May 042017
 

NYU Journalism Professor has been alarmed by USA President Donald Trump – which is unlikely to surprise readers of this blog.

Professor Rosen is hardly more sanguine about the journalists who “cover” him. This is from a recent twitter thread you can find at at @jayrosen_nyu.

The most basic tool a critic has is not to complain or object, but to describe. Here is my latest attempt to describe what is going wrong in the press treatment of Donald Trump. I wrote it as a Twitter thread — a series of connected thoughts — on the occasion of his first 100 days.

The title is: “The everyday language of news distorts the reality of Trump.” For among my conclusions from watching press coverage of the first 100 days: Normal language will be used for what it is not in any way normal. Ready? Here goes…

On day 100 of Trump-in-power a thread about failed descriptors that keep the press from rendering the situation in its various extremes.

Forced to choose between inventing a language for a presidency without precedent and distorting the picture by relying on normal terms, the newswriters have frequently chosen inaccuracy by means of a received language, even though they know there’s nothing normal here.

With no details — and no evidence of planning or deliberation — calling a page of bullet points his tax “plan” misdescribes what he did.

It might seem harmlessly routine for PBS Newshour to announce a look back at Trump’s “foreign policy accomplishments and setbacks,” except there is no evidence that he HAS a foreign policy, and lots of evidence he does not.

The most you can say is: stuff happened, and he reacted.

It goes further. Even to say the president has views is a distortion. There are particles and waves but these do not amount to “positions.” Every report on his ‘flip-flopping’ suffers by the implication that he had some sort of position in the first place. Nope. He just said stuff.

Talk of “a steep learning curve” credits him with learning. Got any evidence of that? Reacting, yes… but learning?

My point is the press is running into trouble with basic description because the thing being described violates baseline expectations.

Now flip it around. Just as thoughtless use of normal terms distorts an extreme situation, using accurate terms may sound ‘too extreme.’ An example I’ve used: many things he does can only be explained via Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But that is off limits to newsrooms.

As Josh Marshall has written, “He is not only ignorant but clearly unaware of his level of ignorance.”

When extreme facts about a president cannot be rendered in news space without the speaker sounding extreme, the facts had better watch out. And it’s this dynamic that creates ‘normalization’ by news: an accurate account feels less believable because the reality is so whacked.

But all is not lost! Here, NBC’s Chuck Todd describes an extreme situation with Trump, but stays within the language of news. Watch the clip: it’s way better than you might think. pic.twitter.com/AeqaCv5kH2

Mar 032017
 

With several of his graduate students NYU Journalism Professor Jay Rosen has just published the second annual “What’s Changing in Journalism” guide, which “depicts trends that are influencing the business now, and are still new enough that even experienced journalists may not understand what’s going on. Each development gets its own page, with a concise summary, links to learn more, key people to follow: everything you need to get up to speed.”

This is marvelous and helpful work. The trends:

Under the principle “go where the people are,” newsrooms are now making stories and features that are fully native to social platforms.ONE This is easier in the case of chatbots,TWO harder when it comes to audio,THREE which is just starting to adapt to the social media age. To reach people directly — without platforms in the middle —journalists are doing more with mobile push notificationsFOUR and reviving the email newsletter.FIVE Meanwhile, artificial intelligenceSIX is becoming part of the work flow, as new forms of storytelling emerge, like drone journalism,SEVENvirtual reality and 360° video.EIGHT With technologies and platforms proliferating, news companies have to get much better at UX designNINE and make subtler use of metrics,TEN since many of the traditional measures no longer apply. And with the discovery that people will pay for news, it’s time to get smarter about membership models.ELEVEN

I’ve folded a recent post re Jay Rosen’s work into this one. The two are closely related, obviously, political concerns being implicit in the first and explicit in the second –>

My first mentor keeps a list of things in journalism that worry him the most. His first three (“ranked by urgency”):

1. The President of the United States is proceeding as though he were liberated from the distinction between true and false. His spokespeople are following on this dubious lead. What does the press do in response?

2. It’s possible we are sliding toward authoritarian rule. That’s a development journalists ought to oppose with all their might. But they are reluctant to think that way. They don’t want to be on the opposing team— or anyone’s team. They just want to report the news. “We’re not the opposition,” they say. Yet they may have no choice. From what traditions can they draw to rise to the occasion, and find the will to fight?

3. With Trump in power there is a surplus of eventfulness, too many things to report, track, investigate, critique. Too much news! How does the press keep from exhausting itself and fracturing our attention into too many pieces?

