Andrew Tyndall comments on CBS News hiring Trump’s former chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, as a “news analyst” and paid contributor.

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Andrew Tyndall monitors network news for a living. He is the publisher of the Tyndall Report, which tracks what the big three (CBS, NBC, ABC) are covering. He’s also a student of the news industry and the maneuvers of the networks as they compete with one another.

Tyndall was one person I next wanted to hear from when I learned that CBS had added to its news staff Mick Mulvaney, Donald Trump’s former chief of staff, among other positions he has held. I asked Andrew what he thought of that appointment.

This was my prompt: “Today Mick Mulvaney was announced as a CBS News contributor. Looking at CBS News in comparison to the broadcast networks — ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS — including the morning show and Face the Nation, and especially the social media team, it seems CBS is the most likely to treat Trump people and MAGA supporters as legitimate guests who should have a platform. Is this just my perception? Is it true that the CBS audience is older, whiter and more rural than the others? Might that have something to do with it? Or am I just off here?”

Andrew Tyndall replies:

1. The current phase of expansion — not just at CBS News but at almost all national TV news organizations — consists of the development of 24-hour news streaming. This move is especially attractive to CBS, which missed out on the expansion from broadcast to cable. As cable news wanes in an era of cord cutting, CBS can get back on equal footing with NBC at Peacock and CNN at CNN+ with its streaming entry. To do that, CBS appears to be leveraging its affiliate network for local newsgathering. But it also needs to plan for national political talking head programing.

2. More and more nowadays, the day-in-day-out hassle of booking outside interview subjects — persuading them to appear, pre-interviewing them so you can plan around their talking points — is avoided by paying talking heads to be pre-committed to join the day’s panel by signing them up as contributors. CBS seems to be sticking to the Face-the-Nation tradition you mention by envisioning its panels as politically balanced: one D, one R, two middle-of-the-roaders. Hence not only Mulvaney but also McMaster, earlier this month. I am talking about regular panels here. The high publicity interviews when the subject has an incentive to appear (William Barr selling a book, for example) are not fodder for the hours of time that talking heads are required to fill. 

3. With the hiring of Mulvaney and McMaster, CBS appears to be trying to make the distinction between MAGA Trumpers and mainstream Republicans. Perhaps that distinction consists of nothing more than “Republicans who agree to take CBS’ money” vs “Republicans who consider CBS to be the enemy and would consider their reputation soiled by agreeing to appear.” On the other hand, CBS does seem to be treating the circumstances of Trump’s two impeachments differently: Mulvaney was thoroughly implicated in the Ukraine scandal, yet this appears to be no disqualification; yet CBS recently hired Robert Costa and Scott Macfarlane, two leading investigative reporters into January 6th, which would indicate that the likes of Meadows or Navarro would be a bridge too far.

As for the older-whiter-rural image of CBS News, that has certainly always been the case. The affiliate networks for local news have always been far stronger for ABC and NBC in the major metropolitan areas. The abiding area of strength for CBS News has been on Sundays (Jane Pauley as successor to Kuralt and Osgood plus Face The Nation plus 60 Minutes) and the abiding weakness has been weekdays: mornings (vis a vis GMA and Today) and evenings (O’Donnell vis a vis Holt and Muir). However, if we see the hiring of Mulvaney (and McMaster) as being primarily in service of its streaming service, then the older-whiter-rural aspect need not apply, since CBS would not be in the business of converting that particular broadcast audience to streaming.

After six years of asking, NPR interviewed Trump. A journalist for Vice asked me how it went.

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Questions by Todd Zwillich, Deputy Bureau Chief for VICE News in Washington and the former host of The Takeaway on public radio.

Todd Zwillich: NPR did a production here, where they pre-ambled the interview with a straight litany of election facts, receipts and debunks they knew Trump was about to lie about. I thought it was really effective. What did it say to you?

Jay Rosen: Certainly the way they did it showed a lot of thought. They anticipated what Trump was going to do in claiming a rigged election. They prepared listeners for what was coming. They pre-contextualized his propagandistic claims in two ways: the conflict within the Republican Party about whether to lead with the battle cry of a stolen election in 2022 and 2024, and the dismal factual record, in which every audit and court case has come to nothing for Trump and his fantasies.
Then they re-contextualized after the interview was over, which brought out the fact that in Georgia Trump’s reckless lies about a stolen election probably cost his party control of the Senate.

And they did all this without resorting to “critics say” or empty displays of both-sides-do-it. When they refuted Trump’s propaganda it was in their own voice, as journalists empowered to say: that’s false. Just look at the headline they used online, “Pressed on his election lies, former President Trump cuts NPR interview short.”

In other words, they were being extremely careful with this material, and they were determined to say: his fraud claims are bunk, he’s got nothing.

Todd Zwillich: What did you think of that strategy?

