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Friday, December 11, 2009

Funny man Gene Weingarten's tips for getting by as a journalist

Amid the holiday season of layoffs (The New York Times sharpens the knife after 74 take buyouts) and publication closings (Editor & Publisher ends its 108-year run) comes a breath of funny air from The Washington Post's Gene Weingarten. He reveals the secrets of today's journalism that will make you laugh and cry, especially if you're in the industry and recognize the hint of truth behind each disclosure.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Want vs. need in news consumption

Rupert Murdoch has a column in today's Wall Street Journal that raises interesting points about the structure of news businesses, charging for content, and the pros and cons of government involvement in media regulation and subsidization. But there is one little paragraph that struck me especially:

First, media companies need to give people the news they want. I can't tell you how many papers I have visited where they have a wall of journalism prizes—and a rapidly declining circulation. This tells me the editors are producing news for themselves—instead of news that is relevant to their customers. A news organization's most important asset is the trust it has with its readers, a bond that reflects the readers' confidence that editors are looking out for their needs and interests.
Although I see his point, I worry about what constitutes the news people want, especially in the opinion of a man whose varied media interests include the tabloid-ish New York Post, the biased Fox News Channel and Fox Broadcasting Co., which has been known for quality programming such as "Temptation Island."

Of course, Murdoch's News Corp. has plenty of quality in the offing, too, by way of the Wall Street Journal and shows like "The Simpsons" and "House." But if what people want as news is every sordid detail of Tiger Woods' personal life as opposed to every detail of the Obama administration's plan for Afghanistan, I do worry about the future of the American brain.

As in the marriage of smut and decency found in News Corp.'s products, there must be a way to merge the two in a healthy way for news organizations. If only I knew how to do it...

Thursday, November 12, 2009

'Daily Show' catches Fox using old footage to embellish story

I continue to worship at the altar of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Last night, my husband said we had to watch Tuesday night's show because he'd heard the crew makes a good catch that embarrasses Fox News. Sold. We watched and indeed the error was huge. Fox used old footage to make a weekend rally seem much larger.

What's more, Sean Hannity, whose show the clip was used on, admitted the wrong and even credited Stewart and his team with the find.

Here's "The Daily Show" clip:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Sean Hannity Uses Glenn Beck's Protest Footage
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Here's Hannity's response:

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Headliners at The Onion: Peeling Back the Skin

The pressure is on with this blog post. How do you write about The Onion on a level worthy of its humor? I'm not sure so I won't bother trying. For an interesting behind-the-scenes peek at how The Onion works, check out this article in The New York Times.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Barking up the wrong tree with journalism?

There are few better signs that the journalism industry is going to the dogs than the craigslist ad I see every so often under the "writing/editing jobs" section of the D.C. site. "PET LOVERS WANTED" the teaser states. Thinking it's a publication looking for someone to write about pets, I inevitably click on it only to find out it's a Bethesda, Md.-based dog-walking company looking for people to walk dogs. Interestingly, the ad asks that applicants be able to commit to the job for at least six months. That's more job security than many journalists get!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Journalism gets hoax-y

I have said before that the race to be first rather than correct is dangerous. It's always nice to have your beliefs reinforced -- even if it comes at the cost of the reputation of the industry in which you work. That's what I have been finding this week. First I read an Associated Press article about how often news organizations have been duped during the fall season. The biggest hoax was balloon boy, of course.

The main missing ingredient in every case was, as the story says, "a heavy dose of skepticism." By getting information out too quickly, without enough research, news organizations run the risk of starting urban legends. And no matter how much they correct the wrong info later, there are plenty of people who've already bought into the original story. Heck, that's why Web sites like my beloved Snopes exist.

In sorta kinda related news, a documentary called "Starsuckers" takes a look at celebrity journalism (as in tracking celebrities, not journalists who morph into celebrities), namely those who appear regularly in the British tabloids. Read more about the movie here and then go add it to your Netflix queue, right under "The September Issue," documenting Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue.

Friday, October 16, 2009

With balloon story, media full of hot air

In the biggest non-news of the day we have the story of the 6-year-old boy who scared America on Thursday when everyone thought he was trapped in a concocted hot-air balloon that somehow got loose from its tethers in the boy's backyard. I say "everyone" because it was on all the news stations and home pages of every news outlet's Web sites. As we all know now, the boy, Falcon Heene, was safe and sound the whole time -- in the attic of his parents' home.

When I saw this "breaking story" -- and indeed, it is broken -- yesterday, I thought, "That's a shame if the boy's in there. But why is this such big news?" Happy to find out he was safe, I still wondered, "Who besides his family and friends cares?"

This morning I was innocently eating some cereal while NBC's "Today" show was on and there they were, ready to talk more about the biggest non-news event I can think of at the moment. The segment began with Meredith Vieira talking about the Heenes' appearance last night on CNN's "Larry King Live." It was during that interview that little Falcon said he didn't come out of hiding even when he heard people shouting for him because "we did it for the show."

And therein lies a sliver of news. If the whole thing was a hoax, shame on the Heenes and their insatiable desire for 15 minutes of fame. (They also were on the enlightening TV show "Wife Swap.") But the media should feel the most ashamed for letting this balloon (pun intended) into a circus act. I've used this space before to ask the media to turn the investigation on themselves and I use it to do that again. Who cares why the family pulled a hoax, if they did? And why is that more deserving of coverage than actual news?

For examples, see these two exemplary videos from the greatest American media man out there today:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
CNN Leaves It There
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Queer and Loathing in D.C.
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorRon Paul Interview

Jon Stewart might be the only person deserving of both a Pulitzer and an Emmy.