Steve Myers

Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans. Before working at Poynter Online, Steve spent about six years in Mobile, Ala., as a reporter for the Press-Register, focusing on local government accountability. He was a 2006 Ohio State University Kiplinger Fellow and an Open Society Institute Katrina Media Fellow. Contact him by email at myers.news@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @myersnews.


Media spotlight takes its toll on Gabby Douglas, Lolo Jones

The Washington Post | Chicago Tribune | Today
“It took just four days to suck all the vibrancy out of Douglas,” writes the Post’s Sally Jenkins about Gabby Douglas, who went from a gold medal performance last week to slipping off the balance beam on Tuesday. The competition itself was exhausting, but so were all the questions from the media about being a black gymnast:

Douglas genuinely doesn’t see color — it’s not her first thought. Yet she was drilled incessantly with questions about being a woman of color in gymnastics. How can she get more African American children to pay attention to gymnastics, she was asked? “I can’t control that,” she said tonelessly.

But those questions aren’t going to stop anytime soon because race is part of Douglas’ marketability, as the Chicago Tribune’s Diane Pucin reports: Read more

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Canadian Press Photos

New York Times news apps team ventures into product development with Olympics syndication

The New York Times has built an impressive online home for its Olympics coverage, with instantly-updated results, medal counts, athlete bios, and of course stories and photos. And because the Times has joined with Reuters to syndicate that data and content, you can see it on about a dozen websites, including the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Australia’s Ten News.

The partnership combines the Times’ deep, feature-oriented approach to the Games with Reuters’ extensive reporting and photography. Clients can pay for just a medal count widget or they can opt for a hosted microsite that blends in with the rest of their site.

This isn’t the first syndication deal between two news outlets, but it represents a new step for the Times’ team of newsroom-based developers that built the system underlying it all. Not only is this the largest and most complicated project they’ve undertaken, it’s the first one created to fulfill a business goal as well as an editorial one.

“Entrepreneurial journalism” is normally associated with startups; the Times’ approach to the Olympics shows how a news organization can take an editorial product and extend it into a business proposition.

“We’re here to do news, so that’s our focus,” said Aron Pilhofer, the Times’ interactive news editor, “but where we can think of things where there’s a business model that we can layer on top of what we’re already doing, that seems like a pretty good idea.”

From Beijing to London

For the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Times used the Associated Press’ hosted package and data feed for event results and medal counts. But it didn’t look exactly like the rest of nytimes.com, and it didn’t offer specialized data feeds that the Times needed to create complex, data-based presentations.

STATS, jointly owned by the AP and News Corp., offers a feed of results this year. And about 250 clients are using the AP’s white-label site for the Olympics, which is based on a new platform that is more customizable than before.

As the Times was preparing for the 2010 Games, Pilhofer said, they wondered, “Could we just take the data directly from the IOC … which was expensive, but not break-the-bank expensive, and in effect pay for the time that we put into it by creating a hosted product?”

They started small in Vancouver, offering their data feed to two news organizations, the CBC and The Boston Globe. There were a few tense moments, like when Pilhofer and developer Tyson Evans were watching curling and realized that they didn’t know how their system would handle a tie-breaker. “Every night was like Election Night,” Pilhofer said, when the Times publishes an electoral map with the latest vote counts around the country.

They took what they learned and basically started from scratch for London. Not only are there more events this year, the IOC now offers more real-time results as events are ongoing. “If we hadn’t done Vancouver, we wouldn’t dare do London,” Pilhofer said.

This year, clients can buy one of three products:

  • A basic medal count widget that can be embedded on a site
  • A hosted package that allows some customization so that it looks like the client’s own website
  • A more extensive package that allows even more customization in appearance and content

The Times’ Olympics microsite operates on the same platform as the other clients.

“One reason we made it so customizable is that we didn’t want to create something that looked like The New York Times,” Pilhofer said. “We wanted The New York Times to look like The New York Times, and CBC to look like the CBC. To the reader, you wouldn’t even know there was a connection between the two sites.”

The business model behind the project

News applications developers have debated whether infrastructure projects like this pull them away from news-oriented apps. Pilhofer acknowledged that it was a serious commitment and that the project was more complicated than originally envisioned.

