on the Media
We sent the following navel-gazing questionnaire to 113 colleagues working in print, television, and digital media, asking that they use the opportunity to air their grievances and bare their souls, and promising anonymity in exchange for (what we hoped would be) actually candid answers to our searching and occasionally uncomfortable questions. The full response is below ...
1. In your view, the biggest problem with the media these days is (note: these overlap, but please pick your top three):
A broken business model that leaves journalists insufficiently funded to do good work.
A broken business model that causes media organizations to pander to audiences.
The need to entertain or sensationalize in order to keep readers interested.
Prioritization of speed over accuracy.
Blind spots caused by reporters‘/editors’ worldview/background/life experience.
A tendency to highlight or inflate conflict.
Other. Please fill in.
An unwillingness or inability to hold the powerful accountable.
A phony adherence to objectivity.
Fear of offending corporate interests/sources, etc.
Showboating; overaggressive “gotcha” journalism.
Overreliance on anonymous sources and information that can’t be corroborated.
A shift in power to platforms like Facebook that makes publishers' traffic reliant on factors outside of their control.
Myopic groupthink and echo chambers detached from outside reality.
SEO-driven, metric-based model that values speed and page views over accuracy and depth.
I pick shallowness—on the part of both the media and the audience.
Too many idiot men.
Failure to evaluate claims; call it stenography or gullibility.
Lack of fun.
The construction of a personal media brands superseding the truth of a story.
Pandering to readers who ought to be ignored.
Preaching to the choir, to increasingly specific choirs.
A lack of connection with readers—i.e., readers feel like they were not consulted.
Lack of editors, editorial oversight, and training for young journalists in how to write and report.
The business model has caused publications to get "editor heavy" on their mastheads, with too few pubs giving writers the kinds of year-long contracts that give both sides—editor and writer—the stability to do their best work.
Silliness. Celebrity infatuation. Reliance on crime. Endless loops and beating to death of stories.
I see an extraordinary amount of coverage, including in New York Magazine, that talks about people as if they were all affluent, from the suburbs, and white. The vast majority of coverage of society, lifestyle, and cities in elite outlets suffers from this myopia. There is also an incredible lack of historical knowledge or effort to learn about relevant history and context in many pieces. In the political realm, there is also far too much coverage of the horse race and conflict at the expense of policy coverage. This is actually less true than it was 15 years ago, but it's still a problem. There is a tendency to give short shrift to massive gathering problems, such as climate change, and too much coverage to immediate events like missing planes or mass shootings. This perverts the public's understanding of their actual relative risks. There is also virtually no coverage of established problems; e.g., 30,000 Americans die in car crashes and it's hardly discussed, but train accidents get huge coverage. There is also a fetish for data, lists, and rankings, without any cogitation about what the data really means. If your ranking of coolest cities puts Arlington, Va., as No. 1, then your metrics are wrong. But instead of using common sense, journalists just churn out this crap. There is also a fetish for counter-intuition. Journalists write stories claiming Trump is a populist instead of a right-winger, or Rand Paul is coming around on climate change when he isn't at all. They fail to examine whether a Republican's vague promise to promote clean air or blue-collar jobs is actually supported or undermined by their actual policy proposals. They also let conservatives determine what is serious discourse. If other Republicans criticize Trump's racism, that's a big story and Trump's in big trouble. If they agree with his ludicrously stupid climate science denial, there is no story there because there's no surprise. Likewise they prefer stories that are easy to understand; e.g., Trump makes offhand racist comment about one judge gets far more coverage than his wildly irresponsible and nonsensical gigantic regressive tax-cut proposal because the latter would require effort to explain and no other Republicans object to it.
Publishers can't seem to get on the same page to figure out a way to create a concrete business model based on subscriptions that funds the business.
The move to consuming media on social platforms on phones.
Intelligent media still thinks it's a business when, in fact, it's more like the opera.
2. The No. 1 reason people distrust the media more now is because:
- The media gets so much wrong.
- Our public discourse is more politically polarized.
- People distrust most institutions these days.
- People believe the media is in the pocket of corporate interests.
- Other. Please fill in.
The notion of authority and accountability has been eroded by internet journalism which allows anybody to write anything.
The media increasingly openly loathe and resent their audience and "the people."
The internet has given people the ability to "determine facts for themselves" regardless of whether or not what they've found is correct.
They don't actually distrust the media—they consume record amounts of it! It's just a convenient scapegoat.
People get their information from Facebook/SM platforms and don't know who is behind it. So "the media" becomes this monolith.
People don't see their world reflected in the stories or in the language used.
The category of "the media" has expanded from what was once some daily newspapers and a few TV shows to everything from TMZ to NYT to CSPAN to Vice.
Everyone is exposed to much more media, and they see the media as competing for dollars, rather than doing a public service.
We exploit differences, not explore similarities. We drive the polarization, not bridge it.
People believe the media is in the pocket of one or the other political party's elites.
Most content produced by the New York–centered media industry is disposable and forgettable, and meant only for short-term effect.
People believe they are overwhelmingly leftists pursuing a liberal agenda.
Republicans and conservatives have denigrated the media for decades because it reflects objective reality, rather than their ignorance, and they can't accept inconvenient facts.
Social media and cable networks have created a "find who says what you want to hear" society
I think it's a combination: options 2, 3, and 4 here. The reemergence of a partisan press, starting with Limbaugh and talk radio and on to Fox News (not accounting for WSJ or some of the old-line printed right-wing press) allowed people to seek safe harbor. See question 1 for why this happened.
3. Who has a better case against the media?
- The Left.
- The Right.
I think this question is a little unfair, since it's the less-partisan consumer who's being served worst. But if I had to choose, then the right has the better case. Literally every reporter I know is a liberal Democrat, with the exception of people who work at openly right-wing publications and a few scattered newspaper types. I don't think this is because the news biz only hires liberals, though—I think it's because liberals are much more inclined to feel conflicted about the world around them and to seek to understand it by questioning it. Young conservatives don't go to J-school; they go to B-school.
The job of the media is to hold power accountable. While the right's critique about bias sometimes does ring true, the left's critique is far more applicable and resonant—that the media exists to hold power accountable but is too often beholden to the same power or power structures.
Media left-wing bias is overblown, but it is real. Most journalists are young, have limited worldviews and tend toward groupthink.
It's difficult to find a reasonably written, non-inflammatory piece about conservative politics that doesn't mock its subject. BBW's recent cover story about Reince Priebus was very welcome.
Unfortunately it appears that mainstream media is often driven by the right wing of American thinking and often Republican because big business or corporate conglomerates own them. So naturally they voice the thinking and interests of the right.
The right just wants the media to agree with them and cares little about principles. The left—or the remaining sentient portion of it at least—correctly sees the media as a casualty of the economic new-media situation.
I'm talking about the far left, not liberals. If you have any sort of anti-capitalist leanings, or even skepticism of capitalism as the best form of economic system, you will not get a fair hearing in mainstream media. It took the impossible-to-ignore candidacy of Bernie Sanders to even put fairly moderate social-democratic policies on the table, and these were routinely framed as extreme or impossible in the pages of the major newspapers, blogs, and among the Twitterati on the right and left. The right may complain that the mainstream media skews liberal on social issues—and it does. But for the most part these issues—gun rights, gay rights, abortion, diversity, etc.—are at least presented as having two sides. Any discussion of business, economics, or inequality always rests on the idea that American capitalism is an unchangeable reality and anyone who might say otherwise is a dumb hippie.
It's not a vast conspiracy, but the mainstream media is controlled by mostly liberal, mostly white cosmopolitan elites, who have done a generally poor job reflecting the diversity of the country.
Depends on which "media" you're analyzing. The right makes some good points about liberal bias, the left makes good points about the Fox News faction.
(Caveat: I come from the left.) It seems to me that a decent majority of journalists on the left and in the center are trying to maintain impartiality and simply report the facts. I see this only rarely by journalists on the right, and truly only by those older and well-established journalists on the right.
The media has let so much right-wing malfeasance—the Iraq War, the mortgage crisis, the character assassination of Obama, the rise of Trump—off the hook.
I mean, neither has a good case! But the left is slightly more willing to acknowledge the importance of reality/facts/objectivity, even if it hurts them. None of that on the right.
Because the media is, on balance, more liberal than conservative.
Twitter and Facebook are liberal organizations and favor content from liberal media outlets.
The media (like academia) has a tendency to think every conservative is a crazy, Trumpian fool. Conservative ideas are often dismissed or portrayed as bonkers instead of another way of thinking. (And I'm not even conservative.)
Neither. The discourse has become so polarized that both sides are pandered to by either the HuffPosts or Breitbarts of world.
The right had a better case in the late-20th century; neither the right nor the left has a good case today, qua right or qua left.
Only slightly. Most of "biased media" arguments are a cannard, the result of successful spin by partisan interests. But when it comes to coverage of social issues and religious issues, there is some legitimate concern about many members of the media, despite their best efforts, failing to provide even-handed reporting.
The right blames absolutely every little thing on the media. It doesn't matter what it is.
Critiques of corporate ownership (from the left) are more on point than critiques of liberal bias (from the right). There is certainly a class bias and a racial bias, of course.
The media has basically missed the biggest story in the U.S .over the last 20 years, the nuttification of the GOP, and has treated insane ideas like normal ideas, out of fear of looking biased.
From what I can tell, a lot of media (that I see anyway) is so knee-jerk left that it's Icarus-ing and bound for a fall. Like the way that it's acceptable to use Donald Trump as a punch line for everything—EVERYTHING— wherever you go. Like I was at this science fair type thing, where college students were showing a glow-in-the-dark toilet experiment, and just as a bonus goofy detail they'd made the toilet-bowl basin glow in the design of Donald Trump, so it would look like you were going to the bathroom into his mouth, and people laughed, but this wasn't a political event, it was a science show, and if that had been Hillary Clinton, there would have been an outcry, etc. Anyway, lots of knee-jerk left, and a lot of automatic, disrespectful disregarding of the conservative point of view, which seems rude and narrow-minded, and headed somewhere.
Mainstream media sources (radio, TV, and print) are all biased against conservative ideas—simply analysis of headlines, verb usage, lack of coverage of certain stories, etc., makes this clear. It's much easier to get a liberal perspective from consuming mainstream media than a conservative one—those have to be sought out (except Fox News, which isn't great).
I don't think either really has a case, but there is an established, thriving, self-contained ecosystem for the far right worldview which often manages to cross over into mainstream media. The far left (as opposed to center left, which of course is more dominant) is far more marginalized.
Neither, really, as I get complaints from both (objectivity really is in the eye of the beholder), but I would imagine the right feels they're not as represented in the type of people who generally work in major media markets, whereas the left can't really make that argument.
The era of false equivalencies is very much upon us.
Neither. It's hard to trust anyone's view who is deeply on either extreme of this issue. It's not hard to see both sides, though. On the whole, extreme lefties are bigger assholes.
This has fallen somewhat out of fashion on the left, but the most salient critique with what's wrong with us is structural and economic, not ideological (which is a valid critique, but not the most salient); that at least is more associated with the left than the right.
Left-wing publications—like The Nationi> or Mother Jones—are fundamentally marginalized. Left-leaning publications—like the New York Times or New York—are fundamentally ill at ease with their own beliefs, and often hide them behind objectivity journalism or opinion columns. Right-wing pubs and sites (though often cheaper and more marginal in and of themselves) aim for broader impact and consequence and purity of purpose, and succeed.
Both "sides" get riled up about the "media" not representing their view. However, I choose the "left" in this case not because I agree with liberal criticisms of the media, but with radical-leftist ones. The media is too corporate and too colonial to be truly all that it could be as a service to society.
This is sort of a trick question, as I think the right has a better "case" since more negative things do seem to get published about them. Then again, they're the side that believes Donald Trump to be a legitimate candidate for president and his views on women and people of color to be, generally, fine.
This question is troubling because I think, fundamentally, the media is non-partisan. However, most journalists are personally liberal people living in major cities, and this worldview is inherent in most stories.
I don't love either of these choices. I think the right is pissed at the media for being biased, and the left is pissed at the media for being ineffectual in promoting its bias. The right's gripe is a lot less valid these days because mainstream institutions have lost their power and ideological/conservative outlets have proliferated. Meanwhile, the "Liberal Media" of yore — NYT, NPR, CBS News, etc.—are all diminished vs. 10-20-30 years ago.