Jay Rosen: Well, you asked me if these moves were effective. That’s a different question, and it depends on what effect we’re striving for.

If the goal is NPR shows itself and its core audience that it’s not going to let Stop the Steal propaganda go unchallenged, then I would say mission accomplished. If it’s equipping listeners for what they’re about to hear so they have the means to doubt it, the producers did that. If it’s preventing poisonous disinformation from being aired and amplified by NPR, then, no, the interview did not accomplish that.

Trump was able to convey his message through atmospherics, which do not depend on weight-of-evidence conclusions. The tone of suspicion, the denunciation of traitors, the threats to wavering politicians, the waving away of facts: all this came through loud and clear. Steve Inskeep challenging many of Trump’s false claims actually adds to the atmosphere I am describing. 

Now one can say in reply: That’s not NPR’s fault. They did what they could. This is just who Trump is now. The interview succeeded in showing us that!

People can say that, and it makes a kind of sense, but it would not be my view. Here’s the way I put it on Twitter: When you “interview” a zone-flooding liar like Trump, the questions and fact checks proceed in a linear way, while the mendacity grows exponentially. You can object to a lie and come with receipts, but the response to the objection will introduce six new lies that you now have to “check.”

This is sometimes called Brandolini’s law. “The amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude larger than to produce it.”

For all the care NPR took — and I agree, it was impressive — the interview could not escape this logic. Which means we have to ask: should Trump be interviewed at all? 

Todd Zwillich: Is there anything broader to learn here about how we consume news about Trump and elections?

Jay Rosen: There can arise political phenomena that overwhelm the tools journalists have in their kit. New tools may require new rules, and that’s a scary thought for consensus figures in the press.  

Verstehen, was den Journalismus derzeit verändert

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Übersetzung von meinem ursprünglichen Beitrag in englischer Sprache von Sebastian Wolking.

Das Ziel meines Kurses zu „digitalem Denken“ ist es, die Studenten umfassend über die Entwicklungen zu unterrichten, denen der Journalismus derzeit ausgesetzt ist. Hier sind die wichtigsten Strömungen und Trends, die meine Studenten zum Ende des Semesters beherrschen sollten.

Für jeden einzelnen Punkt gilt: Sie sollen verstehen, was er bedeutet, warum er wichtig ist und welche Entwicklungen damit einhergehen. Für einen guten Einstieg habe ich jeweils einen Link oder zwei hinzugefügt. Und ich freue mich natürlich immer über Anregungen und Punkte, die in dieser Aufzählung vielleicht noch fehlen.

1. Die Social Media-Abhängigkeit und das Prinzip „Verbreiten durch Sharen“ Weil soziale Netzwerke einen immer größeren Stellenwert im Austausch mit den Nutzern einnehmen, insbesondere Facebook. (Link.)

2. Die Verlagerung zu mobilen Geräten und Apps. Vollzieht sich bereits mit überwältigender Geschwindigkeit. (Link.)

3. Neue Geschäftsmodelle für Nachrichten. Jenseits der üblichen Methoden, eine Leserschaft durch Abonnements und Werbung aufzubauen, inklusive:
* Datenerfassung… um Werbung durch Targeting zielgerichteter zu schalten und Produkte zu personalisieren.
* Verkauf spezialisierter Recherche… durch Abo-Modelle a la Giga Om oder durch Conversational Marketing a la Techdirt.
* Events… die Macht einer Medienmarke nutzen, um Menschen zusammenzubringen (Link.) (Ein weiterer Link.)
* Native Advertising und das Agentur-Modell … So wie es Buzzfeed und Vice praktizieren. (Link.)
* Non-Profit-Modelle… so wie etwa ProPublica, Minn Post und die Texas Tribune. (Link.)
* Crowdfunding und Mitgliedschaftsmodelle… so wie bei Beacon, De Korrespondent, The Guardian, Voice of San Diego.
* Solo-Projekte… Ein-Mann-Betriebe können funktionieren.

4. Analytik in der Nachrichtenproduktion. Vom Verhalten der User lernen, ohne sich zu einem Sklaven der Zahlen zu machen. (Link.)

5. Produktmanagement in Nachrichtenunternehmen. Technologische, redaktionelle, geschäftliche und Nutzer-Erfahrungen zusammenführen. (Link.)

6. Interaktionsgestaltung und bessere User Experience (UX). Hin zu „ergonomischen“ Nachrichten. (Link.)

7. Datenjournalismus. Im weitesten Sinne: Datensätze sammeln, Daten über Programmierschnittstellen verbinden, Daten visualisieren, Geschichten aus Daten herauslesen, Usern aufbereitete und durchsuchbare Datenbanken zur Verfügung stellen, Sensoren in der Nachrichtenarbeit. (Link.)

