Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘reporting’

Attention, single people: If you meet a reporter through online dating site eHarmony, run the other way.

Not because reporters make bad partners – not that I’m saying they make good ones, either – but because eHarmony put out a list this week of the “15 reasons to date a reporter.” Although Kristen Hare at Poynter.org found at least some of the 15 to be “spot on,” little on the list resembles the people in any newsroom I ever worked in, or passed through, so I question whether the reporters on eHarmony are telling the truth about their occupation.

For instance, it says, “Reporters are usually self-employed and have flexible schedules.” What?! A self-employed reporter is usually an unemployed reporter, and for a reporter, “flexible schedule” most often means he or she will have to cancel a date to go cover a story.

“You’ll be getting a great Scrabble partner” – or you would, if he could spell. Newsrooms are full of dictionaries for a reason.

“Reporters meet deadlines”? When I worked in Winston-Salem, reporters’ deadlines were observed mainly in the breach. I have never heard another editor say that isn’t the norm.

“Reporters make great dates to parties and family events, as they’re great at asking questions and engaging others in conversation.” Hmmm. I have known such extroverted reporters, many of them TV reporters, but most newspaper journalists are introverts. We got into the business because we’re writers, not talkers. We learn to ask questions of strangers because it’s required by the work, but it doesn’t come naturally, and on our own time we’d rather not.

I well remember a party that a co-worker’s non-journalist spouse gave years ago, where she invited a bunch of her non-journalist friends in addition to her husband’s journalist co-workers. All the journalists gathered together and talked shop in a corner while the party went on without them elsewhere in the house. Afterward, she berated the entire newsroom for their behavior. Date a reporter and expect that, then be happy if your experience is not quite that bad.

“Your date will remember your birthday, the way you like your coffee, and that promise you made her last week.” Sure, just don’t ask my wife how reliable my memory is when it comes to events she has even written down on the calendar on our refrigerator.

“Reporters get invitations to swanky events” so you can “hobknob with the mayor and other local celebrities.” A reporter’s “invitation” usually translates into an assignment to cover the event and write about it. Little hobknobbing there, and free passes for spouses or dates are not included.

But the worst reason the list gave to date a reporter was saved for last: “Clark Kent. Enough said.”

Enough? Not nearly. I have to wonder whether the list-maker ever paid attention to the comics. Clark was a schlub. No one ever wanted to date Clark Kent, intrepid reporter. They only had eyes for Superman.

Read Full Post »

The goat must be fed
In the 16 months since I came to the News-Topic, I have had the basic idea rumbling around my head for a post on the disconnect I see between posts about digital storytelling tools and the reality of small-town journalism, which accounts for the great majority of news organizations in the U.S. But I never had the time to pull my thoughts together.

Now the Duke Reporters Lab has helped do a lot of the heavy lifting for me with a study showing that there is a “significant gap between the industry’s digital haves and have-nots – particularly between big national organizations, which have been most willing to try data reporting and digital tools, and smaller local ones, which haven’t.”

I object to the word “willing” in that sentence. It may be the case in many places that there is active resistance to using data and digital tools, but I have not seen that at many of the small newsrooms I visited in my previous job or in this one. The spirit is willing at places like this, but the flesh is exhausted.

The study finds newsroom leaders citing “budget, time and people as their biggest constraints” but “also revealed deeper issues – part infrastructure, part culture. This includes a lack of technical understanding and ability and an unwillingness to break reporting habits that could create time and space to experiment.”

In the case of my organization – print circulation approximately 5,000-6,000 – I can tell you the issue is approximately 95 percent one of time and people. My news staff, including me, totals six people, one of them dedicated full-time to local sports. There is no clerk to compile our extensive events listings or obituaries. I am expected to have an all-local front page in the print product, and I have my own set of standards for what I will accept out front (and while the bar is lower than it might be at a major metro, it largely is set higher than “incremental” news). Three of my four writers have less than two years’ experience. And no matter whether I find some events very newsworthy, there are longstanding community expectations for coverage of certain things, and skipping them carries stiff costs in community relations. With all of that, I find that getting my minimum number of local stories worthy of A1 takes about all the staff time that can be managed.