The right, technically, but what many who deride the "liberal media" fail to understand is that media by definition is supposed to question the status quo. And as long as this is a center-right country, conservative ideology will continue to be behind much of the decisions that affect our daily lives. If somehow we became a socialist country, I'm confident that many in the media would shift the targets of their reporting accordingly. Generally speaking, the public needs to understand that while many journalists lean liberally, the best among us are simply contrarians who are always looking to affect those in power with accountability.
We often are biased against government spending and intervention, which plays to the opinions of the right
Right-wing claims of liberal media bias are utterly bogus. When objective reality is that greenhouse-gas emissions are causing the planet to warm, conservatives see liberal bias in straightforward reporting of that fact. Their constant whining has successfully bullied the mainstream into kowtowing to them, which in turn upsets the left, as it should. Moreover, the corporate and billionaire consolidation of control of media companies is skewing them rightward. Look, for example, at the WSJ editor's recent demand that the newsroom treat Trump "fairly" because "serious people" are supporting him. Fair treatment of Trump, of course, would mean holding him to the same standards as Hillary Clinton. That's not what he means at all, though; what he means is don't write too many stories that reflect poorly on Trump even if he deserves it.
I think cable news and mainstream media are very different. I don't see bias in mainstream media. The left gets clobbered on cable news.
I'm only choosing "the left" because I don't know how data in this poll will be presented. I can understand how conservative people are frustrated with media, but their frustration is mostly a farce because it's been manufactured and packaged for them by conservative media. I don't think the left has much of a case to make against the media, unless it's the existence of organizations that sensationalize and twist news to fit an agenda.
I think that's the wrong question. The right has an agenda that depends on lying, so they bash the media, which tries to get to the truth.
Clearly the press evolved from a more divided, partisan institution in the 18th century to an institution that gave voice to the voiceless, and the voiceless customarily fell into one more clearly defined side of the haves vs. have-nots. Comfort the afflicted, etc. So we got identified as carrying the water for the poor and unfortunate.
No such thing as either anymore; these constructions are part of the paradigm through which the media maintains our current toxic political stasis.
4. Should newspapers and other journalistic outlets give up on maintaining political objectivity?
Consumers are only looking for objectivity in straight, wire-type news: what where when why how. Any kind of analysis they expect to be subjective. And I think that's how they want it.
There's a difference between fact and opinion. There's a difference between reporting and opining. We all have opinions, but that doesn't mean everything we write or report IS opinion or even shaped by opinion ... and part of the problem in the world today is that we're so damn partisan we think facts are biased. They're not. But somehow, now, the right argues with the left over facts that should be indisputable—because we've blurred the lines between fact and fiction and acted as though facts are biased. They're not.
I think that some should still be committed to maintaining objectivity. That being said, I do not think that most can survive as such.
Absolutely not. It is imperative that we rely on the pillars of our industry: integrity, objectivity, research, facts, and reliable, trusted sources.
Objectivity is an ideal, not something to be maintained. Bias always inflects things, but the goal of truth remains a real one.
Even after leaving my job covering politics, I still have not registered with a political party or signed any kind of petition. It would just feel wrong.
Everyone is always going to have some political bias, regardless of how hard your try to be objective, so the most honest you can possibly be is to be up front about what that is.
There's no such thing as objectivity, and efforts in that direction almost always insult the reader's intelligence.
It's all faux-objectivity. The Times is publishing a bunch of (well-reported) takedowns of every aspect of Trump's life, but very little about Clinton. Pushing a veiled agenda is worse than having an agenda.
"New Journalism" was never intended as "All Journalism."
"Give up vs. maintain political objectivity" is too binary a choice. There can and should be unabashed advocacy journalism, but there should also be a healthy (dominant) journalism that struggles to find and present political reality in an empirical and fair-minded way.
No, but they should offer more transparency. Perhaps claiming objectivity isn't the right path—but a goal of fairness and dispassionate reporting is still very valuable to many readers, who want the media to help them sort through politically fraught issues without the perception they're being spun.
"Objectivity" is the wrong goal. Truth is the correct goal, and seeking it requires ambition and airtight standards, not "objectivity."
It's possible to be objective, or at least fair, while still pointing out consistently when norms are being obliterated and untruths are being told.
While it is extremely helpful to know the bias of an organization, and I think consumers would benefit from knowing the bias of the outlet they're reading, I don't think we should give up on objectivity.
It depends what your definition of objectivity is. If the definition is "always state the positions of both sides without adjudicating between them," that needs to go. But the real definition of objectivity—"attempt to discover the truth"—is vital. Without it, there's a danger that "giving up on maintaining objectivity" becomes an excuse for unabashed partisanship and fakery in general.
It's important to present balanced coverage, but that doesn't mean just allowing people to have their say without actually putting what they're saying in context. If someone is lying, show why they're full of shit and don't simply let the quote sit there as a lazy attempt at remaining neutral.
The facts should lead to a conclusion. Trump is dangerous to the republic. Hilary Clinton isn't. It really is that simple.
We should strive for healing, common ground.
The Guardian is the best and most thorough and most reliable news organization in English. It is fair, rigorous, and explicitly progressive.
If a journalist or a media outlet isn't openly interrogating her/its own politics then she/it simply allows someone else's politics to speak through her/it.
They should keep doing what they've been doing. This is not a problem and never was.
Except in the case of Trump. His lies come too quickly for the public to be properly informed. Media outlets should call him what he is now if for no other reason than to be on the correct side of history.
It is vital to have media able to present facts without color from opinions so our viewers can make up their own minds.
They've already given up on it, unfortunately.
This can't be answered with a yes or no. Broadly, I think transparency and accuracy should be the goals. There's nothing with Fox News being conservative, but it's wrong that they claim to be "Fair and Balanced" instead of declaring their conservatism. And their conservative viewpoint should not prevent them presenting the facts accurately, but it does. Outlets that want to be objective should continue to strive for it, while recognizing that repeating a lie by one side and an accurate response by the other and treating them equally isn't objective, it's centrist bias. Instead, they should report objective truth.
Objectivity is a standard we should look to for guidance when reporting the news, but the most we can do is be fair. Readers of journalism are paying for news judgment, not objectivity. But good news judgment wouldn't exist if we only looked at stories through the lens of our own opinions.
Take Trump (please), or the BoJo/Gove/Brexit types. They espouse repugnant (to many) positions, but is there something to the anger and frustration within an electorate that leads to the rise of these kinds of politics—something legitimately worth examining? That's why we have to stay objective. We're a straight mirror, not a funhouse mirror.
Media needs to stop framing every issue as political, which aggravates the problem this question points to.
5. Overall, the media is:
- Too hard on its subjects.
- Not hard enough.
In general, subjects of journalism—particularly political journalism—are expected not to be human. That is, they're expected never to waver, never to fuck up, never to be lazy. It's not a fair way to cover a human subject, and it creates false expectations.
I think foreign media is much harder on its subjects than is U.S. media.
We're often don't have the luxury of enough time to come back to a source or interview subject to press again and again.
I actually don't know how to answer this one. Sometimes we love Hillary until we all hate her. Then we love her because we hated her.
If you're talking about Justine Sacco, too hard. If you're talking about Hillary Clinton, not hard enough.
I think most major news organizations try to steer interviewees and appear harsh but without a truly intelligent line of questioning. It's often pandering to viewership, looking to get media attention itself rather than truly and objectively discussing issues.
Too much journalism is dependent on access.
Both! Too hard on the poor, the minority, etc. Not hard enough on the powerful.
Fewer reporters, smaller budgets, 60-second news cycles, clickbait, online garbage disguised as writing and reporting—it all leads to a lack of depth, follow-up, asking tough questions that require time and resources to dissect, consider, illuminate.
The just-believe-the-press-release inclination of consumer and lifestyle media has extended to political and business reporting. "Journalists" are asking the questions but not really listening to the answers.
Again, connected with my earlier answer—"failure to evaluate claims" = gullibility, stenography, naïveté.
Definitely enough profiles/interviews where journalists don't want to mess with future access.
(Answer varies case-by-case, obviously. But in general, media could be tougher on political, economic, military elites.
The media is hard on any subject—unless it's someone who could actually affect its bottom line. So like Peter Thiel and Gawker, there will be a class of people who will be too important to the business's bottom line to offend.
The media at certain moblike pile-on moments is too hard on certain subjects, but probably more often and on average not hard enough.
We need an aggressive press. When it comes to national politics, there is too much soft-pedaling and source-greasing going on.
Pick up the NYT business section on an average day.
The problem is the lack of connection between hardness/softness and facts.
The media will not call out extremists and fabulists like Trump because they strive for balance between Dems/GOP.
There's a tendency to fact-check politicians as separate stories, whereas that's exactly what should be happening in the main stories.
I can't answer this. It's too hard on Sean Penn, because who cares? But not hard enough on political leaders. Except when it is. There is great work being done out there, every day.
The gang mentality is horrible. Reporters by themselves don't always have the courage to take unpopular stances. It's pathetic.
Access and laziness are the Scylla and Charybdis of this profession.
The media obsesses over misdemeanors (political gaffes, tweets meant as DMs, etc.) while letting felonies slide because it doesn't have the power or the language to respond to them in a more meaningful way.
We are the victims of ourselves. We helped create the hyper-speed news cycle, we spend all day becoming detached from reality by it, and therefore we can be ill equipped to break away and tell complex stories in meaningful ways that also hold people in power accountable. That being said, the public has done this to themselves as well—if you expect media to aggressively pursue Hillary Clinton's email scandal, you better expect the same for Donald Trump and his myriad discrepancies. But I'm not sure what the appetite is among the average American for even-handed, aggressive coverage like this. And the reason is because there is rarely a set "good" or "bad" guy. Like all things in life, deciding who is in the right or wrong is a matter of great complexity. Try fitting that into a tweet or a one-minute video that someone scrolls right past on a Facebook feed ...
As a general rule, any statement government or someone in power issues is given the weight of veracity, no matter how absurd.
Subjects who are in positions of power often trade access for favorable coverage. They could be asked tougher questions.
Media wants answers immediately, right now, more, faster, and it's impossible for politicos to keep up.
The media gangs up on people who are losing and hypes people who are winning. See "Holmes, Elizabeth."
The media does a pretty good job covering its subjects. Sometimes I think it could dig in deeper (over things such as Obama's transparency, though that's been written about a lot)—but most of the time I'm satisfied with what I see.
Except in the sports pages. Those people are vicious. Otherwise, I think we're generally still pretty passive.
6. Some people say the media’s focus on “bad” news contributes to public anxiety and the perception that the world is going to hell. Do you:
The old saying is so true: "You know how we cover planes that land safely."
The world today is objectively safer than when I was a kid, but people don't think so because of the news. That's about the focus on bad news as well as the globalization of local stories—we now hear every bad story from everywhere. And that's a problem. It makes us more scared than we need to be, and that fear shapes our lives and our politics.
I very much agree. Objectively, the world has become a safer and better place. With the rise of citizen journalism, cell-phone video, etc., it is always possible to find and quickly disseminate "bad" news. It is very important to get many of these stories out there, but they do overshadow all the good things happening in the country and the world and I believe create fervor that everything is wrong with our society. I think that a lot is wrong, but I think that objectively things are much better than they used to be.
The focus is the same, but the context is different. There's no such thing as a tragedy in a distant place anymore. Even a relatively minor homicide thousands of miles away can dominate news coverage in places where, pre-internet and cable news, it would have been nothing more than a brief in the local paper.
As media, we are the source whether they trust us or not, that the public looks to for information, clarity, so if we paint a picture through our coverage of all that is wrong with the world rather than show … and on the bright side "Cleveland Won the Super Bowl," or So-and-so saved a life today with the same reverence as the loss of 50 at an Orlando nightclub. The public will always see the doom and gloom as the dominating reality. We no longer look for the little things in life which make a difference.
Of course it contributes to public anxiety to continue repeating the same negative clips over and over again. But the world might actually be going to shit.
Come on, people. There's enough fluff out there. Can't we still cover the important topics, too?
It was ever thus. (Look at a paper from the 19th century—not exactly rosy!)
We need to offer solutions, not just highlight problems. Reporting on "bad" news is important, but it's only one side of the story.
There IS a lot of bad news to report. It's time to help people grasp that fact so they can become better-informed citizens/voters.
The world IS going to hell, but we're just covering it. It would be nice if orgs. actually published reliable information and solutions instead of just offering endless commentary.
This is mainly true of broadcast, of course.
I believe this is more the case with local television news, where time is limited and crime and mayhem stories offer more compelling video.
TV news might focus on bad news, but the internet focuses on enthusiasm.
Too much emphasis on conflict, pitting people against each other.
