Thanks, Marty Baron; we needed this.

I’ve been a little bummed, lately, about the state of journalism.

The fake news problem. The social media “bubble”/confirmation bias challenge. The news literacy crisis. The business model/$$$ problem.

I have been threatening to buy a food truck and rumble off into the sunset. (The idea is crepes, sweet and savory. I even had a name in mind: “Crepe Escape.”)

And then my BFF, who has been worried about me lately, sent me the link to this Vanity Fair piece that contains the full text of Washington Post managing editor Marty Baron’s speech upon accepting the Hitchens Prize this week. (You may be familiar with him from the film “Spotlight” — you know, Liev Schreiber?)

I want to share it with you because it says everything I think you need to know, going forward, as a journalist. Or as a person who respects the work of journalists and understands how important this work is to democracy.

Here’s part of what Baron said:

Values are what matter most. And this is a good time to talk about them. A good time to reaffirm what we as journalists stand for.

This is a time we are compelled to fight for free expression and a free press—rights granted us under the Constitution, yes, but also the very qualities that have long set us apart from other nations.

We will have a new president soon. He was elected after waging an outright assault on the press. Animosity toward the media was a centerpiece of his campaign. He described the press as “disgusting,” “scum,” “lowlifes.” He called journalists the “lowest form of humanity.” That apparently wasn’t enough. So he called us “the lowest form of life.” In the final weeks of the campaign he labeled us “the enemies.”

It is no wonder that some members of our staff at The Washington Post and at other news organizations received vile insults and threats of personal harm so worrisome that extra security was required. It is no wonder that one Internet venue known for hate and misogyny and white nationalism posted the home addresses of media executives, clearly inviting vandalism or worse. Thankfully, nothing that I know of happened to anyone. Then there was the yearlong anti-Semitic targeting of journalists on Twitter.

Donald Trump said he wanted to “open up” libel laws. And he proposed to harass unfriendly media outlets by suing them, driving up their legal expenses with a goal of weakening them financially.

With respect to The Washington Post, he ordered our press credentials revoked during the campaign, barring us from routine press access to him and his events, because our coverage didn’t meet with his approval. Even before we were subjected to his months-long blacklist, Donald Trump falsely alleged that our owner, Jeff Bezos, was orchestrating that coverage. And he openly hinted that, if he became president, he would retaliate.

Jeff Bezos himself addressed this perfectly at one point—on several occasions actually.

“We want a society,” he said, “where any of us, any individual in this country, any institution in this country, if they choose to, can scrutinize, examine, and criticize an elected official, especially a candidate for the highest office in the most powerful country on earth. . . .

“We have fundamental laws and . . . we have Constitutional rights in this country to free speech. But that’s not the whole reason that it works here. We also have cultural norms that support that, where you don’t have to be afraid of retaliation. And those cultural norms are at least as important as the Constitution.”

Getting elected didn’t change anything. After his election—in the midst of protests against him—Donald Trump resorted to Twitter to accuse the media of inciting violence when, of course, there had been no incitement whatsoever by anyone.

The other night, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour eloquently explained the gravity of such deliberately false accusations emanating from a future head of state. She was speaking when she was honored by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

“Postcard from the world,” she said, “This is how it goes with authoritarians like Sisi, Erdoğan, Putin, the Ayatollahs, Duterte, et al . . . First the media is accused of inciting, then sympathizing, then associating—until they suddenly find themselves accused of being full-fledged terrorists and subversives. Then they end up in handcuffs, in cages, in kangaroo courts, in prison—and then who knows?”

When the press is under attack, we cannot always count on our nation’s institutions to safeguard our freedoms—not even the courts.

At times throughout our history, they have shamefully failed to do so—whether it was the Sedition Act of 1798 under President John Adams, harshly repressive Sedition and Espionage Acts under Woodrow Wilson in the context of World War I, or the McCarthy Era that still serves to remind us of what comes of a dishonest and reckless search for enemies.

