Posts tagged ‘CNN’

Covering the Wikileaks

By , 29 November, 2010, No Comment

The latest at Foreign Exchange on the way news organizations are handling the Wikileaks:

as we come to see Wikileaks as just a source, news organizations are having to decide whether to cover them at all, and–as we often do with delicate subject matter–how to balance the scoop against the risk to those implicated. I have very minimal sympathy with Wikileaks’ overall agenda, which seems increasingly to be about embarrassing the US government for the sake of it rather than to advance any particular cause, but I do think that news organizations have an obligation to cover these leaks in some fashion once they’ve occurred. They can pick and choose what to include on the basis of what’s really significant, and they can avoid reprinting the actual documents if they see a risk to someone’s life, but they can’t just choose to ignore the whole development.  That’s why I think it’s deplorable that two major news organizations–the Wall Street Journal and CNN–chose to turn down access to the documents altogether, because, in essence, they were afraid of being compromised. National security reporting is inevitably compromised and risky, and to run from that challenge is unjournalistic, and wrong.

Go read the whole thing.

Apocalypse 36: Status Report

By , 4 September, 2010, 2 Comments

For over two years, I have been writing a series of posts on the media industry called the Apocalypse. I am often asked whether that’s overly pessimistic. My answer: ‘apocalypse’ is a term we use for the end of the world, sure, but it’s also, to those who take the term seriously, supposed to herald the revelation of something new and extraordinary. That is what I believe is coming to media, whenever the chaotic collapse of the model we know is over.

Occasionally, the Apocalypse Series has attempted to read the tea leaves and make predictions about the new model. I don’t believe–as other media prophets seem to–that there will be no more Big Media. Human history suggests that power tends to consolidate, break down and then consolidate again. I believe that the new consolidators of power will be organizations who can mix and match. It will be the people who can take the nichification that the web brings and use it to deepen rather than to flatten what we know.

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Apocalypse 22: Fiddling while Rome burns

By , 22 April, 2009, No Comment

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this week, to little fanfare, as perhaps befits a set of awards for such a troubled industry. I’m really pleased with the choice of WaPo’s Gene Robinson for Commentary; his columns on the presidential campaign were insightful but respectful, something rare in political opinion. I’m also happy to see the NYT (esp Jane Perlez and Carlotta Gall) get the nod for their AfPak coverage.

I’m less pleased with the lack of ANY awards for reporting on the financial crisis. Gretchen Morgenson and Vikas Bajaj both probably deserved to be recognized, as the did the WaPo’s series on AIG (nominated) and the WSJ’s series on the End of Wall Street (nominated).

But the real killer was this: In the category of breaking news, the NYT won a prize for its coverage of the Spitzer scandal. The NYT wins my prize for breaking news this year, but I’d have given it for the superior coverage the paper did of the election eclipsing, IMHO, both the WaPo and CNN (the usual dominators in horse race coverage) with its impressive use of multimedia features like live blogs of campaign events, district-by-district maps and polling data, and all manner of unique ways of calibrating and comparing the candidates. Breaking news in the digital age is not just about getting information out there–anybody with a cell phone can do that; it’s about providing depth and insight in real time. That’s where the journalism happens.

Nominating the Times for the Spitzer story (which was just info-dissemination) was shortsighted and backward-looking. Coupled with the lack of acknowledgement for financial reporting in a year dominated by financial news, the choice reflects, to my mind, the problem with groups like the Pulitzer board. Instead of using their considerable brand power and influence to lead reporters to a brave new digital future, they are rewarding increasingly irrelevant forms of content and ceding the public discourse to amateurs.

The amateurs will have no problem disseminating information, and may beat the journalists at this function, but there are no amateurs so far replicating the analytical depth of the big papers’ reporting on credit defaults. By trying to compete at a disadvantage in the info-breaking space, the professional media will only put itself out of business and we will all be the worse off for it. If organizations like the Pulitzer don’t incentivize a change of direction, it won’t happen.

Apocalypse 9: Glocalism

By , 5 December, 2008, No Comment

Been having some passionate debates at Columbia about the future of media, and particularly investigative journalism. In class the other day, I suggested that the best use of investigative journalism is on a local level–where you can actually get on the streets, gumshoe-style–and that most papers should focus on reporting what happens in their backyard. If local outlets don’t do that, no one else will, and communities will suffer.

I’m persona non grata in class now, because what I said smacks of New Yorker snobbery, as though I were claiming national news as the exclusive prerogative of my city’s papers (the Times, the WSJ) and those in other big media markets (the Washington Post). But I don’t consider the Times and the WSJ to be New York papers. These are international titles, and even when international news happens here (ie at the Stock Exchange or the UN), I don’t look at that as New York news. Real New York papers–the Post and the Daily News–report just on New York, and that’s as it should be.

An example: the Daily News won a Pulitzer last year for its coverage of the medical fallout 9/11 had on the emergency workers who spent time doing rescue work at Ground Zero. They’d have missed that one if they’d been busy with a national or international story. In other words, I’d be just as incensed if the Daily News got themselves a Pentagon reporter as I am when I hear about a Washington bureau for a local paper from the Midwest or the South.

The problem, as one of my classmates pointed out last night, is that very few people consume as much news as I do (most people have lives). So while I can read the WSJ, the WaPo and the Times for national and international information and then get local headlines from the NY1 TV station, many Americans want everything together. Going too local will reinforce the parochialism many foreigners find irksome about Americans.

It’s not that readers in cities outside New York and D.C. don’t deserve to hear about national news; it’s that their papers should not squander resources looking for it at the expense of local beats. That’s what wire services are for.