I can recognize that digital storytelling is worthy in its own right, not just “bells and whistles,” and still say there is precious little room here for “difficult trade-offs” in coverage.

That’s the 95 percent obstacle. The 5 percent is primarily infrastructure and, to at least some extent, technical understanding. Simply put, our CMS seems terrible – it’s locked down, limited, balky and not at all user-friendly. But it’s possible we are wrong, since no one here has ever been able to get formal training for it. Whatever we know how to do is based on our knowledge of other CMSes each of us has used (I at other companies, and my staff at their school papers) or the bare-bones “this is how you post a story” knowledge that the existing reporting staff provided me when I arrived here.

This is not to say we don’t talk about the website, our online audience or how to engage readers online. We are active in social media, almost everyone on the staff has shot and posted video, and we have interactions with readers online. We do more online now than this newsroom ever has. We WANT to keep doing more, and I WILL keep looking for ways to do it.

But as the Duke report says: The goat must be fed. Everything else has to come later.

Read Full Post »

Let’s be 100 percent clear about this: There is no survey that designated the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area, where I live, as one of the nation’s “most miserable cities,” no matter what you read on Facebook or in a newspaper or saw on the Charlotte TV news.

What did happen is that the Gallup polling organization and a company called Healthways – which sells its services to businesses looking for ways to decrease health costs while boosting performance – issued the 2014 version of an annual report that, among other things, ranked 189 metropolitan statistical areas based on a nationwide survey of more than 500,000 people, who were asked about their height and weight, how much they exercise, how many servings of fruits and vegetables they eat, whether they smoke, how much stress they think they are under and whether they have health insurance.

The pollsters plugged those answers into a formula and came up with a number expressing each area’s “overall well-being.”

Note that nowhere in the evaluation is any expression of miserableness.

If you look at the Gallup-Healthways site ranking the communities, you find stress on the positives, such as, “There are tangible policies that communities can adopt to actively cultivate and improve residents’ well-being.”

This is the most-negative thing that Gallup-Healthways said in its reporting:

“Huntington-Ashland also trailed all other metros in 2008, 2010, and 2011; its score of 58.1 in 2010 remains the lowest on record across five reporting periods spanning six years of data collection.”

This is the second-most-negative, and it involves our region and two others in the bottom 10:

“None of these metro areas are strangers to the bottom 10 list, with each community having appeared at least once on the list in a prior reporting period.”

That’s it. It’s not so bad, and it doesn’t come close to “miserable.” How could it when the 189th-ranked metro area’s overall score is barely 13 points lower than the top-ranked metro?

And if you study the individual scores in the separate categories of the survey, what killed the Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton area’s score was that too many people smoke and not enough people exercise regularly. In every other category, our scores were solidly in the middle of the pack, but in those two, our scores are pretty bad — we had the fourth-highest smoking rate and 12th-lowest exercise rate.

So where, you may wonder, did the term “most miserable cities” come about?

This is a tale of the Internet and the term “clickbait.” Companies that make most of their money from Internet advertising need to be able to get lots and lots of people to come to their sites because the advertiser pays based on how many people see the page that the ad is on. To do this, some sites write headlines that are at least somewhat misleading. In other words, they bait people into clicking the headline.

The “America’s most miserable cities” headline is one of those.

Whoever did it hoped that the reaction would be, “Oh my God! We live in (or know someone who lives in) one of America’s most miserable cities! I have to post this to Facebook!” Which then would be followed by lots and lots and lots more people clicking on the link to go to the site to see the list. Better yet, the headline also appears on a photo gallery, requiring people to click through all 10, which gooses the website’s statistics even more.