The ultimate defense of press freedom lies in our daily work.

Many journalists wonder with considerable weariness what it is going to be like for us during the next four—perhaps eight—years. Will we be incessantly harassed and vilified? Will the new administration seize on opportunities to try intimidating us? Will we face obstruction at every turn?

If so, what do we do?

The answer, I believe, is pretty simple. Just do our job. Do it as it’s supposed to be done.

Every day as I walk into our newsroom, I confront a wall that articulates a set of principles that were established in 1933 by a new owner for The Post, Eugene Meyer, whose family went on to publish The Post for 80 years.

The principles begin like this: “The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the truth may be ascertained.”

The public expects that of us. If we fail to pursue the truth and to tell it unflinchingly—because we’re fearful that we’ll be unpopular, or because powerful interests (including the White House and the Congress) will assail us, or because we worry about financial repercussions to advertising or subscriptions—the public will not forgive us.

Nor, in my view, should they.

After the release of the movie Spotlight, I was often asked how we at The Boston Globe were willing to take on the most powerful institution in New England and among the most powerful in the world, the Catholic Church.

The question really mystifies me—especially when it comes from journalists or those who hope to enter the profession. Because holding the most powerful to account is what we are supposed to do.

If we do not do that, then what exactly is the purpose of journalism?

God forbid we take on the weaker institutions, the weaker individuals, while letting the strongest ones off the hook only because they can forcefully fight back.

A day before I started work at The Boston Globe in the summer of 2001, I read something startling. It was a column by The Globe’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist, Eileen McNamara. She wrote about the case of John Geoghan. He was a priest. Geoghan had been accused of abusing as many as 80 children. It was shocking. So I read closely.

The column detailed how the attorney for the survivors—those victimized by the priest—had asserted that the cardinal himself, Cardinal Bernard Law, knew about this priest’s repeated abuse and yet continued to reassign him from one parish to the next—notifying no one, not the parish priest and certainly not the parishioners, that a priest known to have committed sexual assaults would serve in ministry at their church.

Those were the allegations of the plaintiffs’ attorney. But the attorneys for the Church called those allegations baseless and irresponsible.

And then Eileen ended her column by saying the truth might never be known because the internal Church documents that could reveal the truth were under court seal.

When there are allegations of grave wrongdoing, we can’t settle for the truth never being known.

We needed to know, and that is what propelled me—and my colleagues at The Boston Globe—to launch our investigation and to file a court motion to unseal those internal documents that would tell us what the Church was so determined to keep secret.

The first question we sought to answer, of course, was whether the Cardinal himself knew of this priest’s abuse and yet reassigned him to other parishes despite consistently strong evidence of serial abuse of children. The answer to that question proved to be an unequivocal yes.

We also wanted to know if there were other abusers like this priest? Beyond that, did the Church knowingly place abusers into parishes where their history of abuse was kept secret—and where they abused again? Was concealing abuse and reassigning priests the Church’s actual policy and practice? The answer to all those questions turned out to be an unequivocal yes.

The result of excavating the truth was a public good. Children were made more safe.

Well after our first story was published in January 2002, I received a letter from Father Thomas P. Doyle, who had waged a long and lonely battle within the Church on behalf of abuse victims. He wrote this: “This nightmare would have gone and on were it not for you and the Globe staff. As one who has been deeply involved in fighting for justice for the victims and survivors for many years, I thank you with every part of my being.

“I assure you,” he wrote, “that what you and the Globe have done for the victims, the Church and society cannot be adequately measured. It is momentous and its good effects will reverberate for decades.”

There is a lesson in Father Doyle’s letter: The truth is not meant to be hidden. It is not meant to be suppressed. It is not meant to be ignored. It is not meant to be disguised. It is not meant to be manipulated. It is not meant to be falsified. Otherwise, wrongdoing will persist.

