News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy

On the Bias: Puritanical Headline Outrage and considering sources

By Gretchen A. Peck

Criticism of the Press is sometimes warranted. Let’s begin this observation about news with that fundamental agreement. Bias is “a thing” – inherent in language’s DNA, in every single word choice – and it is the publisher’s, editor’s and journalist’s job to choose: Manage bias, or give it free rein?

There’s a niche phenomenon in news criticism that feels fledgling this year: Puritanical headline outrage, I’ll call it.

While it has been the legacy of newspapers to incorporate quotations into headlines, today’s arm-chair news critics declare war with titles over quotations or paraphrases without context – for example, when The New York Times ran this outrage-stoking headline: “Trump Urges Unity vs. Racism.”

In fact, in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, the President gave a statement in which he did just that. Of course, anyone who hasn’t lived the hermit life for the past three decades of Trump – the man and the brand – knows that this message is counter to what the President has “advocated for” in the past and present.

A segment of readers seethed over the headline, suggesting that it was biased, and that it provided the President with a megaphone to perpetuate a disingenuous message, by way of the big-font top-of-the-fold headline. Even members of the media said that headline – on top of other such grievances with the newspaper – inspired them to cancel their subscriptions and call for others to do the same.

Today’s (self-appointed) Headline Editors, working from their homes and phone displays, expect news publishers to give broad context in headlines, to tell the full story to readers, in order to remove any ambiguity about the content from the outset.

Could The New York Times’ headline writer have chosen any number of other headline options with 30 characters or fewer?

Certainly.

But when nearing the witching hour of an on-press deadline, sometimes we choose what is expeditious and relevant. Sometimes the moment – the horror of a mass shooting, arguably – calls for an aspirational approach, the common denominator, the sliver of hope, a message that transcends the politics and the politician.

Critics decried that this particular headline was by design, that it was an editorial choice to somehow show favoritism to the President of the United States. This is a theory fundamentally at odds with the very mission of news people and newspapers.

I have to believe that some of this “headline outrage” has more to do with the way people read and process information they read online today. We are a nation of headline surfers. We’ve studied this data.

Today, we viscerally react to headlines and often comment about the content before ever reading beyond it. Naturally, readers who rely so heavily – even entirely – on headlines would want them to tell the whole story. It’s a lofty expectation fueled by illiterate laziness.

To its credit, The New York Times took the criticism to heart and even offered an explanation and apology to readers. It showed that the newspaper was listening, at least.

Let’s use this example – of a newspaper “managing” bias – in contrast to what occurred on FOX News on the morning of Friday, November 22, 2019.

For 53 minutes during a call-in to the live broadcast, the President of the United States led viewers on a rhetorical rollercoaster, a verbal tirade that included a litany of bullshit that would keep fact checkers tasked for the next two days to sort through. The New York TimesLinda Qiu did it, same day: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/22/us/politics/trump-fox-and-friends-fact-check.html

It is true that the FOX & Friends hosts tried to haplessly interject, but the President steamrolled, and the producers were AWOL.

But they had to see it coming at FOX News, right? This Tasmanian Devil of an interview couldn’t have taken anyone by surprise in the planning meetings or during the live broadcast. They had to expect that the President would behave in this manner. His rally riffs are notorious, and he has a pattern of doing this on past call-ins to the network.

Still, the producers – and to a certain extent those talking heads who had to endure it through gritted teeth and earnest expressions – collectively made an “editorial” decision to give bias “free reign.”

One of the foundational tenets of journalism: Consider your source.

 

News & Publishing

Watchdog journalism is worth it

investigation-702x336By Gretchen A. Peck

Investigative journalism is often the stuff of drama. Exposing corruption, abuse, inequality and crimes are inherently good, juicy stories—not to mention a core competency and duty for newspapers. It wouldn’t surprise anyone in news to hear that investigative journalism is not just popular among broadcast audiences, but with people who read newspapers in print and online. After all, investigative reporting helps people; it informs communities; it changes things; and thankfully, for the news organization, it brings in revenue.

Read more at Editor & Publisher magazine:

https://www.editorandpublisher.com/feature/watchdog-journalism-bites-into-revenue/

News & Publishing

Preparing for 2020: News Organizations Ramp Up for an Election Cycle Certain to be Dynamic, Fast-Paced and Combative

By Gretchen A. Peck

In the wake of the 2016 presidential election, the press received some rather harsh criticism about its national coverage. Type in “press failures of 2016,” and Google will unkindly deliver a long list of critical analysis about the media and how it handled the Trump vs. Clinton battle for the White House.

