You Too Can Believe in Gossip Rags

Kimberly Maul, whose publication I am not obsessed with (contrary to her assertion), reports that the OJ deal has gone through. And this time she has a more credible than the National Enquirer. (Perhaps it was Maul after all who wrote the unsigned article and she is now proudly coming out of the closet as relying upon gossip rags for sources!)

By this journalistic measure, I wish to report the following news stories as true:

1. Infant Accidentally Packaged as Doll
2. Hillary Clinton Forced Into Sex Therapy
3. The “Eat What You Like” Diet Will Work for Everyone!

I remain absolutely positive that these three stories will be confirmed by someone credible. And I will, in the puerile spirit of this exchange, then shout “Neeiner! Neeiner! Neeiner!” back to the Book Standard.

You see, kids. You too can be a Web journalist!

In Other Words, Write Like Hitch

Christopher Hitchens on Izzy Stone: “Even the slightest piece written by Izzy was composed with a decent respect for the King’s English and usually contained at least one apt allusion to the literature and poetry and history that undergirded it: an allusion that he would expect his readers to recognize. Who now dares to do that? Who would now dare to say, as he did as an excited eyewitness, that there was still something ‘saccharine’ about Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ oration? The rule of saccharine rhetoric and bland prose is now near absolute, and one could almost envy Izzy the sad deafness and myopia that allowed him to tune out the constant bawling from electronic media.”

BSS #64: Victor Navasky

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Author: Victor Navasky

Condition of Mr. Segundo: Mystified by literary columnists.

Subjects Discussed: The economics of opinion journal publishing, on running The Nation as an opinion journal that loses money, dividends vs. tax losses, the challenges of a burgeoning subscription base, Calvin Trillin, “no diddling,” responding to Matthew Rothschild’s review, Valerie Plame, The Nation as a cause vs. advertising, the problems with second-class mail, Freda Kirchwey, the break with Christopher Hitchens, Monica Lewinsky, the McCarthy period, print journalism vs. online journalism, Rathergate, thoughts on the blogosphere, and the culture class and animosity between print and new media.

The Information Wants to Be Free, But is the Information Worth It?

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The BBC reports that Rupert Murdoch’s News International has launched London’s third free daily, referred to, without apparent deference to e.e. cummings or tomandandy, as thelondonpaper. The paper’s editor, Stefano Hatfield notes, “This is a generation who grew up with the world wide web. They usually get their news delivered to them in their e-mail inboxes or at the click of a button. It is difficult to persuade young people that news should be something you pay for.”

So if the information, as Hatfield suggests, wants to be free and is disseminated everywhere, is a free daily the answer in a dying newspaper market? Further, will a free daily, devoted to instantaneous four-paragraph stories instead of long-form pieces, dumb down journalism and encourage lazy reporting?

It’s difficult to gauge a newspaper on the other side of the Atlantic when you’re halfway across the world and you don’t have a copy in your hands, but a look at the Metro‘s website (the Metro is the current leading free London daily) isn’t encouraging. There are childish “Gimme” and “Play” sections, an egregious “Metrosexual” section loaded with insubstantial fluff[1] and poorly edited copy[2], absolutely no arts coverage to speak of[3], and a “Pictures” section which suggests a Fahrenheit 451 nightmare come to life.[4]

I cannot believe that the entire 18-35 generation is this dumb or this easily amused. If the bar is set this low, I wonder if a daily newspaper, even a free one, appealing to hard reporting and intellect could even find an audience amidst this glut. The development of the Metro and thelondonpaper may be similar to the New York newspaper wars in the 1890s. After all, both involve numerous competitors flooding a potential marketplace. Both involve efforts to push journalism beyond the status quo. Both involve upping the ante to reach new audiences.

I am by no means the first to make such a comparison. But where the 1890s crowd may have protested Hearst’s inflated coverage of the Spanish-American War, if London’s free dailies are devoted to junk news written by junk journalists and read by junk audiences, then will people protest or bother to scrutinize these ethereal dailies?

Then again, look at the blogosphere.

[1] I believe that a story about fertility and weight can be interesting, but when a reporter has only short and snappy paragraphs to cobble together a story and must compete with invasive pleas to join the interactive foray, how can any meaningful journalism be attempted?

[2] For example:

If you’re planning on working overseas the report reveals the best profession to get into if you want a bit of regular kinky after work exercise – 10 per cent of our young travellers get it on with the holiday rep.

What kind of sentence is this?

[3] Unless Kate Moss in underwear is a kind of art.