That “miserable” designation apparently originated at a website called 24/7 Wall St., and it spread far and wide via Yahoo!, among others (the one I saw on Facebook was on Yahoo!).

Until online advertisers decide that sheer volume of clicks is not a good measure of the value they get for their advertising dollar, you’ll probably keep seeing things like that.

But I can say this for sure: Any reporter or editor at any newspaper or TV station who picked up the “miserable” terminology without checking to see whether the word really appeared in the survey is a miserable excuse for a journalist.

Read Full Post »

Here’s a little secret of the legislative process: Absolutely every time a legislative body convenes, anywhere, some of its members introduce bills that they know stand not a snowball’s chance in Hades of seeing the light of day.

Why would they do that?

The bill may represent a dearly held belief. Sometimes it’s just to please some folks back home.

No matter the motivation, though, at some point the legislator or legislators in question knew or should have known that the measure was fatally flawed – either impractical, unpopular or flat-out illegal and/or unenforceable.

Sometimes, they don’t even file a bill; all they do is stand up and make a speech that includes phrases to please certain audiences but doesn’t mean anything. In fact, North Carolina is the source for one term for this: bunk, as in “That’s a lot of bunk.” It is said that in February 1820, as Congress was debating the Missouri Compromise, U.S. Rep. Felix Walker, who was from the Asheville area, rose to speak but assured his colleagues, “I shall not be speaking to the House, but to Buncombe,” and went on to deliver a speech that had absolutely nothing to do with anything under consideration. Bumcombe became bunkum became bunk.

Which brings us to the measure that made North Carolina a national punchline this week.

When I was the state editor of the Winston-Salem Journal, our state capital reporter routinely reported to me on certain, well, unusual pieces of legislation. One that springs to mind would have mandated that prison inmates sleep in shifts around the clock – you could use one bed for three inmates, so each prison could house three times as many inmates as it was intended to house. My response always was to ask whether the bill in question stood a chance of getting anywhere. The reporter would check around, and almost without fail the answer was no, the people in charge knew the measure was impractical, or nuts, so it wouldn’t even get to a committee debate, it would just disappear into the archives.

Back then, before Facebook and Twitter, that would have been the widespread response to House Joint Resolution 494. Introduced by Rowan County legislators, it appeared to be crafted to satisfy folks upset about an ACLU challenge of local governments starting their meetings with an overtly Christian prayer. What made it stand out, and what made it spread virally across the Internet, is that the proposal declares that the U.S. Constitution prohibition against government establishing an official religion doesn’t apply to anyone but Congress, so that “states, municipalities, or schools” would be free to do so.

Imagine, if you can, the free-for-all of a United States where individual towns or even schools can declare their own official religions. Want an officially Muslim town somewhere? A mini-Israel in the mountains up North? An officially Buddhist village in the Carolina coastal plain? And then after the next election cycle the official religion could change again? This kind of idea would make it possible. It has all kinds of unintended consequences.

Aside from that, though, even as the resolution itself states, the nation’s courts at every level have consistently interpreted the establishment clause as applying to everyone, not just Congress. So, passing anything to implement the idea would have zero legal effect. None.

In other words, the legislators expressed support for something that on its face would be unconstitutional – violating not just the U.S. Constitution but the state constitution as well. And that is where the stuff hit the fan and splattered across Facebook, Twitter and all the tubes of the Internet. “North Carolina is going Taliban,” the commentary suggested.

But here’s the other thing: Because the legislative sponsors introduced it as a resolution, they never really intended to try to make their idea the law of the state. A resolution is more like standing up on a box and declaring to the folks all around, “Here is what I think is a really good idea.” They were speaking to Buncombe.

John Hood of the conservative John Locke Foundation said as much in a column Friday: “A resolution is not a bill. A bill introduced is not a bill enacted. And a bill enacted is not necessarily a major policy change that will affect the everyday lives of North Carolinians.”

That’s what I kept trying to tell people when I saw them flipping out on Facebook.