Disillusioned voters blamed the press for a failure to present Trump as a viable nominee, let alone as their likely future president. Some declared that journalists missed the story of the Trump voter entirely.

That type of criticism—that the press had missed the Trump story—wasn’t entirely fair, according to Peter Wallsten, senior politics editor at the Washington Post.

Read more at:

https://www.editorandpublisher.com/feature/preparing-for-2020-news-organizations-ramp-up-for-an-election-cycle-certain-to-be-dynamic-fast-paced-and-combative/

 

News & Publishing

In Turbulent Media Climate, National and State Press Associations Continue to Serve as Advocates and Educators for Their Members

By Gretchen A. Peck

The business of newspapers is no longer competitive. While most towns may still have a local community newspaper, very few have two. Now, the culture is more collaborative, with publishers willing to work together, and share both their challenges and successes with one another.

Bringing them together are national and state press associations. They’ve felt the same struggles as their members, but they are proving to be invaluable allies in the quest to overcome them.

Read more at Editor & Publisher magazine:

https://www.editorandpublisher.com/feature/in-turbulent-media-climate-national-and-state-press-associations-continue-to-serve-as-advocates-and-educators-for-their-members/

 

News & Publishing, Politics & Public Policy

Thank you, Jason Rezaian

Will you read Jason Rezaian’s new book, Prisoner?

I really enjoyed this presentation — the chat with Ignatius, but also the beautifully produced documentary that introduced the Q&A. It is a must-watch if you’re at all interested in journalism, yes, but also diplomacy, negotiation, culture, international chess play.

The graphic showing all the moving parts of a three-hour window of opportunity perfectly illustrates a diplomatic nail biter.

To see again the photo of Jason kissing the tarmac, free after 544 of “detention,” is like a gut punch we all need — a reminder of how special our nation is, and how precious and fundamentally critical the First Amendment is. It’s both law and moral guidepost.

Watching the backstory told in the intro, you’ll see the remarkable cooperation between State and 4th Estate. It’s not just an example of logistical coordination; it demonstrated a resolve at the highest Office that our nation wouldn’t “leave one of its own behind.” The Administration and State Department fought for its son, while also waging a cultural (internationally watched) battle against the oppression of free speech in Iran.

This is in stark contrast to the current Administration’s reaction to and abject dismissal of Saudi Arabia’s assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Anyway, check it out.

 

News & Publishing

How Encrypted Mobile Messaging Apps Are Helping Journalists Protect and Guard Sources and Their Information

By Gretchen A. Peck

For many of their users, mobile messaging apps are just expedient little tools for texting and sharing photos or videos with friends who use the same app. The fact that those messages and content are encrypted is just an added a perk. But for journalists and their sources—especially sensitive sources like whistleblowers—encrypted messaging apps are an increasingly valuable means of communication, which provide a modicum of assurance that the information being exchanged is private and protected from anyone outside of that conversational relationship.

Read on at Editor & Publisher:

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/feature/how-encrypted-mobile-messaging-apps-are-helping-journalists-protect-and-guard-sources-and-their-information/

Photo: Devlin Barrett. Barrett covers national security and law enforcement for The Washington Post.

 

News & Publishing

Three News Outlets Form Oregon Capital Bureau to Expand Coverage

By Gretchen A. Peck

In Oregon, newspaper publishers have recognized the need to provide their communities with better and deeper coverage of state government and politics. Their answer was the creation of the Oregon Capital Bureau.

Under the editorial leadership of veteran investigative reporter Les Zaitz, the Bureau leverages the newsroom talent of three local news organizations: the Pamplin Media Group, publisher of the Portland Tribune and 24 other weekly, twice-weekly and monthly titles; EO Media Group, publisher of the East Oregonian, Daily Astorian and nine other titles; and the Salem Reporter, a digital news service that Zaitz heads up as editor. The Salem Reporter—co-founded by Zaitz and real estate developer Larry Tokarski—recently launched in September.

Read further at Editor & Publisher magazine: https://www.editorandpublisher.com/a-section/three-news-outlets-form-oregon-capital-bureau-to-expand-coverage/?fbclid=IwAR1Gov8Bsc1FeuifrhjZweTxysIGODwPkixEskcNoEVMuulyEjwXHZGGn8k

Photo courtesy of Les Zaitz