Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Journalistic Hopes for the New Year

Here's hoping....

...that 60 Minutes decides it should do journalism again and remembers how to do basic fact checking.

---that Fox News adds a laugh track to most of what it does to put it in proper context for  viewers.

...that local TV sports reporters put down their pom poms and pick up their pens and do some reporting instead of cheerleading.

...that members of Congress get more outraged with members of the secret government who lie to Congress than they do with whistleblowers who tell the truth.

...that members of Congress who don't believe in science lose their next election.

---that local reporters question their members of Congress about inequality, gun regulation, climate change, money in politics, education, stronger protection for government whistleblowers, and the dangers of the secret government.

...that newspapers invest in training their reporters how to do an on-camera interview.

...that newspapers buy some microphones and use two microphones, not just one when doing an interview.

...that newspaper owners recognize news photography requires skill, not just an iPhone.

...that The Guardian, Mother Jones, the Nation, Slate, Salon, the Center for Public Integrity, Frontline, and ProPublica continue to do great work. 

...that K-12 schools provide some basic education in how to question and verify information.

---that J-schools encourage student journalists to investigate their own universities.
...that the Daily Show gets some competition from a news organization for thoughtful commentary (keep up the great work Daily Show).

If that were to happen, what a truly Happy New Year it would be for journalism.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lapdog of the Year: Time Magazine (60 Minutes - wins govt cheerleader)

Where was the American press???

As Time reports in its Person of the Year issue, "At the time Snowden went public, the American people had not just been kept in the dark; they had actively been misled about the actions of their government."

Now, thanks to Edward Snowden and The Guardian we're having a national and international discussion about the secret government approved by the secret court and supported by the lapdog press.

It's truly appropriate that Time doesn't select the Person of the Year to be Person of the Year.   That's exactly what one would expect from a member of the lapdog press.

For lapdog of the year, 60 Minutes with its NSA report was a close second.   But it really deserves the top award for government cheerleading.  And every journalism instructor owes 60 Minutes a big thank you.   In a single episode, 60 Minutes has demonstrated what journalism is not.  

A third finalist was a collective effort:  sports departments for every local TV station in the country. Now, thanks to PBS's League of Denial, the sports cheerleaders are finding it just a touch more difficult to totally ignore the problem of football concussions.

Honorable mention goes to Bloomberg for killing stories critical of China.

What a year!  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Thursday, November 21, 2013

The MISSING Fact from Bank Settlement Stories

Every news organization has reported what appears to be a huge number.   The USA Today headline blares:  JPMorgan to Pay Record $13B for Toxic Loans.

In the same story, USA Today's Kevin McCoy points out JPMorgan had set aside $23 Billion - that's twenty-three billion U.S. dollars - for litigation costs.   So JPMorgan was prepared to spend $10B more to defend itself than it eventually paid to settle.  

How much did JPMorgan make selling toxic loans?   On story after story about white collar crime one major fact seems to be missing.   How much did the organization make with its crime?   How big were the bonuses for the people who perpetrated the crime?   

What and how did the U.S. Justice Department calculate how much the criminals made?   Did the criminals have to give back ALL the money or just some of it?    Did executives have to return bonuses, or did they get to keep their cash?   How much of a penalty above beyond all the money it made by violating the law did the criminal organization have to pay?   That's a number that needs to be in every story on white collar crime.  

The Center for Public Integrity has done some excellent reporting on what has happened to the executives who helped steal the country blind.   Its series of reports are well worth reading.  As the Center reports:  "As borrowers defaulted at increasing rates in 2006 and 2007, global financial markets tightened, then froze. The result was the worst economic crash since the Great Depression. Today, millions of Americans still face foreclosure. Yet few subprime executives have faced meaningful consequences."

When journalism fails, bad things happen, particularly in the land of greed.   

(PS:  If you have profit calculations from the sale of toxic loans, please post or send.  Thank you)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Why We Need Reporters, Not Human Microphone Stands

Read Nancy A. Youssef's piece on the 60 Minutes Benghazi report and what you see is a reporter doing what reporters are supposed to do:  asking questions that need to be asked and ALWAYS asking for verification.

Journalism requires verification.   Reporters ask for verification.   Human microphone stands don't.

Youssef's piece should be read by every journalism student in the country.   It should also be read by every network news executive and by every major shareholder of CBS (their silence is disappointing but not surprising).

Regarding Lara Logan's apology, the McClatchy foreign staff reporter writes, "But Logan's mea culpa said nothing about other weaknesses in the report that a line-by-line review of the broadcast's transcript reveals."

Line-by-line.   That's how any editorial review should be done.   What's your evidence?   What's the proof?   How do we know what we're saying is accurate?   How did CBS fail to do basic editorial review of such an important piece?

The 60 Minutes report says the Americans were attacked by al Qaida and 60 Minutes repeatedly points out that al Qaida was solely responsible for the attack.   As Youssef reports, "al Qaida has never claimed responsibility for the attack, and the FBI, which is leading the U.S. investigation, has never named al Qaida as the sole perpetrator.  Rather, it is believe a number of groups were part of the assault..."

Youssef points out problem after problem with the 60 Minutes report.   That's understandable.   Youssef is a reporter, not a human microphone stand.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Corporate Alzheimer's at CBS

CBS must have corporate Alzheimer's disease.   It's forgotten how to apologize.     It's forgotten how to vet a story.  It's forgotten viewers aren't totally stupid. 

What's the possible cause?   Corporate incest and wanting sales for a book?   Or might it be that age-old affliction of pandering to an audience, in this case the far right?   

How has 60 Minutes forgotten how to vet a story?   

Consider for a moment, just how easy it is to vet this one.  The intern could do it.  

