Tag Archives: Washington Post

Talking with Bob Schieffer about the future of news

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Recently I had the opportunity to record a podcast about my Shorenstein paper on the Washington Post under Jeff Bezos with CBS News legend Bob Schieffer and Andrew Schwartz of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Our conversation was posted on Thursday.

Schieffer and I met last spring at the Harvard Kennedy School, where I was a Joan Shorenstein Fellow and he was the Walter Shorenstein Media and Democracy Fellow. Schieffer was a friendly, gregarious presence, and my fellow fellows and I enjoyed his company immensely.

My Shorenstein paper is part of a book project with a working title of The Return of the Moguls, which will be about the Post under Bezos, the Boston Globe under Red Sox principal owner John Henry, and the Orange County Register under entrepreneur Aaron Kushner, to be published by ForeEdge in 2017.

Schieffer and Schwartz’s podcast, “About the News,” offers regular updates about various media topics. It’s available at iTunes.

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When ‘poorly’ and ‘well’ mean exactly the same thing

screen-shot-2016-09-12-at-8-08-28-amscreen-shot-2016-09-12-at-8-08-43-amThe top headline is from the home page of the Washington Post‘s “classic” app earlier today. The bottom headline appears atop the actual story.

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The Times’s weirdly Putin-free first take on the NBC forum

Illustration (cc) by Michail Kirkov.

Illustration (cc) by Michail Kirkov.

Here we go again. A week after the New York Times completely rewrote a story that initially portrayed Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico and subsequent hate-rally speech on immigration as a turn toward a softer, more statesmanlike candidate, the paper’s lead story omitted the biggest news coming out of Wednesday night’s NBC News “Commander-in-Chief” forum.

The story, like last week’s, was by Patrick Healy. And it contained not a single mention of Vladimir Putin, whom Trump praised fulsomely—even suggesting that he was a more impressive leader than President Obama. Here is the original article, posted on Wednesday night.

By this morning, Healy’s story had been updated to include a mention of Putin—in the fifth paragraph. Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s three-reporter effort led with this:

Donald Trump defended his admiration for Russian President Vladi­mir Putin at a forum here Wednesday focused on national security issues, even suggesting that Putin is more worthy of his praise than President Obama.

That’s known as finding the lede and running with it. (Although I didn’t save the Post‘s first take on Wednesday night, I know it mentioned Putin prominently.) By the way, the Post also led the print edition with that story, under the headline “Trump Defends Praise for Putin.” The Times: “Candidates Flex Muscles During TV Forum.”

The forum itself was inexpertly moderated by Matt Lauer, who grilled Hillary Clinton with predictable questions about her damn emails while repeatedly letting Trump off the hook. Clinton, speaking first, pointed out that Trump has lied repeatedly about his initial support for the war in Iraq. Good thing—because when Trump lied again, Lauer sat there and said nothing.

As Dylan Byers writes at CNN.com:

Perhaps most notable were the questions Lauer did not ask of Trump. At an event geared toward national security and military veterans, the NBC co-host failed to ask a single question about Trump’s controversial remarks about Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan, Sen. John McCain’s prisoner-of-war status or his deferments from the Vietnam War, among other issues.

All of this comes, of course, as a host of media and political observers are beginning to take loud notice—see my commentary earlier this week for WGBHNews.org—that the political press is pummeling Clinton while holding Trump to a much lower standard.

By the way (to return to the beginning), Times public editor Liz Splayd explained her paper’s Mexican misadventure by saying that Healy got caught up with deadline problems—the tone of the day changed significantly once Trump begin his ugly speech in Phoenix. OK. But again, the Post set the right tone in its very first take. It’s fair to ask what is going on at the Times.

Update: To be fair, a sidebar in the Times published Wednesday night made mention of Putin. And I’m told by Harvard’s Christina Pazzanese, though I didn’t see it, that Times reporter Alexander Burns had an even earlier take than Healy’s that did mention Putin. But my point stands. Anyone checking the Times‘s website or apps late Wednesday night would have seen Healy’s story as the big takeout—and there was no mention of Putin.

