Media stories of note for Wednesday, April 24, 2013:
Churnalism US is a new tool
to help determine if journalism has been heavily borrowed from other sources. It is a joint project of the Sunlight Foundation (which reports on it here)
and the Media Standards Trust. It works by pasting a URL or text into the site, which then patrols the web for similar content. Last week, for instance, it determined that a prematurely published obituary had borrowed heavily from a Wikipedia entry.
ESPN has a new ombudsman starting June 1. Robert Lipsyte has been one of sports journalism's most ardent critics over decades. The New Republic looks at his career
and his outlook in the new role. Lipsyte replaces what had been a team-ombudsman approach at ESPN, which was using Poynter to help resolve public complaint issues.
Last week's British journalism conference, news:rewired, featured a session on media standards and ethics
in the digital age. It produced a five-point guide that emphasizes accuracy over speed, stronger transparency on process, constant addition of value as stories are linked and shared, a commitment to corrections, and a strategy for trolls.
Three media stories of note for Thursday, March 7, 2013:
The Guardian has an excerpt
of a chapter about journalism's challenges following the Leveson inquiry. The chapter's contributor is Richard Sambrook, former BBC News executive and current journalism school director at Cardiff University, He writes that, post-Leveson, journalism needs to apply a premium on transparent standards in order to rebuild trust. Rather than address standards through statute, what's needed is a shift in perspective by newspapers toward their staff and the public.
Frédéric Filloux, in his Monday Note,
has a look at last week's massive Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Among what interested him: 3.2 billion mobile subscribers, great machine-to-machine growth and data growth, meaning a large opportunity for media through video streaming. He identifies a challenge in the range of screen sizes, features and operating systems.
Earlier this week freelance writer Nate Thayer took The Atlantic Online to task for asking him to rewrite free an article he'd contributed elsewhere. Matthew Ingram, writing for paidContent,
notes that the episode epitomizes the changing landscape for writing --- namely, that there is plenty free writing good enough to meet the audience's expectations. He concludes that a writer's competition isn't the better product but the one that is good enough for others and is free.
A convenient axiom of digital journalism is that speed and technology form a tension with quality.
The Audit, the business-related blog of the Columbia Journalism Review, examines this tension
a new light with the recent effort by the Journal Register Company to reset its business model through a second wave of Chapter 11 proceedings and the New York Times and others to find a viable economic underpinning through an online paywall.
Dean Starkman raises interesting questions about the strategy in some quarters to declare there is no inherent value in journalism (thus it must be free) and in other quarters to declare that there is significant value therein and a necessary barrier must be instilled. Ultimately these strategies are bet-the-bank initiatives with only one winner.
It may have come as a surprise to some this week to learn that some of the quotes attributed to the Obama and Romney presidential campaigns have first been submitted to them for checking and approval before publication.
The New York Times let us in on that information
and ever since there has been a renewed debate in the craft on whether, how and why this has an impact on journalism. The most direct criticism is that quote-approval permits a reconsideration and what emerges is a sanitized statement devoid of spontaneity.
But it has also emerged that some organizations have viewed this as sound practice, and not a new one, principally to ensure statements and assertions are accurately portrayed for the record. They view this as little different from the respected technique of fact-checking.
The public attention, though, has some rethinking their policies
. In an age of declining media trust, the debate continues on whether the approved quote is a boon or bane.
One of the factors in public trust of media is journalism's ability to challenge assertions. The Nieman Journalism Lab reports on new software
from a developer working at The Boston Globe that can assess the truthfulness of claims in online content. The aim is to tackle dubious claims as they're being consumed.
Dan Schultz, an MIT graduate now working as a Knight-Mozilla Fellow at the Globe, developed Truth Goggles.
It applies about 5,500 fact-checked claims from a database created by PolitiFacts to match information in online content. As you read a story, it presents a colour-coded reading over the particular claim.
Presumably the database will expand as the software develops. Schultz acknowledges there are early limitations to the scale, user interface and detection of paraphrases.
As England wrestles with the direction of press regulation and Canada studies the state of its press councils, the Columbia Journalism Review finds a success story
in Scandinavia. There, complaints about the press seem to be handled with aplomb and applause.The story focuses on the example of the mass murder last year in Norway and how the council dealt with complaints --- which in its case must be filed by a principal in the story, not a member of the public.
But there are similar councils in Sweden, Denmark and Finland.What it finds is that a strong council comprising journalists, editors and lay people compel the industry to take heed, change codes on occasion, and remain trusted by the public.
The New York Times' David Carr chronicles the extensive effort
by NBC's The Today Show to make right on an audio editing mistake that created an error.
The clip left the impression that George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, uttered racist statements. The Today Show fired or disciplined several employees and issued a statement apologizing.
What it didn't do, Carr noted, was tell its audience it had erred. Carr examines the case as an example of American television culture about correcting the record.
"Give NBC credit for dealing with a big error that threatened to sow further mayhem on a very delicate story," he wrote. "It’s just too bad it failed to remember that the fix for bad journalism generally includes more journalism. The kind that goes on the air."
Arguably the most comprehensive examination of news media arrives in the form of the annual State of the Media report
from the Pew Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. It looks at each platform, trends in creation and consumption, some of the economic conditions and ambitions, and summarizes the environment in which journalism (primarily North American journalism) operates.This year's report is out, and not surprisingly its focus is on the technological thrust of content delivery. Its findings note a rapid growth in mobile consumption
. that social media are not yet large drivers of news, that television news continues to grow, that subscription models will expand, and that privacy considerations will increasingly intersect with newsgathering. It concludes that business models are still far from certain in this new environment and it chides the traditional media industry for not viewing the engineering function as an economic and operational necessity in the digital age.As for standards, an area of the study's focus is on the reductions in local coverage of civic affairs. It notes that newspapers have been the primary sources of such information and that newsroom cuts have serious consequences for such coverage. The report also speculates that it may be a matter of time before the large technological platforms begin to acquire traditional content providers.The report has several elements and is generally considered required reading in the industry.
It has been an interesting few days to view the combination of retraction, accusation and misinformation over stories in three American media outlets.
The most prominent involved This American Life and its January episode on the Foxconn plant in China that manufactures Apple products. The episode was based on a one-man theatrical production, but the program has lately discovered
that elements of the show were more theatre than journalism.
There was a front-page column
this week in the New Hampshire Eagle Times asserting that its rival, the Compass, had essentially plagiarized a sports column about a basketball game. The writer in question wasn't at the game, but liberally used material from the Eagle Times to appear to have been.
Then there was the matter of an obituary in The Oregonian of its editorial page editor. A "family friend" (actually, another editor in the newsroom) said police discovered the man in a parked car and rushed him to hospital. In fact, he died in the apartment of a woman with whom he'd been in a relationship for a year. The editor who was the source of the information was fired. She had misinformed the paper out of sympathy for the man's wife. The paper ran an extensive account
of the matter later in the week, but did not note it fired the editor.
An inquiry into Australian media
has concluded that a new press regulatory body is required to deal with public complaints.
The inquiry, called in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and headed by retired judge Ray Finkelstein, offers several recommendations to deal with public trust in the press.
The inquiry concluded
that existing measures are insufficient and underfinanced to deal with public concerns. Only a limited number of news media participate in such initiatives. Finkelstein recommends a binding authority that would compel apologies and corrections across all platforms. It would be independent but government
Industry response has been negative. The strongest concern has been that a government-financed body has no place in determining the fairness of journalism. It suggests industry self-regulation remains the best solution.
He did not recommend government support of the industry generally, but noted the weakness in some instances of the regional press and said the matter bears continued attention.