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Blogs And The Future Of Journalism

A new WE Media/Zogby Interactive poll surveyed members of the public and the media for their views on contemporary journalism. The results offer an interesting perspective on both the regard for which the press is held and the variance of that regard by each group:

Statement Public Media
Traditional journalism is out of touch with what Americans want from their news. 65% 61%
Dissatisfied with the quality of American journalism today. 72% 55%
Bloggers are important to the future of American journalism. 55% 86%

It’s encouraging to see that majorities of both groups consider the press out of touch. Although it does raise an obvious question: If the media professionals feel that way, why aren’t they doing something about it?

A divergence occurs over the level of satisfaction, with the public overwhelming unsatisfied and the media straddling the fence. This is also a curious finding because it suggests that the media folks are fairly satisfied despite their belief that the press overall is out of touch.

The surprising response is the media’s acknowledgement of the role bloggers will play going forward. With virtual unanimity they are conceding the impact of what happens to be their biggest threat. And while just a little over half of the public agrees, a much larger percentage (76%) view the Internet as having had a positive impact on the overall quality of journalism. This seems to be a recognition of the watchdog effect that the Internet has. Both the people and the press know that stories that are inaccurate or incomplete are going to be challenged. And issues that don’t get carried in mainstream outlets are going to be hammered on in new media channels until they get the attention they deserve.

That is the power of citizen journalism and as long as we protect it from the encroachment of Big Media, it will be there to keep them honest.

Olbermann Re-ups At MSNBC With New NBC Gig

Keith Olbermann has built Countdown into the fastest growing cable news program. He is the most watched MSNBC primetime personality and his show is driving the network’s ratings surge.

Now MSNBC is announcing that Olbermann’s contract has been renewed for four more years. More significantly, he is being given new duties with the daddy net, NBC. Olbermann will be submitting stories to NBC’s Nightly News and he will also have two primetime Countdown specials on the network each year.

The contract renewal had to be a foregone conclusion given his contribution to MSNBC’s growth. But the new placement on NBC’s schedule is far more interesting. Despite the heat generated by the cable news wars, the broadcast network news programs each routinely deliver more viewers than all of the cable newsers combined. With this new broadcast platform, Olbermann will substantially expand his exposure and reputation. The announcement describes his Nightly News pieces as essays, which implies that they will contain some analysis and subjectivity. But their presence in a news program adds weight to Olbermann’s profile.

The impact of the primetime specials will be more dependent on their subject matter, but have great potential to raise Olbermann’s awareness and influence. If he uses these platforms to expand on the popular and passionate “Special Comments” from Countdown, he could cement the same sort of “conscience of the people” persona as that of his hero, Edward R. Murrow, whose famous sign off (“Good night and good luck”) Olbermann has adopted.

What is particularly gratifying is the expected response from his nemesis, Bill O’Reilly. In the past few weeks, O’Reilly has been ramping up his criticism of NBC as a network that has veered off to the far left. O’Reilly’s sense of direction is clearly screwed up. It’s obvious to any junior high schooler that his attacks are aimed at Olbermann, whose name he is afraid to utter out loud. Since he has had no impact on the Countdown juggernaut, he escalated the assault to include NBC. So Olbermann’s promotion will only rub salt in O’Reilly’s wounds. Even more so because he has no comparable path for advancement. The Fox broadcast network does not have a national evening news program and its primetime schedule is 30% shorter than the other networks, making a time slot for O’Reilly more difficult to find (if they even wanted to).

The result is that Olbermann will gain audience reach about which O’Reilly can only fantasize (please no falafel jokes). That additional exposure will drive new viewers to Countdown, fueling further growth of that program and MSNBC. The cable news wars will get hotter with O’Reilly becoming even more unhinged as his show is overtaken by the enemy. Look for O’Reilly to accuse Olbermann of treason and then spend the rest of the hour emulating Nancy Grace. The rest of the news herd will stampede toward Countdown-like programming. Technically, that would be a misinterpretation of the competitive landscape and representative of the media’s penchant for shallow analysis, but that’s what they’ll do. And anything that hurts Fox and the rest of the propagandists and stenographers in the conventional media is an improvement over the status quo.

