Monthly Archives: October 2010

I never thought I’d be so happy to live in Cook County

Sorry, but the Tribune newsroom is not separate from the boys upstairs

Kass’s patriotism about his newsroom is both bizarre and naive. Like Trib editor Gerry Kern, Kass tries to argue that the newsroom is a separate operation from the corporate suite or the rest of the company – as if it doesn’t matter what the boys upstairs do. But it does matter. When executives make decisions about marketing strategy, for example, that dictate sending reporters and resources to cover affluent communities instead of city neighborhoods or poor suburbs so their demographic can be presented to advertisers, that’s a perversion of the values Kass thinks his newspaper holds. When the Trib website becomes littered with “Comic Con Hotties” and “Hot Sports Wives & Girlfriends,” that’s an editorial matter influenced – explicitly or implicitly – from the top. When the corporate hacks install as managing editor of Kass’s newsroom the former editor of RedEye who, for all I know, has never reported a one-alarm fire, that impacts the product. And who does Kass think Kern has to make happy – and how? – to keep his job?

And that’s not even to address a newsroom that vies for the most dysfunctional office politics in the land.

That doesn’t mean the Tribune doesn’t ever do outstanding work. It does. But that doesn’t absolve its blind spots and embarrassments.

Why can’t people be honest about this? To admit it is NOT tantamount to bashing the work of yourself or your colleagues.

Can this David Cameron guy be our president too?

Is it a crime to know your audience?

Mr. Williams was a “lightning rod” for the public radio organization in part because he “tends to speak one way on NPR and another on Fox.

I don’t suppose many people will be focusing on this tidbit in the Juan Williams story, but I found it extremely interesting.

I think we all understand what is being implied here, right?

The FOX editorial voice is more conservative and the NPR one is more liberal. I don’t think we’re going to have any disagreement on this point.

So what the speaker of this quote (Alicia C. Shepard, NPR’s ombudswoman) was objecting to is that Williams dared to discern that difference in voice and perhaps audience composition and adjust his commentary accordingly.

Is there something inherently wrong with this? Do we not do this all the time in our daily lives? When describing an event to, say, your spouse and then describing the event to your boss, would you use the exact same narrative? I don’t think so. You might give your spouse more colorful, personal details. On the other hand, if the event is somehow related to your business, you might give the boss more technical information that you might know your spouse isn’t interested in.

Politicians do this all the time and I don’t see anyone “firing” them for telling one interest group one thing and turning around and telling another something that’s almost the polar opposite.

What the real question might be is: which Juan Williams is saying what he truly feels? Will the real Juan Williams please stand up?

Now I’m about to possibly blow your mind…. wait for it…. what if they are BOTH the real Juan Williams? Is it not possible for a person to hold what could be viewed as opposing viewpoints on different issues? Is it not possible for someone to be personally conflicted on some matters?

Haven’t you experienced this yourself? Think of an issue and how you generally feel about it. Now, can you somewhat understand the opposing viewpoint even if you don’t fully agree with it? That’s called being a normal human I think.

So why should Juan Williams have to pay for being human?

John Kass, I’m just not that into you

Chicago Tribune reporters work in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. They do not blog from mommy’s basement, cutting and pasting what others have reported, while putting it under a cute pen name on the Internet.

SHAMEFUL.

This is my real name and I’m not in a basement, but in my own home where my name is on the mortgage. Is that real enough for you?

In addition, I am a journalist who has had her work published in your paper as well as other publications.

Not all of us are lucky enough to have full-time jobs John. In fact, many of those empty desks you see all around you belong to colleagues who are in many cases blogging now. Some are doing it in a paid, professional capacity. Some are doing it to demonstrate their writing ability and some are doing it simply as a hobby, like gardening or stamp collecting. Are they in their parents’ basements stealing content as well?

Thanks so much for perpetuating a tired, old cliche.

People today are deliberately uninformed. It is a choice.

Access to knowledge, for the first time in history, is largely unimpeded for the middle class. Without effort or expense, it’s possible to become informed if you choose. For less than your cable TV bill, you can buy and read an important book every week. Share the buying with six friends and it costs far less than coffee.

