Category Archives: Media

The WDBJ video: To air or not to air?

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On Wednesday, a disgruntled former employee of Roanoke, Virginia-based WDBJ-TV fatally shot two of the station’s journalists as they were conducting a live interview. The cameraman captured part of the scene before dying. I asked my Twitter followers: Should the video be shown or not? I’ve assembled their answers on Storify, so please have a look.

In asking my followers for their views, I was referring strictly to the video shot by cameraman Adam Ward. Even though he had been fatally wounded, he managed to keep rolling as the gunman, Vester Lee Flanagan II, shot him and reporter Alison Parker. CNN and many other news outlets showed all or part of Ward’s footage.

Later, footage shot by Flanagan himself popped up on his Twitter account under the name of his his on-air pseudonym, Bryce Williams. I managed to see it before Twitter suspended his account. It is far more harrowing than Ward’s video, and I don’t believe any news organization used it. (Update: The New York Daily News uses images from the Flanagan video on its front page today. I’m not going to link to it.)

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Globe to address columnist Sununu’s outside interests

Last week the liberal media watchdog group Media Matters for America published its latest post on the many conflicts of Boston Globe columnist John E. Sununu, a former Republican senator and the son of former New Hampshire governor John Sununu.

Now the Globe’s editorial-page editor, Ellen Clegg, says she’s dealing with Sununu in several ways:

  • By posting in the near future biographies of Sununu and other freelance columnists that disclose their outside interests.
  • By reaching an understanding with Sununu that he will not write about cable and Internet access.
  • By requiring a specific disclosure within his column whenever he writes about the presidential campaign. (Sununu is a prominent supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich.)

“It’s safe to say that few freelance columnists make their living solely from writing for newspapers these days, so most have other jobs or consultancies,” Clegg told me by email. “We want to be more transparent with our readers about the nature of columnists’ work and affiliations.”

Sununu’s outside interests, which I have written about previously, was the subject of an Aug. 17 analysis by Eric Hananoki of Media Matters. Hananoki observed that Sununu’s column of that same date criticized President Obama’s environmental policies as well as his regulatory decisions regarding cable and the Internet without mentioning his ties to businesses that oppose administration policies.

In particular, Hanonoki wrote, Sununu was paid more than $750,000 by the industry-funded lobbying organization Broadband for America and by Time Warner Cable, on whose board he sits.

Sununu’s ties to the energy industry stem from his status as a policy adviser to the Washington lobbying firm Akin Gump.

The online disclosures Clegg envisions for freelance columnists seem like a reasonable solution in most cases, although, as she notes, there are times when the disclosure should be included in the column — or when the conflict of interest is so blatant that the columnist should simply choose another topic.

The online disclosures are also of no help to those who only read the print edition. Clegg told Joe Strupp of Media Matters that she’d “take a look at” what to do about print and added that “we do require that [disclosure] when we think it’s warranted.”

What follows is the full text of Clegg’s email to Media Nation.

In the interest of more transparency, we’re posting bios for our regular freelance op-ed columnists online and linking those bios to their bylines. John Sununu has told me he will avoid writing about issues pertaining to cable and internet access because of his seat on the Time Warner Cable board. He has also assured me that he will disclose his support of GOP presidential candidate John Kasich in the text of any columns he writes about presidential politics (he is chair of his campaign in New Hampshire.)

It’s safe to say that few freelance columnists make their living solely from writing for newspapers these days, so most have other jobs or consultancies. We want to be more transparent with our readers about the nature of columnists’ work and affiliations. When appropriate, we’ll include relevant details in the text of the print edition of the column, as well as the link for our digital readers.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Steel-cage death match of the #mapoli political emails

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 9.16.36 AMPolitico this morning debuts its Massachusetts Playbook, compiled by Lauren Dezenski, most recently of the Dorchester Reporter. It’s a newsy round-up of the state political scene that aggregates from a variety of sources, including The Boston Globe and, of course, Politico.

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 9.16.50 AMMassachusetts Playbook competes directly with the Globe’s Political Happy Hour, Joshua Miller’s late-afternoon update. Miller is leaving the field to Dezenski this week, as he’s going on vacation. As David Bernstein notes, the timing is odd, though I suppose no one’s around this week except me (and you, of course).

If I may offer a flash judgment on the basis of exactly one Dezenskigram, I’d say she aims to be a little more comprehensive, as befits a morning briefing. Miller is more selective and takes a lighter tone. Massachusetts Playbook seems aimed at #mapoli types trying to catch up quickly before beginning their day, whereas Happy Hour feels more like something you read on your evening commute (which I often do).

Is there room for both? This may well be the most politically aware state in the country. So sure, why not?

More: Two lower profile but valuable #mapoli political emails I should not have omitted: The Download, from CommonWealth Magazine, and MASSterList.