"Some people" are mostly posturing for themselves. They can read daily affirmations or nature essays for good news. They read the news for the drama of our lives.
I think the media contributes to the net neurosis of the public, but I don't believe the media is primarily responsible for the societal anxiety.
Don't shoot the messenger.
There is a ton of bad news out there, and the world is going to hell. I buy the global-warming data. It should be the front-burner issue, but we're all too busy checking out the next great app.
This may be more of a cultural or philosophical question, but it's true. I actually really hate it when news orgs try to bend themselves into pretzels by having a "good news" segment. Just report shit—mix it up—and let things fall where they fall.
Who the hell cares about public anxiety? The public should be anxious! The world IS going to hell. Many people in this country don't need the media to feel anxious or think the world is going to hell. Their daily life experiences are enough to generate those feelings. The only people who can afford to live with the delusion that the world isn't an anxiety-provoking, terrifying place are well-to-do white folks who, frankly, deserve to be shaken up.
I actually dislike the "solutionism" that has infected much reporting on public-policy issues, since it ends up glorifying "solutions" that later turn out to have been overhyped. In the area I primarily cover, education, some examples I can think of are charter schools, "grit" or "character" education, and using test scores to evaluate teachers.
Again, the problem here is flattening: We are probably too panicked about Zika virus/shark attacks/Islamic terror and not panicked enough about global warming, inequality, antibiotic resistance.
This stems from a long-held Pentagon practice of analyzing reporting on military and national-security activities as "positive," "negative," or "neutral." The doctrine has penetrated U.S. society, and does not factor in whether it's truthful or accurate.
The world is, in fact, going to hell and the media should report that. The only problem with what they do is that they fail to focus on the big problems in favor of the smaller but more marketable ones. Mass shootings get coverage, but climate change, extreme poverty, or civil war in the Congo does not.
This morning I woke up and saw a piece of content on BuzzFeed showcasing how one of their L.A. bureau writers let a teen dress him for a week. It was garbage content. I'd rather read endless coverage of the Orlando victims and gun problems in America than fuzzy worthless news. Media isn't here to coddle people's sensibilities. It's here to inform.
Some people are unsophisticated. "Tom, let's 86 that campus serial rapist story. Wouldn't want the good people of Pleasantville feeling unpleasant."
7. Overall, the internet has been:
- Good for journalism.
- Bad for journalism.
Faster and often more accurate.
Again, I could argue either way here … Good in terms of diversifying voices and holding the media accountable. Bad in terms of challenging authority of basic reporting and facts and bad in terms of rushing stories, and dumbing down content to compete over eyeballs, etc.
I think it dramatically improves access to sources and stories and gives new people voices.
The good news is that the internet has given us real-time access to the world. The bad news is that the internet has allowed anyone and anybody, all people, to become reporters of the news … most of the time from their individual warped or self-serving viewpoint.
It's been a VERY mixed bag, but overall it's probably been slightly good simply by lowering the bar of access and allowing sites like ProPublica to get attention.
There are so many "clickbait" sites permeating the web which have degraded storytelling. But it would be an oversight to ignore the fact that Twitter has changed the world and made many people more aware of what is happening and at a faster pace.
As a reader, I consume more news now than ever before. As a journalist, I'm amazed at the reach journalism has.
The internet has elevated marginalized voices, lowered the barrier to entry, and provided news to more people than have ever been able to read it in the history of humankind. (Also, how did journalists research before the internet?)
By a hair. The reach and global impact of a given story can't be underestimated. Though it cuts both ways. Yahoo, HuffPo, and other sites employ people who consider what they do "journalism" when their copy is riddled with errors and reporting means reposting tweets from trusted sources like SirDicksALot666.
Better stories are being told. We just need to fix the business model.
Good for journalism, sure, but bad for the journalism business.
Better, deeper, wider sourcing and context.
Diverse voices, wider reach.
The internet broke open the doors for different voices. The Ivy Leaguers in New York may still be running the legacy publications, but not everything else.
C’mon. How can aggregation be anything but devastating?
The fact that there are more voices out there (good, in theory) is dwarfed by the fact that so many of the voices are just parroting talking points by either party. Plus, these blossoming outlets are mostly opining, and their "news" comes from aggregating the few outlets left doing responsible reporting, leading to that news being boiled down into unhelpfully nuance-free forms.
Irrefutably good, except for local news.
I'll say "good," but the real answer is "inevitable." So "good" is just me being optimistic that we'll grow more literate and nuanced about words on the internet (though there's been little evidence of this).
Good and bad—but with an edge to good, because it has democratized the availability of news coverage that is more varied than ever before. At the same time, there's much more noise out there and a lot of lazy reporting that echoes that of other outlets.
Good for the proliferation of outlets. Terrible for sustaining actual journalists.
The best financial writers are financial bloggers, most of them finance people. The internet has unlocked so much expertise.
It's made it a big mess, but it's definitely more alive, and I feel like there's more true, real information coming at me from a million directions, for better and for worse, but if there's something I'm really interested in, something I'd really like to find out, I do feel like I can be my own kind of journalist to wade through the OTHER journalism—tweets, pics, videos, stories, posts, whatever—to find what I believe to be a credible story, and quickly. And that is valuable. But that means I trust my own ability to cobble more than I trust any other single source.
It's been good and bad. Good in that we have access to more information and sources (and readers) than ever, and bad in that it has helped destroy our business model.
The proliferation of outlets is good, but that does not seem sustainable, and the big, necessary outlets driving real investigations are failing financially.
There is a ton of great work happening, and we can get it to people faster than ever.
It has blurred the lines between responsible journalism and agenda-driven blogging.
Good in that it lets more voices and experimentation flourish; bad in that it prioritizes speed.
I said bad, but I know there are good things too. The bad is we all have to work 1,000 times harder and longer. Who thought this was a good idea? The good is information is more readily available.
Try doing this job without Nexis, Google, and digitized public records. If you don't find it vastly harder, you should switch professions. Ease of access to information for the working journalist trumps other critiques. Technological change, while a mixed blessing, is inevitable.
Good for journalism but bad for journalists. It's very hard to make a living. However, the "media" is better off with the plurality of viewpoints that the internet delivers. It has lowered the bar for entrance into this profession and democratized it to a great extent. I think this is a good thing, we should all just be paid better.
Increasingly articles—or "content"—feel disposable and pandering to the lowest-common denominator. The timeless, well-researched, typoless journalism and nonfiction feels rarer and rarer.
Neither. There are pluses (more eyeballs, more engagement) and huge minuses (a broken business model).
Oof. Incredibly tough call. Ultimately, I have to say "good," because it has amplified underrepresented voices. But it's hard not to lament the loss of our advertiser-driven business model and the loss of time to work on high-impact stories (with so many journalists on daily or more-than-daily quotas).
It was good for journalism for a few years, the golden era of blogs. Individual voices flourished, iterative journalism was born, content broke free of formal constraints. Then the economics caught up. Ad tech, content farms, Facebook. Ever since then, it's all been about gaming the algorithm. Energy that used to go into reporting and writing now goes into parsing traffic trends.
Eh, both. Without the Internet I wouldn't exist. And without the Internet a lot of irresponsible people who would have never made it past the gates now have vast audiences and wield considerable power. Somewhere, political scientists are researching the correlation between the rise in Internet traffic and increase in political and ideological polarization.
Truth is there's no point in going through that exercise. It's rushed the pace of breaking news, for good and for bad. But it has made sources and information more accessible.
By destroying the business model that bundled the crap consumers actually want—classified ads, sports, celebrity gossip—with hard news, it has sucked money out of newsrooms for important coverage. Investigative journalism, accountability journalism, and foreign coverage have all suffered. Journalists must now produce vastly more content, more quickly, for less money. The good news is only that it has allowed the flowering of more opinion journalism and serving certain niches that were underserved before, such as analytical policy journalism.
Bad for the bottom line but good for the availability of voices and facts.
We live in a golden age of journalism. The content and stories produced have never been better, and the tools we have to reach people—to get information to people—have never been better. That's a blessing. It's up to the major publishers to figure out a way to exist in that ecosystem, and until they get together and cede some competitive interest to form a cohesive path forward ... the internet will only continue to be problematic.
Really bad. I could write a book. You can't just make it this easy for everyone to think they're a journalist, and you can just make it this easy for the ACTUAL journalists to throw up on the Internet with whatever they have at the moment. Speed kills. What's that adage—a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has its pants on? Thanks, Internet. (Oops, it's "internet" now.)
8. Overall, social media has been:
- Good for journalism.
- Bad for journalism.
This is a tough one, but it's hard to argue that it's bad that people consume so much, so quickly and so often, even if it encourages bad habits.
While it does lead to stories being seen more and the growth of new journalistic outlets, it also makes it NECESSARY that media outlets program for what works on social media if they want any significant traffic, which is troublesome.
We've overemphasized its value, cutting into reporting time and analysis to feed a beast that doesn't pay much back.
Twitter is an echo chamber that too often lacks context. And there is just way too much self-promotion.
Facebook elevates crap.
Social media is a force life, a vigilante mob of wild and frenzied people driven by a belief or misguided thought about something. The Mommy-bashing is unacceptable for example. Most of the time social-media rants and attacks are driven by misinformed, untrained people who instigate social-media uprisings that impact the mainstream media.
Catastrophically bad. Social media encourages the worst of clickbait feedback-loop tendencies and appealing to the amygdala.
More stories, more creativity in formats and styles, more diversity. (On the downside, sources can now speak directly to an audience—no gatekeepers required.)
Impact on distribution has been very disruptive to journalism.
Both? Easier to find sources/new voices. But on social media, the journalists are just talking to each other.
Old-guard editors within old media have increasingly pandered to the twitterati in desperate fear of offending groups of people who spend their lives dying to be offended. They're suddenly fearful of the types of cranks who used to be considered nuts who write letters to the editor every day. The nuts have found each other, empowered each other, by gathering on social media
More interaction and instant reaction/feedback is a good thing.
Pros and cons, but I guess anything that spreads the word is good.
Photos and videos are invaluable.
There is something about people wanting to sacrifice their privacy voluntarily to fb, Instagram, and craft their own "BRAND" which has made them angry when someone else "invades" their privacy and tells their narrative, or tells a narrative they feel they know better (even when they cannot see the forest, etc.).
Important stories can be "surfaced" and spread more easily. But so much energy is devoted to entering the "conversation" (echo chamber).
It expands the audience for journalism and lets more voices into the conversation.
Social media is bullshit. A waste of time. And for losers who think that the fake worlds of Twitter or Facebook really mean anything. That said, it helps me immensely when doing my job.
None of us would have covered Ferguson, for instance, without social media.
Two words: Black Twitter.
Perspectives from previously silenced groups, particularly women, people of color, and LGBTQ folks, have finally found a way into more mainstream consciousness.
Again, I see big upsides and big downsides. It's helped to polarize the country, which obviously doesn't help. But my work and that of other writers like me, who work at regional publications, have found huge and previously unimaginable audiences because of social media.
See above. Again, there was a window where social media looked like it might create new channels for organic distribution. Then it started happening on an industrial scale and social media became an enforcer of sameness rather than the reverse.
It's leading the agenda too much—creating a cold judgmental society.
Even more of the ad revenue is now being stolen from content producers because it goes to Facebook instead of to the outlet itself. There is a good side in that people are more likely to share higher-quality stories, so it's reversed some of the crap-production trend that occurred when traffic was coming through search engines.
I think these good or bad questions lack the allowance for gray areas, by the way. I mean, it's been good in that it helps us be in contact with newsmakers. It's bad in that it seems to be the tail wagging the dog at times. We're incapable sometimes of not mentioning how many clicks or hits or retweets some event or thing has attracted, and that's not news. Kind of like the regular weekend box-office story. Movie X sold $XXXX worth of tickets over the weekend. Does that mean it's good? Not necessarily.
9. Does Facebook’s dominance on the distribution of news trouble you?
10. If you said yes to the previous question, why are you troubled by Facebook?
- It creates silos in which people only see news that already conforms to their worldview.
- It's a funnel for a lot of crap and contributes to news illiteracy.
- It's biased in some way.
11. Is the media better or worse than it was a decade ago?
It feels to me like it's bifurcated. Some outlets are doing incredible stuff, and lots and lots are just spiraling ever downward.
Our reporters are smarter and better educated than ever, and they're able to perform higher-level analysis on a variety of topics.
I think the failed preparation of journalist to battle the landmines or traps of the very pedestrian landscape of media is a problem. So young journalists who are born of this digital SM era have little to compare the old values to the new. Where we once checked, rechecked facts and vetted our info, our sources they have a tendency to go for speed over accuracy.
