Adam Hochberg

Caucus participants Tony Muenster, left, Bernard Michel and Donald Sieverding sit in a closet due to the large attendance at the Jackson County Iowa Democratic Precinct 2 caucus Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008 in St. Donatus, Iowa. (AP Photo/Mark Hirsch)

News orgs in four states ban or limit journalists’ participation in political party caucuses

Five states will hold presidential caucuses in the opening weeks of 2012. But while the events likely will play an important role in deciding the Republican presidential nominee, many journalists will be prohibited by their employers from participating.

Unlike in a primary election, where voters cast secret ballots, caucus participants often publicly announce their candidate preferences. While the caucus procedure differs significantly from state to state, one common model requires supporters of each candidate to form groups in separate corners of a large room, then try to recruit members of rival groups.

“In a caucus you don’t just go show up and vote,” said Editor Lyle Muller of the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Gazette, whose journalists are banned from participating in the state’s Jan. 3 caucuses. “You become an agent of the campaign. You’re involved in the political activity.”

Other news organizations that bar or limit caucus involvement include the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal, the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune, and Minnesota Public Radio.

Lee Enterprises, a group that owns five Iowa newspapers, prohibits caucus participation by anybody who might be involved with political coverage — which in effect extends the ban to virtually every newsroom employee.

Caucus participants Tony Muenster, left, Bernard Michel and Donald Sieverding sit in a closet due to the large attendance at the Jackson County Iowa Democratic Precinct 2 caucus Thursday, Jan. 3, 2008 in St. Donatus, Iowa. (Mark Hirsch/AP)

“It’s so overt that it raises the appearance of partisanship on the part of the journalist,” Lee Enterprises Vice President Joyce Dehli said in a phone interview. Even though Iowa Republicans plan to ask caucus-goers to fill out secret ballots this year, rather than move to different corners of the room, Dehli says the very act of attending a caucus puts a journalist’s credibility at risk.

“You’re still there, and it’s a Republican gathering,” she said. “You’re making a political statement.”

While media organizations in Iowa — home of the nation’s first caucus — typically have enforced such policies for decades, the issue is relatively new in other states, such as Nevada, Minnesota, and Colorado, where caucuses have taken on added significance in recent elections.

Before the 2008 Colorado caucus, the Denver Post barred political reporters, several columnists, and many editors from participating in caucuses, and discouraged all other employees from doing so. But the Denver Newspaper Guild threatened to sue, citing a state law that protects the right of all Coloradans to participate. The Post revised its guidelines to allow all employees to take part, but it held out the possibility that caucus participants could be reassigned to other beats or responsibilities at the paper.

“We don’t ask people to give up their rights as active citizens to work here,” Post editor Greg Moore said in a phone interview this week. “But I wouldn’t expect my political writer to be in a room arguing for any particular candidate.”

Moore said he’s not aware of any Post newsroom employee who participated in the 2008 caucus, or who plans to take part in Colorado’s next caucus February 7.

“I don’t think that’s something a good journalist will want to risk,” he said.

One news organization that’s going against the trend is, a non-profit website in Minneapolis that’s gained a reputation for aggressive political reporting. Managing Editor Roger Buoen has no problem with his news staff taking part in caucuses.

“We view it as your right to participate as a citizen, like voting,” Buoen said. “That’s the system Minnesota has.”

Buoen, a former editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, says MinnPost’s more permissive caucus policy reflects a difference in the values of new media organizations, compared with traditional newspapers.

“We allow our writers a lot more freedom,” Buoen said, noting that any MinnPost writers who take part in caucuses would be encouraged to write about the event and disclose their participation.

“There’s a lot more transparency on the Web than in the detached, formal storytelling devices that are used in newspapers,” Buoen said. “The Web is more of an open discussion between the news organization and the readers.” Read more


IRS pledges to ‘adjust’ cut-and-paste letter writing campaign to local papers

The Internal Revenue Service says it will re-evaluate an initiative that encourages organizations and volunteer tax preparers to send canned letters to the editors of their local newspapers. An IRS Web page contains sample letters promoting the earned income tax credit and volunteer tax assistance sites. It instructs users to “just copy and paste” a letter onto their letterhead, sign their own name, and send it to a newspaper.

“I think this is going a little too far,” conceded IRS Communications Director Terry Lemons when he was alerted to the Web page.“This whole business of copy-and-pasting; we shouldn’t be doing that.”