Dylan Davies wasn't alone in Benghazi.  And he must have kept fairly detailed notes; he wrote a book.   There's going to be fact after fact any intern at 60 Minutes could check. Who are some of his fellow employees, where were they that night, what are their names, their phone numbers, their emails?   Who did he talk to that night and the day after and the day after that?  Who did he email?  Who did he text?  Since he's already admitted to 60 Minutes that he lied on his report to his employer, did he tell anyone else?   These are men who work and bond together; they protect each other's lives.  How many people did 60 Minutes call to vet this story?    Did it even bother to call the fact checker at the book publisher?   

Even the original 60 Minutes interview with Dylan Davies doesn't ring true.   Davies tells Lara Logan he scales the wall and hits a guy with the butt of his rifle who goes down "like a stone."  So in the midst of incredibly violent situation the welcome-to-Benghazi terrorist just walks up to say howdie-doo to Dylan Davies and does nothing, takes no defensive action as Dylan decides, "hey, I think I'll nail this guy in the face with the butt of my rifle."   Does anyone besides Fox News and 60 Minutes believe that?   Huffingtonpost Live shows the response that a lot of viewers probably had in this clip.  

Lara Logan says the "most important thing to every person at 60 Minutes is the truth."   If that statement is true, then Lara Logan will deliver a far more detailed explanation of how 60 Minutes failed to properly vet Dylan Davies.    Currently, that statement is contradicted by her own unacceptably weak apology.   

Tina Brown is right when she says American journalism is having a "pathetic moment."  60 Minutes has proven that.   Corporate Alzheimer's is not an acceptable excuse.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

U.S. Citizen Requirement: Read the Guardian

Medical doctors take an oath to "do no harm."   That oath apparently gets flushed down the toilet when it comes to the CIA and torture.    As the Guardian reports:  The report of the Taskforce on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centres concludes that after 9/11, health professionals working with the military and intelligence services "designed and participated in cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment and torture of detainees".

Check your local television station, check your local newspaper.   Do you see any local reporters questioning their members of Congress asking if they approve of doctors assisting with torture or if they approve of such a policy by the CIA?

Of course not.  

The Guardian asks questions that need to be asked and reports on stories that need to be reported.  To be an informed American citizen, it's essential to read the Guardian, a news organization headed by journalists, not state-supporting lapdogs.  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

One Question for Condoleezza Rice

As the New York Times reports, former national security advisor and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice will certainly be able to utilize her diplomatic skills in her position as a member of the college football playoff selection committee.

Rice is also the former provost, the chief academic officer,  of Stanford University.

If by chance in addition to all the cheerleaders who will wait to report the committee's selections an actual reporter shows up, here's a question for Ms. Rice.

"When you were provost of Stanford University, would you have approved a course that causes brain damage?"

The silence of America's provosts on a college sport that causes brain damage is not the fault of academia.  It's clearly understandable why we see one athletic scandal after another across America's campuses.   One doesn't expect a university to have standards, but the press should. Reporters across the country  should be asking university presidents and provosts to explain how a sport that causes brain damage is consistent with a university's mission.   

If a university's mission is to be a cost-free training ground for the NFL, then America's universities are doing a superb job.  If a university's mission is education, then how do you explain the silence of America's university presidents and provosts with what medical science has shown happens to the human brain when it's repeatedly exposed to football?

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

League of Denial Part II

If we had sports reporters and not pom pom wavers, in addition to reviews and critiques of the program, we would have seen a range of great follow up stories following Frontline's "League of Denial: the NFL's Concussion Crisis."   We would have seen interviews with college presidents, athletic directors, high school principals, college and high school football coaches, and parenting organizations.   There would have been interviews with members of boards of university trustees.

Instead, we see League of Denial Part II - college football.

In "League of Denial fails to tell the whole story on concussions," Mike Florio makes a superb point when he says the program failed to hold the NFL Players Association accountable on a problem he says was "hiding in plain sight."   Why was the problem able to hide in plain sight?   Because we don't have sports reporters, just pom pom wavers.

What's been happening with concussions and football is reminiscent of the steroid era in baseball. Baseball writers came to game after game watching the neck sizes and biceps bulge and ignored the story in front of their faces.   Had we had baseball reporters and not cheerleaders, there never would have been a steroid era in baseball.

But concussions are far more serious than steroids.   In examining an 18-year-old brain, Dr. Ann McKee describes what she expected. That brain says McKee, "is supposed to be pristine.   It's supposed to be perfect."   But the brain of the 18-year-old who had died after suffering his fourth concussion isn't perfect; it is already showing damage.  

With information like that, the follow up stories and the questions to be asked of athletic directors, the NCAA, college presidents and boards of trustees and high school principals are easy and obvious, unless you're a pom pom waver and not a reporter.   Here is an education story, a sports story, a health and safety story, a legal story, a medical story, a parenting story and we see our news organizations failing to ask the questions that need to be asked.

When journalism fails, bad things happen - this time, it's to the brains of our children.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

You Can't Blame Public Officials for the Failure of Reporters

Al Jazeera makes an absolutely superb point.   It's the responsibility of journalists to hold public officials accountable.  As Al Jazeera correctly reports, the coverage of the government's shutdown fails that test.

Do your own test.   Go to the website of your local TV station.  What video interview do you find of your member of Congress where the reporter is asking intelligent and probing questions about the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare).   Does the reporter ask the member of Congress to explain why healthcare in this country is so poor compared to other nations?   The World Health Organization ranks the United States 38th.   That's right, 38th.   We are number 1 in cost.   In fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation where tens of thousands of families go bankrupt every year from medical bills.   Why is that happening?   Have your local reporters asked your members of Congress?