I kept Father Doyle’s letter on my desk in Boston until the day, four years ago, that I left to join The Washington Post. It served as a reminder of what brought me to journalism and what kept me in it. And as a reminder of the work we as journalists must always do.


Yes and yes and yes.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Why we’re watching “Citizen Four”

I noticed some of you were pretty fidgety and bored as we watched the first part of “Citizen Four” yesterday.

Sorry, not sorry.

I am testing an assumption: that you care about the future of the democracy. Edward Snowden’s revelations shocked some people into the realization that the democracy faced a new threat from within because the government had constructed a system of mass citizen surveillance in the aftermath of 9/11, one that could be used in a nefarious way to infringe people’s freedom.

Lots of people didn’t care, according to polling. A really smart friend of mine who is an endowed chair in a very esoteric subject at a major university said at the time that he didn’t see what the big deal was. “I’m not doing anything wrong. So why does it matter?”

I found that deeply troubling.

I don’t know what your reaction was to finding out about the NSA surveillance program. Mine was, wow, this sounds scary but it’s really complicated and I wish I understood it better. I vowed to sit down and read as much as I could about it.

I wasn’t alone, as it turned out. Lots of Americans just didn’t get it. And it took me a while to understand the terrifying implications for journalists. (I have since installed encryption software on my gmail account, in case I need it.)

And then I saw this absolutely amazing (and funny) “Last Week Tonight” segment on the government surveillance program and felt that I had been thoroughly schooled. What John Oliver demonstrates in this piece, somewhat vulgarly, is a very important thing for journalists to understand.

Watch the whole thing. It’s only 30 minutes, and it will prepare you for our conversation on Thursday after we watch the end of the film.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

What happens when…

In our morning newsroom meeting today, I expressed my deepest fear about the future for the news media, whose value has been steadily devalued by more changes than I care to enumerate in this post. We know that the majority of Americans — when asked a certain question in a certain way — will say they don’t trust the news media to tell the truth. We also know that within communities, there’s much greater trust in local news sources but that the toxic attitude toward journalists in general can and does trickle down.

We talked in class about this: how every interaction with a person can influence that person’s attitude toward journalists. I’ve seen it happen again and again.

The news media made some mistakes throughout this presidential campaign. But there was also a lot of really good journalism. I consumed as much of it as I could, trying to understand what was happening. My orientation is toward more information, not less.

And yet, I know that lots of people don’t have this orientation. They do not embrace complexity. Facts and information aren’t their highest priority. They want to feel better about themselves in a world that doesn’t make sense to them, anymore. A world that has left them behind. Facts and information wouldn’t necessarily provide that comfort.

Here’s a little piece that Jack Shafer wrote for Politico this week. You won’t like this piece if you’re a Trump supporter, but he makes several important points. Here’s one of them:

Journalism at its best can provide only a set of traffic advisories. It is not and it can’t be an autopilot for life’s trip. Voters are free to read or ignore the press corps’ findings and even … absorb and agree with those reports and then cast ballots that contradict what’s been reported and what they believe.

And yet, as many political scientists agree, a well-informed citizenry is crucial to the healthy functioning of a democracy.

Factual knowledge about politics is a critical component of citizenship, one that is essential if citizens are to discern their real interests and take effective advantage of the civic opportunities afforded them… (Delli Carpini and Keeter 1996): 3, 5).

Where does that leave us as journalists? Here’s my conclusion: We must demonstrate every day the importance of facts and reliable information. First thing you can do? BUY some good journalism. Spend at least as much on it as you do on fancy coffee. Support news media organizations that do a good job by paying for their hard work. And tell all your friends why you did it. If we don’t value journalism, how can we expect others to do the same?

Call bullsh** when you see it. You can play the role of media literacy educator for your friends and family. Friends don’t let friends read/watch garbage. Help them find the good stuff.

Be sure your open mind is open and that you’ve made a real effort to get outside your own thought bubble. Beware your own confirmation biases, which are only strengthened by social media.

