Are bloggers journalists? Will they soon replace newspapers? The best answer to those questions is: those are really dumb questions; enough hot air has been expended in their name already. A more productive, tangible line of inquiry is: Is journalism being produced by blogs, is it interesting, and how should journalists react to it? The answers, by my lights, are ”yes,” “yes,” and “in many ways.”
—from Matt Welch’s “Blogworld and its Gravity,”
• Seymour Hersh’s reporting in The New Yorker examines how intelligence went wrong in the run-up to Iraq.
• Junior New York Times reporter Jayson Blair is revealed as serial fabulist and plagiarist, bringing down the paper’s two top editors.
• 60 Minutes II broadcasts photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib.
• CBS retracts story on Bush’s National Guard service, and launches investigation that will lead to Dan Rather’s departure from the network.
“News Corp.’s Fox News was incorrectly described in a page-one article yesterday as being sympathetic to the Bush cause.” —Wall Street Journal, October 26
—from “Media 2004: Some not-so-high points,”
a list appearing in CJR’s January/February ’05 issue
• The New York Times prints Eric Lichtblau and James Risen’s warrantless wiretapping scoop.
• The Huffington Post launches as a mostly celebrity-written liberal opinion forum.
Prisoners of Convention
In CJR’s September/October ’06 issue, Eric Umansky praised American journalists for unmasking murder, torture, and abuse of detainees post-9/11. But on close examination he found an “ambiguous picture.” Despite the revelations, reporters struggled to trace responsibility up the chain of command. Stories were “buried, played down, or ignored” by doubtful or timid editors. When published, they often drew little follow-up. In the face of arguments that coercive interrogation was necessary, Umansky wrote that it took chutzpah on the part of journalists to suggest that detainee abuse was important and—by giving the mistreatment prominent coverage—“implicitly, wrong.” Before March 2004, when photographic evidence from Abu Ghraib changed the climate, Umansky concluded, “chutzpah was in particularly short supply.”
“The really horrible security situation in Iraq has made it not just terribly dangerous to report there but terribly, terribly expensive. The danger has chased a lot of reporters away. In ’03 and ’04 there were hundreds. And you never really saw them much until some muckety-muck would come to the Green Zone for a press conference, and everybody would crowd in and there were four or five hundred reporters. Now maybe there’s like fifty. There’s nothing—there’s nobody there.”
—from New York Times reporter Dexter Filkins’s quote in “Reporting Iraq, 2003-2006: An Oral History,”
• The Boston Globe’s Charlie Savage explores George Bush’s use of presidential signing statements.
• McClatchy buys Knight Ridder, promptly selling just-acquired papers in Philadelphia, San Jose, and St. Paul.
• Talking Points Memo connects the dots of the US Attorney firings.
• Politico launches after its founding editors decline an offer to build a similar site for The Washington Post.
• This American Life and NPR explain the origins of the financial crisis in “The Giant Pool of Money”.
• New York Times reporter David Rohde is kidnapped in Afghanistan; more than 40 news organizations will keep his captivity secret.
A Subprime Record
“These are grim times for the nation’s financial media,” began Dean Starkman’s May/June ’09 analysis of more than 700 significant articles preceding 2008’s financial crisis. While many journalists claimed their loud pre-crash alarms had been ignored, Starkman argued that line of
defense unwittingly made a case for the business press’s own “irrelevance—all that newsprint and coated paper, those millions of words, the bar graphs, stipple portraits” would have been for naught. When Starkman dissected the record, alongside many glossy corporate profiles he found some strong work; but what the public needed were “warnings that the Wall Street backed lending industry was running amok. It didn’t get them.”
From the Bottom Up
In CJR’s March/April 2009 issue, Amanda Michel explained the “pro-am model” behind The Huffington Post’s campaign 2008 OffTheBus project. She led a small team of professional editors who wrangled writing, editing, reporting, and fact-checking from at least 8,000 amateurs. Among many other stories, the project used volunteers with accounting skills to estimate how much money Bill Clinton brought into his wife’s campaign, and how much Obama’s made from branded merchandise. One participant sparked controversy, when, at a closed-door fundraiser, she recorded Obama saying he understood why voters might “cling to religion or guns.” Since pro-am relies on interested volunteers, Michel reasoned, it would require some rethinking of the role of objectivity in newsgathering but it could reconnect diminished newsrooms to their audiences while powering “critical collaborative-reporting projects.”