Saturday, October 29, 2005

Your Favorite News Sources?

So, where do you go for news? What online news sources do you have bookmarked or selected for your ISP home page? What do you read? What news programs do you regularly listen to or watch?

Has the "grade the news" assignment changed your news habits in any way, or made you more critical of or appreciative of your favorite news sources?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Password Protection Overload

My desire for news is duking it out with my dislike of passwords...and the New York Times is losing.

It happened again tonight. I saw a NYT editorial I wanted to read, clicked on the link, and here's what I got:
Time for the Vice President to Explain Himself
Published: October 30, 2005

It's time for Dick Cheney to give the nation "a stiff dose of truth."

To continue reading this article, you must be a subscriber to TimesSelect. Log in now.

Apparently I missed the telltale [TS] beside the title which indicates it's password-protected "TimesSelect" content. Maybe "TS" stands for "tough shit."

I'm tired of having to enter an e-mail address and password to read something online. I now have four email addresses and use multiple passwords (I know, my fault...I've changed ISPs without closing down the old one), so trying to remember which e-mail address and password I used to register for a NYT account can be kind of frustrating. Frankly, I've given up.

I was glad to see I'm not the only one who's sick of this. In a recent blog posting, JMC grad student Ryan Sholin wrote:
As many folks have pointed out, a stable of New York Times columnists have been locked behind a paywall online.

I agree with everyone who thinks this is a load of crap.

Hiding content behind a cash register serves only to further remove the NYT from public discourse. But that’s a given.

Sholin points out that students and faculty can access NYT articles and editorials for free through the Lexis-Nexis database, and directs you to a source that explains how.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Entertainment Blues

A recent story by Kim Masters on NPR's Morning Edition explored how increased corporate influence may be hurting the entertainment industry.

As her sources explained how corporate pressure to keep up stock prices and revenues is undermining the creativity and risk-taking of TV and movie studios, I couldn't help but think how the same forces are undermining our news media.

Of course, that's because the entertainment industry has bought up so much of the news media.

Miller's Misplaced Loyalties

Geneva Overholser put her finger on it.

Overholser, a professor at the Missouri School of Journalism (UMC) and a former member of the editorial board at the New York Times, spoke yesterday on The News Hour (PBS) about the NYT's now-public rebuke of reporter Judith Miller. One of the most unsettling aspects of the situation, she said, was that Miller appeared to be giving sources like Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, power over what she reported.

"She would have been willing to mislead readers, I think," Overholser said.

That's my impression too. Miller's loyalities seem to lie with the people she's covering, not with the public.

That's not journalism, that's PR. And bad PR at that.

Some Encouraging Words

I came face to face with my own biases the other day.

I had a guest speaker in the classroom -- John McManus, director of He was asking students in my newswriting class what they thought of the current direction of the mainstream media, particularly the trend toward more entertainment and 'feel-good' stories, and less actual news.

Honestly, even though this is a journalism class, I thought a lot of my students wouldn't see it as that big of an issue...that only the over-50 crowd like me worries about this kind of thing. But you know what? I was wrong.

Here's what some of them had to say:
"How many times do you need to find out about Brad Pitt," said Gabriel Velez. "The whole celebrity thing...we have so much of it. How much more can you take before it just gets boring?"

"I'd prefer that the news media would give me the news that I need to know...what's going on with our government...avian flu," said Victoria Gothot.

The PR majors were concerned too.
"If it affects the quality of news, PR is affected," said Kao Saechao. "If the news media isn't reaching the public, PR loses a venue."

You know, sometimes it's nice to be wrong.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Let's call a spade a spade

Note: If you're an ardent Bush supporter, or you think the Iraq War is a truly righteous endeavor, you may want to skip this posting.

When I got an e-mail this week from a colleague touting New York Times reporter Judith Miller's appearance at a recent journalism confab (including a photo of said colleague with Miller), my first reaction was probably not the one he expected. You see, I cringed.

That's because, from the get-go, I've had reservations about the media's adulation of Miller's decision to go to jail to protect her sources. I've had this sneaking suspicion that her decision was, at least in part, a CYA move.

Maybe that's because we now know that much of the "evidence" Miller reported about the threat posed by Iraq in the run-up to the U.S. invasion (remember those WMDs?) was misleading. Wait, let's call a spade a spade: it was a pack of lies.

To my mind, that leaves two choices: either Miller was a gullible sap (and a bad reporter) who got conned by the Bush administration into reporting those lies and exaggerations...or she was a willing participant who happily pushed propaganda. Either way, she doesn't look much like a media hero to me.

Watching all the recent hoopla about Miller, I've been waiting for the other shoe to drop. And now it has. Well, maybe not the whole shoe, maybe just the insole. But whatever it was, it's hit the floor with a thud.

In what an AP story termed a "dramatic e-mail" to NYT staff, Executive Editor Bill Keller said that Miller "appeared to have misled" the newspaper about her dealings with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, on these issues, and on her knowledge of Libby's possible role in the "outing" of CIA operative Valerie Plame (the subject of an ongoing federal grand jury investigation, as discussed in this AP article).

However, I think Keller's missing the real point: Miller didn't just mislead the paper and her colleagues; she helped scam the entire nation. If something's printed in the Times, people tend to take it seriously.

I agree with Jack Shafer of Slate. Asserting that "journalistic standards were betrayed at the Times," he wrote:
"…Miller continues to haunt the New York Times two and a half years after her Iraq work was widely discredited, because the paper has yet to document how she botched the story of the decade and catalog the role she played in the current White House imbroglio.

"…The Times won't break free of Miller's malevolent spirit until the paper commissions an exorcism in print, akin to the ones it conducted following the Blair and Lee possessions."

Let the exorcism begin.

This Unfunded Mandate Could Hit You

In response to the growing popularity of VOIP, the federal government is requiring hundreds of universities and libraries to overhaul their Internet computer networks by 2007 to make it easier for law enforcement authorities to monitor e-mail and other online communications to help catch terrorists and other criminals.

One university advocate called it "the mother of all unfunded mandates."

As reported in the New York Times, this FCC order extends the provisions of a 1994 wiretap law that requires telephone carriers to engineer their switching systems at their own cost so that federal agents can easily access them for surveillance purposes.

Universities are protesting that it will cost them at least $7 billion to comply. And that's just for the equipment -- that doesn't count the installation costs or the ongoing costs of hiring and training staff to oversee those systems 24 hours a day, as the law requires.

Even the lowest cost estimates suggest this law will increase annual tuitions at most American universities by some $450.

Students, prepare to write your legislators...or prepare to open your checkbooks!