How to criticize the press—responsibly

Columbia Journalism Review How to criticize the press—responsibly

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We live in a moment of extraordinary tension between the press and the public. Donald Trump’s knee-jerk retort of “Fake news” is now a particular favorite of dictators and authoritarians around the world. The prevailing anti-press animosity at the national level has trickled down to local reporters, the Associated Press reports. And it’s not just threats. In June, a man opened fire with a shotgun inside the offices of the Capital Gazette, in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five newspaper employees and injuring two others. In October, a Bulgarian journalist was raped and murdered, a Saudi journalist was assassinated and dismembered inside his own government’s consulate, and mail bombs were sent to the New York offices of CNN.

I’ve written previously about some things journalists and news organizations can do to try strengthen audience trust at a time like this. But that’s only half the equation. It’s also a good time for a refresher for citizens on what constitutes a healthy, constructive conversation about the work we produce.

For some, what follows may be obvious; to others, it may seem laughably naive. But journalists don’t like to let important things go unsaid. And, if these points feels achingly obvious, surely you know someone who could use a reminder, or a young person who never learned them in the first place.

Here are a few dos and don’ts for how to respond to the press.

DON’T commit or condone violence against journalists.

Violence against journalists is unacceptable under any circumstances, no matter what the President tweets and says at his rallies. Sadly, we live in an era where this long-unsaid truth needs to be stated clearly, frequently, and unequivocally.

Freedom of the press not only appears at the top our nation’s Bill of Rights, it’s enshrined in Article 19 of the UN’s 1948’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the “freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” And so if you commit an act of violence against a journalist you’re not only breaking the law, you’re committing a breach of values shared (in theory, at least) by Americans and people around the world.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, more than 1,300 journalists have been killed worldwide since 1992, and a newly released CPJ report notes that impunity for killers of journalists is “entrenched in 14 nations.” Meanwhile, 40 journalists have been physically attacks in the United States so far this year, according to the US Press Freedom Tracker.

DON’T make it personal.

Nonviolence may be the lowest bar to clear when responding to a work of journalism. But it’s also not productive to personally criticize the journalist who produced it. This means refusing to comment on a journalist’s age, appearance, gender, race, class, religion, sexual orientation, education, outfit, or anything else about them, when responding to their work. In all cases, stick to the work, not the person.

This, of course, is Human Decency 101, but it applies especially to journalists, who conduct their work in public about sensitive subjects. And, if you’re responding with any trace of good faith (a big “if,” I know), staying focused on the work will actually help get your message across. Washington Post media columnist and former New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan tells me she makes a point to respond to reader emails. “But I do not answer the ones that attack me,” she says. As soon as they get personally insulting, “I tune out.”

To that I’ll add: many journalists are perfectionists who take great pride in their work, so if your goal is to cause emotional pain, pointing to flaws in what we wrote is often more upsetting than any ad hominem jab, anyway.

DO know that feedback is essential to journalism.

Listening to our audience isn’t some optional, take-it-or-leave-it aspect of journalism; it’s a vital part of what we do. This is both ideological—you’ll find calls for audience feedback throughout the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the American Press Institute’s “What Is Journalism” digital library—but it’s also practical. While we strive for accuracy and excellence, journalists are often assigned topics cold, and trying to establish expertise quickly. Or we’re simply working on extremely tight deadlines. Slip-ups are inevitable, and we need your help spotting and correcting them.

So, if we got something factually wrong, tell us so we can fix it quickly. And if there was something wrong in the bigger sense—in the way a piece was framed or presented, or if there are subjects or stories we continue to miss—tell us so we don’t make the same mistake twice. Journalists are overworked, and it may take us a moment to respond. But an upside to our workload is that we rarely run out of opportunities to try to do better next time. As Sullivan explains, “For the most part, we’re idealistic still, and we want to be improving, growth-oriented, [and] constructive.”

DO read/watch/listen to the full article before responding.

This one is pretty self explanatory: if you didn’t complete (or even begin!) the piece, you’re really in no position to give a constructive response. At least give it a skim?

DO be as specific as possible.

The least helpful criticism simply makes sweeping claims about “the media,” a term that, as the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi has skillfully explained, is “so imprecise and generic that it has lost any meaning.” One notch better (but still essentially useless) are blanket statements about an entire news outlet or a particular reporter. In contrast, the best feedback zeroes in not just on a specific article, but the specific place that was incorrect or ill advised, and, when possible, backs up its claims with evidence or a detailed explanation.

