News next: a journalism teacher's diary

October 19, 2010

Sex in the Tribune Tower

Under new management, the Tribune executive suite had an Animal House atmosphere, according to The New York Times

The headline got your attention, didn’t it? Sex sells, and that’s undoubtedly why a front page article in The New York Times of Oct. 6 begins with a dirty story.

To set up his tale of how the Tribune Company, proud publisher of the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Baltimore Sun, The Hartford Courant and The Orlando Sentinel, destroyed some of the finest newsrooms in the country and collapsed into bankruptcy, David Carr describes an after-hours gathering of the company’s new chief executive Randy Michaels and some colleagues in a hotel bar.

After Mr. Michaels arrived, according to two people at the bar that night, he sat down and said, “watch this,” and offered the waitress $100 to show him her breasts. The group sat dumbfounded.

“Here was this guy, who was responsible for all these people, getting drunk in front of senior people and saying this to a waitress who many of us knew,” said one of the Tribune executives present, who declined to be identified because he had left the company and did not want to be quoted criticizing a former employer. “I have never seen anything like it.”

Mr. Michaels, who otherwise declined to be interviewed, said through a spokesman, “I never made the comment allegedly attributed to me in January 2008 to a waitress at the InterContinental Hotel, and anyone who said I did so is either lying or mistaken.”

Does anyone else feel queasy about this anecdote? The reporter bases it on two anonymous sources; Michaels says it never happened. How does Carr, who wasn’t there, know the story is true? How do we? (more…)

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August 4, 2010

Who crucified Shirley Sherrod?

My cousin Ed is a syndicated cartoonist and winner of Hunter's Aronson Award for Social Justice. Here's his view.

My father used to say it took two to produce a news story: one to report and write it, the other to tell him when to stop. He was trying to teach a lesson about deadlines, but his observation also illuminates the truth that reporters hardly ever know all there is to know about a story.

Journalistic judgment calls for knowing when you know enough. But if that’s so, is the corollary also true: must reporters and their editors also decide when they don’t know enough? Is there a point at which a news organization shouldn’t publish what it knows? (more…)

July 7, 2010

Hardy perennials: how do you write about what everybody knows?

It’s 103 degrees out as I write this. So every newspaper website and tv station is running a story about the weather. We’ve all read these stories, again and again and again. The heat wave; the cold snap; the hurricane/tornado/wind storm. The run-up to the election. Graduation. They’re stories that have to be written, but that can be so tedious to read, and to write. And they’re stories you know the competition is writing, too. So how do you set yourself apart from the pack?

The Times did it with an amusing piece that took off from a cliche–“hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.” Was it really?

The Boston Globe’s media columnist surveyed his domain and offered a tip sheet on keeping the heat wave story from wilting.

Some good examples of how to cover an election without writing as though it was a horse race come from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Student reporters fanned out all over the city to collect man-on-the street reports from far-flung neighborhoods, writing about and videotaping first-time voters, immigrants, young people, people in nursing homes, even political meet-ups in bars. A far cry from either policy wonk analysis or poll-driven winners-and-losers reporting.

Perhaps the most famous example of making an ordinary story extraordinary is Jimmy Breslin’s account of the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Knowing that every news outlet in the world would be covering the obsequies, Breslin turned his back on the body lying in state, closed his ears to the dignitaries’ eulogies, ignored the grieving family, and instead wrote about Clifton Pollard, the man who dug Kennedy’s grave.

May 2, 2010

The dust bin of history

Filed under: Uncategorized — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:28 am
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In debates over the path journalism should take, I am on the losing side. Classicist, old-timer, fuddy-duddy—whether the label is flattering or unflattering, it still describes someone who is unwilling to move with the times by acknowledging that in the age of the 24-hour news cycle, speed trumps nuance and even accuracy. (more…)

February 28, 2010

Don’t shoot: journalist

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:54 am
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The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the Knight Citizens News Network have collaborated on a terrific guide to avoiding the pitfalls of publication. I urge you to take a look.

It has always been dangerous to tell the world what you think or what you know. Just ask Galileo or Thomas More. But if publishing your thoughts and findings has always been risky, in the world created by the internet, where anyone has access to an audience, it has become riskier still, and on a far larger scale.

Whether you’re posting to the blog for this class or your Facebook page, you’re publishing. You need to be aware of the rules and the risks that come with gathering information and disseminating it. (more…)

February 6, 2010

Read all about them

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 8:51 am
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Hunter students have such amazing stories to tell. Their own.

Though I know this is so, I never fail to be surprised by the odds overcome and the talents displayed.

My advanced reporting class’s biographies prompt this reflection. There you can read about students who overcame dysfunctional families and students who credit their success to strong families.

You can find the classic immigrant success story repeated in tales of migration from Sicily, El Salvador, Belarus and Honduras.

One student discovered her vocation in a comic book; another in her diary. One used Tae Kwon Do to conquer depression and the bullies who plagued him.

They are musicians, actors, athletes and crusaders for social justice. Most are exploring the possibility of a career in news.

Be sure to read all about them on their blogs.

January 12, 2010

‘All governments lie’

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 2:02 pm
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The lead story in Sunday’s New York Times was a stunner. Reporter Nina Bernstein used documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act to

show how officials — some still in key positions — used their role as overseers to cover up evidence of mistreatment, deflect scrutiny by the news media or prepare exculpatory public statements after gathering facts that pointed to substandard care or abuse.

Bernstein, who deserves every prize journalism has to offer for her unrelenting coverage of the detention of immigrants, shows–if a demonstration were needed–the value of the Freedom of Information Act to a democratic society. She also teaches a lesson for reporters with her revelations of the behind-the-scenes scheming of official spokesmen to cover up, stonewall, elide the truth or hide it altogether.

Her story is long, but it needs to be. Note the way The Times builds into the story–in more technologically sophisticated ways than we have available to us–access to the documents themselves, video and a selected archive of past stories.

By the way, the headline is taken from I.F. Stone, one of our nation’s national treasures. I’m not going to hyperlink: if his name isn’t familiar to you, it should be. Do some research.

‘How tomorrow’s journalism may look’

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 1:34 pm
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A colleague at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Jeremy Caplan, has called my attention to NY Times Prototypes.

It offers a glimpse, Caplan says, at “how tomorrow’s journalism may look.”

What do you think? Register to comment and add your opinion.

And you might want to check out 11 Sites Journalists Should Know, where I found the link to NY Times Prototypes.

January 5, 2010

An experiment in teaching and learning

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 2:12 pm
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Though no one can predict the future in detail, it is likely that at some point in my students’ lifetime, newspapers, magazines, television, and radio as we now know them will have migrated from the printing press and the airwaves to the World Wide Web.

I’m an old-fashioned newspaperman trying to learn new ways and hoping my students will help me. As I show them the fundamentals of reporting and writing news, together we’ll practice enhancing our story-telling with the tools the Web makes available, incorporating photography, audio, video and interactive features into our work.

I’ll use this blog to share ideas and to keep track of successes and pitfalls.

I’ve stolen some ideas from a former colleague, Cindy Rodriguez, whose students at NYU published their classwork on individual blogs. (To my students: Note that a hyperlink is one of the simplest but most effective interactive devices, allowing the writer to acknowledge the work of others and to offer illustrations and expanded explanations without bogging the text down.)

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