Finally, when people around you start bashing “the media,” ask them to whom they’re referring. Try to unpack it and look at what’s there. With kindness and compassion, share your own experience of doing journalism and what you know about its role in helping connect communities, exposing wrongdoing and bearing witness to events few can or are willing to see. Use a personal example, if you can.

You have a role in this, and I hope you won’t back down.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A question of sourcing: Fair? Unfair?

Did you see the Washington Post’s story about the Pennsylvania woman who is a big Trump supporter?

Read it. Comment below. I want to know what you think.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

One you’ve never heard of: Perry Jones, 19, killed by the police

Every time a black person gets killed by a cop in America, I think about Perry Jones.

He was 19 years old and apparently homeless when he climbed onto the roof of a barbecue shack in Columbus, Georgia, shimmied down the chimney and hacked some meat out of a freezer with a cleaver. When he climbed up and out onto the roof of the restaurant, it was surrounded by cops — nine, by one officer’s count. 

A sergeant who was an excellent shot and had recently won a sharpshooting competition took a bead on Perry Jones and killed him as he stood up there on the roof — no more than eight feet from the ground. 

The next day, it was my job as the morning police reporter for the Columbus Ledger to write about what had happened. All these years later, I still remember feeling shocked when the police department’s internal affairs department quickly declared the shooting justified. I’m not sure Perry Jones had even been buried.

The NAACP was also shocked. How, the organization asked at a news conference, could the police have possibly determined in such a short time that the shooting was justified? The organization demanded an inquest into the young man’s death.

The coroner, a guy named Don Kilgore (can’t make this stuff up), agreed to perform an inquest if the family agreed.

Perry’s family? I had been able to find only two people with any connection to him: a grandmother, who lived in a shotgun shack with no phone or indoor plumbing south of town, and a sister who lived on the other side of the border in rural Alabama. I could see the sadness in the grandmother’s eyes, foggy from cataracts, as we talked a little about him. I had never encountered such a deep sense of powerlessness in a human being.

The sister was hard to reach. I remember calling a funeral home and the young man who answered the phone offering to run down the road to her house to get her because she didn’t have a phone, either. When she got on the line, she was still breathless from the walk and confused by my call. I explained I was just trying to find out about Perry, her brother, whose life had seemed to leave barely an imprint. She hadn’t seen him in a while. She was angry and confused by what had happened. He wasn’t the kind of person who would ever hurt anyone.

In the days after his death, I asked the police chief to explain to me why the sergeant had killed Perry, who was unarmed except, maybe, for the meat cleaver he still had in his hand. There was no video of what happened. No smart phone cameras. No body cameras. Just a story about a guy on a roof with a cleaver.

“Well, you know, Katherine,” the police chief said to me. “He could have jumped off that roof and hurt someone with that cleaver.”

Nine cops with guns. One 19-year-old with a cleaver. What about asking him to drop the weapon? Had anyone tried that?

The police chief gave me one of those looks I had seen many times since I’d moved to the Deep South from Chicago. It said, girl, you’re not from around here, are you?

Then the day arrived. The coroner announced a news conference where we media types expected to hear something about an inquest into the death of Perry Jones. All of the city’s reporters seemed to be there, and the TV crews were especially apparent that day as they set up their lights and cameras and did their stand-ups. 

“The family of Perry Jones,” the coroner said, “does not want an inquest.”

And that was that. The TV crews started packing up their gear to leave. 

Something didn’t seem right.

“Wait,” I said, raising my hand. “What family?”

The coroner looked irritated. He moved some papers around on the table where he sat at the front of the room. “His family.” 

“Yes,” I persisted. “But who exactly do you mean?”

The other reporters were looking at me in confusion. I thought about the road between Perry’s sister and a telephone. I thought about the grandmother, living in near-darkness with seemingly no connection to the world and no understanding of what had happened to her grandson.

