npr flap over news “objectivity”

October 25, 2010

So NPR fired one of its commentators for comments made elsewhere on the Fox News Network.  The case touches on a number of evolving ethical issues in the new mediaverse, as reported by Brian Stelter, who has been tracking the story in the Times.

Like other news organizations, NPR expects its journalists to steer clear of situations that might call its impartiality into question. NPR’s ethics code explains the rule this way: “In appearing on TV or other media including electronic Web-based forums, NPR journalists should not express views they would not air in their role as an NPR journalist. They should not participate in shows electronic forums, or blogs that encourage punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.”

The irony of course is that Fox is treating it as a First Amendment Issue, resigned Juan Williams to a new multi-million dollar contract.  The accusations of political correctness against NPR are also strange, given that Williams ostensibly plays a “house liberal” in his Fox role.  In any case, it shows the uneasy tension between traditional norms of objectivity (claimed by NPR) and more opinionated comments exemplified by Fox.

After dismissing Mr. Williams, who was one of its senior news analysts, NPR argued that he had violated the organization’s belief in impartiality, a core tenet of modern American journalism. By renewing Mr. Williams’s contract, Fox News showed its preference for point-of-view — rather than the view-from-nowhere — polemics. And it gave Fox news anchors and commentators an opportunity to jab NPR, the public radio organization that had long been a target of conservatives for what they perceived to be a liberal bias.

Ultimately, NPR has only itself to blame for letting its journalists double-dip.  NPR as a publicly supported news organization should provide something not available elsewhere, but too often serves up the same menu of stories, sources, and opinions readily available elsewhere.  There should be enough journalists willing to play by the NPR rules of impartiality to not have to retain those offering their services to a number of outlets.  Now, it has given the critics of public media (and I would argue a, relatively speaking, quality journalism forum) a club to beat it with.


the politics of climate change

October 21, 2010

Tea Party supporters are among the biggest skeptics of climate change, or global warming, in spite of the scientific consensus supporting it.  We’ll examine this issue in class Tuesday, but the case makes a good journalistic issue.  Where do these beliefs come from, and has science become unduly politicized by media pundits and political leaders?  As one Tea Party supporter in Indiana demonstrated, it’s a mix of echo-chamber media, coupled with a strong sense of paranoia, supporting beliefs that easily take on aspects of religious faith.

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”

If journalism is based, in theory, on the pursuit of truth, then how are these beliefs to be addressed in reaching political consensus, when they are so clearly outside the realm of rational argument?  This is also a case where a balanced presentation of the competing views doesn’t yield a truthful account.

more hiring in investigative journalism

October 19, 2010

The Center for Public Integrity will merge with a Huffington Post operation to create a larger news organization for investigations.  That sounds like good news for the muckraking tradition:

“It would double our operation,” said Mr. Buzenberg, adding that the center expected to file 500 investigative reports this year, with a dozen of them being major projects. “I do feel like we’re filling a void on the for-profit side that’s being filled on the nonprofit side,” he added. “Because of cutbacks, they have fewer people and less time to do that.”

a journalist covers his own life

October 15, 2010

I had noticed a book back in the summer reviewed favorably concerning a reporter reconstructing the narrative of his own life during a long period of addiction. I forgot it was our visitor yesterday, David Carr.  You might be interested in taking a look–it illustrates that even in our own life our memories are not always consistent with what really happened, or with what others remember happening.  Sometimes we need help piecing it together.

Trouble at the Chicago Tribune

October 13, 2010

Here’s an important story by our Thursday guest, David Carr.  He will no doubt have something to say about the long analysis piece he did recently on the sexism and mismanagement visited upon one of the nation’s once great newspapers, the Chicago Tribune

The new management did transform the work culture, however. Based on interviews with more than 20 employees and former employees of Tribune, Mr. Michaels’s and his executives’ use of sexual innuendo, poisonous workplace banter and profane invective shocked and offended people throughout the company. Tribune Tower, the architectural symbol of the staid company, came to resemble a frat house, complete with poker parties, juke boxes and pervasive sex talk.

Take a look.

the media “team”

October 11, 2010

David Carr (upcoming 310 guest) makes a number of important points in today’s column, noting the departure of The Washington Post’s starr media player Howard Kurtz to the online Daily Beast.

More and more, media outlets are becoming a federation of individual brands like Mr. Kurtz. Journalism is starting to look like sports, where a cast of role players serves as a platform and context for highly paid, high-impact players….On a journalistic level, the new playing field is more even. Many people see the news in aggregated form on the Web, and when they notice a link that interests them, they click on it with nary a thought about the news organization behind it. Information stands or falls on its magnetism, with brand pedigree becoming secondary.


the press in central america

October 10, 2010

The role of the press in Central America during the anti-communist policies of the Reagan Administration connects directly to our discussion of the McCarthy Era and the upcoming case on the El Mozote Massacre.  The Institute for Latin American Studies will host an interesting guest on Thursday, the Nicaraguan journalist Carlos Chomorro. This talk is open to the campus community.

Thursday, Oct. 14, 2010,
5:00–7:00 PM
Reception to follow Benson Collection Rare Books Room For more information, contact Paloma Diaz at or 232-2415. Sponsored by LLILAS and the Harte Lectureship on Latin America and the Media

media decoder: gender issues

October 4, 2010

Here’s a recent study that supports the women and news themes to be discussed this week in class.

It is a perennial complaint about American television news: that the guests on the Sunday morning public affairs programs are not representative of the country’s diversity.

A new study says the guest bookings do not represent the population of Congress, either.

“In 2009 the talk shows told us (by their selection of Congressional guests) that the people who matter are disproportionately white, male, senior and Republican — disproportionate not just when compared to the American population overall, but also when compared to the population of Congress itself,” concluded a study published this month in The Green Bag, a quarterly journal supported by the George Mason University School of Law.

The Times decoder feature should be handy for other of your analysis.

upcoming class guest

October 4, 2010

Today’s column in the business section of the Times is a regular contribution by David Carr, an upcoming October class guest speaker.  Carr considers the “truth” of the new hit film “The Social Network.”

framing a shooting incident

October 4, 2010

I already posed the question of how the University of Texas shooting incident was “framed” by journalists, in a number of cases by linking it to the 1966 Texas Tower shooting by Charles Whitman.  This helps create a narrative of school violence.  Another campus case of a tragic suicide occured not long before at Rutgers, in which a student jumped off the George Washington Bridge.

The Sept. 22 death, details of which the authorities disclosed on Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material. The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology.

Thus, could the Texas case have been better characterized and examined as another suicide case, in which the tool of choice happened to be an AK-47?  That would have given rise to a different set of questions and concerns as the two cases joined together with a different narrative and prognosis.  There’s more than one way to frame a story, but the choices do matter in terms of the policy discourse that emerges as a result.  This latter incident intersects with two other issues of interest in the class:  coverage of sexual orientation and the role of technology in revealing private lives.