Audit Notes: The Hamster Wheel, Mike Allen, artisanal toast

A complaint from the digital trenches

The Guardian’s Roy Greenslade prints a missive from a former student who’s now a 24-year-old veteran of three major British news websites. It reads like the Hamster Wheel gone off its hinges:

I wanted to investigate, to find scoops and to write to tight deadlines. I wanted everything that Mr MacArthur and Mr Moger describe from their past experiences. But the reality of modern journalism just isn’t like that any longer.

Now there are too few publications to hire the many, many young people who want to be reporters. Most jobs are now online, a medium which has very different needs to print.

The reality of a modern digital newsroom is complete reliance on the wires and PA. I have worked for three national newspaper websites, and all of them want copy thrown online with a photo. No journalism required. It is basically admin.

If you are lucky, you may have an editor that asks you to “put in a call”. But it soon becomes clear that it’s only the case if it doesn’t stop you getting through your other eight stories.

Granted, it’s one young journalist’s experience, and there are good digital-only journalism jobs out there. But it clearly resonates. Read Dean Starkman on a content analysis of the Times-Picayune for more on that.

Erik Wemple has Politico’s Mike Allen in his sights again, this time over his relationship with Fox News svengali Roger Ailes.

Only Allen could make Gabriel Sherman’s withering biography of Ailes sound like hagiography:

Somehow those lowlights didn’t make Allen’s highlights reel. He chose far more flattering stuff, like the part about Ailes being “The Most Powerful Man in the World,” about Ailes’s rough childhood, about Ailes winning over Rupert Murdoch, about Ailes winning over employees, about Ailes’s marketing genius, about Politico scoring a presidential debate at the Ronald Reagan library, to Ailes’s dismay. Save for a nod to Fox News’s alleged deception over an infamous anti-Obama video from May 2012, Allen all but “Zevved up” the Sherman book.

Wemple digs through the archives to show how Allen drops Fox News’s PR into “Playbook” and rarely mentions any criticism.

Yet all of these links and blurbs and stories are vying for runner-up status in the category of Allen-Ailes hagiography. Because the news story that Allen placed on on Oct. 23, 2009, will never be surpassed. It needs its own spot in the Newseum, if only to memorialize how Politico never kills stories. It’s got to be in the trophy case of Roger Ailes. It is as fresh and wonderful today as it was when first posted. It is titled, “FRIENDS PUSH AILES FOR PRESIDENT.”

It is indeed. Read it in all its ignominious glory.

Pacific Standard’s John Gravois noticed a new, irritating trend in San Francisco: $3 per slice artisanal toast.

I had two reactions to this: First, of course, I rolled my eyes. How silly; how twee; how perfectly San Francisco, this toast. And second, despite myself, I felt a little thrill of discovery. How many weeks would it be, I wondered, before artisanal toast made it to Brooklyn, or Chicago, or Los Angeles? How long before an article appears in Slate telling people all across America that they’re making toast all wrong? How long before the backlash sets in?

Now, there’s an easy trend story there: Three coffee shops, a couple of ridiculous man-on-the-street quotes, and a pat of snark.

But Gravois decided to dig deeper, and came away with a unlikely profile of one of San Francisco’s unsung analog entrepreneurs:

For whatever reason, I felt compelled to go looking for the origins of the fancy toast trend. How does such a thing get started? What determines how far it goes? I wanted to know. Maybe I thought it would help me understand the rise of all the seemingly trivial, evanescent things that start in San Francisco and then go supernova across the country—the kinds of products I am usually late to discover and slow to figure out. I’m not sure what kind of answer I expected to turn up. Certainly nothing too impressive or emotionally affecting. But what I found was more surprising and sublime than I could have possibly imagined.

Good stuff.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,