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, Politics & Public Policy

A rhetorical reflection as Impeachment descends over the Nation

Days like this call for sentences using “bloviating,” “preening,” and “grandstanding.”
 
Also, “obscuring,” “omitting,” and “lying.”
 
I am cognizant how words are received, digested, shared, and manipulated in digital space. They catch on and quickly become part of the news-cycle vernacular, thanks to personality and platform megaphones.
 
Some media colleague, or perhaps it was the White House, today bandied about the term “Soviet-style impeachment,” and now every other caller into C-SPAN’s “Republican call-line” references it, even though “Russian impeachment” is an oxymoron. Just ask Yeltsin.
 
That’s a poor joke, because Yeltsin is dead, and three attempts to impeach him failed. In fact, no Russian President was ever successfully impeached.
 
I know; shocking, right?
 
Putin probably has a lock on that, too.
 
So it’s a strange comparison that would seemingly be a happy ending for Trump loyalists, except it requires equating Trump to a Soviet dictator who “gets away with it.”
 
In writing about the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, Shakespearean and Biblical parallels are low-hanging fruit, yet effective, relatable to the highly literate and a 10th-grade English class alike.
 
It can be maddening trying to chronicle history when it comes at you fast. The past can feel like the only perspective and guidepost.19c2cdf5-5b31-4c59-a0f5-f44483bb57dc
 
Print news cycles, measured in days and weeks are now brutally, digitally compressed — into hours, minutes, seconds, and Tweet characters. There’s much less time to agonize over word choice. Still, we aim to tell the story with equal parts veracity and verve.
“IMPEACH” photo by G.A. Peck
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

News & Publishing

The Side Hustle: What Do Newspapers Gain by Having Their Journalists Appear on TV and Radio?

By Gretchen A. Peck

For the penultimate segment on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” each weeknight, Matthews queries his panel of journalists and pundits—often with at least one reporter representing a major-market newspaper—challenging them, “Tell me something I don’t know.”

His branded phrase not only introduces the segment, it exemplifies one of the benefits of having journalists appear as guests on broadcast news programs. Reporters remain excellent sources themselves of researched, vetted and well-sourced information. Their appearances and expertise on the topics of discussion lend both content and credibility to broadcast news programs.

And there are obvious professional gains for the journalist—who has a brand and a byline to protect—and to the newspaper’s brand, which benefits from audience reach and an opportunity to evangelize its reporting.

Still, as some newspaper journalists have learned, appearing on broadcast news programs can occasionally come with some unwanted attention too.

Read more at: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/feature/the-side-hustle-what-do-newspapers-gain-by-having-their-journalists-appear-on-tv-and-radio/

Editor & Publisher magazine, October 2018 issue

 

 

News & Publishing, Printing and Imaging

Data, Technology and Digital Readers are Shaping How the Printed Newspaper Looks Today

By Gretchen A. Peck

If newspaper design had a motto, it might be: “Stick to the format. The design and layout is the brand.”

And that remains true today with iconic titles of newspapers rendered in familiar fonts and layouts that are distinctive in their own right. Think of how familiar and distinctive a title like USA Today is when you flip through the pages. The color, the layout, the way the headlines grab your attention—all part of the brand.

Newspaper publishers, by and large, have always understood this. But the notion that printed newspapers’ design should never deviate from the template is being challenged, and it’s because of digital and mobile publishing and the rising cost to paper. Still, that hasn’t stopped publishers from experimenting with their print product.

Read more at: http://www.editorandpublisher.com/feature/data-technology-and-digital-readers-are-shaping-how-the-printed-newspaper-looks-today/

 

 

News & Publishing

The Increasingly Dangerous Job of Journalism

I could write this morning about the anti-Press rhetorical climate, with the drumbeat percussed by the President of the United States every day.

I could write about the reporters I speak with weekly, who all share a common scourge of relentless online harassment and credible threats. I could write about their frustrations of not having recourse with social media platforms, let alone the police or criminal justice system.

I could write about how anonymous cowards celebrated the murders of four journalists and a sales assistant yesterday. (https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2018/06/28/far-right-online-message-board-users-celebrate-annapolis-newsroom-shooting/220569)

Some of the serial abusers aren’t anonymous. Some have national or international megaphones.

