Author Archives: Dan Kennedy

About Dan Kennedy

I am an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, and I'm using WordPress.com for my blog, Media Nation, as well as class websites.

A shocking breach of the First Amendment

Photo (cc) 2016 by Paul O'Brien.

Photo (cc) 2016 by Paul O’Brien.

The detention of a Canadian photojournalist at the US border is a shocking breach of the First Amendment. Ed Ou says he was stopped on October 1 as he was trying to fly to Bismarck, North Dakota, to cover the Standing Rock protests. According to the New York Times, his phones were confiscated so that authorities could look at his photos, possibly endangering the subjects of those photos.

The Obama years have not been good ones for freedom of the press, as I’ve written in the past. They’re going to get a whole lot worse under Donald Trump, with his call for upending the libel laws and with his thuggish manservant Corey Lewandowski demanding that Times executive editor Dean Baquet be locked up for publishing Trump’s partial tax returns.

The United States currently ranks 41st in press freedom, according to Reporters WIthout Borders. We could be considerably lower than that the next time the ratings are readjusted.

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The legend of the New York Times and the Bay of Pigs

At Cuba's Bay of Pigs Museum. Photo (cc) by Lens Envy.

At Cuba’s Bay of Pigs Museum. Photo (cc) 2014 by Lens Envy.

The 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion—a failed US-backed attempt by Cuban exiles to overthrow Fidel Castro—is often cited as an example of how the New York Timesshamefully flinched in the face of pressure from the White House, thus helping to enable a foreign-policy catastrophe.

If only the Times had revealed everything it knew beforehand, so this line of reasoning goes, the Kennedy administration might have backed down from its disastrous scheme. President John F. Kennedy himself contributed to the legend, telling the Times’s managing editor, Turner Catledge, some months later: “If you had printed more about the operation you would have saved us from a colossal mistake.”

The problem with this narrative is that it’s not true—not exactly, anyway. Though the Times did withhold a couple of key details, on April 7 of that year it published a front-page story, above the fold, reporting that US-trained rebels were prepared to invade Cuba, and that the operation could begin at any time. Ten days later, the anti-Castro forces were routed on the beach.

Read the rest at WGBHNews.org. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Yes, Steve Bannon is a racist

Steve Bannon. Photo (cc) 2010 by Don Irvine.

Steve Bannon. Photo (cc) 2010 by Don Irvine.

I was thinking of this in light of a conversation we had on Facebook last week. As you read today’s New York Times profile of Steve Bannon, you’ll see that a number of people close to Bannon insist he’s not a racist. Yet there are numerous details about how he’s been willing to exploit and indulge racism in order to accomplish his goals, which is really just another way of being a racist. Then there’s this:

Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners.

“I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”

Jones, by the way, is not an unfriendly witness. Elsewhere there is this: “Ms. Jones, Mr. Bannon’s former film collaborator, who describes herself as very liberal, said, ‘Steve’s not a racist.'”

Steve is a racist.

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Times senior editor exults over Trump-driven traffic

I’m late with this, but I thought you’d like to see this internal memo a source sent me about folks at the New York Times exulting about how much traffic the paper received as a result of Donald Trump’s bizarre interview.

The Times did a good job, but I’m a little perplexed by the self-congratulatory tone of senior editor Steve Kenny’s note. Trump showed up at the offices of our leading newspaper and made news. We get it.

Subject:Late note for Tuesday, Nov. 22

Good morning, all:

What a day for news. What a day to be a Timeswoman or a Timesman.

Donald Trump’s visit to the building dominated not only our news day, but the days of every news organization in America. (The lead photo on The Washington Post’s homepage at the moment is a picture of Trump in OUR lobby.)

Starting with the off-again-on-again drama of the meeting itself ‪on Tuesday morning and continuing to our posting of the full transcript early ‪Wednesday morning, the interview drove hundreds of thousands of readers to our site.

Here are some numbers:

— The lede-all by Mike Shear, Maggie Haberman and Julie Davis — 1.2 million page views

— The Hillary Clinton prosecution story by Mike and Julie — 727,000 page views

— Jonah Bromwich’s “The Interview as Told in 12 Tweets” — 232,000 page views.

— The “Fall of Chris Christie” story by Kate Zernike — 520,00 page views. (O.K. — not related to the interview, but really big numbes.)

The interview transcript was compiled by Liam Stack, Jonah Engel Bromwich, Karen Workman and Tim Herrera. Zach Johnk of the FoNa Copy Desk was here until almost ‪1 a.m. copy editing — all 11,810 words of it. We published when he was finished, and Laurie Kawakami gave it an all-out social push.

Laurie’s effort paid off. The transcript is No. 2 on the homepage, and Stela tells me that almost 60 percent of readers are coming to it through social media. Samantha Henig sent in a note earlier in the evening that there is a plan Wednesday to post audio of the meeting, and we’ll send out an alert as well in the morning to direct readers to the transcript.

The transcript has already scored 52,000 page views, and it didn’t go up until almost ‪1 a.m.

