Posts Tagged ‘media analysis’
Many of this blog’s readers are news junkies. So in a slight departure from this blog’s usual content today, I’d like to suggest you bookmark a new website that debuted this week called “Retro Report.”
I really like the promise of this site, because it seeks to correct one of the biggest problems with today’s media. Too often, a story dominates the headlines for a few days and then disappears. But what happens after the story disappears? Did more information about the story emerge? Did it ever get reported? Did the original breaking news coverage get parts of the story wrong or omit a key perspective?
Retro Report, a nonprofit documentary news organization, seeks to tell “the truth now about the big stories then.”
The first Retro Report piece takes viewers back to 1987, when “a barge loaded with New York garbage became a sensational fiasco,” but “ended up fueling the modern recycling movement.” The story was big enough for Peter Jennings, Dan Rather, and Bob Schieffer to report on at the time. Even Johnny Carson couldn’t resist cracking a joke. Here’s the story:
Publisher Taegan Goddard told me he “hopes that Retro Report can become the Wikipedia for news—the place to go to find out what happened to stories that once dominated the news.”
This looks like a great project. I hope you enjoy it as much as I expect to.
Update: Monday, May 13, 2013: Retro Report posted its newest video today. This one, about the Tailhook military sexual harassment scandal, is also excellent.
Tags: media analysis, Retro Report, Taegan Goddard
Posted in Recommended Reading | 2 Comments »
If you follow my Twitter feed (I’m at @MrMediaTraining), you know that I often have critical words to say about CNN. Based on my tweets alone, you might reasonably conclude that I hate the network.
The truth is I don’t. I’m just bitterly disappointed in what the network has become. CNN’s decline has occurred at the exact moment that a solid news—not opinion—network is needed most.
There’s a critical need for a cable news channel that aims down the middle and gets it right. CNN should be the network that meets that need. Instead, it’s too often filled with silly and completely unnecessary graphics of holograms (really), silly and completely unnecessary over-coverage of “breaking” stories (such as the hours-long broadcast following the arrival of the Carnival Triumph cruise ship), and, worst of all, incorrect reporting.
CNN has had its credibility shattered in recent years. Its reputation took a bad hit in 1998, when the network claimed that U.S. troops committed war crimes during Operation Tailwind, a covert incursion that occurred during the Vietnam War. The network retracted the report.
In 2000, the network suffered another black eye by calling the presidential race incorrectly. More recently, CNN said that Gabrielle Giffords had died (she didn’t), that the Supreme Court overturned ObamaCare (it didn’t), and that Ryan Lanza was the Newtown shooter (he wasn’t – it was his brother, Adam).
But CNN’s misreporting this month about the Boston Marathon bombings may have been its lowest moment, compounding the network’s growing reputation for blowing the big story.
At the time of this report, no arrest had been made—Correspondent John King made these comments before the manhunt in Watertown, Massachusetts that led to the death of one suspect and the capture of the other.
King didn’t stop there. He also described the suspect as a “dark-skinned male,” which turned out to a questionable description—and was probably too vague to warrant mention at all.
John King later acknowledged his mistake and described his agony over getting it wrong. But CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker seemed not to care. He sent his staff a tone-deaf and congratulatory statement on their wonderful coverage of the bombing:
“For journalists like each of us, these are the times that define what we do and why we do it. All of you, across every division of CNN Worldwide, have done exceptional work. And when we made a mistake, we moved quickly to acknowledge it and correct it.”
Zucker is right that these are the times that define what they do. It’s just that his rose-colored definition is wrong. Despite the fact that many of CNN’s reporters and correspondents reported parts of the story well, their successes were rightfully drowned out by their mistakes.
It’s true that other news organizations got this story (and some of the others I mentioned in this piece) wrong. But I don’t expect more from many of those outlets. I do expect more from CNN. And for that reason, I’m naming CNN’s misreporting the worst video media disaster of the month.