8. Kontinuierliche Verbesserung von Content-Management-Systemen und einhergehenden Arbeitsabläufen. Eine Ingenieurskultur findet mittlerweile Eingang in manche Medienunternehmen. (Link.) (Ein weiterer Link.)

9. Strukturierte Daten. Mehr Wert aus der Routineerstellung von Nachrichten herausziehen. (Link.) (Ein weiterer Link.)

10. Personalisierung von Nachrichtenprodukten. Warum jedem den gleichen Bericht schicken? (Link.)

11. Transparenz und Vertrauen. Das Motto „Vertrauen Sie uns, wir sind Profis“ hat ausgedient und wird ersetzt durch „Zeig uns deine Arbeit“. (Link.)

12. Offener Journalismus. Das beinhaltet: Verifizierung von User-generated content, vernetzter Journalismus, Crowdsourcing, Social Media als Recherche-Werkzeug. Die Menschen, die früher noch unter dem Sammelbegriff Leserschaft bekannt waren, durch eine fruchtbare Zusammenarbeit mit Journalisten in den Produktionsprozess einbinden – von der Ideenfindung über die Entstehung bis zum Endprodukt. (Link.)

13. Automatisierung und Roboterjournalismus. Wenn Maschinen es billiger und besser können, können menschliche Journalisten in der Wertschöpfungskette aufsteigen. (Link.)

14. Eine agile Unternehmenskultur in Redaktionen erzeugen. Damit Anpassung, Zusammenarbeit und Experimente nicht zur Tortur werden. (Link.)

15. Das persönliche Franchise-Modell für Nachrichten. Basierend auf der individuellen Online-Followerschaft eines Journalisten. (Link.)

16. Nachrichten-Verticals und Nischenjournalismus. Eine Sache sehr gut beherrschen und dafür einen Markt finden, weil die Entbündelung der General-Interest-Medien anhält. (Link.)

17. Die Zukunft von Kontext- und Erklärjournalismus. Das nötige Hintergrundwissen anbieten, um die Updates verstehen zu können. (Link.)

18. Ratgeberjournalismus. Ein Service, der dem Leser dabei hilft, etwas zu tun oder zu schaffen. (Link.)

19. Vom Mangel zum Überfluss. Üblicherweise haben Journalisten Mehrwert geschaffen, indem sie Nachrichtenmaterial veröffentlicht haben. Jetzt können sie ihren Usern nützlich sein, indem sie die besten Fundstücke aus der täglichen Flut an billigem Content retten und bereitstellen. Dies wird manchmal auch als Kuration bezeichnet.

20. Faktencheck und Gerüchtekontrolle. Die Presse behandelte falsche Informationen normalerweise so, sie gar nicht erst durch das Eingangstor zu lassen. Jetzt gibt es eine affirmative Pflicht, falsche Geschichten nachzuverfolgen und öffentlich zu widerlegen. (Link.) (Ein weiterer Link.)

21. „Das liegt nicht in unserer Verantwortung.“ Früher produzierten die Verlage die Nachrichten und hatten zugleich die Verbreitungskanäle unter ihrer Kontrolle. Heute drängen sich größere Player – Unternehmen und Regierungen – zwischen User und Journalisten. Journalistische Arbeit zirkuliert auf Seiten, die die Redakteure nicht kontrollieren. Die Verleger müssen „dahin gehen, wo die Leute sind“, obwohl sie häufig nicht wissen, welchen Kräften diese Leute dort ausgesetzt sind. Die Öffentlichkeit müsste diesbezüglich alarmiert sein. (Link.)

Was fehlt in der Liste? Wenn Sie Anregungen haben, einfach klicken und es mich wissen lassen.

Update, 13. November: Die Punkte 19 bis 21 beruhen auf Anregungen, die ich erhalten habe, nachdem dieser Post erstmals veröffentlicht wurde. Lesen Sie dazu auch Steve Buttrys direkte Antwort auf meine Liste. Er hat viele großartige Quellen zusammengetragen, die beim Verständnis des Medienwandels helfen.

Comment être au courant de ce qui change le journalisme

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This translation into French of my PressThink post, How to be Literate in What’s Changing Journalism, is by Thomas Seymat and Mélodie Bouchaud.

Mon cours de “culture numérique” a pour objectif de former les étudiants aux changements qui boulversent le journalisme. J’attends de mes étudiants qu’ils maîtrisent les courants et les tendances listées ci-dessous à la fin du semestre.

Ils doivent être en mesure d’en comprendre la signification, l’importance et la direction dans laquelle va chacun de ces concepts. J’ai ajouté un lien ou deux pour vous aider à suivre. N’hésitez pas à commenter, je serais heureux de lire vos commentaires et vos ajouts à cette liste.

