Tracie Powell, founder of allDigitocracy, is interviewed about the Free Flow of Information Act the Senate Committe on the Judiciary passed a week ago. It grants privilege for ‘covered parties’, with an exception for cases deemed to be critical to national security. It amounts to a federal media shield law similar to laws already adopted by 49 states.
In a nutshell I say that this is an imperfect first step in protecting journalists and helping them to carry forth our constitutional responsibility of keeping power in check. But the legislation also opens the door to defining who is and is not considered a journalist, something that is problematic for anyone engaged in gathering, preparing and producing information for the public good. Listen In.
By Tracie Powell
The Federal Communications Commission has delayed until January it’s decision on whether to further relax a long-standing rule that limits the ability of companies to own both a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same local market. Supporters of the rule argue that it is outdated, while opponents say it will further weaken media ownership by blacks, Hispanics and those representing other ethnic groups.
Truth is, the rule change is a double-edged sword, which is exactly why journalism associations such as the National Association of Black Journalists, shouldn’t just sit on the sideline as impartial observers while others shape policy; they need to weigh in.
The F.C.C. already allows companies to seek waivers to own both a newspaper and a station in the same market. The New York Times reported earlier this month that the News Corporation owns The New York Post and two television…
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The organization examined management ranks – not on-air talent or correspondents – where decisions are made about what stories are covered and how they are covered. NABJ found that African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics and other people of color are represented in mid-level ranks but not in the upper echelons of TV news management.
NABJ has been conducting this census for the past five years, said Bob Butler, the organization’s vice president of broadcast.
“The first year we did this we looked at the stations that were owned by ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. There were 61 people of color in management, about 16 percent,” Butler said. “Since that time, it’s gone down to about 12 percent of all the managers being people of color. That’s well below the 35 percent approximately of people of color represented in this country.”
While local stations are at 12 percent, TV networks are in a bit better shape– 34 percent of managers are people of color, according to the study. NBC and MSNBC tend to have the most diversity, Butler said. NABJ gathers the data, and then asks networks and stations to confirm it. Fox did not respond and ABC declined to confirm the accuracy of the data, Butler acknowledged in an interview with National Public Radio’s Michel Martin Wednesday afternoon.
It’s important that newsrooms have diverse voices at the table to ensure they are covering communities of color and that the coverage is fair and accurate, said Butler. NABJ doesn’t just point out the deficiencies, it also offers to help TV newsrooms solve the problem by helping to identify and train TV newsroom executives through its Executive Suite Program, he added. Led by news executives, the program is a series of workshops designed to help middle managers who aspire to more senior roles gain a better sense of what it takes to be an executive editor, a publisher, a news director or a general manager.
The Federal Communications Commission is charged with collecting the data that NABJ currently compiles, “but it hasn’t done it since 1996 and congress is not asking why not,” Butler said.
When it comes to making up stories, parts of stories or sources in a story, typically the same names usually surface: Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Patricia Smith and Janet Cooke. I was just getting my journalistic footing when these scribes were revealed to be little more than con artists, and so their names always served to be looming warning signs of what NOT to do in the business.
Too bad, it seems, that they don’t continue to serve as poster children for journalists behaving badly. From the New Yorker’s Jonah Lehr to former New Canaan News reporter Paresh Jha and Wall Street Journal intern Liane Membis who all created sources and quotes out of thin air, it seems that this summer has been filled with headlines about journalists contributing to the continued erosion of trust in our profession.
I don’t know if it was because my mentor professor Conrad Fink, who passed away earlier this year, put the fear of God in his students when he preached about there being no shortcuts, but it seems younger journalists — in higher profile positions — never heard such lectures. I do know that I’ve been questioning what’s happening in the trade, overall, that makes exchanging integrity for short-term gratification so commonplace these days.
Do the guilty parties grapple with the decision to make up a name, a quote, an entire story? Are their stomachs tied in knots about the prospect of being caught? Can they sleep at night? And if so, do they have nightmares about their ethical transgressions? Do they feel dirty when they walk through the doors of respective employers after committing such major lapses in judgement? And finally, is there redemption following such public failures?
I just learned Jayson Blair, who plagiarized and made up sources and quotes while at The New York Times, now earns about $130/hour as a life coach and Stephen Glass, one of the most sought after reporters who made up sources, quotes and whole stories at The New Republic, is now a lawyer in California. Maybe some of these folks can be redeemed.
I don’t know the answers to the other questions.
The American Journalism Review has a piece posted this week that states we can thank Blair and Glass for blaming younger journalists not ready for the big leagues, but the recent round of cheating shows that it’s not just young folks. The recent crop of journalism fabricators includes “a wide array of culprits, from veterans and stars of the profession to those who claimed they weren’t really journalists,” writes Lori Robertson who used to be a managing editor of the magazine and now contributes regularly to it.
Robertson suggests that the journalism culture itself is to blame for its recent series of scandals, namely the pressure to produce more while still beating the competition.
“Newsrooms praise those who get the stuff nobody else gets,” Robertson writes. She quotes Bill Kovach, founding chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, who states that as long as news organizations prioritize beating the competition above integrity, the cheating will keep happening.
Twenty-four hour newsrooms that continue to downsize are also part of the problem, said Robertson. “The more pressure that is put on journalists to produce more, faster, quicker, cheaper, the more the industry encourages cutting corners, which is just another way of saying cheating,” according to Deni Elliott, who teaches media ethics at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg and is quoted in Robertson’s piece.
Being first and getting stories nobody else gets may be factors, but I’d like to add one more: The star system.
Almost every newsroom has one. It’s that group of people in every newsroom that is designated the in-crowd, the journalists who are highly favored by certain key editors, who are placed on pedestals, given plumb assignments and lots of leeway. They are the guys and girls who, for lack of a better term, are considered prizes for different reasons — maybe they have the right pedigree or know how to talk the right game. Most of the time they are good at delivering the news of the day and good at selling themselves. Ever once in a while they come up with original ideas, or what editors believe to be original. They hang out with or know ‘the right kind of people,’ go to the right parties, live in the right neighborhoods. They have a certain look, most often pretty and petite with nice smiles, or wonky and cute as The New York Times describes Lehr. “… a guy who looks cute and wonky is better positioned to get away with this than others,” Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia told the Times.
A Yale graduate (Membis) lands at The Wall Street Journal. And by the way, she’s also a beauty queen. Well, she was. Even the best editors couldn’t help being star struck, right? I recently asked a journalist about working for a leading Washington, D.C. publication. That journalist talked candidly about the star system in place there, and how difficult it is to break through and become a member of the newsroom’s ‘elite.’
I think there’s a lot of pressure on these people, these stars, to live up to their own hype, and that is why they lie.
Sometimes stars fade. Other times they crash and burn, hurting their publications, the industry as a whole and, most importantly, themselves. And yes, this keeps happening over and over again. This summer has been no exception.
Russia TV reporter Marina Portnaya says bias and bungled reporting are causing viewers and readers to turn away from U.S. news organizations. But is citizen journalism an answer to the problem?
Portnaya profiles DailyCloudt.com, an online training ground for citizen journalists. The nonpartisan, independently funded company trains people to write well-sourced opinion pieces. It also maintains a search engine that monitors and explains congressional bills, a tool that allows average citizens to hold lawmakers and corporate leaders accountable when the Fourth Estate fails, according to the report.