If the answer is no, write to the general managers of your local television stations and ask one question:  why should your license to broadcast be renewed?

Do another test.   Do a Google or Yahoo search for football concussions.   You'll find millions of results.

But among those results, you will not find an interview with a university president where he/she is asked a basic fundamental question:   if the mission of the university is education, why do you support a sport that causes brain damage?   And as tuition and student debt keep going up, how do you justify charging fees to the academic students to pay for a sport that causes brain damage?   There are a handful of schools where athletics make money.   But at most universities, the athletic department is a multimillion dollar budget hole universities plug by charging fees to the academic students.   At Kent State University where I teach, if a student takes a 3-credit journalism course from me, the student pays $24/credit hour ($72) to the athletic department.   If the student is living in Cincinnati and takes a 3-credit online course and never sets foot on campus, the student still pays the same $24/credit hour fee to the athletic department.  

This is the important point:  it's totally unfair to blame university presidents for failing to address the issue when reporters don't ask the question.   Where are the reporters?   How do you explain that with all the coverage there has been on the dangers of football concussions, we don't have reporters asking university presidents about the potential cost of concussion-related litigation?  

This is an obvious story for sports reporters, education reporters, health reporters, economic reporters, even entertainment reporters (football is entertainment, it's just entertainment that causes brain damage).

So where are the interviews?   Why do we have so many cheerleaders and pom pom wavers and so few reporters?   There are reporters working for Frontline.   Be sure to watch its special this Tuesday evening, League of Denial.   When it comes to the risk and permanent brain damage caused by football concussions, it appears most of America's news organizations are taking the same approach the NFL did - denying reality.

Here are two video clips from two highly knowledgeable attorneys worth a listen.  Watch and listen and ask once again:  why aren't reporters in local markets across the country questioning university presidents about the issue of football concussions?  

When journalism fails, bad things happen.



Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Time Magazine Ignores Foreign Policy History

In its article Behind the Charm Offensive (the online headline is Behind Iran's Charm Offensive), Time seems to forget the offensive facts of American foreign policy and Iran.   In the magazine, there's a helpful center column bit of artwork with pictures of U.S. and Iranian leaders with dates and reminders of what has happened over the years.  Time begins what it calls the "history of hostility - and chances missed" in 1979.  

As Time's Michael Crowley reports, "The Shah flees, Ayatullah Khomeini calls the U.S. 'the Great Satan,' and Americans are taken hostage."

What is omitted in Time's history of hostility is its beginning.   During the Eisenhower administration, Iran's Prime Minister Mohammad Massadegh wanted to nationalize the oil fields and share the wealth with the Iranian people.   The United States did not want that.  The CIA orchestrated a coup, overthrew Massadegh and installed a U.S. puppet dictator, the Shah.   The Shah's secret police force, Savak captured, imprisoned, tortured and killed any political enemies.   Approval of torture by this country didn't start with Bush and Cheney.   Our foreign policy approved of torture decades earlier in Iran.   And anyone with any knowledge of American foreign policy will tell you the Iranian uprising and revolution of 1979 came as a direct result of American foreign policy.

So why is such a crucial bit of information omitted from the Time article?   Every family in Iran knows America was responsible for overthrowing its leadership in 1953.  Every family knows the ruthless brutality of the Shah's rule.   Even the CIA now admits it orchestrated the coup.    What does Michael Crowley report of the Eisenhower years?   He writes about the "Atoms for Peace Project," that supplied the Shah with nuclear technology.   Yes, the U.S. overthrows the government, installs a ruthless dictator, then gives the ruthless dictator nuclear technology.   Time and Michael Crowley totally ignore the CIA coup.  Crowley totally ignores Savak and the brutality of the Shah.

It is impossible to put U.S. - Iranian relations in proper context when omitting the key historical event. Given Iran's history with the U.S., it's understandable that Supreme Leader Khamenei is hostile to the West.   How would you feel about a country that overthrew the leadership in your country and installed a ruthless dictator?

Perhaps its all the budget cuts at Time that have eliminated editors who believe in putting American foreign policy into proper historical context.    Let's hope it's just poor reporting, not intentional bias. Either way, the reader loses.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Obamacare - Can't Cure Sick Network Coverage

What is Obamacare?   What are its provisions?   How does it change healthcare in America?   Since so many yellers and screamers seem to object to it, what are the specific objections?   Do those objections have anything to do with facts and reality?  On a network news program, it's easy to find a sound bite from a politician criticizing Obamacare or threatening to defund Obamacare. What's virtually impossible to find (and I'm asking for help here), is to find NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX doing any substantive reporting on Obamacare.  (If you know of a solid piece of substantive in depth reporting by the networks, please send the URL or the date and program.)

Healthcare is a huge issue.   Why aren't the networks examining it?   Why are they so superficial?
If we practiced healthcare the way the networks do their health reporting, a man with multiple gunshot wounds bleeding all over the floor would be carried into the emergency room and be given a band aide for the cut on his finger.

It's a few years old, but it's still worth watching.  Frontline did a thoughtful examination of healthcare systems around the world, the kind of reporting every network should be doing.   A caution here for FOX news producers; this program shows a reporter asking worthwhile questions and reporting facts.   There's no yelling and screaming here.   There is worthwhile information that helps the viewer understand healthcare from a global perspective.   Watch, Sick Around the World.

What really makes one sick is the lack of in depth reporting on the issue of healthcare by the American television networks.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.



Friday, August 30, 2013

Morning Joe (actually, it's Morning Ford Commercial)

August 29th is the day Morning Joe needed to change the name of the show to Morning Ford Commercial.

As we face a tense situation in Syria, just look at the right turn this show decided to take to commercialism.  You have to give the producers credit.  Wow, what a line up for its infomercial.