1) Les nouvelles habitudes des réseaux sociaux et le nouveau modèle de distribution par le partage. Aujourd’hui les réseaux sociaux ont la main sur les relations avec les utilisateurs, Facebook surtout. (lien)

2) La transition vers les mobiles et, sur les mobiles, vers les applications. Elle a lieu désormais à une vitesse renversante. (lien)

3) De nouveaux business model pour les médias. Au-delà de la méthode classique de génération de l’audience dans le but de vendre des abonnements et des publicités, on observe :
* Stocker des donnés… pour mieux cibler les pubs et personnaliser les produits.
* Vendre des recherches sur demande… via des abonnements comme le fait Giga Om ou via conversations comme le fait Techdirt.
* Des événements… Tirer profit de la marque d’un média qui a le pouvoir de réunir des gens (Un lien) (Un autre)
* Le native advertising/contenu sponsorisé et le modèle d’agence… Comme le font Buzzfeed et Vice (lien) * Les modèles à but non lucratif… comme ProPublica, le Minn Post et le Texas Tribune. (lien)
* La levée de fonds participative et les adhésions… comme chez Beacon ; De Correspondent, The Guardian, Voice of Sand Diego, Ricochet.
* Lancez-vous… Les initiatives individuelles peuvent réussir.

4. Analyser la production médiatique. Apprendre du comportement de son audience sans se laisser asservir par les chiffres. (lien)

5. Se concentrer sur le “produit” dans les médias. Rassembler la technique, l’éditorial, le business et l’expérience utilisateur. (lien)

6. Le design numérique et l’amélioration de l’expérience utilisateur (UX). Vers une meilleure ergonomie des médias. (lien)

7. Le journalisme de données. Dans toutes ses facettes : collecter des données, se connecter à des données via une interface de programmation (API), créer une visualisation de donnés, trouver des sujets dans les donnés, rendre accessibles aux utilisateurs des bases de données nettoyées et indexées, l’intégration de capteurs dans le travail journalistique. (lien)

8. L’amélioration continue des systèmes de gestion de contenus et ainsi, du flux de travail. Aujourd’hui, la technique a une place de choix dans certains médias. (lien) (un autre)

9. Structurer les bases de données. Pour extraire plus de valeur de la production régulière d’information. (Un lien) (Un autre)

10. Personnaliser les produits journalistiques. Pourquoi envoyer les mêmes reportages à tout le monde ? (lien)

11. Transparence et confiance. Alors que “Faites nous confiance, nous sommes des professionnels” fait place à “Montrez nous votre travail”. (lien)

12. Le journalisme ouvert comprenant : la vérification de contenus générés par les utilisateurs, le journalisme en réseau, la production participative et les réseaux sociaux comme outils de reportage. Le peuple, jadis connus sous le nom de lecteurs, dans une collaboration fructueuse à chaque instant de la production – depuis l’idée d’un sujet à la recherche de sources jusqu’à ce que le sujet soit terminé. (lien)

13. Automatisation et “journalisme robot”. Si des machines peuvent faire mieux pour moins cher, les journalistes humains peuvent alors grimper des échelons. (lien)

14. Créer une culture de l’agilité dans les rédactions. Pour que l’adaptation, la collaboration et l’expérimentation ne soient pas un calvaire. (lien)

15. Le modèle de la franchise personnelle dans les médias. Un journaliste peut avoir son propre public qui suit en ligne ses productions. (lien)

16. Marché vertical de l’actualité et journalisme de niche. Parler et connaitre un sujet vraiment bien, et trouver un marché que ça intéresse, pendant que ledégroupage des médias généralistes continue. (lien)

17. Le futur du journalisme de contexte et d’explication. Fournissant le fonds nécessaire pour comprendre les mises à jour. (lien)

18. “Les informations comme un service”. Plutôt qu’un produit apparaissant sur le planning du média, un service qui aide l’utilisateur à faire quelque chose. (lien)

19. De la rareté à l’abondance. Avant, la valeur ajoutée du journaliste était la publication de nouveautés. Maintenant, ils peuvent aussi servir les utilisateurs en repêchant dans le flux quotidien de contenus bas de gamme les meilleures informations et les organiser. C’est ce qu’on appelle parfois la “curation”.

20. Le fact-checking/vérification et la chasse aux rumeurs. Avant, la presse gérait les fausses informations simplement en choisissant de ne pas les diffuser. Il existe désormais un devoir positif de pister et de critiquer les faux. (lien) (un autre)

21. “Nous ne sommes plus responsables”. Dans le temps, les médias produisaient les informations et possédaient les filières de distribution. De nos jours, d’autres acteurs, plus gros, comme les entreprises gérant des plateformes sociales et les gouvernements, s’immiscent entre les utilisateurs et les journalistes. Des travaux journalistiques circulent sur des sites que les rédacteurs en chef ne contrôlent pas. Les éditeurs d’information doivent “aller où sont les gens” mais bien souvent ils ne savent pas ce qui est fait à ces gens. Le public doit être prévenu de ce fait. (lien.)