Or you can watch TV.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Classic TV Op-Ed from NBC (1984)

The Secret Powers of Time

The enemy of progress is complexity

When I was coming up as a programmer in the 1970s, you needed a lot of experience to work in the world of minis and mainframes. The programmers of the previous generation felt secure that in order to make real software you had to understand all that they understood, which assured them a place at the top of the ladder, and made young dudes like me start out at the bottom. Heh. This is always a mistake. If you’ve created too complex a world, the next generation will just create a new one that’s simpler. One that they understand and you don’t. You’re still at the top of a ladder — your ladder. They just created a new one, and you’re not even on it. :-)

Jay Rosen rightly pointed out this morning that this Dave Winer post applies to not only the tech space, but many other fields.

For instance… with exceedingly rare exceptions, you still need some sort of daily print experience in order to get a full-time print (or digital) media job. Why is this so? All the arguments in favor of hiring this way are sound. But so are the arguments against it. We could say that this is especially true in an age when media needs new bold, fresh ideas, not acolytes of the old regime. And of course this isn’t to say that experienced, seasoned employees can’t also be great hires, but just that young, somewhat inexperienced ones can be as well.

As Dave said, if we can’t climb the existing ladder… we’ll just build a new one.

If no one knows about it, did it really happen?

Sort of tired of Feder repeatedly claiming without basis that nobody in the Tribune newsroom has spoken up about the nonsense coming down the chute from management over the last two years. Just because we haven’t made a public spectacle of ourselves for your benefit does not mean courageous people in the Tribune newsroom have not fought internally to maintain standards in the face of managers willing to try just about anything to make the radio guys happy. Try to remember the newsroom uprising over the marketing department trying to test-market stories before they were ready for publication. When an issue has grown to the level where we have felt our integrity was directly on the line, we have spoken up. This has been a mess and you’ve done a mostly good job reporting this story, but try to show a little more balance on this issue.

This is a comment that I can only assume comes from a current or former Tribune employee.

I actually DO remember the marketing scandal they’re referring to. That did indeed demonstrate to me a desire on the part of many newsroom folks to stand up to the insane regime of Michaels and his cronies.

But that’s been the only thing we’ve heard about. I’m not doubting the veracity of this comment mind you. What I’m asking is, if no one knows about all these heroic things that people in the newsroom have done to try to maintain standards…does it really matter that they did them?

Let’s flip this around. How would a newspaper reporter feel about a government official saying “Well, we know we have some corruption in our department, but we’ve taken steps to curb that and we’re constantly working on it.” Do you think the reporter would have some follow-up questions? Do you think the reporter would accept it if no more information was offered? What do you think the reporter (and the general public) would think of this government department in general? Would they hold them in high regard after they had to come around and ask what’s been done to stop the corruption? No, they would have preferred there to be no corruption at all, but being realistic, they would have at least preferred an official to own up to it right away and outline EXACTLY what specific steps have been taken to address it.

After the corruption has been exposed and reporters have to come around asking questions, trust in this government department has already been lost, right? Now they have to regain the public’s trust and it might take a while.

The same thing has happened to the Tribune. The New York Times came around asking questions and now all the dirt is out in the open. So it’s already too late to say that something was being done to curb it, because unfortunately no one knows about it. That ship has sailed. What’s important now is how employees conduct themselves from here on out.

Now, let’s imagine something wonderful that could have happened. If there was no media code of silence (http://www.annatarkov.com/the-media-omerta) and employees felt empowered to publicly speak or write about all the efforts they were making to uphold standards…. well, imagine how different things would look now.

The NYT article would have come out and instead of scrambling to defend their integrity, Tribune employees could point to all the work they had been doing to fight their crazy managers.

Telling us about it now, unfair as this is, does them no good. Now i’s safe to say it. Now that the Gerry Kern has shamed and ousted Abrams, now it’s ok to speak up. I’d wager than many employees are thrilled that that NYT piece was written. Because while it has not given them much, it has at least afforded them the ability to speak up and not fear reprisals.

Again though, the speaking up should have come a lot sooner.