I’m not alone in looking for a news universe that is geographically segmented. Take a look at these readership figures for the top 5 visited news websites:

New York Times 707 764 000

USATODAY.com — 186,178,000

Washingtonpost.com — 163,844,000
Wall Street Journal Online — 107,333,000

Boston.com — 77,536,000

No local outlet is level with the nationals. But the one that comes closest is Boston.com, the website of the Boston Globe, because the Globe has smartly zeroed in on exclusively local coverage: Massachusetts stories and local sports scores. Today, there’s only one national story on the whole front page; it’s way at the bottom and it’s coming from the AP.

The real crisis, then, is what to do about wire-style reporting as the Associated Press hurdles towards collapse. Someone needs to devise a system for national and international news to be fed to papers for whom it’s not, and should not be, the primary bread and butter. CNN is starting its own wire service, and there’s ProPublica, but there’s no guarantee these business models will work any better than the AP’s. I’d like to see more activity and experimentation in this field–are there projects out there I don’t know about?

Kudos to CNN on Bombay coverage

By , 26 November, 2008, 3 Comments

I don’t have the answers to how and why this happened, but being a media junkie, I do have some reflections on the way it was covered for audiences here in the States.

After an election season where I thought they did an innovative job, MSNBC completely failed today. Granted, they’re not an international network so they don’t have an army of correspondents to call on. But still, in the few segments I saw, I didn’t get the sense they were even trying to make heads or tails of the situation. Instead, what we got was some panel discussions about how a terror attack might be read as a test of Barack Obama as President-elect. I flicked to Fox for a split second; they were debating the same question, but the concern was about the strength terrorists might gather in the interregnum before January 20th. Never mind that none of this makes sense given when it’s Bombay, not Baghdad; at 4:30 EST, when people around the world are still trying to get the basic who-what-when of casualties and injuries, the U.S. political ramifications are manifestly NOT the story.

Meanwhile CNN rose to the challenge. They have the institutional advantage of bureaus and affiliates everywhere that can feed them live footage and photography, and they’ve been ahead of the curve in using the internet to get similar footage from citizen-journalists. [I’ve said before, and I’ll say again, that this is the way citizen-media is likely to achieve its potential: by presenting itself as a resource to the established media and capitalizing on the establishment’s brand and reach; not by taking down the big names.]

Moreover, CNN showed today they had mastered the 21st century version of established expertise: today’s expert is not a news anchor, a la Cronkite, telling us what to think; it’s an individual professional, a reporter, interpreting the facts on air, thinking outloud. And there aren’t yet enough citizen-bloggers who’ve been reporting on conflict for 20+ years who can think aloud at the level of CNN’s best.

Allow me to explain: there was a moment when Miles O’Brien was getting confused about who the splinter group claiming responsibility for the attack is (poor thing, he’s just the substitute anchor in for Wolf Blitzer this week and he certainly hadn’t planned on covering a big story after markets closed on a holiday eve). It’s someone named Dekkan Mujahideen and until this morning, no one had heard of them, but as every analyst remarked, they have obviously been at this long enough, given that they launched a coordinated, multisite attack and somehow infiltrated official facilities to get access to a police van and uniforms.

Anyway, O’Brien kept trying to do the old-style anchor thing (where you give the viewer a clear worldview) by painting the level of coordination as a sign that this was al-Qaeda-esque. He had 5 sources on at once and wanted each of them to be his ‘yes’-men in promulgating that view. The reality, however, is that the reporters are the real experts and the silver stroke came when Barbara Starr, who’s been covering the Pentagon and US national security for a zillion years, changed the subject in the middle of O’Brien’s chat with her to tell him, by the way, that this al-Qaeda link was messy. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, she said (I paraphrase), al-Qaeda uses suicide attacks and bombs, not hand grenades and hostage-takings. This, she said, smacks more of the domestic kidnapping economy that has plagued developing countries for decades, now mixed with the ideology of militant fundamentalism, and that’s how officials will likely tackle the case. The FBI correspondent agreed, explaining to O’Brien that U.S. agents will do everything they can to offer support, but that we should (as MSNBC failed to) recognize that not every news story is an American one first. To his credit, O’Brien got the message and spent the next half-hour trying to understand domestic Indian conflicts and what the parameters of international jurisdiction are in such cases.

Finally, the whole team at CNN gets brownie points for recognizing that in crisis moments, the first role of journalists is to inform the public with news they can use. Zain Verjee kept reminding us that the State Department is running a hotline to help Americans get in touch with relatives who might have been staying at the Oberoi and Taj hotels. O’Brien kept apologizing for the time lag on the video feed, “it’s not live, but it’s as live as we can get,” and even for his own ignorance. It wasn’t perfect, by any means, but you really got the sense these guys were trying to be public servants. On Thanksgiving Eve, I owe them a little gratitude.

Never Thought I’d Say This

By , 12 August, 2008, No Comment


…but Wolf Blitzer has done something right. For the record, I have no soft spot for his newscast, the Situation Room. It’s something I watch at the gym because it’s just mindless enough to keep me distracted while I run or ellipticize. But a few days ago, something Wolf said actually got me thinking.

Apparently, you can download a Situation Room screensaver on the show’s website and get a running ticker of headlines on your screen. It’s one of those inventions that makes me wonder why no one thought of it sooner. In the olden days, families ran their TVs on mute over dinner. In the ancient days, they kept the radio on low volume in the kitchen. The news was background noise. In today’s digital world, the screensaver is (silent) background noise.

Granted, it’d be better to have the global headlines from a decent news show like BBCWorld or some regional news from a local station (here in New York, that’d be NY1). Still, even a Blitzer-ticker beats those silly swimming fish or the geometric animations that come on most PCs.