Voir aussi la réponse de Steve Buttry avec plus de liens.

The Studio 20 Program at NYU — directed by Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky — once again presents Open Studio Night

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Wanna come? It’s Thursday, Dec. 11, 2014 at NYU

* Studio 20 graduates will present their final projects in newsroom innovation.
* Drinks and hors d’oeuvres will be served. Conversation will be had.
* Luminaries of the digital journalism community in New York will be there.
* Josh Benton, director of Harvard’s Nieman Lab, will present his slide show: “The Year in Innovation.”

Greetings from the Studio 20 program at NYU (description): still the world’s only studio program in journalism education, focused on innovation, project-based learning, and figuring out where news needs to go.

Every year at the fall term draws to a close we put on Open Studio night, in which the program’s graduating students present their final projects in innovation, which they have spent six months working on. This year’s group includes projects on:

* equipping all reporters in a newsroom with the skills to do data visualization
* tapping the methods of science fiction to report on the near future of Big Data
* re-designing email newsletters to meet the demands of busy and mobile readers
* extending a site’s news voice to short form video on platforms like Instagram
* giving a site for Chinese immigrant women a complete digital upgrade

And eight more! As we did last year, we have asked Josh Benton, director of Nieman Lab, to review the year in journalism innovation and prepare a slide show that presents the highlights: the companies, the products, the tools, the people, and the ideas that pushed journalism forward this year. I think this will be very instructive.

So please make plans to join us: Thursday, December 11 at NYU Journalism, 20 Cooper Square, New York, NY, 7th floor. Cocktails, finger food and chatter, 6 pm. Presentations begin: 6:30 sharp. You’re done by 8 pm, but can hang out and drink with us after.

You can RSVP by emailing me, Jay Rosen, at this address: jr3[at]nyu.edu Include your name, affiliation and how you heard about the event. When we’re full I will take this post down.

This is just a stub for a PressThink post


Since I read it this morning this paragraph has been bothering me. It’s from a front page New York Times article: Paul Diverges From His Party Over Voter ID.

Few issues ignite such passion among the base of both parties. Democrats argue that the laws are intended to keep poor voters away from the polls because they often have difficulty obtaining identification. Republicans contend cheating is rife in today’s elections.

Which is a classic “he said, she said” observation. I thought we were past this point already, but I guess not. Evidently, Jeremy Peters and his editors at the Times think the practice is still acceptable. I don’t, and I think a lot of Times readers don’t.


I’m going to write about this “Democrats argue/Republicans contend” paragraph at my flagship site, PressThink. This notebook post is just a stub. (“In Wikipedia, a stub is a short article in need of expansion.”) The glaring lameness of “he said, she said” is not a new subject for me. I’ve been writing about it for five years. So I’m looking for new ways to get the point across. If you have comments and links that should be included in my fuller post, you may share them here.

UPDATE: My post is up at PressThink. ‘Democrats argue. Republicans contend. We have no idea.’ Thanks to all for your contributions, which helped me.

Four Types of Scoops

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Journalists tend to be obsessed with scoops, meaning: the first to break the news, and being seen as the first, which means getting credit for it among peers.

But not all scoops are created equal. I see four main types. The politics of credit-claiming vary, depending on which type of scoop we’re talking about.

Type One: The enterprise scoop. Where the news would not have come out without the enterprising work of the reporter who dug it out. A classic example: CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons. Dana Priest broke that story. If she hadn’t, we would not have known about it. All credit should go to her, and when others report what she first reported they should say: “As first reported by Dana Priest of the Washington Post…” If they don’t, they suck! This is the classical meaning of “scoop,” and the one all others try to invoke when they use the term. It’s the most important, the most valid, the most useful… and of course the rarest. We should be grateful to journalists who pull it off. So feel free to thank them!

Type Two: The ego scoop. The extreme opposite of an enterprise scoop is the ego scoop. This is where the news would have come out anyway–typically because it was announced or would have been announced–but some reporter managed to get ahead of the field and break it before anyone else. From the user’s point of view, there is zero significance to who got it first. This kind of scoop is essentially meaningless, but try telling that to the reporter who feels he or she has one. Just today we had a classic example. Departure of Disney exec sparks Twitter spat over crediting scoops. Journalists who are defending an ego scoop are engaged in an intramural competition that has nothing to do with public service, and everything to do with bragging rights. Feel free to make fun of them! (I do.)

