Finally, a meaningful interactive tool for local news sites

4 01 2010

The Manchester, CT, Journal Inquirer pilots a cool tool for reporting problems to local officials and holding them accountable for fixing them.

Public officials get to talk back. The tool can also be used with businesses, non-profits, and even private citizens.

AND, the use of the tool, called SeeClickFix, also is drawing more readers to the news site’s paid content.

Seems to me that the tool will require heavy monitoring to prevent abuse, and using it beyond issues that are the responsibility of local government raises some real liability concerns. But this appears t0 be something of a breakthrough toward realizing the promise of interactivity for real civic engagement — a significant advancement beyond the message boards, forums, and the usually inane comment sections trailing stories.

More freelancers, more ethics problems

3 01 2010

The New York Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, reports that the newspaper’s increasing use of freelancers has given it ethics headaches.

These cases illustrate how hard it is for The Times to ensure that freelancers, who contribute a substantial portion of the paper’s content, abide by ethics guidelines that editors believe are self-evident and essential to the paper’s credibility but that writers sometimes don’t think about, or don’t think apply to their circumstances, or believe are unfair or unrealistic.

Hoyt quotes Virginia Postrel, a former Times columnist, as saying:

[She] thinks the paper’s rules are unfair to writers and are themselves “borderline unethical.” The paper wants to treat freelancers like staffers without the same pay or benefits, and without paying for their research, Postrel said. She said The Times operates under “the false assumption” that companies pay fees to professors or authors to influence their writing rather than to learn from them.

But Postrel, on her own blog, says that’s not all she told Clark. She includes an e-mail she sent him, which states:

I strongly believe that the Times is using its market power to freeload on the human capital–including both personal reputations and the expensive process of learning things–of its freelancers, which is one reason it is so happy to have so many professors on board, (something that will end if you seriously start enforcing the prohibition against earning any money from anybody who might conceivably be a source for any theoretical future article). But, hey, you can always dig up some more 24 year olds.

It’s just another band on the newspapers’ death spiral. Loss of readership causes cost cutting, which causes quality problems, including ethical issues, which causes credibility problem, which causes more loss of readership ….

Thomas Frank: Political diversity won’t save newspapers

16 12 2009

Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter with Kansas” and the Wall Street Journal’s one liberal columnist, challenges the Washington Post’s notion that adding more conservatives would stave off the newspaper’s rapid demise. He makes the case that the two biggest journalistic failures of recent years can hardly be blamed for lack of conservative ideology in the newsroom.

Craziest of all, though, is the prospect of the Post ditching its decades-long pursuit of the grail of objectivity . . . because it got scooped on the Acorn story. If that is all it takes to reduce the Washington Post’s vaunted editorial philosophy to ashes, what is the newspaper industry planning to do to atone for its far more consequential failures?

Remember, this disastrous decade saw two of them: First, the news media’s failure to look critically at the Bush administration’s rationale for the Iraq War; and then, the business press’s failure to understand the depth of the subprime mortgage problem and to anticipate its massive consequences.

… The problem, in each of these massive failures, wasn’t really ideological at all. The people who got it right, in both cases, were the ones willing to hold power accountable, to directly challenge the conventional wisdom.

What the Post seems to be after is the opposite: A form of journalism that offends nobody, that comes crawling to the powerful, that mirrors the partisan breakdown of the population as a whole. If that’s the future of journalism, we can be certain that ever more catastrophic failures await.

Miami Herald jangles online tin cup

15 12 2009

The Herald’ online edition appeals to the angels of our better nature, or our guilt.

Beginning Tuesday, The Miami Herald will accept voluntary contributions via its website. At the end of each online story, readers will find an option for making a contribution to support its news coverage delivered via the Internet.

I guess it’s worth a try. It doesn’t hurt to ask. It seems incongruous, though, for a for-profit organization to solicit gratuities.

H/T Matt Frederick

Editor & Publisher magazine goes under

10 12 2009

Sad, sad news. After 125 years as a watchdog of the newspaper industry, E&P is closing shop. Over the last decade, it has been an excellent chronicler of the death spiral of journalism as we once knew it. It has encouraged the transition to the Internet and criticized newspapers’ stodgy approach to it.

Most notably, E&P held newspapers accountable for their role in the run-up to the Iraq War, parroting the administration line without examination.

In a bad sign, five years ago E&P switched from weekly to monthly publication. Its own death now signals a final lap around the drain for the traditional media.

UPDATE: The Columbia Journalism Review has an interview with E&P editor Greg Mitchell here.

“We made a lot of friends and a lot of enemies, I suppose, because we really were an independent voice, and often a very critical voice. I don’t think there are too many trade publications that were as independent and critical as we are, and we made some people angry because of that. We were calling for more Web focus way before it was fashionable; we were critical of many moves the industry was making and not making, covering the warts of the industry, trying to push them to make changes—and at the same time, standing up for the First Amendment, standing up for ethics, standing up for reporters’ rights.”

God, I miss that …

4 12 2009

A Eulogy for Old-School Newsrooms

Dallas Morning News places editors under sales managers

3 12 2009

Farewell to journalism as we knew it.

The Morning News tears down the firewall that traditionally has divided news and business functions in newspapers.

The newspaper is organizing around 11 “business and content segments” run by newly created general managers reporting to Senior Vice President/Sales Cyndy Carr. Each general manager will be “charged with analyzing and growing the business by developing solutions that meet consumer needs and maximize results for our clients,” a staff memo says. “Their responsibilities will include sales and business development. They will also be working closely with news leadership in product and content development.”

Of course, the firewall has been eroding since it purportedly existed, but this makes it official. Today’s Tiger Woods scandal brought to you by Adidas and Lincoln Mercury.