Congratulations Keith.

On The Demise Of Old Media

Paul R. La Monica, editor at large, says that Old media isn’t dead.” The following is my response:

Dear Paul,

As the publisher of News Corpse, I have to take issue with the premise of your article this morning that “old media isn’t dead.”

You make the argument that because old media isn’t going away, that it isn’t dead. That’s a flawed argument because there is no reason that the media can’t die and still stink up the place with its corpse. But eventually, someone’s going to have to call the Health Department and have the body carted away.

To borrow from the Terri Schiavo debate, we might want to define what constitutes life. Most of the examples in your column refer to blips on the financial screen. But there is also the matter of quality of life. While there is still money to be made in the old media marketplace, many informed observers will tell you that it is in a persistent vegetative state, i.e. brain dead. In the past week alone, three major newspapers were caught making the same mistakes they made four years ago by dutifully transcribing unsourced government claims, this time about Iran. And though you quoted Rupert Murdoch’s comments about the fiscal health of newspapers, were you aware of his admission last month that he tried to use his media empire to shape the agenda on Iraq? And as if that weren’t bad enough, he made similar comments about his upcoming business channel being “business friendly.” That doesn’t sound like the kind of life that’s worth living.

You correctly point out that old media is moving into new media spaces. I view this as deathbed desperation. Although terminal, old media is still aware of the doom that the future holds and they are trying to cling to the new out of fear. Ultimately, all media will be delivered via the Internet. The part old media plays depends on whether they can discover a miracle cure and recover, or simply and gratefully slip into the void.

There is one other possible outcome that I would call the Vampire Scenario. This is where old media buys up massive chunks of new media, successfully bribes Washington’s legislators and regulators to give themselves more power, and emerges undead from its own grave.

That was meant to sound scary.

When the White House Press Stenographers Association is too afraid of losing access to challange those they cover; when corporations that profit from war and other government enterprises control the mass media; when Congress is disinclined to rein in the monopolistic tendancies of the big media’s five families; how can anyone seriously view old media as anything but a stiff, lifeless hulk that, if not dead, is praying for someone to pull the plug.

Joan Baez’ Publicist Shows How It’s Done

Mike Straka, VP and Executive Producer of, got dissed in a most deserving way. The author of “Grrr! Celebrities Are Ruining Our Country”, was attempting to corral a celebrity at the Grammys so he could mooch a little bit off of her fame. After which he likely would have included her in his next celeb bashing book. As he tells the story of his brief encounter with Joan Baez…

“she was on her way over to talk to Anita Vogel and me when her publicist whisked her away shouting, “They’re FOX. We don’t talk to FOX.”

Are you listening celebrities, publicists and, for that matter, politicians? It’s just that easy. My compliments to the astute publicist who steered her client away from the “flabbergasted” Strata. Although why he would be surprised is confusing. As the author of a book that accuses celebrities of ruining the country, and a honcho at a network that features Laura Ingraham and her “Shut up and Sing” mentality, Strata ought to have been embarrassed to show up on the red carpet at all. He could learn something himself from the introduction Baez gave to the Dixie Chicks that evening:

“I’ve spent much of my life being told to shut up and sing. Yet every once in a while, artists stand up and use the power of music to show us the great American folksinger Woody Guthrie had the right dream: This land is your land. This land is my land…

Artists, musicians, celebrities, and other creative people in public life are not the ones who are ruining this country, Mr. Strata. It’s the media whores who are so obsessed with tabloid melodrama that they fail to cover truly important issues who are causing the real damage.

War On The Press?

Slate’s editor at large, Jack Shafer, disputes the notion that the Bush administration is at war with the media. His support for that position is that the New York Times’ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau aren’t imprisoned at Gitmo. He further imagines that…

“A president intent on making war on the press would surely have carpet-bombed Dana Priest and the Washington Post for her secret prisons journalism. By now, Seymour M. Hersh of The New Yorker would have been executed on general principle.”

