Monday, August 22, 2005

Ignorant MSM Watchdogs

If you want to be an outsider media watchdog, it might be good to maybe learn a little something about the industry.

I did a google search for information about Gloria Wise & AAR, and found a post from Redstate.org on 8/11 which sidetracked me from looking further into the story right now.

I discovered that the righties -- in addition to having little familiarity with definitions of words, compromised reading comprehension, inability to understand conditional language, and logic deficiencies -- also don't know much about how the media works, yet style themselves the watchdogs of the MSM.

Leon H.'s post at Redstate offers samplings of newspapers in which columnists and editors mainly summarize what is already known, blame Al Franken, and wonder why the MSM is not covering the story, while these newspapers they're published in apparently aren't covering the story.

Though that might soon change
Thanks largely to blogger coverage of this, Raleigh News Observer editor Melanie Sill is pushing the AP to do a story covering this.


Some readers of the Raleigh News & Observer are upset that the editor, Melanie Sill, has not covered the AAR story yet, as it should be big national news. After all, other publications are covering it, why not the N&O?

Ms. Sill first writes
We've checked our news services in recent days and do not find this story... if a story is reported and distributed we will look at publishing it.

After commenters' "sarcasm and barbs" were posted, Ms. Sill attempted to clarify
...I found the same stories on Air America that you all mention a couple days ago in Internet searches and by using Factiva, a paid service we use for research. I've asked the Associated Press to move a story and mentioned the interest among some local readers. So far this investigation has been reported as a local story in New York.

To publish stories from other publications, we must have rights to them through the news services to which we subscribe.

Since I'm familiar with the concept of news services (having a background in television and a husband with a Journalism Degree), this is fairly straightforward. As she said, the only coverage of the story is local to New York media outlets, and the news services her paper uses haven't covered this particular story yet. If her paper were to print a story they didn't have rights to from the New York Post, it would be called "stealing."

The commenters who would be MSM watchdogs don't appear to understand any of this. Nor the difference between covering a story and wondering why a story isn't being covered, nor the difference between a news story and a column or editorial.

Comment from: J. Stuart [Visitor]
08/10/05 at 16:13
"So far this investigation has been reported as a local story in New York." Really? The Oregonian, that's a local NY paper is it? Pittsburgh Tribune Review? Is that published in the Bronx?


To J. Stuart, the fact that editors and columnists in these papers wrote their opinions on a story they read in another paper means that the N&O should be able to write a story they read in another paper. Ms. Sill could certainly write an editorial wondering why the national media isn't covering the AAR story, especially since she's not a member of the national media, just as the other editors and columnists have done.

J. Stuart also imagines himself to be an investigative journalist, even though he doesn't understand any of the basics of journalism or publishing. So he did a search of Lexis/Nexis and discovered that the N&O has recently published five verbatim articles from the New York Daily News.

Looking in the archives for one of his examples, I found this,
August 14, 2005
News & Observer, The (Raleigh, NC)

New Stones song lashes out at Bush
Helen Kennedy New York Daily News
The News & Observer does not own the rights to republish this article. See microfilm for full


The N&O had the rights to republish the original article because they got it from one of the news services they share with the New York Daily News, but not to republish it into their own archives. The N&O also doesn't have the rights to republish three of the other articles, and one of them doesn't even appear to be a verbatim article at all, though it does mention what someone said to the Daily News.

But even if she doesn't print the story verbatim, she could take the information from the NY Post and write her own story, right?

Another commenter with a blog, JohninCarolina, believes this is true, as he has gotten a scoop from four anonymous "editors of major newspapers."
"...we can take stories from each other,” one editor explained. “We do it all the time. You can’t lift the whole story; and you’re supposed to give credit..."
...
Another editor, who in all major respects agreed with the first editor, mentioned the term “précis.”

“It’s a journalistic expression, newsroom.” the editor said. “We all know what précis means. Basically, the lead paragraph. Maybe a little more. You get the basic meaning of the story. You tell someone to lift a précis from, and you name the paper.”

Ms. Sill admits in a comment in her own post, How We Work "the Wires," she could in fact use the information from the NY Post in précis

Comment from: Melanie [Member] · http://www.newsobserver.com/
08/22/05 at 10:00

John Stuart: Point of fact, I never said we could not have gone out of our way to report a story on Air America, citing the NY Post.
...
You can criticize us for not taking steps to do a staff story on this, fair enough. It would have been pretty unusual for us to take such a step. The story didn't have much local impact, and still doesn't seem to.


Précis is a summary of a story which must be attributed. It's the jumping off point for an entire article that must be independently written, not the whole story itself. The N&O could summarize the AAR story from the NY Post and give the attribution in an opening paragraph or two, but Ms. Sill would still have to assign staff to do original writing on the AAR story and contact the sources directly, not through a third party such as the NY Post. That's why her paper pays news services, because it doesn't have the resources to independently report on national news.

That's the reason nearly all, if not all, local papers and television stations pay news services. They cannot send people around the country or around the world to cover stories, or even spare a reporter to get on the phone or internet to contact sources and do original reporting. It takes time, time costs money, and local papers and television stations are staffed only enough to cover local events, and often barely enough for that.

So why the disconnect? Why does JinC think Ms. Sill is being dishonest?

Because he doesn't understand the process that he is watchdogging, and he's confusing the process for the content and a perceived political bias.

And if there's something insofar as process that should be criticized, it is the last point of staffing, and what that leads to. Journalistic outlets are businesses. They want to make money. Like most companies, they will cut whatever corners they must to make more money for themselves, and that often means (on the local level) that they will hire green reporters and pay them very little to the job of two reporters. So, with deadlines looming: press releases and wire stories will get rewritten (sometimes inaccurately) and substituted for real news reporting; facts will get fudged and not fact-checked thoroughly, if at all; some stories will be missed out entirely.

To a great extent, the days of Woodward and Bernstein are over. You should see TV producers as they monitor the other stations. If another station puts something on the air two seconds before theirs, they got "scooped." It's ridiculous, because no one is watching both stations simultaneously except the producers themselves. And how many journalists are willing to go months without publishing while they court sources, gather facts, and try to cover all the bases? How many news outlets would let them?

That's the process that should be criticized. But you have to know at least a little bit about the process before you can be qualified to criticize it.

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