Eric Deggans


Bob Schieffer, Howard Kurtz

Sizing up Howard Kurtz’s new show against ‘Reliable Sources’

As a recent member of the conga line of guest hosts for CNN’s media-analysis show “Reliable Sources,” I took interest in the Sunday debut of ex-host Howard Kurtz’s new Fox News program “Media Buzz.”

Airing at the same time as “Reliable Sources,” Kurtz’s show offered the same kind of media discussions as the CNN show he hosted for 15 years, presenting a chance for anyone with a DVR or twitchy TV remote finger to get two different visions of the week’s media news in one hour.

Kurtz’s inaugural show offered a fast-paced, technology-tinged overview of media stories that felt like a, well, buzzier version of the slightly more contemplative — OK, wonkier — edition of “Reliable Sources” guest-hosted by another former CNN staffer, Frank Sesno.

“We are going to hold the media accountable in a fair, aggressive and unbiased way,” said Kurtz, offering a mission statement of sorts at the show’s start. Read more

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Ebony editor: ‘The extremists are the ones with the megaphone’

When a Florida jury pronounced George Zimmerman not guilty in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin on July 13, Ebony magazine Editor-in-Chief Amy Barnett had to cope with two surprises:

First, she didn’t expect that the former neighborhood watch captain would completely escape punishment for shooting Martin, famously bearing just a can of iced tea and a bag of candy.

And she had a magazine which had to be put to bed in just eight days. What to do?

What Barnett eventually did, was scramble her staff to pull together an 18-page look at the issues raised by the verdict, including four separate cover shots featuring Martin’s parents and their surviving son, along with NBA star Dwayne Wade, filmmaker Spike Lee and actor Boris Kodjoe — each posing with their sons in gray, hooded sweatshirts to symbolize the “hoodie” Martin wore the night of his death.

The headline on each: “We are Trayvon” (excepting the cover featuring Martin’s parents, which reads: “We are all Trayvon.”)

“It was a team effort,” Barnett said of the decision to go with the four covers. Read more

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Snowden’s leaks force media self-examination

Besides forcing government and national-security institutions to face the public about their spying efforts, Edward Snowden’s decision to release information on America’s massive public surveillance efforts has thrown another system into a flurry of self-examination:

The American news media.

As New York Times columnist David Carr explored on Monday, Snowden’s leaks raise the question of who actually qualifies as a journalist. It’s not just a philosophical question: the government tends to shy from prosecuting reporters for the kind of information gathering that gets a spy or public citizen jailed. Carr and the Times public editor Margaret Sullivan both tackled discussions about who gets to be a journalist and the implications of how that question is answered.

I tend to side with thinkers such as New York University’s Jay Rosen and City University of New York’s Jeff Jarvis, who note that tools available through smartphones and the Internet allow anyone to become a reporter. Read more

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Paula Deen

Lauer’s interview with Paula Deen missed the real questions

Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s tearful interview on NBC’s “Today” show Wednesday morning doesn’t seem to have changed many minds, leaving some critics suspicious that she’s hiding deeper problems with racial issues after admitting that she once used the n-word.

But her 13-minute conversation with host Matt Lauer did prove one thing: journalists still often concentrate on the wrong issues in talking about the controversy currently threatening her brand.

The first problem: The n-word isn’t necessarily the biggest issue. Lauer’s interview seemed to focus on whether Deen considered herself racist and whether she had used the racial epithet at any point in her past. “Are you a racist?” he asked at one point, going on to ask, “by birth, by choice, by osmosis, you don’t feel you have racist tendencies?”

But the reason this issue has become public is because Deen admitted using the n-word in her past during a deposition in a lawsuit brought by a former employee. Read more

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George Zimmerman

Pointers journalists should keep in mind when covering the Zimmerman trial

As media coverage of George Zimmerman’s murder trial begins this week, we already know a few things that will happen.

Tiny Sanford, Fla., will become the center of the media universe, with hundreds of journalists expected to travel to the Seminole County Courthouse for the trial of the Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed 17-year-old black teenager Trayvon Martin, kicking off international protests when police hesitated to prosecute him.

Media outlets, which staked out a position on the incident when coverage exploded in March 2012, will likely echo it in their work now. So expect liberal-focused MSNBC to follow the lead of anchor Rev. Al Sharpton, who was a spokesman for Martin’s family while also hosting his 6 p.m. show on the newschannel last year. As Mediaite columnist Matt Wilstein noted, MSNBC needs the ratings boost from people of color, which could come from championing the Martin family’s perspective now. Read more

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Chris Christie

PETA reaches out to news outlets that exaggerate its position on Chris Christie killing a spider

In early May, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie killed a spider during an event with several schoolchildren. That prompted a journalist with the website Talking Points Memo to call People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to see what their reaction might be. TPM summed up the animal-rights organization’s two-sentence statement as calling the governor “thoughtless.”