Lemons said the agency will “make some adjustments” in the program. Read more


News orgs take to social media to find Va. Tech witnesses, photos

News organizations from around the country are using social media to locate witnesses and obtain interviews and photos of today’s campus shooting at Virginia Tech. “Call our newsroom if you know anyone that goes to Virginia Tech,” tweeted Buffalo, New York television station WKBW.  “Hey #vatech – looking to speak & get updates from students on campus,” wrote CBS News producer Joe Danielewicz. Meanwhile, the media pounced on a Flickr page of photos from the photo editor of the student newspaper, the Collegiate Times.The images of the crime scene and of police activity attracted requests for republication rights from CNN, the New York Post, NPR, Australia’s News Limited, and other news organizations. (The newspaper eventually posted contact information for media seeking reuse rights.) Read more

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Journalists may want to think twice about defending Oregon blogger who lost suit
Defenders of the Oregon blogger who was found guilty in a $2.5 million defamation suit “have not dug deeply enough,” writes Kashmir Hill at While the blogger, Crystal Cox, promoted herself as an “investigative journalist,” Hill notes that Cox behaved more like somebody whose goal was to destroy the reputation of her target, an investment firm called Obsidian Financial Group. Cox started several websites with names like “” and “”

Obsidian says Cox then offered it a service starting at $2,500 a month to protect its “online reputation.” (Obsidian founder Kevin Padrick forwarded a copy of the offer to Forbes.) “Most journalists would not want to include Cox in their camp,” Hill wrote. || Related: Dan Kennedy says ruling is bad because it means journalists have more constitutional rights than others (The Huffington Post) | Federal judge says Montana blogger is not a journalist (AP) | Cox “was never able to prove her accusations against Padrick were true” (Seattle Weekly)  | Who decides what is “real” journalism? (Bloomberg Businessweek) Read more

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Media group calls on mayors to respect journalists’ rights at Occupy events

Free Press
Media reform organization Free Press has delivered a petition to the nation’s mayors urging them to protect the rights of journalists covering Occupy rallies. The group says 30 journalists have been arrested at rallies, and it’s tracking those arrests on a Google docs spreadsheet and a Storify page. Free Press delivered its petition with more than 40,000 signatures to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. | Related: Reporters say police kept them away from an NYC Occupy protest outside an Obama fundraiser | Occupy Wall Street protests a top story on blogs Read more

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Buffett buy spotlights Omaha’s digital potential

Warren Buffett’s purchase of the Omaha World-Herald could intensify an already heated competition among the city’s digital news providers. The World-Herald’s has aggressively been rolling out apps for news, real estate, garage sales, and Nebraska Huskers sports, and the newspaper operates several specialty websites devoted to such topics as health news and tips for moms ( Meanwhile, the website of WOWT-TV has equipped its reporters with backpack units that allow them to push live video onto the Web from almost anywhere, even moving cars. Analysts say Omaha’s economy is relatively strong, and the media consulting firm Borrell Associates predicts online advertising in the market will “take an enormous leap” next year.  ||  Related: How World-Herald staffers learned about Buffett’s purchase ( | Is Warren Buffett the new Citizen Kane? (Marketwatch) Read more


Eltahawy says security forces exacted revenge ‘through me and my body’
Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, who says Egyptian security forces beat and sexually assaulted her near Tahrir Square, says her alleged attackers were “exacting revenge on the activists in Tahrir through me and my body.” Eltahawy, who is one of several female journalists who have been targets of sexual assault and other violence in Egypt this year, told NPR’s Michel Martin that she believes police would have treated her even more brutally if she hadn’t been a journalist and American citizen. Eltahawy, who tweeted details of the attack shortly after it occurred, continues to provide Twitter updates as she receives treatment in the United States for injuries including a broken left arm and right hand. || Earlier: Reporters’ organization reverses position on whether female journalists should cover Cairo unrest | French TV correspondent allegedly assaulted | Committee to Protect Journalists reports at least 17 attacks over one recent weekend. Read more


Mississippi TV station reverses reporting about new Penn State Paterno replacement

The Clarion-Ledger | WAPT-TV
Jackson, Miss. television station WAPT backed away from a report that Mississippi State football coach Dan Mullen “is close to signing a deal to replace Joe Paterno at Penn State.” Mullen — who says Penn State hasn’t contacted him — called the WAPT story, “the most irresponsible reporting that I’ve ever heard of.” In an interview with the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, WAPT sports reporter Ray Coleman said that a source told him Penn State would announce Mullen’s hiring today. The station has removed Coleman’s original report from its website and replaced it with a story that calls the “rumor” untrue. A MSU spokesman tweeted that Coleman apologized to school officials. || Earlier: No penalty for reporting on rumors about NFL draft prospects Read more


Cooks bring crowdsourced recipes to the holiday dinner table

My wife keeps more than two dozen cookbooks in our kitchen, giving her access to the collected culinary wisdom of Martha Stewart, Molly O’Neill, the staff of Better Homes & Gardens, and a variety of other gastronomic gurus.

But the cranberry sauce recipe she chose for Thanksgiving this year comes from an anonymous online source whom she knows only as “Leeza.”