The entire thrust of his opinion rests on whether or not you take the word “war” literally. Since no one I can think of would ever do that in this context, it seems silly to base his whole argument on it. What kind of idiocy would it require to assert that a war on the press meant sending in the Marines? Shafer knows what war on the press means and he gives a pretty good description of it later in the article:

“…it’s true that the Bush administration hates the press and shouts it out frequently, that it tells lies, that it makes the lives of reporters as miserable as it can, that it plays propaganda games at every step, overclassifies, manufactures “phony news,” and intimidates the press…”

If that’s not a war on the press, I don’t know what is. Shafer ought to admit that the tactics he ascribes to the Bush administration constitute actual hostility to a free press and pose a clear and present danger to honest and independent journalism.

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Judith Miller Redux: Has The New York Times Learned Nothing?

I can’t say this much better than Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher, so…

“Saturday’s New York Times features an article, posted at the top of its Web site late Friday, that suggests very strongly that Iran is supplying the “deadliest weapon aimed at American troops” in Iraq. The author notes, “Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile.”

Reporters like Gordon insist on doing their jobs with prejudice and willful distortion.

What is the source of this volatile information? Nothing less than “civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.”

Sound pretty convincing? Well, almost all the sources in the story are unnamed. It also may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion. “

In one of Gordon’s badly misleading and downright inaccurate articles, he said this about Colin Powell’s discredited presentation at the United Nations:

“it will be difficult for skeptics to argue that Washington’s case against Iraq is based on groundless suspicions and not intelligence information.”

The only reason for the difficulty is that reporters, no, stenographers like Gordon refuse to do their jobs. Or worse, they insist on doing them with prejudice and willful distortion, merely posing as mouthpieces for anonymous administration flacks. And it isn’t just the NYT. The Washington Post has joined in with its own secret sources:

“The allegations against Iran marked the farthest that coalition forces have gone to make the case that Iran is working to attack U.S. and Iraqi troops. The revelations threaten to further enflame tensions between America and Iran.”

Notice how the author fails to identify the “coalition forces.” Details of the “case” they are said to have made were sketchy and uncorroberated. The mystery analysts would not even allow reporters to record or videotape the meeting. Notice also that these stories are the products of two newspapers considered by some to be the foundation of the so-called liberal media.

Somehow we are, again, expected to accept the assurances of many of the same prevaricators that misled us into Iraq. And our representatives in the fourth estate are repeating the atrocious journalistic performance of 2002-3. It’s obvious that the administration still feels it is able to lie with impunity The press still feels that their only job is to regurgitate the unsubstantiated allegations of known liars. So it is really up to the public to demonstrate whether we have learned anything.

Have we?

Update: [2/12/07] As if there was any need to pile on, The Los Angeles Times as jumped on BushCo’s bandwagon with an article this morning titled:

“U.S. makes case that Iran arms flow into Iraq.”

That’s not “tried” to make the case, or “presses” the case, but the Times states flatly that the case was “made.” The body of the story was much less declaratory, in fact, it introduced a fair amount of skepticism from both independent and government sources. Too bad the headline was so misleading.

Fox Gives You The Business

Not two weeks after Rupert Murdoch confesses to propagandizing in support of the war in Iraq, he visits the confessional again, this time with regard to his new Fox Business Channel. At a media summit sponsored by McGraw-Hill, Murdoch promised the gathered conferees that:

How can any viewer take seriously what they will see on a Fox Business report?

“…a Fox channel would be ‘more business-friendly than CNBC.’ That channel ‘leap[s] on every scandal, or what they think is a scandal,’ he said.”

