Media Oxpecker: What the Journalist Saw

Media news you may have missed while you were busy
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  • It’s been a week full of teachable moments for journalists, and although the specifics and severity of each transgression vary, the common theme is a failure to adhere to the three words that James Fallows says are at the heart of journalism: “I saw this.”

    Fallows was responding to his The Atlantic colleague David Frum’s accusation (which Frum later admitted was false) that the New York Times published a “faked photo” of bloody Gaza residents. But Fallows’ words could easily apply to the many other lapses in judgement by journalists this week:

    People in this business exist to witness, and to report. Those in this business can tell themselves: As a reporter I saw people doing their work, abusing their power, helping their friends, creating their businesses, doing this and that and whatever is significant in the world. I saw this with my own eyes. As a reporter, I heard people, with my own ears, answer questions, explain their views, avoid or embrace the truth. As a reporter, I traveled to see what a city, a prison, a factory, a war zone actually looked like, up close. All reporters get things wrong and have imperfect information and are “unscientifically” swayed by what they happen to observe or miss. But they are generally trying their best to see more …

    But respect is called for. For all their blind spots and flaws, reporters on the scene are trying to see, so they can tell, and the photographic and video reporters take greater risks than all the rest, since they must be closer to the action. For people on the other side of the world to casually assert that they’re just making things up—this could and would drive them crazy. I’m sure that fakery has occurred. But the claim that it has is as serious as they come in journalism. It goes at our ultimate source of self-respect. As when saying that a doctor is deliberately mis-diagnosing patients, that a pilot is drunk in the cockpit, that a lifeguard is purposely letting people drown, you might be right, but you had better be very, very sure before making the claim.

    Erik Wemple responds to Frum’s non-apology, in which Frum cited past instances of doctored photos coming out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

    To which the proper question is, So what? What Frum appears to be saying is that this history of image manipulation contextualizes his decision to tweet repeatedly an Internet-borne conspiracy theory. Indeed, he prefaces his dive into history with this line: “Yet I also think it important to explain my skepticism when presented with such images.” It’s precious that in a post about his credulity, Frum would credit himself with skepticism. That’s precisely what he didn’t exercise here. He trafficked allegations of high journalistic corruption, apparently without ever consulting the people he was accusing.

  • Baseball analyst Jim Bowden consulted his Twitter feed and found a scoop from what turned out to be a fake Twitter account. He then tweeted the “scoop” without attribution, with disastrous results.

  • When BuzzFeed’s Benny Johnson was caught stealing passages from Yahoo Answers without attribution, Dave Weigel says the result was “an unusual coalition of people—liberals, Republican pols, journalists—gloating that BuzzFeed has been caught. At. Last.

    Erik Wemple catalogues all 41 of Johnson’s offending posts.

    Says Jack Shafer, “Disdain the plagiarist because he traffics in the counterfeit. His greatest crime is wasting your time.”

    Plagiarism is not a crime against the journalists whose passages have been stolen. It’s a crime against readers, who have every right to believe that journalists vouch for the copy they serve. By vouch, I mean the journalist has reported or otherwise independently verified the assertions in his copy, or can cite the source that has. I can’t know Johnson’s mind, but perhaps he didn’t cite Yahoo Answers and Wikipedia as sources because he knows how flawed so many of their entries can be and that his editors would reject his copy if he pointed to them — or that if his editors didn’t reject his copy his readers would.

  • In non-plagiarism news, overall revenue at the New York Times remained essentially flat in the 2nd quarter, declining by 0.6 percent, though the overall figures mask a 6.6 percent decline in print ad revenue. Ken Doctor wonders if the recent gains in reader revenue have reached a plateau.

  • Perhaps this is a sign that the old business model is broken and that journalists should strike out on their own and become a “journopreneur” à la Ezra Klein and Nate Silver? Yeah, good luck with that, says former Willamette Week staffer Corey Pein:

    In their long and seemingly hopeless search for answers, journalists have internalized the abusive rhetoric of the “disruption” brigade. Jarvis tells beleaguered journalists that they themselves, the lowly content-serfs—not short-sighted newspaper proprietors, not the Wall Street backers of corporate media conglomerates, not the sociopathic unchecked tech monopolies, not hostile politicians and prosecutors—are to blame for their sudden loss of livelihood. Don’t blame remorseless corporate Vikings like Craig Newmark for killing the news business. Blame old-school reporters like Dana Priest for failing to cultivate their Facebook fanbases … The old media was a vicious and ugly beast, but at least it recognized the value of supporting full-time employees with benefits. In techworld, everyone’s a permalancer.

    To which Ann Friedman counters:

    Even the most wide-eyed media entrepreneur can agree that Google doesn’t care about protecting the Fourth Estate, and Facebook isn’t concerned about bringing more attention to hard-hitting investigative reporting. But the fact is that people find news using search engines and through social media networks. Again, it’s fair to be aware of these tech monopolies’ and platforms’ effect on what news gets reported and shared, but I don’t see how it serves news organizations (both new and established) or consumers to create business models that don’t account for them.

More from this week:

Jason Zaragoza saw all of this on the internet.