Better, but only because the media's complicity with the Iraq War and the War on Terror represents a low point for media that it would be hard to match. Things are still bad. Note that many of the Iraq War enablers are still prominent in the news.
Fear-mongering is real.
Or, rather: Better in some ways, worse than others. The number of newspapers that have folded, shrunk staff, or been taken over by a chain has damaged journalism. On the other hand, new story forms and the global reach of news outlets is a terrific advancement.
A decade ago, it was all cable news. (The worst media form ever invented.)
Please see the collapse of the daily newspaper business and the number of journalists fleeing for other careers that offer luxuries like a living wage and benefits.
It is both better and worse. Better special project, investigative work. But worse and far more daily dreck.
While more voices are heard, it is also hard for important stories to have an impact as many seem to drown out.
The chase for page views/uniques/scale has made everything great about the internet ten years ago completely boring now. All publications cover the same things in the same way. Editorial voice is, for the most part, difficult to discern.
Some things are better: speed, egalitarianism of distribution. But some things are much worse: speed and the disregard for traditional notions of confirming news before it's distributed.
People are too accustomed to not paying for news, which means the media has no incentive to invest in thoughtful reporting, and every incentive to value volume over quality.
I answer "better" because by the media I mean all of it, including social networks. It—all of it together—is a far richer environment than ten years ago.
Most people see a link thicket when they open Twitter, but I see a mountain to add to my Instapaper. The number of quality readable words produced every day is astounding.
I'd like to believe that society is fairly cyclical, and that it takes a lot more than outdated business models or new technology to knock everything off-course. I'd like to believe this, and I'll continue to convince myself that this is the case, even if the reality of things can be pretty depressing sometimes.
It's simply MORE—more bad stuff, more good stuff, and more mediocrity.
Statehouse coverage—almost entirely gone. With dire consequences. Global reporting—much diminished.
Despite smaller staffs, the average journalist now is incredibly high-powered (data reporting, data visualizations, smart video production). I feel the best work by today's journalists is far above the best work of any prior era.
Wilder, more interesting. Better than duller.
I am not sure.
The internet has been great at multiplying forums for the kind of longform journalism I care most about. Ironically, that diversity has come at the cost of eccentricity; longform journalism is more homogenous than it was a decade ago.
The transition to web journalism was still in its early stages ten years ago. A lot of advances have been made since then.
Social media has allowed us to find stories and voices that would not have received attention a decade ago, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
I said worse but only because I didn't get to sit on the fence on this one. It's BETTER and WORSE. I loved the days when you had to go out and actually speak to people.
I was working in the press a decade ago. The internet currently rewards reported pieces more than it did, even today's Hot Take Economy, and perhaps because of it.
There are more voices, from more perspectives, and more backgrounds, in more places, producing more high-quality work of more varied treatments. (The caveat, right, is that that hasn't extended to purely hyper-local journalism.)
A decade ago I was 17 years old and didn't really know jack shit about the media. I heard tell, though, that in the early 2000s journalists could make $1-$2 per word writing for the internet! The fact that it was possible then and not so today makes me inclined to think the "media" is worse off.
It's more democratized and diverse.
The death of daily newspapers is a civic crisis for our country. And magazine writers now have to engage in a gig-economy marketplace where salaries have been done away with, which makes doing investigative work, or even just carefully crafted writing, very difficult.
Fewer trained journalists. Fewer resources. More consolidation. More fringe "journalists" who blog without training or conventions.
12. Journalism’s biggest blind spot in its coverage is:
Groupthink. We draw from a limited pool of people who generally have a similar background and class. They simply are unable to see the perspective of people who are not like them, and tend to drive out those who don't "fit in."
Willful ignorance and distaste for views that don't support our own.
How income inequality and racial inequality influences society—politics, economics, education, etc.
Is race factor and any other factor that includes marginalized people in America, women, LGBT, Muslims, handicap, etc.
Being measured, objective and truthful above all.
All stories about climate change are incredibly dull and make me fall asleep.
Covering its friends and benefactors.
Failing to genuinely understand and represent people who aren't educated, wealthy, coastal, white, straight, cisgender elites.
Not enough toughness. But then too much snark.
Not digging deeply enough.
Its inability to take the long view, of history, technology, and the business of journalism itself.
Health care/health-policy news.
Too immersed in the political bubble and horse-race coverage.
The death of the middle class.
The external pressures on media that are directly affecting coverage—not offending advertisers, running ad catnip in venues that state they would never do such a thing.
Coverage of economic issues, mostly because journalists either don't understand them or can't articulate them in a way that is accessible to their audiences.
The choice of what is news.
Substance and long-term trends.
Addiction to conflict.
The need for reporters to be sufficiently informed about a subject to do a good job.
The existence of deep, academic expertise on just about every subject we cover—talking to academics could add complexity and shift framing imposed by the government and conventional wisdom.
The rise of Brooklyn. (JKJKJKJKJK)
Reducing a politics to individual characters. It's a lot easier—and a lot more compelling, narrative-wise—to parse a single person's radicalization or mania than to talk about, say, gun legislation, or the inner workings of the gun lobby.
Women's rights/violence against women (I'm trying to amend this.)
Most political reporters are dumb.
Finding ways to reach the other side—engaging with people who aren't in the choir, so to speak.
Favoring a good/sexy/fun story over the truth.
At the moment, the Merrick Garland blockade.
A need to focus on narrative—whether it be the narrative the writer has already decided on, the narrative that the given outlet has been pursuing, or a narrative that conforms to previously held notions of how a public figure, state, party, institution, etc. acts. Narrative obliterates nuance.
Large world problems that people don't want to acknowledge.
The catastrophic economy in which most of the audience finds itself.
Refusal to treat conservative ideas as legitimate.
A bias toward the word of powerful people and institutions—both government and the private sector.
Poor, marginalized communities.
Horse-race journalism in politics is the downfall of the republic. The polls should not drive the news story. The rollout of policy plans and positions should.
Corporate corruption of Congress.
Heart. The whole me-ification of journalism is awful. Reporters need to get back to contributing rather than taking.
Story choice reflects a political agenda.
Quality storytelling. Focus on quantity over quality.
Too many uninformed voices with the right amount of hits.
Issues and perspectives from underrepresented groups—women, minorities, LGBTQ, and so on.
Small towns, rural areas, international coverage.
Anything long term and structural. Journalism has no attention span, so if there's no movement on something, like congressional-district gerrymandering, journalism doesn't know what to do with it.
Seeking to be hip/current instead of right/authoritative.
That writing lengthy take-downs that are slanted one way or another does nothing. You change no one's mind by writing that Trump is a piece of shit. I would venture to say that most of his supporters know he's a piece of shit—and they don't care. They want a piece-of-shit asshole because right now they think we have a pussy. I don't know if you hear such thoughts in the Beltway or on the West Coast, but this is what's happening here in the middle, and many in the media keep going around wondering why Trump? Come out here and you'll find your very simple answer.
The incremental. It goes for the slam dunk, the sexy know-it-all story, rather than informing people along the way. I do think that approach has eroded trust and reliability.
We don't often report when government does things right, feeding the perception government is always fucking up.
Class. So many stories reflect an upper-middle-class outlook. For example, bikers are hipsters according to the media, when in fact they are more likely to be low-income and non-white.
Global context for American action.
Local court coverage. (Fairness across racial/gender lines on a local level.)
(1) Covering too many "low-hanging-fruit stories." Crime and courts. (2) In this election year, covering candidates way too often because it makes for "good" and controversial copy.
This is going to be a roundabout answer to a straightforward question: Journalism doesn't place enough value on local reporting. The blind spot is that reporters and photographers are in a bind: Choose to make almost no money doing the most important form of journalism at the local level, or aspire to make more money generating a lot of insipid content at the top of the field. That's a major disservice to the craft and to readers.
Seeing the world through the eyes of the kind of people who don't work in newsrooms. Insofar as newsrooms are white and male and liberal, they produce the kind of news you'd expect white male liberals to produce.
Its lust for "access" at the cost of the truth.
How money and influence actually work in Washington, and how the media figures into both.
Not being skeptical of religion/religious charities and the tax subsidies they get.
13. What is the worst sin you have committed as a journalist or as a person in the journalism business?
I used quotes in a story—without attribution—that I think the sources thought were off the record. At the time, I felt they were too good not to use. Plus, I was a freelancer, and I couldn't afford (literally) for the story to fall through for lack of on-the-record sourcing.
Relentless focus on traffic.
Being closed-minded and failing to question my own biases.
Ignoring a possible story because the source didn't reflect the qualities I'd like. Knowing that the story would be thrice the work due to a low believability factor and crossing it off the already-full list.
I worked at the New York Post. Awful place.
I didn't work hard enough to find good and interesting sources.
Accepting reporting assignments that were not truly newsworthy but were part of some transaction for the editor or the paper.
Turn off the TV, radio, and internet over the weekend and just tuned out, while not on vacation. A lot can happen and as an editor I need to be on top of things. But I tell you I just had to at some point.
Playing down my criticism of journalists and journalism for fear that it would hurt my career.
Writing about a place as if I have been there, when in fact, I have not.
I'm new as the top editor, and the quality of journalism isn't where it should be under my watch. Deadline pressure, distractions by managerial duties (all those meetings!), and the quality of employees whom we can afford to hire all contributes. Too many one-source stories and stories that don't offer enough to our readers.
Not reaching out to someone when it could have made for a better story because there was a time crunch.
Damaged a source in a pretty major way, by failing to take adequate precautions to protect his anonymity.
Sold a press kit for a movie on eBay for $500.
Letting people off too easily.
Not reading EVERYTHING. The only way we can be informed is if we make it happen. This is true for all of us, for all content.
Privileging advertisers over worthier and more interesting coverage.
Prioritizing my own comfort—career, family, and so on—over a noble, self-sacrificing dedication to serious journalism.
Changing attribution in a quote from "he" to "she."
Failure to adequately evaluate the evidence of claims being made by sources.
Not asking Neko Case about owning Pops Staples’s guitar during an interview.
Going for safe voices rather than new ones. Time pressure can add to that.
Amplifying misleading outrage porn.
As an editor, I should have said yes more—to more innovative ideas, to inexperienced writers from nontraditional backgrounds.
Allowing my name to be associated with breathless celebrity coverage. Being needlessly bitchy in my youth.
Garden-variety laziness with stories (sloppy writing or not enough reporting).
Opining on subjects I don't know enough to opine about.
Assuming what people are or aren't interested in. Always surprised when callers chime in and say the opposite of what I'm expecting them to say.
Writing without sufficiently knowing what I am talking about, that is a constant.
Really, the worst thing I've done is have the wrong name of a source throughout an entire story because I didn't hear it correctly on the phone.
Regularly deciding not to cover stories because I assume other places will.
Participated in the shift to aggregation "journalism."
While not a mortal sin, I have fallen prey to the rationalization that if you aggregate a juicy but sketchily attributed story from another outlet, it's okay because other aggregators have already done so and you want to "report the conversation." This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: Any juicy rumor becomes news because it's something everyone is writing about, even if it can all be tracked back to a Patient Zero who is quite possibly full of shit.
I wrote a takedown that was more personal grudge than fair analysis.
Not fully revealing what I imagined the broader arc/argument of a piece would be.
Not digging deep enough. Under deadline pressure, it happens occasionally, unfortunately. The result is a story that is accurate on a surface level but misses deeper insights and truths.
Writing what basically amounted to a press release for my organization because no one thought ahead and our PR person left.
I tweeted without thinking and made an idiot of myself.
(1) Publishing a decent story quickly (that begins to get social-media traction) that only becomes nuanced later, when "the other side," or additional sources, return calls. (2) Oversimplification of academic/scientific research.
I have failed to let people know with enough time that I'm writing about them; I let myself be bullied and can lose sight of obvious things when people cajole me too much.
I have on occasion written about things I had very little real knowledge of, or interest in—because I did not want to say no to a gig and, therefore, to payment that would allow me to survive.
Writing something too fast for clicks.
Accepting tickets to an event held at a business featured in an article.
The worst sin is always what you didn't do, not what you did. It's the stories I didn't tell, the facts I didn't make enough effort to verify and so left out of the story, the emotional moment I didn't convey with enough power to do justice to the dead or those in need.
I once posted a picture of Texas lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, his fingers forming the "V" sign. My caption: "I've got two buttholes."
I'm also guilty of not fact-checking some politicians' claims.