But he doesn’t think it took away from any other high-priority editorial projects, largely because the team would’ve done something extensive for the Olympics anyway. “The Olympics is always a big deal for us,” Pilhofer said.

“When you add up the cost of doing what we’re doing, it is a substantial investment, and we were going to do that for the newsroom no matter what,” he said. “You have to look at the cost of what we would’ve done anyway, plus the incremental cost of doing this as a syndicated product. It’s hard to know what that total cost is.”

Pilhofer said the Times wouldn’t say whether the venture was profitable. (He said he doesn’t know himself.)

What, if anything, could a smaller organization take away from this? Most news outlets aren’t covering the Olympics, and they can’t deploy a team of developers to work on a yearlong project.

Pilhofer doesn’t believe this is about resources. “In fact, we were modeling what we were doing after PolitiFact in a way,” he said.

PolitiFact, a project of the Poynter-owned Tampa Bay Times, has franchised its brand and technology to other news organizations so they can check facts in their own states. The arrangement generates some revenue for the national operation, which had just three developers when it started franchising.

“PolitiFact is basically doing exactly this,” Pilhofer said, “taking something that started as an editorial product and putting a business model behind it. And that’s smart. And it’s working for them.”

Pilhofer wasn’t sure what, if anything would follow this project. “Too soon,” he said. “But I think there is probably more opportunity there.”

“There are enough things we do on the editorial side where you can essentially share code with the business side — which is essentially what we’re doing — and not not in any way cannibalize from what we’re doing on the Times.” Read more

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Arrested photographer: Police ‘were violent toward the media’

New York magazine
Robert Stolarik, the freelance photographer who was arrested in New York City on Saturday night, says he was falsely charged with obstructing government administration and resisting arrest.

Stolarik, who was reporting for The New York Times about the NYPD’s “stop and frisk” practice, started to photograph police arresting a teenager. New York magazine’s Joe Coscarelli relays his account of what happened:

According to Stolarik, he was first approached by a female officer, who put her hand on his camera and told him to stop shooting. After he pointed out his media credentials and continued, Stolarik said, a second officer approached and “handled the camera more aggressively, pushed it into me.” When he asked for the officers’ names and badge numbers, he was “surrounded and taken down — dragged, kicked, and stomped on.”

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Jonah Lehrer’s publisher is reviewing all of his books

All three of Jonah Lehrer’s bestselling books are under review by publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, according to Lori Glazer, the company’s vice president and executive director of publicity. The publisher pulled copies of “Imagine” and halted e-book sales last week, after journalist Michael Moynihan revealed that Lehrer had made up and mangled some Bob Dylan quotations.

Moynihan went on to look at “How We Decide,” published in 2009, to see if there were suspicious passages in it, too. With “no more than a few hours of checking and a few emails [to] people mentioned by Lehrer … I found fake interviews, quotes that can’t be located, and plagiarism,” he wrote Friday. One example: Lehrer claimed to have interviewed the pilot of a commercial airliner that crashed in 1989, but the quotation is remarkably similar to a speech the pilot gave in 1991.

“All of Jonah’s books are under review,” Glazer told me. Read more

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Ari Fleischer: Quote approval started with good intent

CNN
Ari Fleischer, press secretary for part of President George W. Bush’s first term, writes that he “would have been laughed out of the briefing room” if he had tried to get reporters to let him approve or clean up a quotation, a practice revealed last month by The New York Times. “As a former press secretary, I’m all for trying to control the press, but quote approval goes too far.”

The practice started late in Bush’s second term, Fleischer writes, based on a conversation he had with The New York Times’ Peter Baker.

Like Prohibition, it began with good intent.

Reporters covering Bush’s second term, under pressure from editors not to use unnamed sources in their stories, started asking their sources if a background quote, attributed to a senior aide, could instead be turned into an on-the-record quote, with the aide’s name in print. I e-mailed last week with several former Bush staffers and many confirmed they engaged in that practice. …

The sentence was e-mailed to the aide, and when permission was granted to use it, quote approval among the most senior aides got started.

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With convention attendance down, time to rethink purpose of Unity?

Journal-ismsOriginal Spin | OutQ News
Unity Executive Director Onica Makwakwa is leaving the organization to take a job with a consumer protection group in her native South Africa. She “bore the brunt of criticism for any administrative shortcomings, which became a factor in the pullout of the National Association of Black Journalists last year,” Richard Prince reports.