Type Three: The traders scoop. This is the most ambiguous of my categories. It recognizes that there can be situations in which, for the general public, “who got it first?” is next-to meaningless, but for a special category of user–the traders, investors, arbitrageurs–minutes and even seconds can count. A good illustration would be this false report on the death of Steve Jobs. Had it been true, it would have been market-moving information. It briefly affected Apple’s share price even though it was wrong. Had it been right, the reporter who got it two minutes before anyone else would have had a scoop barely meaningful to the general public (which would have found out anyway) but extremely valuable to investors or potential investors in Apple stock. If you’re a trader, be sure to follow such journalists. If you’re not, feel free to ignore their credit-claiming games. Type Two scoopers will try to describe their scoops as Type Three, so watch out!

Type Four: The thought scoop. The most under-recognized type of scoop is the intellectual scoop: “stories with new insights” that coin terms, define trends, or apprehend–name and frame–something that’s happening out there… before anyone else recognizes it.  ”When you can look at all the dots everyone can look at, and be the first to connect them in a meaningful and convincing way, that’s something,” said a New York Times editor in describing this kind of story, also called a conceptual scoop. One of the most famous examples is Broken Windows, an Atlantic magazine article that captured a different way of policing that turned out to have enormous influence on crime and punishment in the United States. Feel free to admire those who are capable of such feats. I certainly do.

I should probably mention a fifth type: the “forever exclusive.” This refers to a story that remains exclusive–meaning, no one ever picks it up, or repeats it–because it turns out to be wrong. Not the kind of scoop a reporter wants to be known for.

Anatomy of a Facebook Fail: Mine

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About a year ago I wrote: Anatomy of a Twitter Screw-up: My Own. It was a post about a serious error I made on Twitter, linking two things that had no connection and thereby suggesting that someone did something he did not do. Since then, I haven’t screwed up like that.

Until last week: April 4th.

It started with this report in the Washington Post by Dan Zak: Woodward and Bernstein: Could the Web generation uncover a Watergate-type scandal? Zak’s article is about a panel discussion at the American Society of News Editors, which was titled: Watergate 4.0: How Would the Story Unfold in the Digital Age? On the panel were Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, among others. Woodward told of a class of college students at Yale who were asked to write papers on a similar theme. The instructor sent Woodward the papers and asked if he could read them and talk to the students on speakerphone:

“So I got them on a Sunday, and I came as close as I ever have to having an aneurysm, because the students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’ ”

“This is Yale,” Bernstein said gravely.

“That somehow the Internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events,” Woodward said. “And they went on to say the political environment would be so different that Nixon wouldn’t be believed, and bloggers and tweeters would be in a lather and Nixon would resign in a week or two weeks after Watergate.”

A small ballroom of journalists — which included The Washington Post’s top brass, past and present — chuckled or scoffed at the scenario.

When I read that I immediately doubted it, especially this part: The students wrote that, ‘Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there.’” It just seemed… off to me. I have been teaching the born-on-the-web generation for a while now. It’s true that their knowledge of American history can sometimes be alarmingly thin, but among those with an interest in journalism I have not encountered an attitude like: “investigative reporting equals looking things up on the Internet.” I thought Woodward had taken some naive stuff the students had written and made it sound worse than it was, in “these kids today…” fashion.

So I expressed myself in a short Facebook posting, which included the link to Dan Zak’s story. This is what it said:

I don’t even believe this anecdote about moronic Yale students that Bob Woodward used to illustrate how clueless young people are today about journalism. It sounds made-up or very, very distorted from something one of them wrote.

Now that is something I should not have posted. I should not have typed it into that little “Update Status” box. Once I typed it, my internal editor should have started flashing and beeping until I changed it or killed it. Because it sounds like I’m saying he made up the whole thing, as if the Yale incident never happened. That’s bad. 

Over the weekend I was contacted by Micah Sifry, co-founder of techpresident.com and someone I know from many a conference. (We both study the Internet and we’re friends.) He explained to me that he too was struck by the story about Yale students and wondered if it happened that way, or got distorted somehow in the telling. He decided to do a post at techpresident about it. So he contacted Woodward to ask him for clarification. Woodward read him some quotes from the students’ papers that, according to Sifry, did indeed suggest extreme naïveté about what it takes to investigate a story like Watergate, as well as a breezy over-confidence in the Internet’s powers.

The part that had jumped out at me… Oh, you would just use the Internet and you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there…. was not among the quotes Woodward read to Sifry. But he said there were sentiments that came pretty close to that. He also revealed a screw-up of his own. This is from the techpresident site:

For a few minutes earlier today, a draft post that I am still working on was accidentally published on this site. The draft was tentatively titled, “Did Bob Woodward Make Up His Anti-Yale Internet Story?” and was on the question raised earlier this week by Woodward at the American Society of Newspaper Editors, about how Watergate might have unfolded differently if the Internet had existed then. I have egg on my face, since the story was not finished when it was accidentally published, and I was in the process of tracking down various participants for their comments. I could blame Drupal for reverting to a default setting after I made a small change in the draft, but that would be bogus. I messed up.