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Boston Globe’s Stat project publishes its first story

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 5.23.11 PMStat, The Boston Globe’s much-touted life-sciences vertical, is starting to come into focus. Although the site doesn’t officially debut until fall, its first story — about two young paralysis victims undergoing experimental treatment who fall in love — has been published at BostonGlobe.com. The project also has a website, a Twitter feed and a Facebook page.

We also finally know why the site is being called Stat. According to an introduction by reporter Bob Tedeschi, it’s an old term meaning “Take this medication immediately.” He writes:

Its first common usage as a medical term appeared in 1875, in William Handsel Griffiths’ seminal (or not) text: “Lessons on Prescriptions and the Art of Prescribing.” Griffiths, a surgeon and professor in Dublin, tucked “stat” between “stet” and “somnus” on a list of jargon used by doctors who, he wrote, suffered from “hurry, laziness or ignorance.”

Stat: abbreviation of the Latin word “statim,” meaning “immediately.”

Here’s some background on Stat from Benjamin Mullin of Poynter.

Trump did not say the 14th Amendment is unconstitutional

(Courtesy of the Byrom-Daufel family) Most 19th Century Chinese immigrants were single men, but a few families lived in the Portland area. The Byrom-Daufel family of Tualatin retained this portrait, but descendents no longer have the Chinese family name. Scan from print.

Chinese immigrants in Oregon. Birthright citizenship dates to 1898, when the Supreme Court cited the 14th Amendment in overturning a California law. Photo published by The Oregonian, courtesy of the Byrom-Daufel family.

My Facebook feed is filling up with posts from liberal friends informing me that Donald Trump is, among many other bad things, an ignoramus when it comes to the Constitution.

Trump allegedly stepped in it on Tuesday, telling Bill O’Reilly of Fox News that the 14th Amendment wouldn’t necessarily impede his rather horrifying proposal to deny citizenship to the children of undocumented immigrants born in the United States.

Cue the outraged headlines. “Donald Trump says 14th Amendment is unconstitutional” is the takeaway at Yahoo Politics. Or consider this, from Politico: “Trump to O’Reilly: 14th Amendment is unconstitutional.” Or Mother Jones: “Trump: The 14th Amendment Is Unconstitutional.”

Of course, it’s fun to think Trump is such a buffoon that he doesn’t realize something that’s part of the Constitution can’t be unconstitutional. All he’d need to do is spend a few minutes watching “Schoolhouse Rock!” videos on YouTube to disabuse himself of that notion.

But that’s not what Trump said. In fact, Trump made the perfectly reasonable assertion that the federal courts may be willing to revisit how they interpret the 14th Amendment. Trump told O’Reilly:

Bill, [lawyers are] saying, “It’s not going to hold up in court, it’s going to have to be tested.” I don’t think they have American citizenship, and if you speak to some very, very good lawyers, some would disagree…. But many of them agree with me — you’re going to find they do not have American citizenship. [Quotes transcribed by Inae Oh of Mother Jones, whose story is more accurate than the headline under which it appears.]

Birthright citizenship is not exactly a new issue. Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post noted earlier this week that, back in the early 1990s, none other than future Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid supported reinterpreting the 14th Amendment in order to end automatic citizenship — thus confirming a remark made on the campaign trail by Scott Walker, one of several Republican presidential candidates who have joined Trump in opposing it.

In searching the archives, I couldn’t find a specific reference to Reid. But The New York Times reported in December 1995 that House Republicans and some Democrats supported an end to birthright citizenship, with most arguing that a constitutional amendment would be needed and others claiming that legislation would suffice. Any attempt to enforce such legislation would have triggered exactly the sort of court challenge that Trump envisions.

And it’s not as though the 14th Amendment has stood immutable over time. After all, it wasn’t until 1954 that the Supreme Court ruled, in Brown v. Board of Education, that the amendment’s guarantee of “equal protection of the laws” forbade segregation in the public schools.

Birthright citizenship was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1898, three decades after enactment of the 14th Amendment. In that case, according to the 1995 Times article, the court overturned a California law that had been used to deny citizenship to children born in the United States whose parents were Chinese immigrants.

Trump’s rhetoric represents the worst kind of nativism, and he should be held to account for his words. But what he’s actually saying is bad enough. When the media exaggerate and distort, they hand him an undeserved victory.

Also published at The Huffington Post.

New York Times: We got it right on ‘culling’ the staff

As I wrote Monday, I thought the most significant part of Nick Ciubotariu’s post in defense of Amazon was his flat-out denial that the company fires a certain number of employees every year as a way of “culling” the staff. So I want to note that The New York Times is now asserting that its reporting is correct and that Ciubotariu is simply wrong:

His points contradicted the accounts of many former and current colleagues, and some of his assertions were incorrect, including a statement that the company does not cull employees on an annual basis. An Amazon spokesman previously confirmed that the company sought to manage out a certain percentage of its work force annually. The number varies from year to year.

The responses to the Times’ megastory on Amazon’s workplace environment, reported and written by Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld, continue to roll in. Here are a few — none of them long — that I think are worth your time.

At Fortune, Mathew Ingram argues that though the Times’ reporting may be accurate, it lacks context. “For some, it is probably a cruel place where they [employees] feel unwelcome, and their performance is judged more harshly than they would like,” Ingram writes, “but for others I expect it is a challenging environment that makes them do things they might not have even thought they were capable of.”

Ingram also makes an important point that I couldn’t help but notice as I was reading the Times opus: an underlying dismissiveness of Amazon because it’s a mere retailer (not actually true, but whatever). Ingram puts it this way:

I think part of the reason that Amazon gets singled out is that it is seen as just a retailer, not a company like Apple that is making magical products to improve people’s lives or fill them with joy. This tone runs throughout the New York Times piece, which talks about how employees are subjected to inhuman treatment “with words like ‘mission’ used to describe lightning-quick delivery of Cocoa Krispies or selfie sticks.” The implication is that selling things somehow isn’t a worthwhile goal.

Buzz Machine blogger Jeff Jarvis thinks the Times article lacks balance, and says that though it did manage to take note of the fact that Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos also owns The Washington Post, more emphasis should have been placed on the Times’ rivalry with the Post.

“The Times did not say until halfway down its very long piece that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, which some say is closing in on The Times,” Jarvis writes. “The problem at a moment like this is that once one starts to believe The Times might have an agenda, one is left trying to suss out what it might be.”

Former Poynter faculty member Bill Mitchell, a colleague of mine at Northeastern, praises the Times article for its use of on-the-record sources rather than relying on anonymous whispers. “I don’t recall an anonymous source amid the 6,700 words,” he writes. Actually, there are a few, but he’s right that the story is better documented than many such stories.

Mitchell also hails the Times for its “even-handed tone,” which I find interesting mainly because of how different readers interpret the same material in different ways. I thought the Times article was overwhelmingly negative, and that the Amazon employees and officials who spoke favorably about the company were cast in the role of corporate stooges.

Anyway, much to chew over — as there should be given Amazon’s role as a paradigm of the new economy.

Making sense of The New York Times’ Amazon exposé

2789374419_035708cbfd_oBecause I’m working on a book that deals in part with how Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos is transforming The Washington Post, I read The New York Times’ account of Amazon’s brutal workplace environment with great interest.

Reporters Jodi Kantor and David Streitfeld portray a company in which high-ranking employees are regularly reduced to tears, in which everyone is encouraged to drop anonymous dimes on one another, and in which a culture of 80-hour-plus work weeks is so ingrained that nothing — not even serious health problems — must be allowed to interfere.

This story is still playing out, but I have a few preliminary observations.

First, very little in the Times story will surprise anyone who read Brad Stone’s 2013 book “The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon.” Stone goes into great detail about what a difficult place Amazon is to work. A key difference is that Stone, unlike Kantor and Streitfeld, is at least somewhat sympathetic to Bezos and understands that he and his team have built something truly remarkable.

Second, the Times article did not convince me that the culture of Amazon is uniquely awful. If you’ve read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, you know that the upper reaches of Apple could be pretty hellish back when Jobs was ranting and raving. Occasionally you hear stories along similar lines about other tech companies. Would you want to run afoul of Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Ellison or Steve Ballmer?  We’re also talking here about a special kind of white-collar, highly educated hell among people who could easily leave and work elsewhere. How about working as a clerk at Wal-Mart? Or as a farm laborer in California?

Third, some of the details in the Times article are being disputed. Nick Ciubotariu, a high-ranking engineer at Amazon, has written a long response to the Times article defending his company. It’s a mixed bag that will provide fodder for Amazon’s critics and defenders alike. Some of it is mind-bending, such as this: “No one is ‘quizzed’ — the quiz is totally, 100% voluntary.” Huh?

Some of it, though, is worth pondering. Ciubotariu, a newish employee (he’s been there 18 months), writes that he has heard the Amazon culture has improved in recent years, and he accuses the Times of relying on old stories from former employees. That has some resonance, as Stone in “The Everything Store” describes Bezos’ halting efforts to curb some of his excesses.

But Ciubotariu also offers specific denials of some of the Times’ assertions, including the most toxic one of all — that a certain number of employees are fired every year as a deliberate management practice. Here’s how the Times puts it: “Losers leave or are fired in annual cullings of the staff — ‘purposeful Darwinism,’ one former Amazon human resources director said.”

Here’s Ciubotariu: “There is no ‘culling of the staff’ annually. That’s just not true. No one would be here if that actually took place and it was a thing.”

At Re/code, Peter Kafka reports that Bezos himself has responded in a memo to his employees, urging them to read both the Times story and Ciubotariu’s response. Bezos writes in part:

The [Times] article goes further than reporting isolated anecdotes. It claims that our intentional approach is to create a soulless, dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard. Again, I don’t recognize this Amazon and I very much hope you don’t, either.

I am sure that we haven’t heard the last word.

Photo (cc) by Luke Dorny and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.