What do you think? Was I too hard on CNN, or do they deserve being named the worst disaster of the month? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: cnn, Jeff Zucker, John King, media analysis
Posted in Media Training Disasters | Please Comment »
CNN is yet again being criticized for misreporting a major news story.
This time, the network claimed that a suspect had been arrested in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing. After the FBI issued a stern rebuke, the occasional news network backed away from the story. (Others got the story wrong as well, but CNN’s mistakes were made with particular panache.)
BuzzFeed did a wonderful job of capturing CNN’s awful hour of reporting here.
Below are a few other high-profile examples of mainstream media outlets getting a major story wrong.
In December 2012, after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, many news outlets wrongly identified the shooter as Adam Lanza’s brother, Ryan. Lanza’s mother was also widely reported to have been a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School; she wasn’t. Many news outlets also misreported the type of gun used in the attack.
In June 2012, both CNN and the Fox News Channel misreported the Supreme Court’s decision regarding President Obama’s health care law, as the screenshots below show.
In 2011, many news organizations misreported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had died. According to Poynter.org:
“Organizations such as NPR, Reuters, Fox News, CBS, CNN and the Huffington Post sent out tweets or distributed other reports declaring Giffords dead. The New York Times’ website briefly reported her dead as well.”
In 2004, The New York Post splashed John Kerry’s Vice Presidential choice on its front page: “Dem picks (Dick) Gephardt,” blared the headline. Except he didn’t. John Edwards got the nod.
In 2000, CNN reported that Al Gore had won Florida.
In 1981, President Reagan’s spokesperson, James Brady, was declared dead by news networks after being hit by one of John Hinkley’s bullets. He’s still alive.
Remember President Thomas E. Dewey? In 1948, The Chicago Tribune named him the winner of the presidential election. He wasn’t. Harry Truman was elected to a full term.
These are just a few examples – the list of incorrect media stories could include hundreds of others.
I think it’s reasonable to conclude that breaking news coverage is broken. I no longer trust the first wave of reporting on the cable news channels. In the rush to be first, they too often blow the story, or at least critical parts of the story.
We should be skeptical when reporters rely upon the wording “sources said.” Yes, anonymous sources are often reliable. But as we’ve seen from these high-profile examples, they’re too often wrong. And we, as viewers, have no way of determining the credibility of those anonymous sources. That has always been so, but in light of these major and recurring mistakes, it’s more so now than ever before.
From now on, I’m inclined to wait until law enforcement officials confirm stories publicly before fully believing them. You probably should too.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Boston Marathon, cnn, Fox News Channel, Gabrielle Giffords, Harry Truman, James Brady, media analysis, Newtown shooting
Posted in Media Analysis | Please Comment »
Reporters for the college newspaper The Daily Princetonian are no longer allowed to conduct interviews through email. Neither are reporters for The Stanford Daily or The Oracle, the University of South Florida’s paper.
What’s behind this seemingly urgent push for “no email interview” policies? To find out, writer Mark Lisheron wrote a thoughtful and well-researched piece for the April issue of the American Journalism Review. (Disclosure: I’m quoted in the article.)
Unsurprisingly, his investigation revealed deep passions on both sides of the debate. Supporters of the email ban argued their side thusly, as summarized by Lisheron:
“E-mail deprives the reporter of all of the sensory advantages of the other interview styles. Facial expressions, gestures, posture. The sound and the cadence of the voice. The emphasis on words or phrases. The pauses.
As fast and convenient as they are, e-mail interviews are never really conducted in real time. The timing of the response, the allowance for measured and edited replies create an artificiality readers recognize.”
The then-editor of The Daily Princetonian, Henry Rome, explained his decision to ban email interviews by writing:
“Interviews are meant to be genuine, spontaneous conversations that allow a reporter to gain a greater understanding of a source’s perspective. However, the use of the email interview — and its widespread presence in our News articles — has resulted in stories filled with stilted, manicured quotes that often hide any real meaning and make it extremely difficult for reporters to ask follow-up questions or build relationships with sources.”
