Letters from our readers

Here is a selection of letters and emails we’ve received since December 5. Please send correspondence to letters@cjr.org, along with your name, address, and any relevant affiliation.


THE MANY MEANINGS OF “AUDACIOUS”

Paper makes audacious decision to highlight silent epidemic

I feel your use of “audacious” in the headline of the article on the Palm Beach Post’s series, “Generation Heroin,” gives the wrong impression. While audacious can mean intrepidly daring and marked by originality and verve, it also means recklessly bold and contemptuous of decorum, which is how many are taking it.

As you are aware, in this era of clickbait and fake news, people often don’t take the time to read the links, but cast judgement based on headlines alone. As the CJR article makes the rounds, people are saying it is a terrible thing the paper did when, if fact, it was quality journalism.

I would encourage you to reconsider your headline for this and future articles. I expect CJR to be a standard bearer for quality journalism in an era when such quality is scarce.

Sincerely,
Rebecca Abma
Hawthorne, NJ


DIGITAL’S NOT JUST FOR THE YOUNG

Print is dead. Long live print.

I’m 62 and I haven’t willingly read an actual paper anything in years. I read Kindle books on my iPad, my local paper online (where they cluelessly try to emulate the paper by making me turn pages), and I read stories from around the world, often on my laptop because the iPad keeps getting indigestion from JavaScript. The company I work for went paperless years ago, so I don’t use or file paper at work, either.

Since this is CJR, I will note that my local paper offers stories of poor quality written by unedited millennials of dwindling ability. I recently choked over a story about a car accident where the deceased was referred to as the “dearly departed.” This from a paper that wins awards from the Georgia Press Association.

If you have a paper-only edition, I’m not buying or reading because paper is really, really, really inconvenient. You have to look for it, you have to protect it from the puppy who likes to eat it, and filing it is a real pain. I quit using the library years ago. You had to go get a book, take care of it, and return it. Not only that, but if they didn’t have it, you had to wait for an interlibrary loan. Let’s not talk about going to the bookstore and turning your head sideways so you can read the titles with your tri-focals, because I quit bookstores, too.

I use Evernote to clip online articles I like, and it is easy to tag them by subject. I never search hard to find any article I read “some time ago” that was about “something.” Trying to cram a newspaper in a three-in-one printer/scanner/fax machine is a no-go.

Most of what passes for trying to get me to pay for content online is ludicrous. I join the millions of online porn users, using the “incognito” feature of the Chrome browser to avoid paywalls, and visit the decidedly non-prurient pages of the London Times, The Telegraph, The Washington Post, and others. I’d happily pay a few bits per article, but everyone wants me to cough up $30 to $40 a month to get all the fabulous local content about cities I’m not ever going to spend much time visiting.

At some point, someone will work this out. Probably someone who works for radio because they have already had to figure out how to stay in business after losing a mass market. In fact, my local radio station group has a news site that carries better and more current content than my local paper. There will always be people who like paper, just like all those people who like jazz. I suspect most of them will be in France.

Merrill Guice
merrillguice.com


THE MEDIA AND THE “WHITE WORKING CLASS”

Surprised by Trump win? Stop ignoring the white working class

This frame of the white working class being ignored or misunderstood is lazy and easily disproved. White working class voters are not ignored and do not have it worse relative to the black working class, Latino working class, female working class, immigrant working class, or any other cross-section you want to examine.

White voters of almost every education and income level voted for Trump. The “white working class” is a euphemism and distraction from the reality that Trump ran a bigoted campaign.

CJR is not going to provide valuable guidance for the media if you keep regurgitating simplistic and disproven memes from election night.

Hussain Rahim


THE STORY BEHIND A COURT RULING

Documentary filmmakers fear more legal challenges in Trump era

The writer correctly states that in 2010, a federal judge ordered documentary filmmaker Joe Berlinger to turn over hundreds of hours of footage and outtakes from his film Crude after a request from Chevron. However, you neglect to mention that the outtakes provided evidence of misbehavior by the plaintiffs’ lead attorney Steven Donziger, expert witnesses, and Ecuadorean officials in a lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador.

In ordering the footage be turned over, the court found that Berlinger’s outtakes were not shielded by “journalists’ privilege.” The court explained that, because Berlinger’s film was solicited by the plaintiffs “for the purpose of telling their story, and that changes to the film were made at their instance, Berlinger failed to carry his burden of showing that he collected information for the purpose of independent reporting and commentary.” The court also found that information contained in the footage could not be considered “confidential.”

To confuse Berlinger’s movie with independent journalism is a distortion. The footage might still be on Berlinger’s cutting-room floor had the court not enabled the truth to be exposed.

Respectfully,
Dave Samson
General Manager, Public Affairs
Chevron Corporation


FIGHTING FAKE NEWS

A simple step to make news sites more secure

Just read your excellent piece on use of HTTPS. Along the same lines, adoption of a certificate of authenticity for other electronic access types (e.g., email attachments, printed documents, PDF files) could create a bedrock of trusted information. The Verisign “trust” logo was remarkably helpful and likely a necessary driver for the wide acceptance of e-commerce. I see this project as an extension and logical continuation of that effort.

