Archive for ‘Journalism’

Live with Talat

By , 25 November, 2009, 4 Comments


As I’ve written previously, one of the joys of being an American abroad is the experience of encountering fellow expats: overwhelmed by our minority status, we tend to band together and overcome geographic or class barriers that divide us at home. There’s a similar experience I’m having as a journalist abroad in a country that is notoriously unsafe for journalists. At home, different publications compete for scoops; here, I’ve had correspondents from rival American papers and local media fall over themselves to hand over their sources and their leads. In no instance has that humbled me more than in the case of Talat Hussain, a local TV host whose program I’ve been watching on our home satellite subscription in New York for ages. In addition to giving me advice on my stories, he generously allowed me to sit in on a taping of his show. Here’s the episode I saw:

Musharraf’s Revenge

By , 21 November, 2009, 2 Comments

Blogging from Islamabad has been delayed this week because, as perhaps I should have anticipated, I picked up a tummy bug soon after arrival that more or less incapacitated me for 48 hours and derailed my reporting. In my defense, it was in pursuit of a scoop that I allowed myself to persuaded into eating out with a source despite knowing that it’s best to stick to home-cooked meals here. [Then again, I ate at this lovely cafe today and seem to be doing just fine.] Ever the wit, my mother has diagnosed the whole business Musharraf’s Revenge.

One upside to the whole thing: I spoke to two doctors here, one with the government who happily proscribed a number of fancy Western antibiotics and one in private practice who proscribed a strict diet of green tea. There’s a nugget of cultural learning in there somewhere, I think.

In any case, the first week has been mostly devoted to getting the lay of the land and boning up on current policy debates. The major kerfuffle at the moment seems to be an internecine media squabble over a controversial piece in a right-leaning newspaper. Here’s my take, cross-posted from the Pulitzer Center’s Untold Stories:

Read More →

Couldn’t have said it better myself

By , 20 November, 2009, No Comment

Great chat between Cato’s Julian Sanchez and American Scene’s Conor Friedersdorf about the future of media, what constitutes journalism and how politicians try to work the media narrative. The chat covers two subjects I’ve touched on before: the federal shield law and Google’s impact on media production. It’s solid stuff, the whole way through. Worth taking an hour this weekend for.

Can You Wish Yourself Bon Voyage?

By , 15 November, 2009, 1 Comment

When I started this blog, I had high ambitions of posting once a day, which soon became every other day, which soon became once in 4 days, and sometimes even once a week. But this is the first time I have gone two weeks without an update. Apologies.

I do have an excuse. I’m embarking on a four-month quest across South Asia, reporting on the intersection of economics and security; on the role that development, infrastructure, natural resources and trade currently play in the region’s instability and the role that they could play in stabilization.

I’m traveling courtesy of the folks at the Pulitzer Center, and relying on the kindness of family and friends for places to sleep and eat. I’ll be blogging for the Center’s site (and cross-posting here), and publishing the fruits of my more detailed reporting to Forbes and Newsweek. This combination—nonprofit grant, out-of-pocket expenses, handouts from friends, and freelancers’ fees—is a telling window into the economics of the new journalism. My budget says I’ll JUST break even, so it’s unclear whether there’s a business model in international reporting done this way, or whether this method can ever replace what we’ve lost with the collapse of the bureau system. Still, for the moment, reporting great stories without LOSING money suits me just fine—it’s sure to be an incredible ride.

Though I’ll be cross-posting my future items to both this page and my Pulitzer Center page, my first post is already up on the Center’s website, and I urge you to check it out.

Apocalypse 31: What’s in a Name?

By , 15 October, 2009, 1 Comment

Not much, I hope. Since a favorite publication–BusinessWeek–is about to add “Bloomberg” to its title page. Bloomberg BusinessWeek (BBW for short!) doesn’t quite roll off the tongue.

That said, Bloomberg buying BusinessWeek is about the best thing that could have happened, given that the alternatives all involved some kind of private equity entity, and as I’ve previously articulated, those kinds of mergers are bad news. Still, there are reasons to worry, because there’s a lot of uncertainty about HOW Bloomberg plans to use BusinessWeek.

Bloomberg could take two approaches:

Read More →

Must See TV

By , 8 October, 2009, No Comment

I have mixed feelings about cable opinion anchors. I find their shouting and character gimmicks infuriating, on left and right, but I think at least in the world of American TV news, they do longer segments that let them spend more time on issues they care about than their ‘straight’ news counterparts and I value that in a soundbyte era. [I also agree with Dan Drezner that talking head shows were actually better when left and right yelled at each other than they are now, yelling at themselves]

That said, I don’t watch Olbermann or O’Reilly, Matthews, Dobbs or Kudlow unless I’m at the gym and need distraction. However, I heard on the grapevine that Olbermann would be devoting a whole hour to an opinion talk—a ‘special comment’—on health care last night. Since I’m rather obsessed with the issue at the moment, I set my DVR and just watched the results. Summary: he’s wrong about a LOT, but this is powerful and eloquent stuff. Worth watching.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Washington’s Cognitive Dissonance

By , 5 October, 2009, No Comment

I wrote a news item for Fortune today on the FTC’s new guidelines for advertising and consumer endorsements on the web. Basically, the guidelines require disclosure of any material connections–money changing hands–between companies and bloggers.


 

“The issue here,” says Cleland, “is whether, if the consumer knew of the relationship between the advertisers and the blogger, would it affect the credibility of the blogger’s statements?” If so, the new guidelines would permit the FTC to demand that the blogger disclose the connection, with failure to comply resulting in fines as high as $11,000.