With convention attendance down at this year’s Unity convention, NABJ’s absence and little interaction among the remaining constituencies, Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang wonders if Unity should be disbanded. An event-planning organization could organize the quadrennial convention more cheaply, he writes:

Meanwhile, the conference could throw participation open to all common-cause journalism organizations that speak for underrepresented communities — following the direction already taken in inviting NLGJA to the table.

Why not invite the National Center for Disability & Journalism to participate, or the International Women’s Media Foundation and the Association for Women Journalists? Why not outreach to New America Media, which represents a network of over 3000 ethnic news enterprises?

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How AP photographer captured Gabby Douglas Olympics photo: Practice, practice, practice

Associated Press photojournalist Greg Bull was waiting for that moment, the point in Gabby Douglas’ balance beam routine at which she leaps the highest, spreading her arms and legs and looking straight up at the ceiling.

He had tried to capture it before, but it never quite worked — he was too late, perhaps, or she was off-center. His photo “didn’t seem to be as amazing as I thought it would be,” he said by phone.

Thursday night during Douglas’ gold-medal performance, Bull got it. “I don’t know if I’ve seen a more beautiful picture than this one of Gabby Douglas, at least in a long, long time,” tweeted The Verge’s Tim Carmody.

U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas performs on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women’s individual all-around competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2012, in London. (Gregory Bull/AP)
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howwedecide

Plagiarism, more fake interviews in Jonah Lehrer’s books

Michael C. Moynihan, the journalist who discovered that Jonah Lehrer had fabricated quotations from Bob Dylan and misquoted others in his book “Imagine,” says he’s found more problems:

As I mentioned, I only looked at the Dylan chapter in Imagine, and nothing else. I’ve since had a cursory look at a few other chapters (including in his previous book, How We Decide), no more than a few hours of checking and a few emails [to] people mentioned by Lehrer–and I found fake interviews, quotes that can’t be located, and plagiarism. So while one can reasonably debate how serious a crime it is to fudge a handful of Dylan quotes (pretty serious, if you ask me), always remember: no one ever does this kind of thing once, or just in one chapter.

Moynihan later tweeted an example from “How We Decide” in which Lehrer attributed a quote to an interview he conducted with the pilot. The quote actually appears to have been modified from a speech given by the pilot.

After admitting he lied, Lehrer resigned from The New Yorker earlier this week.

Former Miami Herald Executive Editor Tom Fiedler asks the central question: Why?

Cheaters such as Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cooke claimed to have caved under the pressure to perform on a big stage. Lehrer, the boy wonder who’d become a media darling, highly paid keynote speaker, The New Yorkers’ next star, likely felt the same. There’s a bit of the old Peter Principle involved here, where people like Lehrer fear they’ve been promoted beyond their levels of competence and must cheat to stay there.

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Unity attendance down after divorce with NABJ

The Root | The New York Times | Journal-isms
Attendance at the Unity convention in Las Vegas is down substantially after its split with the National Association of Black Journalists, reports Richard Prince: “over 2,000″ compared with 7,550 in 2008. More than one-third of the attendees in 2008 were NABJ members.

NABJ drew 2,386 registrants to its convention in New Orleans, Prince reports.

At times on Wednesday, convention speakers pretended NABJ did not exist, and they continued to call the gathering the world’s or the nation’s largest meeting of journalists. At other times, they expressed hopes that NABJ would return to Unity, which first met in 1994. Mentions of the newest partner, [the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association], drew applause from NLGJA members.

NABJ withdrew from Unity in 2011 due to financial issues. The split between the two groups deepened after Unity changed its name from “Unity: Journalists of Color” to “Unity Journalists” after a request from the NLGJA. The New York Times’ Tanzina Vega captured a range of opinions on the split and Unity’s focus.

Some of the tension over the inclusion of gay journalists’ group stems from the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among its members, a fact recognized by Mr. Steinberg, who said the group was trying to increase diversity in its ranks. “I know the perception among some folks of color is that N.L.G.J.A. is an organization run by a bunch of white guys,” said [Michelle] Johnson of Boston University. But she added, “there are white guys that are in the organization who have also faced discrimination in the newsroom.”

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