One of those participants was me. He needed to contact me because he had used my Facebook post (“I don’t even believe this anecdote…”) in his draft, which was mistakenly published before it was done. Woodward had seen it. And Woodward was livid about what I’d said, to the point where he told Sifry that he thought I should resign from NYU. Sifry’s finished post is now published. You can read it–including Woodward’s comments about me–here. Sifry also got in touch with the instructor in the Yale class, Steve Brill. He backed Woodward’s account. 

Patrick Hogan, a young journalist at the Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was one of those who commented at my Facebook page. He wrote:

I’d like to hear from some of these Yale students to find out if their papers did in fact just amount to “Google ‘Nixon’s secret fund.'”

Patrick Hogan had it right. I was wrong. The way he put it is the way I should have put it. I had a visceral reaction to that quote… you’d go to “Nixon’s secret fund” and it would be there… but that’s exactly why I should have waited to post my comment: so I could examine it with a cooler eye. And that’s what it was: a comment (38 words) not an attempt to report on the episode.

Still, I have 8,000+ subscribers on Facebook. I knew I was commenting publicly. I teach journalism and I study the Internet. I know a lot about how to avoid these things. That of course makes it worse. So there won’t be any “In my own defense…” paragraph. There is no defense. I apologize to Mr. Woodward. I’m sorry I wrote that, Bob. I was wrong. Full stop.

I also agree with the main point of his story: in big works of investigative journalism the truth that needs to get out usually lies with human sources. (Sometimes with documents, most of which are not online.) It is the job of the reporter to find those people and get them to reveal what they know. The internet can help, but it is not some “magic lantern” that illuminates everything. 

Hopefully I will not be back here soon with another one of these “anatomy of…” posts. They’re necessary, but I do not enjoy writing them. 


A Brief Theory of the Republican Party, 2012


I don’t do political commentary. This piece–a departure from my normal work–will demonstrate why…

When I say brief, I mean 56 words. Here it is:

A Brief Theory of the Republican Party: 2012

In so far as a political party in the United States can “decide” anything, the party decided not to have the fight it needed to have between reality-based Republicans and the other kind. And so it is having that fight now, during the 2012 election season, but in disguised form. The results are messy and confusing.

Given the state of our political discourse, one should expect to be misunderstood with a theory like this. There is no way to prevent that, but I will try to qualify some of the key phrases.

1.) When I say “reality-based Republicans” I mean those who recognize the danger in trying to make descriptions of the world conform to their wishes. By the “other kind” I mean those who don’t. Or: members of the Republican coalition who exhibit certain behaviors F.A. Hayek wrote about in 1960. This quotation was dug up by Chis Mooney, author of The Republican War on Science. It is from Hayek’s essay, “Why I am Not a Conservative.”

Personally, I find that the most objectionable feature of the conservative attitude is its propensity to reject well-substantiated new knowledge because it dislikes some of the consequences which seem to follow from it – or, to put it bluntly, its obscurantism. I will not deny that scientists as much as others are given to fads and fashions and that we have much reason to be cautious in accepting the conclusions that they draw from their latest theories. But the reasons for our reluctance must themselves be rational and must be kept separate from our regret that the new theories upset our cherished beliefs. I can have little patience with those who oppose, for instance, the theory of evolution or what are called “mechanistic” explanations of the phenomena of life because of certain moral consequences which at first seem to follow from these theories, and still less with those who regard it as irrelevant or impious to ask certain questions at all. By refusing to face the facts, the conservative only weakens his own position.

2.) Readers will want to know what I have in mind when I refer to “members of the Republican coalition who do not recognize the dangers of trying to make descriptions of the world conform to their wishes.” These four examples capture the tendencies I’m talking about, but it’s the tendencies I’m talking about, not the examples! Still, here they are: The Birthers, a relatively “fringe” group who had a nice run for a while, though they were ultimately put down; global warming denialism, which is fast becoming a mainstream Republican position; the debt limit fight in the summer of 2011, which House Republicans started (so it’s difficult to say that was “fringe…”) and the claim that President Obama is actually a socialist, which is so common on the right as to almost sound banal these days.

Now it’s not just that those things happened. It’s that the people willing to believe that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S…. that global warming isn’t happening and the evidence for it has been faked by scientists with a political agenda… that the Congress could refuse to raise the debt limit and thereby send a message about fiscal discipline without wreaking havoc for the U.S. economy… or that the President isn’t a mainstream liberal who believes in a vigorous role for government within an economy dominated by the private sector, but rather a full-on socialist who would if he could dismantle the system of lightly-to-tightly regulated capitalism that presidents of both parties have supported since the close of World War Two… these people vote, they volunteer, they donate money, they form organizations that are part of the fabric of the Republican party, they get elected to office, they hold hearings in Congress to make their points, they talk on the radio and try to influence other Republicans, they attack reality-based Republicans as apostates– and in all these ways they loom larger and larger within the party.