On the other side of the debate are those who make the case for email interviews. One past president of the National Information Officers Association said this, as summarized by Lisheron:
“Reporters, he says, have no inherent right to a statement from him. He reserves the right to ask for questions in writing and provide answers in writing, usually through e-mail.
Departments like his are trying harder to control the message, not because they are deceptive and evil, but because relationships with the media have changed.”
And another public information officer told him that getting questions in writing is:
“…not only a way to form more complete and accurate answers, but to be better able to parry inquiries designed to elicit specific responses.”
So who’s right? Both sides have a point, and the truth is somewhere in the middle. Like anything else (say, PowerPoint slides) the problem is less with the tool itself than with the way that tool gets used. That said, far too many spokespersons rely on email. They think they’re maintaining control by only offering written statements—and sometimes they are—but too often, they’re unnecessarily undermining their relationships with the press.
You can read more about my view on this issue in my article called “Three Reasons to Interview by Phone Instead of Email.”
I hope you’ll read Mark’s excellent article in full. You can find it here. And please leave your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below.
Tags: American Journalism Review, Mark Lisheron, media analysis, media training analysis, working with reporters
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 5 Comments »
As my husband rocks our 5-month-old daughter back and forth in his arms to give me some time to catch up on work, I can’t help but think about Frank Bruni’s column in last Sunday’s New York Times.
Mr. Bruni has a lot to say about today’s parents. He’s “confounded by the boundless fretting, as if ushering kids into adulthood were some newfangled sorcery dependent on a slew of child-rearing books and a bevy of child-rearing blogs.” He says we’re too permissive, we bargain with kids, and we give them too many choices.
Whether you agree or disagree with Mr. Bruni, his argument is hurt by one glaring fact: He’s not a parent.
Until he knows the awesome responsibility and love that goes into raising a child, the constant worrying about his or her future and the – let’s face it – fear of failure, Mr. Bruni is really in no position to criticize today’s parents. His attempt at mitigating that fact by mentioning the time he spends with his many nieces and nephews just doesn’t suffice.
Mr. Bruni’s column raises an important question for PR professionals trying to identify the right spokesperson: How credible is the person as a spokesperson? For example, are non-parents the best people to deliver messages about parenting? Are men the best messengers to deliver messages about women? Are Democrats the best envoys to deliver messages about what they see as necessary changes within the Republican Party?
Take, for example, last year’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on religious liberty and contraceptive coverage. In a hearing that was incredibly important to health care for women, the first of two groups to testify that day consisted of all men. As a result, three Democrats walked out of the hearing, Planned Parenthood circulated a photo of the all-male panel and the Democrats’ narrative that Republicans are insensitive to women’s causes was furthered.
Choosing the right messenger can make or break your reputation, as Brad wrote in this blog post and in The Media Training Bible. The same principle applies when your organization deals with sensitive issues. Don’t let the corporate hierarchy be the sole determinant of who the right organizational spokesperson is. If your CEO isn’t the best person to speak on a specific issue, find someone lower on the food chain who will appear more credible to the public.
Do you share my view or do you think I’ve gotten it wrong? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below. In the meantime, please follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina.
Christina Mozaffari is the vice president of the Washington, DC office for Phillips Media Relations.
Photo credit: Earl Wilson/ The New York Times
Tags: media analysis
Posted in Media Training Analysis | 7 Comments »
As yet another hurricane makes its way to America’s shores, America’s reporters have once again planted themselves right in middle of the storm.
And that begs the question: Is it stupid for reporters to do live shots while standing in middle of a hurricane?
If you’ve been watching Hurricane Sandy coverage, you’ve likely seen a few reporters standing in a stormy area “braving” increasingly strong winds and surging waves.
So are they doing a public service, or is it an arrogant conceit that unnecessarily risks the safety of reporters and their crews?