[4] The Metro was designed to be read in 20 minutes and has remained deliberately unchallenging. The second free daily, London Lite[5], is put out by Associated Newspapers. In this Guardian article, Associated free newspaper honcho Steve Auckland extolled the Lite‘s “long, turgid articles” and “lively, breezy format.”

[5] I hope I’m not the only one bothered by this spelling.

Dallas Morning News Suffers Arts Coverage Atrocities

Dallas Blog: “Will Books go away? Books editor Charles Ealy and critic Jerome Weeks appear to be takers. Lifestyles writers Bryan Wooley, Bill Marvel, Michael Precker and Beatriz Terrazas are listed, among several others. Also investigative reporter Doug Swanson. From the business section, columnist Scott Burns apparently will now have more time to spend in his antique motor home. Artist Randy Bishop is on the goodbye list. Metro is losing some veteran reporters, including Bill Lodge and Tim Wyatt, among others.”

Josh Wolf Benefits

To follow up on the Josh Wolf incarceration, Laughing Squid points to two benefit events designed to raise money for Josh’s legal defense fund.

Event #1: Cafe La Boheme, Saturday August 19, 2006, 5:00 PM-7:00 PM.

Event #2: House of Shields, Thursday, August 24, 2006, 7:00 PM.

Josh’s case represents a scenario that could apply to all journalists, establishing a legal precedent which will affect the way any story is covered. That local story about police corruption involving a reporter gaining the trust of an anonymous source? (Consider Fajitagate, for example.) Well, the case is under investigation and it’s been transferred to a federal court, sidestepping the California shield law, and the journalist has to give up his sources or be thrown in jail. If you are concerned with preserving California’s shield law and the future of investigative journalism, and you happen to be in San Francisco on either of these two days, these two benefits are worth your while.

If not, you can always donate to Josh Wolf’s defense fund.

Confessions of a Junket Whore

Eric Snider: “I, on the other hand, don’t work for the paper and wouldn’t be representing them specifically on the junket. I’d be a freelancer, representing only myself. So the only thing stopping me from going was whether I, personally, had any ethical qualms about it. I do have such qualms, but I also have a curious nature and enjoy doing things that I have never done before. That’s why I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die, and that’s why I said yes to Paramount. This is the story of how I spent 24 hours as a junket whore.” (via The Hot Button)

Philip Chien: Another Journalist Making Up Sources?

Wired has removed three news items from its site, claiming that a freelance writer named Philip Chien contacted a “space historian” named Robert Ash (Ash says he isn’t). Further, it appears that Chien fabricated sources named Ted Collins and Robert Stevens. Interesting. I wonder if “psloss” is another Chien fabrication. If that forum thread can be believed, it looks like Chien killed his contact base. If so, perhaps this is why he resorted to making up sources.

East Bay Express Parrots Litblog for “Investigative” Piece?

This week’s East Bay Express includes a lengthy piece by Anneli Rufus about Cody’s. The literary blog Dibs, of course, all over this last month (and Flares Into Darkness’s post is quoted as “one blogger” in Rufus’s article). But Rufus’s article doesn’t add much to the conversation that hasn’t been said already. There are some insinuations as to Andy Ross’s motivations about opening the San Francisco store (along with some quotes from Ross himself), with some memories of what Cody’s used to be (or what people believed it to be). But for a purportedly investigative article, there’s little here beyond conjecture. No efforts to obtain documents, no tough questions directed at Ross about his net worth and why he expanded when the banks continually turned down his loan. It’s almost as if Rufus stole Dibs’s angle, spent an afternoon wandering around Berkeley interviewing people and then banged out this piece for an easy payday. And they call blogs the leeches.

Feds Refuse to Honor Fourth Estate and Fourth Amendment

New York Times: “A federal prosecutor may inspect the telephone records of two New York Times reporters in an effort to identify their confidential sources, a federal appeals court in New York ruled yesterday. The 2-to-1 decision, from a court historically sympathetic to claims that journalists should be entitled to protect their sources, reversed a lower court and dealt a further setback to news organizations, which have lately been on a losing streak in the federal courts.”

Google: Putting the Pussy Into Pussycat Journalism?

East Bay Express: “Unfortunately, when Google withholds advertising it also withholds the accompanying revenue, cutting off money whenever Web sites publish stories it deems too violent or tragic. Regardless of how important a story may be, the company’s algorithm pulls its advertising whenever it detects too much carnage. Asked if Google would display ads next to stories about the recent Israeli massacre of Lebanese children, for example, Ghosemajumder says, ‘That’s an example of something that is very difficult to find sensitive advertising [for].’ The larger Google gets, and the more indispensable it becomes to news-related Web sites, the bigger this problem will become.”