The problem, critics contend, is the lack of clarity in the FTC Guides on what will constitute a violation. Beyond direct payments from companies to reviewers in exchange for specific coverage, the guidelines seem to extend to consumer and personal websites where advertising content and editorial content overlap.

Read the rest here.

One thing that came up in my reporting that I didn’t get a chance to address in the piece is the question of whether blogs are a publishing medium where conflicts of interest are a form of commercial corruption, or just equivalent to individual speech, in which case the government can’t regulate them at all. In this case, the FTC is treating blogs as a publishing medium, at the expense of the many individuals who use the platform simply to carry on personal conversations.

Meanwhile, the FCC seems to be approaching the internet as a form of speech and therefore pushing net neutrality on the grounds that all speech must be treated equal. That approach takes away all the specific protections that commercial content is premised upon (like intellectual property rights), even as that publishing is about to move online.

Meanwhile, Congress, which oversees both agencies, is trying to draw a line in the middle of the blogosphere between those who use blogs as a publishing form–and get special rights but also stricter rules as a result–and those who are just speaking. The Congressional shield bill may be doomed now that it’s lost White House support, but I think in principle, some way of distinguishing commercial from non-commercial content online is going to be necessary.

What frustrates me most, however, is how easy it is for the two agencies to put into law two conflicting definitions of the same space–the net–without anyone raising questions about the inherent contradictions between their approaches. It’s a clear case where some regulatory consolidation is needed.

My Inner Conservative

By , 28 September, 2009, 1 Comment

It’s a cruel coincidence that William Safire died on a Sunday. That’s the day of the week on which Safire used to educate us “On Language,” in the eponymous NYTimes magazine column.

That column is one of the first bits of journalism I remember reading. Almost as soon I learned to write in paragraphs (in middle school), my father started clipping “On Language” for me each weekend, insisting I memorize the new vocabulary words Safire introduced, and helping me make sense of adult concepts when they arose in his tangents on contemporary culture.

Yet the most important thing I gleaned from Safire was not the specifics of his linguisitic teachings or cultural musings. It was his love, in both language and the broader culture, for structure. Safire’s columns not only defended the rules of the English language from absurd newfangled coinages, or the rules of culture from (in his eyes) moral dissolution, but also the notion of rules from those who value rule-breaking.

That is what made Safire a conservative: not the specific rules he valued, but the fact that he valued rules and encouraged us to think twice, and deeply, about our motives and their implications before changing them.

If there is a conservative vein in my body, it is that I too like rules and structures. It is what drives my love of government and business institutions, my nostalgia for cultural canons in education, my concern for establishment media and my belief in the value of academic expertise. That I would like these institutions to devote themselves to liberal goals is what keeps me on the political left, but in Safire’s world, it was structure and not content that mattered. His passing is one more sign that the institutionalist worldview is in decline.

Bloggers Should be Seen and Heard

By , 22 September, 2009, No Comment

So believes video website Bloggingheads.tv, which I’ve plugged and linked to on this page many-a-time before. Basically, the site pairs journalists, policy folk and and academics on video chats and then plays back the conversations in a split screen. The result: long-ish wonky chats that show us what broadcast TV would look like if they didn’t edit every interview down to its 10 second soundbyte.

Anyway, they’re now letting fans video-blog on the site, albeit with some weird masking that is supposed to anonymize lay folk, but really just makes everyone look weird. Ironically enough, the debut ‘amateur’ ‘vloggers were professional journos–Portland-based Ethan Epstein, and myself (!)–discussing (what else?) the future of media.
Watch the video below, and let us know what you think, either here or on BHTV’s comments forum.

Vikram Pandit needs PR 101

By , 21 September, 2009, No Comment

The other night I attended a Q&A; between BusinessWeek editor Steve Adler and Citigroup CEO Vikram Pandit. It was part of a series called “Captains of Industry” and I’ve been to some talks with other business leaders in the past. Usually Adler focuses on their personal story and character, rather than on the specifics of the business they run. This can work in interviewees’ interest: they BENEFIT from being candid/controversial/self-deprecating to counter popular perceptions of business leaders as cold and calculating and give wise-older-person guidance to the mostly young professionals who seem to populate the audience.

Now in Pandit’s case, the setup for personal storytelling seems ideal–his unpopularity is stunning, there are tons of young confused would-be financiers in New York hungry for advice, and he’s got a great narrative: an Indian immigrant running an American giant at a time when India is on the rise.

But instead, Pandit flat-out refused to answer questions about himself as a person, almost as though he didn’t understand that it was to answer those questions that he was there. Even Adler seemed flummoxed–I’ve never seen him or anyone actually admit mid-interview that the chat wasn’t going to plan. It didn’t diminish my already considerable esteem for him as a reporter: after all, the questions he asked were much tougher than the drivel Charlie Rose put to Pandit in the fall. Indeed, it somewhat comforted me as a young reporter that even veteran aces get phased sometime by their sources.

Here’s the thing: Pandit had a few decent and interesting things to say about Citi itself, successfully avoiding the ugly truth about the company without outright lying. That made me think he was operating in the persona required of him at a CEO conference call, where hedging is key and ‘no comment’ is sometimes appropriate. He seemed to simply not understand that what this event called for was precisely the opposite. Is that Pandit’s stupidity, or a massive PR fail at Citigroup where someone forgot to brief the boss about what to do? (I’ve seen this problem before–there are many executives who seem not to understand how much they benefit from taking a side, even if its risky, in their answers to questions, and how much more cynical and hostile press coverage gets when they try to please.)

Watch the video and let me know what you think. It’s about an hour long, so if you’re rushed, these are some highlights (not verbatim, I don’t type that fast):

Read More →