letters to the editor

Letters to the editor

Readers respond to our May/June issue
July 1, 2014

Robot vs. Human

How many news media drones–or camera and microphone mounted on the end of broomsticks (see last graph of Louise Roug’s article “Eye in the Sky,” May/June 2014)–should authorities allow at a crash scene, big fire, or other newsy event? Several? Dozens? Hundreds?

Should they be limited only to those operated by professional news reporters/photographers who possess properly authorized “press” credentials? Or should any blogger or curious citizen be permitted to fly one–or two, or several–over a “newsy” scene?

As a former editor of daily and weekly newspapers and correspondent for an international news service, it is easy for me to imagine a time when dozens of news organizations might wish to send a drone to a potential “news” site.

Will robots, flying or otherwise, replace many human reporters and photographers? Or even editors?

Should the drone–or camera/microphone on broomstick–display a “press pass” clearly identifiable at the scene by police, firefighters, et al? Many times at a crash or fire scene, or at a large gathering or important event, etc., I was asked to show my “press pass.”

When people die or suffer serious injury, physical or financial, as a result of a drone or drones being at a supposed news scene, who will be held responsible? I’m afraid it won’t be the news organization, but likely will be the reporter or photographer.

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Perhaps the best question of all for journalists: In the future, will robots, flying or otherwise, replace many human reporters and photographers? Or even editors? I’m afraid it might be many.

John A. Moore

Editor, The Travelin’ Grampa

Lansdowne, PA

Cost of Admission

I read Voice of San Diego regularly, am a member (“Part of the club,” May/June), and have contributed a few opinion pieces. I find it a refreshing alternative to the local newspaper, which I continue to rely on primarily for basic news, which vosd cannot offer due to limited staff. The one significant weakness I see with vosd is the youth and inexperience of its staff, which turns over pretty regularly. There is a lack of historical context and broad understanding of issues that can, at times, mean that stories lack the depth of reportage one might expect from a larger news organization with a more seasoned staff. As an example, the pension issue, which is mentioned here, grew out of decisions by the city council in the late 1990s, long before this news organization existed or its reporters had graduated from college. That doesn’t make it impossible to report with adequate research. It does mean there is a lack of institutional experience with the issue from the editor on down that can hamper quality reporting.

When a ballot measure was brought to the voters on the pension, a key evaluation was made by a single actuary that had enormous influence. This actuarial evaluation was quite complicated for someone without in-depth knowledge of the functioning of pension systems to evaluate. vosd essentially accepted the evaluation at face value, and has continued to do so, rather than diving into it, most likely due to lack of staff members with any real experience in the area. I do not perceive meaningful bias on the part of vosd, but I do perceive a degree of naivete that comes from inexperience with the historical influences that shape the issues before us. This is perhaps inevitable in a news organization that is not only very new, but elects to hire (for reasons of cost or proclivity) relatively inexperienced reporters.

Chris Brewster

Comment on CJR.org

Before you lavish the kudos on VOSD, you need to look more closely. Their ties to some of the moneyed interests in San Diego have definitely undermined any claim to objectivity.

I have several examples, but here’s the most egregious:

The Voice website lists venture capitalist Buzz Woolley as one of their “Founders.” Wooley has been a major donor and chair of their board.

Woolley is also active in the charter schools movement and a strong critic of the public schools.

In 2014, when the SD Unified School District put a $2.8 billion bond measure on the ballot, Woolley was the largest campaign contributor in opposition.

The Voice’s coverage of the bond was sharply critical, as it has been of the school district; but not of the charter schools movement.

I need to explain my role here. I ran the campaign for the bond.

Now, the Voice is entitled to be critical and Woolley is entitled to oppose any ballot measure he wants. But when I called to ask Scott Lewis if he thought his readers should know the facts about Woolley’s funding of the bond opposition, he accused me of “bias-baiting” and hung up the phone.

I wrote a brief piece about this for a competing website and the Voice then published a bland statement to the effect that some donors have political leanings.