San Francisco Freelance Journalist Jailed

Back in July 2005, videographer Josh Wolf shot this compelling video of an anti-war protest, where he raised a provocative question: did the SFPD apply too much force against the protestors in response to an unrelated assault on a police officer? As it turns out, the case later made its way to federal court (because the SFPD receives federal funds), Wolf was asked to reveal the raw footage and refused, under his First and Fourth Amendment rights, as well as the California Shield Law, and is now being charged with contempt of court for refusing to hand over the tapes.

Judge William Alsup has stated, “Every person, from the president of the United States down to you and me, has to give information to the grand jury if the grand jury wants it.”

Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but consider what this means for journalism at large. What does this mean for establishing and maintaining confidential sources? What does this mean for pursuing a story?

If you’d like to donate to Wolf’s legal defense fund, the link is here. I’ve donated. Will you?

(via the SFist)

[UPDATE: Josh Wolf’s mother is now reporting that Wolf lost on all of the motions and is jail. Efforts are being made to appeal.]

Newspapers Confuse Print for Weblogs

New York Times: “The Washington Post, The New York Sun and The Daily Oklahoman, in Oklahoma City, have contracted with an online news aggregator, Inform.com, to scan hundreds of news and blog sites and deliver content related to articles appearing on their Web sites, regardless of who published those articles. Links to those articles will appear in a box beside the site’s original article or within the text of the story.”

I’m wondering if this is a desperate effort to hijack Technorati. Will weblogs be shut out or ignored, even as they break news stories such as Thomas Pynchon’s new book, the Zoo Press literary scandal, Rupert Thomson’s film adaptations or call John Freeman on flummery?

Minnesota TV Station Employs Stalinistic Tactics Against Blogger

Star Tribune: “Matt Bartel, owner of the popular MNSpeak blog also was issued an invitation by WCCO, although the station apparently didn’t recognize the name Bartel (ubiquitous in Twin Cities publishing circles) or his business, until the event was about to start. ‘They pulled me out of the auditorium and told me that they’d become aware of the fact that I had a blog,’ Bartel said. ‘They said, ‘We don’t want you to participate,” then offered him a choice: surrender his notebook or leave the event. I wasn’t going to give them my notebook; I had business stuff in there.'”

More from Bartel at his blog, where he confesses that he agreed that he would not talk about the event. This kind of Stalinistic strong-arming is something that no blogger should have to go through, not as long as the First Amendment (or what’s left of it) exists. Bartel was issued an invitation, but, as far as I can tell, there was no agreement in place that suggested he couldn’t write about the event (although there appears to have been an oral promise from WCCO news staffers). In fact, if WCCO was so concerned about public perception from bloggers, why were they idiotic enough to invite a blogger in the first place?

Citizen McCaw: “People Will Think What I Tell Them to Think.”

LA Observed: “Things began coming to a head last month when McCaw ordered editor Jerry Roberts to quash coverage of opinion editor Travis Armstrong’s DUI arrest — then named Armstrong interim publisher and authorized him to start editing news stories…..Roberts, a former top editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, was led from the building by Armstong as reporters and editors protested and reportedly shouted ‘Fuck you, Travis.’ McCaw, already estranged from much of the Santa Barbara community over her handling of the paper, now has ravaged what was a high quality, experienced and collegial newsroom.” (via Ghost Word)

More on heiress Wendy McCaw here.

Jami Bernard: Case Study for the Decline of Arts Criticism?

Dave Kehr notes (and there is also this followup post) that Jami Bernard, one of the most underrated film critics working today, has not had her contract renewed at the New York Daily News. Kehr speculates that this represents the Daily News getting “rid of one of those pesky, individual voices that keep gumming up the paper’s stated mission to be as bland and toothless as possible.” Kehr also confesses that he experienced considerable editorial interference from top brass and that this move represents an ongoing trend by newspapers to scoop up young interns who will willfully salivate over Hollywood dreck.