Once you toss some of these specifics on the table, we can begin to have a productive conversation, which is what NPR’s Steve Inskeep was getting at when he recently tweeted to the president: “Thanks for writing. If a specific NPR story concerns you, feel free to name it and we can go to the transcript. All work is public at http://npr.org . If there is no specific story of concern, that is its own answer. I’ll continue doing my job as a citizen.”

DO remember that journalists are human beings acting in good faith.

In a world in which reporters are called “scum,” “disgusting,” “enemies” and much worse, it’s worth stating—and restating—that journalists are human beings. We are flesh-and-blood people with spouses, friends, parents, children, pets, memories, hobbies, and mortgages. We like pizza. We pay taxes. We go to the gym and take out the trash. And if you’re inclined to leave an angry voicemail or slide your thumb across your throat at us, it’s important to remember: that’s someone’s brother or sister. That’s a human being, with a heartbeat, a birthday, a favorite song. Don’t believe those who tell you otherwise.

And, beyond our basic humanity, the vast majority of us are trying to do as fair and accurate of a job as possible. Northeastern University journalism professor and longtime media reporter and critic Dan Kennedy tells me that, of the hundreds of journalists he knows or has written about, he can probably count the number of bad apples he’s encountered—people who plagiarize or fabricate—on one hand. The rest “are absolutely trying to do the best job that they can, oftentimes under very difficult circumstances,” he says.

You can take Kennedy’s word. Or you can look at what happens when people run afoul of the expectations of the industry and its employers. Listen to the This American Life episode “Retraction” exposing Mike Daisey’s narrative corner-cutting in an earlier episode of the show. Check out the 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair stories on serial fabulist Stephen Glass, or the New York Times deep-dive on Jayson Blair’s “low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper.” Read the lengthy report from this publication about Rolling Stone’s disastrous UVA campus rape story.

Each of these stories reflects an industry that holds accountability, accuracy, and reputation as its highest principles.

DO support us, if you appreciate our work.

I’m sure I’m far from the only journalist who, years later, can quote verbatim lines from positive reader feedback. (One email included the unforgettable phrase, “Please keep writing.”) These words fill our emotional gas tanks and remind us why we do this work. It certainly isn’t the pay.

So, if you learned something from a piece of journalism, or you were moved or challenged or entertained by it, take a moment to mention that to the person who created it. Don’t assume that someone else has said something. Somehow, thanks to the wonders of the human mind, notes like this can cancel out the memory of a thousand nasty comments.

And if you’re feeling grateful, words aren’t the only useful form of praise. Subscribe. Donate. Defend us in conversations. Support organizations like CPJ or Freedom of the Press Foundation. (Or CJR.) Journalism is hard work that, though often accessed for free, costs enormous time, labor, energy, and money to produce. If you appreciate what we do, we’ll gladly take whatever support you can offer in return. Even pizza.

Especially pizza.

ICYMI: The aggressive campaign that has extinguished 90 percent of Breitbart’s advertisers

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

(Via https://www.cjr.org/analysis/how-to-criticize-the-press-responsibly.php)

Regardless of your political preferences and beliefs, a robust journalism corps in multiple respected sources is quintessential to promoting, protecting, and defending the Constitution as one party or partisan group ascends.

Remember, journalists are human and make mistakes as do publications. The measure of them is how well they do on the whole and how well the respond to such mistakes.

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Anguished English lede in Apple news

Yikes! The World Cup spread to eight other countries this year?!?!?!

Apple Announces World Cup Content Coming to Siri, Apple TV, News, App Store, iBooks and More:

Apple’s personal assistant Siri has been updated with support for sports ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, Apple announced today.

(Via MacRumors: Mac News and Rumors – Front Page)

Of course not. This is just a poorly written lede. An alternate suggestion:

“Apple announced today that personal assistant Siri was updated with sports support in Brazil, Russia, Denmark, Finland, Malaysia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in advance of the World Cup.”

Dear InfoSec & Tech Journalists …

Get to the point early. If you can’t, rewrite it so you do. Don’t make yourself part of the story. How you got here is useless exposition.

You’re a blogger? The same holds true. As a reader I don’t care about the subtleties differentiating the two.

