again
You know how every so often somebody will publish a list of the greatest rock bands in history? Those usually make for interesting reading. Beatles, check. Rolling Stones, check. Led Zeppelin, Radiohead, Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix Experience, U2, The Who, Nirvana, Celine Dion, REM… Wait, what? Back up.
Always happens. You have your obvious picks, you have some fresh blood that may be just controversial enough to spark conversation (and site traffic), and then you have your moments of pure barking idiocy that completely annihilate the credibility of the whole enterprise. As it turns out, the same thing happens when prestigious university faculties go about honoring the greatest journalists of the past century. Continue reading The Good, the Bad and the Butt-Ugly: NYU names its 100 outstanding journalists in the US in the last century
Part 2 of a series; Previously: What Bell Labs and French Intellectuals Can Tell Us About Cronkite and Couric
The Signal-to-Noise Journey of American Media
The 20th Century represented a Golden Age of Institutional Journalism. The Yellow Journalism wars of the late 19th Century gave way to a more responsible mode of reporting built on ethical and professional codes that encouraged fairness and “objectivity.” (Granted, these concepts, like their bastard cousin “balance,” are not wholly unproblematic. Still, they represented a far better way of conducting journalism than we had seen before.) It’s probably not idealizing too much to assert that reporting in the Cronkite Era, for instance, was characterized by a commitment to rise above partisanship and manipulation. The journalist was expected to hold him/herself to a higher standard and to serve the public interest. These professionals – and I have met a few who are more than worthy of the title – believed they had a duty to search for the facts and to present them in a fashion that was as free of bias as possible.
In other words, their careers, like that of Claude Shannon, were devoted to maximizing the signal in the system – the system here being the “marketplace of ideas.” Continue reading Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, pt. 2
First, just in case you haven’t seen it, please review the video (in three parts).
The header on the story reads this way: CU’s Campus Press Fights for Independence.
The subhead is equally on-point: A contentious faculty meeting points to independence for CU-Boulder’s student newspaper â€” but at what cost?
But at that point the journalism train jumps the tracks, because the first couple grafs eschew any consideration of the alleged story itself in favor of a gratuitous drive-by snarking from reporter Michael Roberts.
University of Colorado at Boulder journalism professor Michael Tracey has never previously suffered from camera shyness. Continue reading CU, Max Karson, JonBenÃ©t Ramsey and a sad case of catfight journalism: Westword ought to be ashamed
Part four in a series.
I hope that by this stage of the discussion a few fundamental points are evident:
- Traditional journalism – the institutional form that most of us grew up with and the codes that governed it – is in decline. For a variety of factors it has lost (or is rapidly losing) its place as the dominant means by which information is transmitted in our culture, and in the process its capacity to help shape public opinion in a productive manner has been gravely undermined.
- Blogging and other forms of alternative journalism have assumed a dramatically important role in the news and information transmission processes formerly served by legacy media. This trends seems likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Continue reading A proposed curriculum for graduate study in Interpretive Journalism: an S&R special report
Part three in a series.
In the aftermath of the 2004 election I wrote a fairly jaded op-ed for Editor & Publisher lamenting just how badly our brave new world of electronic media had failed us. I said, in part:
In the “marketplace of ideas” model that gave rise to the First Amendment, rationally self-interested citizens would enter the market with an informed, more or less open mind, where they would wander from stall to stall sampling the wide array of ideas on display. Some of these wares would be premium quality, some would be second-rate, and some would probably be rotten to the core, but an educated and contemplative electorate would inherently arrive at the best decision; in the estimation of John Milton, the “truth would out.
“This isn’t how the electronic marketplace we saw in this election worked. Continue reading The rise of “subjective” journalism: an S&R special report
Part two in a series.
Let’s begin with a brief look at how Americans view the press.
- A 2004 Gallup Poll says “Americans rate the trustworthiness of journalists at about the level of politicians and as only slightly more credible than used-car salesmen.”
- Only about one in five Americans “believe journalists have high ethical standards, ranking them below auto mechanics but tied with members of Congress.”
- Only “one in four people believe what they read in the newspapers.”
- Chicago Tribune Editor Charles M. Madigan says: “If you are a journalist, you should probably just assume that you come across as a liar.”
- A 1999 American Society of Newspaper Editors survey said that “53 percent of the public view the press as out of touch with mainstream America, while 78 percent think journalists pay more attention to the interests of their editors than their readers.”
- About 22 percent of respondents to a 2003 Pew survey said they thought “the unethical practices of [Jayson] Blair, which included fabricating sources and events, occur frequently among journalists, while 36 percent said they thought wrongdoing happened occasionally. Another 58 percent believed journalists didn’t care about inaccuracies.”
It doesn’t seem controversial to suggest that journalism in America (and beyond) is in trouble, and there are any number of factors contributing to the malaise.
A particular concern of mine has been the decline in the efficacy of what we’ll call “objective journalism” – that is, the institutionalized press that dominated newsgathering and production throughout the better part of the 20th Century. These institutions and brands are still quite viable economically (New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC, CBS, NBC, Reuters, AP, etc.), but the sad fact is that consolidation, layoffs and ratings frenzies have dramatically eroded the value these agencies provide to a society in need of top-quality information and insightful analysis. You can’t make good decisions on bad information, and increasingly you can’t get good information from the legacy press.
At the same moment when the institutions are faltering we’re experiencing an explosion in “non-traditional journalism.” Continue reading Education for the next generation of journalism: a Scholars & Rogues special report