Here’s the statement PETA emailed to reporter Hunter Walker: “He probably did it without thinking. Some people put the spider outside, but spiders are often scary to people, and that can prevent them from pondering their worth.”

When a host of other news outlets followed TPM’s story, descriptions of PETA’s reaction varied — and, in some cases, veered into inaccuracy. Some news organizations said PETA “slams” Christie or was “crying foul” or was “angered” over the incident, playing up the group’s image as a zealous — or overzealous — advocate for animals. The New York Daily News said that PETA “portrayed the insect-killing governor as a thoughtless villain”; WABC-TV in New York said the group was “outraged” and Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin observed at the end of a notes column that the governor was likely “delighted at being the recipient of the wackos’ anger.”

This has happened before to PETA, usually involving small stories on relatively minor subjects. Read more

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Is Truth-O-Meter the real issue in Maddow’s latest blast at PolitiFact?

The Tampa Bay Times’ fact-checking site PolitiFact has drawn another heated rebuke from MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow, who accuses it of “ruining fact checking” and being “truly terrible.”

But at the risk of looking like a homer — the Times signs my checks as its media critic — I think Maddow’s gripe with PolitiFact boils down to the same thing that’s rankled other critics: the site’s Truth-O-Meter rulings. (Additional disclaimer: Poynter owns the Tampa Bay Times.)

On Tuesday, Maddow took issue with PolitiFact ruling as “Half True” a statement from tennis legend Martina Navratilova that “in 29 states in this country you can still get fired for not just being gay but if your employer thinks you are gay.” That number is the amount of states with no statewide law banning employment discrimination for sexual orientation.

But PolitiFact noted that several factors work against making blanket statements based on a lack of state laws. Read more

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CharlesRamsey

Charles Ramsey interviews reveal risks of jumping on a good story too soon

What big media gives, it can take away just as quickly.

That’s the feeling in the air as some news outlets continue chewing over the story of Charles Ramsey, the struggling dishwasher who became a media hero and Internet sensation after telling his story of helping save Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from 10 years of captivity in an Ohio home.

But what Ramsey’s tale may really reveal for journalists is the danger of jumping on a good story too soon with too little information.

Ramsey was hailed as an entertaining, compelling figure after attention-getting interviews with WEWS-TV in Cleveland and CNN’s Anderson Cooper in which he vividly described helping Berry crawl through the door of a Cleveland home where she and the two other women had been held captive.

First, the Smoking Gun website revealed Ramsey was a convicted felon with three domestic violence convictions to his name, resulting in prison time. Read more

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Robert Lipstye

New ESPN ombud Robert Lipsyte talks about his role

Ask if Robert Lipsyte is going to be particularly critical as ESPN’s new ombudsman, and he mentions a little piece he penned for Slate magazine back in June 2011. The piece dismantles the 763-page oral history of ESPN, “Those Guys Have All the Fun.”

In that review, Lipsyte — who once worked on ESPN’s SportsCentury and Classic Sports Reporters shows, among many prestigious sports journalism jobs — criticized the authors for not being tough enough on the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Why didn’t they look at how ESPN’s cheerleading affected America’s perception of celebrity athlete, or its problems covering athletes it also pays? (“The phrase ‘conflict of interest’ seems flabby,” he wrote then.)

Robert Lipstye

Turns out, when top ESPN executive John A. Walsh called to ask if he would be interested in the job, Lipsyte eventually sent him that column — which also indirectly called Walsh “controlling,” “Machiavellian” and “a genius.”

It was an example of the type of work he’d be doing as the outlet’s fifth ombudsman; an independent columnist who reviews ESPN’s journalism on ESPN’s website. Read more

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Studies: Women candidates pay political price for any mention of their looks

Name It. Change It.

For many years, some media critics have insisted that press coverage that refers to female politicians’ looks — particularly when there’s no similar reference to male politicos — trivializes and damages them in the eyes of potential voters.

Now the Women’s Media Center and She Should Run have released studies they say prove those criticisms, developed in a joint project called Name It. Change It. In one survey, conducted online, they reached 1,500 likely voters to gauge what would happen to female candidate’s electoral chances if she were described in news stories that outlined her appearance. In another, they used an online dial survey to sample 1,000 likely voters on the effects of sexist coverage for female candidates who were white, black, Latina and Asian American.

The first survey found that news stories that mentioned female candidate “Jane Smith” ‘s appearance hurt her chances of getting votes against male candidate “Dan Jones,” regardless of whether the description was neutral, positive or negative. Read more

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