About ‪1:15 a.m., the Post and Courier in South Carolina reported that Trump would announce Nikki Haley as his choice for U.N. ambassador. About 45 minutes later, The Post put up its own story (with its own confirmation) and alerted. At that hour, understandably, I couldn’t raise anyone, and it didn’t seem to be the sort of story to call out the troops.

I put together a 550-word piece that sourced the P&C and the Post, with lots of background from our own reporting about the furious back-and-forth Trump and Haley had during the primaries. (She supported Rubio and was outspoken in her criticism of Trump.) But in the end, I didn’t feel comfortable posting a story without independent confirmation, so we didn’t put it up. It’s slugged 24HALEY in Copy, in case any of it can be of any use early today.

The big news if we do confirm it is that she has no foreign policy experience.

Elsewhere on the homepage, Tony Scott’s review of the new Brad Pitt movie, “Allied,” is and has been the top performer, and Valeriya Safronova’s “Night Out” with Lauren Graham, the “Gilmore Girls” star, has been a favorite.

Readers seem to be hungry for something a little lighter, and we have some choice bits planned for them in the Running Story List, found here.

Among major competitors, The Post, The Journal, the BBC, and CNN are all leading with our Trump interview, although their focuses vary. The Post is concentrating on his pulling back on some campaign promises, The Journal on his “no conflict of interest” comments, the BBC and CNN with the “alt-right.” The Guardian’s lead is about what it says is a growing coalition of liberal groups urging Hillary Clinton to call for recounts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Also of note: The BBC has an interesting story about the immediate and growing backlash among the far right after our interview was published. The Post is off-leading with Nikki Haley.

Steve Kenny
Senior Editor/News Desk
The New York Times

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Trump to Times: Eh, I didn’t mean any of it

Climate change? Never mind. Lock her up? Didn’t mean it. Torture? I don’t think that anymore.

The big takeaway from Donald Trump’s interview with the New York Times was how casually he walked away from some of the most caustic things he said during the campaign. If there’s a more striking example of a politician admitting that he essentially lied about everything to get elected, I’m not aware of it.

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Fake news, false news, and why the difference matters

Overlooking the content farms of Macedonia. Photo (cc) 2010 by Pero Kvrzica.

Overlooking the content farms of Macedonia. Photo (cc) 2010 by Pero Kvrzica.

On Friday, my students and I were talking about fake news on Facebook and what to do about it. Our focus was on for-profit content farms like the ones run by those teenagers in Macedonia, who made money by promoting such fictions as Pope Francis’s endorsement of Donald Trump (he also endorsed Hillary Clinton, don’t you know) and Clinton’s pending indictment over those damn emails.

Facebook and Google had already announced they would ban such fake news sources from their advertising programs, starving them of the revenue that is their sole motivation. And we agreed that there were other steps Facebook could take as well—tweaking the algorithm to make it less likely that such crap would appear in your newsfeed, or labeling fake sources for what they are.

But then one of my students asked: What should Facebook do about Breitbart? And here is the dilemma in dealing with fake news: not all fake news is created equal. Some of it is produced in sweatshops by people who couldn’t care less about what they’re doing as long as they can get clicks and make money. And some of it is produced by ideologically motivated activists who are engaging in constitutionally protected political speech. Facebook is not the government, so it can do what it likes. But it is our leading online source for news and community, and thus its executives should tread very lightly when stepping into anything that looks like censorship.

Read the rest at WGBH News. And talk about this post on Facebook.

Memo Monday: Globe promotes Pete Doucette

A source just passed this along from Mike Sheehan, the chief executive officer of Boston Globe Media Partners:

In a quiet corner of the third floor, Pete Doucette has spent the past ten years managing every conceivable aspect of our circulation. To say the least, it’s been a challenging task during challenging times. Balancing the science of market data with the art of consumer engagement—and doing so with limited resources—the job he’s done is nothing short of remarkable: we have essentially the same number of paid subscribers as we had five years ago.

Pete helped create the two-site strategy for Boston.com and BostonGlobe.com, and in doing so set us on a path to charge a premium price for premium journalism. We now have over 72,000 digital-only subscribers, which is the No. 1 digital subscription business of any metro daily publisher, and behind only two national publications, the New York Times and the Washington Post. He’s also overseen successful efforts to retain and attract print subscribers who remain an important cornerstone of our business.

Pete will be the first to say that he’s fortunate to have the increasingly relevant and interesting journalism of the Boston Globe to attract subscribers. Thanks to Brian [McGrory], Ellen [Clegg], and everyone in the newsroom for their tireless efforts to create such important work. To demonstrate the relationship between our journalism and our business, digital subscriptions rose 66% in the 10 days following the Presidential election compared with the 10 days prior to the election.

Starting today, Pete will be our Chief Consumer Revenue Officer. While he’ll still oversee our circulation efforts, the product and development teams, led by Anthony Bonfiglio, will report to him. In his new role, he will weave together business strategy, digital strategy, and operations which is a critical step as we continue to aggressively attract new digital subscribers.

If you see Pete, be sure to congratulate him. Or pay him a visit on the third floor. It’s time he got accustomed to it being a little less quiet up there.

Best,
Mike