I have sent complicated passages, explaining technical things—science-related stuff but also occasionally nuanced policy positions—to the sources involved to establish my accuracy. Some journalists gasp at this.
Got the last name of an article subject wrong. Jackass.
Assuming that I know anything! But it is very, very hard to really see inside a life—or an institution.
Not a sin as much as a really stupid mistake. I accidentally killed off a political figure in one of my stories. Turns out he was still very much alive. OOPS!
Not verifying another outlet's reporting of a particular fact.
I once put a fixer in danger in a war zone out of ignorance and arrogance.
Not fully following through on a story due to management demands for multiple, unrelated stories. Sometimes as many as three a day.
I don't know whether this is a sin or just par for the course in journalism, but it certainly felt sinful to do it. I was working on a story about a source who had lost dozens of friends and relatives to violent murders. The organization I was writing for was only interested in a certain kind of death and had no idea how they wanted this story to flow. Because of my editors' disorganized approach, I had to go back and ask this source to reopen old wounds many more times that I felt it was decent to do. I was also put in a position to have to communicate to the source that some of the deaths did not "matter" because the circumstances were not ones that interested this outlet. I felt dirty being a conduit for this sort of journalism. It put me in a position to not be as empathetic and respectful as I wanted to be. There was a certain prying ruthlessness to this story, to the way I was forced to report it, and to the way I ended up reporting it based on my own shortcomings and limitations. Luckily this source was very gracious and understanding, but I felt like the final story was a disgusting example of how the media preys on pain and suffering to advance its own agenda and, honestly, for entertainment value (no matter how bleak the subject matter). I hope never to be in this position again. I promised myself that I'd never work for these people again. But they came calling again recently, and I worry that I won't be able to turn down more work from them given my financial situation as a freelancer.
Allowed someone to trust me when I knew I was going to present them in print in an unflattering light.
James Frey–type things … Changing seemingly small details to make a story stronger.
The few pieces I regret were the result of feeling pressure to go too fast, and thus oversimplifying, sensationalizing, or not conveying nuance.
Hmmmm ... Years ago I one time said someone called someone else racist. He said many racist things but never called the man a racist. I still think about that error and regret it often.
Defining people by their outermost edges.
Sloppiness, not checking my facts.
Sensationalizing a nothing story because there was nothing else to cover.
I've ignored stories because I know they offend our advertisers.
Was in Flint for a politics story and heard multiple people talk about how the water was toxic. Didn't follow up.
As a News Manager, worrying too much about the money side of the business.
I haven't committed a significant sin in journalism, not beyond the my fair share of corrections I've had to submit … but my name is on each of those, so I've atoned for those sins.
Didn't look for a second source to verify information.
I almost always end up saying "yes" when people ask me if they could go off the record.
You might not like this answer, but the only, only thing that I worry about in this career are my ethics. I have never done anything, and I mean it, that would come anywhere close to being a sin. If I had, I would have quit. I know this—he's the husband of my wife's cousin—who regaled us and himself with the hilarious story of how he lied to get his job as a journalist, making shit up about his qualifications, and while everyone was yukking it up, I thought, "How ironic." I don't like him as much, but he's family, so I'm stuck with him.
Parroting press-release info.
14. Overall, the media’s job is to (note: Most of you probably think both are true; check the one you most agree with):
- Respond to the interests of readers.
- Tell readers what they ought to or need to know, regardless of their interest in the subject.
15. Do you think the media helped create Donald Trump?
16. During the primary, did Trump get too much or too little coverage?
- Too much. He was given way more airtime than he deserved, which was detrimental to the other candidates.
- Just right. He was a serious candidate with a huge base. The story deserved the coverage it got.
- Too little. Sure, he got a lot of airtime. But there wasn’t enough scrutiny of his platform and record early on.
17. Do you agree with Trump that the media is biased against him?
They're biased against him even more than against most Republicans because there just is no rational explanation for the things he says. Reporters will never accept someone who's allergic to fact.
Complicated. The media is biased against his content but biased in favor of his theatrics.
This is a tough one. Trump, like a lot of people these days, sees objectivity as bias—you don't support him, so you must oppose him, and thus you are biased against him. Coverage has been fair, considering he is who and what he is.
I think that Trump is a master manipulator, and master salesman. He's intriguing and appears interesting. He certainly is a different sort of candidate. So it makes sense that the media like everyone else was drawn to him. However, from day one he should have been asked the hard questions, and if he didn't address questions, report that avoidance as part of the reporting instead of making his answers seem normal. Then the media could have shut him down. The view of him would have been more insightful than sensational.
The words "agree with Trump" are so repugnant to me that I wouldn't agree with him that the sky is blue. The media created him and enabled him, then woke up too late to the monster they created.
It's impossible to be unbiased as much as I believe in objectivity. And in this particular case, I think this man is a detriment to society and anything any person can do to stop him is worth it (within reason).
I think it's pretty clear that conventional wisdom among journalists is that Trump is a scary maniac.
Good, decent people are probably biased against Trump, yes, but that doesn't mean that whatever facts they're reporting are inherently less meaningful.
The media is biased in favor of *covering* him rather than not; the substance of that coverage has proven relatively unimportant.
If we're talking about mainstream media, which is no doubt mostly liberal, absolutely.
He can do his own media.
Certain (many) journalists are playing gotcha with him, but media executives can't get enough.
Because it's impossible to agree with a narcissistic liar about anything at all.
Not nearly enough scrutiny of claims.
I agree, but that doesn't mean I think the bias is wrong.
The media reacts to him more because he says more polarizing things more often than the other candidate(s). That doesn't mean they're biased against him. They'd do the same with any candidate who spouted the epic volume of nonsense that he does.
Journalists mostly hate him, but he has figured out ways to overcome this or disable its effects, mostly by brazenly lying and/or talking over objections.
I think I'd turn this around to say that the media is biased against Trump supporters. It's too easy to dismiss them as uninformed or ignorant. Many that I've spoken with are quite eloquent and make a compelling case why Trump is their candidate.
Insofar in that the media is biased against falsehoods, then yes.
"Biased against him" because the media are generally "biased against" egregious ignorance, bigotry, and megalomania in public figures.
There was too much coverage of Trump, much of it gawking or negative, and it seemed as though this merely contributed to the sense of self-righteous indignation fueling him and his supporters.
He's a candidate who creates news with an asymmetrical warfare approach, one aimed at getting tons of earned media by being purposely provocative on a daily basis. The mainstream media was not equipped to deal with that. So outlets covered his controversial remarks, as he knew they would, in a survey fashion—and when, too late in the game, media outlets began probing those remarks and policies more deeply and analytically, Trump protested that he was being treated unfairly. Bullshit.
I think reporters kind of secretly adore him. He's so fascinating.
He's been treated like a cartoon, which at first seemed warranted, but he is a human being, and I'm interested in that part.
Many journalists don't like him, but journalism has been carefully calibrating its coverage of him, privately and publicly debating whether or not they have been balanced and fair, given him too little or too much coverage, etc.
The media, particularly lately, has been fair about his awful ideas, and its focus on Beltway conventional wisdom that didn't match reality created the hole he waltzed right into. So in a sense they created him, but not by overcovering him, by undercovering the rest of the country.
Clearly, they think he is a fascinating subject, hence all the free coverage he's gotten. While liberal newscasters may not agree with him, they would not talk about him so much if they were biased against him.
I'm young—not yet 30—but I've never witnessed such gloves-off, screw-objectivity reporting across the spectrum. My biggest fear (besides him actually being elected) is that Trump has moved the needle on our threshold of what is acceptable reporting. Outlets such as NPR, which typically bite their tongues as they attempt to remain neutral, have blatantly charged their Trump commentary with bitter distaste. I'm not saying this type of rhetoric isn't warranted—it is—but it worries me that the already fading fabric of objective journalism has been irreparably shredded.
I've yet to meet a reporter who had more than a grudging respect for Trump. Yet the owners and managers of TV news are so obviously biased in favor of giving Trump a megaphone that it doesn't matter.
The media is biased [toward] Trump's PRESENCE, because he is, in fact, the perfect subject. Maybe more fitting to call him the most inexhaustible and complete subject in politics since Reagan: You can write about him as a figure of glamour or terror, as serious or satirical, as a gaffe machine or a great performer, as present and innovative or buffonish and authoritarian. You can throw fact-checking-explainers at him or deep dives or psychological profiles or think pieces or parodies and he can keep giving you more material.
We're also biased against plagues and recessions. The media treated Trump differently from other candidates because he is different. As stated above, I think bias is mostly a canard—it exists but it's not one of the real problems with journalism.
The media is biased for money. We need it. Right now he brings it. It's a disgusting but necessary relationship.
The media is probably biased against ANYONE running for president. Our job is to look for the pitfalls in anyone running for the nation's highest office. We owe it to the public.
What evidence is there for the assertion that the media is biased against Trump? It is a statistical fact that they covered him disproportionately. He thinks everyone who doesn't slobber over him is biased against him, like Judge Curiel. This is just silly.
Cable news, which contains both the most dogged journalists and the dumbest news judgment, gave him a massive gift by streaming his rallies.
Let me explain: The media is placed in a position where it has to report on a racist, sexist, incendiary personality seeking a high political perch. If we are to fairly assess and communicate to readers what he's all about, there's no way he'd walk away feeling flattered.
With good fucking reason. And by the way, in your e-mail you touch on the monolithic aspect of the use of the term "the media," yet you're employing it in exactly that same way. In question 15, "the media" in that scenario is "Page Six" back in his playboy days and reality television later. Did the sober, printed press create him? No, not as much, until his 2016 run forced some hands. So that question is flawed a little.
18. In the last several weeks, many media outlets have become increasingly aggressive in calling out Trump’s inaccuracies—sometimes even taking the unprecedented step of correcting them in the middle of a sentence. What responsibility do journalists have in covering Trump?
- The same one they have in covering any other candidate. This shift reeks of media bias.
- His lies are so outrageous they demand this tougher fact-checking standard.
19. Do you think too much of the media is in the tank for Hillary Clinton and would hold back on reporting negative news about her campaign or her past?
20. President Obama has said that “too often, there is enormous pressure on journalists to fill the void and feed the beast with instant commentary and Twitter rumors and celebrity gossip and softer stories. And then we fail to understand our world or understand one another as well as we should.” Do you agree?
It's a reality that we have to address. We just have to do a better job at upholding what our job/mission is.
Yes, but coming from a president who has cracked down on whistleblowers far more harshly than George W. Bush, he's not exactly helping matters.
That may be true of some outlets, but to ascribe that to all of journalism is wrong. It's also outrageously hypocritical of Obama to criticize the press when his administration has done so much to harm press freedom.
It's a reductive comment; it's much more complex an issue.
Compare American readership to that of the rest of the world. In any other country, citizens consume serious journalism. We need to do the same. Which means that it is incumbent upon us to serve up hard news and analysis.
But also: Too often, there is an appetite on the part of readers for catchy-but-superficial instant commentary, and a reluctance to engage with deeper takes.
Totally agree, even though the guy who said it is completely unfriendly to the press when it does do its "understand our world" job.
I'm not sure that the volume of media contributes. People still have a choice about what they consume and whether they want to understand one another. I think it might be overly optimistic to assume that that's what people want to achieve when they consume media.
He seems to be talking about cable news here. The media is neither more or less salacious; just more pervasive.
Then again, Obama himself has been really masterful about appealing to Twitter, social media, doing/saying very meme-able things.
The in-depth content is out there if people want to read it. The fluff is in addition to, not instead of.
People are generally intellectually lazy and like Twitter rumors and celebrity gossip. I know because I am a person. The other stuff is there, if people want to read it. There is so much good journalism out there it is overwhelming. It is just that no one cares.
Generally not impressed with arguments along the lines of 'This thing is a distraction from this,' which you will see people making every single day on Twitter. There are always multiple stories of all types in play every single day and it's hard for anything to dominate for long. Plus, people are capable of reading about more than one thing at once.
Some "soft stories" do more to expose people about other worldviews and communities than we give them credit. They're call "human interest" pieces for a reason—because they appeal to our humanity, and that can only be a good thing.
The hot take isn't helping.
I have contempt for this self-serving argument by a man whose administration treats serious, investigative journalism of the country's most important subject—national security—as a potentially criminal act.
The president was kind of insulting when he said that. His White House machine fills the void and feeds the beast with instant commentary, Twitter hilarity, celebrity news, and softer stories.
It's more about a lack of resources to do serious, long-term work, less about feeding the beast, I think.
21. One complaint about the political media is their preference for the horse race over substance. Do you think horse-race journalism is a good thing?