This admission squares nicely with his previous one. It’s obvious he thinks nothing of manipulating news coverage to achieve his ends. Now he feels that the captains of industry, beleaguered by their own corruption, require his defense. The notion that a news network, business or otherwise, should be “friendly” with the subjects they are covering violates every precept of journalism. After making this announcement, how can any viewer take seriously what they will see on a Fox Business report? How will we know if their chumminess leads to deceptively positive stories? How will we know whether they are neglecting signs of budding scandals to protect their buddies? Had they been around when Enron was imploding, FBC would have reported on the tantalizing fare in the company commissary. I, for one, wouldn’t want to invest based on information that came from such a network.

Murdoch’s accusation that CNBC is somehow hostile to business can only be regarded as a paranoid hallucination. Even Business Week derides that viewpoint as:

“a conclusion almost any observer of the channel will find difficult to support.”

Financial news broadcasting is not an easy business to throw together. In 1991, FNN, the Financial News Network, went out of business, selling its assets to CNBC. More recently, Time, Inc.’s CNNfn couldn’t even get off the ground. New York mayor/billionaire, Michael Bloomberg’s network has about half the subscriber base of CNBC. Murdoch will launch with even less than that.

Despite the obstacles, it’s clear why News Corp. would want to enter this market. Although CNBC’s ratings are low, they can charge more for their ads because they deliver an affluent and influential audience that is highly desirable and difficult to obtain. Fox covets both that audience and those advertisers. Their vertical business structure makes it easy for them to package ad campaigns so that they would benefit other Fox properties like their news network, broadcast network, station group, magazines, and newspapers. And since Fox doesn’t care if their reporting is accurate, so long as it’s “friendly,” corporate advertisers might be inclined to favor Fox with their ad dollars. Remember that the cable companies that would carry FBC, and the media companies that might report on them, are also corporations that may want to take advantage of the pro-business slant that Murdoch is offering.

All of this produces some troubling scenarios. A business news network that promises to be friendly with its subjects is essentially serving as the PR arm of the corporations it covers. Consequently, those corporations that want to enjoy this coverage can show their appreciation by buying more ads. Conversely, the ad sales division of the network could pressure advertisers to pony up if they wanted good news to be included in the next broadcast. This sort of relationship is poisonous from the start, yet it is exactly what Murdoch is proposing.

Another problem is that the existing business channels are going to be nervous about the impending competition with Fox. If they keep their heads about them, focus on the quality of their own product, and exhibit some measure of respect for journalistic ethics, then things should work out. But that isn’t how it’s gone down in the past. As Fox News began to challenge its predecessors, they folded like origami sheep. They concluded that the way to compete with Fox was to be more like Fox. That was a disastrous strategy that landed them squarely in Fox’ shadow.

If Murdoch is allowed to pollute this new market with the aberrent philosophy he stated above, it will be a serious blow to the goals of honest, independent journalism. It will mean that they would control the perceptions of our politics, our culture, and our economy. If we want to preserve a free society that values a thoughtful and informed citizenry, we must be relentlessly vigilant. We must keep close company with our representatives and with the agencies that govern the media. We must take steps to be certain that we are knowledgeable and prepared, because…

…this is serious business!

Update from Forbes: [2/18/07] CNBC hasn’t sat back. Spokesman Kevin Goldman answered the criticism coming from Fox Business Channel: “It doesn’t surprise me that our alleged competition is already starting with its usual lies and propaganda.”

Under the threat of competition, they are starting to, finally, tell it like it is.

Broken News: Anna Nicole Smith Edition

The sad discovery of a deceased celebrity is certainly worthy of mention in the press. The real sadness, however, is a private matter shared by family and friends. That privacy is intruded upon when media clowns turn the event into a circus. That’s what happened yesterday (and continues today) to Anna Nicole’s family.

If being dignified and respectful isn’t enough reason for reporters to refrain from being exploitive vultures, maybe journalistic professionalism and pride should be considered. The wall-to-wall coverage of Anna Nicole’s passing was entirely out of proportion to its imapct on the lives of news consumers. ThinkProgress compared the handling of this story with another important topic that has far more relevence to the American public.

