Comments of the Week

December 7-11, 2009

Every Friday, we excerpt some of the most insightful, articulate, interesting, and entertaining comments we receive each week. Think we’ve missed something? Well…comment!

China’s Currency Problem

On Wednesday, Ryan Chittum praised Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf for writing about China’s habit of manipulating the exchange rate of its currency—and why that maneuver was one of the things that led to the credit crisis.

“After Paulson hit hard on this issue (with no result) the Obama admin seems to be letting it slide. Perhaps things could be happening behind closed doors?

“China is in a bind. It’s export industry is already devastated, and revaluing might destroy the rest of it. It doesn’t want to reward speculators. And much of the rationale for a non-convertible currency was born during the 1997 Asian crisis, which China alone sailed through unscathed thanks to its fixed currency.

“More than anything, China wants stability. The bureaucrat that recommends a revaluation would be betting his career and possibly his life on its outcome.”


“Letting it slide? Geithner has pressed this issue hard, and Obama personally pushed Wen and Hu to address the exchange rate. Their problem is that they are reluctant to use any sort of trade club to force a decision through China decision by consensus system.

“There is another view on China’s self-proclaimed role in the Asian financial crisis. In fact, Indians and others believe, China provoked the crisis by its massive devaluation of the RMB in 1994. That left many in SE Asia unable to compete with Chinese producers, and it all cam tumbling down in 1997-8.

“The Chinese obsession with “stability” is , as JLD says, at the heart of the political problem. However, if they hold on to the undervalued RMB, crash the dollar and choke off their export markets in teh US and elsewhere, they will have exactly what they want to avoid — angry Chinese in the street protesting the failure of Chinese policy. They will try to blame that on the US, but Beijing will deserve most of the blame. They can be a short-sighted lot.”

China Watcher

Editor & Publisher’s Sudden End

On Thursday, the mediasphere was surprised to learn that the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, recently acquired by a company called 5 Global Media, would shut down at the end of the year. CJR’s Greg Marx talked to E&P editor Greg Mitchell soon after the news broke, and the resulting interview drew a variety of commenter reactions.

“Sad news, indeed. I’ve been reading E&P since I was a high school journalist some 45 years ago, and subscribing since I graduated from college.”

janet mendler

“E & P stood up for the First Amendment - except when its editors opposed the point of view expressed - I’m thinking of Judith Miller’s term in jail. If E & P was bothered by that, they sure hid it well. Mr. Mitchell also was an enthusiastic supporter of the witch hunt for the ‘leaker’ of Valerie Plame’s not-very-secret employer. NY Times stories outing people involved in interrogations of Al Quaeda members, by contrast, were given sympathetic treatment. I guess it just depends.

“Probably these were symptoms of decline, rather than the cause of it; capture of a news organization professing to be non-partisan by zealous seems to be a signal of declining future fortunes. E & P almost never challenged the prevailing urban orthodoxies of the mainstream media, and it frequently highlighted minor stories in order to push a political agenda. Mr. Mitchell wasn’t shy about giving big play to stories that allowed him to promote his own books, either.

“To all left-leaning E & P defenders, please skip the name-calling and cite me some real evidence of my mistaken impression that Mitchell pushed a left-wing agenda. E & P did run a piece giving credence to the reality of the Matthew Shepard case - that Shepard was killed over a drug deal gone wrong, not because he was gay, as the mythmakers have it - but that’s all I can remember. The rest has been utterly predictable.”
Mark Richard

Please, No Scrubs

Last Friday, Craig Silverman reported on some new research which found that no commonly accepted standard exists for updating and maintaining news organizations’ online archives. But commenters had a lot to say on the ultimate value of “overly fussy” corrections policies.

“Actually, I’m all in favor of quick, low-fuss scrubbing of stories that mangle a fact or two. It’s a simple way to improve the accuracy of Web archives. On routine stories, media organizations aren’t really much different from contractors putting in tile floors … or teachers grading exams … or check-out clerks ringing up the price of groceries.

“We’re talking about high-volume, low-glory work that usually is done to pretty solid standards, but where minor mistakes are a way of life, too.

“Fix the mistakes. Fix them quickly with a minimum of fuss. Treat the customer, reader or student with respect — and don’t act as if the future of the First Amendment is at stake. It isn’t.