Like many amateur chefs, my wife nowadays is more likely to seek out meal ideas from her iPad than her cookbooks. And typically, she relies on popular websites like or which allow her fellow home chefs to submit recipes — as well as review, comment on, and even alter those submitted by others.

The sites — which combine elements of crowdsourcing, social media, and an old-fashioned recipe swap — are popular destinations on the Web., a subsidiary of Reader’s Digest, claims more than 20 million unique monthly visitors. Scripps Networks says its has about four million. Other sites that feature user-submitted recipes, such as and the Recipe Wiki on, also attract millions of visitors each month and feature a gluttonous variety of menu choices. (Leeza’s is but one of more than 300 cranberry sauce options on

“I know people who tell me they’re giving away their cookbooks and they’re relying only on online recipes,” said food historian and author Barbara Haber. “It shocks me when I hear people are just tossing them out as if they were old telephone books.”

To the extent that Haber’s acquaintances are eschewing traditional cookbooks for user-submitted recipe websites, they represent a cultural shift in American’s kitchens — harkening back to the era before the mid 1800’s when recipes often were handed down from mother to daughter or passed around among neighbors. That kind of recipe sharing largely was replaced as families moved off the farm, and commercially published cookbooks became popular. By the 1940’s and 1950’s, the Betty Crocker and Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks rivaled the Bible in total sales.

Now, the Internet threatens to diminish the role of “expert” cookbook authors and bring recipe sharing back in vogue — albeit in a more impersonal fashion.

“The community of recipe sharers that was once limited to women of a particular social circle in a particular town now includes perfect strangers from all over the world,” said Queensborough Community College professor Megan Elias, who’s writing her third book on America’s culinary history.

“The Internet is a great vehicle for the democratization of kitchen wisdom, as for lots of other kinds of wisdom,” she said by email.

Too many cooks … make a recipe better?

Indeed, the popularity of post-it-yourself recipes mirrors that of other types of online crowdsourcing. Sites such as, which allow users to review hotels and restaurants, lessen travelers’ reliance on expert sources like the AAA Tourbooks. Customers’ product reviews on shopping sites diminish the need to consult a source like Consumer Reports. And, of course, newspapers and other traditional journalistic organizations face competition from dozens of prominent websites, blogs, and social networks where users report, share, and comment on the news.

“People want the security of knowing that what they’re going to do, like make a dinner, is going to be done right … and in the past they did that by following a single expert,” said David Bratvold, the founder of “Nowadays, you can go with the crowd, and people think it’s smarter to go with what the majority of people say.”

It’s hard to deny that using online recipe sites can be more convenient than thumbing through cookbooks. A search for even an obscure dish like “rabbit stew” yields 21 results, many featuring photos and user comments. (“I cooked a wild rabbit caught this morning, so I simmered for about 2 hours, as wild bunnies tend to be a little tougher than domestic ones.”) The search takes only a few seconds and — in another key distinction from regular cookbooks — costs nothing.

But while even publishers of traditional cookbooks are putting their professionally-designed recipes online, sites that feature contributions from amateur chefs seem to hold unique appeal for many users. Some cooks are especially attracted to the social media aspects of the sites — the ability to comment on, rate, and change other people’s recipes. In recent months, for instance, Wikia users removed the poppy seeds from a strudel and substituted butter for margarine in carrot spice cookies.

“I think the process improves the final product,” said Bruce Shaw of Harvard Common Press, a Boston company that publishes cookbooks and aggregates both professional and amateur recipes through the website “If you’ve got a hundred people changing a recipe, at some point even if it’s a crappy recipe, it may turn out to be a good recipe because enough people have made it and altered it.”

A role for both professional and crowdsourced recipes

Haber, the food historian, is skeptical about that theory and worries that amateur recipes put cooks “at the mercy of the great unknown.”

“I wouldn’t trust them necessarily,” Haber said in a phone interview. “The good cookbooks have test kitchens and whole staffs of people whose job it is to go over and over the recipes.”

Still, notwithstanding Haber’s friends who’ve trashed their cookbook collections, the genre is far from dead. Last year, cookbook sales modestly increased, with much of the growth coming from books that feature specialty foods or celebrity authors. And Shaw is optimistic that professionally published cookbooks (or their companion websites, apps, and e-books) can coexist with the user-driven recipe sharing sites.

“People who really care deeply about being a good cook and making good food are always going to care about curated content,” Shaw said of the traditional cookbooks with tested recipes that still account for the vast majority of his company’s revenue.

But Shaw sees a role as well for the online crowdsourced recipes – which some people might say are adequately curated by the masses who try them and bestow upon them such descriptions as “absolutely delicious,” “too eggy,” or “My family of seven literally gagged on it.”

“I think there are a heck of a lot of people who come home every night and have three kids and all they want to do is put dinner on the table,” Shaw said. “People who cook on a regular basis get the distinction.” Read more


Newsrooms can buy Facebook friends, but user engagement is not for sale

The WFSB-TV Eyewitness News Team really wants to be liked. So much so that the Hartford, Connecticut television station is offering a generous reward for its newfound friends.

The CBS affiliate is running a contest this month on its Facebook page. Visitors who click the page’s “like” button can enter a drawing to win a new Nissan Maxima. So far, the station says about 20,000 people have responded, driving up the total number of likes on the WFSB Facebook page to more than 75,000.

“Facebook in general is a promotion tool to get people to watch us and go to our website,” said WFSB’s Executive Producer of Digital Content, Shannon Kane. “You want as many people to like you on Facebook, just like you want as many people to watch you on TV.”

While WFSB’s giveaway features an unusually extravagant prize, many TV stations are using contests and rewards to attract likes. This month (a “sweeps” month for Nielsen TV ratings), an Oklahoma City station is offering free DVDs to new Facebook likers, Baltimore’s ABC affiliate is handing out gasoline gift cards, while a Fort Myers, Florida station is giving away iPads each day through November 18.

There’s little doubt that the contests succeed in attracting likes. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the local NBC station doubled its Facebook likes with an iPad promotion this month. And a Cleveland station last year attracted 44,000 likes by providing a different kind of incentive: It offered to donate money to the Animal Protective League and give pets “a second chance at life” if 100,000 viewers friended the station on Facebook.  (Though the station fell short of its Facebook goal, it donated $2,500 anyway.)

But less clear is whether the contests and incentives increase stations’ television ratings, website traffic, or level of engagement with their viewers.

“Just because you have a million likes, that doesn’t necessarily equal real results,” said Eric Kuhn, a social media agent for United Talent Agency and a former Audience Interaction Producer at CNN.

Contests may bring short-lived gains

Jennifer Dahl is a big believer in Facebook’s ability to drive TV ratings. The news director at Salt Lake City’s KUTV largely credits the social network for sparking a dramatic increase in her station’s newscast viewership.

“ ‘I think social media helped KUTV 2News win every newscast during February sweeps,’ Dahl told Cory Bergman of The station gave away an iPad, held a fundraising campaign for a local food bank, and held a “Facebook Faceoff,” in which on-air staff competed to attract the most likes.

“If you have a vibrant page with 100,000 people in your local market who are engaging with your brand and liking things and sharing stuff that you’re publishing, of course it’s going to accrue positively to your brand — and potentially to ratings as well,” said Bergman, a member of Poynter’s National Advisory Board.

On the other hand, users who like a page to enter a contest aren’t necessarily interested in “engaging” with the brand. Sweepstakes have become so common on Facebook that you could enter dozens of them every day by liking the pages of hotels, tattoo parlors, cake shops, and other businesses. Once a visitor enters a contest, there’s no guarantee he or she ever will return to a contest sponsor’s page or interact with material the sponsor posts to the user’s news feed.

“Running promotions that bought ‘likes’ through incentivized campaigns offered short-lived gains,” said Noah Echols of the Kennesaw State University Center for Sustainable Journalism. The Center experimented with a Facebook contest this summer for its website, which covers juvenile justice issues.

“It may have increased our page’s fan base, but a month after the contest, engagement levels were down again,” Echols said in an email. “And that is what matters – the active users, not just the fan count.”

Indeed, the number of likes generated by a Facebook page is becoming increasingly meaningless. Facebook’s algorithm customizes the news feed each user sees when he or she visits the site. The feed prominently features status updates from contacts with whom users interact frequently, while contacts they ignore may drop off the feed entirely.

“You can still have a lot a likes and not be seeing a lot of impressions,” Bergman said in a phone interview. “Even though your page shows 100,000 likes, only 10,000 or 20,000 people may be seeing it.”

More than a numbers game

So to the extent that Facebook helped stations such as KUTV increase their television ratings or page views, contests and giveaways likely played only a supporting role. In KUTV’s case, the station also uses its Facebook page to blast out breaking news headlines, solicit story ideas, and take comments that it later reads on the air. (“How is the bad economy going to affect the upcoming holidays?” or “How involved do you think the government should be when it comes to parents punishing their kids?”)

“The real value for a news organization of social media is in not just talking, but in listening, seeing what the conversations are, and using it as a news gathering tool,” said Kuhn, the social media agent. “At the end of the day, it depends on the type of community that’s built around any social media account.”

And in spite of TV station promotions that set a goal for a certain number of likes, Kuhn and other social media experts downplay the significance of the numbers.

“What matters most is how engaged an audience one can build,” said Echols of the Center for Sustainable Journalism. “A thousand highly engaged people online can accomplish much more for a brand than a million loose ties that were bought with an iPad giveaway.” Read more