Having had a brief stint as a film critic some years ago, I was fortunate not to experience such treatment first-hand. (We online worker bees were permitted considerable lattitude because, even in the eyes of the money men, we were somehow considered “alternative.”) But I did have conversations with some of my print colleagues who reported variations on these battles. I can’t help but dwell on how this reflects a larger trend that we’ll be seeing from the dailies over the next five years as subscriptions plummet and advertising drops. For the arts criticism that remains, will it all come down to hiring starving students straight out of college to patch together a few reviews for peanuts? If it comes down to a climate of inexperienced writers considered as the cultural arbiters, then what hope does more legitimate criticism have in the future? Will the James Woodses, the Jonathan Rosenbaums and the Cynthia Ozicks of our world have to lower their rates to ensure that criticism, at least as reflected in newspapers, is still relevant?

(via 2 Blowhards)

Journalistic Kids These Days

David Halberstam on Iraq: “Halberstam, who has written about other presidential administrations and war decisions, isn’t sure he will write about Iraq. ‘Part of me wants younger people to write it,’ yet there is the challenge of figuring out ‘how we have gotten it so wrong and why the Democrats behaved so poorly,’ he said.”

This is a good point. Where are today’s David Halberstams? Why is Seymour Hersh digging up all the dirt (again) while the Believer staffers devote their precious resources to Modest Mouse? For that matter, while this is a start, if Ben Kunkel is hot shit and n+1 represents a new world order, why isn’t he in Tehran right now digging up dirt?

NPR or the 700 Club?

This NPR segment is appalling journalism and comes damn close to outright propaganda. Not once does the journalist ponder whether faith-based initiative programs are the right way to combat poverty. Not once does the journalist consider the creepy hold that one of the described programs has on the local economy. Not once does the journalist call into question the notion that a man “believing in Jesus” can be trusted.

Maybe It’s a Two-Way Street After All

Josh Marshall writes:

My point is to call out the assumption among too many reporters that original reporting on the web amounts to free pickings, a separate class of journalism they can snag and call their own. That’s gotta stop.

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I find it interesting that outlets have been utterly hypocritical in scolding bloggers for being somewhat parasitical in their approach, while simultaneously leeching off of the leads that can be easily find through a Technorati or Ice Rocket search. It seems to me that most, though certainly not all, bloggers are perfectly respectable in attributing where they found an initial link. (I certainly try to be.) Why not newspapers?

I feel that any journalist or blogger piecing together a story, whether it be a series of links or any outside work going in to confirm a rumor, has the duty to offer as much of their work product as the situation will allow. That way, another person looking to cover the story, perhaps stumbling upon it for the first time, knows what news is old and what news is known and she is in the position of unfurling additional story angles.

It is entirely irresponsible to let competitive animus get in the way of revealing this trail of crumbs. It is also counterintuitive to the investigative process.

David Lazarus: A Journalist Who Can’t Rise from the Dead

Ethical Question: Aren’t you really setting yourself up for disaster when you email naked photos of yourself to “a variety of online correspondents?”

The whole idea that this “Gene” character is complaining after he was foolish enough to send off photos to random strangers strikes me as naive and a bit self-serving. Further, if a person attending a sex party doesn’t already know that the San Francisco sex community is a small and tight-knit group (and, by damn, they should know) and that they should be highly circumspect, do they really have the right to complain? Here’s the question: what happened at the disrupted party and why didn’t the reporter push “Gene” for an answer?

The interesting thing about David Lazarus’s “The Internet is Evil” article is that we don’t hear the other side of the story. Why didn’t Lazarus try and get in touch with “Reality Check” or other members of the Yahoo group? Surely, “Gene,” if he had any brains at all, would have had records or emails from the disabled site. Oh yeah. His story angle was the “victimized” Gene and the evils of the Internet, as pronounced from Ray Everett-Church’s high horse. Never mind that Lazarus’s article still presents us with the possibility that “Gene” could have tipped off campus police about the party and that Lazarus doesn’t even bother to get a firm “No, I didn’t call the police” from “Gene” to make his case more airtight. Nor do we have any idea about how “Gene”‘s reactions to his accusations could have provoked the fury of his cybersmearers. Did he egg them on? I’ve seen a lot of flame wars over the years, and, in most cases, it takes two to tango.

The other thing that makes this story suspect: If Gene was told implicitly by Yahoo! that he needed a subpoena, why didn’t Gene figure out that maybe he just might need an attorney to file a civil suit and hammer Yahoo! with discovery? Perhaps because Gene either lacks the funds, can’t find an attorney to take his case, or implictly knows that there’s a bit of bullshit to his story.

Sure, cybersmears are certainly a threat and I don’t mean to suggest that “Gene” is without innocence. But “Gene”‘s case is a poor example, and Lazarus’s findings here are so full of holes, lack of specifics and unanswered questions that I simply cannot buy his premise.