The coroner blew up at me, ended the news conference and we filed out of the room. Back in the newsroom, I called the funeral home in Alabama and asked the young man who answered the phone if he would please, just one more time, run down the road and get Perry’s sister. Several long minutes later, she came onto the line.

I asked her if she’d told the coroner that she did not want an inquest into her brother’s death.

There was a brief silence on the line, then she said: “Inquest? What’s an inquest?”

One more phone call — this one, to the coroner. “You didn’t ask them, did you?” I asked. This was not a journalistic approach. It was pure outrage that came from the deepening realization that public officials could and would tell outright lies to the public through the media. I told the coroner I would be calling him out in a newspaper story the next morning. He promised me that if I did, I would never have access to him or the police again. He kept his promise.

Watching the videos these past few years of young black men and women being killed by police, I have thought a lot about Perry Jones. He died more than 30 years ago in a medium-sized southern city that had in no way reckoned with racism. I can’t help but do the math. There have been a multitude of unseen, unheralded deaths, pre-cameras, pre-social media, pre-public outrage.

I’m putting Perry Jones’ name down right here, right now. He was 19. He was stealing meat from a freezer.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

The problem (and perils) of “false equivalence”

On Thursday in class, we’re going to talk with Scott Swafford and Gareth Harding about election and “Brexit” coverage and the differences in how U.S.-trained and European journalists cover politics.We’ll wade into the very murky waters of the “false equivalence” issue that has been raised in connection to this presidential race.

Here’s how a Huffington Post contributor defined false equivalence:

False equivalence is what happens when you are led to believe that two things should be given equal weight in your considerations as you come to any given decision, while those two things are not in any way actually equivalent. For example, let us consider the matter of climate change. John Oliver, on his HBO program Last Week With John Oliver, debunked the usual cable TV false equivalence in this issue dramatically last year. While today’s media tends to have one “expert” present each “side” of an argument, Oliver pointed out that, in the case of climate change, where 99/100 scientists agree that it is real and caused by humans, this one vs. one presentation creates a clear misconception for the viewer: a false equivalence. So he did the truly “fair and balanced” thing: he had 99 scientists argue against 1 in favor of man-made climate change.

HuffPo doesn’t pull any punches in its criticism of how the news media have covered Donald Trump. But remember, this is the same news organization that added this editor’s note to every story about Trump, starting in January:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, birther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”

Here’s what Nick Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the New York Times, had to say about the way Trump has been covered. He calls him a “crackpot.”

Dan Gillmor, writing for The Atlantic, proposes that the upcoming debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump be placed on 10-minute delay to give fact-checkers time to do their job. Then, he proposes, when a candidate utters a factually incorrect statement, the media outlet could mute the candidate and, using some sort of subtitle or super-title, let the viewer know that the candidate was talking about (fill in the blank) and had said something untrue.

It has come to this, Gillmor writes, because:

…the media people have to do something to regain some control over their integrity. Right now they’re being played for suckers by manipulators whose propaganda skills are vastly better than journalists’ apparent ability to do their jobs.

Meanwhile, others see a liberal media bias in the coverage of the campaign. Peter Navarro offers this perspective in The National Interest.

I’m pretty sure there are a great many potential voters out there who aren’t in the least bit influenced by facts or fact-checking. They’re influenced by frustration and other emotions.

As I said, this is a murky area.

But it’s well worth talking about, so be ready on Thursday.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Knowing how to find stuff (is half the battle)

Matt Dulin shared a bunch of tips and tools last week in class. Here they are. And now there is no excuse for you to not develop super ninja search skills.

Thanks, Matt! And thanks Joy Mayer and everyone else who helped compile this valuable list.

Original by Joy Mayer (bit.ly/joysocialsearch) // Updates by Matt Dulin

Social searching

Ways and reasons to listen to your community

As representatives of our brand on social media, we need to be paying attention to monitoring what our audience is saying to us. Anywhere we’re talking to our audience, we need to be listening for what they say back. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit … we need to be on top of mentions of our brand.