I am a former journalist and past contributor to cjr. I believe strongly in the watchdog function of the press. But when the press is bought and paid for, we face the dilemma that the watchdog doesn’t bark.

Larry Remer

Comment on CJR.org

Dear China . . . Nevermind

Gantal’s excuses ignore the fact that Bloomberg torpedoed stories critical of Chinese government officials because the Chinese government threatened Bloomberg’s economic interests in China (“Bloomberg’s folly,” May/June). Gantal’s claim that substance of the torpedoed stories were mundane and unnewsworthy is undercut by the Chinese government’s strong reaction to them. Obviously, the Chinese governent would not have issued its threats if it agreed with Gantal.

China has a corruption problem. So does the United States. Our presidents get quite rich after they leave office and so do their children and relatives. Let’s not forget that Hillary Clinton was appointed to WalMart’s board of directors while her husband was governor of Arkansas. However, our government usually does not threaten news reporters unless supposed national security interests are at stake.


Comment on CJR.org

Thanks for the piece on Lee and the Post-Dispatch (“Post-Dispatch disparities,” May 1). I appreciate the reporting.

But why did you let the source of the “bellyacher” quote go unnamed? I couldn’t have included that in my stories here without at least saying why I’m using an unnamed source.

The bellyacher’s sentiment, while understandable, is untrue and easily disproved. I wish we had more resources. I wish business executives, across the country, cared less about their salaries and more about their staffs. But I still enjoy working here.

We’re grinding out excellent work, day-in, day-out, exactly as newspapers are supposed to do.

David Hunn, reporter

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

You have to be kidding (“The New York Times can’t abandon print–yet,” June 6). You mean the NYT’s core product, the newsroom, costs them $200 million, print costs about $600 million, then $800 million is thrown into a black hole of “a large tech staff, ad sales, and business-side management?” That’s four times the newsroom!

First, I bet print alone costs the NYT a lot more, which someone intimated on one of your posts once, so you’d save a lot more by ditching print. Second, no reason you couldn’t take a giant scythe to those “other” costs, as they obviously aren’t carrying their weight.

Clearly, there was a lot of dead weight accumulated during the print era, time to start clearing the brush. Will they do it? Of course not, another reason why every newspaper is doomed.


Comment on CJR.org

A few points to consider (“Yemen kicks out foreign correspondents,” June 4):

1. Yemen has become extremely dangerous for European-looking non-native Arabic speakers. Recent foreign press coverage has not been particularly embarrassing in relation to the past two years. It is actually likely that Baron was deported because Yemen’s government (or possibly the US?) considered him a risk to himself. Foreign hostage situations are a major distraction to Yemen’s government.

2. In addition to persecution, censorship, and self-censorship, there is a great gap in coverage between the Arabic and English press. Arabic sources provide a much greater variety of information with a wider range of quality than the English press. To the extent that “the truth is out there,” for Yemen it is often only available in Arabic. This is one reason Al-Jazeera is often the first and best with a story when they bother to get it right.

3. While far more facts and viewpoints are available in Arabic, analysis and opinion are far more guarded. Things may be said in English without offending anyone that if printed in Arabic could get the journalist arrested immediately.

4. Foreign editors are reluctant to rely on Arab reporters in part because it is harder to assess their integrity and objectivity. You almost have to know who (if anyone) pays them. In the Arab world, fact, opinion, and feelings are mixed even more freely than in the West, and “creativity” in reporting is not even shameful–“truth” has a flexibility far beyond post-modernism.

An editor with little inside knowledge of the Arab world simply will find it difficult to evaluate the quality of reporting and sources. When dealing with a Western journalist, the editor is more comfortable because s/he knows the range of a Westerner’s biases and can interpret them.

The culture gap between “us” and “them” acts like a membrane–it only allows certain kinds of information to get through. This applies equally to any unfamiliar foreign environment (e.g. China).

Nick Meron

Comment on CJR.org


In “Bloomberg’s folly,” from the May/June issue, we incorrectly stated that Bloomberg’s Projects and Investigation team had disbanded. The team is still operational. CJR

The Editors are the staffers of the Columbia Journalism Review.