It's generally pretty meaningless, and a lot of the polling it's based on is unreliable.
Literally have we talked AT ALL about policy and substance this election?!!??!?! It's a disservice to voters and our democracy. I wouldn't even call it horse-race coverage. It's high school gossip blog coverage.
Still, the race DOES matter. It just shouldn't be the only thing we cover.
I think the media is in the unique position of being able to make overwhelming information and big ideas interesting and palatable to the average person, and they should work harder at that.
Politics is substantive, so why would we choose the horse race over substance when addressing issues of such grave importance that impacts our lives?
Horse-race journalism fills a void. People need to understand the minutiae of the democratic process. It's not the only good form of campaign coverage, and should be balanced against more macroscopic coverage, but it's part of the equation.
Politics as sport is partly why Trump happened. Though it's more like pro wrestling than horse racing.
Yes, but only when looked at in context with other types of political journalism.
It's what people want. But the world would probably be a better place if what people really wanted was intensive reporting on the implications of candidates' policy positions.
Horse-race journalism is why Trump is the nominee and has yet to explain any actual policies. (Did the other 16 candidates have policies? The news coverage skipped that part.) And why Bernie's ideas were dismissed because he would never win the nomination.
But people love it. Blame the public. Nobody's going to force the public to eat broccoli.
But I don't know how to get around it. The horse-race elements are necessary if you're covering an election (who's ahead and why is relevant and important information), and getting people to slow down and focus on platforms and policies isn't as simple as reducing the horse-race coverage.
Not a fan. This election cycle, it seems out-of-step with what's unfolding before our eyes. How many people feel comfortable telling a pollster that they are voting for Trump?
This question is skewed because "Good" is an odd term. (Everyone will vote No.) But horse-race journalism is as "necessary" as anything else, and relatively balanced by investigation and analysis.
It's not a bad thing inherently, but it is over-privileged in the cable news/internet age; it's like drinking alcohol or eating dessert—fine in moderation.
Within limits. The horse race is what holds reader/viewer interest in an election. It just is, especially in elections that are so long drawn out as American elections. The substance, which is harder to cover, definitely gets drowned out to some extent. But there is a lot of coverage about substance in political campaigns.
Some of it is inevitable, but it's ridiculous how much reporting is done on shit nobody knows the answer to, and how little reporting is done on stuff that is knowable and important for people to know.
A lot of gray area here, not a yes or no question.
There should also be more substantive coverage.
Reality is nuanced. News should be too.
But it's not a terrible thing. Elections are like franchises—media orgs rely on them as grist for coverage and debate.
I think horse-race journalism absolutely has its place, though I don't think it should overwhelm more substantive coverage.
I do, actually, and I think it's worth paying attention to the ways in which more meaningful metaphors can play out in the fast pace of horse-race journalism in ways they might not in slower, more careful—and thus more filtered—coverage. But I think we need both, and we need more of the substance.
In itself it's okay, but there's too much of it and it can reduce politics to sports.
It's mostly inevitable, though, when candidates began declaring their intention to run for president two years out from an election—and especially so when there were so many people running.
Poll after poll is lazy reporting and stupefying for audience.
We have to have fun doing our jobs too. And readers like the horse race in my opinion. Define "substance." If people want, it they can find it.
In-game sports commentary provides more depth and nuance about the action on the field or the court.
Actually kind of neutral on this. Horse race without more substantive coverage is bad, but alongside it, fine.
Horse-race journalism drives substantive reporting.
22. Do you feel pressure to produce stories that bring in a large audience?
I haven't been pushed by any outlet, but more "pushed" in the sense of I know that's better … sucks feeling like good pieces get lost in the vortex of the content bubble … and know that outlets like high-traffic pieces, etc.
It happens every day, particularly when internet news operations are involved. Things like minor car crashes, things involving celebrities, or fairly routine crimes get more attention because they get a lot of page views.
With that said, we are charged with looking at the stories that need to be told and presenting them or framing them in such a way that they are appealing and palatable to our readers. We just have to be more creative and in touch with the pulse of the public we target. Telling the same story over and over again is redundant. I tell my reporters do not ask the same questions that have been asked. Ask questions that may lead you to that but ask questions that reveal more than what's readily tangible. Go for the heart of the story. For instance, why hasn't anyone asked Trump, "Who’s going to run your enterprise if in fact you are elected?" You know you can't do both? Trump the control freak/dictator has not thought about it, I am sure, and if so, he's so egoistical as to think he can do both; that needs to be revealed, because he wants to do the presidency part time. Anyway, you get my drift.
My entire career.
I am a publisher. Readership translates into revenues.
But that doesn't mean those stories can't be good!
I work in journalism education these days, but I do teach a lot about that. I left journalism in 2010, before the glory days of chasing an audience really came through. However, I did pay attention to my traffic every day and made some editorial decisions based on that data.
But I've never worked on anything that was truly a reach (i.e., 40MM uniques a month, or large circ) property.
Of course you want to be read by the most amount of people possible, but since my interests don't usually do a major Venn diagram overlap with what many people seem to be interested in, there's nothing to be done about that. This an age issue which comes most for me in this sort of media conversation since the job has changed so radically over the past 20 years. Many of the questions here are kind of that mode for me, but as an involuntary outlier, that is something you grow used to.
Not a particular incident. My outlet doesn't have pageview quotas like some do. But there's a healthy impulse to produce occasional stories that are popular with readers because that is our bread and butter. Not every story lends itself to popularity, but those that do should be maximized by framing it smartly and with emphasis on story impact.
We should always be seeking large audiences for our work, however worthy it is.
I spent last year writing about substance. This year it's hard to get traction for stories that aren't about Trump.
Virtually every story and the quest for content that will resonant on social media.
I have little interest in Hamilton and would never choose to write about it.
As a freelancer, it can often feel like the only thing I'll be able to get picked up is something sensational.
It's not so much particular incidents. It's just a fact of life that coverage has to be structured with audience growth in mind.
As the major monthly magazine in Texas, I feel the need to write stories that attracts and holds the attention of our conservative readership. I do not attempt this in the political realm (which would be both disingenuous and morally problematic for me), but through stories about Texas music, honest portraits of the working class, and other such cultural topics which, I hope, keep the far right from writing us off as "another liberal rag." That way, when we do publish an article on same-sex marriage or climate change, maybe (and it's a big "M" maybe) some of those readers will tune in.
I want all my stories to reach a large readership, but never in my career has an editor said to me that I didn't do a good job because I didn't get enough page views. If a story fails to connect with the audience, I will perhaps reconsider the way I told the story and wonder if there wasn't a better form in which to tell it. It's a falsehood that people don't read stories with substance, but they certainly don't read boring stories.
It plays out in my life as a freelancer when I am woodshedding ideas. I feel pressured to look for stories related to "hot button" issues rather than being guided solely by interest/importance. I tend to veer toward the latter, anyway, and I am not sure if this explains my middling success.
Every morning, in our daily story conference, we begin by going over the previous day's stats, from reach to engagement. We do that before we discuss journalism. The message that sends, every day, is that our journalism is less important than our stats.
Pressure isn't quite the right word, because I, for a long time, have been free of strict traffic pressures. But I like resonant stories, I want stories to go big, I want them to get attention. And a lot of the stories I did at GQ and Matter—from Edith Zimmerman's Chris Evans cover story to Buzz Bissinger's story of his shopping addiction to Luke Malone's piece on non-offending pedophiles to Zak Stone's story about his father dying in an Airbnb to Clemantine Wamariya's memoir of escaping Rwanda—went big because they were good, original, provocative. They weren't engineered to go big.
As a freelancer I'm fortunately free of some of that pressure that I know my colleagues on staff frequently face. I feel that most of the time I'm able to pursue stories that interest me and that the editors who accept them do the worrying about what kind of audience they attract.
As I understand it, our website's goal is to publish timely, important stories that also drive traffic. Not every story will have that potential or ability, naturally, but it's been important to us to have roughly half the stories be ones that at least have the potential to get a fair amount of readership. This doesn't necessarily mean only fluff, fun, or clickbait, though it does privilege stories that might be sensational or newsy or absurd in some way (i.e., stories about racism, sex, drugs, "Game of Thrones," and Donald Trump seem to do well for our site, as well as many other sites, including Vulture and New York Mag, for instance).
I am blessed to have the support of my management on a story that does require reporting the incremental and doesn't draw great attention.
We focus more on what reaches our target viewer now than we ever have in my 20 years in this business.
Well, I mean, we're not operating in a vacuum. Without the readers, we don't exist. I believe in the concept of serendipity in the experience of reading a newspaper. A reader may not even be aware of an issue that affects him until he stumbles across it while leafing through the paper or scrolling around a site. Why was he reading the paper or the site in the first place? Because he saw a story there that drew in his interest, or did at some time in the past, and you don't spark a reader's interest or curiosity without bringing your best work. So, a particular incident, no. A general demand for excellence to further the art? Sure.
23. Have you ever felt pushed to make your story more sensational or to fit a narrative you didn’t agree with?
A lot of times when it's happening, you don't quite realize it until you see it in print. But it happens constantly.
It's uncommon, and generally isn't political. Usually it has to do with a senior editor thinking they have all the answers and being unwilling to see other perspectives, or in falling for pack journalism and wanting a story done because others were doing it.
There were times when I clearly touched a third rail and an editor tried to skew a story away from a particular point I had made, and toward an established narrative.
This happened all the time at the major newspaper I worked at. The closer the story got to the front page, the more editorial hands would try to sharpen it beyond the point of defensibility.
Well, maybe I have, but I've also managed to get those stories killed.
My editor had never heard of an artist, so I was asked to write as though the reader had never heard of the artist either.
Immediate coverage after terror attacks or plane crashes that is too speculative without much substance to work with.
Back in local TV days I remember being told to promote a big storm barreling up the coast. When I pointed out that it wasn't going to hit us, I was told, it would bring viewers in …
It happens all the time. Specific offenders in the last couple of years: an editor at Time; and editor at Foreign Affairs; an editor at Esquire. I should note that the last editor was later able to listen and change his approach entirely, but it is still telling than his first instinct was to take the story I had reported and change it to fit his expectations.
I often write about race, and there's always a bit of pressure to position conversations/arguments alongside whatever's going on right now. I don't know that this feels "sensationalistic," but it feels unique to these kinds of assignments.
Not exactly. My story was not forced to fit a narrative that wasn't true or that I didn't agree with. But a freelance piece was published with a different headline than the one I thought it would get—it was a headline that was much grabbier, sensationalized, and not entirely reflective of the thrust of my story, in order to serve as clickbait. It worked—the story was one of the most popular on the large national website that day, but I wonder how many readers felt cheated or misled when they clicked on it and actually read the story.
Yes, but I killed the story. It was about a couple rappers, and it was supposed to run as a shortish thing, but then at the last minute they wanted it to be longer, more like an in-depth profile about music and rap and race and a bunch of stuff I didn't know enough about, if I'm remembering right, and I felt overwhelmed and completely in over my head, and that I was going to mess it up and embarrass myself, and the magazine, and probably people I couldn't even think of, so I asked if it could be tabled indefinitely. Another time, the same magazine wanted me to sum up a different music genre's current status in a paragraph and it was also impossible for me, and the story ended up running very abridged, fortunately. That was the last time I wrote for them. These and other reasons made me quit journalism, at least for magazines and things for other people. I'm not good at it, I don't want to do it, there is so much guesswork and faking, or at least there would have been from me, that I didn't want to do it. Who am I to tell anyone else's story, etc. I know it's important and useful, I just realized that is not something I enjoy or feel comfortable doing.
I am not overly anti–Wall Street or pro–Wall Street but have felt pushes both ways from various editors—e.g., screw the banks, they're just looking for a way to get over everyone, or suppressing stories because they would hurt the banks.
Hamilton Hamilton Hamilton.
Some editors like to cook, and sometimes the ugly truth is that they want a story dumbed down. The uglier truth is there are times when that's appropriate.
See my previous account about the "sin." The outlet I was working for was only interested in a specific sort of story about one particular problem in America. The parts of the story that didn't fit into that narrative were discarded.
But does boiling down a nuanced story into a less-nuanced but grabby headline count?
Mostly it's a matter of packaging—sexing up a headline, not the story itself.
There's one particular editor at my paper who fits this stereotype. There used to be more. We've downsized and fewer editors have the luxury of fiddling with the facts.