And on Thursday, what I expected came to pass: The House leadership declared that the measure would never even come to a vote.

So ends another week in the sausage-making business.

Read Full Post »

Nieman Media Lab’s article about media theorist Douglas Rushkoff’s book “Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now” struck me because ever since my move less than three months ago to become editor of a small newspaper in northwest North Carolina, I almost never see anything on Tweetdeck. As a result, I feel extremely cut off from the up-to-date flow of new information on news industry developments from sources I have followed, in some cases, almost as long as Twitter has existed.

At the same time, my current job feels almost entirely linear, and I can’t say my previous job with Media General in Richmond, Va., did. Day to day, hour to hour, I am too busy to monitor the river of tweets. I literally cannot carve out the time. So Rushkoff’s description of what he means by “present shock” resonates — I have spent hours doing nothing but watching what comes in, following it, evaluating it and deciding what was worth following further and spreading, devoting some small amount of time to thinking farther ahead about the longer-term implications — it was, after all, part of my job to think ahead, but connecting “right now” to the next few hours was not so much part of it.

Of course I think my situation illustrates part of the stratification of the industry: Editors at papers with small staffs are too occupied with the immediate needs of today’s paper and the next few days’ papers to follow the commentary on what is likely coming down the line.

Read Full Post »

The years away from a community newspaper made me forget how close a relationship a small paper has with death.

Most often it is formal. At times it is close and raw.

In the former category, death has its own email address at the News-Topic, and many other newspapers. The names of the dead flow in as regularly as church announcements and the fundraisers for the community calendar.

An obituary is like an English butler who enters to tell the host that death has arrived and is waiting in the foyer. It is part of the ritualized structure society imposes that makes death feel orderly, filing off the sharp edges. The names of family and loved ones pass in sequence. No child is ungrateful or estranged, no marriage troubled or blemished. Gray areas are brightened, smudges erased.

The order can be chipped away with a phone call from a grieving mother. She lives in another county and knows the day her son was murdered but not when the obituary ran, and she desperately wants a copy, the final record of his passage through the world. We page through the papers, day by day by day by day, find it and carefully cut it out and seal it in an envelope, imagining her seeing the paper’s name on the envelope, and the tremble in her hands as she realizes what it contains.

Sometimes we learn how death arrived, even if we don’t yet know the name of the dead. In the morning we get word that several hours earlier, as our reporters lay sleeping and our pressmen readied to print the coming day’s paper, a young man who perhaps was sleepy, perhaps tipsy, rounded a bend in the road too loosely; his tires slipped off the pavement, so he jerked the wheel back, and his car careened across the road sharply, pitched over an embankment and hit a tree. In the suddenly quiet darkness, he and the car grew slowly colder.

Those reports, from the Highway Patrol or a police or sheriff’s department, are like a note from death left on the desk. “Was in the neighborhood, took care of a few things. …” The reporter knows he’s not the first to learn where death had been, but he knows he is among the first.

Sometimes we’re close behind death. Hearing a report on police scanners, we rush off and, as a laden ambulance speeds off, arrive to see a crumpled mass of metal that 30 minutes earlier was a car barreling down the highway, but where a driver had been there now is only a tiny pool of blood on the Scotchguarded fabric of the seat.

Sometimes we arrive and the ambulance is still there, its crew standing in the darkness near a dimly lit, dilapidated mobile home. Standing outside the property line, still we can hear the anguished sobs of a man telling officers what happened. We see flashlights sweep a window from inside, where investigators inspect the bloody evidence. We shiver against the gathering frost, but perhaps also against the sense that on the other side of that window, death might be looking out.

Read Full Post »

Continuing on the topic of changing what local news reporters do (I provided some links in this post a couple weeks ago), John Robinson proposes a kind of New Year’s resolution for editors:

If editors do one thing for their newspaper readers in 2013 — yes, there are a slew of things needing to be done for their digital audience in 2013 — it should be to examine how they are covering the local news. Is it what people need to understand their community? Are we covering this because it’s vital information or because we need to fill a hole in the paper? Will this story make reading the paper an indispensable act? Because if it doesn’t — and with the circulation losses papers have suffered over the past 10 years, there is evidence it doesn’t — it’s time for a change.

Meanwhile, Steve Buttry adds to his previous posts on this topic with more specific thoughts on how a newsroom might change some or all of its beats.

I fear that some people will stop reading at the point where Steve suggests a pets beat and will miss his larger point: Something has to change, and you have to start thinking about it, and what you change may be less important than having a thorough discussion about the possibilities and doing something about it.

John notes as evidence of the need for change some results of a September 2011 Pew survey: “For instance, when asked, ‘If your local newspaper no longer existed, would that have a major impact, a minor impact, or no impact on your ability to keep up with information and news about your local community?’ a large majority of Americans, 69%, believe the death of their local newspaper would have no impact (39%) or only a minor impact (30%) on their ability to get local information.”

John also cites his experience in the past year reading the front pages of a dozen Sunday papers around North Carolina and seeing too much rote, uninteresting coverage. I can go further: For the past six weeks, I haven’t read any newspapers at all, nor have I watched local TV news, and I firmly fall into the camp saying that as far as I can tell the death of my local newspaper would have only a minor impact on my ability to get local information. (I do miss certain columnists and the routine of the morning paper, but if the paper has produced anything important in the past six weeks, it was like a tree falling in the woods with no one nearby to hear it — which is a subject for another post.)

But this is where the hope for fixing local news hits a Catch-22. John quotes Philip Meyer from a 2008 online discussion about local news:

“Local is cheap to produce if you limit yourself to stenographic coverage of public meetings. But to really cover local news, you need talented, specialized reporters who are free to dig for weeks on a single topic.”

I won’t rehash all the arguments I made on this point three months ago, but I will summarize:

The success of any attempt to change or “fix” local news is ultimately dependent on publishers and the executives who supervise them agreeing with the need to restructure the newsroom pay scale and to end, where they exist, any mandates that the front page absolutely has to be all-local. Yes, I mean better pay, but I also mean fewer people in the newsroom because the revenue isn’t there to raise pay and keep the staff the same size, which is the reason publishers who want all-local front pages have to give that up in the name of getting better reporting. That also means more pressure on editors to ensure their staff follows through – more-engaged editors, more-engaged reporters.

Lord knows newsrooms have many creative, imaginative people who consider the job a calling and work cheap. But it has fewer every day – beyond layoffs, many are no longer willing to work low-paying jobs that have become content farms of rote coverage. Counting on an endless supply of new ones who are willing is likely to be as healthy for your business model as counting on an endless supply of gasoline under $4 a gallon.

1/2/13 UPDATE: A good follow-up today by John Robinson on the need for editors to confront the reality of permanently smaller staffs and how to figure out what people really want the newsroom to do.

Read Full Post »


I got a lot of problems with you people. Too many to list, actually, so some of the big ones:

Pack journalism. Washington, D.C., remains ground zero when making the case for too many people chasing the exact same story, but Newtown, Conn., is the most egregious example of what happens when a big story breaks anywhere else. Why? What was gained by having this many journalists in one place chasing exactly the same thing? Isn’t this why any news organization pays AP?

General unwillingness to challenge traditional beat and story structures. See my previous post and the links there to other sites for more detailed discussion. Staffs are smaller, the world is more linked and mobile than ever, so change is necessary – not just changing what you cover but how you cover it. In many newsrooms, everyone is preoccupied with an urgency to feed the beast. Consider whether you can let the beast go hungry a day or two a week so you can assess whether what you are spooning into it is worthwhile.

Related to the above: story quotas and related mandates. A couple of weeks ago I visited a small newspaper where I was told that staffers are required to file 8-12 stories a week, and that the company requires that the front page be all-local. Eight stories a week is not onerous, in my experience, but as a glance at that paper’s front page made clear, no one was exercising any quality control to ensure that the quota was being filled by solid, well reported stories that people would want to read – probably because the editors were more afraid of not having enough staff-bylined stories to fill the page. Quotas and mandates can have that effect: The staff goes on autopilot, and the product suffers. Manage for quality first.

Also related: general reluctance to engage the community. Our world is full of bloggers, social posting and sharing. Our news is not. Why isn’t that widely acknowledged as a failing?

News websites remain unnavigable. This morning my wife was trying to find something on the site of the local newspaper. Couldn’t do it. I went to Google and found it in seconds. She actually has a better sense of how news sites are organized than the average person because of her exposure to that structure through me – but it’s still a mystery to her. Sites have too many sections, and where stories are listed and how they are tagged may be entirely at the whim of whatever overworked staffer posts them to the website at night. At some sites there is little consistency, or logic. Stories on a race for U.S. Senate, a legislative story, a profile feature and a food story all are tagged as local news? Seriously? Why? Oh, looking at the rest of your stories, I see why: EVERYTHING by your staff is tagged as local news, apparently because your late editor doesn’t want to think about it. And you, the editor, never noticed because who the hell has the time to look at such things? There is a reason your website has a taxonomy in the first place, and it’s not just because the site designer is anal retentive, but if you are tagging everything the same you are nullifying it.

Related to the above: Too many news people have no sense at all of how the industry’s finances work. The next time you see an argument for how many reporters $1 million (or any amount) in paywall revenue could pay for, check to see whether the math includes benefits, insurance, office rent/mortgage, utilities, office supplies, staff expense reimbursement such as mileage … You get the point. You can’t fully participate in an argument over the future of your business if you are ignorant of the business end of the business.

A few grievances that are less about journalism than the practices in the revenue-generating end of the building:

The general unclickability of business transactions related to news websites. Have you tried to place an obituary lately? Or any kind of advertisement? It’s usually an experience straight out of 1990. It is hard to spend money with a newspaper. It’s like you walk up to the building with a wad of money in your hand and can’t find anyone who will extend a hand to take the money from you.

Related to the above: the willingness to charge online readers to read obituaries, which themselves are paid advertisements. Are we so absolutely desperate for any revenue stream at all that we won’t consider the long-term implications of what we are charging for? If you charge the public on the front end to place a type of ad that you know helps you build an audience, and then you charge the public on the back end for the ability to read all of those ads in one place, you are simply begging for someone else to engineer a faster, cheaper, easier way to distribute that kind of ad. There WILL be a craigslist for obituaries, and newspapers don’t seem to care.

That scratches the surface. Looking back over them, I detect some things in common: lack of imagination, too much adherence to tradition, failure to engage new technology, timidity. Happy Festivus. Now, on to the feats of strength …

Read Full Post »

I wrote a couple weeks ago that my response to a question about how to fit in all the new things journalists are told to do now was that if you want to start something, you have to stop something. I probably should have fleshed that out. I didn’t, but Steve Buttry has. Sample, on government meetings:

Maybe for your community, the answer is to send a reporter to the meetings to livetweet (live coverage gets more readership than stories), but to have the reporter turn his attention after the meeting to enterprise reporting on topics covered in the meeting, rather than undertaking the redundant task of writing a story about the meeting he just livetweeted.

If your local government agencies livestream their meetings, maybe you don’t need a reporter present. You embed the livestream on your site for meeting coverage and spend your reporter’s time on enterprise, unless a meeting promises to be unusually newsworthy.

In fact, that was essentially the approach I took as a reporter in a far-flung bureau covering meetings in a town where there was a local paper. Anything that happened during the meeting that sounded interesting, I knew the local paper would report the next day, so instead I would do my own reporting on the subject and flesh it out over the next day or two, such as a case where people living near a quarry complained of the damage that blasting at the quarry was causing to their well water and homes. I got a better story, plus a photo. Nowadays I might be able to get a slideshow and/or video out of it too.

Steve has other suggestions, including, “We need to work out partnerships with community journalists (and non-journalists)” — another word for those is “bloggers” — “who are doing jobs we’ve been doing and stop doing what they are doing, so we can focus our resources on unique ways we can serve the community.” The Seattle Times has such a network going (and discussed it at a session I attended at ONA12), so it’s not just a vague idea, it’s a model you can study and emulate, and tweak to fit your community.

Steve also links to several previous posts he had that address the idea of what needs to change. It’s the only topic that’s certain to remain on your radar.

12/21/12 UPDATE: From one of the Nieman Journalism Lab’s columns making predictions for 2013 that seems relevant to part of this discussion: Local news organizations no longer have the luxury of throwing skilled reporters at procedural news stories that are only important to niche groups …

12/30/12 UPDATE: More on this topic John Robinson and Steve Buttry.

Read Full Post »

I don’t use this blog to comment on issues outside of the news media, so I won’t address the gun-control debate that has come after the elementary-school shootings in Connecticut, but one that I first came across last night through a conservative friend’s post on Facebook, and which I subsequently came across multiple times, is the argument that the media should refrain from ever again using the name or photos of a mass killer because that would rob him of the infamy he craves.

(Among the places I have seen this are the website created by a mass-shooting victim’s family; Steve Buttry’s blog; and by David Brooks in a segment of NPR’s Dec. 14 “All Things Considered.”)

I’m sympathetic to the argument, but ultimately I think it would be futile, for three reasons.

First, the one thing that people on all sides of the gun debate would agree on is that the people who have carried out mass killings are deeply unhinged. Is the argument, then, that although they are unhinged, they will pause in their determination to kill, put down their guns and go home quietly once they realize they won’t get their name on the national news? Explain that to me. Even if a craving for infamy is part of their motivation, and I think that’s an open question, you’re assuming a crazed mind can draw the straight line from a national boycott on that publicity to the futility of seeking that publicity.

Second, how exactly is this boycott to be carried out? As anyone in any news organization can tell you, the news media are as organized and monolithic as a herd of cats. In my last job, I couldn’t even get the editors at four newspapers in the same company that had a congressional district in common to have just one reporter instead of four do the quarterly story on the district’s campaign finance reports. How you could convince even the majority of major national news organizations – let alone not just the broadcast and 24-hour cable networks and all of the nation’s largest papers but ALL. OF. THEM, down to the smallest of the hundreds of mainstream print, broadcast and online news outlets that are out there – is beyond me.

Which leads me to the third, decisive reason: A huge number of people don’t really want you to keep the killer’s name secret, no matter what they think right now. My conservative friend asked me my take on the media’s role in this and other news events, and my take on the media’s role is that people get the media they deserve, which is demonstrated by the media they choose. (For instance, if you want to live in a world where science is optional and math doesn’t matter, there are outlets for that.) What the media does at a time of tragedy is try to answer the questions that the typical person has; if we don’t answer them, we get calls and email asking why, and people will seek out media that answer those questions. In greatly simplified terms, the nature of a free market drives media to answer those questions in order to retain audience, which pleases advertisers. If even one news outlet uses the name, that organization will see a surge in its audience, and one by one others will wonder why they are withholding a name that is rapidly becoming common knowledge.

In the 1990s, the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal ran a story revisiting a decades-old killing in which a woman took her young children down to a creek and one by one drowned them. It was chilling and riveting. Among the calls that came in to the newsroom was one by a woman complaining that the whole story was so awful it never should have been printed. The veteran reporter who answered the phone asked the woman, “Ma’am, did you read the story?” She answered firmly, as if scolding him, “I read every single word of it.” He replied, “Then you must have really enjoyed the story.” She hung up on him – but he was right.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »