News & Publishing

Headlines always fall short

The New York Times published a bad headline.

In the newspaper’s defense, headline writing is sometimes problematic. At the 12th hour, before the presses roll, when you’re tasked with finite space, painfully few characters and a need to quote a President’s national address, this stuff happens.

The headline was misleading as it read, but there was a lack of space to lay out the “backgrounder” context that puritanical media critics wanted. They wanted a headline that called the President a “racist.”

They wanted the headline to scream: He said this stuff, but of course he doesn’t really mean it. 

They wanted the headline to tell the full story. Headlines never do.

And, of course, this particular headline was never going to meet that expectation. It was never going to say, “Today, the President spoke insincerely about racism and gun culture.”

It was never going to say that a.) Because that’s a full sentence. b.) It’s editorializing in what is intended to be a straight news piece.

Critics, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, “The media is biased!” And then, at the same time, expect us to be biased, to make a qualification or judgment — and blatantly, on the front page, above the fold.

Certain members of the media (looking at you, Joan Walsh) piled on and stoked the embers of a digital subscription revolt against the Times. Never mind that 2,000 newspapers have shuttered in just a few years. Never mind that 95% of the time, The New York Times masthead somehow, incredibly, produces important deep-diving work that smaller papers cannot, because they lack the resources.

Never mind all the other good work by staff not tasked with political coverage. Never mind that many of them are trying to decide tonight whether they should pay their rent or buy groceries this month.

Never mind that every day is a mental, physical and spiritual succubus on journalists trying to cover this Administration.

This anger against The New York Times is misplaced. It’s bubbling up because of a President, who is never held to account for his words, his policies, his opacity and gaslighting, his indecency, and his criminal conduct. Of course, the President was insincere when he read his scripted statement. His uncomfortable body language. The sniffing. The stumbling over the words. The legacy of racist, violent rhetoric, archived and freely searchable on the Internet. The predictable 180-degree spin on Twitter the very next day.

Does The New York Times need to spell it all out for the American people in a pithy 15-character headline?

Are we that daft? ~ G.A. Peck

Here’s what The New York Times had to say about it:

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

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.