When I posed this question on my Facebook page during Hurricane Irene, one commenter asked: “…do you stay out of a war zone or a protest that could turn ugly, too?”
She’s right that reporters have to occasionally risk danger to get the story. But I’d argue that this dangerous journalistic hurricane chasing is less about news value and more about showmanship. Dramatic images fuel higher ratings, and daring reporters receive professional kudos for their “bravery.” Getting blown down by heavy winds, drenched by angry waves, or struck by flying debris has become a de rigueur rite of passage for weather reporters.
Plus, are they really protecting the public by showing them just how dangerous the storm is in person? Doesn’t it stand to reason that viewers might think, “Well, if it’s safe enough for that guy to stand out there…”
Just how dangerous is this type of coverage? In this video, Julie Martin of The Weather Channel slams into an SUV after being hit by a wind gust during 2008’s Hurricane Dolly:
And in this one, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough risks being hit by flying debris during 2004’s Hurricane Jeanne:
When Dan Rather became the first reporter to cover a live hurricane in 1961, it made sense to broadcast from the storm’s center. The public hadn’t seen that shot before, it broke new journalistic ground, and it added to the story. But five decades of these shots have diminished both their impact and their news value.
News organizations will inevitably continue this dangerous practice until the moment a reporter gets seriously injured or killed – at which point they’ll predictably dial it back. In an era when live cams can tell the story well enough during the actual storm, it’ll be a preventable and largely pointless tragedy.
Editor’s Note: A version of this post originally ran during Hurricane Irene on August 28. 2011.
What do you think? Is this type of weather reporting brave and necessary or just plain reckless? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.
Tags: media analysis, weather
Posted in Media Analysis | 6 Comments »
At the end of every month, I write an article that lists that month’s five worst video media disasters.
A few weeks ago, I saw a video of a media disaster and thought, “This one has to go on the list.” But the more I thought about it, the more I concluded that it may not have been a media disaster at all, but a purposefully staged “fight” to bring more buzz to a television program.
The video involved two of next season’s new judges for American Idol: singers Mariah Carey and Nikki Minaj. Here’s the clip:
Nicki Minaj: “Think I’m playin’? Think this shit is a fucking joke? Think it’s a joke? Think it’s a joke? Think it’s a joke? Say one more disrespectful thing to me, if you say one more disrespectful thing to me — off with your head…I’m not fucking putting up with your fucking highness over there … figure it the fuck out.”
This fight may have been real. But the history of fake feuds to boost ratings, movie box office receipts, or record sales is as old as show business itself.
In singer Rod Stewart’s new book, which was released on Tuesday, he describes the work done on his behalf by press agent Tony Toon, who regularly generated press that had no basis in reality.
Stewart shares this anecdote:
“Perhaps the classic Toon fabrication was the story of the thwarted love affair I supposedly had with the daughter of President Gerald Ford. Now, it was true that Susan Ford came to see the Faces [Stewart’s band] play in 1975….It is also true that she came backstage afterward, surrounded by an army of security men. But from those meager details, Tony created a saga worth a week of newspaper headlines, in which our eyes had met across a crowded room, we had fallen hopelessly and permanently in love, Susan had invited me to an intimate dinner at the White House.”
Hollywood publicists regularly put out rumors about two stars dating to generate a few headlines. “Reality” shows leak every rumor about the latest celebrity under consideration for a job as judge or host, only a few of whom ever get the work. And, in its most insidious form, rumors have swirled for decades about gay leading men who marry women solely to maintain their “manly” images in the public eye, complete with regularly released photos of the “happy couple” in love.
I’m still confused about the Michael Jackson – Lisa Marie Presley marriage, for example. (What was that about?) But their highly-publicized and cringeworthy kiss at the 1994 Video Music Awards certainly created some buzz:
The Nikki Minaj/Mariah Carey video may be real. Or it may be an expertly publicized fake. But I can’t shake the feeling that some publicist got paid a lot of money to leak the “grainy cell phone” video that just happened to be rolling at the moment their “fight” began.