I could write about the endless anecdotes journalists and editors share with me about being stalked.

I could write about how I’ve been harassed and stalked.

And maybe I’ll write about these things in Editor & Publisher one day. I don’t typically write in the first person there, but maybe one day I will.

But today … today … I will fight through angry tears to honor the five people from my tribe – publishing people, news people – with a reminder of who they were, who we all are.

I knew none of them personally, but I know their kind.

Journalism is not just a job. It’s a compulsion. It’s an addiction.

I wouldn’t know how to fact-check this, but clergy often talk about having “a calling.”

As near as I can tell, journalists feel that way about journalism.

I’ve often found a running theme with reporters in newspapers, in particular. Nearly all of them grew up having witnessed, passively observed or have been a party to some harm or injustice. These experiences didn’t “sit right” with them. At young ages, they could make the connection between harmful people or institutions or nations, and how they flourish under the cover of darkness. They instinctually want to protect others from them; they want to be the light switch.

In a direct and measurable way, reporters see themselves as in service to this nation – though by picking up a pen instead of a semi-automatic weapon.

They are subjected to a strict set of ethics, which are published for the public – by news organizations and governance associations. These ethics are continually challenged.

No journalist embarks on the job with delusions of grandeur. There are no riches to be had.

Especially for print journos, there is no promise of fame.

Mostly, the job looks like a slog through information, research, phone calls, source vetting, endless fucking phone calls. They endure meetings and argue with editors and try to keep up with the AP Style Guide changes.

They’re asked to multitask in a ways that represent new ground. They must report, interview, fact-check, layout, produce video, capture still photos, adjudicate sources, learn how to fly a drone, explore narrative and visual storytelling, devote time to professional development, and damn it, you’d better blast out 15 or more tweets a day or else.

They work odd hours and eat shit food, because “Time! I need more time!”

Their desks are the stuff of hoarders; their keyboards are caked with crumbs. Their eyes have gone bad at an early age because of all the screen time.

They are in perpetual motion. They rarely take time off. Vacations are seen as lofty goals. Working vacations are the norm.

They are never satisfied with what they write. They never see a story as being complete, nor finished.

They struggle to chase a truth that is eternally elusive, purposely obscured, hidden, difficult to digest, and ever changing. They beat themselves up – worse than any online commenter ever could – when they get a story wrong, when a source proves unreliable, when an inaccuracy goes to print under the byline that bears their name.

They fear that even the most innocent fuck-up in editorial judgment will not just cost them their job, their immediate livelihood, but their entire career. And that happens.

The weight of the job – every aspect of it – is heavy with profound responsibility and perpetual uncertainty.

Journalists know that they’re not islands, too. They are fully cognizant that they could not do their jobs without the entire support of the news organization, many of which have been gutted through austerity, corporate ownership, and the quest to enrich shareholders. Everyone left has a vital role in getting the newspaper to your doorstep or to your screen – journalists, editors, production people, graphic designers, IT and data analysts, ad teams, circulation and audience staffs, finance and accounting, prepress and pressroom folks, support staff.

And not one single minute of it is glamorous, nor elite, nor comfortable, nor well paid, nor secure, nor safe.

And yet, despite that, they find the work fulfilling, challenging, dynamic. They can’t imagine ever doing anything else. They live in fear that one day they will be forced to.

A Pulitzer is coveted and revered, but for the vast majority of journalists, it’s as plausible as a unicorn. It is a rare acknowledgement, an “Atta-boy, atta-girl, job well done.”

Seventy-one journalists died in 2017 alone for doing their jobs. They were gunned down at a child’s Christmas pageant, had their cars wired to explode, were kidnapped and subsequently murdered, they were thrown out of windows, stabbed, and killed by suicide bombers while embedded with the military.

But they do it because it must be done – not for themselves, but for the readers they serve, for the communities they inform, and for the nations that need their watchful eyes, perspective, and increasingly dangerous labors.

As the five people at The Capital Gazette were murdered in their offices yesterday, that’s all they were trying to do.