When I was at a political newspaper in 2008, there was a desire to play up your findings in the lead to make it seem like more of a scoop. There was just a general sense that if you found, say, a very slight lean of a group of voters in one direction, you should—or your editor would—portray it as really significant, when in reality you maybe just had too small a sample size, or whatever. Also their desire for objectivity meant that there was pressure to come up with stories that made it seem like Republicans were doing well, even though that particular campaign cycle was looking bad for them from the very start because of Bush's unpopularity.
24. Have you ever had a story you wanted to pursue rejected because editors believed it was worthy but wouldn’t appeal to a large enough audience?
Our Catholic churches are struggling with race issues within the congregation. Deemed too much "insider baseball."
We have a series where we interview people of great success in their particular field. We used to cover lesser-known people, but the directive shifted to try and attract a wider audience. Now we need big names. I've suggested Academy Award–winning cinematographers or top-notch American chefs, but they've been pushed away because they are not big-enough, household names.
Who hasn't? Damn shortsighted editors!
A piece on Chloe and Halle. The magazine wrote it later.
Hasn't every journalist had this experience? I've had the opposite problem, where editors above me pushed a story that was dead, dead, dead.
I've had a lot of pitches rejected re: Wall Street coverage because the editors felt what I was pitching was too esoteric, or didn't understand the implications of the story because they weren't familiar enough with what was happening in the finance sector.
That's just part of being a journalist. We all feel passionate about things. I always feel vindicated when I see another outlet has picked it up. When I feel especially passionate, I bring it up again.
It happens too often to describe any one incident.
Concern about audience size isn't necessarily bad. But I do feel certain minority groups or affinity groups get shafted when it comes to coverage, as race is often understood as black/white and gender/sexuality as male/female.
Let's see. Editors' responses have included, e.g.: "We already did a big piece on Africa this year," "We need a more relatable main character," etc.
Yeah, I wanted to write about what I thought was the most amazing video on YouTube, which is about these amazing spiders in Australia, and about the man who discovered them, and who took videos of them and set the videos to music, and uploaded the videos without fanfare or special titles to his site. I wanted to write about this one particularly wonderful video, and how it is to me an embodiment of the greatest part of being alive, but also about the spiders and the man from Australia, and about the way we share information and learn about the natural world, and I thought I could do it in an interesting way, and I so pitched it to this dude, but he said no. I could still do it, but I really want to go to Australia for it, and that is probably why no one would be like "Yeah, great idea, go now."
Usually "no one cares" means it is not worthy of the time/effort required—both of which are finite and need to be allocated intentionally.
Polar bears turned cannibalistic by global warming! What a story! Alas, no editor has appreciated my journalistic brilliance on this score. To be fair, I have lots of ideas I love that editors rightly recognize as better suited for a literary journal, or maybe a long email to a friend. They're right a lot of the time. But they're also wrong a lot of the time. I wanted to write about tar sands long before The New Yorker did the story—every editor I spoke with dismissed it. Editors dismissed my interest in Uganda's murderous anti-gay campaign on the grounds that we couldn't get Americans to care about anything in Africa, so I wrote it anyway for a book and then published an excerpt—which became a big story. In general, I think readers have interest in and tolerance for a much wider range of subjects than editors allow them.
I am the editor, not the writer. But yes, sometimes we don't do stories because the expense/time versus the expected audience ratio doesn't work. I don't think this is a bad thing per se—it is quite possible for all sorts of serious material to find a large audience.
I have long wanted to write about the Migrant Project, a group of forensic scientists working to identify the remains of migrants who died crossing the Texas-Mexico border. I've gotten permission to write the piece for the web, but, I think in part because of how politicized border stories (even humanitarian-based) are viewed in Texas, the pitch has been ignored by the print editors.
My ongoing coverage of the screwed up Sandy recovery wasn't generating "enough clicks."
Usually positive community news is shunned in favor of easier-to-cover crime news.
Oh, just about things (often books coverage) that were viewed as too niche or didn't draw enough traffic.
That's called pitching. It happens every day. Not a new thing.
There was more of this before the advent of the web. Now, frankly, if you're willing to work hard enough and put in the hours, you can get those so-called "marginal stories" edited and posted.
Infrastructure stories about roads and bridges often get passed up.
Again, at the same political newspaper, I was directly told that it was not worth doing a story on just what candidates propose to do about a substantive issue. There had to be some sexy political hook.
No, I can't describe one specific incident, but those kinds of decisions—resources vs. return on investment—are part of every newsroom now. For example, a few times I've mentioned to my senior editor that I'd love to cover the wrongful-incarceration beat. (It's becoming a thing now.) He looked at me like I was high. Is this an area that demands attention? Yes. Is there a media outlet that will make it its business to do that? Nope.
25. Whom do you feel the most pressure to keep happy?
- My audience.
- My advertisers.
- My sources.
- My boss.
As a freelancer, you are absolutely at the mercy of the editorial staff and you have zero leverage. And as publications rely more and more on freelancers, that could be a very bad thing.
This being said, I always consult with my publisher. She may disagree with the way I say things and will ask that I find a gentler way to say or make my point. Most of the time she leaves me be. There was one time that she asked me not to run something I had written. I didn't publish it.
Media is in such tight straits that editors and publishers are often of split consciousness, simultaneously trying to make money and do "good journalism." This leads to contorted reasoning that makes it hard to know what they want.
I'm new to my position, so how our publisher views my job is huge right now. Hoping this will change over time.
I constantly find myself struggling to separate "what I want to write" and "what people want to read." I'm not sure what the difference is, sometimes. But I think taking on the occasional passion assignment is part of staying happy, even if it's 6,000 words on Incan pottery.
My first dedication is to the truth—of a story, of a place, of my subjects. Everyone else comes after that.
In the very hierarchical world of magazine editorial, you edit for your boss.
I used to think audience but then an advertiser complained about my audience-friendly story/reporting and I quickly learned that audience enjoyment is vastly less important than potential loss of advertiser revenue.
Everything else is a balance. I've been on the publishing side and the editorial side, and at the most senior level, you always have to balance public interest with audience demands and your ability to monetize. The balance can always tilt in one direction, but it's rarely static.
I feel pressure every day to know what's up on my beat globally, nationally, and locally and to present that in a way that readers can understand and apply to their lives. I feel least happy if I have to cut corners or scale back on covering the news that I know is most important.
Ultimately, the only way to be able to get you or your staff to do the kind of stories that you feel are important is to make sure that you are hitting baseline targets. Once you do that, the pressure (and scrutiny) pulls back a bit and you can pursue other less slam-dunk stories (whether because they are more important though less glamorous, or a small topic that a writer is passionate about). You could argue that in order to hit those baseline targets, you also need to keep feeding your audience, but ultimately if your boss isn't happy, you'll often be pushed to grab for the most mainstream, trending topics, with little room to stretch.
I am a freelancer and lucky enough to be able to do only the stories I want.
Nothing sexy: As an employee, my job is to keep my editor (and those above him/her) engaged in my work and confident that I'm producing work that is up to expectations. This includes producing stories that connect with readers and which advance public understanding on my beat.
I'm in a pretty particular position as an investigative editor, where the goal is really to produce quality high-impact work. It's a bit of an anomaly.
I think if I'm having fun, it'll show. And vice versa.
I will do a different job if I don't feel like I am doing this one well. I don't think good journalism necessarily makes anyone happy. Your boss will always want more, your audience will always think you are biased, your sources will feel picked on, advertisers should not factor in. My responsibility is to dig up important things and tell people about them, whether or not it is convenient for everyone.
Ultimately my boss wants to burnish the brand by keeping it in the news and receiving awards.
Sort of for lack of a better answer. I don't think I feel this pressure.
Myself, my boss, my audience about equally really. :o)
I trust my bosses. If they're happy, I'm probably happy, too.
I'm a foreigner working in this country, and I'd like to stay here.
I need to feel like I am doing good, worthy work to stay motivated in a hard job.
My boss and myself. My boss doesn't pressure me at all. But I still worry about bosses generally. And if I don't write at least several things I like a week, then I don't feel very good about things.
Anyone can be replaced. Editors do the replacing.
I feel like I don't always have the confidence to totally not care about what the sources feel or think. I guess that's a pretty normal human response, especially in situations when the sources are giving of themselves for my benefit. I try hardest to override these emotions in situations when the sources are powerful people or representatives of powerful people.
My boss is at the top of the list. Thankfully I like and trust him. I feel pressure from myself second, my audience and sources tied for third. I couldn't give a shit about advertisers.
Generally, I find I put myself under more pressure than editors or readers do. But of course, to make a living as a freelancer, I have to keep all of these constituencies in mind.
I am my hardest critic. What I do is very important. I wish I had more time.
All of the above except advertisers.
We are the agent of our readers. Period.
26. Have you ever felt like you were unfair to a subject?
Yes, but only by using information that appeared to be good and accurate but later proved to be wrong.
Not me personally but some of my writers have not presented the two sides or three as fairly as they could have. I am always addressing this issue and demanding that they go back and present the sides fairly, let the facts reveal or tell the story because they do and will.
I was stalked, threatened, and harassed by a national-security figure that I had written about, but on orders from my editor did not pursue the matter or write about it further. The public interest dictated that this story be known, and so I consider it unfair to not have presented these facts about him to the public.
A subject? No. A source? Sure. It's not the same thing.
Several times, fixed with corrections.
I neglected to get the porn king of New York Michael Lucas's side of an Airbnb lawsuit.
There were a few times where a source thought a story angle was going one way only to read the story with a different angle. I never burned a source, however.
When I was at a small snarky paper in town, attitude was prized by editors. I feel like I was needlessly shitty a couple times to score points internally, yeah.
When I was just starting out, I think I had less compassion for people who made dumb public mistakes that had no consequences to anyone but themselves. (Not surprisingly, I was doing a lot of entertainment journalism.) I can't think of an instance where I was blatantly unfair, but there were times when I was too harsh.
Pairing real people with experts can tip the scales sometimes … Always mindful of making sure that the guests can hold their own.
I worry about it all the time.
I've definitely listened to someone talk and thought, "This person is so full of shit." But I've tried not to let that interfere with my interviewing or writing.
Of course one always tries not to be and one always is—hours of conversation represented by a single quote!
We all make mistakes. Especially early in my career, when I was investigating somebody, I'd decide too early on the narrative and fit the facts into that narrative.
Not intentionally, only in retrospect, as other facts came to light.
Yes, because I was getting into territory I didn't know enough about, but this is that story I asked to kill. And then I quit journalism.
Usually this is a sense I get after the fact. In the moment, an angle or take or approach seems fair and accurate; later, in the harsh daylight, I realize I caricatured or warped something, swept up in the moment and narrative.
If you're going to write something not nice about someone, it should always have a big payoff in terms of knowledge added to enhance the greater good—not just because it's a good story. I think I've adhered to that *most* of the time.
If I don’t give them enough lead time to know they are being written about. An hour is not really enough.
Not me personally, but in a world where young writers produce content at high volume and are sometimes unsupervised, inevitably lines are occasionally crossed.
I worry about it enough in the process that I really don't remember any time that I screwed anyone over. They all had it coming.
Fuck that, no. People can be babies. Especially the people I cover.
Only in retrospect, but you regret the calls you didn't make, as well as the careless phrase that carries an unintended meaning.
I've been doing daily journalism for more than ten years. How could I not have second-guessed whether I was fair enough a few times?
I cover the military, and there have been really terrible spokesmen who won't go to their bosses to get a meaningful answer to a serious question. I have not been able to get around these really terrible spokesmen, and so I've had to put in a declined comment or did not respond—despite serious efforts to get the spokesmen to engage. I think in the end I was unfair to the subject, but I don't know any way around it.
From time to time I've thought in hindsight I didn't represent a subject's opinions accurately or thoroughly enough. Happens rarely but happens.
Almost never—I can only think of one or two occasions.
I'm a blogger! When I'm in a bloggish argument, I'm arguing a side, it's not my job to be fair and balanced. The balance comes in the synthesis of all of the blog posts, all of the sides of the argument.
Unfair? I've been contentious at times when I knew I was getting worked, but did I ever slip a shiv in them in a story? No. I'm not Walter Annenberg.
27. Are journalists more cynical about the world than their readers?
No. It makes us dark and jaded. And hard to generate genuine outrage when it's really worthy
No, but we do often see what they don't given our various beats or assignments.
Yes, being cynical means you'll ask the tough questions.
There's a reason your Facebook friends are happier than your Twitter follows.
No. I want my readers to be cynical and questioning and engaged.
Yes. I don't want to read Pollyannas.
No, because they are often too quick to judge or dismiss.
I think journalists need to be more skeptical than their readers, but that shouldn't turn into kneejerk cynicism.