Update II: The Burns story has been disappeared from the Times website, but Susan Ryan-Vollmar found this.

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How unbalanced media debates enabled Trump’s rise

Donald Trump, large and in charge. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

Donald Trump, large and in charge. Photo (cc) 2011 by Gage Skidmore.

Last week the editors of the Washington Post‘s blog In Theory asked me to contribute to a series of posts on the media’s culpability in the rise of Donald Trump. Mine was just published. Later in the week we’ll hear from New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen, Post media blogger Erik Wemple, and In Theory editor Christine Emba. The top of my piece follows.

What could be more open and democratic than a debate? For all the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth now taking place over the massive amounts of free media bestowed upon Donald Trump, it was his dominating performance in the televised debates that allowed him to separate himself from the pack.

Yet the debates themselves were an exercise in faux democracy. What really mattered, especially early on, was who got invited, who got to stand where and who was allowed to speak the most. Unfortunately, the media organizations that ran the debates (along with the Republican National Committee) relied on polls to make those decisions right from the very first encounter in August.

Read the rest in the Washington Post.

Trump throws the Washington Post off the bus

Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron (left) interviews Post owner Jeff Bezos at a recent event.

Washington Post executive editor Marty Baron (left) interviews Post owner Jeff Bezos at a recent event.

Donald Trump, who earlier today suggested that President Obama might somehow be linked to the Orlando shooting, has revoked the credentials of Washington Post reporters because of a headline stating that Trump had suggested Obama might somehow be linked to the Orlando shooting. Trump:

Post executive editor Marty Baron:

Donald Trump’s decision to revoke The Washington Post’s press credentials is nothing less than a repudiation of the role of a free and independent press. When coverage doesn’t correspond to what the candidate wants it to be, then a news organization is banished. The Post will continue to cover Donald Trump as it has all along — honorably, honestly, accurately, energetically, and unflinchingly. We’re proud of our coverage, and we’re going to keep at it.

It was just a few weeks ago that Trump launched a Nixonesque attack on the Post and its owner, Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos.

A few random thoughts.

• Shouldn’t we be suspicious of any news organization that hasn’t had its credentials revoked by the Trump campaign?

• This won’t hurt the Post a bit. Access is hugely overrated.

• I’m sorry that this is the first time I’ve written about Trump’s banishment of journalists. Previously he’s gone after Politico, the Huffington Post, and the Daily Beast. Yes, the Washington Post is one of our great newspapers. But Trump’s attacks on other news organizations are no less despicable.

• I’d like to see every news organization covering Trump burn their credentials and refuse to report on his events until open access is guaranteed for all.

How Jeff Bezos is transforming the Washington Post

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I’m excited to let you see what I worked on during the spring semester at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy: a paper on the reinvention of the Washington Post under Jeff Bezos titled “The Bezos Effect.” It’s long, but I also wrote a summary version for my friends at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

My time as a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School was incredibly rewarding. An expanded version of my paper will appear in my book-in-progress, which has a working title of The Return of the Moguls and which will be published by ForeEdge, the trade imprint of University Press of New England, in 2017.

Dueling media columnists bolster Times-Post rivalry

The late David Carr

The late New York Times media columnist David Carr. Photo (cc) by wiobyrne.

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

One of the last great newspaper rivalries got a boost on Monday with the debut of Margaret Sullivan’s media column in the Washington Post. Sullivan’s first piece was more a preview of coming attractions than an attempt to dig deep. But with Jim Rutenberg having replaced the late, great David Carr at the New York Times earlier this year, our two leading general-interest newspapers now have dueling media critics for the first time in ages.