Mar 082016
 

While we’re talking about Jay Rosen, let me introduce you to an initiative he started the other day with some of his graduate students at NYU: NewsLiteracy2016. This is a wonderful project.

Jay’s announcement on his Facebook feed:

One of the first things I teach my students is: “Online, the simplest way to add value is to save the user time.”

That was the principle behind a project we launched today, called NewsLiteracy2016. Each of my 11 graduate students took a key trend or disruptive force that is changing journalism and studied it until they knew it cold. Then they reduced all that knowledge to a series of time-saving features: a short 500 word introduction, a list of the best links for further reading, good people to follow for that topic, key charts and graphs to illustrate trends, a “why is this important?” box.

The cover image (below) is a single paragraph summarizing what’s changing in journalism, and each clause links to the one-page study guide for that topic. So it’s both a condensation, and a table of contents.

We made this especially for teachers and students, and anyone who wants to understand why people keep talking about a “crisis” in journalism. My Studio 20 students built the site and did the design. I hope you will check it out, and “like” this post so it spreads on Facebook, or even consider sharing it with your network. It will save your friends a lot of time!

journalism

Here’s the picture with the links working: As news consumption moves to mobileONE and publishers lose control of distribution,TWO business models have to evolve with changes in the larger ecosystem.THREE Wise media companies are focusing more on products,FOUR exploring how to personalize the flow of information,FIVE and engineering a smarter newsroom workflow.SIXMeanwhile, journalists are realizing that data can help them find better stories,SEVEN and they’re making friends with automation.EIGHTThey understand that users can assist in news production,NINE that if you can’t have scale it’s better to be niche,TEN and that excelling at explanation can interest more people in the news.ELEVEN

Mar 072016
 

househeart

It is hard to edit one’s own work into its final version; you always need a second pair of eyes.

One can, though, review and recast one’s work using intelligent techniques. My former mentor NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen mentions two such techniques in a piece called “We temporarily lost our minds.” Some thoughts on SB Nation’s Daniel Holtzclaw debacle. (Holtzclaw is the “now-notorious Oklahoma City police officer convicted on 18 counts of rape and sexual assault, crimes he committed while on duty and against the people he was supposed to protect.”)

 

The writer and non-fiction master Gay Talese used to describe for anyone who asked how he would pin the typed pages of his articles to a wall, in order to step back and re-read the draft with binoculars. That’s right: binoculars! Why did he do this? Because it was the only way he could think of to examine his creation at the sentence level and as a completed whole: simultaneously. To perfect what he made, he needed distance from, and intimacy with. He felt he couldn’t sacrifice one for the other. If he planted a bomb on page 2, he wanted to see exactly how it went off on page 22, and assess whether that was the right story arc. I mention this because it is one answer to the mystery of how the Vox editors temporarily lost their minds. They didn’t have any equivalent to Gay Talese’s binoculars. They didn’t know what their creation added up to. They couldn’t see it whole.

There are other ways to get distance on a text you are too intimate with. One of them is so simple, so artless, so obvious that I’m convinced it is under-employed because editorial people — who think of themselves as sophisticated manipulators of text — are embarrassed to use something we might recommend to a sixth grader. Read the work aloud, preferably to an “average” or non-specialist listener. Just vocalizing a problematic text brings the problems with it much closer to the surface. There is no way “Who is Daniel Holtzclaw?” could have survived being read aloud to a husband, wife, girlfriend or boyfriend. No one who loves you would have let you publish it on the internet.

Jay’s entire piece is well worth reading. It begins:

On February 17, SB Nation, the founding site in the Vox Media empire, did something so inexplicable it amounts to an editorial mystery.

For about five hours the editors had up on their site a 12,000 word article weirdly sympathetic to Daniel Holtzclaw, the now-notorious Oklahoma City police officer convicted on 18 counts of rape and sexual assault, crimes he committed while on duty and against the people he was supposed to protect. This was a piece of writing so wrongheaded, noxious and ill-conceived that the editorial director of SB Nation, Spencer Hall, said later that day in a note to readers: “There is no qualification: it was a complete failure.”

A true statement. I cannot put it any better than Deadspin’s Greg Howard did:  “The tone of the entire piece is fawning and forgiving; by the end, the terrifying, spectacular spree of rapes exists as little more than an unfortunate occurrence, and a 263-year sentence as an unjustly harsh burden Holtzclaw has to bear. Holtzclaw destroyed 13 women’s lives; ‘Who Is Daniel Holtzclaw?’ told the story of how they destroyed his.”

Photo by Robert Basil