Here’s the bottom line: Next time you hear a salacious rumor centered around an entertainer, be skeptical. Some of the stories might be true. But it’s a strange coincidence that so many of those rumors occur just weeks before a singer’s new album or an actor’s new film is released.
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: American Idol, Lisa Marie Presley, Mariah Carey, media analysis, Michael Jackson, Nikki Minaj, Rod Stewat
Posted in Media Analysis | Please Comment »
I suppose it isn’t fair to criticize Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO program, “The Newsroom,” for being unrealistic. After all, we don’t expect “Law and Order” to be a perfect reflection of American jurisprudence, or “NCIS” to capture the nuances of military investigations, or “Mad Men” to nail 1960s advertising culture with precision.
But I’m having a difficult time suspending my disbelief when it comes to “The Newsroom.” The show’s central assertion rings false, the premise seems contradictory, and the program removes the true drama that often occurs in a newsroom.
If you haven’t seen it, “The Newroom” centers around a cable news program called News Night and its anchor, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels). The series begins when Mr. McAvoy, a well-regarded objective journalist, explodes during a public event by blasting a questioner’s assertion that America is the greatest country on the planet. His rare lapse into “opinion journalism” ultimately convinces McAvoy that he should abandon his objectivity to tell “the truth” every night instead.
Here are three reasons “The Newsroom” is off:
1. The Concept Isn’t Even Remotely Shocking: The show’s creators seem to believe that it would be “shocking” for a formerly objective anchor to suddenly abandon his neutrality and deliver a personal viewpoint. But that story dates back almost to the beginning of television news, when broadcasting legends Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, among many others, delivered strong personal views.
McAvoy protests the ideological nature of his cable competitors, but he’s actually not that much different. Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews all deliver strong personal views every weeknight. They, like the fictional McAvoy, believe that their interpretation of the facts is right. It’s not exactly a novel concept.
2. The “Center” Isn’t The Center: In one of the show’s better moments, ACN’s news division president Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) insists that “facts are the center.” I agree. So why, in an episode about the rise of the Tea Party, did the show present two sides: the heroic people who opposed the Tea Party, and the buffoonish and ignorant characters who were part of it?
Here’s an alternative view of the center: Most Americans want our nation’s most vulnerable citizens—the impoverished, the sick, the elderly—to benefit from a safety net that allows them access to basic health care, safe housing, and nutritious food. Most of us want basic regulations that prevent businesses from abusing the law and endangering public safety, but don’t want those regulations to squelch innovation and unnecessarily cost jobs. But most people also recognize that The United States is almost $16 trillion in debt, meaning we’re going to have to make tough choices. That is the struggle that defines our times.
But you won’t find that fundamental question about “the center” anywhere on the show. Why present a truly challenging intellectual argument when you can show old video of failed Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle saying something stupid instead?
3. The Show Removes The Real Drama of a Newsroom: The show’s premiere episode is set on the first day of the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill. Within minutes—yes, minutes—the program’s staff already knows the cause, the amount of oil that’s gushing from the seafloor, and how long it could last.
The show’s most knowledgeable staffer on spill-related matters? Yup, it’s the program’s blogger, Neal Sampat (Dev Patel), who implausibly says he learned everything he needed to about deep water geology from a grade school assignment.
Drama in a newsroom rarely comes in the form of all-knowing characters who almost instantaneously have all of the answers. It comes in the form of teams of smart people working together—through a combination of contacting the right sources, doing the right research, and asking the right questions—to nail a story. When that unfolds before your eyes, it’s a whole lot more dramatic than watching people who seem to magically have all of the answers. (The show improved on that score in its fourth episode regarding the Gabrielle Giffords story; hopefully, more of the same will follow.)
What do you think of “The Newsroom?” Do you find my review unnecessarily harsh? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Tags: Aaron Sorkin, HBO, media analysis, The Newsroom
Posted in Media Analysis | 16 Comments »