If journalists, large Web content providers, and aggregators cooperated, they could quickly take the lead in deflating the “fake news” generators and distributors. A trustmark would exist for the benefit of the information consumer, not for intermediaries to limit or quash free speech. It would not indicate truth, but would identify the originator and possible owner of the information.

After the election, I signed up for an online subscription to The New York Times. Not that I needed it, but to support them. Everyone won’t do that. Helping readers understand the value of sourced, researched, well-written, and edited news is difficult, but critical.

In my view, the Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and Web media outlets would be great standard bearers, as would CNN and perhaps even Fox. My objective is to talk less and take more action to support our clearly dazed democracy. I’m hoping you have folks there who are similarly motivated.

Sincerely,
Mark Bonine
San Jose, CA


SATIRE VS. LIES

How Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert blazed a trail for Trump

The writer’s notion of what constitutes fake news is tone deaf. What rock is he living under? Fake news is whipped up from whole- (or half-) cloth of lengthy, detailed, deliberate lies shared with the credulous to gain political advantage over what is inconveniently true. This lie machine has made a huge difference in politics. Examples abound at snopes.com.

Colbert and Stewart are satire. Their programs showed footage of public figures saying whatever they said. Stewart and Colbert dished out morality dressed in comedy. The audience understood.

And no, the media does not have to choose between Trump as mastermind, Trump as commerce central, or any other definition of Trump. Trump himself doesn’t know what he is. A medium that was not subservient to commerce might have followed its nose to a journalism that improved public understanding of how democracy is shackled to commerce, and prevented the travesty of Americans being forced to choose between the presidential candidate of Goldman Sachs (D) and the candidate for US president of Goldman Sachs (R).

I wish CJR would concern itself with this: Today’s journalists are co-promoting with Trump the language bridge “alt-right,” which will walk millions in the fake-news/coal-country/patriot/strong-father contingent out of the Republican bag and into fascist territory.

Cass Martinez


There is a bitter irony in your piece on Stewart, Colbert, and fake news, which complains bitterly about fake news while getting history so terribly wrong. It shows colossal ignorance of history. It is a piece that is so bad you may want to consider retracting it.

The author writes: “American freedom has always been synonymous with American business; at this moment in history, they are virtually identical. No repressive regime, whether the product of a coup or a slow strangulation of liberties, was spawned by businessmen.”

You don’t have to be a communist to recognize that this is completely false; you only have to consider the history of slavery in the US and around the world. In the slave trade, human beings were bought and sold and served as both money and capital.

That is just one example. Hitler was helped into power by political conservatives and businessmen, and fascism in general is a totalitarian system that usually supports and protects a small business elite, including military dictatorships. Individual rights and freedoms are established by governments and the law. Nineteenth-century liberals were pro-market and pro-capital, but sometimes radically anti-democratic.

That is just on the facts. The thesis is equally terrible. To suggest, somehow, that a couple of comedians—who often presented actual news while mocking it—paved the way for deliberate misinformation and propaganda is shooting the messenger.

Unless this was written as some kind of satire of fake news, it does a disservice to journalism as well as to history.

Dougald Lamont
Winnipeg, Canada



This is the most asinine thing I’ve ever read in CJR, and an incredible insult to the intelligence of everyone: “Yet it was Stewart and Colbert who helped create the atmosphere of ‘fake news’ (formerly known as gossip, rumor, dis-, or misinformation) that helped elect Trump, and that currently has the media up in arms….In retrospect, Colbert’s bizarre appearance…as a legitimate witness in the House of Representatives before a judiciary subcommittee on farming and immigration was a precursor to another reality-TV buffoon’s election to the White House….Their more general contempt for every aspect of the democratic political process was the liberal version of the cynicism and the nihilism that helped project Trump into the Oval Office.”

I can only assume that the writer is suffering from a severe defect in cognition, or else has never, ever heard/seen Rush Limbaugh or Fox News, which predate The Daily Show and the The Colbert Report by years.

Phillip Lozano


THE VALUE OF CONSTRUCTIVE FEEDBACK

10 resolutions for managers leading newsrooms in 2017

While we will not be on the Trump beat, much of what you wrote can yet apply to the smaller newsrooms in more remote areas such as ours. Number 10 piqued my interest greatly. I admit I’m not always the best with the feedback. Indeed, we get mired down in the day-to-day operations and the need to stomp out the forest fires, so much so that we often end the day with “Damn! How’d we get a paper out?

There is always room for improvement. Indeed, we may not be in a position to give great pay raises (in an industry that doesn’t give great pay to begin with), but maybe we can be better and more properly influence the desired results with proper feedback.

Thanks for sharing that piece.

Richard S. Whiting
Executive Editor
Index-Journal
Greenwood, SC

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The Editors are the staffers of Columbia Journalism Review.