Journalists [are] far less cynical. Journalism is about cynicism towards those trying to present a certain false narrative and about being wildly enthusiastic about the stuff you like. It is the moron, close-minded public that is the problem.
Yes, I think being cynical helps bring a skeptical eye to the issue being covered.
I think that too often "cynical" is used as a synonym for "realistic" (and usually by politicians). To look at those in power (or those seeking it) with a skeptical eye is our job, and if we emerge dubious about the facts, that's not cynical—no matter what the receivers of the dubiousness may say.
How will this not be 100 percent yes?
Sometimes. It's the nature of the job—we see the underbelly of how policy and law gets made, and how decisions get made, and the connections that exist in the world. We also see the same problems and mistakes repeated time and again. That gives you a somewhat jaded perspective, but it also means, over time, that you're hopefully not as naïve about how things work. It also runs the danger of being dismissive about the unsavory side of how things sometimes work in the world.
It's neither good nor bad, it's an inevitable result of covering the news.
And if they're not, they damn well ought to be.
No. The older ones in the game certainly are more cynical and sometimes it hinders their ability to be hopeful or, maybe, talk to new sources because too much cynicism can be offputting.
Journalists should be skeptical. Cynical is the next best thing.
I think skepticism is built into the nature of the profession, and that's not a bad thing. But it's easy for reporters to lapse into a sort of in-group skepticism of everything, and that can distort reality.
I'm not sure, but it's inevitable. When your job is to contextualize this latest tragedy with all the others, it can become dehumanizing.
Well, I think too many reporters think only bad news is news.
Probably. But journalists come from all walks of life and can be particularly weird.
I have no way of judging in aggregate how cynical my readers are. Read my "no" as "I don't know."
It's better to assume things are not what they seem. Time and again, we find proof that they're not. Or, rather, we find proof that they're exactly as bad as they seem. And it's better to have some people around who see things being just as bad as they truly are.
I think it's more of a maybe than anything. Journalists are the ones asking the questions and who have the access to sources and stories and platform to deliver those stories to a larger readership. So, yes, I think it's part of their/our job to be skeptical and to see and know more than the average reader. Knowledge of how the sausage is made can make you cynical, sure, but it can also make you more optimistic, too, that you can make a difference and effect change by throwing a light on important stories that aren't getting covered.
The ones I know are, but again: Journalists are people.
Neither good nor bad. We've seen enough to be cynical.
No, not a good thing but a natural by-product of covering so much corruption, crime, and slime.
Especially not about themselves.
Yes, I do. Do you want hayseeds trying to make sense of life and death and war and cops and politics, of sadness and joy? No, you need someone who's been cut up once or twice and isn't going to let it happen again.
28. What is the biggest story of the past ten years that you believe the media missed or undercovered?
Climate change. It's got to be our fault that consensus was so slow to form.
Brexit is one. Not after it happened, but before. The U.S. media was so focused on the presidential race, there was shockingly little about one of the potentially biggest events to happen in Europe in decades.
The disappearing middle class.
The huge gaps in serving mentally ill children in this country.
2008 financial crisis and its aftermath.
Concentration of wealth/power in Silicon Valley.
The impact of Obama's election/presidency on the resurgence of obnoxious racism expressed through verbal expression, demonstration, and violence
The exact nature of the financial crisis and the failure to hold anyone accountable for it, thus ensuring another one. Also most any international story not involving the U.S. directly.
SYRIA and anything to do with NASA.
Everyday life conditions that lead to situations like Ferguson, Missouri.
I guess the housing crisis.
The intelligence leading up to the war in Iraq.
Continued lack of progress to combat climate change.
All of them. Maybe financial crisis, rage of working class, femicide across the globe.
Connecting the dots between bad public policies and underinformed policy-makers.
I feel like I should say the Iraq War, but I read everything in the media at that time and felt like I got a good picture of its insanity. But maybe nobody else did?
What an idiot Scalia was.
Women's rights in America.
The need for health-care reform.
How about the last 12 months: Robert and Michael Bever.
Health-care costs and administration, still a disaster and should be addressed more.
The housing bubble.
What globalization meant for the middle class (death of manufacturing etc.).
Ten years? Dunno. But Brexit and Donald Trump's psychopathy would be up there.
The 2008 financial crisis. I don't think the media ignored it, they just didn't understand how far-reaching the implications were.
The financialization of the world economy.
Global response to climate change.
Refugee crisis … We report on it, then drop it like a hot potato until something "better" comes along.
I'm a health reporter, so I think the doom of looming antibiotic collapse has been undercovered or not covered in a way that has forced change.
The negative domestic impacts of globalization and automation and the inability or unwillingness of the U.S. political economy to adjust to maintain overall fairness and functionality.
Climate-change deniers, which grows out of a larger skepticism toward institutions (like "the media")—I guess this is reflective of a general lack of self-awareness about what we do, how our work circulates in the world, etc.
1. The global refugee crisis. Covered late and insufficiently. 2. Obviously the rise of Black Lives Matter and the explosion of coverage of excessive use of force by police vividly illustrates how profoundly the media had ignored the police violence story until now.
The nuttification of the GOP.
The decreasing prospects for the working class.
THE LOW-FAT DIET IS A CONSPIRACY.
It's hardly a story that the media "missed," but I think we've persistently undercovered race issues and missed the biggest problems (police brutality! White grievance!) until they were shoved in front of our faces.
Health implications stemming from widespread gun ownership (i.e., guns falling into the wrong hands and being responsible for suicides and accidental deaths).
Financial crisis. No WMD in Iraq.
This has been covered, but not with the kind of nuance it requires: The growing distrust in the Muslim world and the Middle East toward the U.S. in the wake of the Iraq War.
The steadily worsening condition of workers, blue collar or white.
David Daleiden's undercover expose of Planned Parenthood. Totally dismissed by mainstream media.
The downsides of the explosion of gambling and casinos.
Police violence. That's been rectified somewhat, but the initial impetus was citizens and activists. Without Twitter, police violence doesn't get covered.
Science—from major breakthroughs in astronomy, genetics, health, and quantum physics to the dire revelations about climate change.
The media needs to write a lot more about the role PTSD plays in generational poverty and violence in America's cities. I also think we need to reconsider how we respond to company data—i.e., the data showing GMOs aren't harmful, or that pesticides aren't wiping out bees—are produced by the GMO and pesticides companies themselves. Then we get lectures from the media on why opposition to GMOs is "anti-science." For that matter, we need to report on science the same way we do federal government or city hall: Science is driven by funding and rife with politics, so it is as corrupt and fallible as every other human enterprise.
Corporate running/ruining of Congress.
U.S. police brutality.
You can't say that climate or inequality are undercovered, but we're still bad at covering them. Climate especially is almost impossible to assign exciting, resonant, convincing, human work around.
Political corruption, regardless of party affiliation of the subject.
State-sanctioned violence against black and brown people in America.
The rise of BuzzFeed. Or Syria.
In an odd way, it's Donald Trump. The real Donald Trump.
Racism in Hollywood and media only seems to have become a big story since Travyon Martin and Black Lives Matter and #OscarsSoWhite. Now, thankfully, they are finally becoming stories, though the playing field is still far from level. Corruption on Wall Street and by the one percent still seems to not be a big story. Climate change gets talked about, but the current legislation seems ineffectual and general public awareness dim.
For-profit colleges and student debt.
Climate change—however much we're covering it, we should be covering it more. If it were up to me, it would be the top story every day.
The prevalence of police abuse of power in routinized, daily ways, especially in communities of color.
The expansion of Executive powers.
New Orleans levee breaches and how they could have been prevented.
Collapsing faith in every institution.
Global warming. Underreported.
The struggles of the LGBT community.
The rise of populism.
The shift in capital to greater concentrations in world power centers through liberalized trade policies, pretty much anything having to do with the environment, and wrongful incarceration/DNA testing.
Saudi involvement in 9/11. We're just getting caught up with it now.
Early questioning and criticism of the Iraq War.
Growth of income inequality.
29. What is the most overcovered story of the past ten years, in your view?
Coverage of mass shootings that don't add anything new.
Celebrity gossip in all forms.
Kim Kardashian. All celebrity news, actually.
Clinton scandals, from Benghazi to emails.
Terrorist threats against the U.S.
Too many to choose from. Any and all "culture wars" narrative, for one.
O.J. Simpson (bit more than ten years).
Kardashians. If you could even call them a "story."
Hillary Clinton's emails.
Climate change. Sadly, all that coverage hasn't done much good.
Celebrity news of any kind.
'Entitlements,' which received way too much attention overall and too little in what could be actually done to reform it (health-care costs?).
The Casey Anthony trial.
Not sure. There were a lot of dumb conspiracies that got more airtime than they should: Obama's birth certificate, Benghazi and Hillary Clinton, etc.
Prestige TV in general, maybe.
Until he got the nomination, I would say Trump. Transgender bathrooms.
Anything that people are trying to sell, which includes some stuff I actually want to buy.
The story that practitioners relentlessly tell themselves about the "disruptive media landscape," which they seem to believe is in a constant state of turmoil. I've been working in the media for 25 years, and at no point was some pundit or consultant not declaring the media sky is falling.
It's already Donald Trump.
The horse race.
Celebrities, but whatever. There's probably no answer to this. Oh, but things that "give you cancer." Health stories where the foundation is always shifting. Except for the low-fat diet being a lie.
Really anything to do with politics.
Ebola has to be up there. Or the missing plane.
The rise of social media. It's an important thing, obviously, but when each new big event is deemed "the [insert name of new company here] revolution," it gets a little tiresome.
Celebrity deaths, particularly Michael Jackson and Prince. 24/7 updates about cause of death are not necessary.
Millennials. Nothing to see here. Move along.
Any presidential election
Hillary Clinton's emails. There might be something bigger from five years ago, but this is what's top of mind right now.
Cheap answer: Kanye/Kardashians and papal visits.
The presidential elections.
Missing blond women.
Missing airplanes (hello CNN?).
The media business itself.
Fake celebrities à la Kardashian. This is a flea on American society.
Trump. It's an important story, but it really does seem to dominate everything.
I just saw "Weiner" so I'm gonna go with that, but as a synecdoche for the way certain stories become the biggest story in the world not because they're important because they're inherently coverable—flavorful, good visuals, ready jokes, etc.
I've only worked in media for four years.
Impossible to say.
Trends among wealthy urbanites.
ISIS. They're not as big of a threat as many other boring things.
Gentrification. From reading the press, including New York Magazine, you'd think all of NYC and vast swaths of other cities are fully gentrified. In fact, most of NYC—even most of Brooklyn and much of upper Manhattan—remains predominantly non-white and lower-income. And then in cities like Cleveland, gentrification is a tiny speck in a sea of ongoing white flight and economic struggles. The media loves counterintuition so, "tiny urban neighborhood now full of rich white people" is a story, whereas "rest of city still poor, mostly non-white" is not. Fair enough, but the cumulatively impact has been to mislead.
Future of the media business.
This election campaign.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Brexit? Just kidding. That's a good question. I guess, instead of one story, it would be the celebrity culture, although I'm not sure how much worse it is today than it was in the 1920s or 1930s. Don't know. I'll be thinking about that.
Anything else to add?
One look at the anti-democratic, pro-elitist rhetoric coming out of the Brexit journalism is ample evidence of what's wrong with journalism today. Journalists are writing for each other rather than for the public; the public sees this, and their reaction is unsurprising.
I don't think magazines should be able to compete against newspapers for Pulitzer Prizes.
I could write about this all day, but I've gotta get back to work formulating catchy newsletter subject lines to lure in subscribers!
I think we stay too long on some stories. I lived through the Boston Marathon. Long after there were any news developments, cameras and news crews were in town and there were still front-page stories. The experience has made me more sensitive to thinking about when is it time to leave the scene.
Enjoyed the test. Sort of like maybe how an extraterrestrial sleeper cell feels taking the SAT.
How is Peter Thiel not in the survey?
Let's publicly fund news. :D
I can't reconcile the fact that everyone hates media but also refuses to pay for it.
I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding among younger and/or web journalists about what constitutes good journalism. Long has been conflated with serious. Overwritten has been conflated with good.
Whenever anyone has asked me my political beliefs, I've always said that most reporters hate all politicians equally. While we may have vested social interests in some causes (LGBT, race, women's rights, etc.), we're perfectly capable of being aware of how these issues are manipulated by politicians with their own vested interests. (And, yes, please don't quote me directly on any of this.)
Somebody, anybody, out there, please God try to find a way to make some fucking money. Without it we die, and the country dies right along with us.