Sullivan, a former editor of the Buffalo News, joins a team of experienced media observers at the Post, including reporter Paul Farhi and blogger Erik Wemple. She is the Post’s first media columnist since Howard Kurtz, who left in 2010 for the Daily Beast. (Kurtz was also the host of CNN’s Reliable Sources. He moved to Fox News in 2013 following some well-publicized problems at both the Beast and CNN.)

The Post’s hiring of Sullivan shows just how small the world of elite media can be, given that she was recruited while serving as the Times’s public editor, as the paper calls its ombudsman. Sullivan was the fifth and, to my eyes, the best. As Michael Calderone of the Huffington Post put it, Sullivan “radically updated the role for the digital age by quickly addressing Times-related controversies and debates in real time and actively engaging on social media.” Sullivan will be replaced by Elizabeth Spayd, currently the editor-in-chief and publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review and previously (yes, you guessed it) an editor at the Washington Post.

Needless to say, it will be interesting to see whether and how Sullivan chooses to write about the Times. In a recent interview with public radio’s On the Media, she praised her former employer—but also expressed frustration over an institutional attitude of “when the Times decides to cover it, then it becomes news” as well as bemusement over its oft-mocked trend stories. Indeed, Sullivan started something she called the “Monocle Meter” after the Times ran a story about the supposed resurgence of monocles in Brooklyn—a resurgence that apparently came and went without anyone actually ever having been spotted wearing a monocle.

Rutenberg, a veteran political reporter, got into a spat recently when he wrote that not only did journalists in general miss the rise of Donald Trump, but so did data journalists like Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, whose empirically based methodology should in theory produce more accurate results. In a two-fer of Times-Post incestuousness, Rutenberg invoked an observation by the Post’s Farhi that “nothing exceeds the value of shoe-leather reporting” in criticizing Silver, who moved his site from the Times to ESPN after the 2012 presidential election.

Silver, never one to suffer in silence, ripped into Rutenberg on a FiveThirtyEight podcast. As Bill Wyman wrote for the Columbia Journalism Review, Silver called Rutenberg’s column “dishonest” and “unethical,” and rehashed some old grievances over the way he was treated at the Times by Rutenberg and others, saying they were “incredibly hostile and incredibly unhelpful.” Silver later subtweeted Rutenberg with a lengthy article in which he argued that he got Trump wrong not because of an overreliance on data but because his predictions that Trump would fade weren’t based on any data at all. “In other words,” Silver wrote, “we were basically acting like pundits.”

The rivalry between the Times and the Post has a long, colorful history As recounted in Chalmers Roberts’s 1977 book The Washington Post: The First 100 Years, when the Times published a condescending item in 1900 about longing for “the rudeness of New York” after spending some time in “amiable and inefficient Washington,” the Post replied: “No doubt. The pig returns to his wallow.”

After years of striving, the Post emerged on an equal footing with the Times over the constitutional crisis sparked by the publication of the Pentagon Papers. The Post captured the public’s imagination in a way the Times never had during and after the Watergate scandal. How could the Gray Lady possibly compete with a newspaper whose journalists were portrayed by movie stars like Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, and Jason Robards?

But the technological and cultural forces that have brought the newspaper business to its knees did considerably more damage to the Post than to the Times—that is, until Amazon’s Jeff Bezos bought the Post in 2013 and added about 100 journalists to its newsroom in a bid to transform the Post into a national digital newspaper.

Now, once again, the Post and the Times are genuine rivals. The Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, and the Times’s, Dean Baquet, are longtime friends and competitors. Bezos said in a television interview that his goal was for the Post to become “the new paper of record,” a clear reference to the Times—and the Post took it a step further than even Bezos had by putting together an ad proclaiming itself already to be “America’s New Publication of Record.” The Post also moved ahead of the Times in online readership, despite having a newsroom staff about half the size.

It is into this ancient conflict—once heated, then dormant, and now heating up again—that Margaret Sullivan and Jim Rutenberg have now been enlisted. This is going to be fun.