“What is at stake is readers’ belief that a media organization either can tidy up minor errors with the speed and grace of the tile guy, teacher, etc. — or for reasons of institutional arrogance, just plain can’t. There’s nothing like a three-week set of hassles, talking to a half-dozen different people who all have to get “involved” before a minor error can be tidied up, to make readers get really tired of dealing with “the media.”

“The overly fussy approach of Public Editors is designed to provide job security for Public Editors — and annoyance for everyone else.”

Disappearing Reader

“Before launching The Ann Arbor Chronicle in September 2008, we spent considerable time talking about how to handle corrections. Accountability and transparency are important, but we didn’t see any real models among online news publications for handling this. Ultimately, we decided to make corrections in a very visible way. To correct an error in an article, we strike through the incorrect word or phrase or (gulp) sentence and put that section in red. If we need to add information, the addition is made in blue text. We also have a “Missed Ticks” section on our front page (alluding to a general clock motif on our site), which notes each error and links back to the original articles.

“Not sure if this falls into the “overly fussy” category or not. I hope that it instills a greater level of trust with our readers, and highlights the fact that we take the notion of “public record” very seriously.”
Mary Morgan

Head of the CLASS

On Monday, Trudy Lieberman called former insurance lawyer and current senator Ben Nelson’s opposition of the CLASS Act—a government-run long-term care plan—one of the most underreported health reform stories around. Commenters had much to say about Nelson, the CLASS Act, and what really motivates insurance companies.

“As a general comment it’s very dispiriting to see the level of commentary on this issue as exemplified by this article and comments. Do you really think that the health insurance companies are evil? What about the non-profit insurance companies, are they just plain nasty too?

“It’s easy to look at this cynically from both sides. A big reason why the Dems are pushing this - against significant voter disapproval - is to lock in benefits for their voter base. Adding jobs and members to public employee unions is a big plus too. And the reason why no one is talking about tort reform is because they are the Dems bread and butter.

“My take is that it is pure unadulterated madness for the US to add a huge new entitlement program during a time of recession and huge deficits. I’m sure you will think I’m evil for having that opinion, too…”


“Insurance agencies aren’t evil, they are merely motivated against the interests of their customers because they prioritize the interests of their shareholders. And maybe if customers had choices - instead of being locked into their employer’s subsidized choices or forced to shop alone without the benefit of a pool prices, maybe if medical services weren’t essential services - meaning customers could negotiate over their coverage and people who can’t get private coverage because of preexisting conditions weren’t inconvenienced, maybe if insurance companies didn’t have state by state monopolies and exceptions from the government that protected them, then maybe we wouldn’t be complaining about how evil the insurance companies are because they wouldn’t have the opportunity.
But the fact is they do, so they are, and that because they are taking advantage of the rules of the game.
So it makes perfect sense to change the rules of the game when the current game is faulty.
What would make even more sense is to change the game completely, as is done in other countries, and socialize the whole system. Be thankful that option was taken off the table long ago.”


Winter Reading List

On Tuesday, CJR
asked readers
to suggest some titles for its annual list of books that journalists ought to read over the winter. Here are a few of the suggestions we’ve received so far.

“‘Gaily, Gaily’ by Ben Hecht. A terrific book written in 1963 about a young Chicago reporter’s life in the 19-teens, when newspapers were racy, fun, uninhibited and occasionally accurate. Hecht got fired for writing a book considered obscene in 1922, so you know he was onto something.”

Aaron Elstein

“I still put in my vote for Ian Frazier’s “Great Plains”—peripatetic reporting, gorgeous prose, and funny to boot. I’m almost as fond of “Family,” which is both more personal and historically broader in its reach (i.e., the rise and fall, or at least gradual downsizing, of the American WASP). “

James Marcus

“‘The Curse of the Mogul’ by Jonathan A. Knee, Bruce C. Greenwald and Ava Seave (Portfolio).

“It’s a mostly readable business book that takes a contrarian’s view of much of what passes for wisdom about media companies. (Since few journalists understand one bit about the business they are in, that should be enough to recommed this book right there.) Big lesson: Investing in media companies is dumb; working for them isn’t.

“The book makes a case that Bloomberg is a brilliant company while most others are considerably less than brilliant.

“No matter. What’s important here, for journalists, is that the authors explain how our multi-platform business operates today…and, as I read the book, why old print media remain pretty good enterprises despite the digital onslaught.”

J.D. Crook

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.