As the Morning Joe website proclaims:  We’ll have a packed roster of guests, including…
  • Mike Barnicle, Morning Joe regular
  • Steve Ratner, former Obama administration auto czar
  • Michael Steele, former RNC chairman and MSNBC contributor
  • Brian Shactman, host of Way Too Early
  • Benny Napoleon, sheriff of Wayne County, MI and Mayoral candidate of Detroit
  • Mark Fields, Executive Vice President and President of The Americas for Ford Motor Company
  • Jimmy Settles, United Auto Worker Vice President
  • Mary Kay Henry, SEUI President
  • Tom Lewand, President of NFL Team, Detroit Lions
  • Alan Mulally, President and CEO of Ford Motor Company
  • Phil Lebeau, CNBC
  • Dan Gilbert, Chairman and founder of Quicken Loans Inc. and majority owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Lake Erie Monsters, the Cleveland Gladiators and the Canton Charge
  • Bill Pulte, Blight Authority
  • Justin Verlander,  Detroit Tigers
  • Brian Sullivan, CNBC
I loved Mark Fields comments - straight promotion, not questioned at all by the cheerleaders on Morning Joe.  When do you think Morning Joe will do its infomercial for Chrysler?    Chrysler and General Motors should at least ask for free air time.   Why shouldn't they get the same consideration as Ford?    

(And a tip for Morning Joe producers re: what questions to ask about Syria:  watch the BBC and Al Jazeera and read the Guardian.  We've had way too much lapdog state-supporting TV.  A democracy needs journalists to do what they're supposed to do, not play human microphone stand for government or infomercial hosts for corporations.)


Sunday, August 11, 2013

How to Select a J-School

As expensive as it is to go to college, the last thing an aspiring journalist wants to do is to pick a journalism school that isn't.    For both students and parents, there are a few quick checks.

When you tour the school, ask to see the best examples of "accountability journalism," where the student journalist is holding someone accountable for his/her actions.   You're asking to see examples of student journalists doing what journalists are supposed to do.   Ask to see the best examples of students reporting on fraud, waste, sexual assaults on campus, unethical or questionable conduct at the university.    If there is no such reporting, that's an indication of a weak program.    Journalists ask questions that need to be asked.    For student journalists, that means questioning and reporting on the institution.

Ask to see the most substantive computer-assisted reporting projects.   Here are some examples produced by my students:  Examining the University Bill,  Athletic Concussions,  Cars for Coaches, the Ohio Miracle - Silent Politicians.  If there are none, that's an indication of a weak program.

Universities often talk about the teacher/student ratio.   What can be far more important in training multimedia journalists is the equipment/student ratio.     If there's not enough equipment, the class is in trouble.

David Bloss, currently regional editor for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, has a lot of first-hand experience with knowing how much equipment is needed.  He has trained journalists around the world and has started journalism schools from scratch,  running  j-school programs in India and the Republic of Georgia.   "It's four to one," says David.   "To truly train properly, you need one piece of gear for every four students."

If you have 16 in the class, you need 4 video cameras, four audio recorders, four of whatever except microphones.   Double the microphones; a sit down interview takes two.     As you tour the j-school, ask what its equipment/student ratio is for all required multimedia reporting courses.   To double check what you're told on the tour, ask students what they run into when checking out equipment.   Is it available or is everything always checked out?   Training multimedia journalists takes gear and lots of it.

Check the student work section of the j-school's website.   What student investigations are there? What student interviews are there demonstrating the student journalist doesn't take no for an answer?   If all you see on the j-school website are feature stories, that's an indication of a weak school.

For aspiring student journalists looking to develop reporting skills, it's essential to pick a university that trains students to be journalists, not human microphone stands.


Tuesday, July 30, 2013


New Zealand is denying a report that the United States helped it to spy on a journalist.

How many journalists do you think the United States government is spying on?   How is the United States government examining the communications of American journalists?    When we used to live in the United State of America, a country of, by and for the people, that wouldn't have been allowed.   And if discovered, the press would have been outraged.   But in the post Cheney America where the rights provided by the Constitution no longer matter;  following the law no longer matters.   This is a country that allows torture, allows rendition, allows government by secrecy.    NOW, to find out what is happening in America you have to read a British newspaper, the Guardian.

I know creationists and a fairly sizable segment of the Congress does not allow this, but for this exercise let's just try to use logic.   We have an administration more concerned with leaks than ever before.   Often, leakers provide information to reporters.   It's not hard to pinpoint the reporters who are actually reporters instead of cheerleaders when it comes to national security.  If you're an agency like the NSA wanting to know absolutely everything about who is saying what and you don't have to worry about ever being found out because everything you do is classified and is approved by a secret court on rulings that can never be reviewed in public, what would happen?

Would the NSA spy on journalists?   Of course.

Who would the NSA be examining?   Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian?  Of course.   Are journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post and NBC and CBS and ABC concerned with the NSA spying on journalists?    Excuse me, let me rephrase the question.  Are the human microphone stands at the New York Times and Washington Post and NBC and CBS and ABC concerned about the government spying on journalists, the Washington reporters who appear to be more outraged with Snowden telling the truth than with the director of national intelligence James Clapper lying to Congress?

To find out, go to the respective news sites and examine the stories examining that question.   Examine the questions they've asked of the NSA and the Obama Administration on this issue.    Examine the FOIA requests submitted (by the way, a FOIA request is worthless because national security is an exemption and in the current world everything the government wants to do that violates the law is simply a matter of national security and the American press doesn't object).

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Georgia - Country of Reading Robots

For television, we write as we talk.   Television (video) is a conversational medium.    A superb example of excellent delivery is Arwa Damon's on her Return to Benghazi.   Her phrasing and emphasis are first-rate.   Great writing, great reporting that's poorly delivered gets lost.   Delivery is essential to effective communication.

Watch television news (talk shows aren't like this) in the Republic of Georgia and you encounter an unusual speech pattern.   The anchors and reporters talk fast and the faster the better.   They talk in a monotone.   They read every story the same.  Watch Rustavi, watch Ajara, watch Channel 1, watch any of the regional stations and you'll hear the same rapid-fire monotone read-it-all-the same delivery.

From a communications standpoint, reading it all the same and reading it fast makes no sense.   It's harder to understand.   But when you suggest the journalists change their delivery, I get the same response this year that I got ten years ago, "No, this is Georgia."

Unfortunately, many of the journalists have been trained to read that way by outside trainers.

Watch Georgian Television news and much of it looks ten years out of date.  The problem is the same: resistance to change.

I just finished work at Odishi Television in Zugdiddi.

                                                  News Studio at Odishi TV - Zugdiddi

The monitor for its editing computer appears to be the same monitor that was there a decade ago.   When I demonstrate simple graphics, the editors say they can't do such things; they don't have the technical capability.   They edit on Adobe Premier Pro; they can do all the things I've demonstrated.   But like in most of the regional stations I've visited the past month, the editors use a tiny fraction of the editing program's capability.   Reporters don't even think of graphics when planning their stories; they don't think of utilizing multiple frames.

The main impediment to improving the look and sound and quality of television news in the Republic of Georgia is not technology or lack of resources or money.   It's attitude.   As long as the attitude persists of, "No, we don't do that, we don't use reporter's questions, we don't shoot reversals, we don't use lav mics for interviews, we don't use graphics, we don't do that because this is Georgia," the product will not improve.

Georgian TV stations will significantly and immediately improve the look and sound and quality of their news programs as soon as they decide to change their attitude about change.    Once they do that, reporters and anchors will start talking to their viewers instead of reading to them like robots.  

I would encourage Georgian journalists and news managers to click on some of the videos in Arwa Damon's report on Benghazi.   It doesn't matter if they don't know English.  Just LISTEN!  Listen to Arwa's phrasing, pacing and emphasis.  She's talking, she's COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY, something reading fast in a monotone doesn't do.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Mainstream Mouthpieces (Where are the Journalists?)

Remember when journalists used to question government officials?  Watching the Sunday morning network news shows it was hard to believe they're staffed by journalists and not paid government public information officers.  

The only reason we're having a worldwide discussion on cyber spying and the elimination of 4th Amendment rights in this country is because Edward Snowden told the world what the United States has been doing.   And as the government officials repeat over and over again how these programs are so carefully monitored and how they've been so successful at stopping terrorist attacks, the morning show hosts almost break their necks nodding in agreement.

Today on This Week, George asked a first-rate question.   Is the United States hacking computers in Hong Kong?   General Alexander didn't answer the question.   And in typical fashion, George didn't press him on it; George never asked for an answer to the important question.   George just let him slide so the General could continue going down the list of government talking points.  

Thank God for the Guardian where there are actual journalists who ask questions and ask for evidence. But apparently NBC's David Gregory thinks that's possibly a federal offense.   He asked Guardian reporter Glen  Greenwald why Greenwald shouldn't be charged with a crime.

Perhaps that is what it's coming to in this country.  Journalists who actually do what they're supposed to do, who question the government, who demand evidence, who don't simply play human microphone stand and blindly accept official spin,  will be charged with a crime.

The true crime is the failure of the networks to aggressively pursue the issue of our secret government and cyber spying years ago.

Since the United States says it can attack computer systems anywhere in the world in the name of national security we certainly can't object with any legitimacy or credibility to any other country taking the same approach.   The implications of that would make for a worthwhile discussion on a Sunday morning show, but that would require the hosts to ask direct questions, ask for evidence and not play national cheerleader.



Monday, June 17, 2013

Politicians Gutting the Public's Right to Know

Government runs on computer.   Where's the money, how is it spent, what does every contract, every invoice show, how much is every employee paid, who is getting bonuses, how much overtime is there, how many "emergency requisitions" are there and for what?   It's all on a government database somewhere.

California politicians want to reduce oversight and increase the likelihood for waste and fraud. They are planning significant changes to the state's public records law.  As the Mercury News reports, "Language inserted into a budget bill on Wednesday would allow local governments to turn down requests for records without citing a legal reason. It would no longer require government officials to respond to to records requests within 10 days or force them to help the public by describing what records exist."http://www.mercurynews.com/politics-government/ci_23464834/california-public-records-law-eviscerated-budget-bill-critics

One proposed change to the State's public records law truly says F#@* YOU to the citizens of California.   It states the public agency does NOT have to provide electronic records in electronic format.  Any database has the ability to export data in a variety of formats.   It's fast.  It's cheap.   Most importantly, it makes analysis immeasurably easier than having to wade through through thousands of paper records.

With this change, instead of providing an electronic file the public agency could provide thousands of printed pages.   It will cost more, take more time, and make any analysis far more difficult.  

As expected, those sponsoring the changes did not respond to the Mercury News' phone calls or emails asking for an explanation.   Every day in the paper and on its website, the Mercury News should be sure to post the pictures of the politicians sponsoring these changes along with a reminder that these are the politicians who want less oversight and more fraud and waste.




Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Con$titution

After Edward Snowden told the Guardian and the Guardian informed the world, U.S. Tech Companies are finally questioning programs they've cooperated with for years.

Wouldn't it have been wonderful had we but a single company as concerned with the Constitution as it is with profit?   Had that been the case, regardless of the Fisa orders requiring nondisclosure, the company still could have raised the issue of electronic surveillance for in depth public discussion.    But since these companies use the technology to gain as much information about users as possible, one can understand why the issue was not raised.   The issue would have conflicted with making as much money as possible.

The threat to American democracy does not come from terrorism.   It comes from government secrecy, corporate greed and the failure of the press to do its job.

The Constitution of the United States becomes a worthless document when corporate leaders, members of Congress and the press do relatively nothing as the 4th Amendment is sacrificed in the name of what, security?  Our security as a democracy is based on the Constitution, not the ability to electronically monitor millions of people.  

We had a war in Iraq because the press played cheerleader.   Years ago, we flushed the 4th Amendment down the toilet and the majority of the press didn't even question it.   Now, because of the actions of a single person, questions that should have been asked years ago are finally being raised.
The true traitors to democracy are those who fail to stand up for the Constitution when it is being threatened.

When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Silence of Kentucky Reporters

It's a simple question with lots of variations that any journalist asks over and over.   It's a simple question that human microphone stands currently filling too many newsrooms never ask.

The question:  how do you know that is true?

The variations:  what is your evidence?  What proof do you have?  What facts do you have to substantiate what you're saying?  Here, the journalist asks for SPECIFIC facts.   Often what happens when asked for specifics, the politician sidesteps the question.   Then the journalist politely says, "excuse me, you didn't answer the question; my question is what evidence do you have to support the accusation you're making?"   Journalists ask that question.   Human microphone stands do not.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes about the common and persistent problem for many current members of Congress of making the accusation, but providing no facts.   In "Accuse First, and Ask Questions Later," Milbank points out House Appropriations Committee chair Hal Rogers, a republican from Kentucky, says the White House has an "enemies list that rivals that of another president some time ago.”

Wow.   What's your evidence?  How do you know that is true?   There's no surprise that FOX NEWS didn't ask for any evidence.  But any journalist should.  Want a fun public service scavenger hunt or a quick assignment for any 8th grade journalism class?  Try to find a local newspaper or television reporter in Kentucky who called and asked for the evidence.  It's easy for today's politicians to get away with making statements supported by no facts because local reporters fail to hold them accountable.   They fail to do their job.

By the way, let me apologize in advance if a Kentucky news organization has asked and reported the evidence.  In my quick check of Kentucky newspapers and TV stations I couldn't find anything.  So if there is such a story where a reporter actually held the Congressman accountable, please send the URL and I will post.   If there's nothing, Kentucky voters and 8th grade journalism students should kick their newspaper publisher and TV general manager in the butt and ask them why their news organizations fail to hold their members of Congress accountable.


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Reminder

On Memorial Day, NBC, CBS, ABC, Washington Post and the New York Times owe the country an apology.   Had news organizations done their jobs, there would not have been a war in Iraq.   There was no imminent threat.   But instead of asking questions, the news organizations played cheerleader.

Years later, as we continue the "war on terror," it's time to ask the networks why they fail to do any serious substantive reporting on terrorism.   Who are these people, these terrorists who present such an incredible threat to the United States of America?   Why do they oppose America?  How many of them are there?   How are they funded?   Where do they get their weapons?

Afghanistan has a gross national product of 6.9 billion dollars.  To put that into context, Walmart does more than 450 billion in sales.   The fiscal 2013 budget for our smallest state, Rhode Island is 8 billion.

We continue to fight in Afghanistan because?

The threat posed to our country is what?   Perhaps we could simply do what we did with the surge, when we simply put the people who were shooting at us on the payroll.   When news organization after news organization reported on the success of the surge, why do you suppose nearly always they failed to report the reason the surge worked is because we paid the opposition to stop shooting?   Our soldiers continue to die in Afghanistan for what reason?   The in-depth questioning demanded by our involvement there is where?

The networks, of course, have their priorities.   Dancing With the Stars and American Idol are important; substantive reporting is not.  

On Memorial Day, our major news organizations owe the country an apology.


Wednesday, May 15, 2013


The search for bodies in the clothing industry should not stop with a collapsed factory in Bangladesh.   The real bodies local reporters should be searching for are the corporate executives of the GAP and Walmart and JC Penney and all the other clothing merchandisers able to sell clothes at a remarkably low price because of employes who work distressingly long hours for depressingly low wages.

Local reporters should be asking the executives a simple question:   what specific steps has the executive taken in the past two years to improve the working conditions of garment workers in the third world?  And thanks to technology, there's no cost for the video interview.  Just use skype.   And if the corporate executive won't talk, report it.

I had read about clothing factories, but it wasn't until I watched one overpacked truckful of workers after another turning into a garment plant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia  that I gained an actual sense of the human cost of a $9 shirt.   We can buy cheap clothes here because our corporations have them made in conditions that would never be tolerated in this country or Europe.

I got a chance to see how the workers live.   Take a look.   It's ten to a room.

Working conditions for the people who make our clothes should be a story for reporters in every market in the country.   Read the label.    Reporters in every market should be contacting the corporate officials and asking what they are doing about working conditions.   Do they approve?   Is paying women next to nothing to work long hours ok?   What's their position?   Take a look at how employees  commute to work in Cambodia.  Riding on the roof of a van is not a safety violation.  Do corporate executives bringing home healthy bonuses care at all about the humans who make the clothes? 


To produce stories that matter, reporters need to ask questions that make a difference.

The collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh is a classic example of an important reporting opportunity missed by local TV reporters.  When journalism fails, bad things happen.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

All Torture is Local

The standards of any organization come from the top.   If Rupert wanted Newscorp to have high ethical standards, it would have had them.   It didn't and paid the price.   If Penn State wanted high ethical standards, it would have had them.  It didn't, and boys being sexually abused paid the price.

For any nation, the same is true.   Standards come from the top.

Following 911, the United States changed its national standards when it decided torture was ok.
As a 577 page independent nonpartison report found, the problem didn't stem from a rogue soldier or two but from a policy from the top that approved torture.

In his opinion piece in the Washington Post, former ambassador Thomas Pickering writes a single sentence that should make any reporter in any market see an instant story and an instant question that needs to be asked.

Pickering writes:  "By authorizing and permitting torture in response to a global terrorist threat, U.S. leaders committed a grave error that has undermined our values, principles and moral stature; eroded our global influence; and placed our soldiers, diplomats and intelligence officers in even greater jeopardy."

The instant question is for the reporter's local member of Congress and for the reporter's U.S. Senators:  do we need further investigation and more transparency in how the United States utilized torture or not?    What is the member's position on torture?

In a democracy, it's essential not to sanitize violations of international law or to cover up unacceptable behavior with semantics.   As Pickering writes,  "First and foremost, Americans need to confront the truth. Let’s stop resorting to euphemisms and call “enhanced interrogation techniques” — including but not limited to waterboarding — what they actually are: torture. Torturing detainees flies in the face of principles and practices established in the founding of our republic, and it violates U.S. law and international treaties to which we are a party. "

Does your member of Congress favor or oppose torture?   Does your member of Congress favor or oppose transparency?   

Why aren't local news organizations asking those questions of their members of Congress?  All politics is local.  It's the responsibility of the press to hold politicians accountable.   Why aren't news organizations doing that?  

As Pickering says, "Too much information about the abuse of detainees remains hidden from the American people." 

When journalism fails, bad things happen.  Torture is a bad thing. 



Sunday, April 7, 2013

ACCURATE quotes providing INACCURATE information

When Louisville guard Kevin Ware broke his leg on national television, one question most wouldn't have thought of is who pays for the medical bills?  A university official quickly pointed out to reporters that Ware and Ware's family would have no medical bills.

In a story in USA Today, the NCAA followed up.    Here's the quote from the USA Today story:

"Student-athletes must have insurance covering athletic-related injuries to practice and compete, per rules adopted by NCAA institutions – and in most cases colleges and universities provide that coverage," NCAA spokesperson Stacey Osburn said by email.

I expect the USA Today reporter is quoting Ms. Osburn accurately.   And if a student has no insurance and wants to buy a policy, most universities will provide a policy that can be purchased at the student's expense.   Who pays?  What Stacey Osburn says, that in MOST cases it is the university that provides coverage, is contradicted by what my student reporters have found.   Students in my computer-assisted reporting class contacted every university in the Mid-American Conference and in each case found that it is the student's insurance that provides the primary coverage.

Across the country, that's also what the National College Players Association has found.  Its president Ramogi Huma has excellent advice for both parents and any student athlete being recruited by a university to avoid running into an incredibly expensive medical bill surprise.  

In this day and age of instant online communication where every college athletic program has a website, Huma's organization has made an incredibly sensible suggestion:  put the the athletic department's medical payment policy online so student athletes and their parents know what it is.   Well click and listen to how universities responded.

Ramogi Huma asks an excellent question reporters should be asking universities to answer.   How do universities have the money to pay coaches millions of dollars and don't have money to pay for a college athlete's medical expenses?


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The REAL March Madness: Universities that aren't

There's a major team missing from this year's tournament for a simple reason:  the players so great on the court are pretty lousy in the classroom.   The Huskies of the University of Connecticut have to watch instead of play in the tournament because they didn't meet NCAA academic standards.   And in a piece to USA Today, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has a suggestion:  punish the coaches.

Wrong challenge.   The problem isn't the coach.   It's the university.

Punish the provost.   Punish the university president.

Every university should take this challenge posed by a former university provost, Jon Ericson, the founder of the Drake Group.   The Drake Group is concerned with academic integrity.   The question reporters should be asking their university presidents and provosts is why aren't they?
Both political parties claim university education is crucially important.   So ask your members of Congress if they believe it's good education policy for the highest paid public employee in state after state to be either a football coach or a basketball coach?  Do your members of Congress agree its good education policy for universities to have easy-A courses to keep athletes eligible?    Do they agree with Jon Ericson's challenge?  What's your governor think?   Is the governor truly concerned about education, or is your governor just another pom pom waver who doesn't want to lift the hood on the troubled engine of higher education?

By the way, considering how much time players spend on the road during the season and the tournament, how are they able to miss so many classes and still get good grades?   How many sports reporters have done that story?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I Couldn't Believe It

One of my students in my Advanced Broadcast News Reporting class came in with an incredibly sad admission the other day.   He said he didn't often watch the local news.  That's not the sad admission.   The sad admission is what he found when he did watch.   He turned on to watch the news and found no news.

"There was nothing there," he said.  

"They spent 15 minutes on the weather," adding the obvious, "Yes, it's Ohio and it snows in the winter, so what?"

He was amazed there was no news on the newscast.

I asked, "why would you watch?"

"I wouldn't" he replied.

Question:  why don't corporate owners understand that?  There's no reason to watch the news when there is no news on the newscast.  

The student wasn't talking about a small market with no staff, he was talking about Cleveland.

It's not the internet that is killing the local TV news business.   It's management.


Monday, March 18, 2013

To stop losing audience: TRY REPORTING

What a surprise.   As the Pew Research Center reports, fewer people watch local TV news.   Pew finds only 28% of adults under 30 are regular news viewers.

Why should they watch?   To see who got shot?  To get a weather forecast they can get instantly on their iPhone?

Why would anyone go to the news store when there is no news?

A truly disturbing finder in this year's State of the Media Report is how the national press has increasingly turned into human microphone stands.   In examining the presidential campaign, Pew reports that campaign reporters were "acting primarily as megaphones, rather than as investigators."

For local TV the solution is not difficult, but it will take a commitment from management.  

Management must direct its news staff to report, to ask questions, to go after records.  Quality journalism takes time.  You can't build an audience with a live shot.  Management needs to hire first-rate reporters and give them the support to do what they're supposed to do.   In short, management needs to make the decision to put news in a newscast.   That can't be done if your staff consists of human microphone stands instead of journalists.

To build a local news audience, do news that matters not blather that doesn't.  

(Hint for the television station GM:  check the budget and staffing for your computer-assisted reporting unit.)


Saturday, March 2, 2013


Check the job ads on MediaBistro and students can find a fabulous internship possibility.   Some lucky intern has the chance to work with the cheapest schmuck in the country.   This guy wants an intern for 6 months for a minimum of 20 hours a week in New York City.  The pay?   ZERO.   Take a look at what this guy wants:

(You do not need all these skills to qualify but a guy can dream, can't he?)
Do what you say you're going to do, when you say you're going to do it.
You have a great attitude all the time no matter what.
You are a work-a-holic.
You feel like you just need a break.
You are interested in being introduced to important people in the media, business world, literary and publishing world and from time to time celebrities.
You are passionate about marketing, publicity, editing, writing or business.
You need something great on your resume.
You need a letter of recommendation.
You're willing to commit to at least 6 months. You are willing to commit to at least 20 hours a week.
You have access to your own computer and broadband internet.
You are well-versed in Word and/or Excel.
You don't mind doing hours of mindless data entry but are willing to also interact, engage and collaborate.
You have excellent grammar and spelling.
You love to write.
You are interested in meeting literary agents, magazine and newspaper editors.
You know how to edit audio or video.
You are great at answering the phone and have a gift for gab and putting people at ease.
You meet deadlines without any excuses. If I hear how someone cat, dog or grandma died one more time, I think I'm going to throw up.
- See more at: http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser-jobs/jobview.asp?joid=146671&page=1#sthash.mUgPrtXX.dpuf

In addition Mr. Truly Impressed With Himself says, "This is not a free slave internship. This is an opportunity to work with a mentor who is willing and able to teach you all I know."

This man who loves his own talent wants the potential intern to know, "People pay me big bucks to teach them how to do this and you'll get it all for free so that you can take the knowledge with you, whether you are hired as a full-time assistant or you work elsewhere, forever." Do you think this guy gives lessons on how to be cheap?  

Who is this person?   We can only guess.   Here's what the ad says.  "I'm a published author (Warner Books) and media personality who owns a social media and PR firm for authors, experts and celebrities. We have a small virtual staff of 10 but looking to grow. Although the corporation is based in New York, we all work from virtual offices around the country. - See more at: http://www.mediabistro.com/tvnewser-jobs/jobview.asp joid=146671&page=1#sthash.mUgPrtXX.dpuf"

Never has going to school been more costly; never have students been graduating with more debt; never have students been under more pressure to find work.   And this published author and media personality can't come up with a few bucks for an intern?   

If anyone knows who this guy is, go throw a pie in his face.    


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

National Apology Day

The other night, Rachel Maddow devoted her show to reporting on a book every voting citizen should read:  Hubris - The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the the Iraq War.   David Corn and Michael Isikoff do a superb job of disaster-response journalism.   And that's the problem.

It's not until the disaster hits that reporters start asking questions that should have been asked long before the disaster.   This country had a war in Iraq for one primary reason:  journalism failed. The press played cheerleader.

We need to add a national holiday, National Apology Day.  It's the day the press apologizes to the American public for failing to do its job.

Our financial crisis is another example.   The press played cheerleader.  What do you think will be the consequences of dismantling the financial controls put in place following the Great Depression?  Is there any reason to believe eliminating those controls will somehow cause the financial industry to act responsibly and in the best interest of society?  What do you think will be the consequences of making it perfectly legal to securitize tens of thousands of liars loans? Where was the press asking the questions that needed to be asked?

Remember the hearings held on the Gulf Oil Spill?  Congressman Ed Markey grilled BP executives on the company's emergency response plans, response plans that called for saving walruses.   Just imagine if reporters, recognizing there are two major industries in the the Gulf - oil and tourism - had asked a basic question:  what happens if there's a spill?   Reporters doing what reporters are supposed to do would have found those emergency response plans.  They would have reported that BP was planning to save a species that has not been present in the Gulf for three million years.  Reporters would have had a great story, one that could have prevented a disaster and Congress would have done necessary oversight.

Remember the Presidential Debates?   Not a single question about climate change.  Insurance companies believe in science; so should journalists.

Remember Jim Tressel, the football coach who arrived at Ohio State with a history of NCAA violations at his previous job at YSU?   There was no more obvious story for any sports reporter.   What would Tressel's first annual performance review show?   You guessed it.  He was in violation again.   Did the local reporters, excuse me - I mean cheerleaders - report that?  Of course not.   When Tressel resigned, his performance evaluations showed multiple violations.  Those evaluations, all of which are public record, had never been disturbed by a reporter.   Ohio State told me nobody had ever requested them, a fact confirmed by the editor of the Columbus Dispatch. When I questioned the paper's lack of reporting,  editor Ben Marrison wrote to me:  "Our research indicates none of the approximately 600 journalists credentialed to cover Ohio State football requested Jim Tressel's evaluations.   In hindsight, I wish the Dispatch would have, as they would have led to some good stories."  Duh!

On National Apology Day, Ben Marrison can join the heads of CBS, NBC, ABC, FOX the NEW YORK TIMES and the WASHINGTON POST.  From college scandals to financial security to national security, when journalism fails, bad things happen.