In addition to that, we have an opportunity to eavesdrop on what our audience/community members are talking about to each other — in general about related to the things we cover. We look for conversations or posts that the newsroom should be aware of. Are there…

  • Posts we should share/retweet/repost?
  • Story ideas?
  • People curious about things we’ve covered lately? Would they appreciate a link?
  • Windows into what matters to our community?
  • Conversations about our content? Feedback we should be aware of?
  • People we should invite to contribute their own content?
  • Conversations we should capture to share with our readers?
  • Posts we should hit “like” on as the brand? Or ask about? Or ask permission to republish?
  • New followers we should follow back?
  • On Twitter specifically, set up lists with people whose conversations you especially want to keep tabs on. And search “near:zipcode” to get a sense of local conversation.

Twitter searching

Facebook searching

Instagram searching

  • Facebook signal (mentioned above) allows Instagram searches
  • Banjo – premium service only – there’s a limited “free” tier for verified journalists
  • Hashtag and location searching within the app

Other searching tips and tools

Some paid tools worth mentioning

I’ve been persuaded to add a section for paid tools. Help me fill it out. What tools does your newsroom invest in? (I’ll try to track down the ones I’ve deleted from my list because they’ve started charging!)

  • Geofeedia (recommended by Eric Carvin)
  • SAM (recommended by Eric Carvin)
  • Trendspottr (real-time viral search and predictive analytics service that identifies trending info)
  • DataMinr (finds trending Twitter topics, searches by defined geographical areas, sends alerts) (recommended by Jeffrey Meesey)
  • com (by user or keyword) – $28 per year to deep search Instagram

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

First, follow the recipe

The world can be divided into two kinds of people: People who divide the world into two kinds of people and people who think there’s way way way way way more than two kinds of people.

I’m in the latter group.

However, I have noticed that there are people who tend to follow recipes and read instructions, and people who don’t (or would rather not).

If you’re thinking right now about a story, this is what I’d like you to do:

  • Go to this link (Story Starter), print it and fill it out
  • Notice how easy it is to think about audiences when you’re thinking about sources; they’re often the same
  • Plan your reporting around the question of who needs or wants to know something (fill in the blank).
  • Determine where, how, and from whom you can obtain this information
  • Decide what form the story should take, and remember above all that text is often not the best way to tell a story
  • Write yourself a “don’t forget” list for sharing what you produce with the stakeholders and other audiences.

Do it with every story, and let me know how it goes. I bet you’ll find it a much more organized and methodical approach to reporting.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Coming soon: You on Videolicious

Just a quick note to say that you should be receiving an email very soon from Elizabeth Stephens about your Videolicious account. This is Elizabeth. She’s bummed out that had to wear her glasses for the first week of classes. At least it rhymes.

Elizabeth

Here’s a little how-to (though there are many others) put together by a journalism educators association.

Your first assignment: Create a short bio about yourself using Videolicious. Try to make us laugh while we learn about you. Upload it to your blog.

Have fun!

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Welcome to the Missourian!

So it begins: your first week in the newsroom and the beginning of what is certain to be a pretty intense learning experience for you. It’s going to seem like a lot, at first, but you’ll get a handle on it, and, in the end, you’ll look back with awe at what you were able to do, this semester.

But how?

By putting in a steady and determined effort. Like these guys.

corgis

By spending a lot of time in the newsroom, at first, getting comfortable with how things work and getting to know your fellow reporters, the editors, the engagement and outreach team — everyone who makes the content and helps share it.

Spend some time checking off the tasks on The New Reporter’s Checklist. It’s a big help.

Spend some time reading what we’ve published in the Missourian over the summer and maybe even last spring. Watch some videos. Think about what’s going on in the community and how you can get a better understanding of the people we serve.

And do a story as quickly as possible. You don’t know what you’re doing? Well, maybe you need a recipe. Here’s one you can use over and over this semester.

It’s going to be great. I just know it.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment