Monthly Archives: May 2010

We cover Europe for you

Associated Reporters Abroad (ARA) is a Berlin-based
journalism agency taking a fresh approach to providing news coverage
of Europe. Ours is an original experiment in international journalism
and we believe our timing couldn’t be better. With news budgets
shrinking and foreign bureaus closing, providing readers with informed,
in-depth reporting from overseas has never been this challenging.
We think it’s time to reverse the trend.

What a great idea! Has anyone ever seen other examples of this?

Come to think of it, I’m not sure why more journalists don’t band together to create content production hubs like this. They can do it at a relatively low cost and then sell the content to newspapers at a premium (but still cheaper than Associated Press no doubt).

Newspapers need objective reader research

Newspapers need objective reader research

This column originally was published in Editor & Publisher Magazine and is being reprinted with permission. To subscribe to the magazine so you can see the full array of industry coverage when it first appears in print, click here.

“I sell bellybuttons,” said Robert M. McCormick, one of the greatest newspaper ad salesmen who ever lived.

Thats the best description youll ever hear of the classic mass-media business model, which worked wondrously well from the time the Boston News-Letter debuted in 1704 until, say, five or ten years ago.

Unfortunately, many publishers today still invest too heavily in research aimed at persuading an increasingly skeptical world of the value of the bellybutton business and not enough in learning about the people who ought to be their readers.

The dearth of objective market research about newspaper readers not only could lead publishers into making wrong decisions about the future of their business but it also stands a good chance of undermining their credibility among advertisers. Here’s what I mean:

When the Audit Bureau of Circulations reported in April that daily newspaper circulation had tumbled some 8% from the prior year, the Newspaper Association of America promptly put out a press release saying Scarborough Research determined that “nearly 100 million” Americans, or 43% of the adult population, had read a print newspaper in the last seven days.

Good story, if true. But let’s get a second opinion.

When researchers at the Pew Center for People & the Press in 2008 asked Americans where they got their news, only 25% of the population said it was from print newspapers. This was down from the 34% who said they read print papers in 2006.

Do you suppose the number of newspaper readers jumped from 25% in 2008 to 43% in 2010? Me neither. How can the data be so divergent?

The explanation, as researchers at both Scarborough and Pew attest, is that you can get different answers by asking different questions.

In the interests of helping publishers claim as large a number of bellybuttons as possible, Scarborough uses a long-standing methodology called “aided recall” to count anyone who might have “read or looked at” a local newspaper in the last seven days. By contrast, Pew asks people, “Did you happen to read a newspaper yesterday?”

“You can make numbers go either way, based on the question you ask,” said Gary A. Meo, the senior vice president who runs the newspaper division at Scarborough. “If you ask an unaided question like Pew does, you will get lower readership numbers [for newspapers] than we do. If you ask people their source for news and rank the responses in order, newspapers are more than likely going to show up low. Most people don’t think of newspapers first. They think of TV and the Internet.”

At Pew, researcher Carroll Doherty said his measure of newspaper readership is based on a question that has been asked in polls for nearly 40 years. Back in 1965, 71% of respondents said they had read a paper on the prior day. In 2008, 25% of people said they read the print product and another 9% of respondents said they got the news from a newspaper website or through a combination of a print paper and a newspaper site.

“Our measure is probably a conservative estimate of newspaper reading,” said Doherty, conceding that other questions can suggest a higher newspaper readership. “The reason we stick with this question is that we have a long trend on it that makes it possible to track continuing changes in behavior.”

Now, I don’t object to newspapers using legitimate research techniques to put the best spin on the remaining audience they have. They need those readers and advertisers to help finance their transition to the digital realms that represent the future for their franchises.

But publishers also need an honest appraisal of where they stand in relation to competing sources of news, entertainment and advertising information. To that end, they need to conduct the kind of objective consumer research that informs the activities of every self-respecting purveyor of taco chips, aluminum foil or plug-in air fresheners.

With most newspaper executives distracted by slumping revenues, sagging profits and shrinking resources, they have not had the time, resources and emotional inclination to invest in taking a hard-eyed, hard-nosed and hard-headed look at their businesses.

But that’s exactly what they need to do in order to create honest appraisals of their Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Equipped with a SWOT analysis, publishers can create SWAT teams to identify new audiences, launch new products and tap new revenue streams to replace their flagging core products.

If publishers conduct strictly self-serving research to support what increasingly appears to be an unsustainable business model, they can’t possibly make the right decisions. The only ones they fool will be themselves.

(c) 2010 Editor & Publisher Magazine

I’ve often wondered why news organizations don’t do more market research on the reader side. The Chicago Tribune is starting to come around though:

You might be a computer nerd if you laugh at this

Stuff White People Like – Picking their own fruit

Stay classy Gawker

We can’t afford repetition in journalism anymore

“We’re all critics,” says blogger, veteran editor and onetime critic Jeff Jarvis. “If I were starting Entertainment Weekly today, it wouldn’t be a magazine, and it likely wouldn’t hire critics.”

Jarvis, who was the magazine’s founding editor in 1990, says publications insist on employing their own critics for one reason: “Ego. Is the 87th critic writing the 87th review in Topeka going to be better than A.O. Scott? Probably not. We can’t afford repetition in journalism anymore.”

I’m not a huge Jeff Jarvis fan, but this is the gospel truth. Journalists must either add value to their beat or prepare for their jobs to be eliminated.

The first Jewish _____ How much does it matter?

Rahm’s ambition was—and probably still is—to be the first Jewish Speaker of the House.

In my view, this is identity politics at its worst.

As a Jew myself, I absolutely delight in the accomplishments of fellow Jews. I also delight in the accomplishments of fellow immigrants, women, journalists, Chicagoans and any other groups to which I feel I belong.

In a situation like this though, I cringe at the use of “the first Jewish_____” Would it really be meaningful for American Jews if Rahm Emanuel became the Speaker of the House? Are American Jews really such a disadvantaged group? Furthermore, how Jewish is Rahm? I’m well aware that the questions of who is a Jew and what does it mean to be Jewish are hotly debated, but I think most of us can agree that when we think of Rahm, we don’t exactly equate him with Moses. Therefore, if he were to become the Speaker, would it really be a giant leap forward for Jews or would it just be the latest career success for an adept politician who just happens to be Jewish? I feel it’s the latter.

Hey look, I’m on Outside the Loop radio

Report: Majority Of Government Doesn’t Trust Citizens Either

Added Ratner, “And the fact that American Idol is still the No. 1 show on television doesn’t exactly make our government burst with confidence.”

Out of 100 U.S. senators polled, 84 said they don’t trust the U.S. populace to do what is right, and 79 said Americans are not qualified to do their jobs. Ninety-one percent of all government officials polled said they find citizens to be every bit as irresponsible, greedy, irrational, and selfishly motivated as government officials are.

The Palin Exception

The Palin Exception

One thing I learned this week – well, I re-learned, I’ve faced it before – is that sexist coverage of female politicians is an awful thing unless the pol is Sarah Palin. Then it’s perfectly acceptable to at least a certain number of progressive feminists in and out of the media.

Why? Because if you despise someone’s politics, they apparently no longer can be defended on any other grounds. Apparently it was always about politics, not principle.

So when I posted Reporting Palin, I shouldn’t have been surprised by the depressing responses I got from some quarters.

As I’ve written before, the whole of America seems to need a civics lesson in how to carry on political discourse, decipher the media, and learn to think for themselves like the actual, independent citizens that democracy calls for.

And much of the media still needs lessons in how to do their jobs.

Here is the simple proposition I was operating under:

“Sexist coverage of Sarah Palin is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Laura Bush, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Michelle Obama, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Kay Bailey Hutchison, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Nancy Pelosi.”

How silly of me. Haven’t I learned by now of the Palin Exception?

Her politics are so despised – in part justified in my view, but also in part based on a lot of debunked nonsense akin to Al Gore’s never-made claim to have invented the Internet – that certain principles go out the window.

But she has a right to her politics. She also has a right to covered fairly – even if she, like many other politicians, including our president, doesn’t always play fair. Make that part of the reporting, but don’t demean her because of her gender.

Just to reiterate, here is just a slice of the record.

1.From Ferraro to Palin: Sexism in Media Coverage of Vice Presidential Candidates.” By Caroline Heldman, Occidental College.

“We find persistent gender differences in mention of dress/appearance, mention of candidate family, gendered policy coverage, and negative tone that disadvantage female candidates. Additionally, female candidates are four times more likely to receive sexist media coverage, and the intensity and volume of sexist coverage increased dramatically from Ferraro’s run in 1984 to Palin’s run in 2008. We also compared Palin’s coverage in Old Media (print) and New Media (blogs) and found that sexist coverage and negative coverage are more pronounced in this new medium.”

2.Like Hillary, Sarah Faces Media Sexism.” By Marie Cocco.

“[T]he media will continue to subject Palin to the unapologetic sexism that has been directed at her since the very first hours after John McCain announced that she was his pick to be the Republican vice presidential nominee – and which continued to animate coverage of her, right up through a lengthy political profile in the current issue of Vanity Fair.
“Almost as certain, my colleagues will seek to defend the indefensible as something Palin brought upon herself – by being too ignorant, too unpredictable, too touchy, too hypocritical, too loose with facts, too inept at governing, too flirty, even too obviously fertile. Yes, this is one of the assertions made in the Vanity Fair profile . . .

“Almost as soon as she’d finished her breakthrough speech at the Republican National Convention, one columnist for the liberal online magazine Salon called Palin a ‘dominatrix’ and a ‘pinup queen,’ referred to her ‘babaliciousness’ – and described her convention address as having been charged with enough sexual energy to give the partisan crowd a ‘collective woody.’ Another Salon columnist described Palin as a ‘Christian Stepford wife in a sexy librarian costume” who was, for the most ideological Republicans, a ‘hard-core pornographic centerfold spread.’

“Palin early on was called ‘Stepford Barbie’ and ‘Caribou Barbie’ – terms used even by highbrow commentators, who find it acceptable to liken Palin to the impossibly proportioned fashion doll. The Barbie epithet marked Palin as an object of sexualized fashion fascination well before it came to light that the vice presidential nominee had used Republican Party funds to buy an expensive campaign wardrobe.”

3.Media analyst sees racism, sexism in election coverage.” By Holly Jackson.

“Audible gasps filled Ellis Auditorium at MU on Tuesday night, as Pozner played a clip featuring CNBC talk show host Donny Deutsch saying Palin was a woman he wanted to lie next to in bed and Clinton should have put on a skirt.”

4.Geraldine Ferraro Accuses Media Over ‘Sexist’ Scrutiny of Sarah Palin.” By Tom Baldwin.

“Ms Ferraro remains angry at the ‘sexist treatment’ of Mrs Clinton by the media. ‘In New Hampshire, someone put up a sign saying Iron My Shirt. Nobody spoke out. Imagine if Hillary’s supporters had said [to Obama] Shine my shoes. Everybody would quite rightly have been jumping on it. Women in politics should not be treated better than men, just fairly.'”

5.Estrich On Sexist Attacks On Palin.” By Jim Lindgren.

“Susan Estrich, former Dukakis campaign manager, just said on Fox that she was appalled by the attacks on Palin [and called them] ‘really unfair’ and ‘really sexist.'”

6.Juan Williams: ‘Centerfold’ Palin Successful Because She’s Attractive.” By Lachlan Markey.

“Fox News contributor Juan Williams, also a reporter for NPR and the Washington Post, was at a complete loss when Sean Hannity told him last night that he would rather Palin be president than Barack Obama. ‘Your libido is getting in the way of your thinking,’ Williams told Hannity . . . ‘I think she is a superstar centerfold for conservative men.'”

7.Clinton Aides: Palin Treatment Sexist.” By John Harris and Beth Frerkring.

“Sarah Palin found some unlikely allies Wednesday as leading academics and even former top aides to Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed the Republican charge that John McCain’s running mate has been subject to a sexist double standard by the news media and Democrats.

“Georgetown University professor Deborah Tannen, who has written best-selling books on gender differences, said she agrees with complaints that Palin skeptics – including prominent voices in the news media – have crossed a line by speculating about whether the Alaska governor is neglecting her family in pursuit of national office.

“‘What we’re dealing with now, there’s nothing subtle about it,’ said Tannen. ‘We’re dealing with the assumption that child-rearing is the job of women and not men. Is it sexist? Yes . . . ‘

“* Liberal radio host Ed Schultz used the words ‘bimbo alert’ to refer to Palin, and the Huffington Post featured a photo montage of Palin with the headline, ‘Former Beauty Queen, Future VP?’

“* CNN’s John Roberts recently pondered on air: ‘Children with Down’s syndrome require an awful lot of attention. The role of vice president, it seems to me, would take up an awful lot of her time, and it raises the issue of how much time will she have to dedicate to her newborn child?’

“This line of inquiry was echoed by writer Sally Quinn, who in her ‘On Faith’ column for agreed that Palin is a ‘bright, attractive, impressive person,” but also asked, “is she prepared for the all-consuming nature of the job?’

“‘Her first priority has to be her children,’ Quinn wrote. ‘When the phone rings at 3 in the morning and one of her children is really sick what choice will she make?'”

8.‘No One Will Ever Be Able to Take Your Place’ as a Mom.” By Richard Prince.

“‘My question to Sarah Palin is this. Who is going to lead your children?’ Sidmel Estes-Sumpter, a media consultant and former president of the National Association of Black Journalists, asked on her blog on Friday.

“‘I get it when you say you have a supportive husband who is always there for you. I get it when you complain that men aren’t subjected to the same kind of questioning as women when it comes to family values. Been there . . . done that . . . got the t-shirt. But Sarah . . . GET REAL. No one will ever be able to take your place as a mother. I’m telling you this not because of what I have heard. I’m telling you this because this is what I know.

“‘More than 17 years ago, I was elected the national president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ). . . the first woman in our organization to accomplish that. The biggest heartstring pulling at me was how it would affect my two year old son. That consideration almost forced me not to run.'”

9.Newsweek Cover Races To The Bottom With Old Photo Of Palin.” By Glynnis MacNicol.
“The weekly magazine, which since its relaunch has opted for increasingly blogosphere-like headlines to generate readers, apparently has decided that the best way to cover Sarah Palin’s reemergence on the national stage is with an old photo from Runner’s World . . . But resorting to a photo like this (and yes I realize she posed for it, though in an entirely different context) to illustrate such a condescending headline forces me conclude that Newsweek thinks Palin is an annoying little problem because she looks good in runner’s shorts, and not a problem because, as both the magazine’s articles suggest, she is the 21st century’s version of Barry Goldwater, and has broad national appeal for a whole slew of reasons, very few of which having to do with how she looks in runner’s shorts.”

10. “Biden’s Gloves Come Off . . . Against ‘Sexist’ Media.” By Matthew Jaffe.

“[T]he truth is, some of the stuff that the press has said about Sarah, and that others have said about the governor, I think, are outrageous,” Biden said. “I just think some of the stuff said has been over the top, totally unfair, and has been sexist, and I think the way the governor has handled it has been admirable.”

11.Matthews: Palin Like A ‘Mail-Order Bride.'” By Ed Morrissey.

“No one will be surprised to see Matthews do this, but having Newsweek’s Howard Fineman busting a gut and joining in the fun may be a bit of a surprise.”

12.From Gloria Steinem to Norah O’Donnell, Misogyny and Sexism Are Fine if the Target (Palin) Is on the Right.” By Julia Reed.

“Blogs accused her of faking her own pregnancy with a Down syndrome child to cover up for her daughter. Mainstream journalists – female mainstream journalists – like Norah O’Donnell questioned whether a mother of five could effectively function as vice president. More piled on about her irresponsibility in accepting the nomination with five children, including one with special needs. Alan Colmes suggested on his blog that her airplane travel had possibly contributed to the fact that her child was born with Down syndrome. It went on and on and on. Where was the feminist outcry?

“Plenty of Republican women were sickened over the treatment of Hillary Clinton (hell, even I cried at the video that introduced her convention speech), but there has been no reaching across party lines to defend Palin. Not even when Martin Peretz dismissed and demeaned her by saying, ‘I give [Palin] her due: she is pretty like a cosmetics saleswoman at Macy’s.'”

13.Eric Zorn’s Sexist Folly.” By Steve Rhodes.

“The Tribune columnist today retells the jokes of late-night comics about Sarah Palin without any recognition of how offensive many of them are.”

14.Palin as Pinup.” By Steve Rhodes.

“I’m not sure what to do first, re-read Freud or call Susan Faludi.”


Again, my simple proposition is this:

“Sexist coverage of Sarah Palin is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Hillary Clinton, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Laura Bush, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Michelle Obama, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Kay Bailey Hutchison, which is every bit as despicable as sexist coverage of Nancy Pelosi.”

But when it comes to Palin, well, a lot of “progressive” women (and liberal reporters) simply don’t care.

Comments welcome.