Tag Archives: On the Media

Caitlin Flanagan on the harm caused by Rolling Stone

The single best analysis I’ve run across regarding the meltdown of Rolling Stone’s story about rape at the University of Virginia campus is by Caitlin Flanagan, the author of a long investigation into fraternities that was published by The Atlantic earlier this year.

Flanagan was interviewed by “On the Media” over the weekend. Give it a listen and you’ll understand why journalistic failures by Rolling Stone and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely have done so much damage to the campaign against sexual assault on campus.

The gold standard for reporting on this issue has been set by my friend and former colleague Kristen Lombardi of the Center for Public Integrity. Here is an archive of her work.

Howard Owens on the success of The Batavian

Corporate hyperlocal is fading, with Patch being the prime example. Independent hyperlocal is working. Howard Owens, one of my main subjects in “The Wired City,” discusses the success of The Batavian this week with NPR’s “On the Media.”

Here is a blog post I wrote in July about The Batavian’s growth.

How should journalists handle graphic citizen media?

Syrian protesters in front of the Syrian embassy in Cairo.

Bob Garfield of NPR’s “On the Media” has a fascinating conversation this week with NPR’s Andy Carvin and Sky News’ Neal Mann about whether they felt comfortable tweeting a horrifically graphic video of a Syrian boy whose lower face was blown off in the city of Homs, which is under attack by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Mann’s answer: No. Carvin’s: Yes, with appropriate warnings.

I want to play the segment for my Reinventing the News students tomorrow. I thought it was a great example of the dilemmas faced by professional journalists whose duties now include curating citizen media. And I considered whether to show them the video. It’s not hard to find, though I won’t link to it. I’ve bookmarked it, and I’ll think about it a bit more. But right now I can’t imagine subjecting a captive audience of 15 students to such a disturbing video.

Frankly, even though Carvin says he gave his Twitter followers plenty of warning, I think I’m with Mann. Because what, really, is the larger meaning of the video? Carvin tells Garfield:

I shared the video because I actually thought it would snap people out of their complacency, because we’ve seen so many videos of people protesting, so many videos of people just laying there in hospitals. But there was something about this image, about being able to look this boy in the eye and see the numbness; his soul was already beginning to disappear at that point. It seemed to me emblematic of what was happening in Homs, and I wanted to give people that opportunity to watch it, if they chose.

Yet, driving home this evening, I heard a report about an investigation into the deaths of eight children killed in Afghanistan by a NATO air strike gone awry. Carvin wants us to know about the brutality of the Syrian government. Well, OK, but what about ours? Might a citizen journalist in Kapisa province have shot footage of a boy fatally injured by American-backed forces just as horrific as the one Carvin tweeted?

Not to stack the deck. I have enormous respect for Carvin, and his action definitely accomplished some good. As he tells it, because of his tweet, an emergency medical team mobilized in Lebanon, ready to help the injured boy. Unfortunately, he died before he could be spirited out of the country.

What the Assad regime is doing in Syria is absolutely savage. But the video doesn’t tell us much more than the universal reality that war is hell.

Photo (cc) by Maggie Osama and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

A first-rate overview of journalism’s fate

The week’s best listen is NPR’s “On the Media,” which weighs in with a special program on the future of the newspaper business. At least that’s what they call it, but the show is really broader than that, hitting all the right themes on the fate of professional journalism.

Among the topics: whether the government should play a role in saving the news business; whether newspapers should charge for online content (a tired topic brought to life by a smart interview with one of my über-bosses, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger); a conversation with James Fallows of the Atlantic about his recent article on Google’s news initiatives; and whether a renewed focus on local news will help bolster newspapers’ bottom lines.

Grab the MP3 and listen. It’s as good an overview as I’ve come across in recent months.

How false becomes true

Dan Gillmor blasts the media for a recent New York Times/CBS News poll finding that one-third of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was involved in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. He writes:

The continuing scandal is that media organizations are doing so little to correct the record. Because it is not enough to run an occasional story debunking the lie.

I don’t disagree, but it’s also more complicated than that. Last Friday, NPR’s “On the Media” ran a fascinating interview with the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam, whose reporting suggests that the harder you try to debunk a falsehood, the more people are likely to believe it. Here’s Vedantam, talking about what happened after the subjects of a University of Michigan study read a flier produced by the Centers for Disease Control debunking myths about vaccines:

[A]bout 30 minutes later, older people started to remember some of the false statements as true, and three days later, very large numbers of older people and significant numbers of younger people also started remembering increasing numbers of myths as true.

The true statements did not suffer the same kind of deterioration with time. In other words, over time we tend to remember false things as true but not true things as false.

This doesn’t mean the media shouldn’t at least try to educate the public in an ongoing way. But it does mean that it’s likely a significant minority of Americans will continue to believe whatever they like, whether it’s about 9/11 or the (non)-existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

After all, as Vedantam points out, majorities in Arab and Muslim countries continue to believe the United States and/or Israel were responsible for the attack on the World Trade Center. You can only do so much to set the record straight.

Vedantam’s original Post story is online here.

Surge protector

Search Google News for temporary surge Iraq and you’ll get some 1,660 results. The idea of bolstering American forces with an additional 30,000 or so troops for a short period of time has become popular enough that even U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the incoming Senate majority leader, briefly endorsed it.

But what is really on the table? Last Friday, a segment on the NPR program “On the Media” strongly suggested that the press has misunderstood the term “surge,” with its connotation of a temporary increase. In fact, it appears that the “surge” the Bush administration is reportedly considering consists of a long-term increase in troop strength, temporary only in the sense that the Bush presidency will end at some point.

The transcript has finally been posted, and it’s revealing. Take a look at this exchange between Frederick Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the “surge” proposal now being considered by the White House, and “OTM” co-host Brooke Gladstone:

Kagan: The media has been using the term “surge” very loosely. And I think that’s actually a bit of a problem, because there have been various ideas floated for very short-term troops surges of relatively small numbers of troops. And I think that that would be a big mistake, and it’s not what we’re calling for.

We’re actually calling for an increase of troop strength in Iraq of about 35,000 combat troops; 20,000 of those would go into Baghdad. So I think a part of the problem that we have is that people are not being sufficiently precise about which proposal they’re discussing when they talk in terms of a troop surge.

Gladstone: So when Harry Reid, the incoming Senate majority leader, refers to a surge, he’s talking about two or three months; you’re talking about anywhere between 18 to 24.

Kagan: Yes, exactly. It’s really important to keep that distinction in mind. The idea of a two-to three-month surge is not meaningful. And the enemy expects to do that sort of thing. They expect us to come in briefly and leave. Doing that kind of thing plays right into the enemy’s hands.

As Gladstone and her other guest, Foreign Affairs magazine editor Gideon Rose, speculate, the use of the word “surge” is more a matter of marketing than it is policy, although Kagan assures Gladstone that he’s not part of any such marketing effort.

Rose puts it this way: “The problem is that the real version of this involves a sustained, increase in troops and a long presence in Iraq. And there’s no appetite in Washington for any policy like that. I mean, when Kagan talks about a sustained surge, he’s really talking about a long-term escalation.”

That’s something the media need to keep in mind. Because when reporters allow themselves to be deceived, they end up as conduits for deceiving the public as well.