3.)  For a representative figure among reality-based Republicans I would go with David Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a conservative who cannot stomach what has happened to his party. But rather than become a Democrat or claim some sort of ideological conversion, Frum has taken up his pen, as with: When Did the GOP Lose Touch With Reality? There he writes:

Few of us have the self-knowledge and emotional discipline to say one thing while meaning another. If we say something often enough, we come to believe it. We don’t usually delude others until after we have first deluded ourselves. Some of the smartest and most sophisticated people I know—canny investors, erudite authors—sincerely and passionately believe that President Barack Obama has gone far beyond conventional American liberalism and is willfully and relentlessly driving the United States down the road to socialism. No counterevidence will dissuade them from this belief: not record-high corporate profits, not almost 500,000 job losses in the public sector, not the lowest tax rates since the Truman administration. It is not easy to fit this belief alongside the equally strongly held belief that the president is a pitiful, bumbling amateur, dazed and overwhelmed by a job too big for him—and yet that is done too.

Frum again:

Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics. Outside this alternative reality, the United States is a country dominated by a strong Christian religiosity. Within it, Christians are a persecuted minority. Outside the system, President Obama—whatever his policy ­errors—is a figure of imposing intellect and dignity. Within the system, he’s a pitiful nothing, unable to speak without a teleprompter, an affirmative-action ­phony doomed to inevitable defeat.

Because he wouldn’t stop with this kind of thing (“a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts…”) Frum was dismissed from his position at the American Enterprise Institute, a leading Republican think thank, and dropped from further appearances on Fox News, though the network never announced or explained that decision. Frum is also a despised figure in the conservative blogosphere, where it is assumed that the reason he talks this way is that he wants liberals to love him. My point is that Frum is willing to have the fight that the rest of his party did not want to have. 

4.) F.A. Hayek is an intellectual god within the conservative moment. David Frum was a good soldier and solid citizen who worked in a Republican White House. My purpose in quoting them is to underline that what matters about the flight from reality within the Republican coalition is that it’s an internal struggle. What liberal college professors like me think about it is irrelevant to the outcome of that struggle. What happened to David Frum matters; what I say about it does not. Reality-based Republicans will either realize the threat to their existence and fight it out with the other kind of Republican, or… they won’t. So far they haven’t. That’s a mistake. It’s bad for the country, it’s bad for the political system, it’s bad for the Democrats (because it breeds complacency and arrogance in the opposition) and it’s catastrophic for the Republicans as a governing party.

5. So I’m not saying that the Democrats and progressives are the ones who are in touch with reality, while conservatives and Republicans are not. (But I guarantee you some will read it that way.) I’m saying that the tendency toward wish fulfillment, selective memory, ideological blindness, truth-busting demagoguery and denial of the inconvenient fact remains within normal trouble-making bounds for the Democratic coalition. But it has broken through the normal limits on the Republican side, an historical development that we don’t understand very well. That is, we don’t know the reasons for it, why it happened when it did, or what might reverse it. (We also need to know the degree to which it is a global phenomenon among conservative parties in mature democracies, or an American thing.) Political scientists: help!

6. Mitt Romney, the favorite to win the Republican nomination for president in 2012, is a reality-based Republican who cannot run as a reality-based Republican because he thinks he cannot win that way. Jon Huntsman’s campaign is the proof of that calculation. All the candidates, including Romney, have to make gestures toward the alternative knowledge system, with its own facts. Overlaid on this pattern are the normal tensions between more ideological conservatives and what the press calls moderates, the usual conflicts among the libertarian strain, the corporate Republicans and the social conservatives. Journalists feel comfortable talking about these. They have no acceptable language for discussing reality-based Republicans vs. the other kind. So they don’t. The result is a confusing mess.

Serious Journalism in the Age of Digital Networks: What’s Different?


These are the notes for my talk today to the Center for Public Intergrity.

What’s different for people who want do serious journalism in the age of digital networks?

I have boiled it down to six things:

1. The subsidy system has been destroyed.

2. Audience atomization has been overcome.

3. Distribution has been democratized.

4. A power shift has taken place…

The audience

The sources

The platforms

…. all have more power.

5. Barriers to entry–and invention–have fallen decisively.

6. The nature of trust is changing.

What’s worse for journalists about all this?

1. A crisis of employment.

2. Institutions have to rescale and some won’t make it.

3. Far more noise and crap in the system.

4. The means for uninforming the public are greater than ever.

What’s better about the emerging system?

1. Demand for serious journalism is very high.

2. The need is greater than ever.

3. The tools are better than ever.

4. The data is better than ever.

5. Creativity in journalism has a new lease on life.

6. The generation dynamics are healthier, with young people more able to contribute their talents.

7. To do journalism today you have to be really committed to it.

8. The more people who participate in it, the stronger the press will be.


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