Depressing Ratio

[https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/significant-digits-for-friday-june-1-2018/](Significant Digits For Friday, June 1, 2018)

12 minutes, 3 seconds

On Tuesday, two things happened: A New England Journal of Medicine article by Harvard researchers argued that the death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was most likely thousands higher than the official number of 64; and Roseanne Barr, the sitcom star, was fired for a racist Twitter rant. According to the watchdog group Media Matters, CNN devoted nearly five hours to discussing Roseanne, and just over 12 minutes to discussing Puerto Rico. The other cable news networks, Fox News and MSNBC, were similarly lopsided, with Fox spending just 48 seconds on the Puerto Rico study. [Media Matters]

This is messed up.

The Media’s Paywall Obsession Won’t Work for Most

The Media’s Paywall Obsession Won’t Work for Most:

Many of us will, therefore, only pay a monthly fee towards one or two publications that we find really valuable; and, for most of us, that’s probably a national broadsheet “paper of record” rather than a thin local edition. But the national papers of record can’t realistically cover all local news of relevance across an entire country. Also, I’ve focused on American papers here, but this is a massive problem in Canada as well, and around the world.

(Via Pixel Envy)

I’m no fan of the subscription model but I found the idea that GDPR might drive change interesting:

Perhaps new legislation and the reclamation of our privacy online will spur the creation of small, privacy-focused advertiser networks again, akin to the Deck Network or something like the Outline’s ad strategy. Perhaps we need more networks of bloggers, too, allowing readers to subscribe to several related websites at the same time, without creating barriers to readership with paywalls. Maybe there’s a third and fourth source of money beyond readers and advertisers — I’m not sure. But non-giant entities, whether web-only or in print, need a funding solution for the future that isn’t solely reliant upon massive traffic, Facebook referrals, or subscriptions.

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Meet the journalism student who found out she won a Pulitzer in class

On Monday afternoon, Mariel Padilla, a master’s student at Columbia Journalism School, sat around a table with classmates, listening to Professor Giannina Segnini lead a discussion about email encryption for reporting across borders.A couple floors below, journalism bigwigs and other members of the press crowded into the World Room, an ornate, high-ceilinged chamber reserved for the event, eager to watch Pulitzer Prize Administrator Dana Canedy announce this year’s winners. For Padilla, who moved to New York last year from the small town of Oxford, Ohio, just being in geographic proximity to the announcement was a thrill.

“I knew I was going to be two floors above where it was happening,” she says, reflecting on the moment, “and I remember thinking, Oh, that’s cool, I can tell people that I was in the same building [where] the Pulitzers are being announced!”

Little did she know she was about to become a Pulitzer winner herself.

(Via Columbia Journalism Review)

What a story. 23 years old, only in journalism for about 2 years, and she lands a Pulitzer.

Read the whole story to learn more. I am jealous.

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Journalism & Ethics

Note: This is a total knee jerk reaction to the tweets & post from The Verge that Chris Ziegler was simultaneously a new Apple employee and an existing The Verge editor covering Apple.

Working for two employers at once isn’t new. It happens all the time.

But you can’t report about company B for company A while also an employee for company B. It’s Journalism 101, a class I took. I know famous corporate blogs and sites occasionally like to blur journalistic lines. This violation, if true, is clear.

Assuming Tim Cook didn’t appear apropos of nothing on Chris Ziegler’s doorstep the day his dual employment began, and nothing in what I’ve read so far indicates an immaculate hiring, The Verge should at least brand every article Chris wrote for the past 6 months as suspect. His motives aren’t known. We can only speculate when Mr. Ziegler entered into discussion and ultimately received the offer to join Apple.

Apple should dismiss Mr. Ziegler if the accusations are true. If he was duplicitous to The Verge management, co-workers, and readers it stands to reason he will be duplicitous to Apple as well. His ethics, at least, are questionable.

If someone I hired knowingly still worked in such a conflict of interest I would fire them for cause. I’d be curious to learn of environments where such action wouldn’t be the norm.

Again, I don’t know all the details or all the facts. If correct, the course for Apple and The Verge is clear.

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Echoing Click Bait

A friend pointed out to me that an article I shared was little but click bait. I admit to only skimming the content before posting. I do that.

Unless a URL I post on social networks refers to prjorgensen.com, pvcsec.com, or one of my other sites directly, I apply cursory or less verification as to the authenticity, veracity, quality, security, or reliability of the data.

The journalist in me WANTS to vet everything I post via all the media. I lack the time.

What do you do? How do you not echo click bait?

Comment here or hashtag #askpvcsec on Twitter.

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