References to Anna Nicole and Iraq on Cable Networks After 3PM ET:

CNN 141 27
FOX NEWS 112 33
MSNBC 170 24

That’s a pretty heavy overweighting of a tabloid bereavement, especially knowing that dozens of deaths occurred in Iraq the same day, including seven American soldiers.

NBC, though, surpasses all competition for shamelessness by devoting 3 minutes and 13 seconds (14% of their program) on Anna Nicole, and only 14 seconds on Iraq.

The PEP Squad: Perpetually Erroneous Pundits

The American model of mass media is laden with an abundance of notorious flaws. One of the most pernicious is the clubby environment that embraces the fraternity of professional opiners. Amongst the benefits of membership in the PEP Squad (Perpetually Erroneous Pundits) is that, no matter how much you screw up, you never lose your seat at the table. Commentators who have been wrong for a half dozen years or more, are consistently invited back to deliver more of their bad advice. The problem is that, when your job is to influence public opinion and policy, the consequences of being wrong can be tragic.

For example, there is a dust-up in the bloggerhood that has pit the NRO‘s Jonah Goldberg against Juan Cole. It seems that a couple of years ago, Goldberg challenged Cole’s analysis of the travesty in Iraq saying:

“I do think my judgment is superior to his when it comes to the big picture. So, I have an idea: Since he doesn’t want to debate anything except his own brilliance, let’s make a bet. I predict that Iraq won’t have a civil war, that it will have a viable constitution, and that a majority of Iraqis and Americans will, in two years time, agree that the war was worth it.”

That was two years ago and Goldberg’s predictions are so far off the mark that even he can’t deny it:

“I’ve admitted that Cole would have won. I’ve written that the Iraq War was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about the war and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part.”

Goldberg has admitted that he was wrong, but stubbornly insists that he has nothing for which to apologize. Nothing. Not for cheering on the martinets of war. Not for justifying the hostilities of a dishonest administration. Not for misleading his audience with discredited drivel. Not for the misery that has befallen the countless victims of his ignorance. But at least he is able to find comfort in joining “a long list of people” who were as dreadfully wrong as was he. He may also be comforted by his membership in the PEP Squad, knowing that his mistakes will cost him nothing.

The real danger emerges when PEP Squaders are allowed to continue peddling their distortions with impunity. The absence of accountability turns the notion of merit on its head. Thus we have Pulitzer winners like Robert Scheer being thrown over for hacks like Goldberg.

In his latest display of hackery, Goldberg argues that global warming is an equitable trade for economic gains. In fact he calls it “an amazing bargain:”

“The Earth got about 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer in the 20th century while it increased its GDP by 1,800%, by one estimate. […] Given the option of getting another 1,800% richer in exchange for another 0.7 degrees Celsius warmer, I’d take the heat in a heartbeat.”

Unfortunately, if he wins that bet, 100 million other hearts might have to stop beating. That’s the estimate of the population that would be impacted by rising sea levels if the Earth’s temperature were to rise in the amounts he proposes. By making irresponsible claims without the support of science, Goldberg is again substituting his imagination for the wise council of experts. He is engaging in a wager that, should he lose, will result in massive human suffering on a global scale. But look at the bright side. It probably won’t affect him or anyone he cares about, and Jonah and his pals will probably be a little richer. So it hardly matters whether he is right or wrong. We’ve seen how he behaves when he loses a bet; when he’s looking back on his fatally poor judgement. I can almost hear it now:

“I’ve admitted that Gore would have won. I’ve written that global warming was a mistake. … I join a long list of people whose expectations about climate change and its handling turned out to be wrong in whole or in part.”

Thanks Jonah. That makes everything better. The truth is, things won’t actually get any better until the media casts out the Perpetually Erroneous Pundits that are littering the TV and newspapers; until they start to reward superior analysis and intellect; until those who correctly predicted the sad outcome of Bush’s misadventures in Iraq replace the PEP Squad losers who got it so terribly wrong. By rewarding the PEP Squad for their failures, we can be virtually assured that they will continue to saddle the world with their toxic misperceptions. I’m not sure the world can stand it much longer.